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Title: Historical Romances: Under the Red Robe, Count Hannibal, A Gentleman of France
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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                         HISTORICAL ROMANCES

                         _UNDER THE RED ROBE_

                           _COUNT HANNIBAL_

                       _A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE_



                         _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

       THE HOUSE OF THE WOLF
       A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE
       UNDER THE RED ROBE
       SHREWSBURY
       SOPHIA
       COUNT HANNIBAL
       IN KINGS' BYWAYS
       STARVECROW FARM
       LAID UP IN LAVENDER
       OVINGTON'S BANK
       THE TRAVELLER IN THE FUR CLOAK
       QUEEN'S FOLLY
       THE _LIVELY PEGGY_



                         HISTORICAL ROMANCES

                         _Under The Red Robe_

                           _Count Hannibal_

                       _A Gentleman of France_



                                  BY

                          STANLEY J. WEYMAN



                       LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.
                       55 FIFTH AVENUE NEW YORK



                         HISTORICAL ROMANCES

                 UNDER THE RED ROBE * COUNT HANNIBAL
                        A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE



             COPYRIGHT * 1893 * 1894 * 1900 * 1901 * 1921
                         BY STANLEY J. WEYMAN



               PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                          UNDER THE RED ROBE



                               CONTENTS


         I. At Zaton's.

        II. At the Green Pillar.

       III. The House in the Wood.

        IV. Madam and Mademoiselle.

         V. Revenge.

        VI. Under the Pic du Midi.

       VII. A Master Stroke.

      VIII. The Question.

        IX. Clon.

         X. The Arrest.

        XI. The Road to Paris.

       XII. At the Finger-Post

      XIII. St. Martin's Eve.

       XIV. St. Martin's Summer.



                          UNDER THE RED ROBE



                              CHAPTER I.

                              AT ZATON'S


"Marked cards!"

There were a score round us when the fool, little knowing the man with
whom he had to deal, and as little how to lose like a gentleman, flung
the words in my teeth. He thought, I'll be sworn, that I should storm
and swear and ruffle it like any common cock of the hackle. But that
was never Gil de Berault's way. For a few seconds after he had spoken
I did not even look at him. I passed my eye instead--smiling, _bien
entendu_--round the ring of waiting faces, saw that there was no one
except De Pombal I had cause to fear; and then at last I rose and
looked at the fool with the grim face I have known impose on older and
wiser men.

"Marked cards, M. l'Anglais?" I said, with a chilling sneer. "They are
used, I am told, to trap players--not unbirched schoolboys."

"Yet I say that they are marked!" he replied hotly, in his queer
foreign jargon. "In my last hand I had nothing. You doubled the
stakes. Bah, Sir, you knew! You have swindled me!"

"Monsieur is easy to swindle--when he plays with a mirror behind him,"
I answered tartly. And at that there was a great roar of laughter,
which might have been heard in the street, and which brought to the
table every one in the eating-house whom his violence had not already
attracted. But I did not relax my face. I waited until all was quiet
again, and then waving aside two or three who stood between us and the
entrance, I pointed gravely to the door. "There is a little space
behind the church of St. Jacques, M. l'Etranger," I said, putting on
my hat and taking my cloak on my arm. "Doubtless you will accompany me
thither?"

He snatched up his hat, his face burning with shame and rage. "With
pleasure!" he blurted out. "To the devil, if you like!"

I thought the matter arranged, when the Marquis laid his hand on the
young fellow's arm and checked him. "This must not be," he said,
turning from him to me with his grand fine-gentleman's air. "You know
me, M. de Berault. This matter has gone far enough."

"Too far, M. de Pombal!" I answered bitterly. "Still, if you wish to
take the gentleman's place, I shall raise no objection."

"Chut, man!" he retorted, shrugging his shoulders negligently. "I know
you, and I do not fight with men of your stamp. Nor need this
gentleman."

"Undoubtedly," I replied, bowing low, "if he prefers to be caned in
the streets."

That stung the Marquis. "Have a care! have a care!" he cried hotly.
"You go too far, M. Berault."

"De Berault, if you please," I objected, eyeing him sternly. "My
family has borne the _de_ as long as yours, M. de Pombal."

He could not deny that, and he answered, "As you please"; at the same
time restraining his friend by a gesture. "But none the less, take my
advice," he continued. "The Cardinal has forbidden duelling, and this
time he means it! You have been in trouble once and gone free. A
second time it may fare worse with you. Let this gentleman go,
therefore, M. de Berault. Besides--why, shame upon you, man!" he
exclaimed hotly; "he is but a lad!"

Two or three who stood behind me applauded that. But I turned and they
met my eye; and they were as mum as mice. "His age is his own
concern," I said grimly. "He was old enough a while ago to insult me."

"And I will prove my words!" the lad cried, exploding at last. He had
spirit enough, and the Marquis had had hard work to restrain him so
long. "You do me no service, M. de Pombal," he continued, pettishly
shaking off his friend's hand. "By your leave, this gentleman and I
will settle this matter."

"That is better," I said, nodding drily, while the Marquis stood
aside, frowning and baffled. "Permit me to lead the way."

Zaton's eating-house stands scarcely a hundred paces from St. Jacques
la Boucherie, and half the company went thither with us. The evening
was wet, the light in the streets was waning, the streets themselves
were dirty and slippery. There were few passers in the Rue St.
Antoine; and our party, which earlier in the day must have attracted
notice and a crowd, crossed unmarked, and entered without interruption
the paved triangle which lies immediately behind the church. I saw in
the distance one of the Cardinal's guard loitering in front of the
scaffolding round the new Hôtel Richelieu; and the sight of the
uniform gave me pause for a moment. But it was too late to repent.

The Englishman began at once to strip off his clothes. I closed mine
to the throat, for the air was chilly. At that moment, while we stood
preparing and most of the company seemed a little inclined to stand
off from me, I felt a hand on my arm, and, turning, saw the dwarfish
tailor at whose house in the Rue Savonnerie I lodged at the time. The
fellow's presence was unwelcome, to say the least of it; and though
for want of better company I had sometimes encouraged him to be free
with me at home, I took that to be no reason why I should be plagued
with him before gentlemen. I shook him off, therefore, hoping by a
frown to silence him.

He was not to be so easily put down, however. And perforce I had to
speak to him. "Afterwards, afterwards," I said. "I am engaged now."

"For God's sake, don't, Sir!" was the poor fool's answer. "Don't do
it! You will bring a curse on the house. He is but a lad, and--"

"You, too!" I exclaimed, losing patience. "Be silent, you scum! What
do you know about gentlemen's quarrels? Leave me; do you hear?"

"But the Cardinal!" he cried in a quavering voice. "The Cardinal, M.
de Berault? The last man you killed is not forgotten yet. This time he
will be sure to--"

"Do you hear?" I hissed. The fellow's impudence passed all bounds. It
was as bad as his croaking. "Begone!" I said. "I suppose you are
afraid he will kill me, and you will lose your money?"

Frison fell back at that almost as if I had struck him, and I turned
to my adversary, who had been awaiting my motions with impatience. God
knows he did look young; as he stood with his head bare and his fair
hair drooping over his smooth woman's forehead--a mere lad fresh from
the College of Burgundy, if they have such a thing in England. I felt
a sudden chill as I looked at him: a qualm, a tremor, a presentiment.
What was it the little tailor had said? That I should--but there, he
did not know. What did he know of such things? If I let this pass I
must kill a man a day, or leave Paris and the eating-house, and
starve.

"A thousand pardons," I said gravely, as I drew and took my place. "A
dun. I am sorry that the poor devil caught me so inopportunely. Now,
however, I am at your service."

He saluted, and we crossed swords and began. But from the first I had
no doubt what the result would be. The slippery stones and fading
light gave him, it is true, some chance, some advantage, more than he
deserved; but I had no sooner felt his blade than I knew that he was
no swordsman. Possibly he had taken half-a-dozen lessons in rapier
art, and practised what he learned with an Englishman as heavy and
awkward as himself. But that was all. He made a few wild, clumsy
rushes, parrying widely. When I had foiled these, the danger was over,
and I held him at my mercy.

I played with him a little while, watching the sweat gather on his
brow, and the shadow of the church-tower fall deeper and darker, like
the shadow of doom, on his face. Not out of cruelty--God knows I have
never erred in that direction!--but because, for the first time in my
life, I felt a strange reluctance to strike the blow. The curls clung
to his forehead; his breath came and went in gasps; I heard the men
behind me murmur, and one or two of them drop an oath; and then I
slipped--slipped, and was down in a moment on my right side, my elbow
striking the pavement so sharply that the arm grew numb to the wrist.

He held off! I heard a dozen voices cry, "Now! now you have him!" But
he held off. He stood back and waited with his breast heaving and his
point lowered, until I had risen and stood again on my guard.

"Enough! enough!" a rough voice behind me cried. "Don't hurt the man
after that."

"On guard, Sir!" I answered coldly--for he seemed to waver. "It was an
accident. It shall not avail you again."

Several voices cried "Shame!" and one, "You coward!" But the
Englishman stepped forward, a fixed look in his blue eyes. He took his
place without a word. I read in his drawn white face that he had made
up his mind to the worst, and his courage won my admiration. I would
gladly and thankfully have set one of the lookers-on--any of the
lookers-on--in his place; but that could not be. So I thought of
Zaton's closed to me, of Pombal's insult, of the sneers and slights I
had long kept at the sword's point; and, pressing him suddenly in a
heat of affected anger, I thrust strongly over his guard, which had
grown feeble, and ran him through the chest.

When I saw him lying, laid out on the stones with his eyes half shut,
and his face glimmering white in the dusk--not that I saw him thus
long, for there were a dozen kneeling round him in a twinkling--I felt
an unwonted pang. It passed, however, in a moment. For I found myself
confronted by a ring of angry faces--of men who, keeping at a
distance, hissed and threatened me.

They were mostly canaille, who had gathered during the fight, and had
viewed all that passed from the farther side of the railings. While
some snarled and raged at me like wolves, calling me "Butcher!" and
"Cut-throat!" and the like, or cried out that Berault was at his trade
again, others threatened me with the vengeance of the Cardinal, flung
the edict in my teeth, and said with glee that the guard were
coming--they would see me hanged yet.

"His blood is on your head!" one cried furiously. "He will be dead in
an hour. And you will swing for him! Hurrah!"

"Begone to your kennel!" I answered, with a look which sent him a yard
backwards, though the railings were between us. And I wiped my blade
carefully, standing a little apart. For--well, I could understand
it--it was one of those moments when a man is not popular. Those who
had come with me from the eating-house eyed me askance, and turned
their backs when I drew nearer; and those who had joined us and
obtained admission were scarcely more polite.

But I was not to be outdone in _sangfroid_. I cocked my hat, and
drawing my cloak over my shoulders, went out with a swagger which
drove the curs from the gate before I came within a dozen paces of it.
The rascals outside fell back as quickly, and in a moment I was in the
street. Another moment and I should have been clear of the place and
free to lie by for a while, when a sudden scurry took place round me.
The crowd fled every way into the gloom, and in a hand-turn a dozen of
the Cardinal's guard closed round me.

I had some acquaintance with the officer in command, and he saluted me
civilly. "This is a bad business, M. de Berault," he said. "The man is
dead they tell me."

"Neither dying nor dead," I answered lightly. "If that be all, you may
go home again."

"With you," he replied, with a grin, "certainly. And as it rains, the
sooner the better. I must ask you for your sword, I am afraid."

"Take it," I said, with the philosophy which never deserts me. "But
the man will not die."

"I hope that may avail you," he answered in a tone I did not like.
"Left wheel, my friends! To the Châtelet! March!"

"There are worse places," I said, and resigned myself to fate. After
all, I had been in prison before, and learned that only one jail lets
no prisoner escape.

But when I found that my friend's orders were to hand me over to the
watch, and that I was to be confined like any common jail-bird caught
cutting a purse or slitting a throat, I confess my heart sank. If I
could get speech with the Cardinal, all would probably be well; but if
I failed in this, or if the case came before him in strange guise, or
he were in a hard mood himself, then it might go ill with me. The
edict said, death!

And the lieutenant at the Châtelet did not put himself to much trouble
to hearten me. "What! again, M. de Berault?" he said, raising his
eyebrows as he received me at the gate, and recognized me by the light
of the brazier which his men were just kindling outside. "You are a
very bold man, Sir, or a very foolhardy one, to come here again. The
old business, I suppose?"

"Yes, but he is not dead," I answered coolly.

"He has a trifle--a mere scratch. It was behind the church of St.
Jacques."

"He looked dead enough," my friend the guardsman interposed. He had
not yet gone.

"Bah!" I answered scornfully. "Have you ever known me make a mistake?
When I kill a man, I kill him. I put myself to pains, I tell you, not
to kill this Englishman. Therefore he will live."

"I hope so," the lieutenant said, with a dry smile. "And you had
better hope so, too, M. de Berault. For if not--"

"Well?" I said, somewhat troubled. "If not, what, my friend?"

"I fear he will be the last man you will fight," he answered. "And
even if he lives, I would not be too sure, my friend. This time the
Cardinal is determined to put it down."

"He and I are old friends," I said confidently.

"So I have heard," he answered, with a short laugh. "I think the same
was said of Chalais. I do not remember that it saved his head."

This was not reassuring. But worse was to come. Early in the morning
orders were received that I should be treated with especial
strictness, and I was given the choice between irons and one of the
cells below the level. Choosing the latter, I was left to reflect upon
many things; among others, on the queer and uncertain nature of the
Cardinal, who loved, I knew, to play with a man as a cat with a mouse;
and on the ill effects which sometimes attend a high chest-thrust,
however carefully delivered. I only rescued myself at last from these
and other unpleasant reflections by obtaining the loan of a pair of
dice; and the light being just enough to enable me to reckon the
throws, I amused myself for hours by casting them on certain
principles of my own. But a long run again and again upset my
calculations; and at last brought me to the conclusion that a run of
bad luck may be so persistent as to see out the most sagacious player.
This was not a reflection very welcome to me at the moment.

Nevertheless, for three days it was all the company I had. At the end
of that time the knave of a jailer who attended me, and who had never
grown tired of telling me, after the fashion of his kind, that I
should be hanged, came to me with a less assured air. "Perhaps you
would like a little water?" he said civilly.

"Why, rascal?" I asked.

"To wash with," he answered.

"I asked for some yesterday, and you would not bring it," I grumbled.
"However, better late than never. Bring it now. If I must hang, I will
hang like a gentleman. But, depend upon it, the Cardinal will not
serve an old friend so scurvy a trick."

"You are to go to him," he answered, when he came back with the water.

"What? To the Cardinal?" I cried.

"Yes," he answered.

"Good!" I exclaimed; and in my joy I sprang up at once, and began to
refresh my dress. "So all this time I have been doing him an
injustice. _Vive Monseigneur!_ I might have known it."

"Don't make too sure!" the man answered spitefully. Then he went on:
"I have something else for you. A friend of yours left it at the
gate," he added. And he handed me a packet.

"Quite so!" I said, reading his rascally face aright. "And you kept it
as long as you dared--as long as you thought I should hang, you knave!
Was not that so? But there, do not lie to me. Tell me instead which of
my friends left it." For, to confess the truth, I had not so many
friends at this time; and ten good crowns--the packet contained no
less a sum--argued a pretty staunch friend, and one of whom a man
might be proud.

The knave sniggered maliciously. "A crooked, dwarfish man left it," he
said. "I doubt I might call him a tailor and not be far out."

"Chut!" I answered; but I was a little out of countenance. "I
understand. An honest fellow enough, and in debt to me! I am glad he
remembered. But when am I to go, friend?"

"In an hour," he answered sullenly. Doubtless he had looked to get one
of the crowns; but I was too old a hand for that. If I came back I
could buy his services; and if I did not I should have wasted my
money.

Nevertheless, a little later, when I found myself on my way to the
Hôtel Richelieu under so close a guard that I could see nothing except
the figures that immediately surrounded me, I wished I had given him
the money. At such times, when all hangs in the balance and the sky is
overcast, the mind runs on luck and old superstitions, and is prone to
think a crown given here may avail there--though there be a hundred
leagues away.

The Palais Richelieu was at this time in building, and we were
required to wait in a long, bare gallery, where the masons were at
work. I was kept a full hour here, pondering uncomfortably on the
strange whims and fancies of the great man who then ruled France as
the King's Lieutenant-General, with all the King's powers; and whose
life I had once been the means of saving by a little timely
information. On occasion he had done something to wipe out the debt;
and at other times he had permitted me to be free with him. We were
not unknown to one another, therefore.

Nevertheless, when the doors were at last thrown open, and I was led
into his presence, my confidence underwent a shock. His cold glance,
that, roving over me, regarded me not as a man but an item, the steely
glitter of his southern eyes, chilled me to the bone. The room was
bare, the floor without carpet or covering. Some of the woodwork lay
about, unfinished and in pieces. But the man--this man, needed no
surroundings. His keen, pale face, his brilliant eyes, even his
presence--though he was of no great height and began already to stoop
at the shoulders--were enough to awe the boldest. I recalled as I
looked at him a hundred tales of his iron will, his cold heart, his
unerring craft. He had humbled the King's brother, the splendid Duke
of Orleans, in the dust. He had curbed the Queen-mother. A dozen
heads, the noblest in France, had come to the block through him. Only
two years before he had quelled Rochelle; only a few months before he
had crushed the great insurrection in Languedoc: and though the south,
stripped of its old privileges, still seethed with discontent, no one
in this year 1630 dared lift a hand against him--openly, at any rate.
Under the surface a hundred plots, a thousand intrigues, sought his
life or his power; but these, I suppose, are the hap of every great
man.

No wonder, then, that the courage on which I plumed myself sank low at
sight of him; or that it was as much as I could do to mingle with the
humility of my salute some touch of the _sangfroid_ of old
acquaintanceship.

And perhaps that had been better left out. For this man was without
bowels. For a moment, while he stood looking at me and before he spoke
to me, I gave myself up for lost. There was a glint of cruel
satisfaction in his eyes that warned me, before he spoke, what he was
going to say to me.

"I could not have made a better catch, M. de Berault," he said,
smiling villainously, while he gently smoothed the fur of a cat that
had sprung on the table beside him. "An old offender and an excellent
example. I doubt it will not stop with you. But later, we will make
you the warrant for flying at higher game."

"Monseigneur has handled a sword himself," I blurted out. The very
room seemed to be growing darker, the air colder. I was never nearer
fear in my life.

"Yes?" he said, smiling delicately. "And so?"

"Will not be too hard on the failings of a poor gentleman."

"He shall suffer no more than a rich one," he replied suavely, as he
stroked the cat. "Enjoy that satisfaction, M. de Berault. Is that
all?"

"Once I was of service to your Eminence," I said desperately.

"Payment has been made," he answered, "more than once. But for that I
should not have seen you, M. de Berault."

"The King's face!" I cried, snatching at the straw he seemed to hold
out.

He laughed cynically, smoothly. His thin face, his dark moustache, and
whitening hair, gave him an air of indescribable keenness. "I am not
the King," he said. "Besides, I am told you have killed as many as six
men in duels. You owe the King, therefore, one life at least. You must
pay it. There is no more to be said, M. de Berault," he continued
coldly, turning away and beginning to collect some papers. "The law
must take its course."

I thought he was about to nod to the lieutenant to withdraw me, and a
chilling sweat broke out down my back. I saw the scaffold, I felt the
cords. A moment, and it would be too late! "I have a favour to ask," I
stammered desperately, "if your Eminence would give me a moment
alone."

"To what end?" he answered, turning and eyeing me with cold disfavour.
"I know you--your past--all. It can do no good, my friend."

"Nor harm!" I cried. "And I am a dying man, Monseigneur!"

"That is true," he said thoughtfully. Still he seemed to hesitate; and
my heart beat fast. At last he looked at the lieutenant. "You may
leave us," he said shortly. "Now," when the officer had withdrawn and
left us alone, "what is it? Say what you have to say quickly. And
above all, do not try to fool me, M. de Berault."

But his piercing eyes so disconcerted me that now I had my chance I
could not find a word to say, and stood before him mute. I think this
pleased him, for his face relaxed.

"Well?" he said at last. "Is that all?"

"The man is not dead," I muttered.

He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. "What of that?" he said.
"That was not what you wanted to say to me."

"Once I saved your Eminence's life," I faltered miserably.

"Admitted," he answered, in his thin, incisive voice. "You mentioned
the fact before. On the other hand, you have taken six to my
knowledge, M. de Berault. You have lived the life of a bully, a common
bravo, a gamester. You, a man of family! For shame! And it has brought
you to this. Yet on that one point I am willing to hear more," he
added abruptly.

"I might save your Eminence's life again," I cried. It was a sudden
inspiration.

"You know something," he said quickly, fixing me with his eyes. "But
no," he continued, shaking his head gently. "Pshaw! the trick is old.
I have better spies than you, M. de Berault."

"But no better sword," I cried hoarsely. "No, not in all your guard!"

"That is true," he said. "That is true." To my surprise, he spoke in a
tone of consideration; and he looked down at the floor. "Let me think,
my friend," he continued.

He walked two or three times up and down the room, while I stood
trembling. I confess it trembling. The man whose pulses danger has no
power to quicken, is seldom proof against suspense; and the sudden
hope his words awakened in me so shook me that his figure, as he trod
lightly to and fro, with the cat rubbing against his robe and turning
time for time with him, wavered before my eyes. I grasped the table to
steady myself. I had not admitted even in my own mind how darkly the
shadow of Montfaucon and the gallows had fallen across me.

I had leisure to recover myself, for it was some time before he spoke.
When he did, it was in a voice harsh, changed, imperative. "You have
the reputation of a man faithful, at least, to his employer," he said.
"Do not answer me. I say it is so. Well, I will trust you. I will give
you one more chance--though it is a desperate one. Woe to you if you
fail me! Do you know Cocheforêt in Béarn? It is not far from Auch."

"No, your Eminence."

"Nor M. de Cocheforêt?"

"No, your Eminence."

"So much the better," he retorted. "But you have heard of him. He has
been engaged in every Gascon plot since the late King's death, and
gave me more trouble last year in the Vivarais than any man twice his
years. At present he is at Bosost in Spain, with other refugees, but I
have learned that at frequent intervals he visits his wife at
Cocheforêt, which is six leagues within the border. On one of these
visits he must be arrested."

"That should be easy," I said.

The Cardinal looked at me. "Tush, man! what do you know about it?" he
answered bluntly. "It is whispered at Cocheforêt if a soldier crosses
the street at Auch. In the house are only two or three servants, but
they have the country-side with them to a man, and they are a
dangerous breed. A spark might kindle a fresh rising. The arrest,
therefore, must be made secretly."

I bowed.

"One resolute man inside the house, with the help of two or three
servants whom he could summon to his aid at will, might effect it,"
the Cardinal continued, glancing at a paper which lay on the table.
"The question is, will you be the man, my friend?"

I hesitated; then I bowed. What choice had I?

"Nay, nay, speak out!" he said sharply. "Yes or no, M. de Berault?"

"Yes, your Eminence," I said reluctantly. Again, I say, what choice
had I?

"You will bring him to Paris, and alive. He knows things, and that is
why I want him. You understand?"

"I understand, Monseigneur," I answered.

"You will get into the house as you can," he continued. "For that you
will need strategy, and good strategy. They suspect everybody. You
must deceive them. If you fail to deceive them, or, deceiving them,
are found out later, M. de Berault--I do not think you will trouble me
again, or break the edict a second time. On the other hand, should you
deceive _me_"--he smiled still more subtly, but his voice sank to a
purring note--"I will break you on the wheel like the ruined gamester
you are!"

I met his look without quailing. "So be it!" I said recklessly. "If I
do not bring M. de Cocheforêt to Paris, you may do that to me, and
more also!"

"It is a bargain!" he answered slowly. "I think you will be faithful.
For money, here are a hundred crowns. That sum should suffice; but if
you succeed you shall have twice as much more. Well, that is all, I
think. You understand?"

"Yes, Monseigneur."

"Then why do you wait?"

"The lieutenant?" I said modestly.

Monseigneur laughed to himself, and sitting down wrote a word or two
on a slip of paper. "Give him that," he said, in high good-humour. "I
fear, M. de Berault, you will never get your deserts--in this world!"



                             CHAPTER II.

                         AT THE GREEN PILLAR.


Cocheforêt lies in a billowy land of oak and beech and chestnut--a
land of deep, leafy bottoms, and hills clothed with forest. Ridge and
valley, glen and knoll, the woodland, sparsely peopled and more
sparsely tilled, stretches away to the great snow mountains that here
limit France. It swarms with game--with wolves and bears, deer and
boars. To the end of his life I have heard that the great King loved
this district, and would sigh, when years and State fell heavily on
him, for the beech-groves and box-covered hills of South Béarn. From
the terraced steps of Auch you can see the forest roll away in light
and shadow, vale and upland, to the base of the snow-peaks; and,
though I come from Brittany and love the smell of the salt wind, I
have seen few sights that outdo this.

It was the second week in October when I came to Cocheforêt, and,
dropping down from the last wooded brow, rode quietly into the place
at evening. I was alone, and had ridden all day in a glory of ruddy
beech-leaves, through the silence of forest roads, across clear brooks
and glades still green. I had seen more of the quiet and peace of the
country than had been my share since boyhood, and I felt a little
melancholy; it might be for that reason, or because I had no great
taste for the task before me--the task now so imminent. In good faith,
it was not a gentleman's work, look at it how you might.

But beggars must not be choosers, and I knew that this feeling would
pass away. At the inn, in the presence of others, under the spur of
necessity, or in the excitement of the chase, were that once begun, I
should lose the feeling. When a man is young, he seeks solitude: when
he is middle-aged he flies it and his thoughts. I made without ado for
the Green Pillar, a little inn in the village street, to which I had
been directed at Auch, and, thundering on the door with the knob of my
riding-switch, railed at the man for keeping me waiting.

Here and there at hovel doors in the street--which was a mean, poor
place, not worthy of the name--men and women looked out at me
suspiciously. But I affected to ignore them; and at last the host
came. He was a fair-haired man, half Basque, half Frenchman, and had
scanned me well, I was sure, through some window or peephole; for,
when he came out, he betrayed no surprise at the sight of a
well-dressed stranger--a portent in that out-of-the-way village--but
eyed me with a kind of sullen reserve.

"I can lie here to-night, I suppose?" I said, dropping the reins on
the sorrel's neck. The horse hung its head.

"I don't know," he answered stupidly.

I pointed to the green bough which topped a post that stood opposite
the door.

"This is an inn, is it not?" I said.

"Yes," he answered slowly; "it is an inn. But--"

"But you are full, or you are out of food, or your wife is ill, or
something else is amiss," I answered peevishly. "All the same, I am
going to lie here. So you must make the best of it, and your wife,
too--if you have one."

He scratched his head, looking at me with an ugly glitter in his eyes.
But he said nothing, and I dismounted.

"Where can I stable my horse?" I asked.

"I'll put it up," he answered sullenly, stepping forward and taking
the reins in his hands.

"Very well," I said; "but I go with you. A merciful man is merciful to
his beast, and where-ever I go I see my horse fed."

"It will be fed," he said shortly. And then he waited for me to go
into the house. "The wife is in there," he continued, looking at me
stubbornly.

"_Imprimis_--if you understand Latin, my friend," I answered, "the
horse in the stall."

As if he saw it was no good, he turned the sorrel slowly round, and
began to lead it across the village street. There was a shed behind
the inn, which I had already marked and taken for the stable, and I
was surprised when I found he was not going there. But I made no
remark, and in a few minutes saw the horse well stabled in a hovel
which seemed to belong to a neighbour.

This done, the man led the way back to the inn, carrying my valise.

"You have no other guests?" I said, with a casual air. I knew he was
watching me closely.

"No," he answered.

"This is not much in the way to anywhere, I suppose?"

"No."

That was evident; a more retired place I never saw. The hanging woods,
rising steeply to a great height, so shut the valley in that I was
puzzled to think how a man could leave it save by the road I had come.
The cottages, which were no more than mean, small huts, ran in a
straggling double line, with many gaps--through fallen trees and
ill-cleared meadows. Among them a noisy brook ran in and out. And the
inhabitants--charcoal-burners, or swineherds, or poor people of the
like class, were no better than their dwellings. I looked in vain for
the Château. It was not to be seen, and I dared not ask for it.

The man led me into the common room of the tavern--a low-roofed, poor
place, lacking a chimney or glazed windows, and grimy with smoke and
use. The fire--a great half-burned tree--smouldered on a stone hearth,
raised a foot from the floor. A huge black pot simmered over it, and
beside one window lounged a country fellow talking with the goodwife.
In the dusk I could not see his face, but I gave the woman a word, and
sat down to wait for my supper.

She seemed more silent than the common run of women; but this might be
because her husband was present. While she moved about, getting my
meal, he took his place against the doorpost and fell to staring at me
so persistently that I felt by no means at my ease. He was a tall,
strong fellow, with a rough moustache and brown beard, cut in the mode
Henri Quatre; and on the subject of that king--a safe one, I knew,
with a Béarnais--and on that alone, I found it possible to make him
talk. Even then there was a suspicious gleam in his eyes that bade me
abstain from questions; and as the darkness deepened behind him, and
the firelight played more and more strongly on his features, and I
thought of the leagues of woodland that lay between this remote valley
and Auch. I recalled the Cardinal's warning that if I failed in my
attempt I should be little likely to trouble Paris again.

The lout by the window paid no attention to me; nor I to him, when I
had once satisfied myself that he was really what he seemed to be. But
by and by two or three men--rough, uncouth fellows--dropped in to
reinforce the landlord, and they, too, seemed to have no other
business than to sit in silence looking at me, or now and again to
exchange a word in a _patois_ of their own. By the time my supper was
ready, the knaves numbered six in all; and, as they were armed to a
man with huge Spanish knives, and evidently resented my presence in
their dull rustic fashion--every rustic is suspicious--I began to
think that, unwittingly, I had put my head into a wasp's nest.

Nevertheless, I ate and drank with apparent appetite; but little that
passed within the circle of light cast by the smoky lamp escaped me. I
watched the men's looks and gestures at least as sharply as they
watched mine; and all the time I was racking my wits for some mode of
disarming their suspicions--or failing that, of learning something
more of the position, which, it was clear, far exceeded in difficulty
and danger anything I had expected. The whole valley, it would seem,
was on the lookout to protect my man!

I had purposely brought with me from Auch a couple of bottles of
choice Armagnac; and these had been carried into the house with my
saddlebags. I took one out now and opened it, and carelessly offered a
dram of the spirit to the landlord. He took it. As he drank it, I saw
his face flush; he handed back the cup reluctantly, and on that hint I
offered him another. The strong spirit was already beginning to work.
He accepted, and in a few minutes began to talk more freely and with
less of the constraint which had marked us. Still, his tongue ran
chiefly on questions--he would know this, he would learn that; but
even this was a welcome change. I told him openly whence I had come,
by what road, how long I had stayed in Auch, and where; and so far I
satisfied his curiosity. Only when I came to the subject of my visit
to Cocheforêt I kept a mysterious silence, hinting darkly at business
in Spain and friends across the border, and this and that, and giving
the peasants to understand, if they pleased, that I was in the same
interest as their exiled master.

They took the bait, winked at one another, and began to look at me in
a more friendly way--the landlord foremost. But when I had led them so
far, I dared go no farther, lest I should commit myself and be found
out. I stopped, therefore, and, harking back to general subjects,
chanced to compare my province with theirs. The landlord, now become
almost talkative, was not slow to take up this challenge; and it
presently led to my acquiring a curious piece of knowledge. He was
boasting of his great snow mountains, the forests that propped them,
the bears that roamed in them, the izards that loved the ice, and the
boars that fed on the oak mast.

"Well," I said, quite by chance, "we have not these things, it is
true. But we have things in the north you have not. We have tens of
thousands of good horses--not such ponies as you breed here. At the
horse fair at Fécamp my sorrel would be lost in the crowd. Here in the
south you will not meet his match in a long day's journey."

"Do not make too sure of that!" the man replied, his eyes bright with
triumph and the dram. "What would you say if I showed you a better--in
my own stable?"

I saw that his words sent a kind of thrill through his other hearers,
and that such of them as understood--for two or three of them talked
their _patois_ only--looked at him angrily; and in a twinkling I began
to comprehend. But I affected dulness, and laughed scornfully.

"Seeing is believing," I said. "I doubt if you know a good horse here
when you see one, my friend."

"Oh, don't I?" he said, winking. "Indeed!"

"I doubt it," I answered stubbornly.

"Then come with me, and I will show you one," he retorted, discretion
giving way to vainglory. His wife and the others, I saw, looked at him
dumbfounded; but, without paying any heed to them, he took up a
lanthorn, and, assuming an air of peculiar wisdom, opened the door.
"Come with me," he continued. "I don't know a good horse when I see
one, don't I? I know a better than yours, at any rate!"

I should not have been surprised if the other men had interfered;
but--I suppose he was a leader among them, and they did not, and in a
moment we were outside. Three paces through the darkness took us to
the stable, an offset at the back of the inn. My man twirled the pin,
and, leading the way in, raised his lanthorn. A horse whinnied softly,
and turned its bright, soft eyes on us--a baldfaced chestnut, with
white hairs in its tail and one white stocking.

"There!" my guide exclaimed, waving the lanthorn to and fro
boastfully, that I might see its points. "What do you say to that? Is
that an undersized pony?"

"No," I answered, purposely stinting my praise. "It is pretty
fair--for this country."

"Or any country," he answered wrathfully. "Any country, I say--I don't
care where it is! And I have reason to know! Why, man, that horse
is-- But there, that is a good horse, if ever you saw one!" And with
that he ended abruptly and lamely, lowering the lanthorn with a sudden
gesture, and turning to the door. He was on the instant in such hurry,
that he almost shouldered me out.

But I understood. I knew that he had nearly betrayed all--that he had
been on the point of blurting out that that was M. de Cocheforêt's
horse! M. de Cocheforêt's, _comprenez bien!_ And while I turned away
my face in the darkness, that he might not see me smile, I was not
surprised to find the man in a moment changed, and become, in the
closing of the door, as sober and suspicious as before, ashamed of
himself and enraged with me, and in a mood to cut my throat for a
trifle.

It was not my cue to quarrel, however--anything but that. I made,
therefore, as if I had seen nothing, and when we were back in the inn
praised the horse grudgingly, and like a man but half convinced. The
ugly looks and ugly weapons I saw around me were fine incentives to
caution; and no Italian, I flatter myself, could have played his part
more nicely than I did. But I was heartily glad when it was over,
and I found myself, at last, left alone for the night in a little
garret--a mere fowl-house--upstairs, formed by the roof and gable
walls, and hung with strings of apples and chestnuts. It was a poor
sleeping-place--rough, chilly, and unclean. I ascended to it by a
ladder; my cloak and a little fern formed my only bed. But I was glad
to accept it. It enabled me to be alone and to think out the position
unwatched.

Of course M. de Cocheforêt was at the Château. He had left his horse
here, and gone up on foot: probably that was his usual plan. He was
therefore within my reach, in one sense--I could not have come at a
better time--but in another he was as much beyond it as if I were
still in Paris. So far was I from being able to seize him that I dared
not ask a question or let fall a rash word, or even look about me
freely. I saw I dared not. The slightest hint of my mission, the
faintest breath of distrust, would lead to throat-cutting--and the
throat would be mine; while the longer I lay in the village, the
greater suspicion I should incur, and the closer would be the watch
kept over me.

In such a position some men might have given up the attempt and saved
themselves across the border. But I have always valued myself on my
fidelity, and I did not shrink. If not to-day, to-morrow; if not this
time, next time. The dice do not always turn up aces. Bracing myself,
therefore, to the occasion, I crept, as soon as the house was quiet,
to the window, a small, square, open lattice, much cobwebbed, and
partly stuffed with hay. I looked out. The village seemed to be
asleep. The dark branches of trees hung a few feet away, and almost
obscured a grey, cloudy sky, through which a wet moon sailed drearily.
Looking downwards, I could at first see nothing; but as my eyes grew
used to the darkness--I had only just put out my rushlight--I made out
the stable-door and the shadowy outlines of the lean-to roof.

I had hoped for this. I could now keep watch, and learn at least
whether Cocheforêt left before morning. If he did not I should know he
was still here. If he did, I should be the better for seeing his
features, and learning, perhaps, other things that might be of use.

Making up my mind to be uncomfortable, I sat down on the floor by the
lattice, and began a vigil that might last, I knew, until morning. It
did last about an hour. At the end of that time I heard whispering
below, then footsteps; then, as some persons turned a corner, a voice
speaking aloud and carelessly. I could not catch the words spoken; but
the voice was a gentleman's, and its bold accents and masterful tone
left me in no doubt that the speaker was M. de Cocheforêt himself.
Hoping to learn more, I pressed my face nearer to the opening, and I
had just made out through the gloom two figures--one that of a tall,
slight man, wearing a cloak, the other, I thought, a woman's, in a
sheeny white dress--when a thundering rap on the door of my garret
made me spring back a yard from the lattice, and lie down hurriedly on
my couch. The noise was repeated.

"Well?" I cried, cursing the untimely interruption. I was burning with
anxiety to see more. "What is it? What is the matter?"

The trapdoor was lifted a foot or more. The landlord thrust up his
head.

"You called, did you not?" he asked. He held up a rushlight, which
illumined half the room and lit up his grinning face.

"Called--at this hour of the night, you fool?" I answered angrily.
"No! I did not call. Go to bed, man!"

But he remained on the ladder, gaping stupidly.

"I heard you," he said.

"Go to bed! You are drunk!" I answered, sitting up. "I tell you I did
not call."

"Oh, very well," he answered slowly. "And you do not want anything?"

"Nothing--except to be left alone!" I replied sourly.

"Umph!" he said. "Good-night!"

"Good-night! Good-night!" I answered, with what patience I might. The
tramp of the horse's hoofs as it was led out of the stable was in my
ear at the moment. "Good-night!" I continued feverishly, hoping he
would still retire in time, and I have a chance to look out. "I want
to sleep."

"Good," he said, with a broad grin. "But it is early yet, and you have
plenty of time." And then, at last, he slowly let down the trapdoor,
and I heard him chuckle as he went down the ladder.

Before he reached the bottom I was at the window. The woman whom I had
seen still stood below, in the same place; and beside her a man in a
peasant's dress, holding a lanthorn, But the man, the man I wanted to
see was no longer there. And it was evident that he was gone; it was
evident that the others no longer feared me, for while I gazed the
landlord came out to them with another lanthorn, and said something to
the lady, and she looked up at my window and laughed.

It was a warm night, and she wore nothing over her white dress. I
could see her tall, shapely figure and shining eyes, and the firm
contour of her beautiful face; which, if any fault might be found with
it, erred in being too regular. She looked like a woman formed by
nature to meet dangers and difficulties; and even here, at midnight,
in the midst of these desperate men, she seemed in place. It was
possible that under her queenly exterior, and behind the contemptuous
laugh with which she heard the land lord's story, there lurked a
woman's soul capable of folly and tenderness. But no outward sign
betrayed its presence.

I scanned her very carefully; and secretly, if the truth be told, I
was glad to find Madame de Cocheforêt such a woman. I was glad that
she had laughed as she had--that she was not a little, tender,
child-like woman, to be crushed by the first pinch of trouble. For if
I succeeded in my task, if I--but, pish! Women, I said, were all
alike. She would find consolation quickly enough.

I watched until the group broke up, and Madame, with one of the men,
went her way round the corner of the inn, and out of my sight. Then I
retired to bed again, feeling more than ever perplexed what course I
should adopt. It was clear that, to succeed, I must obtain admission
to the house. This was garrisoned, unless my instructions erred, by
two or three old men-servants only, and as many women; since Madame,
to disguise her husband's visits the more easily, lived, and gave out
that she lived, in great retirement. To seize her husband at home,
therefore, might be no impossible task; though here, in the heart of
the village, a troop of horse might make the attempt, and fail.

But how was I to gain admission to the house--a house guarded by
quick-witted women, and hedged in with all the precautions love could
devise? That was the question; and dawn found me still debating it,
still as far as ever from an answer. With the first light I was glad
to get up. I thought that the fresh air might inspire me, and I was
tired, besides, of my stuffy closet. I crept stealthily down the
ladder, and managed to pass unseen through the lower room, in which
several persons were snoring heavily. The outer door was not fastened,
and in a hand-turn I stood in the street.

It was still so early that the trees stood up black against the
reddening sky, but the bough upon the post before the door was growing
green, and in a few minutes the grey light would be everywhere.
Already even in the road way there was a glimmering of it; and as
I stood at the corner of the house--where I could command both the
front and the side on which the stable opened--looking greedily for
any trace of the midnight departure, my eyes detected something
light-coloured lying on the ground. It was not more than two or
three paces from me, and I stepped to it and picked it up curiously,
hoping it might be a note. It was not a note, however, but a tiny
orange-coloured sachet, such as women carry in the bosom. It was full
of some faintly scented powder, and bore on one side the initial "E,"
worked in white silk; and was altogether a dainty little toy, such as
women love.

Doubtless Madame de Cocheforêt had dropped it in the night. I turned
it over and over; and then I put it away with a smile, thinking it
might be useful some time, and in some way. I had scarcely done this,
and turned with the intention of exploring the street, when the door
behind me creaked on its leather hinges, and in a moment my host stood
at my elbow.

Evidently his suspicions were again aroused, for from that time he
managed to be with me, on one pretence or another, until noon.
Moreover, his manner grew each moment more churlish, his hints
plainer; until I could scarcely avoid noticing the one or the other.
About midday, having followed me for the twentieth time into the
street, he came at last to the point, by asking me rudely if I did not
need my horse.

"No," I said. "Why do you ask?"

"Because," he answered, with an ugly smile, "this is not a very
healthy place for strangers."

"Ah!" I retorted. "But the border air suits me, you see."

It was a lucky answer; for, taken with my talk of the night before, it
puzzled him, by again suggesting that I was on the losing side, and
had my reasons for lying near Spain. Before he had done scratching his
head over it, the clatter of hoofs broke the sleepy quiet of the
village street, and the lady I had seen the night before rode quickly
round the corner, and drew her horse on to its haunches. Without
looking at me, she called to the innkeeper to come to her stirrup.

He went. The moment his back was turned, I slipped away, and in a
twinkling was hidden by a house. Two or three glum-looking fellows
stared at me as I passed, but no one moved; and in two minutes I was
clear of the village, and in a half-worn track which ran through the
wood, and led--if my ideas were right--to the Château. To discover the
house and learn all that was to be learned about its situation was my
most pressing need: even at the risk of a knife-thrust, I was
determined to satisfy it.

I had not gone two hundred paces along the path before I heard the
tread of a horse behind me, and I had just time to hide myself before
Madame came up and rode by me, sitting her horse gracefully, and with
all the courage of a northern woman. I watched her pass, and then,
assured by her presence that I was in the right road, I hurried after
her. Two minutes' walking at speed brought me to a light wooden bridge
spanning a stream. I crossed this, and, the wood opening, saw before
me first a wide, pleasant meadow, and beyond this a terrace. On the
terrace, pressed upon on three sides by thick woods, stood a grey
mansion, with the corner tourelles, steep, high roofs, and round
balconies that men loved and built in the days of the first Francis.

It was of good size, but wore, I fancied, a gloomy aspect. A great yew
hedge, which seemed to enclose a walk or bowling-green, hid the ground
floor of the east wing from view, while a formal rose garden, stiff
even in neglect, lay in front of the main building. The west wing,
whose lower roofs fell gradually away to the woods, probably contained
the stables and granaries.

I stood a moment only, but I marked all, and noted how the road
reached the house, and which windows were open to attack; then I
turned and hastened back. Fortunately, I met no one between the house
and the village, and was able to enter the inn with an air of the most
complete innocence.

Short as had been my absence, I found things altered there. Round the
door loitered and chattered three strangers--stout, well-armed
fellows, whose bearing suggested a curious mixture of smugness and
independence. Half-a-dozen pack-horses stood tethered to the post in
front of the house; and the landlord's manner, from being rude and
churlish only, had grown perplexed and almost timid. One of the
strangers, I soon found, supplied him with wine; the others were
travelling merchants, who rode in the first one's company for the sake
of safety. All were substantial men from Tarbes--solid burgesses; and
I was not long in guessing that my host, fearing what might leak out
before them, and particularly that I might refer to the previous
night's disturbance, was on tenterhooks while they remained.

For a time this did not suggest anything to me. But when we had all
taken our seats for supper there came an addition to the party. The
door opened, and the fellow whom I had seen the night before with
Madame de Cocheforêt entered, and took a stool by the fire. I felt
sure that he was one of the servants at the Château; and in a flash
his presence inspired me with the most feasible plan for obtaining
admission which I had yet hit upon. I felt myself growing hot at the
thought--it seemed so full of promise and of danger--and on the
instant, without giving myself time to think too much, I began to
carry it into effect.

I called for two or three bottles of better wine, and, assuming a
jovial air, passed it round the table. When we had drunk a few
glasses, I fell to talking, and, choosing politics, took the side of
the Languedoc party and the malcontents, in so reckless a fashion that
the innkeeper was beside himself at my imprudence. The merchants, who
belonged to the class with whom the Cardinal was always most popular,
looked first astonished and then enraged. But I was not to be checked.
Hints and sour looks were lost upon me. I grew more outspoken with
every glass, I drank to the Rochellois, I swore it would not be long
before they raised their heads again; and at last, while the innkeeper
and his wife were engaged lighting the lamp, I passed round the bottle
and called on all for a toast.

"I'll give you one to begin," I bragged noisily. "A gentleman's toast!
A southern toast! Here is confusion to the Cardinal, and a health to
all who hate him!"

"Mon Dieu!" one of the strangers cried, springing from his seat in a
rage. "I am not going to stomach that! Is your house a common
treason-hole," he continued, turning furiously on the landlord, "that
you suffer this?"

"Hoity-toity!" I answered, coolly keeping my seat. "What is all this?
Don't you relish my toast, little man?"

"No--nor you!" he retorted hotly, "whoever you may be!"

"Then I will give you another," I answered, with a hiccough. "Perhaps
it will be more to your taste. Here is the Duke of Orleans, and may he
soon be King!"



                             CHAPTER III.

                        THE HOUSE IN THE WOOD.


MY words fairly startled the three men out of their anger. For a
moment they glared at me as if they had seen a ghost. Then the
wine-merchant clapped his hand on the table. "That is enough!" he
said, with a look at his companions. "I think there can be no mistake
about that. As damnable treason as ever I heard whispered! I
congratulate you, Sir, on your boldness. As for you," he continued,
turning with an ugly sneer to the landlord, "I shall know now the
company you keep! I was not aware that my wine wet whistles to such a
tune!"

But if he was startled, the innkeeper was furious, seeing his
character thus taken away; and, being at no time a man of many words,
he vented his rage exactly in the way I wished. In a twinkling he
raised such an uproar as can scarcely be conceived. With a roar like a
bull's he ran headlong at the table, and overturned it on the top of
me. The woman saved the lamp and fled with it into a corner, whence
she and the man from the Château watched the skirmish in silence; but
the pewter cups and platters flew spinning across the floor, while the
table pinned me to the ground among the ruins of my stool. Having me
at this disadvantage--for at first I made no resistance--the landlord
began to belabour me with the first thing he snatched up, and when I
tried to defend myself cursed me with each blow for a treacherous
rogue and a vagrant. Meanwhile, the three merchants, delighted with
the turn things had taken, skipped round us laughing; and now hounded
him on, now bantered me with "How is that for the Duke of Orleans?"
and "How now, traitor?"

When I thought this had lasted long enough--or, to speak more plainly,
when I could stand the innkeeper's drubbing no longer--I threw him off
by a great effort, and struggled to my feet. But still, though the
blood was trickling down my face, I refrained from drawing my sword. I
caught up instead a leg of the stool which lay handy, and, watching my
opportunity, dealt the landlord a shrewd blow under the ear, which
laid him out in a moment on the wreck of his own table.

"Now!" I cried, brandishing my new weapon, which fitted the hand to a
nicety, "come on! Come on, if you dare to strike a blow, you peddling,
truckling, huckstering knaves! A fig for you and your shaveling
Cardinal!"

The red-faced wine-merchant drew his sword in a one-two. "Why, you
drunken fool," he said wrathfully, "put that stick down, or I will
spit you like a lark!"

"Lark in your teeth!" I cried, staggering as if the wine were in my
head. "Another word, and I--"

He made a couple of savage passes at me, but in a twinkling his sword
flew across the room.

"_Voilà!_" I shouted, lurching forward, as if I had luck and not skill
to thank for it. "Now the next! Come on, come on--you white-livered
knaves!" And, pretending a drunken frenzy, I flung my weapon bodily
amongst them, and seizing the nearest, began to wrestle with him.

In a moment they all threw themselves upon me, and, swearing
copiously, bore me back to the door. The wine-merchant cried
breathlessly to the woman to open it, and in a twinkling they had me
through it and half way across the road. The one thing I feared was a
knife-thrust in the mêlée; but I had to run that risk, and the men
were honest enough and, thinking me drunk, indulgent. In a trice I
found myself on my back in the dirt, with my head humming; and heard
the bars of the door fall noisily into their places.

I got up and went to the door, and, to play out my part, hammered on
it frantically, crying out to them to let me in. But the three
travellers only jeered at me, and the landlord, coming to the window,
with his head bleeding, shook his fist at me and cursed me for a
mischief-maker.

Baffled in this I retired to a log which lay in the road a few paces
from the house, and sat down on it to await events. With torn clothes
and bleeding face, hatless and covered with dirt, I was in scarcely
better case than my opponent. It was raining, too, and the dripping
branches swayed over my head. The wind was in the south--the coldest
quarter. I began to feel chilled and dispirited. If my scheme failed,
I had forfeited roof and bed to no purpose, and placed future progress
out of the question. It was a critical moment.

But at last that happened for which I had been looking. The door swung
open a few inches, and a man came noiselessly out; the door was
quickly barred behind him. He stood a moment, waiting on the threshold
and peering into the gloom; and seemed to expect to be attacked.
Finding himself unmolested, however, and all quiet, he went off
steadily down the street--towards the Château.

I let a couple of minutes go by and then I followed. I had no
difficulty in hitting on the track at the end of the street, but when
I had once plunged into the wood, I found myself in darkness so
intense that I soon strayed from the path, and fell over roots, and
tore my clothes with thorns, and lost my temper twenty times before I
found the path again. However, I gained the bridge at last, and caught
sight of a light twinkling before me. To make for it across the meadow
and terrace was an easy task; yet when I had reached the door and had
hammered upon it, I was in so sorry a plight that I sank down, and had
no need to play a part or pretend to be worse than I was.

For a long time no one answered. The dark house towering above me
remained silent. I could hear, mingled with the throbbings of my
heart, the steady croaking of the frogs in a pond near the stables;
but no other sound. In a frenzy of impatience and disgust I stood up
again and hammered, kicking with my heels on the nail-studded door,
and crying out desperately, "_A moi_! _A moi!_"

Then, or a moment later, I heard a remote door opened; footsteps as of
more than one person drew near. I raised my voice and cried again, "_A
moi!_"

"Who is there?" a voice asked.

"A gentleman in distress," I answered piteously, moving my hands
across the door. "For God's sake open and let me in. I am hurt, and
dying of cold."

"What brings you here?" the voice asked sharply. Despite its tartness,
I fancied it was a woman's.

"Heaven knows!" I answered desperately. "I cannot tell. They
maltreated me at the inn, and threw me into the street. I crawled
away, and have been wandering in the wood for hours. Then I saw a
light here."

Thereon, some muttering took place on the other side of the door, to
which I had my ear. It ended in the bars being lowered. The door swung
partly open and a light shone out, dazzling me. I tried to shade my
eyes with my fingers, and as I did so fancied I heard a murmur of
pity. But when I looked in under screen of my hand I saw only one
person--the man who held the light, and his aspect was so strange, so
terrifying, that, shaken as I was by fatigue, I recoiled a step.

He was a tall and very thin man, meanly dressed in a short scanty
jacket and well-darned hose. Unable, for some reason, to bend his
neck, he carried his head with a strange stiffness.

And that head! Never did living man show a face so like death. His
forehead was bald and white, his cheek-bones stood out under the
strained skin, all the lower part of his face fell in, his jaws
receded, his cheeks were hollow, his lips and chin were thin and
fleshless. He seemed to have only one expression--a fixed grin.

While I stood looking at this formidable creature he made a quick
motion to shut the door again, smiling more widely. I had the presence
of mind to thrust in my foot, and, before he could resent the act, a
voice in the background cried: "For shame, Clon! Stand back. Stand
back, do you hear? I am afraid, Monsieur, that you are hurt."

The last words were my welcome to that house; and, spoken at an hour
and in circumstances so gloomy, they made a lasting impression. Round
the hall ran a gallery, and this, the height of the apartment, and the
dark panelling seemed to swallow up the light. I stood within the
entrance (as it seemed to me) of a huge cave; the skull-headed porter
had the air of an ogre. Only the voice which greeted me dispelled the
illusion. I turned trembling towards the quarter whence it came, and,
shading my eyes, made out a woman's form standing in a doorway under
the gallery. A second figure, which I took to be that of the servant I
had seen at the inn, loomed uncertainly beside her.

I bowed in silence. My teeth were chattering I was faint without
feigning, and felt a kind of terror, hard to explain, at the sound of
this woman's voice.

"One of our people has told me about you," she continued, speaking out
of the darkness. "I am sorry that this has happened to you here, but I
am afraid that you were indiscreet."

"I take all the blame, Madame," I answered humbly. "I ask only shelter
for the night."

"The time has not yet come when we cannot give our friends that!" she
answered, with noble courtesy. "When it does, Monsieur, we shall be
homeless ourselves."

I shivered, looking anywhere but at her; for I had not sufficiently
pictured this scene of my arrival--I had not foreseen its details; and
now I took part in it I felt a miserable meanness weigh me down. I had
never from the first liked the work! But, I had had no choice. And I
had no choice now. Luckily, the guise in which I came, my fatigue, and
wound were a sufficient mark, or I should have incurred suspicion at
once. For I am sure that if ever in this world a brave man wore a
hang-dog air, or Gil de Berault fell below himself, it was then and
there--on Madame de Cocheforêt's threshold, with her welcome sounding
in my ears.

One, I think, did suspect me. Clon, the porter, continued to hold the
door obstinately ajar and to eye me with grinning spite, until his
mistress, with some sharpness, bade him drop the bars, and conduct me
to a room.

"Do you go also, Louis," she continued, speaking to the man beside
her, "and see this gentleman comfortably disposed. I am sorry," she
added, addressing me in the graceful tone she had before used, and I
thought I could see her head bend in the darkness, "that our present
circumstances do not permit us to welcome you more fitly, Monsieur.
But the troubles of the times--however, you will excuse what is
lacking. Until to-morrow, I have the honour to bid you goodnight."

"Good-night, Madame," I stammered, trembling. I had not been able to
distinguish her face in the gloom of the doorway, but her voice, her
greeting, her presence, unmanned me. I was troubled and perplexed; I
had not spirit to kick a dog. I followed the two servants from the
hall without heeding how we went; nor was it until we came to a full
stop at a door in a whitewashed corridor, and it was forced upon me
that something was in question between my two conductors, that I began
to take notice.

Then I saw that one of them, Louis, wished to lodge me here where we
stood. The porter, on the other hand, who held the keys, would not. He
did not speak a word, nor did the other--and this gave a queer ominous
character to the debate; but he continued to jerk his head towards the
farther end of the corridor, and, at last, he carried his point. Louis
shrugged his shoulders, and moved on, glancing askance at me; and I,
not understanding the matter in debate, followed the pair in silence.

We reached the end of the corridor, and there, for an instant, the
monster with the keys paused and grinned at me. Then he turned into a
narrow passage on the left, and after following it for some paces,
halted before a small, strong door. His key jarred in the lock, but he
forced it shrieking round, and with a savage flourish threw the door
open.

I walked in and saw a mean, bare chamber with barred windows. The
floor was indifferently clean, there was no furniture. The yellow
light of the lanthorn falling on the stained walls gave the place the
look of a dungeon. I turned to the two men. "This is not a very good
room," I said. "And it feels damp. Have you no other?"

Louis looked doubtfully at his companion. But the porter shook his
head stubbornly.

"Why does he not speak?" I asked with impatience.

"He is dumb," Louis answered.

"Dumb!" I exclaimed. "But he hears."

"He has ears," the servant answered drily. "But he has no tongue,
Monsieur."

I shuddered. "How did he lose it?" I asked.

"At Rochelle. He was a spy, and the King's people took him the day the
town surrendered. They spared his life, but cut out his tongue."

"Ah!" I said. I wished to say more, to be natural, to show myself at
my ease. But the porter's eyes seemed to burn into me, and my own
tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. He opened his lips and pointed
to his throat with a horrid gesture, and I shook my head and turned
from him-- "You can let me have some bedding?" I murmured hastily, for
the sake of saying something, and to escape.

"Of course, Monsieur," Louis answered. "I will fetch some."

He went away, thinking doubtless that Clon would stay with me. But
after waiting a minute the porter strode off also with the lanthorn,
leaving me to stand in the middle of the damp, dark room, and reflect
on the position. It was plain that Clon suspected me. This prison-like
room, with its barred window at the back of the house, and in the wing
farthest from the stables, proved so much. Clearly, he was a dangerous
fellow, of whom I must beware. I had just begun to wonder how Madame
could keep such a monster in her house, when I heard his step
returning. He came in, lighting Louis, who carried a small pallet and
a bundle of coverings.

The dumb man had, besides the lanthorn, a bowl of water and a piece of
rag in his hand. He set them down, and going out again, fetched in a
stool. Then he hung up the lanthorn on a nail, took the bowl and rag,
and invited me to sit down.

I was loth to let him touch me; but he continued to stand over me,
pointing and grinning with dark persistence, and, rather than stand on
a trifle, I sat down at last, and gave him his way. He bathed my head
carefully enough, and I dare say did it good; but I understood. I knew
that his only desire was to learn whether the cut was real or a
pretence. I began to fear him more and more, and, until he was gone
from the room, dared scarcely lift my face, lest he should read too
much in it.

Alone, even, I felt uncomfortable. This seemed so sinister a business,
and so ill begun. I was in the house. But Madame's frank voice haunted
me, and the dumb man's eyes, full of suspicion and menace. When I
presently got up and tried my door, I found it locked. The room
smelled dank and close--like a vault. I could not see through the
barred window; but I could hear the boughs sweep it in ghostly
fashion; and I guessed that it looked out where the wood grew close to
the walls of the house; and that even in the day the sun never peeped
through it.

Nevertheless, tired and worn out, I slept at last. When I awoke the
room was full of grey light, the door stood open, and Louis, looking
ashamed of himself, waited by my pallet with a cup of wine in his
hand, and some bread and fruit on a platter.

"Will Monsieur be good enough to rise?" he said. "It is eight
o'clock."

"Willingly," I answered tartly. "Now that the door is unlocked."

He turned red. "It was an oversight," he stammered. "Clon is
accustomed to lock the door, and he did it inadvertently, forgetting
that there was any one--"

"Inside!" I said drily.

"Precisely, Monsieur."

"Ah!" I replied. "Well, I do not think the oversight would please
Madame de Cocheforêt, if she heard of it?"

"If Monsieur would have the kindness not to--"

"Mention it, my good fellow?" I answered, looking at him with meaning,
as I rose. "No; but it must not occur again."

I saw that this man was not like Clon. He had the instincts of the
family servant, and freed from the influences of darkness, felt
ashamed of his conduct. While he arranged my clothes, he looked round
the room with an air of distaste, and muttered once or twice that the
furniture of the principal chambers was packed away.

"M. de Cocheforêt is abroad, I think?" I said, as I dressed.

"And likely to remain there," the man answered carelessly, shrugging
his shoulders. "Monsieur will doubtless have heard that he is in
trouble. In the meantime, the house is triste, and Monsieur must
overlook much, if he stays. Madame lives retired, and the roads are
ill-made and visitors few."

"When the lion was ill the jackals left him," I said.

Louis nodded. "It is true," he answered simply. He made no boast or
brag on his own account, I noticed; and it came home to me that he was
a faithful fellow, such as I love. I questioned him discreetly, and
learned that he and Clon and an older man who lived over the stables
were the only male servants left of a great household. Madame, her
sister-in-law, and three women completed the family.

It took me some time to repair my wardrobe, so that I dare say it was
nearly ten when I left my dismal little room. I found Louis waiting in
the corridor, and he told me that Madame de Cocheforêt and
Mademoiselle were in the rose-garden, and would be pleased to receive
me. I nodded, and he guided me through several dim passages to a
parlour with an open door, through which the sun shone in gaily.
Cheered by the morning air and this sudden change to pleasantness and
life, I stepped lightly out.

The two ladies were walking up and down a wide path which bisected the
garden. The weeds grew rankly in the gravel underfoot, the rose-bushes
which bordered the walk thrust their branches here and there in
untrained freedom, a dark yew hedge which formed the background
bristled with rough shoots and sadly needed trimming. But I did not
see any of these things then. The grace, the noble air, the
distinction of the two women who paced slowly to meet me--and who
shared all these qualities greatly as they differed in others--left me
no power to notice trifles.

Mademoiselle was a head shorter than her _belle s[oe]ur_--a slender
woman and petite, with a beautiful face and a fair complexion. She
walked with dignity, but beside Madame's stately figure she seemed
almost childish. And it was characteristic of the two that
Mademoiselle as they drew near to me regarded me with sorrowful
attention, Madame with a grave smile.

I bowed low. They returned the salute. "This is my sister," Madame de
Cocheforêt said, with a slight, a very slight air of condescension.
"Will you please to tell me your name, Monsieur?"

"I am M. de Barthe, a gentleman of Normandy," I said, taking the name
of my mother. My own, by a possibility, might be known.

Madame's face wore a puzzled look. "I do not know your name, I think,"
she said thoughtfully. Doubtless she was going over in her mind all
the names with which conspiracy had made her familiar.

"That is my misfortune, Madame," I said humbly.

"Nevertheless I am going to scold you," she rejoined, still eyeing me
with some keenness. "I am glad to see that you are none the worse for
your adventure--but others may be. And you should have borne that in
mind."

"I do not think that I hurt the man seriously," I stammered.

"I do not refer to that," she answered coldly. "You know, or should
know, that we are in disgrace here; that the Government regards us
already with an evil eye, and that a very small thing would lead them
to garrison the village and perhaps oust us from the little the wars
have left us. You should have known this and considered it," she
continued. "Whereas--I do not say that you are a braggart, M. de
Barthe. But on this one occasion you seem to have played the part of
one."

"Madame, I did not think," I stammered.

"Want of thought causes much evil," she answered, smiling. "However, I
have spoken, and we trust that while you stay with us you will be more
careful. For the rest, Monsieur," she continued graciously, raising
her hand to prevent me speaking, "we do not know why you are here, or
what plans you are pursuing. And we do not wish to know. It is enough
that you are of our side. This house is at your service as long as you
please to use it. And if we can aid you in any other way we will do
so."

"Madame!" I exclaimed; and there I stopped. I could not say any more.
The rose-garden, with its air of neglect, the shadow of the quiet
house that fell across it, the great yew hedge which backed it, and
was the pattern of one under which I had played in childhood--all had
points that pricked me. But the women's kindness, their unquestioning
confidence, the noble air of hospitality which moved them! Against
these and their placid beauty in its peaceful frame I had no shield. I
turned away, and feigned to be overcome by gratitude. "I have no
words--to thank you!" I muttered presently. "I am a little shaken this
morning. I--pardon me."

"We will leave you for a while," Mademoiselle de Cocheforêt said, in
gentle, pitying tones. "The air will revive you. Louis shall call you
when we go to dinner, M. de Barthe. Come, Elise."

I bowed low to hide my face, and they nodded pleasantly--not looking
closely at me--as they walked by me to the house. I watched the two
gracious, pale-robed figures until the doorway swallowed them, and
then I walked away to a quiet corner where the shrubs grew highest and
the yew hedge threw its deepest shadow, and I stood to think.

They were strange thoughts, I remember. If the oak can think at the
moment the wind uproots it, or the gnarled thorn-bush when the
landslip tears it from the slope, they may have such thoughts. I
stared at the leaves, at the rotting blossoms, into the dark cavities
of the hedge; I stared mechanically, dazed and wondering. What was the
purpose for which I was here? What was the work I had come to do?
Above all, how--my God! how was I to do it in the face of these
helpless women, who trusted me--who opened their house to me? Clon had
not frightened me, nor the loneliness of the leagued village, nor the
remoteness of this corner where the dread Cardinal seemed a name, and
the King's writ ran slowly, and the rebellion, long quenched
elsewhere, still smouldered. But Madame's pure faith, the younger
woman's tenderness--how was I to face these?

I cursed the Cardinal, I cursed the English fool who had brought me to
this, I cursed the years of plenty and scarceness and the Quartier
Marais, and Zaton's, where I had lived like a pig, and--

A touch fell on my arm. I turned. It was Clon. How he had stolen up so
quietly, how long he had been at my elbow, I could not tell. But his
eyes gleamed spitefully in their deep sockets, and he laughed with his
fleshless lips; and I hated him. In the daylight the man looked more
like a death's-head than ever. I fancied I read in his face that he
knew my secret, and I flashed into rage at sight of him.

"What is it?" I cried, with another oath. "Don't lay your corpse-claws
on me!"

He mowed at me, and, bowing with ironical politeness, pointed to the
house. "Is Madame served?" I said impatiently, crushing down my anger.
"Is that what you mean, fool?"

He nodded.

"Very well," I retorted. "I can find my way, then. You may go!"

He fell behind, and I strode back through the sunshine and flowers,
and along the grass-grown paths, to the door by which I had come. I
walked fast, but his shadow kept pace with me, driving out the strange
thoughts in which I had been indulging. Slowly but surely it darkened
my mood. After all, this was a little, little place; the people who
lived here--I shrugged my shoulders. France, power, pleasure, life lay
yonder in the great city. A boy might wreck himself here for a fancy;
a man of the world, never. When I entered the room, where the two
ladies stood waiting for me by the table, I was myself again.

"Clon made you understand, then?" the younger woman said kindly.

"Yes, Mademoiselle," I answered. On which I saw the two smile at one
another, and I added: "He is a strange creature. I wonder you can bear
to have him near you."

"Poor man! You do not know his story?" Madame said.

"I have heard something of it," I answered. "Louis told me."

"Well, I do shudder at him, sometimes," she replied, in a low voice.
"He has suffered--and horribly, and for us. But I wish it had been on
any other service. Spies are necessary things, but one does not wish
to have to do with them! Anything in the nature of treachery is so
horrible."

"Quick, Louis! the cognac, if you have any there!" Mademoiselle
exclaimed. "I am sure you are--still feeling ill, Monsieur."

"No, I thank you," I muttered hoarsely, making an effort to recover
myself. "I am quite well. It was an old wound that sometimes touches
me."



                             CHAPTER IV.

                       MADAME AND MADEMOISELLE.


To be frank, however, it was not the old wound that touched me so
nearly, but Madame's words; which, finishing what Clon's sudden
appearance in the garden had begun, went a long way towards hardening
me and throwing me back into myself. I saw with bitterness--what I had
perhaps forgotten for a moment--how great was the chasm which
separated me from these women; how impossible it was we could long
think alike; how far apart in views, in experience, in aims we were.
And while I made a mock in my heart of their high-flown sentiments--or
thought I did--I laughed no less at the folly which had led me to
dream, even for a moment, that I could, at my age, go back--go back
and risk all for a whim, a scruple, the fancy of a lonely hour.

I dare say something of this showed in my face: for Madame's eyes
mirrored a dim reflection of trouble as she looked at me, and
Mademoiselle ate nervously and at random. At any rate, I fancied so,
and I hastened to compose myself; and the two, in pressing upon me the
simple dainties of the table, soon forgot, or appeared to forget, the
incident.

Yet in spite of this _contretemps_, that first meal had a strange
charm for me. The round table whereat we dined was spread inside the
open door which led to the garden, so that the October sunshine fell
full on the spotless linen and quaint old plate, and the fresh balmy
air filled the room with the scent of sweet herbs. Louis served us
with the mien of major-domo, and set on each dish as though it had
been a peacock or a mess of ortolans. The woods provided the larger
portion of our meal; the garden did its part; the confections
Mademoiselle had cooked with her own hand.

By-and-bye, as the meal went on, as Louis trod to and fro across the
polished floor, and the last insects of summer hummed sleepily
outside, and the two gracious faces continued to smile at me out of
the gloom--for the ladies sat with their backs to the door--I began to
dream again. I began to sink again into folly--that was half pleasure,
half pain. The fury of the gaming-house and the riot of Zaton's seemed
far away. The triumphs of the fencing-room--even they grew cheap and
tawdry. I thought of existence as one outside it. I balanced this
against that, and wondered whether, after all, the red soutane were so
much better than the homely jerkin, or the fame of a day than ease and
safety.

And life at Cocheforêt was all after the pattern of this dinner. Each
day, I might almost say each meal, gave rise to the same sequence of
thoughts. In Clon's presence, or when some word of Madame's,
unconsciously harsh, reminded me of the distance between us, I was
myself. At other times, in face of this peaceful and intimate life,
which was only rendered possible by the remoteness of the place and
the peculiar circumstances in which the ladies stood, I felt a strange
weakness. The loneliness of the woods that encircled the house, and
here and there afforded a distant glimpse of snow-clad peaks; the
absence of any link to bind me to the old life, so that at intervals
it seemed unreal; the remoteness of the great world, all tended to sap
my will and weaken the purpose which had brought me to this place.

On the fourth day after my coming, however, something happened to
break the spell. It chanced that I came late to dinner, and entered
the room hastily and without ceremony, expecting to find Madame and
her sister already seated. Instead, I found them talking in a low tone
by the open door, with every mark of disorder in their appearance;
while Clon and Louis stood at a little distance with downcast faces
and perplexed looks.

I had tune to see all this, and then my entrance wrought a sudden
change. Clon and Louis sprang to attention; Madame and her sister came
to the table and sat down, and made a shallow pretence of being at
their ease. But Mademoiselle's face was pale, her hand trembled; and
though Madame's greater self-command enabled her to carry off the
matter better, I saw that she was not herself. Once or twice she spoke
harshly to Louis; she fell at other times into a brown study; and when
she thought I was not watching her, her face wore a look of deep
anxiety.

I wondered what all this meant; and I wondered more when, after the
meal, the two walked in the garden for an hour with Clon. Mademoiselle
came from this interview alone, and I was sure that she had been
weeping. Madame and the dark porter stayed outside some time longer;
then she, too, came in, and disappeared.

Clon did not return with her, and when I went into the garden five
minutes later Louis also had vanished. Save for two women who sat
sewing at an upper window, the house seemed to be deserted. Not a
sound broke the afternoon stillness of room or garden, and yet I felt
that more was happening in this silence than appeared on the surface.
I began to grow curious--suspicious; and presently slipped out myself
by way of the stables, and, skirting the wood at the back of the
house, gained with a little trouble the bridge which crossed the
stream and led to the village.

Turning round at this point, I could see the house, and I moved a
little aside into the underwood, and stood gazing at the windows,
trying to unriddle the matter. It was not likely that M. de Cocheforêt
would repeat his visit so soon; and, besides, the women's emotions had
been those of pure dismay and grief, unmixed with any of the
satisfaction to which such a meeting, though snatched by stealth,
would give rise. I discarded my first thought, therefore--that he had
returned unexpectedly--and I sought for another solution.

But none was on the instant forthcoming. The windows remained
obstinately blind, no figures appeared on the terrace, the garden lay
deserted, and without life. My departure had not, as I half expected
it would, drawn the secret into light.

I watched a while, at times cursing my own meanness; but the
excitement of the moment and the quest tided me over that. Then I
determined to go down into the village and see whether anything was
moving there. I had been down to the inn once, and had been received
half sulkily, half courteously, as a person privileged at the great
house, and therefore to be accepted. It would not be thought odd if I
went again; and after a moment's thought, I started down the track.

This, where it ran through the wood, was so densely shaded that the
sun penetrated to it little, and in patches only. A squirrel stirred
at times, sliding round a trunk, or scampering across the dry leaves.
Occasionally a pig grunted and moved farther into the wood. But the
place was very quiet, and I do not know how it was that I surprised
Clon instead of being surprised by him.

He was walking along the path before me with his eyes on the
ground--walking so slowly, and with his lean frame so bent that I
might have supposed him ill if I had not remarked the steady movement
of his head from right to left, and the alert touch with which he now
and again displaced a clod of earth or a cluster of leaves. By-and-bye
he rose stiffly, and looked round him suspiciously; but by that time I
had slipped behind a trunk, and was not to be seen; and after a brief
interval he went back to his task, stooping over it more closely, if
possible, than before, and applying himself with even greater care.

By that time I had made up my mind that he was tracking some one. But
whom? I could not make a guess at that. I only knew that the plot was
thickening, and began to feel the eagerness of the chase. Of course,
if the matter had not to do with Cocheforêt, it was no affair of mine;
but though it seemed unlikely that anything could bring him back so
soon, he might still be at the bottom of this. And, besides, I felt a
natural curiosity. When Clon at last improved his pace, and went on to
the village, I took up his task. I called to mind all the wood-lore I
had ever known, and scanned trodden mould and crushed leaves with
eager eyes. But in vain. I could make nothing of it at all, and rose
at last with an aching back and no advantage.

I did not go on to the village after that, but returned to the house,
where I found Madame pacing the garden. She looked up eagerly on
hearing my step; and I was mistaken if she was not disappointed--if
she had not been expecting some one else. She hid the feeling bravely,
however, and met me with a careless word; but she turned to the house
more than once while we talked, and she seemed to be all the while on
the watch, and uneasy. I was not surprised when Clon's figure
presently appeared in the doorway, and she left me abruptly, and went
to him. I only felt more certain than before that there was something
strange on foot. What it was, and whether it had to do with M. de
Cocheforêt, I could not tell. But there it was, and I grew more
curious the longer I remained alone.

She came back to me presently, looking thoughtful and a trifle
downcast. "That was Clon, was it not?" I said, studying her face.

"Yes," she answered. She spoke absently, and did not look at me.

"How does he talk to you?" I asked, speaking a trifle curtly.

As I intended, my tone roused her. "By signs," she said.

"Is he--is he not a little mad?" I ventured. I wanted to make her talk
and forget herself.

She looked at me with sudden keenness, then dropped her eyes.

"You do not like him?" she said, a note of challenge in her voice. "I
have noticed that, Monsieur."

"I think he does not like me," I replied.

"He is less trustful than we are," she answered naïvely. "It is
natural that he should be. He has seen more of the world."

That silenced me for a moment, but she did not seem to notice it. "I
was looking for him a little while ago, and I could not find him," I
said, after a pause.

"He has been into the village," she answered.

I longed to pursue the matter farther; but though she seemed to
entertain no suspicion of me, I dared not run the risk. I tried her,
instead, on another tack. "Mademoiselle de Cocheforêt does not seem
very well to-day?" I said.

"No?" she answered carelessly. "Well, now you speak of it, I do not
think she is. She is often anxious about--my husband."

She uttered the last two words with a little hesitation, and looked at
me quickly when she had spoken them. We were sitting at the moment on
a stone seat which had the wall of the house for a back; and,
fortunately, I was toying with the branch of a creeping plant that
hung over it, so that she could not see more than the side of my face.
For I knew that it altered. Over my voice, however, I had more
control, and I hastened to answer, "Yes, I suppose so," as innocently
as possible.

"He is at Bosost--in Spain. You knew that, I conclude?" she said, with
a certain sharpness. And she looked me in the face again very
directly.

"Yes," I answered, beginning to tremble.

"I suppose you have heard, too, that he--that he sometimes crosses the
border?" she continued, in a low voice, but with a certain ring of
insistence in her tone. "Or, if you have not heard it, you guess it?"

I was in a quandary, and grew, in one second, hot all over. Uncertain
what amount of knowledge I ought to admit, I took refuge in gallantry.
"I should be surprised if he did not," I answered, with a bow, "being,
as he is, so close, and having such an inducement to return, Madame."

She drew a long, shivering sigh--at the thought of his peril, I
fancied, and sat back against the wall. Nor did she say any more,
though I heard her sigh again. In a moment she rose. "The afternoons
are growing chilly," she said; "I will go in and see how Mademoiselle
is. Sometimes she does not come to supper. If she cannot descend this
evening, I am afraid you must excuse me too, Monsieur."

I said what was right, and watched her go in; and, as I did so, I
loathed my errand, and the mean contemptible curiosity which it had
planted in my mind, more than at any former time. These women--I could
find it in my heart to hate them for their frankness, for their
foolish confidence, and the silly trustfulness that made them so easy
a prey!

_Nom de Dieu!_ What did the woman mean by telling me all this? To meet
me in such a way, to disarm one by such methods, was to take an unfair
advantage. It put a vile--ay, the vilest--aspect, on the work I had to
do.

Yet it was very odd! What could M. de Cocheforêt mean by returning so
soon, if M. de Cocheforêt was here? And, on the other hand, if it was
not his unexpected presence that had so upset the house, what was the
secret? Whom had Clon been tracking? And what was the cause of
Madame's anxiety? In a few minutes I began to grow curious again; and,
as the ladies did not appear at supper, I had leisure to give my brain
full license, and in the course of an hour thought of a hundred keys
to the mystery. But none exactly fitted the lock, or laid open the
secret.

A false alarm that evening helped to puzzle me still more. I was
sitting, about an hour after supper, on the same seat in the garden--I
had my cloak and was smoking--when Madame came out like a ghost, and,
without seeing me, flitted away through the darkness toward the
stables. For a moment I hesitated, then I followed her. She went down
the path and round the stables, and so far I understood; but when she
had in this way gained the rear of the west wing, she took a track
through the thicket to the east of the house again, and so came back
to the garden. This gained, she came up the path and went in through
the parlour door, and disappeared--after making a clear circuit of the
house, and not once pausing or looking to right or left! I confess I
was fairly baffled. I sank back on the seat I had left, and said to
myself that this was the lamest of all conclusions. I was sure that
she had exchanged no word with any one. I was equally sure that she
had not detected my presence behind her. Why, then, had she made this
strange promenade, alone, unprotected, an hour after nightfall? No dog
had bayed, no one had moved, she had not once paused, or listened,
like a person expecting a rencontre. I could not make it out. And I
came no nearer to solving it, though I lay awake an hour beyond my
usual time.

In the morning neither of the ladies descended to dinner, and I heard
that Mademoiselle was not so well. After a lonely meal, therefore--I
missed them more than I should have supposed--I retired to my
favourite seat, and fell to meditating.

The day was fine, and the garden pleasant. Sitting there with my eyes
on the old-fashioned herb-beds, with the old-fashioned scents in the
air, and the dark belt of trees bounding the view on either side, I
could believe that I had been out of Paris not three weeks, but three
months. The quiet lapped me round. I could fancy that I had never
loved anything else. The wood-doves cooed in the stillness;
occasionally the harsh cry of a jay jarred the silence. It was an hour
after noon, and hot. I think I nodded.

On a sudden, as if in a dream, I saw Clon's face peering at me round
the angle of the parlour door. He looked, and in a moment withdrew,
and I heard whispering. The door was gently closed. Then all was still
again.

But I was wide awake now, and thinking hard. Clearly the people of the
house wished to assure themselves that I was asleep and safely out of
the way. As clearly, it was to my interest to know what was passing.
Giving way to the temptation, I rose quietly, and, stooping below the
level of the windows, slipped round the east end of the house, passing
between it and the great yew hedge. Here I found all still, and no
one stirring. So, keeping a wary eye about me, I went on round
the house--reversing the route which Madame had taken the night
before--until I gained the rear of the stables. Here I had scarcely
paused a second to scan the ground before two persons came out of the
stable-court They were Madame and the porter.

They stood a brief while outside, and looked up and down. Then Madame
said something to the man, and he nodded. Leaving him standing where
he was, she crossed the grass with a quick, light step, and vanished
among the trees.

In a moment my mind was made up to follow; and, as Clon turned at once
and went in, I was able to do so before it was too late. Bending low
among the shrubs, I ran hot-foot to the point where Madame had entered
the wood. Here I found a narrow path, and ran nimbly along it, and
presently saw her grey robe fluttering among the trees before me. It
only remained to keep out of her sight and give her no chance of
discovering that she was followed; and this I set myself to do. Once
or twice she glanced round, but the wood was of beech, the light which
passed between the leaves was mere twilight, and my clothes were
dark-coloured. I had every advantage, therefore, and little to fear as
long as I could keep her in view and still remain myself at such a
distance that the rustle of my tread would not disturb her.

Assured that she was on her way to meet her husband, whom my presence
kept from the house, I felt that the crisis had come at last; and I
grew more excited with each step I took. True, I detested the task of
watching her: it filled me with peevish disgust. But in proportion as
I hated it I was eager to have it done and be done with it, and
succeed, and stuff my ears and begone from the scene. When she
presently came to the verge of the beech wood, and, entering a little
open clearing, seemed to loiter, I went cautiously. This, I thought,
must be the rendezvous; and I held back warily, looking to see him
step out of the thicket.

But he did not, and by-and-bye she quickened her pace. She crossed the
open and entered a wide ride cut through a low, dense wood of alder
and dwarf oak--a wood so closely planted, and so intertwined with
hazel and elder and box that the branches rose like a solid wall,
twelve feet high, on either side of the track.

Down this she passed, and I stood and watched her go; for I dared not
follow. The ride stretched away as straight as a line for four or five
hundred yards, a green path between green walls. To enter it was to be
immediately detected, if she turned; while the thicket itself
permitted no passage. I stood baffled and raging, and watched her pass
along. It seemed an age before she at last reached the end, and,
turning sharply to the right, was in an instant gone from sight.

I waited then no longer. I started off, and, running as lightly and
quietly as I could, I sped down the green alley. The sun shone into
it, the trees kept off the wind, and between heat and haste, I sweated
finely. But the turf was soft, and the ground fell slightly, and in
little more than a minute I gained the end. Fifty yards short of the
turning I stayed myself, and, stealing on, looked cautiously the way
she had gone.

I saw before me a second ride, the twin of the other, and a hundred
and fifty paces down it her grey figure tripping on between the green
hedges. I stood and took breath, and cursed the wood and the heat and
Madame's wariness. We must have come a league or two-thirds of a
league, at least. How far did the man expect her to plod to meet him?
I began to grow angry. There is moderation even in the cooking of
eggs, and this wood might stretch into Spain, for all I knew!

Presently she turned the corner and was gone again, and I had to
repeat my man[oe]uvre. This time, surely, I should find a change. But
no! Another green ride stretched away into the depths of the forest,
with hedges of varying shades--here light and there dark, as hazel and
elder, or thorn, and yew and box prevailed--but always high and stiff
and impervious. Half-way down the ride Madame's figure tripped
steadily on, the only moving thing in sight. I wondered, stood, and,
when she vanished, followed--only to find that she had entered another
track, a little narrower, but in every other respect alike.

And so it went on for quite half an hour. Sometimes Madame turned to
the right, sometimes to the left. The maze seemed to be endless. Once
or twice I wondered whether she had lost her way, and was merely
seeking to return. But her steady, purposeful gait, her measured pace,
forbade the idea. I noticed, too, that she seldom looked behind
her--rarely to right or left. Once the ride down which she passed was
carpeted not with green, but with the silvery, sheeny leaves of some
creeping plant that in the distance had a shimmer like that of water
at evening. As she trod this, with her face to the low sun, her tall
grey figure had a pure air that for the moment startled me--she looked
unearthly. Then I swore in scorn of myself, and at the next corner I
had my reward. She was no longer walking on. She had stopped, I found,
and seated herself on a fallen tree that lay in the ride.

For some time I stood in ambush watching her, and with each minute I
grew more impatient. At last I began to doubt--to have strange
thoughts. The green walls were growing dark. The sun was sinking; a
sharp, white peak, miles and miles away, which closed the vista of the
ride began to flush and colour rosily. Finally, but not before I had
had leisure to grow uneasy, she stood up and walked on more slowly. I
waited, as usual, until the next turning hid her. Then I hastened
after her, and, warily passing round the corner--came face to face
with her!

I knew all in a moment--that she had fooled me, tricked me, lured me
away. Her face was white with scorn, her eyes blazed; her figure, as
she confronted me, trembled with anger and infinite contempt.

"You spy!" she cried. "You hound! You--gentleman! Oh, _mon Dieu!_ if
you are one of us--if you are really not _canaille_--we shall pay for
this some day! We shall pay a heavy reckoning in the time to come! I
did not think," she continued--her every syllable like the lash of a
whip--"that there was anything so vile as you in this world!"

I stammered something--I do not know what. Her words burned into
me--into my heart! Had she been a man, I would have struck her dead!

"You thought you deceived me yesterday," she continued, lowering her
tone, but with no lessening of the passion and contempt which curled
her lip and gave fulness to her voice. "You plotter! You surface
trickster! You thought it an easy task to delude a woman--you find
yourself deluded. God give you shame that you may suffer!" she
continued mercilessly. "You talked of Clon, but Clon beside you is the
most honourable of men!"

"Madame," I said hoarsely--and I know my face was grey as ashes--"let
us understand one another."

"God forbid!" she cried, on the instant. "I would not soil myself!"

"Fie! Madame," I said, trembling. "But then, you are a woman. That
should cost a man his life!"

She laughed bitterly.

"You say well," she retorted. "I am not a man. Neither am I Madame.
Madame de Cocheforêt has spent this afternoon--thanks to your absence
and your imbecility--with her husband. Yes, I hope that hurts you!"
she went on, savagely snapping her little white teeth together. "To
spy and do vile work, and do it ill, Monsieur Mouchard--Monsieur de
Mouchard, I should say--I congratulate you!"

"You are not Madame de Cocheforêt!" I cried, stunned--even in the
midst of my shame and rage--by this blow.

"No, Monsieur!" she answered grimly. "I am not! And permit me to point
out--for we do not all lie easily--that I never said I was. You
deceived yourself so skilfully that we had no need to trick you."

"Mademoiselle, then?" I muttered.

"Is Madame!" she cried. "Yes, and I am Mademoiselle de Cocheforêt. And
in that character, and in all others, I beg from this moment to close
our acquaintance, Sir. When we meet again--if we ever do meet--which
God forbid!" she cried, her eyes sparkling, "do not presume to speak
to me, or I will have you flogged by the grooms. And do not stain our
roof by sleeping under it again. You may lie to-night in the inn. It
shall not be said that Cocheforêt," she continued proudly, "returned
even treachery with inhospitality; and I will give orders to that end.
To-morrow begone back to your master, like the whipped cur you are!
Spy and coward!"

With the last fierce words she moved away. I would have said
something, I could almost have found it in my heart to stop her and
make her hear. Nay, I had dreadful thoughts; for I was the stronger,
and I might have done with her as I pleased. But she swept by me so
fearlessly--as I might pass some loathsome cripple in the road--that I
stood turned to stone. Without looking at me--without turning her head
to see whether I followed or remained, or what I did--she went
steadily down the track until the trees and the shadow and the growing
darkness hid her grey figure from me; and I found myself alone.



                              CHAPTER V.

                               REVENGE.


And full of black rage! Had she only reproached me, or, turning on me
in the hour of _my_ victory, said all she had now said in the moment
of her own, I could have borne it. She might have shamed me then, and
I might have taken the shame to myself, and forgiven her. But, as it
was, I stood there in the gathering dusk, between the darkening
hedges, baffled, tricked, defeated! And by a woman! She had pitted her
wits against mine, her woman's will against my experience, and she had
come off the victor. And then she had reviled me. As I took it all in,
and began to comprehend, also, the more remote results, and how
completely her move had made further progress on my part impossible,
I hated her. She had tricked me with her gracious ways and her
slow-coming smile. And, after all--for what she had said--it was this
man's life or mine. What had I done that another man would not do?
_Mon Dieu!_ In the future there was nothing I would not do. I would
make her smart for those words of hers! I would bring her to her
knees!

Still, hot as I was, an hour might have restored me to coolness. But
when I started to return, I fell into a fresh rage, for I remembered
that I did not know my way out of the maze of rides and paths into
which she had drawn me; and this and the mishaps which followed kept
my rage hot. For a full hour I wandered in the wood, unable, though I
knew where the village lay, to find any track which led continuously
in one direction. Whenever, at the end of each attempt, the thicket
brought me up short, I fancied I heard her laughing on the farther
side of the brake; and the ignominy of this chance punishment, the
check which the confinement placed on my rage, almost maddened me. In
the darkness, I fell, and rose cursing; I tore my hands with thorns; I
stained my suit, which had suffered sadly once before. At length, when
I had almost resigned myself to lie in the wood, I caught sight of the
lights of the village, and trembling between haste and anger, pressed
towards them. In a few minutes I stood in the little street.

The lights of the inn shone only fifty yards away; but before I could
show myself even there pride suggested that I should do something to
repair my clothes. I stopped, and scraped and brushed them; and, at
the same time, did what I could to compose my features. Then I
advanced to the door and knocked. Almost on the instant the landlord's
voice cried from the inside, "Enter, Monsieur!"

I raised the latch and went in. The man was alone, squatting over the
fire, warming his hands A black pot simmered on the ashes: as I
entered, he raised the lid and peeped inside. Then he glanced over his
shoulder.

"You expected me?" I said defiantly, walking to the hearth, and
setting one of my damp boots on the logs.

"Yes," he answered, nodding curtly. "Your supper is just ready. I
thought you would be in about this time."

He grinned as he spoke, and it was with difficulty I suppressed my
wrath "Mademoiselle de Cocheforêt told you," I said, affecting
indifference, "where I was?"

"Ay, Mademoiselle--or Madame," he replied, grinning afresh.

So she had told him where she had left me, and how she had tricked me!
She had made me the village laughing-stock! My rage flashed out afresh
at the thought, and, at the sight of his mocking face, I raised my
fist.

But he read the threat in my eyes, and was up in a moment, snarling,
with his hand on his knife. "Not again, Monsieur!" he cried, in his
vile _patois_, "My head is sore still. Raise your hand, and I will rip
you up as I would a pig!"

"Sit down, fool," I said. "I am not going to harm you. Where is your
wife?"

"About her business."

"Which should be getting my supper," I retorted sharply.

He rose sullenly, and, fetching a platter, poured the mess of broth
and vegetables into it. Then he went to a cupboard and brought out a
loaf of black bread and a measure of wine, and set them also on the
table. "You see it," he said laconically.

"And a poor welcome!" I exclaimed.

He flamed into sudden passion at that. Leaning with both his hands on
the table, he thrust his rugged face and blood-shot eyes close to
mine. His mustachios bristled; his beard trembled. "Hark ye, Sirrah!"
he muttered, with sullen emphasis--"be content! I have my suspicions.
And if it were not for my lady's orders I would put a knife into you,
fair or foul, this very night. You would lie snug outside, instead of
inside, and I do not think any one would be the worse. But, as it is,
be content. Keep a still tongue; and when you turn your back on
Cocheforêt to-morrow keep it turned."

"Tut! tut!" I said--but I confess I was a little out of countenance.
"Threatened men live long, you rascal!"

"In Paris!" he answered significantly. "Not here, Monsieur."

He straightened himself with that, nodded once, and went back to the
fire, and I shrugged my shoulders and began to eat, affecting to
forget his presence. The logs on the hearth burned sullenly, and gave
no light. The poor oil-lump, casting weird shadows from wall to wall,
served only to discover the darkness. The room, with its low roof and
earthen floor, and foul clothes flung here and there, reeked of stale
meals and garlic and vile cooking. I thought of the parlour at
Cocheforêt, and the dainty table, and the stillness, and the scented
pot-herbs; and, though I was too old a soldier to eat the worse
because my spoon lacked washing, I felt the change, and laid it
savagely at Mademoiselle's door.

The landlord, watching me stealthily from his place by the hearth,
read my thoughts, and chuckled aloud. "Palace fare, palace manners!"
he muttered scornfully. "Set a beggar on horseback, and he will
ride--back to the inn!"

"Keep a civil tongue, will you!" I answered, scowling at him.

"Have you finished?" he retorted.

I rose, without deigning to reply, and, going to the fire, drew off my
boots, which were wet through. He, on the instant, swept off the wine
and loaf to the cupboard, and then, coming back for the platter I had
used, took it, opened the back door, and went out, leaving the door
ajar. The draught which came in beat the flame of the lamp this way
and that, and gave the dingy, gloomy room an air still more miserable.
I rose angrily from the fire, and went to the door, intending to close
it with a bang.

But when I reached it, I saw something, between door and jamb, which
stayed my hand. The door led to a shed in which the housewife washed
pots and the like. I felt some surprise, therefore, when I found a
light there at this time of night; still more surprise when I saw what
she was doing.

She was seated on the mud floor, with a rushlight before her, and on
either side of her a high-piled heap of refuse and rubbish. From one
of these, at the moment I caught sight of her, she was sorting
things--horrible, filthy sweepings of road or floor--to the other;
shaking and sifting each article as she passed it across, and then
taking up another and repeating the action with it, and so on: all
minutely, warily, with an air of so much patience and persistence that
I stood wondering. Some things--rags--she held up between her eyes and
the light, some she passed through her fingers, some she fairly tore
in pieces. And all the time her husband stood watching her greedily,
my platter still in his hand, as if her strange occupation fascinated
him.

I stood looking, also, for half a minute, perhaps; then the man's eye,
raised for a single second to the doorway, met mine. He started,
muttered something to his wife, and, quick as thought, kicked the
light out, leaving the shed in darkness. Cursing him for an
ill-conditioned fellow, I walked back to the fire, laughing. In a
twinkling he followed me, his face dark with rage.

"_Ventre saint gris!_" he exclaimed, thrusting it close to mine. "Is
not a man's house his own?"

"It is, for me," I answered coolly, shrugging my shoulders. "And his
wife: if she likes to pick dirty rags at this hour, that is your
affair."

"Pig of a spy!" he cried, foaming with rage.

I was angry enough at bottom, but I had nothing to gain by quarrelling
with the fellow; and I curtly bade him remember himself. "Your
mistress gave you your orders," I said contemptuously. "Obey them!"

He spat on the floor, but at the same time he grew calmer. "You are
right there," he answered spitefully. "What matter, after all, since
you leave to-morrow at six? Your horse has been sent down, and your
baggage is above."

"I will go to it," I retorted. "I want none of your company. Give me a
light, fellow!"

He obeyed reluctantly, and, glad to turn my back on him, I went up the
ladder, still wondering faintly, in the midst of my annoyance, what
his wife was about that my chance detection of her had so enraged him.
Even now he was not quite himself. He followed me with abuse, and,
deprived by my departure of any other means of showing his spite, fell
to shouting through the floor, bidding me remember six o'clock, and be
stirring; with other taunts, which did not cease until he had tired
himself out.

The sight of my belongings--which I had left a few hours before at the
Château--strewn about the floor of this garret, went some way towards
firing me again. But I was worn out. The indignities and mishaps of
the evening had, for once, crushed my spirit, and after swearing an
oath or two I began to pack my bags. Vengeance I would have; but the
time and manner I left for daylight thought. Beyond six o'clock in the
morning I did not look forward; and if I longed for anything it was
for a little of the good Armagnac I had wasted on those louts of
merchants in the kitchen below. It might have done me good now.

I had wearily strapped up one bag, and nearly filled the other, when I
came upon something which did, for the moment, rouse the devil in me.
This was the tiny orange-coloured sachet which Mademoiselle had
dropped the night I first saw her at the inn, and which, it will be
remembered, I picked up. Since that night I had not seen it, and had
as good as forgotten it. Now, as I folded up my other doublet, the one
I had then been wearing, it dropped from the pocket.

The sight of it recalled all--that night, and Mademoiselle's face in
the lanthorn light, and my fine plans, and the end of them; and, in a
fit of childish fury, the outcome of long suppressed passion, I
snatched up the sachet from the floor and tore it across and across,
and flung the pieces down. As they fell, a cloud of fine pungent dust
burst from them, and with the dust something heavier, which tinkled
sharply on the boards. I looked down to see what this was--perhaps I
already repented of my act--but for the moment I could see nothing.
The floor was grimy and uninviting, and the light bad.

In certain moods, however, a man is obstinate about small things, and
I moved the taper nearer. As I did so, a point of light, a flashing
sparkle that shone for a second among the dirt and refuse on the
floor, caught my eye. It was gone in a moment, but I had seen it. I
stared, and moved the light again, and the spark flashed out afresh,
this time in a different place. Much puzzled, I knelt, and, in a
twinkling, found a tiny crystal. Hard by lay another--and another;
each as large as a fair-sized pea. I took up the three, and rose to my
feet again, the light in one hand, the crystals in the palm of the
other.

They were diamonds!--diamonds of price! I knew it in a moment. As I
moved the taper to and fro above them, and watched the fire glow and
tremble in their depths, I knew that I held that which would buy the
crazy inn and all its contents a dozen times over. They were diamonds!
Gems so fine, and of so rare a water--or I had never seen gems--that
my hand trembled as I held them, and my head grew hot, and my heart
beat furiously. For a moment I thought I dreamed, that my fancy played
me some trick; and I closed my eyes and did not open them again for a
minute. But when I did, there they were, hard, real, and angular.
Convinced at last, in a maze of joy and fear, I closed my hand upon
them, and, stealing on tip-toe to the trapdoor, laid first my saddle
on it, and then my bags, and over all my cloak, breathing fast the
while.

Then I stole back; and, taking up the light again, began to search the
floor, patiently, inch by inch, with naked feet, every sound making me
tremble as I crept hither and thither over the creaking boards. And
never was search more successful or better paid. In the fragments of
the sachet I found six smaller diamonds and a pair of rubies. Eight
large diamonds I found on the floor. One, the largest and last-found,
had bounded away, and lay against the wall in the farthest corner. It
took me an hour to run that one to earth; but afterwards I spent
another hour on my hands and knees before I gave up the search, and,
satisfied at last that I had collected all, sat down on my saddle on
the trap-door, and, by the last flickering light of a candle which I
had taken from my bag, gloated over my treasure--a treasure worthy of
fabled Golconda.

Hardly could I believe in its reality, even now. Recalling the jewels
which the English Duke of Buckingham wore on the occasion of his visit
to Paris in 1625, and of which there was so much talk, I took these to
be as fine, though less in number. They should be worth fifteen
thousand crowns, more or less. Fifteen thousand crowns! And I held
them in the hollow of my hand--I who was scarcely worth ten thousand
sous.

The candle going out cut short my admiration. Left in the dark with
these precious atoms, my first thought was how I might dispose of them
safely; which I did, for the time, by secreting them in the lining of
my boot. My second thought turned on the question how they had come
where I had found them, among the powdered spice and perfumes in
Mademoiselle de Cocheforêt's sachet.

A minute's reflection enabled me to come very near the secret, and at
the same time shed a flood of light on several dark places. What Clon
had been seeking on the path between the house and the village, what
the goodwife of the inn had sought among the sweepings of yard and
floor, I knew now,--the sachet. I knew, too, what had caused the
marked and sudden anxiety I had noticed at the Château--the loss of
this sachet.

And there for a while I came to a check. But one step more up the
ladder of thought brought all in view. In a flash I guessed how the
jewels had come to be in the sachet; and that it was not Mademoiselle
but M. de Cocheforêt who had mislaid them. And I thought the discovery
so important that I began to pace the room softly, unable, in my
excitement, to remain still.

Doubtless he had dropped the jewels in the hurry of his start from the
inn that night! Doubtless, too, he had carried them in that bizarre
hiding-place for the sake of safety, considering it unlikely that
robbers, if he fell into their hands, would take the sachet from him;
as still less likely that they would suspect it to contain anything of
value. Everywhere it would pass for a love-gift, the work of his
mistress.

Nor did my penetration stop there. Ten to one the gems were family
property, the last treasure of the house; and M. de Cocheforêt, when I
saw him at the inn, was on his way to convey them out of the country;
either to secure them from seizure by the Government, or to raise
money by selling them--money to be spent in some last desperate
enterprise. For a day or two, perhaps, after leaving Cocheforêt, while
the mountain road and its chances occupied his thoughts, he had not
discovered his loss. Then he had searched for the precious sachet,
missed it, and returned hot-foot on his tracks.

I was certain that I had hit on the true solution; and all that night
I sat wakeful in the darkness, pondering what I should do. The stones,
unset as they were, could never be identified, never be claimed. The
channel by which they had come to my hands could never be traced. To
all intents they were mine--mine, to do with as I pleased! Fifteen
thousand crowns!--perhaps twenty thousand crowns!--and I to leave at
six in the morning, whether I would or no! I might leave for Spain
with the jewels in my pocket.

I confess I was tempted. The gems were so fine that I doubt not some
indifferently honest men would have sold salvation for them. But a
Berault his honour? No! I was tempted, but not for long. Thank God, a
man may be reduced to living by the fortunes of the dice, and may even
be called by a woman spy and coward without becoming a thief. The
temptation soon left me--I take credit for it--and I fell to thinking
of this and that plan for making use of them. Once it occurred to me
to take the jewels to the Cardinal and buy my pardon with them; again,
to use them as a trap to capture Cocheforêt; again to--and then about
five in the morning, as I sat up on my wretched pallet, while the
first light stole slowly in through the cobwebbed, hay-stuffed
lattice, there came to me the real plan, the plan of plans, on which I
acted.

It charmed me. I smacked my lips over it, and hugged myself, and felt
my eyes dilate in the darkness, as I conned it. It seemed cruel, it
seemed mean; I cared nothing. Mademoiselle had boasted of her victory
over me, of her woman's wits and her acuteness; and of my dulness. She
had said her grooms should flog me, she had rated me as if I had been
a dog. Very well; we would see now whose brains were the better, whose
was the master mind, whose should be the whipping.

The one thing required by my plan was that I should get speech with
her; that done, I could trust myself, and my new-found weapon, for the
rest. But that was absolutely necessary; and seeing that there might
be some difficulty about it, I determined to descend as if my mind
were made up to go; then, on pretence of saddling my horse, I would
slip away on foot, and lie in wait near the Château until I saw her
come out. Or if I could not effect my purpose in that way--either by
reason of the landlord's vigilance, or for any other cause--my course
was still easy. I would ride away, and when I had proceeded a mile or
so, tie up my horse in the forest and return to the wooden bridge.
Thence I could watch the garden and front of the Château until time
and chance gave me the opportunity I sought.

So I saw my way quite clearly; and when the fellow below called me,
reminding me rudely that I must be going, and that it was six o'clock,
I was ready with my answer. I shouted sulkily that I was coming, and,
after a decent delay, I took up my saddle and bags and went down.

Viewed by the cold morning light, the inn room looked more smoky, more
grimy, more wretched than when I had last seen it. The goodwife was
not visible. The fire was not lighted. No provision, not so much as a
stirrup-cup or bowl of porridge cheered the heart. I looked round,
sniffing the stale smell of last night's lamp, and grunted. "Are you
going to send me out fasting?" I said, affecting a worse humour than I
felt.

The landlord was standing by the window, stooping over a great pair of
frayed and furrowed thigh-boots, which he was labouring to soften with
copious grease. "Mademoiselle ordered no breakfast," he answered, with
a malicious grin.

"Well, it does not much matter," I replied grandly. "I shall be at
Auch by noon."

"That is as may be," he answered, with another grin. I did not
understand him, but I had something else to think about, and I opened
the door and stepped out, intending to go to the stable. Then in a
second I comprehended. The cold air laden with woodland moisture met
me and went to my bones; but it was not that which made me shiver.
Outside the door, in the road, sitting on horseback in silence, were
two men. One was Clon. The other, who held a spare horse by the
rein--my horse--was a man I had seen at the inn, a rough,
shock-headed, hard-bitten fellow. Both were armed, and Clon was
booted. His mate rode barefoot, with a rusty spur strapped to one
heel.

The moment I saw them a sure and certain fear crept into my mind: it
was that made me shiver. But I did not speak to them. I went in again,
and closed the door behind me. The landlord was putting on the boots.
"What does this mean?" I said hoarsely. I had a clear prescience of
what was coming. "Why are these men here?"

"Orders," he answered laconically.

"Whose orders?" I retorted.

"Whose?" he answered bluntly. "Well, Monsieur, that is my business.
Enough that we mean to see you out of the country, and out of harm's
way."

"But if I will not go?" I cried.

"Monsieur will go," he answered coolly. "There are no strangers in the
village to-day," he added, with a significant smile.

"Do you mean to kidnap me?" I replied, in a rage. Behind the rage
was something--I will not call it terror, for the brave feel no
terror--but it was near akin to it. I had had to do with rough men all
my life, but there was a grimness and truculence in the aspect of
these three that shook me. When I thought of the dark paths and narrow
lanes and cliff-sides we must traverse, whichever road we took, I
trembled.

"Kidnap you, Monsieur?" he answered, with an everyday air. "That is as
you please to call it. One thing is certain, however," he continued,
maliciously touching an arquebuss which he had produced and set
upright against a chair while I was at the door; "if you attempt the
slightest resistance, we shall know how to put an end to it, either
here or on the road."

I drew a deep breath. The very imminence of the danger restored me to
the use of my faculties I changed my tone and laughed aloud. "So that
is your plan, is it?" I said. "The sooner we start the better, then.
And the sooner I see Auch and your back turned, the more I shall be
pleased."

He rose. "After you, Monsieur," he said.

I could not restrain a slight shiver. His newborn politeness alarmed
me more than his threats. I knew the man and his ways, and I was sure
that it boded ill for me.

But I had no pistols, and only my sword and knife, and I knew that
resistance at this point must be worse than vain. I went out jauntily,
therefore, the landlord coming after me with my saddle and bags.

The street was empty, save for the two waiting horsemen who sat in
their saddles looking doggedly before them. The sun had not yet risen,
the air was raw. The sky was grey, cloudy, and cold. My thoughts flew
back to the morning on which I had found the sachet--at that very
spot, almost at that very hour; and for a moment I grew warm again at
the thought of the little packet I carried in my boot. But the
landlord's dry manner, the sullen silence of his two companions, whose
eyes steadily refused to meet mine, chilled me again. For an instant
the impulse to refuse to mount, to refuse to go, was almost
irresistible; then, knowing the madness of such a course, which might,
and probably would, give the men the chance they desired, I crushed it
down and went slowly to my stirrup.

"I wonder you do not want my sword," I said by way of sarcasm, as I
swung myself up.

"We are not afraid of it," the innkeeper answered gravely. "You may
keep it--for the present."

I made no answer--what answer had I to make?--and we rode at a
foot-pace down the street; he and I leading, Clon and the shock-headed
man bringing up the rear. The leisurely mode of our departure, the
absence of hurry or even haste, the men's indifference whether they
were seen, or what was thought, all served to sink my spirits, and
deepen my sense of peril. I felt that they suspected me, that they
more than half guessed the nature of my errand at Cocheforêt, and that
they were not minded to be bound by Mademoiselle's orders. In
particular I augured the worst from Clon's appearance. His lean
malevolent face and sunken eyes, his very dumbness chilled me. Mercy
had no place there.

We rode soberly, so that nearly half an hour elapsed before we gained
the brow from which I had taken my first look at Cocheforêt. Among the
dwarf oaks whence I had viewed the valley we paused to breathe our
horses, and the strange feelings with which I looked back on the scene
may be imagined. But I had short time for indulging in sentiment or
recollections. A curt word, and we were moving again.

A quarter of a mile farther on the road to Auch dipped into the
valley. When we were already half-way down this descent the innkeeper
suddenly stretched out his hand and caught my rein. "This way!" he
said.

I saw he would have me turn into a by-path leading south-westwards--a
mere track, faint and little trodden and encroached on by trees, which
led I knew not whither. I checked my horse. "Why?" I said
rebelliously. "Do you think I do not know the road? This is the way to
Auch."

"To Auch--yes," he answered bluntly. "But we are not going to Auch."

"Whither then?" I said angrily.

"You will see presently," he replied, with an ugly smile.

"Yes, but I will know now!" I retorted, passion getting the better of
me. "I have come so far with you. You will find it more easy to take
me farther, if you tell me your plans."

"You are a fool!" he cried, with a snarl.

"Not so," I answered. "I ask only to know whither I am going."

"Into Spain," he said. "Will that satisfy you?"

"And what will you do with me there?" I asked, my heart giving a great
bound.

"Hand you over to some friends of ours," he answered curtly, "if you
behave yourself. If not, there is a shorter way, and one that will
save us some travelling. Make up your mind. Monsieur. Which shall it
be?"



                             CHAPTER VI.

                        UNDER THE PIC DU MIDI.


So that was their plan. Two or three hours to the southward, the long
white glittering wall stretched east and west above the brown woods.
Beyond that lay Spain. Once across the border, I might be detained, if
no worse happened to me, as a prisoner of war; for we were then at war
with Spain on the Italian side. Or I might be handed over to one of
the savage bands, half smugglers, half brigands, that held the passes;
or be delivered--worst fate of all--into the power of the French
exiles, of whom some would be likely to recognize me and cut my
throat.

"It is a long way into Spain," I muttered, watching in a kind of
fascination Clon handling his pistols.

"I think you will find the other road longer still!" the landlord
answered grimly. "But choose, and be quick about it."

They were three to one, and they had firearms. In effect I had no
choice. "Well, if I must I must!" I cried, making up my mind with
seeming recklessness. "_Vogue la galère!_ Spain be it. It will not be
the first time I have heard the dons talk."

The men nodded, as much as to say that they had known what the end
would be; the landlord released my rein; and in a trice we were riding
down the narrow track, with our faces set towards the mountains.

On one point my mind was now more easy. The men meant fairly by me;
and I had no longer to fear, as I had feared, a pistol shot in the
back at the first convenient ravine. As far as that went, I might ride
in peace. On the other hand, if I let them carry me across the border
my fate was sealed. A man set down without credentials or guards among
the wild desperadoes who swarmed in war time in the Asturian passes
might consider himself fortunate if an easy death fell to his lot. In
my case I could make a shrewd guess what would happen. A single nod of
meaning, one muttered word, dropped among the savage men with whom I
should be left, and the diamonds hidden in my boot would go neither to
the Cardinal nor back to Mademoiselle--nor would it matter to me
whither they went.

So while the others talked in their taciturn fashion, or sometimes
grinned at my gloomy face, I looked out over the brown woods with eyes
that saw, yet did not see. The red squirrel swarming up the trunk, the
startled pigs that rushed away grunting from their feast of mast, the
solitary rider who met us, armed to the teeth, and passed northwards
after whispering with the landlord--all these I saw. But my mind was
not with them. It was groping and feeling about like a hunted mole for
some way of escape. For time pressed. The slope we were on was growing
steeper. By-and-bye we fell into a southward valley, and began to
follow it steadily upwards, crossing and recrossing a swiftly rushing
stream. The snow-peaks began to be hidden behind the rising bulk of
hills that overhung us; and sometimes we could see nothing before or
behind but the wooded walls of our valley rising sheer and green a
thousand paces on either hand, with grey rocks half masked by fern and
ivy getting here and there through the firs and alders.

It was a wild and sombre scene even at that hour, with the midday sun
shining on the rushing water and drawing the scent out of the pines;
but I knew that there was worse to come, and sought desperately for
some ruse by which I might at least separate the men. Three were too
many; with one I might deal. At last, when I had cudgelled my brain
for an hour, and almost resigned myself to a sudden charge on the men
single-handed--a last desperate resort--I thought of a plan,
dangerous, too, and almost desperate, but which still seemed to
promise something. It came of my fingers resting in my pocket on the
fragments of the orange sachet, which, without having any particular
design in my mind, I had taken care to bring with me. I had torn the
sachet into four pieces--four corners. As I played mechanically with
them, one of my fingers fitted into one, as into a glove; a second
finger into another. And the plan came.

Still, before I could move in it, I had to wait until we stopped to
bait the flagging horses, which we did about noon at the head of the
valley. Then, pretending to drink from the stream, I managed to secure
unseen a handful of pebbles, slipping them into the same pocket with
the morsels of stuff. On getting to horse again, I carefully fitted a
pebble, not too tightly, into the largest scrap, and made ready for
the attempt.

The landlord rode on my left, abreast of me; the other two knaves
behind. The road at this stage favoured me, for the valley, which
drained the bare uplands that lay between the lower spurs and the base
of the real mountains, had become wide and shallow. Here were no
trees, and the path was a mere sheep-track covered with short crisp
grass, and running sometimes on this bank of the stream and sometimes
on that.

I waited until the ruffian beside me turned to speak to the men
behind. The moment he did so and his eyes were averted, I slipped out
the scrap of satin in which I had placed the pebble, and balancing it
carefully on my right thigh as I rode, I flipped it forward with all
the strength of my thumb and finger. I meant it to fall a few paces
before us in the path, where it could be seen. But alas for my hopes!
At the critical moment my horse started, my finger struck the scrap
aslant, the pebble flew out, and the bit of stuff fluttered into a
whin-bush close to my stirrup--and was lost!

I was bitterly disappointed, for the same thing might happen again,
and I had now only three scraps left. But fortune favoured me, by
putting it into my neighbour's head to plunge into a hot debate with
the shock-headed man on the nature of some animals seen on a distant
brow; which he said were izards, while the other maintained that they
were common goats. He continued, on this account, to ride with his
face turned the other way. I had time to fit another pebble into the
second piece of stuff, and sliding it on to my thigh, poised it, and
flipped it.

This time my finger struck the tiny missile fairly in the middle, and
shot it so far and so truly that it dropped exactly in the path ten
paces in front of us. The moment I saw it fall I kicked my neighbour's
nag in the ribs; it started, and he, turning in a rage, hit it. The
next instant he pulled it almost on to its haunches.

"Saint Gris!" he cried; and sat glaring at the bit of yellow satin,
with his face turned purple and his jaw fallen.

"What is it?" I said, staring at him in turn. "What is the matter,
fool?"

"Matter?" he blurted out. "_Mon Dieu!_"

But Clon's excitement surpassed even his. The dumb man no sooner saw
what had attracted his comrade's attention, than he uttered an
inarticulate and horrible noise, and tumbling off his horse, more like
a beast than a man, threw himself bodily on the precious morsel.

The innkeeper was not far behind him. An instant and he was down, too,
peering at the thing; and for an instant I thought that they would
fight over it. However, though their jealousy was evident, their
excitement cooled a little when they discovered that the scrap of
stuff was empty; for, fortunately, the pebble had fallen out of it.
Still, it threw them into such a fever of eagerness as it was
wonderful to witness. They nosed the ground where it had lain, they
plucked up the grass and turf, and passed it through their fingers,
they ran to and fro like dogs on a trail; and, glancing askance at one
another, came back always together to the point of departure. Neither
in his jealousy would suffer the other to be there alone.

The shock-headed man and I sat our horses and looked on; he
marvelling, and I pretending to marvel. As the two searched up and
down the path, we moved a little out of it to give them space; and
presently, when all their heads were turned from me, I let a second
morsel drop under a gorse-bush. The shock-headed man, by-and-bye,
found this, and gave it to Clon; and, as from the circumstances of the
first discovery no suspicion attached to me, I ventured to find the
third and last scrap myself. I did not pick it up, but I called the
innkeeper, and he pounced on it as I have seen a hawk pounce on a
chicken.

They hunted for the fourth morsel, but, of course, in vain, and in the
end they desisted, and fitted the three they had together; but neither
would let his own portion out of his hands, and each looked at the
other across the spoil with eyes of suspicion. It was strange to see
them in that wide-stretching valley, whence grey boar-backs of hills
swelled up into the silence of the snow--it was strange, I say, in
that vast solitude to see these two, mere dots on its bosom, circling
round one another in fierce forgetfulness of the outside world,
glaring and shifting their ground like cocks about to engage, and
wholly engrossed--by three scraps of orange-colour, invisible at fifty
paces!

At last the innkeeper cried with an oath: "I am going back. This must
be known down yonder. Give me your pieces, man, and do you go with
Antoine. It will be all right."

But Clon, waving a scrap in either hand and thrusting his ghastly mask
into the other's face, shook his head in passionate denial. He could
not speak, but he made it clear that if any one went back with the
news he was the man to go.

"Nonsense!" the landlord retorted fiercely. "We cannot leave Antoine
to go on alone with him. Give me the stuff."

But Clon would not. He had no thought of resigning the credit of the
discovery, and I began to think that the two would really come to
blows. But there was an alternative, and first one and then the other
looked at me. It was a moment of peril, and I knew it. My stratagem
might react on myself, and the two, to put an end to this difficulty,
agree to put an end to me. But I faced them so coolly and showed so
bold a front, and the ground was so open, that the idea took no root.
They fell to wrangling again more viciously than before. One tapped
his gun and the other his pistols. The landlord scolded, the dumb man
gurgled. At last their difference ended as I had hoped it would.

"Very well then, we will both go back!" the innkeeper cried in a rage.
"And Antoine must see him on. But the blame be on your head. Do you
give the lad your pistols."

Clon took one pistol and gave it to the shock-headed man.

"The other!" the innkeeper said impatiently.

But Clon shook his head with a grim smile, and pointed to the
arquebuss.

By a sudden movement the landlord snatched the pistol, and averted
Clon's vengeance by placing both it and the gun in the shock-headed
man's hands. "There!" he said, addressing the latter, "now can you do?
If Monsieur tries to escape or turn back, shoot him! But four hours'
riding should bring you to the Roca Blanca. You will find the men
there, and will have no more to do with it."

Antoine did not see things quite in that light, however. He looked at
me, and then at the wild track in front of us; and he muttered an oath
and said he would die if he would. But the landlord, who was in a
frenzy of impatience, drew him aside and talked to him, and in the end
seemed to persuade him; for in a few minutes the matter was settled.
Antoine came back and said sullenly, "Forward, Monsieur," the two
others stood on one side, I shrugged my shoulders and kicked up my
horse, and in a twinkling we two were riding on together--man to man.
I turned once or twice to see what those we had left behind were
doing, and always found them standing in apparent debate; but my guard
showed so much jealousy of these movements that I presently shrugged
my shoulders again and desisted.

I had racked my brains to bring about this state of things. But,
strange to say, now I had succeeded, I found it less satisfactory than
I had hoped. I had reduced the odds and got rid of my most dangerous
antagonists; but Antoine, left to himself, proved to be as full of
suspicion as an egg of meat. He rode a little behind me with his gun
across his saddle-bow, and a pistol near his hand, and at the
slightest pause on my part, or if I turned to look at him, he muttered
his constant "Forward, Monsieur!" in a tone that warned me that his
finger was on the trigger. At such a distance he could not miss; and I
saw nothing for it but to go on meekly before him--to the Roca Blanca
and my fate.

What was to be done? The road presently reached the end of the valley
and entered a narrow pine-clad defile, strewn with rocks and boulders,
over which the torrent plunged and eddied with a deafening roar. In
front the white gleam of waterfalls broke the sombre ranks of climbing
trunks. The snow-line lay less than half a mile away on either hand;
and crowning all--at the end of the pass, as it seemed to the
eye--rose the pure white pillar of the Pic du Midi shooting up six
thousand feet into the blue of heaven. Such a scene, so suddenly
disclosed, was enough to drive the sense of danger from my mind; and
for a moment I reined in my horse. But "Forward, Monsieur!" came the
grating order. I fell to earth again, and went on. What was to be
done?

I was at my wit's end to know. The man refused to talk, refused to
ride abreast of me, would have no dismounting, no halting, no
communication; at all. He would have nothing but this silent, lonely
procession of two, with the muzzle of his gun at my back. And
meanwhile we were fast climbing the pass. We had left the others an
hour--nearly two. The sun was declining; the time, I supposed, about
half-past three.

If he would only let me come within reach of him! Or if anything would
fall out to take his attention! When the pass presently widened into a
bare and dreary valley, strewn with huge boulders, and with snow lying
here and there in the hollows, I looked desperately before me, and
scanned even the vast snow-fields that overhung us and stretched away
to the base of the ice-peak. But I saw nothing. No bear swung across
the path, no izard showed itself on the cliffs. The keen sharp air cut
our cheeks and warned me that we were approaching the summit of the
ridge. On all sides were silence and desolation.

_Mon Dieu!_ And the ruffians on whose tender mercies I was to be
thrown might come to meet us! They might appear at any moment. In my
despair I loosened my hat on my head, and let the first gust carry it
to the ground, and then with an oath of annoyance tossed my feet loose
to go after it. But the rascal roared to me to keep my seat.

"Forward, Monsieur!" he shouted brutally. "Go on!"

"But my hat!" I cried. "_Mille tonnerres_, man! I must--"

"Forward, Monsieur, or I shoot!" he replied inexorably, raising his
gun. "One--two--"

And I went on. But, oh, I was wrathful! That I, Gil de Berault, should
be outwitted and led by the nose, like a ringed bull, by this Gascon
lout! That I, whom all Paris knew and feared--if it did not love--the
terror of Zaton's, should come to my end in this dismal waste of snow
and rock, done to death by some pitiful smuggler or thief! It must not
be! Surely in the last resort I could give an account of one man,
though his belt were stuffed with pistols!

But how? Only, it seemed, by open force. My heart began to flutter as
I planned it; and then grew steady again. A hundred paces before us a
gully or ravine on the left ran up into the snow-field. Opposite its
mouth a jumble of stones and broken rocks covered the path. I marked
this for the place. The knave would need both his hands to hold up his
nag over the stones, and, if I turned on him suddenly enough, he might
either drop his gun, or fire it harmlessly.

But, in the meantime, something happened; as, at the last moment,
things do happen. While we were still fifty yards short of the place,
I found his horse's nose creeping forward on a level with my crupper;
and, still advancing, until I could see it out of the tail of my eye,
and my heart gave a great bound. He was coming abreast of me: he was
going to deliver himself into my hands! To cover my excitement, I
began to whistle.

"Hush!" he muttered fiercely: his voice sounding strange and
unnatural. My first thought was that he was ill, and I turned to him.
But he only said again, "Hush! Pass by here quietly, Monsieur."

"Why?" I asked mutinously, curiosity getting the better of me. For had
I been wise I had taken no notice; every second his horse was coming
up with mine. Its nose was level with my stirrup already.

"Hush, man!" he said again. This time there was no mistake about the
panic in his voice. "They call this the Devil's Chapel. God send us
safe by it! It is late to be here. Look at those!" he continued,
pointing with a finger which visibly shook.

I looked. At the mouth of the gully, in a small space partly cleared
of stones stood three broken shafts, raised on rude pedestals. "Well?"
I said in a low voice. The sun which was near setting flushed the
great peak above to the colour of blood; but the valley was growing
grey and each moment more dreary. "Well, what of those?" I said. In
spite of my peril and the excitement of the coming struggle I felt the
chill of his fear. Never had I seen so grim, so desolate, so
Godforsaken a place! Involuntarily I shivered.

"They were crosses," he muttered, in a voice little above a whisper,
while his eyes roved this way and that in terror. "The Curé of Gabas
blessed the place, and set them up. But next morning they were as you
see them now. Come on, Monsieur, come on!" he continued, plucking at
my arm. "It is not safe here after sunset. Pray God, Satan be not at
home!"

He had completely forgotten in his panic that he had anything to fear
from me. His gun dropped loosely across his saddle, his leg rubbed
mine. I saw this, and I changed my plan of action. As our horses
reached the stones I stooped, as if to encourage mine, and by a sudden
clutch snatched the gun bodily from his hand; at the same time I
backed my horse with all my strength. It was done in a moment! A
second and I had him at the end of the gun, and my finger was on the
trigger. Never was victory more easily gained.

He looked at me between rage and terror, his jaw fallen. "Are you
mad?" he cried, his teeth chattering as he spoke. Even in this strait
his eyes left me and wandered round in alarm.

"No, sane!" I retorted fiercely. "But I do not like this place any
better than you do!" Which was true enough, if not quite true. "So, by
your right, quick march!" I continued imperatively. "Turn your horse,
my friend, or take the consequences."

He turned like a lamb, and headed down the valley again, without
giving a thought to his pistols. I kept close to him, and in less than
a minute we had left the Devil's Chapel well behind us, and were
moving down again as we had come up. Only now I held the gun.

When we had gone half a mile or so--until then I did not feel
comfortable myself, and though I thanked Heaven the place existed,
thanked Heaven also that I was out of it--I bade him halt. "Take off
your belt!" I said curtly, "and throw it down. But, mark me, if you
turn, I fire!"

The spirit was quite gone out of him. He obeyed mechanically. I jumped
down, still covering him with the gun, and picked up the belt, pistols
and all. Then I remounted, and we went on. By-and-bye he asked me
sullenly what I was going to do.

"Go back," I said, "and take the road to Auch when I come to it."

"It will be dark in an hour," he answered sulkily.

"I know that," I retorted. "We must camp and do the best we can."

And as I said, we did. The daylight held until we gained the skirts of
the pine-wood at the head of the pass. Here I chose a corner a little
off the track, and well-sheltered from the wind, and bade him light a
fire. I tethered the horses near this and within sight. It remained
only to sup. I had a piece of bread; he had another and an onion. We
ate in silence, sitting on opposite sides of the fire.

But after supper I found myself in a dilemma; I did not see how I was
to sleep. The ruddy light which gleamed on the knave's swart face and
sinewy hands showed also his eyes, black, sullen, and watchful. I knew
that the man was plotting revenge; that he would not hesitate to plant
his knife between my ribs should I give him a chance. I could find
only one alternative to remaining awake. Had I been bloody-minded, I
should have chosen it and solved the question at once and in my favour
by shooting him as he sat.

But I have never been a cruel man, and I could not find it in my heart
to do this. The silence of the mountain and the sky--which seemed a
thing apart from the roar of the torrent and not to be broken by
it--awed me. The vastness of the solitude in which we sat, the dark
void above through which the stars kept shooting, the black gulf below
in which the unseen waters boiled and surged, the absence of other
human company or other signs of human existence put such a face upon
the deed that I gave up the thought of it with a shudder, and resigned
myself, instead, to watch through the night--the long, cold, Pyrenean
night. Presently he curled himself up like a dog and slept in the
blaze, and then for a couple of hours I sat opposite him, thinking. It
seemed years since I had seen Zaton's or thrown the dice. The old
life, the old employments--should I ever go back to them?--seemed dim
and distant. Would Cocheforêt, the forest and the mountain, the grey
Château and its mistresses, seem one day as dim! And if one bit of
life could fade so quickly at the unrolling of another, and seem in a
moment pale and colourless, would all life some day and somewhere, and
all the things we--But faugh! I was growing foolish. I sprang up and
kicked the wood together, and, taking up the gun, began to pace to and
fro under the cliff. Strange that a little moonlight, a few stars, a
breath of solitude should carry a man back to childhood and childish
things!


                          *   *   *   *   *


It was three in the afternoon of the next day, and the sun lay hot on
the oak groves, and the air was full of warmth as we began to climb
the slope, on which the road to Auch shoots out of the track. The
yellow bracken and the fallen leaves underfoot seemed to throw up
light of themselves, and here and there a patch of ruddy beech lay
like a bloodstain on the hillside. In front a herd of pigs routed
among the mast, and grunted lazily; and high above us a boy lay
watching them. "We part here," I said to my companion. It was my plan
to ride a little way on the road to Auch so as to blind his eyes;
then, leaving my horse in the forest, I would go on foot to the
Château.

"The sooner the better!" he answered, with a snarl. "And I hope I may
never see your face again, Monsieur!"

But when we came to the wooden cross at the fork of the roads, and
were about to part, the boy we had seen leapt out of the fern and came
to meet us. "Hollo!" he cried, in a sing-song tone.

"Well!" my companion answered, drawing rein impatiently. "What is it?"

"There are soldiers in the village."

"Soldiers?" Antoine cried incredulously.

"Ay, devils on horseback!" the lad answered, spitting on the ground.
"Three score of them! From Auch!"

Antoine turned to me, his face transformed with fury. "Curse you!" he
cried. "This is some of your work! Now we are all undone! And my
mistresses! _Sacré!_ if I had that gun I would shoot you like a rat!"

"Steady, fool!" I answered roughly. "I know no more of this than you
do!"

This was so true that my surprise was as great as his. The Cardinal,
who rarely made a change of front, had sent me hither that he might
not be forced to send soldiers, and run the risk of all that might
arise from such a movement. What of this invasion, then, than which
nothing could be less consistent with his plans? I wondered. It was
possible, of course, that the travelling merchants, before whom I had
played at treason, had reported the facts; and that on this the
Commandant at Auch had acted. But it seemed unlikely. He had had his
orders, too; and, under the Cardinal's rule, there was small place for
individual enterprise. I could not understand it.

One thing was clear, however. I might now enter the village as I
pleased. "I am going on to look into this," I said to Antoine. "Come,
my man."

He shrugged his shoulders, and stood still. "Not I!" he answered, with
an oath. "No soldiers for me! I have lain out one night, and I can lie
out another!"

I nodded indifferently, for I no longer wanted him; and we parted.
After this, twenty minutes' riding brought me to the entrance of the
village; and here the change was great indeed. Not one of the ordinary
dwellers in the place was to be seen: either they had shut themselves
up in their hovels, or, like Antoine, they had fled to the woods.
Their doors were closed, their windows shuttered. But lounging about
the street were a score of dragoons, in boots and breastplates, whose
short-barrelled muskets, with pouches and bandoliers attached, were
piled near the inn door. In an open space where there was a gap in the
street, a long row of horses, linked head to head, stood bending their
muzzles over bundles of rough forage, and on all sides the cheerful
jingle of chains and bridles and the sound of coarse jokes and
laughter filled the air.

As I rode up to the inn door an old sergeant, with squinting eyes and
his tongue in his cheeks, eyed me inquisitively, and started to cross
the street to challenge me. Fortunately, at that moment the two knaves
whom I had brought from Paris with me, and whom I had left at Auch to
await my orders, came up. I made them a sign not to speak to me, and
they passed on; but I suppose that they told the sergeant that I was
not the man he wanted, for I saw no more of him.

After picketing my horse behind the inn--I could find no better
stable, every place being full--I pushed my way through the group at
the door, and entered. The old room, with the low grimy roof and the
reeking floor, was half full of strange figures, and for a few minutes
I stood unseen in the smoke and confusion. Then the landlord came my
way, and as he passed me I caught his eye. He uttered a low curse,
dropped the pitcher he was carrying, and stood glaring at me, like a
man possessed.

The soldier whose wine he was carrying flung a crust in his face,
with, "Now, greasy fingers! What are you staring at?"

"The devil!" the landlord muttered, beginning to tremble.

"Then let me look at him!" the man retorted and he turned on his
stool.

He started, finding me standing over him. "At your service!" I said
grimly. "A little time and it will be the other way, my friend."



                             CHAPTER VII.

                           A MASTER STROKE.


I HAVE a way with me which commonly commands respect; and when the
landlord's first terror was over and he would serve me, I managed to
get my supper--the first good meal I had had in two days--pretty
comfortably in spite of the soldiers' presence. The crowd, too, which
filled the room, soon began to melt. The men strayed off in groups to
water their horses, or went to hunt up their quarters, until only two
or three were left. Dusk had fallen outside; the noise in the street
grew less. The firelight began to glow and flicker on the walls,
and the wretched room to look as homely as it was in its nature to
look. I was pondering for the twentieth time what step I should take
next--under these new circumstances--and why the soldiers were here,
and whether I should let the night pass before I moved, when the door,
which had been turning on its hinges almost without pause for an hour,
opened again, and a woman came in.

She paused a moment on the threshold looking round, and I saw that she
had a shawl on her head and a milk-pitcher in her hand, and that her
feet and ankles were bare. There was a great rent in her coarse stuff
petticoat, and the hand which held the shawl together was brown and
dirty. More I did not see; supposing her to be a neighbour stolen in
now that the house was quiet to get some milk for her child or the
like, I took no further heed of her. I turned to the fire again and
plunged into my thoughts.

But to get to the hearth where the goodwife was fidgeting, the woman
had to pass in front of me; and as she passed I suppose she stole a
look at me from under her shawl. For just when she came between me and
the blaze she uttered a low cry and shrank aside--so quickly that she
almost stepped on the hearth. The next moment she turned her back to
me and was stooping, whispering in the housewife's ear. A stranger
might have thought that she had merely trodden on a hot ember.

But another idea, and a very sharp one, came into my mind; and I stood
up silently. The woman's back was towards me, but something in her
height, her shape, the pose of her head, hidden as it was by her
shawl, seemed familiar. I waited while she hung over the fire
whispering, and while the goodwife slowly filled her pitcher out of
the great black pot. But when she turned to go, I took a step forward
so as to bar her way. And our eyes met.

I could not see her features; they were lost in the shadow of the
hood. But I saw a shiver run through her from head to foot. And I knew
then that I had made no mistake.

"That is too heavy for you, my girl," I said familiarly, as I might
have spoken to a village wench. "I will carry it for you."

One of the men, who remained lolling at the table, laughed, and the
other began to sing a low song. The woman trembled in rage or fear,
but she kept silence and let me take the jug from her hands. And when
I went to the door and opened it, she followed mechanically. An
instant, and the door fell to behind us, shutting off the light and
glow, and we two stood together in the growing dusk.

"It is late for you to be out, Mademoiselle," I said politely. "You
might meet with some rudeness, dressed as you are. Permit me to see
you home."

She shuddered, and I thought I heard her sob, but she did not answer.
Instead, she turned and walked quickly through the village in the
direction of the Château, keeping in the shadow of the houses. I
carried the pitcher and walked beside her; and in the dark I smiled. I
knew how shame and impotent rage were working in her. This was
something like revenge!

Presently I spoke. "Well, Mademoiselle," I said. "Where are your
grooms?"

She gave me one look, her eyes blazing with anger, her face like hate
itself; and after that I said no more, but left her in peace, and
contented myself with walking at her shoulder until we came to the end
of the village, where the track to the great house plunged into the
wood. There she stopped, and turned on me like a wild creature at bay.
"What do you want?" she cried hoarsely, breathing as if she had been
running.

"To see you safe to the house," I answered coolly.

"And if I will not?" she retorted.

"The choice does not lie with you, Mademoiselle," I answered sternly.
"You will go to the house with me, and on the way you will give me an
interview; but not here. Here we are not private enough. We may be
interrupted at any moment, and I wish to speak to you at length."

I saw her shiver. "What if I will not?" she said again.

"I might call to the nearest soldiers and tell them who you are," I
answered coolly. "I might, but I should not. That were a clumsy way of
punishing you, and I know a better way. I should go to the captain,
Mademoiselle, and tell him whose horse is locked up in the inn stable.
A trooper told me--as some one had told him--that it belonged to one
of his officers; but I looked through the crack, and I knew the horse
again."

She could not repress a groan. I waited. Still she did not speak.
"Shall I go to the captain?" I said ruthlessly.

She shook the hood back from her face, and looked at me. "Oh, you
coward! you coward!" she hissed through her teeth. "If I had a knife!"

"But you have not, Mademoiselle," I answered, unmoved. "Be good
enough, therefore, to make up your mind which it is to be. Am I to go
with my news to the captain, or am I to come with you?"

"Give me the pitcher!" she said harshly.

I did so, wondering. In a moment she flung it with a savage gesture
far into the bushes. "Come!" she said, "if you will. But some day God
will punish you!"

Without another word she turned and entered the path through the
trees, and I followed her. I suppose every turn in its course, every
hollow and broken place in it had been known to her from childhood,
for she followed it swiftly and unerringly, barefoot as she was. I had
to walk fast through the darkness to keep up with her. The wood was
quiet, but the frogs were beginning to croak in the pool, and their
persistent chorus reminded me of the night when I had come to the
house-door hurt and worn out, and Clon had admitted me, and she had
stood under the gallery in the hall. Things had looked dark then. I
had seen but a very little way ahead. Now all was plain. The
Commandant might be here with all his soldiers, but it was I who held
the strings.

We came to the little wooden bridge and saw beyond the dark meadows
the lights of the house. All the windows were bright. Doubtless the
troopers were making merry. "Now, Mademoiselle," I said quietly. "I
must trouble you to stop here, and give me your attention for a few
minutes. Afterwards you may go your way."

"Speak!" she said defiantly. "And be quick! I cannot breathe the air
where you are! It poisons me!"

"Ah!" I said slowly. "Do you think you make things better by such
speeches as those?"

"Oh!" she cried--and I heard her teeth click together. "Would you have
me fawn on you?"

"Perhaps not," I answered. "Still you make one mistake."

"What is it?" she panted.

"You forget that I am to be feared as well as--loathed!" I answered
grimly. "Ay, Mademoiselle, to be feared!" I continued. "Do you think
that I do not know why you are here in this guise? Do you think that I
do not know for whom that pitcher of broth was intended? Or who will
now have to fast to-night? I tell you I know all these things. Your
house is full of soldiers; your servants were watched and could not
leave. You had to come yourself and get food for him!"

She clutched at the hand-rail of the bridge, and for an instant clung
to it for support. Her face, from which the shawl had fallen,
glimmered white in the shadow of the trees. At last I had shaken her
pride. At last! "What is your price?" she murmured faintly.

"I am going to tell you," I replied, speaking so that every word might
fall distinctly on her ears, and sating my eyes on her proud face. I
had never dreamed of such revenge as this! "About a fortnight ago, M.
de Cocheforêt left here at night with a little orange-coloured sachet
in his possession."

She uttered a stifled cry, and drew herself stiffly erect.

"It contained--but there, Mademoiselle, you know its contents," I went
on. "Whatever they were, M. de Cocheforêt lost it and them at
starting. A week ago he came back--unfortunately for himself--to seek
them."

She was looking full in my face now. She seemed scarcely to breathe in
the intensity of her surprise and expectation. "You had a search made,
Mademoiselle," I continued quietly. "Your servants left no place
unexplored. The paths, the roads, the very woods were ransacked. But
in vain, because all the while the orange sachet lay whole and
unopened in my pocket."

"No!" she cried impetuously. "You lie, Sir! The sachet was found, torn
open, many leagues from this place!"

"Where I threw it, Mademoiselle," I replied, "that I might mislead
your rascals and be free to return. Oh! believe me," I continued,
letting something of myself, something of my triumph, appear at last
in my voice. "You have made a mistake! You would have done better had
you trusted me. I am no bundle of sawdust, Mademoiselle, but a man: a
man with an arm to shield and a brain to serve, and--as I am going to
teach you--a heart also!"

She shivered.

"In the orange-coloured sachet that you lost I believe there were
eighteen stones of great value?"

She made no answer, but she looked at me as if I fascinated her. Her
very breath seemed to pause and wait on my words. She was so little
conscious of anything else, of anything outside ourselves, that a
score of men might have come up behind her unseen and unnoticed.

I took from my breast a little packet wrapped in soft leather, and
held it towards her. "Will you open this?" I said. "I believe it
contains what you lost. That it contains all I will not answer,
Mademoiselle, because I spilled the stones on the floor of my room,
and I may have failed to find some. But the others can be recovered--I
know where they are."

She took the packet slowly and began to unroll it, her fingers
shaking. A few turns and the mild lustre of the stones made a kind of
moonlight in her hands--such a shimmering glory of imprisoned light as
has ruined many a woman and robbed many a man of his honour.
_Morbleu!_ as I looked at them--and as she stood looking at them in
dull, entranced perplexity--I wondered how I had come to resist the
temptation.

While I gazed her hands began to waver. "I cannot count," she muttered
helplessly. "How many are there?"

"In all, eighteen.'

"They should be eighteen," she said.

She closed her hand on them with that, and opened it again, and did so
twice, as if to reassure herself that the stones were real and that
she was not dreaming. Then she turned to me with sudden fierceness,
and I saw that her beautiful face, sharpened by the greed of
possession, was grown as keen and vicious as before. "Well?" she
muttered between her teeth. "Your price, man? Your price?"

"I am coming to it now, Mademoiselle," I said gravely. "It is a simple
matter. You remember the afternoon when I followed you--clumsily and
thoughtlessly perhaps--through the wood to restore these things? It
seems about a month ago. I believe it happened the day before
yesterday. You called me then some very harsh names, which I will not
hurt you by repeating. The only price I ask for restoring your jewels
is that you recall those names.

"How?" she muttered. "I do not understand."

I repeated my words very slowly. "The only price or reward I ask,
Mademoiselle, is that you take back those names, and say that they
were not deserved."

"And the jewels?" she exclaimed hoarsely.

"They are yours. They are nothing to me. Take them, and say that you
do not think of me-- Nay, I cannot say the words, Mademoiselle."

"But there is something--else! What else?" she cried, her head thrown
back, her eyes, bright as any wild animal's, searching mine. "Ha! my
brother? What of him? What of him, Sir?"

"For him, Mademoiselle--I would prefer that you should tell me no more
than I know already," I answered in a low voice. "I do not wish to be
in that affair. But yes, there is one thing I have not mentioned. You
are right."

She sighed so deeply that I caught the sound.

"It is," I continued slowly, "that you will permit me to remain at
Cocheforêt for a few days, while the soldiers are here. I am told that
there are twenty men and two officers quartered in your house. Your
brother is away. I ask to be permitted, Mademoiselle, to take his
place for the time, and to be privileged to protect your sister and
yourself from insult. That is all."

She raised her hand to her head. After a long pause: "The frogs!" she
muttered, "they croak! I cannot hear."

And then, to my surprise, she turned suddenly on her heel, and walked
over the bridge, leaving me there. For a moment I stood aghast,
peering after her shadowy figure, and wondering what had taken her.
Then, in a minute or less, she came quickly back to me, and I
understood. She was crying.

"M. de Barthe," she said, in a trembling voice, which told me that the
victory was won. "Is there nothing else? Have you no other penance for
me?"

"None, Mademoiselle."

She had drawn the shawl over her head, and I no longer saw her face.
"That is all you ask?" she murmured.

"That is all I ask--now," I answered.

"It is granted," she said slowly and firmly. "Forgive me if I seem to
speak lightly--if I seem to make little of your generosity or my
shame; but I can say no more now. I am so deep in trouble and so
gnawed by terror that--I cannot feel anything much to-night, either
shame or gratitude. I am in a dream; God grant it may pass as a dream!
We are sunk in trouble. But for you and what you have done, M. de
Barthe--I--" she paused and I heard her fighting with the sobs which
choked her--"forgive me.... I am overwrought. And my--my feet are
cold," she added suddenly and irrelevantly. "Will you take me home?"

"Ah, Mademoiselle," I cried remorsefully, "I have been a beast! You
are barefoot, and I have kept you here."

"It is nothing," she said in a voice which thrilled me. "My heart is
warm, Monsieur--thanks to you. It is many hours since it has been as
warm."

She stepped out of the shadow as she spoke--and there, the thing was
done. As I had planned, so it had come about. Once more I was crossing
the meadow in the dark to be received at Cocheforêt a welcome guest.
The frogs croaked in the pool and a bat swooped round us in circles;
and surely never--never, I thought, with a kind of exultation in my
breast--had man been placed in a stranger position.

Somewhere in the black wood behind us--probably in the outskirts of
the village--lurked M. de Cocheforêt. In the great house before us,
outlined by a score of lighted windows, were the soldiers come from
Auch to take him. Between the two, moving side by side in the
darkness, in a silence which each found to be eloquent, were
Mademoiselle and I: she who knew so much, I who knew all--all but one
little thing!

We reached the house, and I suggested that she should steal in first
by the way she had come out, and that I should wait a little and knock
at the door when she had had time to explain matters to Clon.

"They do not let me see Clon," she answered slowly.

"Then your woman must tell him," I rejoined. "Or he may say something
and betray me."

"They will not let our woman come to us."

"What?" I cried, astonished. "But this is infamous. You are not
prisoners!"

Mademoiselle laughed harshly. "Are we not? Well, I suppose not; for if
we wanted company, Captain Larolle said he would be delighted to see
us--in the parlour."

"He has taken your parlour?" I said.

"He and his lieutenant sit there. But I suppose we should be
thankful," she added bitterly. "We have still our bed-rooms left to
us."

"Very well," I said. "Then I must deal with Clon as I can. But I have
still a favour to ask, Mademoiselle. It is only that you and your
sister will descend to-morrow at your usual time. I shall be in the
parlour."

"I would rather not," she said, pausing and speaking in a troubled
voice.

"Are you afraid?"

"No, Monsieur; I am not afraid," she answered proudly. "But--"

"You will come?" I said.

She sighed before she spoke. At length, "Yes, I will come--if you wish
it," she answered; and the next moment she was gone round the corner
of the house, while I laughed to think of the excellent watch these
gallant gentlemen were keeping. M. de Cocheforêt might have been with
her in the garden, might have talked with her as I had talked, might
have entered the house even, and passed under their noses scot-free.
But that is the way of soldiers. They are always ready for the enemy,
with drums beating and flags flying--at ten o'clock in the morning.
But he does not always come at that hour.

I waited a little, and then I groped my way to the door, and knocked
on it with the hilt of my sword. The dogs began to bark at the back,
and the chorus of a drinking-song, which came fitfully from the east
wing, ceased altogether. An inner door opened, and an angry voice,
apparently an officer's, began to rate some one for not coming.
Another moment, and a clamour of voices and footsteps seemed to pour
into the hall, and fill it. I heard the bar jerked away, the door was
flung open, and in a twinkling a lanthorn, behind which a dozen
flushed visages were dimly seen, was thrust into my face.

"Why, who the fiend is this?" cried one, glaring at me in
astonishment.

"_Morbleu!_ It is the man!" another shrieked. "Seize him!"

In a moment half a dozen hands were laid on my shoulders, but I only
bowed politely. "The officer, my friends," I said, "M. le Capitaine
Larolle. Where is he?"

"_Diable!_ but who are you, first?" the lanthorn-bearer retorted
bluntly. He was a tall, lanky sergeant, with a sinister face.

"Well, I am not M. de Cocheforêt," I replied; "and that must satisfy
you, my man. For the rest, if you do not fetch Captain Larolle at once
and admit me, you will find the consequences inconvenient."

"Ho! ho!" he said, with a sneer. "You can crow, it seems. Well, come
in."

They made way, and I walked into the hall, keeping my hat on. On the
great hearth a fire had been kindled, but it had gone out. Three or
four carbines stood against one wall, and beside them lay a heap of
haversacks and some straw. A shattered stool, broken in a frolic, and
half a dozen empty wine-skins strewed the floor, and helped to give
the place an air of untidiness and disorder. I looked round with eyes
of disgust, and my gorge rose. They had spilled oil, and the place
reeked foully.

"_Ventre bleu!_" I said. "Is this conduct in a gentleman's house, you
rascals? _Ma vie!_ If I had you, I would send half of you to the
wooden horse!"

They gazed at me open-mouthed. My arrogance startled them. The
sergeant alone scowled. When he could find his voice for rage--

"This way!" he said. "We did not know a general officer was coming, or
we would have been better prepared!" And muttering oaths under his
breath, he led me down the well-known passage. At the door of the
parlour he stopped. "Introduce yourself!" he said rudely. "And if you
find the air warm, don't blame me!"

I raised the latch and went in. At a table in front of the hearth,
half covered with glasses and bottles, sat two men playing hazard. The
dice rang sharply as I entered, and he who had just thrown kept the
box over them while he turned, scowling, to see who came in. He was a
fair-haired, blonde man, large-framed and florid. He had put off his
cuirass and boots, and his doublet showed frayed and stained where the
armour had pressed on it. But otherwise he was in the extreme of last
year's fashion. His deep cravat, folded over so that the laced ends
drooped a little in front, was of the finest; his great sash of blue
and silver was a foot wide. He had a little jewel in one ear, and his
tiny beard was peaked _à l'Espagnole_. Probably when he turned he
expected to see the sergeant, for at sight of me he rose slowly,
leaving the dice still covered.

"What folly is this?" he cried wrathfully. "Here, Sergeant!
Sergeant!--without there! What the--! Who are you, Sir?"

"Captain Larolle," I said, uncovering politely, "I believe?"

"Yes, I am Captain Larolle," he retorted. "But who, in the fiend's
name, are you? You are not the man we are after!"

"I am not M. Cocheforêt," I said coolly. "I am merely a guest in the
house, M. le Capitaine. I have been enjoying Madame de Cocheforêt's
hospitality for some time, but by an evil chance I was away when you
arrived." And with that I walked to the hearth, and, gently pushing
aside his great boots which stood there drying, kicked the logs into a
blaze.

"_Mille diables!_" he whispered. And never did I see a man more
confounded. But I affected to be taken up with his companion, a
sturdy, white-mustachioed old veteran, who sat back in his chair,
eyeing me, with swollen cheeks and eyes surcharged with surprise.

"Good evening, M. le Lieutenant," I said, bowing gravely. "It is a
fine night."

Then the storm burst.

"Fine night!" the captain shrieked, finding his voice again. "_Mille
diables!_ Are you aware, Sir, that I am in possession of this house,
and that no one harbours here without my permission? Guest!
Hospitality! Lieutenant--call the guard! Call the guard!" he continued
passionately. "Where is that ape of a sergeant?"

The lieutenant rose to obey, but I lifted my hand.

"Gently, gently, Captain," I said. "Not so fast! You seem surprised to
see me here. Believe me, I am much more surprised to see you."

"_Sacré!_" he cried, recoiling at this fresh impertinence, while the
lieutenant's eyes almost jumped out of his head.

But nothing moved me.

"Is the door closed?" I said sweetly. "Thank you; it is, I see. Then
permit me to say again, gentlemen, that I am much more surprised to
see you than you can be to see me. When Monseigneur the Cardinal
honoured me by sending me from Paris to conduct this matter, he gave
me the fullest--the fullest powers, M. le Capitaine--to see the affair
to an end. I was not led to expect that my plans would be spoiled on
the eve of success by the intrusion of half the garrison from Auch!"

"O ho!" the captain said softly--in a very different tone and with a
very different face. "So you are the gentleman I heard of at Auch?"

"Very likely," I said drily. "But I am from Paris, not Auch."

"To be sure," he answered thoughtfully. "Eh, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, M. le Capitaine, no doubt," the inferior replied. And they both
looked at one another, and then at me, in a way I did not understand.

"I think," said I, to clinch the matter, "that you have made a
mistake, Captain; or the Commandant has. And it occurs to me that the
Cardinal will not be best pleased."

"I hold the King's commission," he answered rather stiffly.

"To be sure," I replied. "But you see the Cardinal--"

"Ah, but the Cardinal--" he rejoined quickly; and then he stopped and
shrugged his shoulders. And they both looked at me.

"Well?" I said.

"The King," he answered slowly.

"Tut-tut!" I exclaimed, spreading out my hands. "The Cardinal. Let us
stick to him. You were saying?"

"Well, the Cardinal, you see--" And then again, after the same words,
he stopped--stopped abruptly and shrugged his shoulders.

I began to suspect something. "If you have anything to say against
Monseigneur," I answered, watching him narrowly, "say it. But take a
word of advice. Don't let it go beyond the door of this room, my
friend, and it will do you no harm."

"Neither here nor outside," he retorted, looking for a moment at his
comrade. "Only I hold the King's commission. That is all. And I think
enough. For the rest, will you throw a main? Good! Lieutenant, find a
glass, and the gentleman a seat. And here, for my part, I will give
you a toast. The Cardinal--whatever betide!"

I drank it, and sat down to play with him; I had not heard the music
of the dice for a month, and the temptation was irresistible. But I
was not satisfied. I called the mains and won his crowns,--he was a
mere baby at the game,--but half my mind was elsewhere. There was
something here I did not understand; some influence at work on which I
had not counted; something moving under the surface as unintelligible
to me as the soldiers' presence. Had the captain repudiated my
commission altogether, and put me to the door or sent me to the
guard-house, I could have followed that. But these dubious hints, this
passive resistance, puzzled me. Had they news from Paris, I wondered.
Was the King dead? or the Cardinal ill? I asked them. But they said
no, no, no to all, and gave me guarded answers. And midnight found us
still playing; and still fencing.



                              CHAPTER VIII.

                            THE QUESTION.


"Sweep the room, Monsieur? And remove this medley? But, M. le
Capitaine--"

"The captain is at the village," I replied sternly. "And do you move!
move, man, and the thing will be done while you are talking about it.
Set the door into the garden open--so!"

"Certainly, it is a fine morning. And the tobacco of M. le
Lieutenant--But M. le Capitaine did not--"

"Give orders? Well, I give them!" I answered. "First of all, remove
these beds. And bustle, man, bustle, or I will find something to
quicken you."

In a moment-- "And M. le Capitaine's riding-boots?"

"Place them in the passage," I replied.

"_Ohé!_ In the passage?" He paused, looking at them in doubt.

"Yes, booby; in the passage."

"And the cloaks, Monsieur?"

"There is a bush handy outside the window. Let them air."

"_Ohé_, the bush? Well, to be sure they are damp. But--yes, yes,
Monsieur, it is done. And the holsters?"

"There also!" I said harshly. "Throw them out. Faugh! The place reeks
of leather. Now, a clean hearth. And set the table before the open
door, so that we may see the garden. So. And tell the cook that we
shall dine at eleven, and that Madame and Mademoiselle will descend."

"_Ohé!_ But M. le Capitaine ordered the dinner for half past eleven?"

"It must be advanced, then; and, mark you, my friend, if it is not
ready when Madame comes down, you will suffer, and the cook too."

When he was gone on his errand, I looked round. What else was lacking?
The sun shone cheerily on the polished floor; the air, freshened by
the rain which had fallen in the night, entered freely through the
open doorway. A few bees lingering with the summer hummed outside. The
fire crackled bravely; an old hound, blind and past work, lay warming
its hide on the hearth. I could think of nothing more, and I stood and
watched the man set out the table and spread the cloth. "For how many,
Monsieur?" he asked, in a scared tone.

"For five," I answered; and I could not help smiling at myself. What
would Zaton's say could it see Berault turned housewife? There was
a white glazed cup--an old-fashioned piece of the second Henry's
time--standing on a shelf. I took it down and put some late flowers in
it, and set it in the middle of the table, and stood off myself to
look at it. But a moment later, thinking I heard them coming, I
hurried it away in a kind of panic, feeling on a sudden ashamed of the
thing. The alarm proved to be false, however; and then again, taking
another turn, I set the piece back. I had done nothing so foolish
for--for more years than I liked to count.

But when Madame and Mademoiselle came, they had eyes neither for the
flowers nor the room. They had heard that the captain was out beating
the village and the woods for the fugitive, and where I had looked for
a comedy I found a tragedy. Madame's face was so red with weeping that
all her beauty was gone. She started and shook at the slightest sound,
and, unable to find any words to answer my greeting, could only sink
into a chair and sit crying silently.

Mademoiselle was in a mood scarcely more cheerful. She did not weep,
but her manner was hard and fierce. She spoke absently and answered
fretfully. Her eyes glittered, and she had the air of straining her
ears continually to catch some dreaded sound. "There is no news,
Monsieur?" she said, as she took her seat. And she shot a swift look
at me.

"None, Mademoiselle."

"They are searching the village?"

"I believe so."

"Where is Clon?" This in a lower voice, and with a kind of shrinking
in her face.

I shook my head. "I believe they have him confined somewhere. And
Louis, too," I said, "But I have not seen either of them."

"And where are--? I thought these people would be here," she muttered.
And she glanced askance at the two vacant places. The servant had
brought in the meal.

"They will be here presently," I said coolly. "Let us make the most of
the time. A little wine and food will do Madame good."

She smiled rather sadly. "I think we have changed places," she said;
"and that you have turned host, and we guests."

"Let it be so," I said cheerfully. "I recommend some of this ragoût.
Come, Mademoiselle; fasting can aid no one. A full meal has saved many
a man's life."

It was clumsily said perhaps, for she shuddered and looked at me with
a ghastly smile. But she persuaded her sister to taste something; and
she took something on her own plate and raised her fork to her lips.
But in a moment she laid it down again. "I cannot," she murmured. "I
cannot swallow. Oh, my God, at this moment they may be taking him!"

I thought that she was about to burst into a passion of tears, and I
repented that I had induced her to descend. But her self-control was
not yet exhausted. By an effort painful to see, she recovered her
composure. She took up her fork, and ate a few mouthfuls. Then she
looked at me with a fierce under-look. "I want to see Clon," she
whispered feverishly. The man who waited on us had left the room.

"He knows?" I said.

She nodded, her beautiful face strangely disfigured. Her closed teeth
showed between her lips. Two red spots burned in her white cheeks, and
she breathed quickly. I felt, as I looked at her, a sudden pain at my
heart; and a shuddering fear, such as a man awaking to find himself
falling over a precipice, might feel. How these women loved the man!

For a moment I could not speak. When I found my voice it sounded dry
and husky. "He is a safe confidant," I muttered. "He can neither speak
nor write, Mademoiselle."

"No, but--" and then her face became fixed. "They are coming," she
whispered. "Hush!" She rose stiffly, and stood supporting herself by
the table. "Have they--have they--found him?" she muttered. The woman
by her side wept on, unconscious what was impending.

I heard the captain stumble far down the passage, and swear loudly;
and I touched Mademoiselle's hand. "They have not!" I whispered. "All
is well, Mademoiselle. Pray, pray calm yourself. Sit down, and meet
them as if nothing were the matter. And your sister! Madame, Madame,"
I cried, almost harshly, "compose yourself. Remember that you have a
part to play."

My appeal did something. Madame stifled her sobs. Mademoiselle drew a
deep breath and sat down; and though she was still pale and still
trembled, the worst was past.

And just in time. The door flew open with a crash. The captain
stumbled into the room, swearing afresh. "_Sacré nom du Diable!_" he
cried, his face crimson with rage. "What fool placed these things
here? My boots? My--"

His jaw fell. He stopped on the word, stricken silent by the new
aspect of the room, by the sight of the little party at the table, by
all the changes I had worked. "_Saint Siêge!_" I he muttered. "What is
this?" The lieutenant's grizzled face peering over his shoulder
completed the picture.

"You are rather late, M. le Capitaine," I said cheerfully. "Madame's
hour is eleven. But come, here are your seats waiting for you."

"_Mille tonnerres!_" he muttered, advancing into the room, and glaring
at us.

"I am afraid the ragoût is cold," I continued, peering into the dish
and affecting to see nothing. "The soup, however, has been kept hot by
the fire. But I think you do not see Madame."

He opened his mouth to swear, but for the moment thought better of it.
"Who--who put my boots in the passage?" he asked, his voice thick with
rage. He did not bow to the ladies, or take any notice of their
presence.

"One of the men, I suppose," I said indifferently. "Is anything
missing?"

He glared at me. Then his cloak, spread outside, caught his eye. He
strode through the door, saw his holsters lying on the grass, and
other things strewn about. He came back. "Whose monkey game is this?"
he snarled, and his face was very ugly. "Who is at the bottom of this?
Speak, Sir, or I--"

"Tut-tut! the ladies!" I said. "You forget yourself, Monsieur."

"Forget myself?" he hissed, and this time he did not check his oath.
"Don't talk to me of the ladies! Madame? Bah! Do you think, fool, that
we are put into rebels' houses to bow and smile and take dancing
lessons?"

"In this case a lesson in politeness were more to the point,
Monsieur," I said sternly. And I rose.

"Was it by your orders that this was done?" he retorted, his brow
black with passion. "Answer, will you?"

"It was!" I replied outright.

"Then take that!" he cried, dashing his hat violently in my face. "And
come outside."

"With pleasure, Monsieur," I answered, bowing. "In one moment. Permit
me to find my sword. I think it is in the passage."

I went thither to get it. When I returned I found that the two men
were waiting for me in the garden, while the ladies had risen from the
table and were standing near it with blanched faces. "You had better
take your sister upstairs, Mademoiselle," I said gently, pausing a
moment beside them. "Have no fear. All will be well."

"But what is it?" she answered, looking troubled. "It was so sudden. I
am--I did not understand. You quarrelled so quickly."

"It is very simple," I answered, smiling. "M. le Capitaine insulted
you yesterday; he will pay for it to-day. That is all. Or, not quite
all," I continued, dropping my voice and speaking in a different tone.
"His removal may help you, Mademoiselle. Do you understand? I think
that there will be no more searching to-day."

She uttered an exclamation, grasping my arm and peering into my face.
"You will kill him?" she muttered.

I nodded. "Why not?" I said.

She caught her breath and stood with one hand clasped to her bosom,
gazing at me with parted lips, the blood mounting to her cheeks.
Gradually the flush melted into a fierce smile. "Yes, yes, why not?"
she repeated, between her teeth. "Why not?" She had her hand on my
arm, and I felt her fingers tighten until I could have winced. "Why
not? So you planned this--for us, Monsieur?"

I nodded.

"But can you?"

"Safely," I said; then, muttering to her to take her sister upstairs,
I turned towards the garden. My foot was already on the threshold, and
I was composing my face to meet the enemy, when I heard a movement
behind me. The next moment her hand was on my arm. "Wait! Wait a
moment! Come back!" she panted. I turned. The smile and flush had
vanished; her face was pale. "No!" she said abruptly. "I was wrong! I
will not have it. I will have no part in it! You planned it last
night, M. de Barthe. It is murder."

"Mademoiselle!" I exclaimed, wondering. "Murder? Why? It is a duel."

"It is murder," she answered persistently. "You planned it last night.
You said so."

"But I risk my own life," I replied sharply.

"Nevertheless--I will have no part in it," she answered more faintly.
"It will bring no good." She was trembling with agitation. Her eyes
avoided mine.

"On my shoulders be it then!" I replied stoutly. "It is too late,
Mademoiselle, to go back. They are waiting for me. Only, before I go,
let me beg of you to retire."

And I turned from her, and went out, wondering and thinking. First,
that women were strange things. Secondly--_murder?_ Merely because I
had planned the duel and provoked the quarrel! Never had I heard
anything so preposterous. Grant it, and dub every man who kept his
honour with his hands a Cain--and a good many branded faces would be
seen in some streets. I laughed at the fancy, as I strode down the
garden walk.

And yet, perhaps, I was going to do a foolish thing. The lieutenant
would still be here: a hard, bitter man, of stiffer stuff than his
captain. And the troopers. What if, when I had killed their leader,
they made the place too hot for me, Monseigneur's commission
notwithstanding? I should look silly, indeed, if on the eve of success
I were driven from the place by a parcel of jack-boots.

I liked the thought so little that I hesitated Yet it seemed too late
to retreat. The captain and the lieutenant were waiting in a little
open space fifty yards from the house, where a narrower path crossed
the broad walk, down which I had first seen Mademoiselle and her
sister pacing. The captain had removed his doublet, and stood in his
shirt leaning against the sundial, his head bare and his sinewy throat
uncovered. He had drawn his rapier and stood pricking the ground
impatiently. I marked his strong and nervous frame and his sanguine
air: and twenty years earlier the sight might have damped me. But no
thought of the kind entered my head now, and though I felt with each
moment greater reluctance to engage, doubt of the issue had no place
in my calculations.

I made ready slowly, and would gladly, to gain time, have found some
fault with the place. But the sun was sufficiently high to give no
advantage to either. The ground was good, the spot well chosen. I
could find no excuse to put off the man, and I was about to salute him
and fall to work, when a thought crossed my mind.

"One moment!" I said. "Supposing I kill you, M. le Capitaine, what
becomes of your errand here?"

"Don't trouble yourself," he answered, with a sneer--he had misread my
slowness and hesitation. "It will not happen, Monsieur. And in any
case the thought need not harass you. I have a lieutenant."

"Yes, but what of my mission?" I replied bluntly. "I have no
lieutenant."

"You should have thought of that before you interfered with my boots,"
he retorted, with contempt.

"True," I said, overlooking his manner. "But better late than never. I
am not sure, now I think of it, that my duty to Monseigneur will let
me fight."

"You will swallow the blow?" he cried, spitting on the ground
offensively. "_Diable!_" And the lieutenant, standing on one side with
his hands behind him and his shoulders squared, laughed grimly.

"I have not made up my mind," I answered irresolutely.

"Well, _nom de Dieu!_ make it up," the captain replied, with an ugly
sneer. He took a swaggering step this way and that, playing his
weapon. "I am afraid, Lieutenant, there will be no sport to-day," he
continued, in a loud aside. "Our cock has but a chicken heart."

"Well!" I said coolly, "I do not know what to do. Certainly it is a
fine day, and a fair piece of ground. And the sun stands well. But I
have not much to gain by killing you, M. le Capitaine, and it might
get me into an awkward fix. On the other hand, it would not hurt me to
let you go."

"Indeed?" he said contemptuously, looking at me as I should look at a
lacquey.

"No!" I replied. "For if you were to say that you had struck Gil de
Berault, and left the ground with a whole skin, no one would believe
you."

"Gil de Berault!" he exclaimed, frowning.

"Yes, Monsieur," I replied suavely. "At your service. You did not know
my name?"

"I thought your name was De Barthe," he said. His voice sounded
queerly; and he waited for the answer with parted lips, and a shadow
in his eyes which I had seen in men's eyes before.

"No," I said. "That was my mother's name, I took it for this occasion
only."

His florid cheek lost a shade of its colour, and he bit his lips as he
glanced at the lieutenant, trouble in his eyes. I had seen these signs
before, and knew them, and I might have cried "Chicken-heart!" in my
turn; but I had not made a way of escape for him--before I declared
myself--for nothing, and I held to my purpose. "I think you will allow
now," I said grimly, "that it will not harm me even if I put up with a
blow!"

"M. de Berault's courage is known," he muttered.

"And with reason," I said. "That being so, suppose we say this day
three months, M. le Capitaine? The postponement to be for my
convenience."

He caught the lieutenant's eye, and looked down sullenly, the conflict
in his mind as plain as daylight. He had only to insist, and I must
fight; and if by luck or skill he could master me, his fame as a
duellist would run, like a ripple over water, through every garrison
town in France and make him a name even in Paris. On the other side
were the imminent peril of death, the gleam of cold steel already in
fancy at his breast, the loss of life and sunshine, and the
possibility of a retreat with honour, if without glory. I read his
face, and knew before he spoke what he would do.

"It appears to me that the burden is with you," he said huskily; "but
for my part, I am satisfied."

"Very well," I said, "I take the burden. Permit me to apologize for
having caused you to strip unnecessarily. Fortunately the sun is
shining."

"Yes," he said gloomily. And he took his clothes from the sundial, and
began to put them on. He had expressed himself satisfied; but I knew
that he was feeling very ill-satisfied with himself, and I was not
surprised when he presently said abruptly and almost rudely, "There is
one thing I think we must settle here."

"What is that?" I asked.

"Our positions," he blurted out. "Or we shall cross one another again
within the hour."

"Umph! I am not quite sure that I understand," I said.

"That is precisely what I don't do--understand!" he retorted, in a
tone of surly triumph. "Before I came on this duty, I was told that
there was a gentleman here, bearing sealed orders from the Cardinal to
arrest M. de Cocheforêt; and I was instructed to avoid collision with
him so far as might be possible. At first I took you for the
gentleman. But the plague take me if I understand the matter now."

"Why not?" I said coldly.

"Because--well, the matter is in a nutshell!" he answered impetuously.
"Are you here on behalf of Madame de Cocheforêt to shield her husband?
Or are you here to arrest him? That is what I don't understand, M. de
Berault."

"If you mean, am I the Cardinal's agent--I am!" I answered sternly.

"To arrest M. de Cocheforêt?"

"To arrest M. de Cocheforêt."

"Well--you surprise me," he said.

Only that; but he spoke so drily that I felt the blood rush to my
face. "Take care, Monsieur," I said severely. "Do not presume too far
on the inconvenience to which your death might put me."

He shrugged his shoulders. "No offence!" he said. "But you do not
seem, M. de Berault, to comprehend the difficulty. If we do not settle
things now, we shall be bickering twenty times a day!"

"Well, what do you want?" I asked impatiently.

"Simply to know how you are going to proceed. So that our plans may
not clash."

"But surely, M. le Capitaine, that is my affair!" I replied.

"The clashing?" he answered bitterly. Then he waved aside my wrath.
"Pardon," he said, "the point is simply this: How do you propose to
find him if he is here?"

"That again is my affair," I answered.

He threw up his hands in despair; but in a moment his place was taken
by an unexpected disputant. The lieutenant, who had stood by all the
time, listening and tugging at his grey moustache, suddenly spoke.
"Look here, M. de Berault," he said, confronting me roughly, "I do not
fight duels. I am from the ranks. I proved my courage at Montauban in
'21, and my honour is good enough to take care of itself. So I say
what I like, and I ask you plainly what M. le Capitaine doubtless has
in his mind but does not ask: Are you running with the hare and
hunting with the hounds in this matter? In other words, have you
thrown up Monseigneur's commission in all but name and become Madame's
ally; or--it is the only other alternative--are you getting at the man
through the women?"

"You villain!" I cried, glaring at him in such a rage and fury I could
scarcely get the words out. This was plain speaking with a vengeance!
"How dare you! How dare you say that I am false to the hand that pays
me?"

I thought he would blench, but he did not. He stood up stiff as a
poker. "I do not say; I ask!" he replied, facing me squarely, and
slapping his fist into his open hand to drive home his words the
better. "I ask you whether you are playing the traitor to the
Cardinal? Or to these two women? It is a simple question."

I fairly choked. "You impudent scoundrel," I said.

"Steady, steady!" he replied. "Pitch sticks where it belongs. But that
is enough. I see which it is, M. le Capitaine; this way a moment, by
your leave."

And in a very cavalier way he took his officer by the arm, and drew
him into a side-walk, leaving me to stand in the sun, bursting with
anger and spleen. The gutter-bred rascal! That such a man should
insult me, and with impunity! In Paris I might have made him fight,
but here it was impossible. I was still foaming with rage when they
returned.

"We have come to a determination," the lieutenant said, tugging his
grey mustachios and standing like a ramrod. "We shall leave you the
house and Madame, and you can take your line to find the man. For
ourselves, we shall draw off our men to the village, and we shall take
our line. That is all, M. le Capitaine, is it not?"

"I think so," the captain muttered, looking anywhere but at me.

"Then we bid you good-day, Monsieur," the lieutenant added. And in a
moment he turned his companion round, and the two retired up the walk
to the house, leaving me to look after them in a black fit of rage and
incredulity. At the first flush there was something so offensive in
the manner of their going that anger had the upper hand. I thought of
the lieutenant's words, and I cursed him to hell with a sickening
consciousness that I should not forget them in a hurry: "Was I playing
the traitor to the Cardinal or to these women--which?" _Mon Dieu!_ if
ever question--but there! some day I would punish him. And the
captain? I could put an end to his amusement, at any rate; and I
would. Doubtless among the country bucks of Auch he lorded it as a
chief provincial bully, but I would cut his comb for him some fine
morning behind the barracks.

And then, as I grew cooler I began to wonder why they were going, and
what they were going to do. They might be already on the track, or
have the information they required under hand; in that case I could
understand the movement. But if they were still searching vaguely,
uncertain whether their quarry were in the neighbourhood or not, and
uncertain how long they might have to stay, it seemed incredible that
soldiers should move from good quarters to bad without motive.

I wandered down the garden thinking sullenly of this, and pettishly
cutting off the heads of the flowers with my sheathed sword. After
all, if they found and arrested the man, what then? I should have to
make my peace with the Cardinal as I best might. He would have gained
his point, but not through me, and I should have to look to myself. On
the other hand, if I anticipated them--and, as a fact, I felt that I
could lay my hand on the fugitive within a few hours--there would come
a time when I must face Mademoiselle.

A little while back that had not seemed so difficult a thing. From the
day of our first meeting--and in a higher degree since that afternoon
when she had lashed me with her scorn--my views of her, and my
feelings towards her, had been strangely made up of antagonism and
sympathy; of repulsion, because in her past and present she was so
different from me; of yearning, because she was a woman and
friendless. Then I had duped her and bought her confidence by
returning the jewels, and in a measure I had sated my vengeance; and
then, as a consequence, sympathy had again begun to get the better,
until now I hardly knew my own mind or what I intended. _I did not
know_, in fact, what I intended. I stood there in the garden with that
conviction suddenly new-born in my mind; and then, in a moment, I
heard her step and turned to find her behind me.

Her face was like April, smiles breaking through her tears. As she
stood with a tall hedge of sunflowers behind her, I started to see how
beautiful she was. "I am here in search of you, M. de Barthe," she
said, colouring slightly, perhaps because my eyes betrayed my thought,
"to thank you. You have not fought, and yet you have conquered. My
woman has just been with me, and she tells me that they are going!"

"Going?" I said. "Yes, Mademoiselle, they are leaving the house."

She did not understand my reservation. "What magic have you used?" she
said, almost gaily--it was wonderful how hope had changed her.
"Moreover, I am curious to learn how you managed to avoid fighting."

"After taking a blow?" I said bitterly.

"Monsieur, I did not mean that," she said reproachfully. But her face
clouded. I saw that, viewed in this light--in which I suppose she had
not seen it--the matter perplexed her still more.

I took a sudden resolution. "Have you ever heard, Mademoiselle," I
said gravely, plucking off while I spoke the dead leaves from a plant
beside me, "of a gentleman by name De Berault? Known in Paris, so I
have heard, by the sobriquet of the Black Death?"

"The duellist?" she answered, in wonder. "Yes, I have heard of him. He
killed a young gentleman of this province at Nancy two years back. It
was a sad story," she continued, shuddering, "of a dreadful man. God
keep our friends from such!"

"Amen!" I said quietly. But, in spite of myself, I could not meet her
eyes.

"Why?" she answered, quickly taking alarm at my silence. "What of him,
M. de Barthe? Why have you mentioned him?"

"Because he is here, Mademoiselle."

"Here?" she exclaimed.

"Yes, Mademoiselle," I answered soberly. "I am he."



                             CHAPTER IX.

                                CLON.


"You!" she cried, in a voice which pierced me, "You--M. de Berault?
Impossible!" But, glancing askance at her.--I could not face her,--I
saw that the blood had left her cheeks.

"Yes, Mademoiselle," I answered, in a low voice. "De Barthe was my
mother's name. When I came here, a stranger, I took it that I might
not be known; that I might again speak to a good woman and not see her
shrink. That--but why trouble you with all this?" I continued proudly,
rebelling against her silence, her turned shoulder, her averted face.
"You asked me, Mademoiselle, how I could take a blow and let the
striker go. I have answered. It is the one privilege M. de Berault
possesses."

"Then," she replied quickly, but almost in a whisper, "if I were M. de
Berault, I would use it, and never fight again."

"In that event, Mademoiselle," I answered cynically, "I should lose my
men friends as well as my women friends. Like Monseigneur, the
Cardinal, I rule by fear."

She shuddered, either at the name or at the idea my words called up,
and, for a moment, we stood awkwardly silent. The shadow of the
sundial fell between us; the garden was still; here and there a leaf
fluttered slowly down, or a seed fell. With each instant of silence I
felt the gulf between us growing wider, I felt myself growing harder;
I mocked at her past, which was so unlike mine; I mocked at mine, and
called it fate. I was on the point of turning from her with a bow--and
a furnace in my breast--when she spoke.

"There is a late rose lingering there," she said, a slight tremor in
her voice. "I cannot reach it. Will you pluck it for me, M. de
Berault?"

I obeyed her, my hand trembling, my face on fire. She took the rose
from me, and placed it in the bosom of her dress. And I saw that her
hand trembled too, and that her cheek was dark with blushes.

She turned at once, and began to walk towards the house. Presently she
spoke. "Heaven forbid that I should misjudge you a second time!" she
said, in a low voice. "And, after all, who am I that I should judge
you at all? An hour ago, I would have killed that man had I possessed
the power."

"You repented, Mademoiselle," I said huskily. I could scarcely speak.

"Do you never repent?"

"Yes. But too late, Mademoiselle."

"Perhaps it is never too late," she answered softly.

"Alas, when a man is dead--"

"You may rob a man of more than life!" she replied with energy,
stopping me by a gesture. "If you have never robbed a man--or a
woman--of honour! If you have never ruined boy or girl, M. de Berault!
If you have never pushed another into the pit and gone by it yourself!
If--but for murder? Listen. You may be a Romanist, but I am a
Huguenot, and have read. 'Thou shalt not kill!' it is written; and
the penalty, 'By man shall thy blood be shed!' But, 'If you cause
one of these little ones to offend, it were _better_ for you that a
mill-stone were hanged about your neck, and that you were cast into
the depths of the sea."

"Mademoiselle, you are too merciful," I muttered.

"I need mercy myself," she answered, sighing. "And I have had few
temptations. How do I know what you have suffered?"

"Or done!" I said, almost rudely.

"Where a man has not lied, nor betrayed, nor sold himself or others,"
she answered firmly, but in a low tone, "I think I can forgive all
else. I can better put up with force," she added, smiling sadly, "than
with fraud."

Ah, Dieu! I turned away my face that she might not see how it paled,
how I winced; that she might not guess how her words, meant in mercy,
stabbed me to the heart. And yet, then, for the first time, while
viewing in all its depth and width the gulf which separated us, I was
not hardened; I was not cast back on myself. Her gentleness, her pity,
her humility, softened me, while they convicted me. My God! How could
I do that which I had come to do? How could I stab her in the
tenderest part, how could I inflict on her that rending pang, how
could I meet her eyes, and stand before her, a Caliban, a Judas, the
vilest, lowest, basest thing she could conceive?

I stood, a moment, speechless and disordered; stunned by her words, by
my thoughts--as I have seen a man stand when he has lost his all, his
last, at the tables.  Then I turned to her; and for an instant I
thought that my tale was told already. I thought that she had pierced
my disguise, for her face was aghast, stricken with sudden fear. Then
I saw that she was not looking at me, but beyond me, and I turned
quickly and saw a servant hurrying from the house to us. It was Louis.
His face, it was, had frightened her. His eyes were staring, his hair
waved, his cheeks were flabby with dismay. He breathed as if he had
been running.

"What is it?" Mademoiselle cried, while he was still some way off.
"Speak, man. My sister? Is she--"

"Clon," he gasped.

The name changed her to stone. "Clon?" she muttered. "What of him?"

"In the village!" Louis panted, his tongue stuttering with terror.
"They are flogging him! They are killing him, Mademoiselle! To make
him tell!"

Mademoiselle grasped the sundial and leant against it, her face
colourless, and, for an instant, I thought that she was fainting.
"Tell?" I said mechanically. "But he cannot tell. He is dumb, man."

"They will make him guide them," Louis groaned, covering his ears with
his shaking hands, his face like paper. "And his cries! Oh, Monsieur,
go!" he continued, suddenly appealing to me, in a thrilling tone.
"Save him. All through the wood I heard them. It was horrible!
horrible!"

Mademoiselle uttered a low moan, and I turned to support her, thinking
each second to see her fall. But with a sudden movement she
straightened herself, and, slipping by me, with eyes which seemed to
see nothing, she started swiftly down the walk towards the meadow
gate.

I ran after her, but, taken by surprise as I was, it was only by a
great effort I reached the gate before her, and, thrusting myself in
the road, barred the way. "Let me pass!" she panted fiercely, striving
to thrust me on one side. "Out of my way, Sir! I am going to the
village."

"You are not going to the village," I said sternly. "Go back to the
house, Mademoiselle, and at once."

"My servant!" she wailed. "Let me go! Oh, let me go! Do you
think I can rest here while they torture him? He cannot speak, and
they--they--"

"Go back, Mademoiselle," I said, cutting her short, with decision.
"You would only make matters worse! I will go myself, and what one man
can do against many, I will! Louis, give your mistress your arm and
take her to the house. Take her to Madame."

"But you will go?" she cried. Before I could stay her--I swear I would
have done so if I could--she raised my hand and carried it to her
trembling lips. "You will go! Go and stop them! Stop them," she
continued, in a tone which stirred my heart, "and Heaven reward you,
Monsieur!"

I did not answer; nor did I once look back, as I crossed the meadow;
but I did not look forward either. Doubtless it was grass I trod;
doubtless the wood was before me with the sun shining aslant on it,
and behind me the house with a flame here and there on the windows.
But I went in a dream, among shadows; with a racing pulse, in a glow
from head to heel; conscious of nothing but the touch of
Mademoiselle's warm lips, seeing neither meadows nor house, nor even
the dark fringe of wood before me, but only Mademoiselle's passionate
face. For the moment I was drunk: drunk with that to which I had been
so long a stranger, with that which a man may scorn for years, to find
it at last beyond his reach--drunk with the touch of a good woman's
lips.

I passed the bridge in this state; and my feet were among the
brushwood before the heat and fervour in which I moved found on a
sudden their direction. Something began to penetrate to my veiled
senses--a hoarse inarticulate cry, now deep, now shrilling horribly,
which seemed to fill the wood. It came at intervals of half a minute
or so, and made the flesh creep, it was so full of dumb pain, of
impotent wrestling, of unspeakable agony. I am a man and have seen
things. I saw the Concini beheaded, and Chalais ten years later--they
gave him thirty-four blows; and when I was a boy I escaped from
the college and viewed from a great distance Ravaillac torn by
horses--that was in the year ten. But the horrible cries I now heard
filled me, perhaps because I was alone and fresh from the sight of
Mademoiselle, with loathing that was intense. The very wood, though
the sun wanted an hour of setting, seemed to grow dark. I ran on
through it, cursing, until the hovels of the village at length came in
sight. Again the shriek rose, a pulsing horror, and this time I could
hear the lash fall on the sodden flesh, I could see in fancy the
strong man, trembling, quivering, straining against his bonds. And
then, in a moment, I was in the street, and, as the scream once more
tore the air, I dashed round the corner by the inn, and came upon
them.

I did not look at _him_. I saw Captain Larolle and the lieutenant, and
a ring of troopers, and one man, bare-armed, teasing out with his
fingers the thongs of a whip. The thongs dripped blood, and the sight
fired the mine. The rage I had suppressed when the lieutenant bearded
me earlier in the afternoon, the passion with which Mademoiselle's
distress had filled my breast, at last found vent. I sprang through
the line of soldiers, and striking the man with the whip a buffet
between the shoulders, which hurled him breathless to the ground, I
turned on the leaders. "You devils!" I cried. "Shame on you! The man
is dumb! I tell you, if I had ten men with me, I would sweep you and
your scum out of the village with broomsticks. Lay on another lash," I
continued recklessly, "and I will see if you or the Cardinal be the
stronger."

The lieutenant glared at me, his grey moustache bristling, his eyes
almost starting from his head. Some of the troopers laid their hands
on their swords, but no one moved, and only the captain spoke. "_Mille
diables!_" he swore. "What is all this about? Are you mad, Sir?"

"Mad or sane!" I cried, still in a fury. "Lay on another lash, and you
shall repent it."

"I?"

"Yes, you!"

For an instant there was a pause of astonishment. Then to my surprise
the captain laughed--laughed loudly. "Very heroic!" he said. "Quite
magnificent, M. le Chevalier-errant. But you see, unfortunately, you
come too late!"

"Too late!" I said incredulously.

"Yes, too late," he replied, with a mocking smile. And the lieutenant
grinned too. "You see the man has just confessed. We have only been
giving him an extra touch or two, to impress his memory, and save us
the trouble of tying him up again."

"I don't believe it," I said bluntly--but I felt the check, and fell
to earth. "The man cannot speak."

"No, but he has managed to tell us that he will guide us to the place
we want," the captain answered drily. "The whip, if it cannot find a
man a tongue, can find him wits. What is more, I think, he will keep
his word," he continued, with a hideous smile. "For I warn him that if
he does not, all your heroics shall not save him! He is a rebel dog,
and known to us of old, and I will flay his back to the bones--ay,
until we can see his heart beating through his ribs--but I will have
what I want--in your teeth, too, you d--d meddler."

"Steady, steady!" I said, somewhat sobered. I saw that he was
telling me the truth. "He is going to take you to M. de Cocheforêt's
hiding-place, is he?"

"Yes, he is!" the captain retorted offensively. "Have you any
objection to make to that, Master Spy?"

"None," I replied. "But I shall go with you. And if you live three
months, I shall kill you for that name--behind the barracks at Auch,
M. le Capitaine."

He changed colour, but he answered me boldly enough. "I don't know
that you will go with us. That is as we please," he continued, with a
snarl.

"I have the Cardinal's orders," I said sternly.

"The Cardinal?" he exclaimed, stung to fury by this repetition of the
name. "The Cardinal be--"

But the lieutenant laid his hands on his lips, and stopped him.
"Hush!" he said. Then more quietly, "Your pardon, M. le Capitaine.
Shall I give orders to the men to fall in?"

The captain nodded sullenly.

"Take him down!" the lieutenant ordered, in his harsh, monotonous
voice. "Throw his blouse over him, and tie his hands. And do you two,
Paul and Lebrun, guard him. Michel, bring the whip, or he may forget
how it tastes. Sergeant, choose four good men and dismiss the rest to
their quarters."

"Shall we need the horses?" the sergeant asked.

"I don't know," the captain answered peevishly. "What does the rogue
say?"

The lieutenant stepped up to him. "Listen!" he said grimly. "Nod if
you mean yes, and shake your head if you mean no. And have a care you
answer truly. Is it more than a mile to this place? The place you know
of?"

They had loosened the poor wretch's fastenings, and covered his back.
He stood leaning against the wall, his mouth still panting, the sweat
running down his hollow cheeks; his sunken eyes were closed; a quiver
now and again ran through his frame. The lieutenant repeated his
question, and, getting no answer, looked round for orders. The captain
met the look, and crying savagely, "Answer, will you, you mute!"
struck the half-swooning miserable across the back with his switch.
The effect was magical. Covered, as his shoulders were, the man sprang
erect with a shriek of pain, raising his chin, and hollowing his back;
and in that attitude stood an instant with starting eyes, gasping for
breath. Then he sank back against the wall, moving his mouth
spasmodically. His face was the colour of lead.

"_Diable!_ I think we have gone too far with him!" the captain
muttered.

"Bring some wine!" the lieutenant replied. "Quick with it!"

I looked on, burning with indignation, and wondering besides what
would come of this. If the man took them to the place, and they
succeeded in seizing, Cocheforêt, there was an end of the matter as
far as I was concerned. It was off my shoulders, and I might leave the
village when I pleased; nor was it likely--since he would have his
man, though not through me--that the Cardinal would refuse me an
amnesty. On the whole, I thought that I would prefer that things
should take that course; and assuming the issue, I began to wonder
whether in that event it would be necessary that Madame should know
the truth. I had a kind of a vision of a reformed Berault, dead to
play and purging himself at a distance from Zaton's, winning, perhaps,
a name In the Italian war, and finally--but, pshaw! I was a fool.

However, be that as it might, it was essential that I should see the
arrest made; and I waited patiently while they revived the tortured
man, and made their dispositions. These took some time; so that the
sun was down, and it was growing dusk, when we marched out, Clon
going first, supported by his two guards, the captain and I
following,--abreast, and eyeing one another suspiciously,--the
lieutenant, with the sergeant and five troopers, bringing up the rear.
Clon moved slowly, moaning from time to time, and but for the aid
given him by the two men with him, must have sunk down again and
again.

He went out between two houses close to the inn, and struck a narrow
track, scarcely discernible, which ran behind other houses, and then
plunged into the thickest part of the wood. A single person,
traversing the covert, might have made such a track; or pigs, or
children. But it was the first idea that occurred to us, and it put us
all on the alert. The captain carried a cocked pistol, I held my sword
drawn, and kept a watchful eye on him; and the deeper the dusk fell in
the wood, the more cautiously we went, until at last we came out with
a sort of jump into a wider and lighter path.

I looked up and down it, and saw before me a wooden bridge, and an
open meadow, lying cold and grey in the twilight; and I stood in
astonishment. It was the old path to the Château! I shivered at the
thought that he was going to take us there, to the house--to
Mademoiselle!

The captain also recognised the place, and swore aloud. But the dumb
man went on unheeding, until he reached the wooden bridge. There he
paused as if in doubt, and looked towards the dark outline of the
building, which was just visible, one faint light twinkling sadly in
the west wing. As the captain and I pressed up behind him, he raised
his hands and seemed to wring them towards the house.

"Have a care!" the captain growled. "Play me no tricks, or--" But he
did not finish the sentence; for Clon turned back from the bridge,
and, entering the wood on the left hand, began to ascend the bank of
the stream. We had not gone a hundred yards before the ground grew
rough, and the undergrowth thick; and yet through all ran a kind of
path which enabled us to advance, dark as it was growing. Very soon
the bank on which we moved began to rise above the water, and grew
steep and rugged. We turned a shoulder, where the stream swept round a
curve, and saw we were in the mouth of a small ravine, dark and
steep-walled. The water brawled along the bottom, over boulders and
through chasms. In front, the slope on which we stood shaped itself
into a low cliff; but half-way between its summit and the water, a
ledge, or narrow terrace, running along the face, was dimly visible.

"Ten to one, a cave!" the captain muttered. "It is a likely place."

"And an ugly one!" I sneered. "Which one to ten might safely hold for
hours!"

"If the ten had no pistols--yes!" he answered viciously. "But you see
we have. Is he going that way?"

He was. "Lieutenant," Larolle said, turning and speaking in a low
voice, though the chafing of the stream below us covered ordinary
sounds, "shall we light the lanthorns, or press on while there is
still a glimmering of day?"

"On, I should say, M. le Capitaine," the lieutenant answered. "Prick
him in the back if he falters. I will warrant he has a tender place or
two!" the brute added, with a chuckle.

The captain gave the word, and we moved forward; it being very evident
now that the cliff-path was our destination. It was possible for the
eye to follow the track all the way to it through rough stones and
brushwood; and though Clon climbed feebly and with many groans, two
minutes saw us step on to it. It did not turn out to be the perilous
place it looked at a distance. The ledge, grassy and terrace-like,
sloped slightly downwards and outwards, and in parts was slippery; but
it was as wide as a highway, and the fall to the water did not exceed
thirty feet. Even in such a dim light as now displayed it to us, and
by increasing the depth and unseen dangers of the gorge, gave a kind
of impressiveness to our movements, a nervous woman need not have
feared to breast it. I wondered how often Mademoiselle had passed
along it with her milk-pitcher.

"I think we have him now!" Captain Larolle muttered, twisting his
mustachios, and looking round to make his last dispositions. "Paul and
Lebrun, see that your man makes no noise. Sergeant, come forward with
your carbine, but do not fire without orders. Now, silence, all, and
close up, Lieutenant. Forward!"

We advanced about a hundred paces, keeping the cliff on our left, then
turned a shoulder, and saw, a few paces in front of us, a black blotch
standing out from the grey duskiness of the cliff-side. The prisoner
stopped, and raising his bound hands pointed to it.

"There?" the captain whispered, pressing forward. "Is that the place?"

Clon nodded. The captain's voice shook with excitement. "You two
remain here with him!" he muttered, in a low tone. "Sergeant, come
forward with me. Now, are you ready? Forward!"

He and the sergeant passed quickly, one on either side of Clon and his
guards. The path was narrow here, and the captain passed outside. The
eyes of all but one were on the black blotch, the hollow in the
cliff-side, and no one saw exactly what happened. But somehow, as the
captain passed abreast of him, the prisoner thrust back his guards,
and springing sideways, flung his unbound arms round Larolle's body,
and in an instant swept him, shouting, to the verge of the precipice.

It was done in a moment. By the time the lieutenant's startled wits
and eyes were back, the two were already tottering on the edge,
looking in the gloom like one dark form. The sergeant, who was the
first to find his head, levelled his carbine; but as the wrestlers
twirled and twisted, the captain shrieking out oaths and threats, the
mute silent as death, it was impossible to see which was which; and
the sergeant lowered his gun again, while the men held back nervously.
The ledge sloped steeply there; the edge was vague; already the two
seemed to be wrestling in mid-air,--and the mute was a man beyond hope
or fear.

That moment of hesitation was fatal. Clon's long arms were round the
other's arms, crushing them into his ribs; Clon's skull-like face
grinned hate into the other's eyes; his long limbs curled round him
like the folds of a snake. Suddenly Larolle's strength gave way. "Damn
you all! Why don't you--Mercy! mercy!" came in a last scream from his
lips; and then, as the lieutenant, taken aback before, sprang forward
to his aid, the two toppled over the edge, and in a second hurtled out
of sight.

"_Mon Dieu!_" the lieutenant cried, in horror. The answer was a dull
splash in the depths below.

He flung up his arms. "Water!" he said. "Quick, men, get down! We may
save him yet! They have fallen into water!"

But there was no path, and night was come, and the men's nerves were
shaken. The lanthorns had to be lit, and the way to be retraced; and
by the time we reached the dark pool which lay below, the last bubbles
were gone from the surface, the last ripples had beaten themselves out
against the banks. True, the pool still rocked sullenly, and the
yellow light showed a man's hat floating, and near it a glove three
parts submerged. But that was all. The mute's dying grip had known no
loosening, nor his hate any fear. Later, I heard that when they
dragged the two out next day, his fingers were in the other's
eye-sockets, his teeth in his throat. If ever man found death sweet,
it was he.

As we turned slowly from the black water, some shuddering, some
crossing themselves, the lieutenant looked vengefully at me. "Curse
you!" he said, in sudden fury. "I believe you are glad!"

"He deserved his fate," I answered coldly. "Why should I pretend to be
sorry? It was now or in three months. And for the other poor devil's
sake I am glad."

He glared at me a moment, in speechless anger. At last, "I should like
to have you tied up!" he said, between his teeth.

"I should have thought that you had had enough of tying up for one
day!" I retorted. "But there; it comes of making officers out of the
canaille. Dogs love blood. The teamster must still lash something, if
he can no longer lash his horses."

We were back, a sombre little procession, at the wooden bridge, when I
said this. He stopped suddenly. "Very well," he replied, nodding
viciously, "That decides me. Sergeant, light me this way with a
lanthorn. The rest of you to the village. Now, Master Spy," he
continued, glancing at me with gloomy spite, "your road is my road. I
think I know how to cook your goose."

I shrugged my shoulders in disdain, and together, the sergeant leading
the way with the light, we crossed the meadow, and passed through the
gate where Mademoiselle had kissed my hand, and up the ghostly walk
between the rosebushes. I wondered uneasily what the lieutenant would
be at, and what he intended; but the lanthorn light which now fell
on the ground at our feet, and now showed one of us to the other,
high-lit in a frame of blackness, discovered nothing in his grizzled
face but settled hostility. He wheeled at the end of the walk to go
to the main door; but as he did so, I saw the flutter of a white
skirt by the stone seat against the house, and I stepped that way.
"Mademoiselle," I said softly, "is it you?"

"Clon?" she muttered, her voice quivering. "What of him?"

"He is past pain," I answered gently. "He is dead, but in his own way.
Take comfort, Mademoiselle." And then before I could say more, the
lieutenant with his sergeant and light were at my elbow. He saluted
Mademoiselle roughly. She looked at him with shuddering abhorrence.

"Are you come to flog me, Sir?" she said icily. "Is it not enough that
you have murdered my servant?"

"On the contrary, it was he killed my captain," the lieutenant
answered, in another tone than I had expected. "If your servant is
dead, so is my comrade."

She looked with startled eyes, not at him, but at me. "What! Captain
Larolle?" she muttered.

I nodded.

"How?" she asked.

"Clon flung the captain and himself into the river-pool," I explained,
in a low voice. "The pool above the bridge."

She uttered an exclamation of awe, and stood silent. But her lips
moved; I think she was praying for Clon, though she was a Huguenot.
Meanwhile I had a fright. The lanthorn, swinging in the sergeant's
hand, and now throwing its smoky light on the stone seat, now on the
rough wall above it, showed me something else. On the seat, doubtless
where Mademoiselle's hand had lain, as she sat in the dark, listening
and watching, stood a pitcher of food. Beside her, in that place, it
was damning evidence. I trembled lest the lieutenant's eye should fall
upon it, lest the sergeant should see it; I thought what I could do to
hide it; and then in a moment I forgot all about it. The lieutenant
was speaking, and his voice was like doom. My throat grew dry as I
listened. My tongue stuck to my mouth; I tried to look at
Mademoiselle, but I could not.

"It is true, the captain is gone," he said stiffly. "But others are
alive, and about one of them, a word with you,--by your leave,
Mademoiselle. I have listened to a good deal of talk from this fine
gentleman friend of yours. He has spent the last twenty-four hours
saying, 'You shall!' and 'You shall not!' He came from you, and took a
very high tone because we laid a little whip-lash about that dumb
devil of yours. He called us brutes and beasts, and but for him I am
not sure that my friend would not be alive. But when he said a few
minutes ago that he was glad,--glad of it, damn him!--then I fixed it
in my mind that I would be even with him. And I am going to be!"

"What do you mean?" Mademoiselle asked, wearily interrupting him. "If
you think you can prejudice me against that gentleman--"

"That is precisely what I do think! And I am going to do it. And a
little more than that!"

"You will be only wasting your breath!" she answered proudly.

"Wait! wait, Mademoiselle, until you have heard!" he said. "If ever a
black-hearted scoundrel, a dastardly, sneaking spy, trod the earth, it
is this fellow! This friend of yours! And I am going to expose him.
Your own eyes and your own ears shall persuade you. Why, I would not
eat, I would not drink, I would not sit down with him! I would not! I
would rather be beholden to the meanest trooper in my squadron than to
him! Ay, I would, so help me Heaven!" And the lieutenant, turning
squarely on his heels, spat on the ground.



                              CHAPTER X.

                             THE ARREST.


So it had come! And come in such a fashion that I saw no way of
escape. The sergeant was between us, and I could not strike him. And I
found no words. A score of times I had thought with shrinking how I
should reveal my secret to Mademoiselle, what I should say, and how
she would take it. But in my mind it had always been a voluntary act,
this disclosure. It had been always I who had unmasked myself, and she
who listened--alone; and in this voluntariness and this privacy there
had been something which seemed to take from the shame of
anticipation. But here--here was no voluntary act on my part, no
privacy, nothing but shame. I stood mute, convicted, speechless--like
the thing I was.

Yet if anything could have braced me, it was Mademoiselle's voice,
when she answered him. "Go on, Monsieur," she said, with the perfect
calmness of scorn. "You will have done the sooner."

"You do not believe me?" he replied hotly. "Then, I say, look at him!
Look at him! If ever shame--"

"Monsieur!" she said abruptly--she did not look at me. "I am ashamed
myself!"

"Why, his very name is not his own!" the lieutenant rejoined jerkily.
"He is no Barthe at all. He is Berault the gambler, the duellist, the
bully--"

Again she interrupted him. "I know it," she said coldly. "I know it
all. And if you have nothing more to tell me, go, Monsieur. Go!" she
continued, in a tone of infinite scorn. "Enough that you have earned
my contempt as well as my abhorrence!"

He looked for a moment taken aback. Then, "Ay, but I _have_ more!" he
cried, his voice stubbornly triumphant. "I forgot that you would think
little of that! I forgot that a swordsman has always the ladies'
hearts. But I have more. Do you know, too, that he is in the
Cardinal's pay? Do you know that he is here on the same errand which
brings us here,--to arrest M. de Cocheforêt? Do you know that while we
go about the business openly and in soldier fashion, it is his part to
worm himself into your confidence, to sneak into Madame's intimacy, to
listen at your door, to follow your footsteps, to hang on your
lips, to track you--track you until you betray yourselves and
the man? Do you know this, and that all his sympathy is a lie,
Mademoiselle? His help, so much bait to catch the secret? His aim,
blood-money--blood-money? Why, _morbleu!_" the lieutenant continued,
pointing his finger at me, and so carried away by passion, so lifted
out of himself by wrath and indignation, that in spite of myself I
shrank before him,--"you talk, lady, of contempt and abhorrence in the
same breath with me! But what have you for him? What have you for him,
the spy, the informer, the hired traitor? And if you doubt, if you
want evidence, look at him. Only look at him, I say!"

And he might well say it! For I stood silent still; cowering and
despairing, white with rage and hate. But Mademoiselle did not look.
She gazed straight at the lieutenant. "Have you done?" she said.

"Done?" he stammered. Her words, her air, brought him to earth again.
"Done? Yes, if you believe me."

"I do not," she answered proudly. "If that be all, be satisfied,
Monsieur. I do not believe you."

"Then tell me," he retorted, after a moment of stunned surprise, "why,
if he was not on our side, do you think we let him remain here? Why
did we suffer him to stay in a suspected house bullying us, and taking
your part from hour to hour?"

"He has a sword, Monsieur," she answered, with fine contempt.

"_Mille diables!_" he cried, snapping his fingers in a rage. "That for
his sword! No. It was because he held the Cardinal's commission;
because he had equal authority with us; because we had no choice."

"And that being so, Monsieur, why are you now betraying him?" she
asked keenly.

He swore at that, feeling the stroke go home. "You must be mad," he
said, glaring at her. "Mad, if you cannot see that the man is what I
tell you he is. Look at him! Listen to him! Has he a word to say for
himself?"

Still she did not look. "It is late," she replied, coldly and
irrelevantly. "And I am not very well. If you have quite done, perhaps
you will leave me, Monsieur."

"_Mon Dieu!_" he exclaimed, shrugging his shoulders; "you are mad! I
have told you the truth, and you will not believe it. Well, on your
head be it then, Mademoiselle. I have no more to say. But you will
see."

He looked at her for a moment as if he thought that she might still
give way; then he saluted her roughly, gave the word to the sergeant,
turned, and went down the path. The sergeant went after him, the
lanthorn swaying in his hand. We two were left alone in the gloom. The
frogs were croaking in the pool; the house, the garden, the wood,--all
lay quiet under the darkness, as on the night when I first came to the
Château.

And would to Heaven I had never come! That was the cry in my heart.
Would to Heaven I had never seen this woman, whose nobility and faith
and singleness were a continual shame to me; a reproach, branding me
every hour I stood in her presence, with all vile and hateful names.
The man just gone, coarse, low-bred, brutal soldier as he was,
man-flogger, and drilling-block, had yet found heart to feel my
baseness, and words in which to denounce it. What, then, would she say
when the truth some day came home to her? What shape should I take in
her eyes then? How should I be remembered through all the years--then?

Then? But now? What was she thinking, now, as she stood, silent and
absorbed, by the stone seat, a shadowy figure with face turned from
me? Was she recalling the man's words, fitting them to the facts and
the past, adding this and that circumstance? Was she, though she had
rebuffed him in the body, collating, now he was gone, all he had said,
and out of these scraps piecing together the damning truth? The
thought tortured me. I could brook uncertainty no longer. I went
nearer to her and touched her sleeve. "Mademoiselle," I said, in a
voice which sounded hoarse and forced even in my own ears, "do you
believe this of me?"

She started violently and turned. "Pardon, Monsieur," she answered. "I
had forgotten that you were here. Do I believe--what?"

"What that man said of me," I muttered.

"That!" she exclaimed; and she stood a moment gazing at me in a
strange fashion. "Do I believe what he said, Monsieur! But come,
come," she continued, "and I will show you if I believe it. But not
here."

She led the way on the instant into the house, going in through the
parlour door, which stood half open. The room inside was pitch dark,
but she took me fearlessly by the hand, and led me quickly through it,
and along the passage, until we came to the cheerful lighted hall,
where a great fire burned on the hearth. All traces of the soldiers'
occupation had been swept away. But the room was empty.

She led me to the fire, and there, in the full light, no longer a
shadowy creature, but red-lipped, brilliant, throbbing with life, she
stood opposite me, her eyes shining, her colour high, her breast
heaving. "Do I believe it?" she said. "I will tell you. M. de
Cocheforêt's hiding-place is in the hut behind the fern-stack, two
furlongs beyond the village, on the road to Auch. You know now what no
one else knows, he and I and Madame excepted. You hold in your hands
his life and my honour; and you know also, M. de Berault, whether I
believed that tale."

"My God!" I cried. And I stood looking at her, until something of the
horror in my eyes crept into hers, and she shuddered and stepped back.

"What is it? What is it?" she whispered, clasping her hands. And with
all the colour gone from her cheeks she peered trembling into the
corners and towards the door. "There is no one here. Is there any
one--listening?"

I forced myself to speak, though I shook all over, like a man in an
ague. "No, Mademoiselle, there is no one here," I muttered. And then I
let my head fall on my breast, and I stood before her, the statue of
despair. Had she felt a grain of suspicion, a grain of doubt, my
bearing must have opened her eyes. But her mind was cast in so noble a
mould, that having once thought ill of me and been converted, she
could feel no doubt again. It was her nature to trust all in all. So,
a little recovered from her fright, she stood looking at me in great
wonder; and at last she had a thought.

"You are not well?" she said suddenly. "It is your old wound,
Monsieur."

"Yes, Mademoiselle," I muttered faintly. "It is my old wound."

"I will call Clon!" she cried impetuously. And then, with a sob, "Ah!
poor Clon! He is gone. But there is Louis. I will call him, and he
will get you something."

She was gone from the room before I could stop her; and I was left
leaning against the table, possessor at last of the great secret which
I had come so far to win. Possessor of that secret, and able in a
moment to open the door, and go out into the night, and make use of
it--and yet the most unhappy of men. The sweat stood on my brow, my
eyes wandered round the room; I even turned towards the door, with
some mad thought of flight--flight from her, from the house, from
everything. And God knows if I might not have chosen that course; for
I still stood doubting, when on the door, that door, there came a
sudden hurried knocking which jarred every nerve in my body. I
started. I stood in the middle of the floor, gazing at the door, as at
a ghost. Then glad of action, glad of anything that might relieve the
tension of my feelings, I strode to it, and pulled it sharply open.

On the threshold, his flushed face lit up by the light behind me,
stood one of the knaves I had brought with me to Auch. He had been
running, and panted heavily, but he had kept his wits. He grasped my
sleeve instantly. "Ah! Monsieur, the very man!" he cried, tugging at
me. "Quick! come this instant, and you may yet be first. They have the
secret. They have found Monsieur."

"Found whom?" I echoed. "M. de Cocheforêt?"

"No; but the place where he lies. It was found by accident. The
lieutenant was gathering his men to go to it when I came away. If we
are quick, we may be there first."

"But the place?" I said.

"I could not hear where it was," he answered bluntly. "We can hang on
their skirts, and at the last moment strike in."

The pair of pistols I had taken from the shock-headed man lay on a
chest by the door. I snatched them up, and my hat, and joined him
without another word; and in a moment we were running down the garden.
I looked back once before we passed the gate, and I saw the light
streaming out through the door which I had left open; and I fancied
that for an instant a figure darkened the gap. But the fancy only
strengthened the one single iron purpose which had taken possession of
me and all my thoughts. I must be first. I must anticipate the
lieutenant, and make the arrest myself. I ran on only the faster.

We seemed to be across the meadow and in the wood in a moment. There,
instead of keeping along the common path, I boldly singled out--my
senses seemed preternaturally keen--the smaller track by which Clon
had brought us, and ran unfaltering along it, avoiding logs and
pitfalls as by instinct, and following all its turns and twists, until
it brought us to the back of the inn, and we could hear the murmur of
subdued voices in the village street, the sharp low words of command,
and even the clink of weapons; and could see, above and between the
houses, the dull glare of lanthorns and torches.

I grasped my man's arm and crouched down, listening. "Where is your
mate?" I said, in his ear.

"With them," he muttered.

"Then come," I whispered, rising. "I have seen enough. Let us go."

But he caught me by the arm and detained me. "You don't know the way!"
he hissed. "Steady, steady, Monsieur. You go too fast. They are just
moving. Let us join them, and strike in when the time comes. We must
let them guide us."

"Fool!" I said, shaking off his hand. "I tell you, I know where he is!
I know where they are going. Come; lose not a moment, and we will
pluck the fruit while they are on the road to it."

His only answer was an exclamation of surprise; at that moment the
lights began to move. The lieutenant was starting. The moon was not
yet up; the sky was grey and cloudy; to advance where we were was to
step into a wall of blackness. But we had lost too much time already,
and I did not hesitate. Bidding my companion follow me, and use his
legs, I sprang through a low fence which rose before us, and stumbling
blindly over some broken ground in the rear of the houses, came, with
a fall or two, to a little watercourse with steep sides. Through this
I plunged recklessly, and up the farther side, and, breathless and
panting, gained the road just beyond the village, and fifty yards in
advance of the lieutenant's troop.

They had only two lanthorns burning now, and we were beyond the circle
of light these cast; while the steady tramp of so many footsteps
covered the noise we made. We were unnoticed. In a twinkling we turned
our backs, and as fast as we could ran down the road. Fortunately,
they were thinking more of secrecy than speed, and in a minute we had
doubled the distance between us; in two minutes their lights were mere
sparks shining in the gloom behind us. We lost, at last, even the
tramp of their feet. Then I began to look out and go more slowly;
peering into the shadows on either side for the fern-stack.

On one hand the hill rose steeply; on the other it fell away to the
stream. On neither side was close wood,--or my difficulties had been
immensely increased,--but scattered oak-trees stood here and there
among gorse and bracken. This helped me, and in a moment, on the upper
side, I came upon the dense substance of the stack looming black
against the lighter hill.

My heart beat fast, but it was no time for thought. Bidding the man in
a whisper to follow me and be ready to back me up, I climbed the bank
softly, and with a pistol in my hand, felt my way to the rear of the
stack; thinking to find a hut there, set against the fern, and M. de
Cocheforêt in it. But I found no hut. There was none; and all was so
dark that it came upon me suddenly as I stood between the hill and the
stack that I had undertaken a very difficult thing. The hut behind the
fern-stack? But how far behind? How far from it? The dark slope
stretched above us, infinite, immeasurable, shrouded in night. To
begin to climb it in search of a tiny hut, probably well-hidden and
hard to find in daylight, seemed a task as impossible as to meet with
the needle in the hay! And now, while I stood, chilled and doubting,
the steps of the troop in the road began to grow audible, began to
come nearer.

"Well, M. le Capitaine?" the man beside me muttered--in wonder why I
stood. "Which way? Or they will be before us yet."

I tried to think, to reason it out; to consider where the hut would
be; while the wind sighed through the oaks, and here and there I could
hear an acorn fall. But the thing pressed too close on me: my thoughts
would not be hurried, and at last I said at a venture, "Up the hill!
Straight from the stack."

He did not demur, and we plunged at the ascent, knee deep in bracken
and furze, sweating at every pore with our exertions, and hearing the
troop come every moment nearer on the road below. Doubtless _they_
knew exactly whither to go! Forced to stop and take breath when we had
scrambled up fifty yards or so, I saw their lanthorns shining like
moving glow-worms; and could even hear the clink of steel. For all I
could tell, the hut might be down there, and we two be moving from it!
But it was too late to go back now; they were close to the fern-stack:
and in despair I turned to the hill again. A dozen steps, and I
stumbled. I rose and plunged on again; again I stumbled. Then I found
that I was no longer ascending. I was treading level earth. And--was
it water I saw before me, below me, a little in front of my feet, or
some mirage of the sky?

Neither; and I gripped my fellow's arm, as he came abreast of me, and
stopped him sharply. Below us, in the centre of a steep hollow, a pit
in the hill-side, a light shone out through some aperture and quivered
on the mist, like the pale lamp of a moorland hobgoblin. It made
itself visible, displaying nothing else; a wisp of light in the bottom
of a black bowl.

Yet my spirits rose with a great bound at sight of it, for I knew that
I had stumbled on the place I sought. In the common run of things I
should have weighed my next step carefully, and gone about it slowly.
But here was no place for thought, nor room for delay, and I slid down
the side of the hollow, and the moment my feet touched the bottom,
sprang to the door of the little hut whence the light issued. A stone
turned under my foot in my rush, and I fell on my knees on the
threshold; but the fall only brought my face to a level with the
startled eyes of the man who lay inside on a bed of fern. He had been
reading. At the sound I made he dropped his book, and stretched out
his hand for a weapon. But the muzzle of my pistol covered him before
he could reach his; he was not in a posture from which he could
spring, and at a sharp word from me he dropped his hand. The tigerish
glare which had flickered for an instant in his eyes, gave place to a
languid smile; and he shrugged his shoulders. "_Eh, bien?_" he said,
with marvellous composure. "Taken at last! Well, I was tired of it."

"You are my prisoner, M. de Cocheforêt," I answered.

"It seems so," he said.

"Move a hand, and I kill you," I answered. "But you have still a
choice."

"Truly?" he said, raising his eyebrows.

"Yes. My orders are to take you to Paris alive or dead. Give me your
parole that you will make no attempt to escape, and you shall go
thither at your ease and as a gentleman. Refuse, and I shall disarm
and bind you, and you will go as a prisoner."

"What force have you?" he asked curtly. He had not moved. He still lay
on his elbow, his cloak covering him, the little Marot in which he had
been reading close to his hand. But his quick, black eyes, which
looked the keener for the pallor and thinness of his face, roved
ceaselessly over me, probed the darkness behind me, took note of
everything.

"Enough to compel you, Monsieur," I replied sternly. "But that is not
all. There are thirty dragoons coming up the hill to secure you, and
they will make you no such offer. Surrender to me before they come and
give me your parole, and I will do all for your comfort. Delay, and
you will fall into their hands. There can be no escape."

"You will take my word," he said slowly.

"Give it, and you may keep your pistols, M. de Cocheforêt," I replied.

"Tell me at least that you are not alone."

"I am not alone."

"Then I give it," he said, with a sigh. "And for Heaven's sake get me
something to eat and a bed. I am tired of this pig-sty--and this life
_Arnidieu!_ it is a fortnight since I slept between sheets."

"You shall sleep to-night in your own house if you please," I answered
hurriedly. "But here they come. Be good enough to stay where you are a
moment, and I will meet them."

I stepped out into the darkness, in the nick of time. The lieutenant,
after posting his men round the hollow, had just slid down with a
couple of sergeants to make the arrest. The place round the open door
was pitch dark. He had not espied my knave, who had lodged himself in
the deepest shadow of the hut; and when he saw me come out across the
light, he took me for Cocheforêt. In a twinkling he thrust a pistol
into my face, and cried triumphantly, "You are my prisoner!" At the
same instant one of the sergeants raised a lanthorn and threw its
light into my eyes.

"What folly is this?" I said savagely.

The lieutenant's jaw fell, and he stood for half a minute, paralyzed
with astonishment. Less than an hour before he had left me at the
Château. Thence he had come hither with the briefest delay; and yet he
found me here before him! He swore fearfully, his face dark, his
mustachios stiff with rage. "What is this? What is it?" he cried at
last. "Where is the man?"

"What man?" I said.

"This Cocheforêt!" he roared, carried away by his passion. "Don't lie
to me! He is here, and I will have him!"

"You will not. You are too late!" I said, watching him heedfully. "M.
de Cocheforêt is here, but he has already surrendered to me, and he is
my prisoner."

"Your prisoner?"

"Yes, my prisoner!" I answered facing the man with all the harshness I
could muster. "I have arrested him by virtue of the Cardinal's special
commission granted to me. And by virtue of the same I shall keep him!"

He glared at me for a moment in utter rage and perplexity. Then on a
sudden I saw his face lighten. "It is a d--d ruse!" he shouted,
brandishing his pistol like a madman. "It is a cheat and a fraud! And
by G--d you have no commission! I see through it! I see through it
all! You have come here, and you have hocussed us! You are of their
side, and this is your last shift to save him!"

"What folly is this?" I exclaimed.

"No folly at all!" he answered, conviction in his tone. "You have
played upon us! You have fooled us! But I see through it now! An hour
ago I exposed you to that fine Madame at the house there, and I
thought it a marvel that she did not believe me. I thought it a marvel
that she did not see through you, when you stood there before her,
confounded, tongue-tied, a rogue convicted! But I understand it now.
She knew you! By----, she knew you! She was in the plot, and you were
in the plot; and I, who thought I was opening her eyes, was the only
one fooled! But it is my turn now. You have played a bold part, and a
clever one, and I congratulate you! But," he continued, a sinister
light in his little eyes, "it is at an end now, Monsieur! You took us
in finely with your tale of Monseigneur, and his commission, and your
commission, and the rest. But I am not to be blinded any longer, or
bullied! You have arrested him, have you? _You_ have arrested him!
Well, by G--d, I shall arrest him, and I shall arrest you too!"

"You are mad!" I said, staggered as much by this new view of the
matter as by his perfect conviction of its truth. "Mad, Lieutenant!"

"I was!" he snarled drily. "But I am sane now. I was mad when you
imposed upon us; when you persuaded me that you were fooling the women
to get the secret out of them, while all the time you were sheltering
them, protecting them, aiding them, and hiding him--then I was mad!
But not now. However, I ask your pardon, M. de Barthe, or M. de
Berault, or whatever your name really is. I ask your pardon. I thought
you the cleverest sneak and the dirtiest hound heaven ever made, or
hell refused! I find that you were cleverer than I thought, and an
honest traitor. Your pardon."

One of the men who stood about the rim of the bowl above us laughed. I
looked at the lieutenant, and could willingly have killed him. "_Mon
Dieu!_" I said, so furious in my turn that I could scarcely speak. "Do
you say that I am an impostor--that I do not hold the Cardinal's
commission?"

"I do say that!" he answered coolly. "And shall abide by it."

"And that I belong to the rebel party?"

"I do," he replied, in the same tone. "In fact," with a grin, "I say
that you are an honest man on the wrong side, M. de Berault. And you
say that you are a scoundrel on the right. The advantage, however, is
with me, and I shall back my opinion by arresting you."

A ripple of coarse laughter ran round the hollow. The sergeant who
held the lanthorn grinned, and a trooper at a distance called out of
the darkness, "_A bon chat bon rat!_" This brought a fresh burst of
laughter, while I stood speechless, confounded by the stubbornness,
the crassness, the insolence, of the man. "You fool!" I cried at last,
"you fool!" And then M. de Cocheforêt, who had come out of the hut,
and taken his stand at my elbow, interrupted me.

"Pardon me one moment," he said airily, looking at the lieutenant,
with raised eyebrows, and pointing to me with his thumb. "But I am
puzzled between you. This gentleman's name? Is it de Berault or de
Barthe?"

"I am M. de Berault," I said brusquely, answering for myself.

"Of Paris?"

"Yes, Monsieur, of Paris."

"You are not then the gentleman who has been honouring my poor house
with his presence?"

"Oh, yes!" the lieutenant struck in, grinning. "He is that gentleman,
too!"

"But I thought--I understood that that was M. de Barthe."

"I am M. de Barthe, also," I retorted impatiently. "What of that,
Monsieur? It was my mother's name. I took it when I came down here."

"To--er, to arrest me, may I ask?"

"Yes," I answered doggedly. "To arrest you. What of that?"

"Nothing," he replied slowly and with a steady look at me, a look I
could not meet. "Except that, had I known this before, M. de Berault,
I should have thought long before I surrendered to you."

The lieutenant laughed, and I felt my cheek burn. But I affected to
see nothing, and turned to him again. "Now, Monsieur," I said sternly,
"are you satisfied?"

"No!" he answered point blank. "I am not. You two gentlemen may have
rehearsed this pretty scene a dozen times. The only word it seems to
me, is, Quick March, back to Quarters."

I found myself driven to play my last card--much against my will. "Not
so," I said; "I have my commission."

"Produce it!" he replied brusquely.

"Do you think that I carry it with me?" I said, in scorn. "Do you
think that when I came here, alone, and not with fifty dragoons at my
back, I carried the Cardinal's seal in my pocket for the first lackey
to find? But you shall have it. Where is that knave of mine?"

The words were scarcely out of my mouth before his ready hand thrust a
paper into my fingers. I opened it slowly, glanced at it, and amid a
pause of surprise gave it to the lieutenant. He looked for a moment
confounded. He stared at it, with his jaw fallen. Then with a last
instinct of suspicion he bade the sergeant hold up the lanthorn, and
by its light proceeded to spell out the document.

"Umph!" he ejaculated, after a moment's silence; and he cast an ugly
look at me. "I see." And he read it aloud.


"_By these presents I command and empower Gilles de Berault, sieur de
Berault, to seek for, hold, arrest, and deliver to the Governor of the
Bastile the body of Henri de Cocheforêt, and to do all such acts and
things as shall be necessary to effect such arrest and delivery, for
which these shall be his warrant_.

                    "(_Signed_) _RICHELIEU, Lieut.-Gen_."


When he had done,--and he read the signature with a peculiar
intonation,--some one said softly, "_Vive le roi!_" and there was a
moment's silence. The sergeant lowered his lanthorn. "Is it enough?" I
said hoarsely, glaring from face to face.

The lieutenant bowed stiffly. "For me?" he said. "Quite, Monsieur. I
beg your pardon again. I find that my first impressions were
the-correct ones. Sergeant, give the gentleman his paper." And turning
his shoulder rudely, he tossed the commission towards the sergeant,
who picked it up, and gave it to me, grinning.

I knew that the clown would not fight, and he had his men round him;
and I had no choice but to swallow the insult. As I put the paper in
my breast, with as much indifference as I could assume, he gave a
sharp order. The troopers began to form on the edge above, the men who
had descended, to climb the bank. As the group behind him began to
open and melt away, I caught sight of a white robe in the middle of
it. The next moment, appearing with a suddenness which was like a blow
on the cheek to me, Mademoiselle de Cocheforêt glided forward, and
came towards me. She had a hood on her head, drawn low; and for a
moment I could not see her face. I forgot her brother's presence at my
elbow; from habit and impulse rather than calculation, I took a step
forward to meet her---though my tongue cleaved to the roof of my
mouth, and I was dumb and trembling.

But she recoiled with such a look of white hate, of staring,
frozen-eyed loathing, that I stepped back as if she had indeed struck
me. It did not need the words which accompanied the look, the "_Do not
touch me!_" which she hissed at me as she drew her skirts together, to
drive me to the farther edge of the hollow; there to stand with
clenched teeth and nails driven into the flesh while she hung, sobbing
tearless sobs, on her brother's neck.



                             CHAPTER XI.

                          THE ROAD TO PARIS.


I remember hearing Marshal Bassompierre, who, of all men within my
knowledge, had the widest experience, say that not dangers, but
discomforts, prove a man, and show what he is; and that the worst
sores in life are caused by crumpled rose-leaves and not by thorns.

I am inclined to agree with this. For I remember that when I came from
my room on the morning after the arrest, and found hall and parlour
and passage empty, and all the common rooms of the house deserted, and
no meal laid, and when I divined anew from this discovery the feeling
of the house towards me,--however natural and to be expected,--I felt
as sharp a pang as when, the night before, I had had to face discovery
and open rage and scorn. I stood in the silent, empty parlour, and
looked round me with a sense of desolation; of something lost and
gone, which I could not replace. The morning was grey and cloudy, the
air sharp; a shower was falling. The rose-bushes at the window swayed
in the wind, and where I could remember the hot sunshine lying on
floor and table, the rain beat in and stained the boards. The main
door flapped and creaked to and fro. I thought of other days and meals
I had taken there, and of the scent of flowers, and I fled to the hall
in despair.

But here, too, was no sign of life or company, no comfort, no
attendance. The ashes of the logs, by whose blaze Mademoiselle had
told me the secret, lay on the hearth white and cold; and now and then
a drop of moisture, sliding down the great chimney, pattered among
them. The great door stood open as if the house had no longer anything
to guard. The only living thing to be seen was a hound which roamed
about restlessly, now gazing at the empty hearth, now lying down with
pricked ears and watchful eyes. Some leaves which had been blown in
rustled in a corner.

I went out moodily into the garden, and wandered down one path, and
up another, looking at the dripping woods and remembering things,
until I came to the stone seat. On it, against the wall, trickling
with rain-drops, and with a dead leaf half filling its narrow neck,
stood the pitcher of food. I thought how much had happened since
Mademoiselle took her hand off it and the sergeant's lanthorn
disclosed it to me. And sighing grimly, I went in again through the
parlour door.

A woman was on her knees, kindling the belated fire. I stood a moment,
looking at her doubtfully, wondering how she would bear herself, and
what she would say to me: and then she turned, and I cried out her
name in horror; for it was Madame!

She was very plainly dressed; her childish face was wan, and piteous
with weeping. But either the night had worn out her passion and
drained her tears, or this great exigency gave her temporary calmness;
for she was perfectly composed. She shivered as her eyes met mine, and
she blinked as if a light had been suddenly thrust before her. But she
turned again to her task, without speaking.

"Madame! Madame!" I cried, in a frenzy of distress. "What is this?"

"The servants would not do it," she answered, in a low but steady
voice. "You are still our guest, Monsieur, and it must be done."

"But--I cannot suffer it!" I cried, in misery. "Madame de Cocheforêt,
I will--I would rather do it myself!"

She raised her hand, with a strange, patient expression on her face.
"Hush, please," she said. "Hush! you trouble me."

The fire took light and blazed up as she spoke, and she rose slowly
from it, and, with a lingering look at it, went out; leaving me to
stand and stare and listen in the middle of the floor. Presently I
heard her coming back along the passage, and she entered, bearing a
tray with wine and meat and bread. She set it down on the table, and
with the same wan face, trembling always on the verge of tears, she
began to lay out the things. The glasses clinked pitifully against the
plates as she handled them; the knives jarred with one another; and I
stood by, trembling myself, and endured this strange, this awful
penance.

She signed to me at last to sit down and eat; and she went herself,
and stood in the garden doorway, with her back to me. I obeyed. I sat
down; but though I had eaten nothing since the afternoon of the day
before, and a little earlier had had appetite enough, I could not
swallow. I fumbled with my knife, and munched and drank; and grew hot
and angry at this farce; and then looked through the window at the
dripping bushes, and the rain, and the distant sundial, and grew cold
again.

Suddenly she turned round and came to my side. "You do not eat," she
said.

I threw down my knife, and sprang up in a frenzy of passion. "_Mon
Dieu!_ Madame!" I cried. "Do you think I have _no_ heart?"

And then in a moment I knew what I had done. In a moment she was on
her knees on the floor, clasping my knees, pressing her wet cheeks to
my rough clothes, crying to me for mercy--for life! life! life! his
life! Oh, it was horrible! It was horrible to see her fair hair
falling over my mud-stained boots, to see her slender little form
convulsed with sobs, to feel that this was a woman, a gentlewoman, who
thus abased herself at my feet.

"Oh, Madame! Madame!" I cried, in my agony. "I beg you to rise. Rise,
or I must go! You will drive me out!"

"Grant me his life!" she moaned passionately. "Only his life! What had
he done to you, that you should hunt him down? What had we done to
you, that you should slay us? Ah, Sir, have mercy! Let him go, and we
will pray for you; I and my sister will pray for you every morning and
night of our lives."

I was in terror lest some one should come and see her lying there, and
I stooped and tried to raise her. But she would not rise; she only
sank the lower until her tender hands clasped my spurs, and I dared
not move. Then I took a sudden resolution. "Listen then, Madame," I
said, almost sternly, "if you will not rise. When you ask what you do,
you forget how I stand, and how small my power is! You forget that
were I to release your husband to-day, he would be seized within the
hour by those who are still in the village, and who are watching every
road--who have not ceased to suspect my movements and my intentions.
You forget, I say, my circumstances--"

She cut me short on that word. She sprang abruptly to her feet and
faced me. One moment, and I should have said something to the purpose.
But at that word she was before me, white, breathless, dishevelled,
struggling for speech. "Oh yes, yes," she panted eagerly, "I know! I
understand!" And she thrust her hand into her bosom and plucked
something out and gave it to me--forced it upon me into my hands. "I
know! I know!" she said again. "Take it, and God reward you, Monsieur!
We give it freely--freely and thankfully! And may God bless you!"

I stood and looked at her, and looked at it, and slowly froze. She had
given me the packet--the packet I had restored to Mademoiselle, the
parcel of jewels. I weighed it in my hands, and my heart grew hard
again, for I knew that this was Mademoiselle's doing; that it was she
who, mistrusting the effect of Madame's tears and prayers, had armed
her with this last weapon--this dirty bribe, I flung it down on the
table among the plates, all my pity changed to anger. "Madame," I
cried ruthlessly, "you mistake me altogether. I have heard hard words
enough in the last twenty-four hours, and I know what you think of me!
But you have yet to learn that I have never turned traitor to the hand
that employed me, nor sold my own side! When I do so for a treasure
ten times the worth of that, may my hand rot off!"

She sank into a seat, with a moan of despair, and at that moment the
door opened, and M. de Cocheforêt came in. Over his shoulder I had a
glimpse of Mademoiselle's proud face, a little whiter to-day, with
dark marks under the eyes, but still firm and cold. "What is this?" he
said, frowning and stopping short as his eyes lighted on Madame.

"It is--that we start at eleven o'clock, Monsieur," I answered, bowing
curtly. "Those, I fancy, are your property." And pointing to the
jewels, I went out by the other door.


                          *   *   *   *   *


That I might not be present at their parting, I remained in the garden
until the hour I had appointed was well passed; then without entering
the house I went to the stable entrance. Here I found all ready, the
two troopers (whose company I had requisitioned as far as Auch)
already in the saddle, my own two knaves waiting with my sorrel and M.
de Cocheforêt's chestnut. Another horse was being led up and down by
Louis, and, alas, my heart winced at the sight. For it bore a lady's
saddle, and I saw that we were to have company. Was it Madame who
meant to come with us? or Mademoiselle? And how far? To Auch? or
farther?

I suppose that they had set some kind of a watch on me; for, as I
walked up, M. de Cocheforêt and his sister came out of the house,--he
looking white, with bright eyes and a twitching in his cheek, though
through all he affected a jaunty bearing; she wearing a black mask.

"Mademoiselle accompanies us?" I said formally.

"With your permission, Monsieur," he answered, with grim politeness.
But I saw that he was choking with emotion. I guessed that he had just
parted from his wife, and I turned away.

When we were all mounted, he looked at me. "Perhaps, as you have my
parole, you will permit me to ride alone," he said, with a little
hesitation, "and--"

"Without me!" I rejoined keenly. "Assuredly, so far as is possible." I
directed the troopers to ride in front and keep out of ear-shot; my
two men followed the prisoner at a like distance, with their carbines
on their knees. Last of all I rode myself, with my eyes open and a
pistol loose in my holster. M. de Cocheforêt, I saw, was inclined to
sneer at so many precautions, and the mountain made of his request;
but I had not done so much and come so far, I had not faced scorn and
insults, to be cheated of my prize at last. Aware that until we were
beyond Auch there must be hourly and pressing danger of a rescue, I
was determined that he who would wrest my prisoner from me should pay
dearly for it. Only pride, and, perhaps, in a degree also, appetite
for a fight, had prevented me borrowing ten troopers instead of two.

We started, and I looked with a lingering eye and many memories at the
little bridge, the narrow woodland path, the first roofs of the
village; all now familiar, all seen for the last time. Up the brook a
party of soldiers were dragging for the captain's body. A furlong
farther on, a cottage, burned by some carelessness in the night, lay a
heap of black ashes. Louis ran beside us, weeping; the last brown
leaves fluttered down in showers. And between my eyes and all, the
slow, steady rain fell and fell and fell. And so I left Cocheforêt.

Louis went with us to a point a mile beyond the village, and there
stood and saw us go, cursing me furiously as I passed. Looking back
when we had ridden on, I still saw him standing; and after a moment's
hesitation I rode back to him. "Listen, fool," I said, cutting him
short in the midst of his mowing and snarling, "and give this message
to your mistress. Tell her from me that it will be with her husband
as it was with M. de Regnier, when he fell into the hands of his
enemy--no better and no worse."

"You want to kill her, too, I suppose?" he answered, glowering at me.

"No, fool! I want to save her!" I retorted wrathfully. "Tell her that,
just that and no more, and you will see the result."

"I shall not," he said sullenly. "I shall not tell her. A message from
you, indeed!" And he spat on the ground.

"Then on your head be it!" I answered solemnly. And I turned my
horse's head and galloped fast after the others. For, in spite of his
refusal, I felt sure that he would report what I had said--if it were
only out of curiosity; and it would be strange if Madame did not
understand the reference.

And so we began our journey; sadly, under dripping trees and a leaden
sky. The country we had to traverse was the same I had trodden on the
last day of my march southwards, but the passage of a month had
changed the face of everything. Green dells, where springs welling out
of the chalk had made of the leafy bottom a fairies' home, strewn with
delicate ferns and hung with mosses--these were now swamps into which
our horses sank to the fetlock. Sunny brows, whence I had viewed the
champaign and traced my forward path, had become bare, windswept
ridges. The beech woods, which had glowed with ruddy light, were naked
now; mere black trunks and rigid arms pointing to heaven. An earthy
smell filled the air; a hundred paces away a wall of mist closed the
view. We plodded on sadly, up hill and down hill; now fording brooks
already stained with flood-water, now crossing barren heaths.

But up hill or down hill, whatever the outlook, I was never permitted
to forget that I was the jailer, the ogre, the villain; that I, riding
behind in my loneliness, was the blight on all, the death-spot. True,
I was behind the others; I escaped their eyes. But there was not a
line of Mademoiselle's drooping figure that did not speak scorn to me,
not a turn of her head that did not seem to say, "Oh God, that such a
thing should breathe!"

I had only speech with her once during the day, and that was on the
last ridge before we went down into the valley to climb up again to
Auch. The rain had ceased; the sun, near its setting, shone faintly;
and for a few moments we stood on the brow and looked southwards while
we breathed the horses. The mist lay like a pall on all the country we
had traversed; but beyond it and above it, gleaming pearl-like in the
level rays, the line of the mountains stood up like a land of
enchantment, soft, radiant, wonderful, or like one of those castles on
the Hill of Glass of which the old romances tell us. I forgot, for an
instant, how we were placed, and I cried to my neighbour that it was
the fairest pageant I had ever seen.

She--it was Mademoiselle, and she had taken off her mask--cast one
look at me; only one, but it conveyed disgust and loathing so
unspeakable that scorn beside them would have been a gift. I reined in
my horse as if she had struck me, and felt myself go first hot and
then cold under her eyes. Then she looked another way.

I did not forget the lesson; after that I avoided her more sedulously
than before. We lay that night at Auch, and I gave M. de Cocheforêt
the utmost liberty; even permitting him to go out and return at his
will. In the morning, believing that on the farther side of Auch we
ran less risk of attack, I dismissed the two dragoons, and an hour
after sunrise we set out again. The day was dry and cold, the weather
more promising. I planned to go by way of Lectoure, crossing the
Garonne at Agen; and I thought with roads continually improving as we
moved northwards, we should be able to make good progress before
night. My two men rode first; I came last by myself.

Our way lay for some hours down the valley of the Gers, under poplars
and by long rows of willows; and presently the sun came out and warmed
us. Unfortunately, the rain of the day before had swollen the brooks
which crossed our path, and we more than once had a difficulty in
fording them. Noon, therefore, found us little more than half-way to
Lectoure, and I was growing each minute more impatient, when our road,
which had for a little while left the river bank, dropped down to it
again, and I saw before us another crossing, half ford, half slough.
My men tried it gingerly, and gave back, and tried it again in another
place  and finally, just as Mademoiselle and Monsieur came up to them,
floundered through and sprang slantwise up the farther bank.

The delay had been long enough to bring me, with no good will of my
own, close up to the Cocheforêts. Mademoiselle's horse made a little
business of the place; this delayed them still longer, and in the
result, we entered the water almost together, and I crossed close on
her heels. The bank on either side was steep; while crossing we could
see neither before nor behind. At the moment, however, I thought
nothing of this, nor of her delay, and I was following her quite at my
leisure, when the sudden report of a carbine, a second report, and a
yell of alarm in front, thrilled me through.

On the instant, while the sound was still in my ears, I saw it all.
Like a hot iron piercing my brain, the truth flashed into my mind. We
were attacked! We were attacked, and I was here helpless in this pit,
this trap! The loss of a second while I fumbled here, Mademoiselle's
horse barring the way, might be fatal.

There was but one way. I turned my horse straight at the steep bank,
and he breasted it. One moment he hung as if he must fall back. Then,
with a snort of terror and a desperate bound, he topped it, and gained
the level, trembling and snorting.

It was as I had guessed. Seventy paces away on the road lay one of my
men. He had fallen, horse and man, and lay still. Near him, with his
back against a bank, stood his fellow, on foot, pressed by four
horsemen, and shouting. As my eye lighted on the scene, he let fly
with a carbine and dropped one.

I snatched a pistol from my holster, cocked it, and seized my horse by
the head--I might save the man yet. I shouted to encourage him, and in
another second should have charged into the fight, when a sudden
vicious blow, swift and unexpected, struck the pistol from my hand.

I made a snatch at it as it fell, but missed it; and before I could
recover myself, Mademoiselle thrust her horse furiously against mine,
and with her riding-whip, lashed the sorrel across the ears. As my
horse reared madly up, I had a glimpse of her eyes flashing hate
through her mask; of her hand again uplifted; the next moment, I was
down in the road, ingloriously unhorsed, the sorrel was galloping
away, and her horse, scared in its turn, was plunging unmanageably a
score of paces from me.

I don't doubt that but for that she would have trampled on me. As it
was, I was free to draw; and in a twinkling I was running towards the
fighters. All I have described had happened in a few seconds. My man
was still defending himself; the smoke of the carbine had scarcely
risen. I sprang with a shout across a fallen tree that intervened; at
the same moment, two of the men detached themselves, and rode to meet
me. One, whom I took to be the leader, was masked. He came furiously
at me, trying to ride me down; but I leaped aside nimbly, and evading
him, rushed at the other, and scaring his horse, so that he dropped
his point, cut him across the shoulder before he could guard himself.
He plunged away, cursing, and trying to hold in his horse, and I
turned to meet the masked man.

"You double-dyed villain!" he cried, riding al. me again. And this
time he man[oe]uvred his horse so skilfully that I was hard put to it
to prevent him knocking me down; and could not with all my efforts
reach him to hurt him. "Surrender, will you!" he continued, "you
bloodhound!"

I wounded him slightly in the knee for answer; but before I could do
more his companion came back, and the two set upon me with a will,
slashing at my head so furiously and towering above me with so
great an advantage that it was all I could do to guard myself.
I was soon glad to fall back against the bank--as my man had done
before me. In such a conflict my rapier would have been of little
use, but fortunately I had armed myself before I left Paris with a
cut-and-thrust sword for the road; and though my mastery of the weapon
was not on a par with my rapier-play, I was able to fend off their
cuts, and by an occasional prick keep the horses at a distance. Still
they swore and cut at me, trying to wear me out; and it was trying
work. A little delay, the least accident, might enable the other man
to come to their help, or Mademoiselle, for all I knew, might shoot me
with my own pistol; and I confess, I was unfeignedly glad when a lucky
parade sent the masked man's sword flying across the road. He was no
coward; for unarmed as he was, he pushed his horse at me, spurring it
recklessly; but the animal, which I had several times touched, reared
up instead and threw him at the very moment that I wounded his
companion a second time in the arm, and made him give back.

This quite changed the scene. The man in the mask staggered to his
feet, and felt stupidly for a pistol. But he could not find one, and
was, I saw, in no state to use it if he had. He reeled helplessly to
the bank, and leaned against it. He would give no further trouble. The
man I had wounded was in scarcely better condition. He retreated
before me for some paces, but then losing courage, he dropped his
sword, and, wheeling round, cantered off down the road, clinging to
his pommel. There remained only the fellow engaged with my man, and I
turned to see how they were getting on. They were standing to take
breath, so I ran towards them; but, seeing me coming, this rascal,
too, whipped round his horse, and disappeared in the wood, and left us
masters of the field. The first thing I did--and I remember it to this
day with pleasure--was to plunge my hand into my pocket, take out half
the money I had in the world, and press it on the man who had fought
for me so stoutly, and who had certainly saved me from disaster. In my
joy I could have kissed him! It was not only that I had escaped defeat
by the skin of my teeth,--and his good sword,--but I knew, and
thrilled with the knowledge, that the fight had altered the whole
position. He was wounded in two places, and I had a scratch or two,
and had lost my horse; and my other poor fellow was dead as a herring.
But speaking for myself, I would have spent half the blood in my body
to purchase the feeling with which I turned back to speak to M. de
Cocheforêt and his sister. _I had fought before them_.

Mademoiselle had dismounted, and with her face averted and her mask
pushed on one side, was openly weeping. Her brother, who had
scrupulously kept his place by the ford from the beginning of the
fight to the end, met me with raised eyebrows and a peculiar
smile. "Acknowledge my virtue," he said airily. "I am here, M. de
Berault--which is more than can be said of the two gentlemen who have
just ridden off."

"Yes," I answered, with a touch of bitterness. "I wish they had not
shot my poor man before they went."

He shrugged his shoulders. "They were my friends," he said. "You must
not expect me to blame them. But that is not all."

"No," I said, wiping my sword. "There is this gentleman in the mask."
And I turned to go towards him.

"M. de Berault!" There was something abrupt in the way in which
Cocheforêt called my name after me.

I stood. "Pardon?" I said, turning.

"That gentleman?" he answered, hesitating, and looking at me
doubtfully. "Have you considered--what will happen to him, if you give
him up to the authorities?"

"Who is he?" I said sharply.

"That is rather a delicate question," he answered, frowning, and still
looking at me fixedly.

"Not from me," I replied brutally, "since he is in my power. If he
will take off his mask, I shall know better what I intend to do with
him."

The stranger had lost his hat in his fall, and his fair hair, stained
with dust, hung in curls on his shoulders. He was a tall man, of a
slender, handsome presence, and though his dress was plain and almost
rough, I espied a splendid jewel on his hand, and fancied I detected
other signs of high quality. He still lay against the bank in a
half-swooning condition, and seemed unconscious of my scrutiny.
"Should I know him if he unmasked?" I said suddenly, a new idea in my
head.

"You would," M. de Cocheforêt answered simply.

"And?"

"It would be bad for every one."

"Ho, ho!" I said softly, looking hard, first at my old prisoner, and
then at my new one. "Then, what do you wish me to do?"

"Leave him here," M. de Cocheforêt answered glibly, his face flushed,
the pulse in his cheek beating. I had known him for a man of perfect
honour before, and trusted him. But this evident earnest anxiety on
behalf of his friend touched me. Besides, I knew that I was treading
on slippery ground; that it behoved me to be careful. "I will do it,"
I said, after a moment's reflection. "He will play me no tricks, I
suppose? A letter of--"

"_Mon Dieu_, no! He will understand," Cocheforêt answered eagerly.
"You will not repent it, I swear. Let us be going."

"Well,--but my horse?" I said, somewhat taken aback by this extreme
haste.

"We shall overtake it," he replied urgently. "It will have kept to the
road. Lectoure is no more than a league from here, and we can give
orders there to have these two fetched in and buried."

I had nothing to gain by demurring, and so it was arranged. After that
we did not linger. We picked up what we had dropped, M. de Cocheforêt
mounted his sister, and within five minutes we were gone. Casting a
glance back from the skirts of the wood, as we entered it, I fancied
that I saw the masked man straighten himself and turn to look after
us; but the leaves were beginning to intervene, the distance was great
and perhaps cheated me. And yet I was not disinclined to think the
unknown a little less severely injured and a trifle more observant
than he seemed.



                             CHAPTER XII.

                         AT THE FINGER-POST.


Through all, it will have been noticed, Mademoiselle had not spoken to
me, nor said one word, good or bad. She had played her part grimly;
had taken her defeat in silence, if with tears; had tried neither
prayer, nor defence, nor apology. And the fact that the fight was now
over, the scene left behind, made no difference in her conduct--to my
surprise and discomfiture. She kept her face averted from me; she rode
as before; she affected to ignore my presence. I caught my horse
feeding by the road-side, a furlong forward, and mounted, and fell
into place behind the two, as in the morning. And just as we had
plodded on then in silence, we plodded on now, while I wondered at the
unfathomable ways of women, and knowing that I had borne myself well,
marvelled that she could take part in such an incident and remain
unchanged.

Yet it had made a change in her. Though her mask screened her well, it
could not entirely hide her emotions, and by-and-bye I marked that her
head drooped, that she rode sadly and listlessly, that the lines of
her figure were altered. I noticed that she had flung away, or
furtively dropped, her riding-whip, and I understood that to the old
hatred of me were now added shame and vexation; shame that she had so
lowered herself, even to save her brother, vexation that defeat had
been her only reward.

Of this I saw a sign at Lectoure, where the inn had but one common
room, and we must all dine in company. I secured for them a table by
the fire, and leaving them standing by it, retired myself to a smaller
one, near the door. There were no other guests, and this made the
separation between us more marked. M. de Cocheforêt seemed to feel
this. He shrugged his shoulders and looked at me with a smile half
sad, half comical. But Mademoiselle was implacable. She had taken off
her mask, and her face was like stone. Once, only once, during the
meal I saw a change come over her. She coloured, I suppose at her
thoughts, until her face flamed from brow to chin. I watched the blush
spread and spread, and then she slowly and proudly turned her shoulder
to me, and looked through the window at the shabby street.

I suppose that she and her brother had both built on this attempt,
Which must have been arranged at Auch. For when we went on in the
afternoon, I saw a more marked change. They rode now like people
resigned to the worst. The grey realities of the brother's position,
the dreary, hopeless future, began to hang like a mist before their
eyes; began to tinge the landscape with sadness; robbed even the
sunset of its colours. With each hour their spirits flagged and their
speech became less frequent, until presently, when the light was
nearly gone and the dusk was round us, the brother and sister rode
hand in hand, silent, gloomy, one at least of them weeping. The cold
shadow of the Cardinal, of Paris, of the scaffold, was beginning to
make itself felt; was beginning to chill them. As the mountains which
they had known all their lives sank and faded behind us, and we
entered on the wide, low valley of the Garonne, their hopes sank and
faded also--sank to the dead-level of despair. Surrounded by guards, a
mark for curious glances, with pride for a companion, M. de Cocheforêt
could doubtless have borne himself bravely; doubtless he would bear
himself bravely still when the end came. But almost alone, moving
forward through the grey evening to a prison, with so many measured
days before him, and nothing to exhilarate or anger,--in this
condition it was little wonder if he felt, and betrayed that he felt,
the blood run slow in his veins; if he thought more of the weeping
wife and ruined home, which he left behind him, than of the cause in
which he had spent himself.

But God knows, they had no monopoly of gloom. I felt almost as sad
myself. Long before sunset the flush of triumph, the heat of the
battle, which had warmed my heart at noon, were gone; giving place to
a chill dissatisfaction, a nausea, a despondency, such as I have known
follow a long night at the tables. Hitherto there had been
difficulties to be overcome, risks to be run, doubts about the end.
Now the end was certain, and very near; so near that it filled all the
prospect. One hour of triumph I might still have; I hugged the thought
of it as a gambler hugs his last stake. I planned the place and time
and mode, and tried to occupy myself wholly with it. But the price?
Alas, that would intrude too, and more as the evening waned; so that
as I passed this or that thing by the road, which I could recall
passing on my journey south,--with thoughts so different, with plans
that now seemed so very, very old,--I asked myself grimly if this were
really I, if this were Gil de Berault, known as Zaton's _premier
joueur_; or some Don Quichotte from Castile, tilting at windmills, and
taking barbers' bowls for gold.

We reached Agen very late in the evening, after groping through a
by-way near the river, set with holes and willow-stools and
frog-spawns--a place no better than a slough. After it the great fire
and the lights at the Blue Maid seemed like a glimpse of a new world,
and in a twinkling put something of life and spirits into two at least
of us. There was queer talk round the hearth here of doings in
Paris,--of a stir against the Cardinal, with the Queen-mother at
bottom, and of grounded expectations that something might this time
come of it. But the landlord pooh-poohed the idea, and I more than
agreed with him. Even M. de Cocheforêt, who was for a moment inclined
to build on it, gave up hope when he heard that it came only by way of
Montauban; whence, since its reduction the year before, all sorts of
_canards_ against the Cardinal were always on the wing.

"They kill him about once a month," our host said, with a grin.
"Sometimes it is _Monsieur_ who is to prove a match for him, sometimes
_César Monsieur_--the Duke of Vendôme, you understand,--and sometimes
the Queen-mother. But since M. de Chalais and the Marshal made a mess
of it, and paid forfeit, I pin my faith to His Eminence--that is his
new title, they tell me."

"Things are quiet round here?" I asked.

"Perfectly. Since the Languedoc business came to an end, all goes
well," he answered.

Mademoiselle had retired on our arrival, so that her brother and I
were for an hour or two thrown together. I left him at liberty to
separate himself if he pleased, but he did not use the opportunity. A
kind of comradeship, rendered piquant by our peculiar relations, had
begun to spring up between us. He seemed to take pleasure in my
company, more than once rallied me on my post of jailer, would ask
humorously if he might do this or that, and once even inquired what I
should do if he broke his parole.

"Or take it this way," he continued flippantly "Suppose I had stuck
you in the back this evening, in that cursed swamp by the river, M. de
Berault? What then? _Pardieu!_ I am astonished at myself that I did
not do it. I could have been in Montauban within twenty-four hours,
and found fifty hiding-places, and no one the wiser."

"Except your sister," I said quietly.

He laughed and shrugged his shoulders. "Yes," he said, "I am afraid I
must have put her out of the way too, to preserve my self-respect. You
are right." And on that he fell into a reverie which held him for a
few minutes. Then I found him looking at me with a kind of frank
perplexity that invited question.

"What is it?" I said.

"You have fought a great many duels?"

"Yes," I said.

"Did you never strike a foul blow in one of them?"

"Never. Why do you ask?"

"Well,--I wanted to confirm an impression," he said. "To be frank, M.
de Berault, I seem to see in you two men."

"Two men?"

"Yes, two men," he answered. "One, the man who captured me; the other,
the man who let my friend go free to-day."

"It surprised you that I let him go? That was prudence, M. de
Cocheforêt," I replied, "nothing more. I am an old gambler--I know
when the stakes are too high for me. The man who caught a lion in his
wolf-pit had no great catch."

"No, that is true," he answered, smiling. "And yet--I find two men in
your skin."

"I dare say that there are two in most men's skins," I answered, with
a sigh, "but not always together. Sometimes one is there, and
sometimes the other."

"How does the one like taking up the other's work?" he asked keenly.

I shrugged my shoulders. "That is as may be," I said. "You do not take
an estate without the debts."

He did not answer for a moment, and I fancied that his thoughts had
reverted to his own case. But on a sudden he looked at me again. "Will
you answer me a question, M. de Berault?" he said, with a winning
smile.

"Perhaps," I said.

"Then tell me--it is a tale that is, I am sure, worth the telling.
What was it that, in a very evil hour for me, sent you in search of
me?"

"The Cardinal," I answered.

"I did not ask who," he replied drily. "I asked, what. You had no
grudge against me?"

"No."

"No knowledge of me?"

"No."

"Then what on earth induced you to do it? Heavens, man," he continued
bluntly, rising and speaking with greater freedom than he had before
used, "nature never intended you for a tip staff! What was it, then?"

I rose too. It was very late, and the room was empty, the fire low. "I
will tell you--tomorrow!" I said. "I shall have something to say to
you then, of which that will be part."

He looked at me in great astonishment; with a little suspicion, too.
But I put him off, and called for a light, and by going at once to
bed, cut short his questions.

Those who know the great south road to Agen, and how the vineyards
rise in terraces north of the town, one level of red earth above
another, green in summer, but in late autumn bare and stony, will
remember a particular place where the road two leagues from the town
runs up a long hill. At the top of the hill four ways meet; and there,
plain to be seen against the sky is a finger-post, indicating which
way leads to Bordeaux, and which to Montauban, and which to Perigueux.

This hill had impressed me on my journey down; perhaps, because I had
from it my first view of the Garonne valley, and there felt myself on
the verge of the south country where my mission lay. It had taken root
in my memory; I had come to look upon its bare, bleak brow, with the
finger-post and the four roads, as the first outpost of Paris, as the
first sign of return to the old life.

Now for two days I had been looking forward to seeing it again. That
long stretch of road would do admirably for something I had in my
mind. That sign-post, with the roads pointing north, south, east, and
west, could there be a better place for meetings and partings?

We came to the bottom of the ascent about an hour before noon--M. de
Cocheforêt, Mademoiselle, and I. We had reversed the order of
yesterday, and I rode ahead. They came after me at their leisure. At
the foot of the hill, however, I stopped and, letting Mademoiselle
pass on, detained M. de Cocheforêt by a gesture. "Pardon me, one
moment," I said. "I want to ask a favour."

He looked at me somewhat fretfully, with a gleam of wildness in his
eyes that betrayed how the iron was eating into his heart. He had
started after breakfast as gaily as a bridegroom, but gradually he had
sunk below himself; and now he had much ado to curb his impatience.
The _bonhomie_ of last night was quite gone. "Of me?" he said. "What
is it?"

"I wish to have a few words with Mademoiselle--alone," I explained.

"Alone?" he answered, frowning.

"Yes," I replied, without blenching, though his face grew dark. "For
the matter of that, you can be within call all the time, if you
please. But I have a reason for wishing to ride a little way with
her."

"To tell her something?"

"Yes."

"Then you can tell it to me," he retorted suspiciously. "Mademoiselle,
I will answer for it, has no desire to--"

"See me, or speak to me!" I said, taking him up. "I can understand
that. Yet I want to speak to her."

"Very well, you can speak to her before me," he answered rudely. "Let
us ride on and join her." And he made a movement as if to do so.

"That will not do, M. de Cocheforêt," I said firmly, stopping him with
my hand. "Let me beg you to be more complaisant. It is a small thing I
ask; but I swear to you, if Mademoiselle does not grant it, she will
repent it all her life."

He looked at me, his face growing darker and darker. "Fine words!" he
said presently, with a sneer. "Yet I fancy I understand them." Then
with a passionate oath he broke out in a fresh tone. "But I will not
have it. I have not been blind, M. de Berault, and I understand. But I
will not have it! I will have no such Judas bargain made. _Pardieu!_
do you think I could suffer it and show my face again?"

"I don't know what you mean!" I said, restraining myself with
difficulty. I could have struck the fool.

"But I know what you mean," he replied, in a tone of repressed rage.
"You would have her sell herself: sell herself body and soul to you to
save me! And you would have me stand by and see the thing done! Well,
my answer is--never! though I go to the wheel! I will die a gentleman,
if I have lived a fool!"

"I think you will do the one as certainly as you have done the other,"
I retorted, in my exasperation. And yet I admired him.

"Oh, I am not such a fool," he cried, scowling at me, "as you have
perhaps thought. I have used my eyes."

"Then be good enough now to favour me with your ears," I answered
drily. "And listen when I say that no such bargain has ever crossed my
mind. You were kind enough to think well of me last night, M. de
Cocheforêt. Why should the mention of Mademoiselle in a moment change
your opinion? I wish simply to speak to her. I have nothing to ask
from her; neither favour nor anything else. And what I say she will
doubtless tell you afterwards. _Ciel_, man!" I continued angrily,
"what harm can I do to her, in the road, in your sight?"

He looked at me sullenly, his face still flushed, his eyes suspicious.
"What do you want to say to her?" he asked jealously. He was quite
unlike himself. His airy nonchalance, his careless gaiety, were gone.

"You know what I do _not_ want to say to her, M. de Cocheforêt," I
answered. "That should be enough."

He glowered at me for a moment, still ill content. Then, without a
word, he made me a gesture to go to her.

She had halted a score of paces away, wondering doubtless what was on
foot. I rode towards her. She wore her mask, so that I lost the
expression of her face as I approached, but the manner in which she
turned her horse's head uncompromisingly towards her brother, and
looked past me--as if I were merely a log in the road--was full of
meaning. I felt the ground suddenly cut from under me. I saluted her,
trembling. "Mademoiselle," I said, "will you grant me the privilege of
your company for a few minutes, as we ride."

"To what purpose, Sir?" she answered, in the coldest voice in which I
think a woman ever spoke to a man.

"That I may explain to you a great many things you do not understand,"
I murmured.

"I prefer to be in the dark," she replied. And her manner said more
than her words.

"But, Mademoiselle," I pleaded,--I would not be discouraged,--"you
told me one day that you would never judge me hastily again."

"Facts judge you, not I, Sir," she answered icily. "I am not
sufficiently on a level with you to be able to judge you--I thank
God."

I shivered though the sun was on me, and the hollow where we stood was
warm. "Still--once before you thought the same!" I exclaimed.
"Afterwards you found that you had been wrong. It may be so again,
Mademoiselle."

"Impossible," she said.

That stung me. "No!" I said fiercely. "It is not impossible. It is you
who are impossible! It is you who are heartless, Mademoiselle. I have
done much, very much, in the last three days to make things lighter
for you. I ask you now to do something for me which can cost you
nothing."

"Nothing?" she answered slowly; and her scornful voice cut me as if it
had been a knife. "Do you think, Monsieur, it costs me nothing to lose
my self-respect, as I do with every word I speak to you? Do you think
it costs me nothing to be here, where I feel every look you cast on me
an insult, every breath I take in your presence a contamination.
Nothing, Monsieur?" She laughed in bitter irony. "Oh, be sure,
something! But something which I despair of making clear to you."

I sat for a moment in my saddle, shaken and quivering with pain. It
had been one thing to feel that she hated and scorned me, to know that
the trust and confidence which she had begun to place in me were
changed to loathing. It was another to listen to her hard, pitiless
words, to change colour under the lash of her gibing tongue. For a
moment I could not find voice to answer her. Then I pointed to M. de
Cocheforêt. "Do you love him?" I said, hoarsely, roughly. The gibing
tone had passed from her voice to mine.

She did not answer.

"Because, if you do," I continued, "you will let me tell my tale. Say
no but once more, Mademoiselle,--I am only human,--and I go. And you
will repent it all your life."

I had done better had I taken that tone from the beginning. She
winced, her head drooped, she seemed to grow smaller. All in a moment,
as it were, her pride collapsed. "I will hear you," she answered
feebly.

"Then we will ride on, if you please," I said, keeping the advantage I
had gained. "You need not fear. Your brother will follow."

I caught hold of her rein and turned her horse, and she suffered it
without demur. In a moment we were pacing side by side, the long,
straight road before us. At the end where it topped the hill, I could
see the finger-post,--two faint black lines against the sky. When we
reached that, involuntarily I checked my horse and made it move more
slowly.

"Well, Sir," she said impatiently. And her figure shook as if with
cold.

"It is a tale I desire to tell you, Mademoiselle," I answered,
speaking with effort. "Perhaps I may seem to begin a long way off, but
before I end, I promise to interest you. Two months ago there was
living in Paris a man, perhaps a bad man, at any rate, by common
report, a hard man."

She turned to me suddenly, her eyes gleaming through her mask. "Oh,
Monsieur, spare me this!" she said, quietly scornful. "I will take it
for granted."

"Very well," I replied steadfastly. "Good or bad, this man, one day,
in defiance of the Cardinal's edict against duelling, fought with a
young Englishman behind St. Jacques Church. The Englishman had
influence, the person of whom I speak had none, and an indifferent
name; he was arrested, thrown into the Châtelet, cast for death, left
for days to face death. At the last an offer was made to him. If he
would seek out and deliver up another man, an outlaw with a price upon
his head, he should himself go free."

I paused and drew a deep breath. Then I continued, looking not at her,
but into the distance: "Mademoiselle, it seems easy now to say what
course he should have chosen. It seems hard now to find excuses for
him. But there was one thing which I plead for him. The task he was
asked to undertake was a dangerous one. He risked, he knew he must
risk, and the event proved him right, his life against the life of
this unknown man. And--one thing more--there was time before him.
The outlaw might be taken by another, might be killed, might die,
might--. But there, Mademoiselle, we know what answer this person
made. He took the baser course, and on his honour, on his parole, with
money supplied to him, went free,--free on the condition that he
delivered up this other man."

I paused again, but I did not dare to look at her, and after a moment
of silence I resumed. "Some portion of the second half of this story
you know, Mademoiselle; but not all. Suffice it that this man came
down to a remote village, and there at a risk, but Heaven knows,
basely enough, found his way into his victim's home. Once there, his
heart began to fail him. Had he found the house garrisoned by men, he
might have pressed on to his end with little remorse. But he found
there only two helpless, loyal women; and I say again that from the
first hour of his entrance he sickened of the work he had in hand.
Still he pursued it. He had given his word, and if there was one
tradition of his race which this man had never broken, it was that of
fidelity to his side; to the man that paid him. But he pursued it with
only half his mind, in great misery sometimes, if you will believe me,
in agonies of shame. Gradually, however, almost against his will, the
drama worked itself out before him, until he needed only one thing."

I looked at Mademoiselle. But her head was averted; I could gather
nothing from the outlines of her form. And I went on. "Do not
misunderstand me," I said, in a lower voice. "Do not misunderstand
what I am going to say next. This is no love story, and can have no
ending such as romancers love to set to their tales. But I am bound to
mention, Mademoiselle, that this man, who had lived about inns and
eating-houses, and at the gaming-tables almost all his days, met here
for the first time for years a good woman; and learned by the light of
her loyalty and devotion to see what his life had been, and what was
the real nature of the work he was doing. I think,--nay, I know--that
it added a hundredfold to his misery, that when he learned at last the
secret he had come to surprise, he learned it from her lips, and in
such a way that had he felt no shame, hell could have been no place
for him. But in one thing she misjudged him. She thought, and had
reason to think, that the moment he knew her secret he went out, not
even closing the door, and used it. But the truth was that, while her
words were still in his ears, news came to him that others had the
secret; and had he not gone out on the instant, and done what he did,
and forestalled them, M. de Cocheforêt would have been taken, but by
others."

Mademoiselle broke her long silence so suddenly that her horse sprang
forward. "Would to Heaven he had!" she wailed.

"Been taken by others?" I exclaimed, startled out of my false
composure.

"Oh, yes, yes!" she answered passionately. "Why did you not tell me?
Why did you not confess to me even then? I--oh, no more! No more!" she
continued, in a piteous voice. "I have heard enough. You are racking
my heart, M. de Berault. Some day I will ask God to give me strength
to forgive you."

"But you have not heard me out," I replied.

"I want to hear no more," she answered, in a voice she vainly strove
to render steady. "To what end? Can I say more than I have said? Did
you think I could forgive you now--with him behind us going to his
death? Oh, no, no!" she continued. "Leave me! I implore you to leave
me. I am not well."

She drooped over her horse's neck as she spoke and began to weep so
passionately that the tears ran down her cheeks under her mask, and
fell and sparkled like dew on the mane before her; while her sobs
shook her so painfully that I thought she must fall. I stretched out
my hand instinctively to give her help; but she shrank from me. "No!"
she gasped, between her sobs. "Do not touch me. There is too much
between us."

"Yet there must be one thing more between us," I answered firmly. "You
must listen to me a little longer, whether you will or no,
Mademoiselle, for the love you bear to your brother. There is one
course still open to me by which I may redeem my honour; it has been
in my mind for some time back to take that course. To-day, I am
thankful to say, I can take it cheerfully, if not without regret; with
a steadfast heart, if with no light one. Mademoiselle," I continued
earnestly, feeling none of the triumph, none of the vanity, I had
foreseen, but only joy in the joy I could give her, "I thank God that
it is still in my power to undo what I have done; that it is still in
my power to go back to him who sent me, and telling him that I have
changed my mind and will bear my own burdens, to pay the penalty."

We were within a hundred paces of the brow of the hill and the
finger-post now. She cried out wildly that she did not understand.
"What is it you have just said?" she murmured. "I cannot hear." And
she began to fumble with the ribbon of her mask.

"Only this, Mademoiselle," I answered gently. "I give back to your
brother his word and his parole. From this moment he is free to go
whither he pleases. You shall tell him so from me. Here, where we
stand, four roads meet. That to the right goes to Montauban, where you
have doubtless friends, and can lie hid for a time; or that to the
left leads to Bordeaux, where you can take ship if you please. And in
a word Mademoiselle," I continued, ending a little feebly, "I hope
that your troubles are now over."

She turned her face to me--we had both come to a standstill--and
plucked at the fastenings of her mask. But her trembling fingers had
knotted the string, and in a moment she dropped her hands with a cry
of despair. "And you? You?" she said, in a voice so changed I should
not have known it for hers. "What will you do? I do not understand.
This mask! I cannot hear."

"There is a third road," I answered. "It leads to Paris. That is my
road, Mademoiselle. We part here."

"But why? Why?" she cried wildly.

"Because from to-day I would fain begin to be honourable," I answered,
in a low voice. "Because I dare not be generous at another's cost I
must go back to the Châtelet."

She tried feverishly to raise her mask with her hand. "I am--not
well," she stammered. "I cannot breathe."

She swayed so violently in her saddle as she spoke, that I sprang
down, and running round her horse's head, was just in time to catch
her as she fell. She was not quite unconscious then, for, as I
supported her, she murmured, "Leave me! Leave me! I am not worthy that
you should touch me."

Those words made me happy. I carried her to the bank, my heart on
fire, and laid her against it just as M. de Cocheforêt rode up. He
sprang from his horse, his eyes blazing with anger. "What is this?" he
cried harshly. "What have you been saying to her, man?"

"She will tell you," I answered drily, my composure returning under
his eye,--"amongst other things, that you are free. From this moment,
M. de Cocheforêt, I give you back your parole, and I take my own
honour. Farewell."

He cried out something as I mounted, but I did not stay to hear or
answer. I dashed the spurs into my horse, and rode away past the
crossroads, past the finger-post; away with the level upland
stretching before me, dry, bare, almost treeless--and behind me all I
loved. Once, when I had gone a hundred yards, I looked back and saw
him standing upright against the sky, staring after me across her
body. And again I looked back. This time I saw only the slender wooden
cross, and below it a dark blurred mass.



                            CHAPTER XIII.

                          ST. MARTIN'S EVE.


It was late evening on the last day but one of November, when I rode
into Paris through the Orleans gate. The wind was in the northeast,
and a great cloud of vapour hung in the eye of an angry sunset. The
air seemed to be full of wood smoke, the kennels reeked, my gorge rose
at the city's smell; and with all my heart I envied the man who had
gone out of it by the same gate nearly two months before, with his
face to the south, and the prospect of riding day after day across
heath and moor and pasture. At least he had had some weeks of life
before him, and freedom, and the open air, and hope and uncertainty,
while I came back under doom; and in the pall of smoke that hung over
the huddle of innumerable roofs, saw a gloomy shadowing of my own
fate.

For make no mistake. A man in middle life does not strip himself of
the worldly habit with which experience has clothed him, does not run
counter to all the cynical saws and instances by which he has governed
his course so long, without shiverings and doubts and horrible
misgivings and struggles of heart. At least a dozen times between the
Loire and Paris, I asked myself what honour was; and what good it
would do me when I lay rotting and forgotten; if I was not a fool
following a Jack-o'-lanthorn; and whether, of all the men in the
world, the relentless man to whom I was returning, would not be the
first to gibe at my folly.

However, shame kept me straight; shame and the memory of
Mademoiselle's looks and words. I dared not be false to her
again; I could not, after speaking so loftily, fall so low. And
therefore--though not without many a secret struggle and quaking--I
came, on this last evening but one of November, to the Orleans gate,
and rode slowly and sadly through the streets by the Luxembourg, on my
way to the Pont au Change.

The struggle had sapped my last strength, however; and with the first
whiff of the gutters, the first rush of barefooted _gamins_ under my
horse's hoofs, the first babel of street cries, the first breath, in a
word, of Paris, there came a new temptation--to go for one last night
to Zaton's to see the tables again and the faces of surprise; to be,
for an hour or two, the old Berault. That could be no breach of
honour; for in any case I could not reach the Cardinal before
tomorrow. And it could do no harm. It could make no change in
anything. It would not have been a thing worth struggling about--only
I had in my inmost heart suspicions that the stoutest resolutions
might lose their force in that atmosphere; that even such a talisman
as the memory of a woman's looks and words might lose its virtue
there.

Still I think I should have succumbed in the end, if I had not
received at the corner of the Luxembourg a shock which sobered me
effectually. As I passed the gates, a coach followed by two outriders
swept out of the palace courtyard; it was going at a great pace, and I
reined my jaded horse on one side to give it room. As it whirled by
me, one of the leather curtains flapped back, and I saw for a second,
by the waning light,--the nearer wheels were no more than two feet
from my boot,--a face inside.

A face, and no more, and that only for a second! But it froze me. It
was Richelieu's, the Cardinal's; but not as I had been wont to see it,
keen, cold, acute, with intellect and indomitable will in every
feature. This face was distorted with rage and impatience; with the
fever of haste and the fear of death. The eyes burned under the pale
brow, the mustachios bristled, the teeth showed through the beard; I
could fancy the man crying "Faster! Faster!" and gnawing his nails in
the impatience of passion; and I shrank back as if I had been struck.
The next moment the galloping outriders splashed me, the coach was a
hundred paces ahead, and I was left chilled and wondering, foreseeing
the worst, and no longer in any mood for the gaming-table.

Such a revelation of such a man was enough to appall me. Conscience
cried out that he must have heard that Cocheforêt had escaped, and
through me! But I dismissed the idea as soon as formed.

In the vast meshes of the Cardinal's schemes, Cocheforêt could be only
a small fish; and to account for the face in the coach I needed a
cataclysm, a catastrophe, a misfortune, as far above ordinary mishaps,
as this man's intellect rose above the common run of minds.

It was almost dark when I crossed the bridges, and crept despondently
to the Rue Savonnerie. After stabling my horse, I took my bag and
holsters, and climbing the stairs to my old landlord's,--the place
seemed to have grown strangely mean and small and ill-smelling in my
absence,--I knocked at the door. It was opened by the little tailor
himself, who threw up his arms at the sight of me. "By St. Genevieve!"
he said. "If it is not M. de Berault!"

"No other," I said. It touched me a little, after my lonely journey,
to find him so glad to see me--though I had never done him a greater
benefit than sometimes to unbend with him and borrow his money. "You
look surprised, little man!" I continued, as he made way for me to
enter. "I'll be sworn you have been pawning my goods and letting my
room, you knave!"

"Never, your excellency!" he answered, beaming on me. "On the
contrary, I have been expecting you."

"How?" I said. "To-day?"

"To-day or to-morrow," he answered, following me in and closing the
door. "The first thing I said, when I heard the news this morning,
was, Now we shall have M. de Berault back again. Your excellency will
pardon the children," he continued, as I took the old seat on the
three-legged stool before the hearth. "The night is cold, and there is
no fire in your room."

While he ran to and fro with my cloak and bags, little Gil, to whom I
had stood at St. Sulpice's--borrowing ten crowns the same day, I
remember--came shyly to play with my sword-hilt "So you expected me
back when you heard the news, Frison, did you?" I said, taking the lad
on my knee.

"To be sure, your excellency," he answered, peeping into the black pot
before he lifted it to the hook.

"Very good. Then, now, let us hear what the news was," I said drily.

"Of the Cardinal, M. de Berault."

"Ah? And what?"

He looked at me, holding the heavy pot suspended in his hands. "You
have not heard?" he exclaimed, his jaw falling.

"Not a tittle. Tell it me, my good fellow."

"You have not heard that His Eminence is disgraced?"

I stared at him. "Not a word," I said.

He set down the pot. "Your excellency must have made a very long
journey indeed, then," he said, with conviction. "For it has been in
the air a week or more, and I thought it had brought you back. A week?
A month, I dare say. They whisper that it is the old Queen's doing. At
any rate, it is certain that they have cancelled his commissions and
displaced his officers. There are rumours of immediate peace with
Spain. His enemies are lifting up their heads, and I hear that he has
relays of horses set all the way to the coast, that he may fly at any
moment For what I know he may be gone already."

"But, man," I said--"the King! You forget the King. Let the Cardinal
once pipe to him, and he will dance. And they will dance, too!" I
added grimly.

"Yes," Frison answered eagerly. "True, your excellency, but the King
will not see him. Three times to-day, as I am told, the Cardinal has
driven to the Luxembourg, and stood like any common man in the
ante-chamber, so that I hear it was pitiful to see him. But His
Majesty would not admit him. And when he went away the last time, I am
told that his face was like death! Well, he was a great man, and we
may be worse ruled, M. de Berault, saving your presence. If the nobles
did not like him, he was good to the traders, and the _bourgeoisie_,
and equal to all."

"Silence, man! Silence, and let me think," I said, much excited. And
while he bustled to and fro, getting my supper, and the firelight
played about the snug, sorry little room, and the child toyed with his
plaything, I fell to digesting this great news, and pondering how I
stood now and what I ought to do. At first sight, I know, it seemed
that I had nothing to do but sit still. In a few hours the man who
held my bond would be powerless, and I should be free. In a few hours
I might smile at him. To all appearance, the dice had fallen well for
me. I had done a great thing, run a great risk, won a woman's love,
and after all was not to pay the penalty!

But a word which fell from Frison as he fluttered round me, pouring
out the broth, and cutting the bread, dropped into my mind and spoiled
my satisfaction. "Yes, your excellency," he exclaimed, confirming
something he had said before, and which I had missed, "and I am told
that the last time he came into the gallery, there was not a man of
all the scores who attended his _levée_ last Monday would speak to
him. They fell off like rats,--just like rats,--until he was left
standing all alone. And I have seen him!" Frison lifted up his eyes
and his hands and drew in his breath. "Ah, I have seen the King look
shabby beside him! And his eye! I would not like to meet it now."

"Pish!" I growled. "Some one has fooled you. Men are wiser than that."

"So? Well, your excellency understands. But--there are no cats on a
cold hearth."

I told him again that he was a fool. But withal I felt uncomfortable.
This was a great man if ever a great man lived, and they were all
leaving him; and I--well, I had no cause to love him. But I had taken
his money, I had accepted his commission, and I had betrayed him.
Those three things being so, if he fell before I could--with the best
will in the world--set myself right with him, so much the better for
me. That was my gain, the fortune of war. But if I lay hid, and took
time for my ally, and being here while he stood still,--though
tottering,--waited until he fell, what of my honour then? What of the
grand words I had said to Mademoiselle at Agen? I should be like the
recreant in the old romance, who, lying in the ditch while the battle
raged, came out afterwards and boasted of his courage. And yet the
flesh was weak. A day, twenty-four hours, two days, might make the
difference between life and death. At last I settled what I would do.
At noon the next day, the time at which I should have presented
myself, if I had not heard this news, at that time I would still
present myself. Not earlier; I owed myself the chance. Not later; that
was due to him.

Having so settled it, I thought to rest in peace. But with the first
light I was awake; and it was all I could do to keep myself quiet
until I heard Frison stirring. I called to him then to know if there
was any news, and lay waiting and listening while he went down to the
street to learn. It seemed an endless time before he came back; an
age, after he came back, before he spoke.

"Well, he has not set off?" I cried at last, unable to control my
eagerness.

Of course he had not. At nine o'clock I sent Frison out again; and at
ten, and at eleven--always with the same result. I was like a man
waiting, and looking, and, above all, listening for a reprieve, and as
sick as any craven. But when he came back at eleven, I gave up hope,
and dressed myself carefully. I suppose I still had an odd look,
however; for Frison stopped me at the door and asked me, with evident
alarm, whither I was going.

I put the little man aside gently. "To the tables," I said. "To make a
big throw, my friend."

It was a fine morning; sunny, keen, pleasant. Even the streets smelled
fresh. But I scarcely noticed it. All my thoughts were where I was
going. It seemed but a step from my threshold to the Hotel Richelieu.
I was no sooner gone from the one than I found myself at the other. As
on the memorable evening, when I had crossed the street in a drizzling
rain, and looked that way with foreboding, there were two or three
guards in the Cardinal's livery, loitering before the gates. But this
was not all. Coming nearer, I found the opposite pavement under the
Louvre thronged with people; not moving about their business, but
standing all silent, all looking across furtively, all with the air of
persons who wished to be thought passing by. Their silence and their
keen looks had in some way an air of menace. Looking back after I had
turned in towards the gates, I found them devouring me with their
eyes.

Certainly they had little else to look at. In the courtyard, where
some mornings when the court was in Paris I had seen a score of
coaches waiting and thrice as many servants, were now emptiness and
sunshine and stillness. The officer, who stood twisting his
mustachios, on guard, looked at me in wonder as I passed. The lackeys
lounging in the portico, and all too much taken up with whispering to
make a pretence of being of service, grinned at my appearance. But
that which happened when I had mounted the stairs, and come to the
door of the ante-chamber, outdid all. The man on guard there would
have opened the door; but when I went to take advantage of the offer,
and enter, a major-domo, who was standing near, muttering with two or
three of his kind, hastened forward and stopped me.

"Your business, Monsieur, if you please?" he said inquisitively. And I
wondered why the others looked at me so strangely.

"I am M. de Berault," I answered sharply. "I have the _entrée_."

He bowed politely enough. "Yes, M. de Berault, I have the honour to
know your face," he said. "But pardon me. Have you business with His
Eminence?"

"I have the common business," I answered bluntly, "by which many of us
live, sirrah!--to wait on him."

"But--by appointment, Monsieur?" he persisted.

"No," I said, astonished. "It is the usual hour. For the matter of
that, however, I have business with him."

The man looked at me for a moment, in apparent embarrassment. Then he
stood reluctantly aside, and signed to the door-keeper to open the
door. I passed in, uncovering, with an assured face, ready to meet all
eyes. Then in a moment, on the threshold, the mystery was explained.

The room was empty.



                             CHAPTER XIV.

                         ST. MARTIN'S SUMMER.


Yes, at the great Cardinal's _levée_ I was the only client. I stared
round the room, a long narrow gallery, through which it was his custom
to walk every morning, after receiving his more important visitors. I
stared, I say, round this room, in a state of stupefaction. The seats
against either wall were empty, the recesses of the windows empty too.
The hat, sculptured and painted here and there, the staring R, the
blazoned arms, looked down on a vacant floor. Only, on a little stool
by the main door, sat a quiet-faced man in black, who read, or
pretended to read, in a little book, and never looked up. One of those
men, blind, deaf, secretive, who fatten in the shadow of the great.

At length, while I stood confounded and full of shamed thought,--for I
had seen the ante-chamber of Richelieu's old hotel so crowded that he
could not walk through it,--this man closed his book, rose, and came
noiselessly towards me. "M. de Berault?" he said.

"Yes," I answered.

"His Eminence awaits you. Be good enough to follow me."

I did so, in a deeper stupor than before. For how could the Cardinal
know that I was here? How could he have known when he gave the order?
But I had short time to think of these things. We passed through two
rooms, in one of which some secretaries were writing; we stopped at a
third door. Over all brooded a silence which could be felt. The usher
knocked, opened, and with his finger on his lip, pushed aside a
curtain, and signed to me to enter. I did so, and found myself
standing behind a screen.

"Is that M. de Berault?" asked a thin, high-pitched voice.

"Yes, Monseigneur," I answered, trembling.

"Then come, my friend, and talk to me."

I went round the screen; and I know not how it was, the watching crowd
outside, the vacant antechamber in which I had stood, the
stillness,--all seemed concentrated here, and gave to the man I saw
before me, a dignity which he had never possessed for me when the world
passed through his doors, and the proudest fawned on him for a smile.
He sat in a great chair on the farther side of the hearth, a little red
skull-cap on his head, his fine hands lying motionless in his lap. The
collar of lawn which fell over his red cape was quite plain, but the
skirts of his red robe were covered with rich lace, and the order of
the Holy Ghost shone on his breast. Among the multitudinous papers on
the great table near him I saw a sword and pistols lying; and some
tapestry that covered a little table behind him failed to hide a pair
of spurred riding-boots. But he--in spite of these signs of
trouble--looked towards me as I advanced, with a face mild and almost
benign; a face in which I strove in vain to find traces of last
night's passion. So that it flashed across me that if this man really
stood--and afterwards I knew he did--on the thin razor-edge between
life and death, between the supreme of earthly power, lord of France,
and arbiter of Europe, and the nothingness of the clod, he justified
his fame. He gave weaker natures no room for triumph.

The thought was no sooner entertained than it was gone. "And so you
are back at last, M. de Berault?" he said, gently. "I have been
expecting to see you since nine this morning."

"Your Eminence knew then--" I muttered.

"That you returned to Paris by the Orleans gate last evening, alone?"
He fitted together the ends of his fingers, and looked at me over them
with inscrutable eyes. "Yes, I knew all that last night. And now of
your mission? You have been faithful, and diligent, I am sure. Where
is he?"

I stared at him, and was dumb. Somehow the strange things I had seen
since I left my lodging, the surprises I had found awaiting me here,
had driven my own fortunes, my own peril, out of my head, until this
moment. Now, at his question, all returned with a rush. My heart
heaved suddenly in my breast. I strove for a savour of the old
hardihood; but for the moment I could not find a word.

"Well?" he said lightly, a faint smile lifting his mustache. "You do
not speak. You left Auch with him on the twenty-fourth, M. de Berault.
So much I know. And you reached Paris without him last night. He has
not given you the slip?" with sudden animation.

"No, Monseigneur," I muttered.

"Ha! That is good," he answered, sinking back again in his chair. "For
the moment--but I knew I could depend on you. And now where is he?" he
continued. "What have you done with him? He knows much, and the sooner
I know it, the better. Are your people bringing him, M. de Berault?"

"No, Monseigneur," I stammered, with dry lips. His very good humour,
his benignity, appalled me. I knew how terrible would be the change,
how fearful his rage, when I should tell him the truth. And yet that
I, Gil de Berault, should tremble before any man! I spurred myself, as
it were, to the task. "No, Your Eminence," I said, with the courage of
despair. "I have not brought him, because I have set him free."

"Because you have--_what?_" he exclaimed. He leaned forward, his hands
on the arm of his chair; and his glittering eyes, growing each instant
smaller, seemed to read my soul.

"Because I have let him go," I repeated.

"And why?" he said, in a voice like the rasping of a file.

"Because I took him unfairly," I answered desperately. "Because,
Monseigneur, I am a gentleman, and this task should have been given to
one who was not. I took him, if you must know," I continued
impatiently,--the fence once crossed, I was growing bolder,--"by
dogging a woman's steps, and winning her confidence, and betraying it.
And, whatever I have done ill in my life,--of which you were good
enough to throw something in my teeth when I was last here,--I have
never done that, and I will not!"

"And so you set him free?"

"Yes."

"After you had brought him to Auch?"

"Yes."

"And in point of fact saved him from falling into the hands of the
commandant at Auch?"

"Yes," I answered desperately.

"Then what of the trust I placed in you, sirrah?" he rejoined, in a
terrible voice; and stooping still farther forward, he probed me with
his eyes. "You who prate of trust and confidence, who received your
life on parole, and but for your promise to me would have been carrion
this month past, answer me that! What of the trust I placed in you?"

"The answer is simple," I said, shrugging my shoulders with a touch of
my old self. "I am here to pay the penalty."

"And do you think that I do not know why?" he retorted, striking his
one hand on the arm of the chair with a force which startled me.
"Because you have heard, Sir, that my power is gone! That I, who was
yesterday the King's right hand, am to-day dried up, withered, and
paralyzed! Because--but have a care! Have a care!" he continued not
loudly, but in a voice like a dog's snarl. "You, and those others!
Have a care I say, or you may find yourselves mistaken yet!"

"As Heaven shall judge me," I answered solemnly, "that is not true.
Until I reached Paris last night I knew nothing of this report. I came
here with a single mind, to redeem my honour by placing again in Your
Eminence's hands that which you gave me on trust."

For a moment he remained in the same attitude, staring at me fixedly.
Then his face somewhat relaxed. "Be good enough to ring that bell," he
said.

It stood on a table near me. I rang it, and a velvet-footed man in
black came in, and gliding up to the Cardinal placed a paper in his
hand. The Cardinal looked at it while the man stood with his head
obsequiously bent; my heart beat furiously. "Very good," the Cardinal
said, after a pause, which seemed to me to be endless. "Let the doors
be thrown open."

The man bowed low, and retired behind the screen. I heard a little
bell ring, somewhere in the silence, and in a moment the Cardinal
stood up. "Follow me!" he said, with a strange flash of his keen eyes.

Astonished, I stood aside while he passed to the screen; then I
followed him. Outside the first door, which stood open, we found eight
or nine persons,--pages, a monk, the major-domo, and several guards
waiting like mutes. These signed to me to precede them, and fell in
behind us, and in that order we passed through the first room and the
second, where the clerks stood with bent heads to receive us. The last
door, the door of the ante-chamber, flew open as we approached; a
score of voices cried, "Place! Place for His Eminence!" We passed
without pause through two lines of bowing lackeys, and entered--an
empty room!

The ushers did not know how to look at one another. The lackeys
trembled in their shoes. But the Cardinal walked on, apparently
unmoved, until he had passed slowly half the length of the chamber.
Then he turned himself about, looking first to one side; and then to
another, with a low laugh of derision. "Father," he said, in his thin
voice, "what does the psalmist say? 'I am become like a pelican in the
wilderness, and like an owl that is in the desert!'"

The monk mumbled assent.

"And later, in the same psalm is it not written, 'They shall perish,
but thou shalt endure!'"

"It is so," the father answered. "Amen."

"Doubtless that refers to another life," the Cardinal continued, with
his slow, wintry smile. "In the meantime we will go back to our book?
and our prayers, and serve God and the King in small things, if not in
great. Come, father, this is no longer a place for us. _Vanitas
vanitatum; omnia vanitas!_ We will retire."

So, as solemnly as we had come, we marched back through the first and
second and third doors, until we stood again in the silence of the
Cardinal's chamber; he and I and the velvet-footed man in black. For a
while Richelieu seemed to forget me. He stood brooding on the hearth,
with his eye's on the embers. Once I heard him laugh; and twice he
uttered in a tone of bitter mockery, the words, "Fools! Fools! Fools!"

At last he looked up, saw me, and started. "Ah!" he said. "I had
forgotten you. Well, you are fortunate, M. de Berault. Yesterday I had
a hundred clients. To-day I have only one, and I cannot afford to hang
him. But for your liberty--that is another matter."

I would have said something, but he turned abruptly to the table, and
sitting down wrote a few lines on a piece of paper. Then he rang his
bell, while I stood waiting and confounded.

The man in black came from behind the screen. "Take that letter and
this gentleman to the upper guard-room," His Eminence said sharply. "I
can hear no more," he continued wearily, raising his hand to forbid
interruption. "The matter is ended, M. de Berault. Be thankful."

And in a moment I was outside the door, my head in a whirl, my heart
divided between gratitude and resentment. Along several passages I
followed my guide; everywhere finding the same silence, the same
monastic stillness. At length, when I had begun to consider whether
the Bastile or the Châtelet would be my fate, he stopped at a door,
gave me the letter, and, lifting the latch, signed to me to enter.

I went in in amazement, and stopped in confusion. Before me, alone,
just risen from a chair, with her face one moment pale, the next red
with blushes, stood Mademoiselle de Cocheforêt. I cried out her name.

"M. de Berault!" she said, visibly trembling. "You did not expect to
see me?"

"I expected to see no one so little, Mademoiselle," I answered,
striving to recover my composure.

"Yet you might have thought that we should not utterly desert you,"
she replied, with a reproachful humility which went to my heart. "We
should have been base indeed, if we had not made some attempt to save
you. I thank Heaven that it has so far succeeded that that strange man
has promised me your life. You have seen him?" she continued eagerly,
and in another tone, while her eyes grew suddenly large with fear.

"Yes, Mademoiselle, I have seen him," I said. "And he has given me my
life."

"And?"

"And sent me to imprisonment."

"For how long?" she whispered.

"I do not know," I answered. "I expect, during the King's pleasure."

She shuddered. "I may have done more harm than good," she murmured,
looking at me piteously. "But I did it for the best. I told him all,
and--yes, perhaps I did harm."

But to hear her accuse herself thus, when she had made this long and
lonely journey to save me; when she had forced herself into her
enemy's presence, and had, as I was sure she had, abased herself for
me, was more than I could bear. "Hush, Mademoiselle, hush!" I said,
almost roughly. "You hurt me. You have made me happy: and yet I wish
that you were not here, where I fear you have few friends, but back at
Cocheforêt. You have done more than I expected, and a hundred times
more than I deserved. But I was a ruined man before this happened. I
am no more now, but I am still that; and I would not have your name
pinned to mine on Paris lips. Therefore, good-bye. God forbid I should
say more to you, or let you stay where foul tongues would soon malign
you."

She looked at me in a kind of wonder; then with a growing smile, "It
is too late," she said gently.

"Too late?" I exclaimed. "How, Mademoiselle?"

"Because--do you remember, M. de Berault, what you told me of your
love story, by Agen? That it could have no happy ending? For the same
reason I was not ashamed to tell mine to the Cardinal. By this time it
is common property."

I looked at her as she stood facing me. Her eyes shone, but they were
downcast. Her figure drooped, and yet a smile trembled on her lips.
"What did you tell him, Mademoiselle?" I whispered, my breath coming
quickly.

"That I loved," she answered boldly, raising her clear eyes to mine.
"And therefore that I was not ashamed to beg, even on my knees. Nor
ashamed to be with my lover, even in prison."

I fell on my knees, and caught her hand before the last word passed
her lips. For the moment I forgot King and Cardinal, prison and the
future, all--all except that this woman, so pure and so beautiful, so
far above me in all things, loved me. For the moment, I say. Then I
remembered myself. I stood up and thrust her from me, in a sudden
revulsion of feeling. "You do not know me," I said. "You do not know
me. You do not know what I have done."

"That is what I do know," she answered, looking at me with a wondrous
smile.

"Ah, but you do not," I cried. "And besides, there is this--this
between us." And I picked up the Cardinal's letter. It had fallen on
the floor.

She turned a shade paler. Then she said, "Open it! Open it! It is not
sealed, nor closed."

I obeyed mechanically, dreading what I might see. Even when I had it
open I looked at the finely scrawled characters with eyes askance. But
at last I made it out. It ran thus:--


"The King's pleasure is, that M. de Berault, having mixed himself up
with affairs of state, retire forthwith to the manor of Cocheforêt,
and confine himself within its limits, until the King's pleasure be
further known.

                                         "Richelieu."


On the next day we were married. The same evening we left Paris, and I
retraced, in her company, the road which I had twice traversed alone
and in heaviness.

A fortnight later we were at Cocheforêt, in the brown woods under the
southern mountains; and the great Cardinal, once more triumphant over
his enemies, saw, with cold, smiling eyes, the world pass through his
chamber. The flood-tide, which then set in, lasted thirteen years; in
brief, until his death. For the world had learned its lesson, and was
not to be deceived a second time. To this hour they call that day,
which saw me stand for all his friends, "The day of Dupes."



                               THE END



                            COUNT HANNIBAL



                                SORORI
                           SUÂ CAUSSÂ CARAE
                        PIO ERGA MATREM AMORE
                            ETIAM CARIORI
                              HOC FRATER



                               CONTENTS


   CHAPTER
         I. CRIMSON FAVOURS.

        II. HANNIBAL DE SAULX, COMTE DE TAVANNES.

       III. THE HOUSE NEXT THE GOLDEN MAID.

        IV. THE EVE OF THE FEAST.

         V. A ROUGH WOOING.

        VI. "WHO TOUCHES TAVANNES?"

       VII. IN THE AMPHITHEATRE.

      VIII. TWO HENS AND AN EGG.

        IX. UNSTABLE.

         X. MADAME ST. LO.

        XI. A BARGAIN.

       XII. IN THE HALL OF THE LOUVRE.

      XIII. DIPLOMACY.

       XIV. TOO SHORT A SPOON.

        XV. THE BROTHER OF ST. MAGLOIRE.

       XVI. AT CLOSE QUARTERS.

      XVII. THE DUEL.

     XVIII. ANDROMEDA, PERSEUS BEING ABSENT.

       XIX. IN THE ORLÉANNAIS.

        XX. ON THE CASTLE HILL.

       XXI. SHE WOULD, AND WOULD NOT.

      XXII. PLAYING WITH FIRE.

     XXIII. A MIND, AND NOT A MIND.

      XXIV. AT THE KING'S INN.

       XXV. THE COMPANY OF THE BLEEDING HEART.

      XXVI. TEMPER.

     XXVII. THE BLACK TOWN.

    XXVIII. IN THE LITTLE CHAPTER HOUSE.

      XXIX. THE ESCAPE.

       XXX. SACRILEGE!

      XXXI. THE FLIGHT FROM ANGERS.

     XXXII. THE ORDEAL BY STEEL.

    XXXIII. THE AMBUSH.

     XXXIV. "WHICH WILL YOU, MADAME?"

      XXXV. AGAINST THE WALL.

     XXXVI. HIS KINGDOM.



                           COUNT HANNIBAL.



                              CHAPTER I.

                           CRIMSON FAVOURS.


M. de Tavannes smiled. Mademoiselle averted her eyes, and shivered;
as if the air, even of that close summer night, entering by the door
at her elbow, chilled her. And then came a welcome interruption.

"Tavannes!"

"Sire!"

Count Hannibal rose slowly. The King had called, and he had no choice
but to obey and go. Yet he hung a last moment over his companion, his
hateful breath stirring her hair. "Our pleasure is cut short too soon,
Mademoiselle," he said, in the tone and with the look she loathed.
"But for a few hours only. We shall meet to-morrow. Or, it may
be--earlier."

She did not answer, and "Tavannes!" the King repeated with violence.
"Tavannes! Mordieu!" his Majesty continued, looking round furiously.
"Will no one fetch him? Sacré nom, am I King, or a dog of a----"

"I come, sire!" Count Hannibal cried in haste. For Charles, King of
France, Ninth of the name, was none of the most patient; and scarce
another in the Court would have ventured to keep him waiting so long.
"I come, sire; I come!" Tavannes repeated, as he moved from her side.

He shouldered his way through the circle of courtiers, who barred the
road to the presence, and in part hid Mademoiselle from observation.
He pushed past the table at which Charles and the Comte de
Rochefoucauld had been playing primero, and at which the latter still
sat, trifling idly with the cards. Three more paces, and he reached
the King, who stood in the _ruelle_ with Rambouillet and the Italian
Marshal. It was the latter who, a moment before, had summoned his
Majesty from his game.

Mademoiselle, watching him go, saw so much; so much, and the King's
roving eyes and haggard face, and the four figures, posed apart in the
fuller light of the upper half of the Chamber. Then the circle of
courtiers came together before her, and she sat back on her stool. A
fluttering, long-drawn sigh escaped her. Now, if she could slip out
and make her escape! Now--she looked round. She was not far from the
door; to withdraw seemed easy. But a staring, whispering knot of
gentlemen and pages blocked the way; and the girl, ignorant of the
etiquette of the Court and with no more than a week's experience of
Paris, had not the courage to rise and pass alone through the group.

She had come to the Louvre this Saturday evening under the wing of
Madame d'Yverne, her _fiancé's_ cousin. By ill hap Madame had been
summoned to the Princess Dowager's closet, and perforce had left her.
Still, Mademoiselle had her betrothed, and in his charge had sat
herself down to wait, nothing loth, in the great gallery, where all
was bustle and gaiety and entertainment. For this, the seventh day of
the fêtes, held to celebrate the marriage of the King of Navarre and
Charles's sister--a marriage which was to reconcile the two factions
of the Huguenots and the Catholics, so long at war--saw the Louvre as
gay, as full, and as lively as the first of the fête days had found
it; and in the humours of the throng, in the ceaseless passage of
masks and maids of honour, guards and bishops, Swiss in the black,
white and green of Anjou, and Huguenot nobles in more sombre habits,
the country-bred girl had found recreation and to spare. Until
gradually the evening had worn away and she had begun to feel nervous;
and M. de Tignonville, her betrothed, placing her in the embrasure of
a window, had gone to seek Madame.

She had waited for a time without much misgiving; expecting each
moment to see him return. He would be back before she could count a
hundred; he would be back before she could number the leagues that
separated her from her beloved province, and the home by the Biscay
Sea, to which even in that brilliant scene her thoughts turned fondly.
But the minutes had passed, and passed, and he had not returned.
Worse, in his place Tavannes--not the Marshal, but his brother Count
Hannibal--had found her; he, whose odious court, at once a menace and
an insult, had subtly enveloped her for a week past. He had sat down
beside her, he had taken possession of her, and, profiting by her
inexperience, had played on her fears and smiled at her dislike.
Finally, whether she would or no, he had swept her with him into the
Chamber. The rest had been an obsession, a nightmare, from which only
the King's voice summoning Tavannes to his side had relieved her.

Her aim now was to escape before he returned, and before another,
seeing her alone, adopted his _rôle_ and was rude to her. Already the
courtiers about her were beginning to stare, the pages to turn and
titter and whisper. Direct her gaze as she might, she met some eye
watching her, some couple enjoying her confusion. To make matters
worse, she presently discovered that she was the only woman in the
Chamber; and she conceived the notion that she had no right to be
there at that hour. At the thought her cheeks burned, her eyes
dropped; the room seemed to buzz with her name, with gross words and
jests, and gibes at her expense.

At last, when the situation had grown nearly unbearable, the group
before the door parted, and Tignonville appeared. The girl rose with a
cry of relief, and he came to her. The courtiers glanced at the two
and smiled.

He did not conceal his astonishment at finding her there. "But,
Mademoiselle, how is this?" he asked in a low voice. He was as
conscious of the attention they attracted as she was, and as uncertain
on the point of her right to be there. "I left you in the gallery. I
came back, missed you, and----"

She stopped him by a gesture. "Not here!" she muttered, with
suppressed impatience. "I will tell you outside. Take me--take me out,
if you please, Monsieur, at once!"

He was as glad to be gone as she was to go. The group by the doorway
parted; she passed through it, he followed. In a moment the two stood
in the great gallery, above the Salle des Caryatides. The crowd which
had paraded here an hour before was gone, and the vast echoing
apartment, used at that date as a guard-room, was well-nigh empty.
Only at rare intervals, in the embrasure of a window or the recess of
a door, a couple talked softly. At the farther end, near the head of
the staircase which led to the hall below, and the courtyard, a group
of armed Swiss lounged on guard. Mademoiselle shot a keen glance up
and down, then she turned to her lover, her face hot with indignation.

"Why did you leave me?" she asked. "Why did you leave me, if you could
not come back at once? Do you understand, sir," she continued, "that
it was at your instance I came to Paris, that I came to this Court,
and that I look to you for protection?"

"Surely," he said. "And----"

"And do you think Carlat and his wife fit guardians for me? Should I
have come or thought of coming to this wedding, but for your promise,
and Madame your cousin's? If I had not deemed myself almost your
wife," she continued warmly, "and secure of your protection, should I
have come within a hundred miles of this dreadful city? To which, had
I my will, none of our people should have come."

"Dreadful? Pardieu, not so dreadful," he answered, smiling, and
striving to give the dispute a playful turn. "You have seen more in a
week than you would have seen at Vrillac in a lifetime, Mademoiselle."

"And I choke!" she retorted; "I choke! Do you not see how they look at
us, at us Huguenots, in the street? How they, who live here, point at
us and curse us? How the very dogs scent us out and snarl at our
heels, and the babes cross themselves when we go by? Can you see the
Place des Gastines and not think what stood there? Can you pass the
Grève at night and not fill the air above the river with screams and
wailings and horrible cries--the cries of our people murdered on that
spot?" She paused for breath, recovered herself a little, and in a
lower tone, "For me," she said, "I think of Philippine de Luns by day
and by night! The eaves are a threat to me; the tiles would fall on us
had they their will; the houses nod to--to----"

"To what, Mademoiselle?" he asked, shrugging his shoulders and
assuming a tone of cynicism.

"To crush us! Yes, Monsieur, to crush us!"

"And all this because I left you for a moment?"

"For an hour--or well-nigh an hour," she answered more soberly.

"But if I could not help it?"

"You should have thought of that--before you brought me to Paris,
Monsieur. In these troublous times."

He coloured warmly. "You are unjust, Mademoiselle," he said. "There
are things you forget; in a Court one is not always master of
oneself."

"I know it," she answered drily, thinking of that through which she
had gone.

"But you do not know what happened!" he returned with impatience. "You
do not understand that I am not to blame. Madame d'Yverne, when I
reached the Princess Dowager's closet, had left to go to the Queen of
Navarre. I hurried after her, and found a score of gentlemen in the
King of Navarre's chamber. They were holding a council, and they
begged, nay, they compelled me to remain."

"And it was that which detained you so long?"

"To be sure, Mademoiselle."

"And not--Madame St. Lo?"

M. de Tignonville's face turned scarlet. The thrust in tierce was
unexpected. This then was the key to Mademoiselle's spirt of temper.
"I do not understand you," he stammered.

"How long were you in the King of Navarre's chamber, and how long with
Madame St. Lo?" she asked with fine irony. "Or no, I will not tempt
you," she went on quickly, seeing him hesitate. "I heard you talking
to Madame St. Lo in the gallery while I sat within. And I know how
long you were with her."

"I met Madame as I returned," he stammered, his face still hot, "and I
asked her where you were. I did not know, Mademoiselle, that I was,
not to speak to ladies of my acquaintance."

"I was alone, and I was waiting."

"I could not know that--for certain," he answered, making the best of
it. "You were not where I left you. I thought, I confess--that you had
gone. That you had gone home."

"With whom? With whom?" she repeated pitilessly. "Was it likely? With
whom was I to go? And yet it is true, I might have gone home had I
pleased--with M. de Tavannes! Yes," she continued, in a tone of keen
reproach and with the blood mounting to her forehead, "it is to that,
Monsieur, you expose me! To be pursued, molested, harassed by a man
whose look terrifies me, and whose touch I--I detest! To be addressed
wherever I go by a man whose every word proves that he thinks me game
for the hunter, and you a thing he may neglect. You are a man and you
do not know, you cannot know what I suffer! What I have suffered this
week past whenever you have left my side!"

Tignonville looked gloomy. "What has he said to you?" he asked,
between his teeth.

"Nothing I can tell you," she answered with a shudder. "It was he who
took me into the Chamber."

"Why did you go?"

"Wait until he bids you do something," she answered. "His manner, his
smile, his tone, all frighten me. And to-night, in all these there was
a something worse, a hundred times worse than when I saw him last--on
Thursday! He seemed to--to gloat on me," the girl stammered, with a
flush of shame, "as if I were his! Oh, Monsieur, I wish we had not
left our Poitou! Shall we ever see Vrillac again, and the fishers'
huts about the port, and the sea beating blue against the long brown
causeway?"

He had listened darkly, almost sullenly; but at this, seeing the tears
gather in her eyes, he forced a laugh. "Why, you are as bad as M. de
Rosny and the Vidame!" he said. "And they are as full of fears as an
egg is of meat! Since the Admiral was wounded by that scoundrel on
Friday, they think all Paris is in a league against us."

"And why not!" she asked, her cheek grown pale, her eyes reading his
eyes.

"Why not? Why, because it is a monstrous thing even to think of!"
Tignonville answered, with the confidence of one who did not use the
argument for the first time. "Could they insult the King more deeply
than by such a suspicion? A Borgia may kill his guests, but it was
never a practice of the Kings of France! Pardieu, I have no patience
with them! They may lodge where they please, across the river, or
without the walls if they choose, the Rue de l'Arbre Sec is good
enough for me, and the King's name sufficient surety!"

"I know you are not apt to be fearful," she answered, smiling; and she
looked at him with a woman's pride in her lover. "All the same, you
will not desert me again, sir, will you?"

He vowed he would not, kissed her hand, looked into her eyes; then
melting to her, stammering, blundering, he named Madame St. Lo. She
stopped him.

"There is no need," she said, answering his look with kind eyes, and
refusing to hear his protestations. "In a fortnight will you not be my
husband? How should I distrust you? It was only that while she talked,
I waited--I waited; and--and that Madame St. Lo is Count Hannibal's
cousin. For a moment I was mad enough to dream that she held you on
purpose. You do not think it was so?"

"She!" he cried sharply; and he winced, as if the thought hurt him.
"Absurd! The truth is, Mademoiselle," he continued with a little heat,
"you are like so many of our people! You think a Catholic capable of
the worst."

"We have long thought so at Vrillac," she answered gravely.

"That's over now, if people would only understand. This wedding has
put an end to all that. But I'm harking back," he continued awkwardly;
and he stopped. "Instead, let me take you home."

"If you please. Carlat and the servants should be below."

He took her left hand in his right after the wont of the day, and with
his other hand touching his sword-hilt, he led her down the staircase,
that by a single turn reached the courtyard of the palace. Here a mob
of armed servants, of lacqueys, and foot-boys, some bearing torches,
and some carrying their masters' cloaks and _galoshes_, loitered to
and fro. Had M. de Tignonville been a little more observant, or a
trifle less occupied with his own importance, he might have noted more
than one face which looked darkly on him; he might have caught more
than one overt sneer at his expense. But in the business of summoning
Carlat--Mademoiselle de Vrillac's steward and major-domo--he lost the
contemptuous "Christaudins!" that hissed from a footboy's lips, and
the "Southern dogs!" that died in the moustachios of a bully in the
livery of the King's brother. He was engaged in finding the steward,
and in aiding him to cloak his mistress; then with a ruffling air, a
new acquirement, which he had picked up since he came to Paris, he
made a way for her through the crowd. A moment, and the three,
followed by half a dozen armed servants, bearing pikes and torches,
detached themselves from the throng, and crossing the courtyard, with
its rows of lighted windows, passed out by the gate between the Tennis
Courts, and so into the Rue des Fosses de St. Germain.

Before them, against a sky in which the last faint glow of evening
still contended with the stars, the spire and pointed arches of the
church of St. Germain rose darkly graceful. It was something after
nine; the heat of the August day brooded over the crowded city, and
dulled the faint distant ring of arms and armour that yet would make
itself heard above the hush; a hush which was not silence so much as a
subdued hum. As Mademoiselle passed the closed house beside the
Cloister of St. Germain where only the day before Admiral Coligny, the
leader of the Huguenots, had been wounded, she pressed her escort's
hand, and involuntarily drew nearer to him. But he laughed at her.

"It was a private blow," he said, answering her unspoken thought. "It
is like enough the Guises sped it. But they know now what is the
King's will, and they have taken the hint and withdrawn themselves. It
will not happen again, Mademoiselle. For proof, see the guards"--they
were passing the end of the Rue Bethizy, in the corner house of which,
abutting on the Rue de l'Arbre Sec, Coligny had his lodgings--"whom
the King has placed for his security. Fifty pikes under Cosseins."

"Cosseins?" she repeated. "But I thought Cosseins----"

"Was not wont to love us!" Tignonville answered with a confident
chuckle. "He was not. But the dogs lick where the master wills,
Mademoiselle. He was not, but he does. This marriage has altered all."

"I hope it may not prove an unlucky one!" she murmured. She felt
impelled to say it.

"Not it!" he answered confidently. "Why should it?"

They stopped, as he spoke, before the last house, at the corner of the
Rue St. Honoré opposite the Croix du Tiroir; which rose shadowy in the
middle of the four ways. He hammered on the door.

"But," she said softly, looking in his face, "the change is sudden, is
it not? The King was not wont to be so good to us!"

"The King was not King until now," he answered "That is what I am
trying to persuade our people. Believe me, Mademoiselle, you may sleep
without fear; and early in the morning I will be with you. Carlat,
have a care of your mistress until morning, and let Madame lie in her
chamber. She is nervous to-night. There, sweet, until morning! God
keep you, and pleasant dreams!"

He uncovered, and bowing over her hand, kissed it; and the door being
open he would have turned away. But she lingered as if unwilling to
enter. "There is--do you hear it--a stir in _that_ quarter?" she said,
pointing across the Rue St. Honoré. "What lies there?"

"Northward? The markets," he answered. "'Tis nothing. They say, you
know, that Paris never sleeps. Good-night, sweet, and a fair
awakening!"

She shivered as she had shivered under Tavannes' eye. And still she
lingered, keeping him. "Are you going to your lodging at once?" she
asked--for the sake, it seemed, of saying something.

"I?" he answered a little hurriedly. "No, I was thinking of paying
Rochefoucauld the compliment of seeing him home. He has taken a new
lodging to be near the Admiral; a horrid bare place in the Rue
Bethizy, without furniture, but he would go into it to-day. And he has
a sort of claim on my family, you know."

"Yes," she said simply. "Of course. Then I must not detain you. God
keep you safe," she continued, with a faint quiver in her tone; and
her lip trembled. "Good-night, and fair dreams, Monsieur."

He echoed the words gallantly. "Of you, sweet!" he cried; and turning
away with a gesture of farewell, he set off on his return.

He walked briskly, nor did he look back, though she stood awhile
gazing after him. She was not aware that she gave thought to this; nor
that it hurt her. Yet when bolt and bar had shot behind her, and she
had mounted the cold, bare staircase of that day--when she had heard
the dull echoing footsteps of her attendants as they withdrew to their
lairs and sleeping-places, and still more when she had crossed the
threshold of her chamber, and signed to Madame Carlat and her woman to
listen--it is certain she felt a lack of something.

Perhaps the chill that possessed her came of that lack, which she
neither defined nor acknowledged. Or possibly it came of the night
air, August though it was; or of sheer nervousness, or of the
remembrance of Count Hannibal's smile. Whatever its origin, she took
it to bed with her; and long after the house slept round her, long
after the crowded quarter of the Halles had begun to heave and the
Sorbonne to vomit a black-frocked band, long after the tall houses in
the gabled streets, from St. Antoine to Montmartre and from St. Denis
on the north to St. Jacques on the south, had burst into rows of
twinkling lights--nay, long after the Quarter of the Louvre alone
remained dark, girdled by this strange midnight brightness--she lay
awake. At length she too slept, and dreamed of home and the wide skies
of Poitou, and her castle of Vrillac washed day and night by the
Biscay tides.



                             CHAPTER II.

                HANNIBAL DE SAULX, COMTE DE TAVANNES.


"Tavannes!"

"Sire."

Tavannes, we know, had been slow to obey the summons. Emerging from
the crowd he found that the King, with Retz and Rambouillet, his
Marshal des Logis, had retired to the farther end of the Chamber;
apparently Charles had forgotten that he had called. His head a little
bent--he was tall and had a natural stoop--the King seemed to be
listening to a low but continuous murmur of voices which proceeded
from the door of his closet. One voice frequently raised was beyond
doubt a woman's; a foreign accent, smooth and silky, marked another; a
third, that from time to time broke in, wilful and impetuous, was the
voice of Monsieur, the King's brother, Catherine de Médicis' favourite
son. Tavannes, waiting respectfully two paces behind the King, could
catch little that was said; but Charles, something more, it seemed,
for on a sudden he laughed, a violent, mirthless laugh. And he clapped
Rambouillet on the shoulder.

"There!" he said, with one of his horrible oaths, "'tis settled! 'Tis
settled! Go, man, and take your orders! And you, M. de Retz," he
continued, in a tone of savage mockery, "go, my lord, and give them!"

"I, sire?" the Italian Marshal answered in accents of deprecation.
There were times when the young King would show his impatience of the
Italian ring, the Retzs and Biragues, the Strozzis and Gondys, with
whom his mother surrounded him.

"Yes, you!" Charles answered. "You and my lady mother! And in God's
name answer for it at the day!" he continued vehemently. "You will
have it! You will not let me rest till you have it! Then have it, only
see to it, it be done thoroughly! There shall not be one left to cast
it in the King's teeth and cry, 'Et tu, Carole!' Swim, swim in blood
if you will," he continued with growing wildness. "Oh, 'twill be a
merry night! And it's true so far, you may kill fleas all day, but
burn the coat, and there's an end. So burn it, burn it, and----" He
broke off with a start as he discovered Tavannes at his elbow. "God's
death, man!" he cried roughly, "who sent for you?"

"Your Majesty called me," Tavannes answered; while, partly urged by
the King's hand, and partly anxious to escape, the others slipped into
the closet and left them together.

"I sent for you? I called your brother, the Marshal!"

"He is within, sire," Tavannes answered, indicating the closet. "A
moment ago I heard his voice."

Charles passed his shaking hand across his eyes. "Is he?" he muttered.
"So he is! I heard it too. And--and a man cannot be in two places at
once!" Then while his haggard gaze, passing by Tavannes, roved round
the Chamber, he laid his hand on Count Hannibal's breast. "They give
me no peace, Madame and the Guises," he whispered, his face hectic
with excitement. "They will have it. They say that Coligny--they say
that he beards me in my own palace. And--and, _mordieu_," with sudden
violence, "it's true! It's true enough! It was but to-day he was for
making terms with me! With me, the King! Making terms! So it shall be,
by God and Devil, it shall! But not six or seven! No, no. All! All!
There shall not be one left to say to me, 'You did it!'"

"Softly, sire," Tavannes answered; for Charles had gradually raised
his voice. "You will be observed."

For the first time the young King--he was but twenty-two years old,
God pity him!--looked at his companion. "To be sure," he whispered;
and his eyes grew cunning. "Besides, and after all, there's another
way, if I choose. Oh, I've thought and thought, I'd have you know."
And shrugging his shoulders, almost to his ears, he raised and lowered
his open hands alternately, while his back hid the movement from the
Chamber. "See-saw! See-saw!" he muttered. "And the King between the
two, you see. That's Madame's king-craft. She's shown me that a
hundred times. But look you, it is as easy to lower the one as the
other," with a cunning glance at Tavannes' face, "or to cut off the
right as the left. And--and the Admiral's an old man and will pass;
and for the matter of that I like to hear him talk. He talks well.
While the others, Guise and his kind, are young, and I've thought,
oh, yes, I've thought--but there," with a sudden harsh laugh, "my lady
mother will have it her own way. And for this time she shall, but,
All! All! Even Foucauld, there! Do you mark him? He's sorting the
cards. Do you see him--as he will be to-morrow, with the slit in his
throat and his teeth showing? Why, God!" his voice rising almost to a
scream, "the candles by him are burning blue!" And with a shaking
hand, his face convulsed, the young King clutched his companion's arm,
and pinched it.

Count Hannibal shrugged his shoulders, but answered nothing.

"D'you think we shall see them afterwards?" Charles resumed, in a
sharp, eager whisper. "In our dreams, man? Or when the watchman cries,
and we awake, and the monks are singing lauds at St. Germain, and--and
the taper is low?"

Tavannes' lip curled. "I don't dream, sire," he answered coldly, "and
I seldom wake. For the rest, I fear my enemies neither alive nor
dead."

"Don't you? By G--d, I wish I didn't," the young man exclaimed. His
brow was wet with sweat. "I wish I didn't. But there, it's settled.
They've settled it, and I would it were done! What do you think of--of
it, man? What do you think of it, yourself?"

Count Hannibal's face was inscrutable. "I think nothing, sire," he
said drily. "It is for your Majesty and your council to think. It is
enough for me that it is the King's will."

"But you'll not flinch?" Charles muttered, with a quick look of
suspicion. "But there," with a monstrous oath, "I know you'll not! I
believe you'd as soon kill a monk--though, thank God," and he crossed
himself devoutly, "there is no question of that--as a man. And sooner
than a maiden."

"Much sooner, sire," Tavannes answered grimly. "If you have any orders
in the monkish direction--no? Then your Majesty must not talk to me
longer. M. de Rochefoucauld is beginning to wonder what is keeping
your Majesty from your game. And others are marking you, sire."

"By the Lord!" Charles exclaimed, a ring of wonder mingled with horror
in his tone, "if they knew what was in our minds they'd mark us more!
Yet, see Nançay there beside the door? He is unmoved. He looks to-day
as he looked yesterday. Yet he has charge of the work in the
palace----"

For the first time Tavannes allowed a movement of surprise to escape
him. "In the palace?" he muttered. "Is it to be done here, too, sire?"

"Would you let some escape, to return by-and-by and cut our throats?"
the King retorted with a strange spirt of fury; an incapacity to
maintain the same attitude of mind for two minutes together was the
most fatal weakness of his ill-balanced nature. "No. All! All!" he
repeated with vehemence. "Didn't Noah people the earth with eight? But
I'll not leave eight! My cousins, for they are blood-royal, shall live
if they will recant. And my old nurse whether or no. And Paré, for no
one else understands my complexion. And----"

"And Rochefoucauld, doubtless, sire?"

The King, whose eye had sought his favourite companion, withdrew it.
He darted a glance at Tavannes. "Foucauld? Who said so?" he muttered
jealously. "Not I! But we shall see. We shall see! And do you see that
you spare no one, M. le Comte, without an order. That is your
business."

"I understand, sire," Tavannes answered coolly. And after a moment's
silence, seeing that the King had done with him, he bowed low and
withdrew; watched by the circle, as all about a King were watched in
the days when a King's breath meant life or death, and his smile made
the fortunes of men. As he passed Rochefoucauld, the latter looked up
and nodded.

"What keeps brother Charles?" he muttered. "He's madder than ever
to-night. Is it a masque or a murder he is planning?"

"The vapours," Tavannes answered with a sneer. "Old tales his old
nurse has stuffed him withal. He'll come by-and-by, and 'twill be well
if you can divert him."

"I will if he come," Rochefoucauld answered, shuffling the cards. "If
not 'tis Chicot's business and he should attend to it. I'm tired and
shall to bed."

"He will come," Tavannes answered, and moved, as if to go on. Then he
paused for a last word. "He will come," he muttered, stooping and
speaking under his breath, his eyes on the other's face. "But play him
lightly. He is in an ugly mood. Please him, if you can, and it may
serve."

The eyes of the two met an instant, and those of Foucauld--so the King
called his Huguenot favourite--betrayed some surprise; for Count
Hannibal and he were not intimate. But seeing that the other was in
earnest, he raised his brows in acknowledgment. Tavannes nodded
carelessly in return, looked an instant at the cards on the table, and
passed on, pushed his way through the circle, and reached the door. He
was lifting the curtain to go out, when Nauçay, the Captain of the
Guard, plucked his sleeve.

"What have you been saying to Foucauld, M. de Tavannes?" he muttered.

"I?"

"Yes," with a jealous glance, "you, M. le Comte." Count Hannibal
looked at him with the sudden ferocity that made the man a proverb at
Court. "What I chose, M. le Capitaine des Suisses!" he hissed. And his
hand closed like a vice on the other's wrist. "What I chose, look you!
And remember, another time, that I am not a Huguenot, and say what I
please."

"But there is great need of care," Nançay protested, stammering and
flinching. "And--and I have orders, M. le Comte."

"Your orders are not for me," Tavannes answered, releasing his arm
with a contemptuous gesture. "And look you, man, do not cross my path
to-night. You know our motto? Who touches my brother, touches
Tavannes! Be warned by it."

Nançay scowled. "But the priests say, 'If your hand offend you, cut it
off!'" he muttered.

Tavannes laughed, a sinister laugh. "If you offend me I'll cut your
throat," he said; and with no ceremony he went out, and dropped the
curtain behind him.

Nançay looked after him, his face pale with rage. "Curse him!" he
whispered, rubbing his wrist. "If he were anyone else I would teach
him! But he would as soon run you through in the presence as in the
Pré aux Clercs! And his brother, the Marshal, has the King's ear! And
Madame Catherine's too, which is worse!"

He was still fuming when an officer in the colours of Monsieur, the
King's brother, entered hurriedly, and keeping his hand on the
curtain, looked anxiously round the Chamber. As soon as his eye found
Nançay, his face cleared. "Have you the reckoning?" he muttered.

"There are seventeen Huguenots in the palace besides their
Highnesses," Nançay replied, in the same cautious tone. "Not counting
two or three who are neither the one thing nor the other. In addition,
there are the two Montmorencies; but they are to go safe for fear of
their brother, who is not in the trap. He is too like his father, the
old Bench-burner, to be lightly wronged! And besides, there is Paré,
who is to go to his Majesty's closet as soon as the gates are shut. If
the King decides to save anyone else, he will send him to his closet.
So 'tis all clear and arranged here. If you are as forward outside, it
will be well! Who deals with the gentleman with the toothpick?"

"The Admiral? Monsieur, Guise, and the Grand Prior; Cosseins and Besme
have charge. 'Tis to be done first. Then the Provost will raise the
town. He will have a body of stout fellows ready at three or four
rendezvous, so that the fire may blaze up everywhere at once. Marcel,
the ex-provost, has the same commission south of the river. Orders to
light the town as for a frolic have been given, and the Halles will be
ready."

Nançay nodded, reflected a moment, and then with an involuntary
shudder, "God!" he exclaimed, "it will shake the world!"

"You think so?"

"Ay, will it not!" His next words showed that he bore Tavannes'
warning in mind. "For me, my friend, I go in mail to-night," he said.
"There will be many a score paid before morning, besides his
Majesty's. And many a left-handed blow will be struck in the _mêlée!_"

The other crossed himself. "Grant none light here!" he said devoutly.
And with a last look he nodded and went out.

In the doorway he jostled a person who was in the act of entering. It
was M. de Tignonville, who, seeing Nançay at his elbow, saluted him,
and stood looking round. The young man's face was flushed, his eyes
were bright with unwonted excitement. "M. de Rochefoucauld?" he asked
eagerly. "He has not left yet?"

Nançay caught the thrill in his voice, and marked the young man's
flushed face, and altered bearing. He noted, too, the crumpled paper
he carried half-hidden in his hand; and the Captain's countenance grew
dark. He drew a step nearer and his hand reached softly for his
dagger. But his voice when he spoke was smooth as the surface of the
pleasure-loving Court, smooth as the externals of all things in Paris
that summer evening. "He is here still," he said. "Have you news, M.
de Tignonville?"

"News?"

"For M. de Rochefoucauld?"

Tignonville laughed. "No," he said. "I am here to see him to his
lodging, that is all. News, Captain? What made you think so?"

"That which you have in your hand," Nançay answered, his fears
relieved.

The young man blushed to the roots of his hail "It is not for him," he
said.

"I can see that, Monsieur," Nançay answered politely. "He has his
successes, but all the billets-doux do not go one way."

The young man laughed, a conscious, flattered laugh. He was handsome,
with such a face as women love, but there was a lack of ease in the
way he wore his Court suit. It was a trifle finer, too, than accorded
with Huguenot taste; or it looked the finer for the way he wore it,
even as Teliguy's and Foucauld's velvet capes and stiff brocades lost
their richness and became but the adjuncts, fitting and graceful, of
the men. Odder still, as Tignonville laughed, half hiding and half
revealing the dainty, scented paper in his hand, his clothes seemed
smarter and he more awkward than usual. "It is from a lady," he
admitted. "But a bit of badinage, I assure you, nothing more."

"Understood!" M. de Nançay murmured politely. "I congratulate you."

"But----"

"I say I congratulate you!"

"But it is nothing."

"Oh, I understand. And see, the King is about to rise. Go forward,
Monsieur," he continued benevolently. "A young man should show
himself. Besides his Majesty likes you well," he added with a leer. He
had an unpleasant sense of humour, had his Majesty's Captain of the
Guard; and this evening somewhat more than ordinary on which to
exercise it.

Tignonville held too good an opinion of himself to suspect the other
of badinage; and thus encouraged he pushed his way to the front of the
circle. During his absence with his betrothed, the crowd in the
Chamber had grown thin, the candles had burned an inch shorter in the
sconces. But though many who had been there, had left, the more select
remained, and the King's return to his seat had given the company a
fillip. An air of feverish gaiety, common in the unhealthy life of the
Court, prevailed. At a table abreast of the King, Montpensier and
Marshal Cossé were dicing and disputing, with now a yell of glee,
and now an oath, that betrayed which way fortune inclined. At the
back of the King's chair, Chicot, his gentleman-jester, hung over
Charles's shoulder, now scanning his cards, and now making hideous
faces that threw the onlookers into fits of laughter. Farther up the
Chamber, at the end of the alcove, Marshal Tavannes--our Hannibal's
brother--occupied a low stool, which was set opposite the open door of
the closet. Through this doorway a slender foot, silk-clad, shot now
and again into sight; it came, it vanished, it came again, the gallant
Marshal striving at each appearance to rob it of its slipper, a dainty
jewelled thing of crimson velvet. He failed thrice, a peal of laughter
greeting each failure. At the fourth essay, he upset his stool and
fell to the floor, but held the slipper. And not the slipper only, but
the foot. Amid a flutter of silken skirts and dainty laces--while the
hidden beauty shrilly protested--he dragged first the ankle, and then
a shapely leg into sight. The circle applauded; the lady, feeling
herself still drawn on, screamed loudly and more loudly. All save the
King and his opponent turned to look. And then the sport came to a
sudden end. A sinewy hand appeared, interposed, released; for an
instant the dark, handsome face of Guise looked through the doorway.
It was gone as soon as seen; it was there a second only. But more than
one recognised it, and wondered. For was not the young Duke in evil
odour with the King by reason of the attack on the Admiral? And had he
not been chased from Paris only that morning and forbidden to return?

They were still wondering, still gazing, when abruptly--as he did all
things--Charles thrust back his chair. "Foucauld, you owe me ten
pieces!" he cried with glee, and he slapped the table. "Pay, my
friend; pay!"

"To-morrow, little master; to-morrow!" Rochefoucauld answered in the
same tone. And he rose to his feet.

"To-morrow!" Charles repeated. "To-morrow?" And on the word his jaw
fell. He looked wildly round. His face was ghastly.

"Well, sire, and why not?" Rochefoucauld answered in astonishment. And
in his turn he looked round, wondering; and a chill fell on him. "Why
not?" he repeated.

For a moment no one answered him: the silence in the Chamber was
intense. Where he looked, wherever he looked, he met solemn, wondering
eyes, such eyes as gaze on men in their coffins. "What has come to you
all?" he cried with an effort. "What is the jest, for faith, sire, I
don't see it?"

The King seemed incapable of speech, and it was Chicot who filled the
gap. "It is pretty apparent," he said with a rude laugh. "The cock
will lay and Foucauld will pay--to-morrow!"

The young nobleman's colour rose; between him and the Gascon gentleman
was no love lost. "There are some debts I pay to-day," he cried
haughtily. "For the rest, farewell my little master! When one does not
understand the jest it is time to be gone."

He was half-way to the door, watched by all, when the King spoke.
"Foucauld!" he cried in an odd, strangled voice. "Foucauld!" And the
Huguenot favourite turned back, wondering.

"One minute!" the King continued in the same forced voice. "Stay till
morning--in my closet. It is late now. We'll play away the rest of the
night!"

"Your Majesty must excuse me," Rochefoucauld answered frankly. "I am
dead asleep."

"You can sleep in the Garde-Robe," the King persisted.

"Thank you for nothing, sire!" was the gay answer. "I know that bed! I
shall sleep longer and better in my own."

The King shuddered, but strove to hide the movement under a shrug of
his shoulders. He turned away. "It is God's will!" he muttered. He was
white to the lips.

Rochefoucauld did not catch the words. "Good night, sire," he cried.
"Farewell, little master." And with a nod here and there, he passed to
the door, followed by Mergey and Chamont, two gentlemen of his suite.

Nançay raised the curtain with an obsequious gesture. "Pardon me, M.
le Comte," he said, "do you go to his Highness's?"

"For a few minutes, Nançay."

"Permit me to go with you. The guards may be set."

"Do so, my friend," Rochefoucauld answered. "Ah, Tignonville, is it
you!"

"I am come to attend you to your lodging," the young man said. And he
ranged up beside the other, as, the curtain fallen behind them, they
walked along the gallery.

Rochefoucauld stopped and laid his hand on Tignonville's sleeve.
"Thanks, dear lad," he said, "but I am going to the Princess
Dowager's. Afterwards to his Highness's. I may be detained an hour or
more. You will not like to wait so long."

M. de Tignonville's face fell ludicrously. "Well, no," he said. "I--I
don't think I could wait so long--to-night."

"Then come to-morrow night," Rochefoucauld answered with good nature.

"With pleasure," the other cried heartily, his relief evident.
"Certainly. With pleasure." And, nodding good-night, they parted.
While Rochefoucauld, with Nançay at his side and his gentlemen
attending him, passed along the echoing and now empty gallery, the
younger man bounded down the stairs to the great hall of the
Caryatides, his face radiant. He for one was not sleepy.



                             CHAPTER III.

                  THE HOUSE NEXT THE "GOLDEN MAID."


We have it on record that before the Comte de la Rochefoucauld left
the Louvre that night he received the strongest hints of the peril
which threatened him; and at least one written warning was handed to
him by a stranger in black, and by him in turn was communicated to the
King of Navarre. We are told further that when he took his final
leave, about the hour of eleven, he found the courtyard brilliantly
lighted, and the three companies of guards--Swiss, Scotch, and
French--drawn up in ranked array from the door of the great hall to
the gate which opened on the street. But, the chronicler adds, neither
this precaution, sinister as it appeared to some of his suite, nor the
grave farewell which Rambouillet, from his post at the gate, took of
one of his gentlemen, shook that chivalrous soul or sapped its
generous confidence. M. de Tignonville was young and less versed in
danger than the Governor of Rochelle; with him, had he seen so much,
it might have been different. But he left the Louvre an hour
earlier--at a time when the precincts of the palace, gloomy-seeming to
us in the light cast by coming events, wore their wonted aspect. His
thoughts, moreover, as he crossed the courtyard, were otherwise
employed. So much so, indeed, that though he signed to his two
servants to follow him, he seemed barely conscious what he was doing;
nor did he shake off his reverie until he reached the corner of the
Rue Baillet. Here the voices of the Swiss who stood on guard opposite
Coligny's lodgings, at the end of the Rue Bethizy, could be plainly
heard. They had kindled a fire in an iron basket set in the middle of
the road, and knots of them were visible in the distance, moving to
and fro about their piled arms.

Tignonville paused before he came within the radius of the firelight,
and turning, bade his servants take their way home. "I shall follow,
but I have business first," he added curtly.

The elder of the two demurred. "The streets are not too safe," he
said. "In two hours or less, my lord, it will be midnight. And
then----"

"Go, booby; do you think I am a child?" his master retorted angrily.
"I've my sword and can use it. I shall not be long. And do you hear,
men, keep a still tongue, will you?"

The men, country fellows, obeyed reluctantly, and with a full
intention of sneaking after him the moment he had turned his back. But
he suspected them of this, and stood where he was until they had
passed the fire, and could no longer detect his movements. Then he
plunged quickly into the Rue Baillet, gained through it the Rue du
Roule, and traversing that also turned to the right into the Rue
Ferronerie, the main thoroughfare, east and west, of Paris. Here he
halted in front of the long, dark outer wall of the Cemetery of the
Innocents, in which, across the tombstones and among the sepulchres of
dead Paris, the living Paris of that day, bought and sold, walked,
gossiped, and made love.

About him things were to be seen that would have seemed stranger to
him had he been less strange to the city. From the quarter of the
markets north of him, a quarter which fenced in the cemetery on two
sides, the same dull murmur proceeded, which Mademoiselle de Vrillac
had remarked an hour earlier. The sky above the cemetery glowed with
reflected light, the cause of which was not far to seek, for every
window of the tall houses that overlooked it, and the huddle of booths
about it, contributed a share of the illumination. At an hour late
even for Paris, an hour when honest men should have been sunk in
slumber, this strange brilliance did for a moment perplex him; but the
past week had been so full of fêtes, of masques and frolics, often
devised on the moment and dependent on the King's whim, that he set
this also down to such a cause, and wondered and no more.

The lights in the houses flung their radiance high, and did not serve
his purpose; but beside the closed gate of the cemetery, between two
stalls, was a votive lamp burning before an image of the Mother and
Child. He crossed to this, and assuring himself by a glance to right
and left that he stood in no danger from prowlers, he drew a note from
his breast. It had been slipped into his hand in the gallery before he
saw Mademoiselle to her lodging; it had been in his possession barely
an hour. But brief as its contents were, and easily committed to
memory, he had perused it thrice already.

"At the house next the 'Golden Maid,' Rue Cinq Diamants, an hour
before midnight, you may find the door open should you desire to talk
farther with C. St. L."

As he read it for the fourth time the light of the lamp fell athwart
his face; and even as his fine clothes had never seemed to fit him
worse than when he faintly denied the imputations of gallantry
launched at him by Nançay, so his features had never looked less
handsome than they did now. The glow of vanity which warmed his cheek
as he read the message, the smile of conceit which wreathed his lips,
bespoke a nature not of the most noble; or the lamp did him less than
justice. Presently he kissed the note, and hid it. He waited until the
clock of St. Jacques struck the hour before midnight; and then moving
forward he turned to the right by way of the narrow neck leading to
the Rue Lombard. He walked in the kennel here, his sword in his hand
and his eyes looking to right and left; for the place was notorious
for robberies. But though he saw more than one figure lurking in a
doorway or under the arch that led to a passage, it vanished on his
nearer approach. In less than a minute he reached the southern end of
the street that bore the odd title of the Five Diamonds.

Situate in the crowded quarter of the butchers, and almost in the
shadow of their famous church, this street--which farther north was
continued in the Rue Quimcampoix--presented in those days a not
uncommon mingling of poverty and wealth. On one side of the street a
row of lofty gabled houses built under Francis the First, sheltered
persons of good condition; on the other, divided from these by the
width of the road and a reeking kennel, a row of pent-houses, the
hovels of cobblers and sausage-makers, leaned against shapeless timber
houses which tottered upwards in a medley of sagging roofs and bulging
gutters. Tignonville was strange to the place, and nine nights out of
ten he would have been at a disadvantage. But, thanks to the tapers
that to-night shone in many windows, he made out enough to see that he
need search only the one side; and with a beating heart he passed
along the row of newer houses, looking eagerly for the sign of the
"Golden Maid."

He found it at last; and then for a moment he stood puzzled. The note
said, next door to the "Golden Maid," but it did not say on which
side. He scrutinised the nearer house, but he saw nothing to determine
him; and he was proceeding to the farther, when he caught sight of two
men, who, ambushed behind a horse-block on the opposite side of the
roadway, seemed to be watching his movements. Their presence flurried
him; but much to his relief his next glance at the houses showed him
that the door of the farther one was unlatched. It stood slightly
ajar, permitting a beam of light to escape into the street.

He stepped quickly to it--the sooner he was within the house the
better--pushed the door open and entered. As soon as he was inside he
tried to close the entrance behind him, but he found he could not; the
door would not shut. After a brief trial he abandoned the attempt and
passed quickly on, through a bare lighted passage which led to the
foot of a staircase, equally bare. He stood at this point an instant
and listened, in the hope that Madame's maid would come to him. At
first he heard nothing save his own breathing; then a gruff voice from
above startled him, "This way, Monsieur," it said. "You are early, but
not too soon!"

So Madame trusted her footman! M. de Tignonville shrugged his
shoulders; but after all, it was no affair of his, and he went up.
Half-way to the top, however, he stood, an oath on his lips. Two men
had entered by the open door below--even as he had entered! And as
quietly!

The imprudence of it! The imprudence of leaving the door so that it
could not be closed! He turned and descended to meet them, his teeth
set, his hand on his sword, one conjecture after another whirling in
his brain. Was he beset? Was it a trap? Was it a rival? Was it chance?
Two steps he descended; and then the voice he had heard before cried
again, but more imperatively, "No, Monsieur, this way! Did you not
hear me? This way and be quick, if you please. By-and-by there will be
a crowd, and then the more we have dealt with the better!"

He knew now that he had made a mistake, that he had entered the wrong
house; and naturally his impulse was to continue his descent and
secure his retreat. But the pause had brought the two men who had
entered face to face with him, and they showed no signs of giving way.
On the contrary.

"The room is above, Monsieur," the foremost said, in a matter-of-fact
tone, and with a slight salutation. "After you, if you please," and he
signed to him to return.

He was a burly man, grim and truculent in appearance, and his follower
was like him. Tignonville hesitated, then turned and ascended. But as
soon as he had reached the landing where they could pass him, he
turned again.

"I have made a mistake, I think," he said. "I have entered the wrong
house."

"Are you for the house next the 'Golden Maid,' Monsieur?"

"Yes."

"Rue Cinq Diamants, Quarter of the Boucherie?"

"Yes."

"No mistake then," the stout man replied firmly. "You are early, that
is all. You have arms, I see. Maillard!"--to the person whose voice
Tignonville had heard at the head of the stairs--"A white sleeve, and
a cross for Monsieur's hat, and his name on the register. Come, make a
beginning! Make a beginning, man."

"To be sure, Monsieur. All is ready."

"Then lose no time, I say. Here are others, also early in the good
cause. Gentlemen, welcome! Welcome all who are for the true faith!
Death to the heretics! 'Kill, and no quarter!' is the word to-night!"

"Death to the heretics!" the last comers cried in chorus. "Kill and no
quarter! At what hour, M. le Prévot?"

"At day-break," the Provost answered importantly. "But have no fear,
the tocsin will sound. The King and our good man M. de Guise have all
in hand. A white sleeve, a white cross, and a sharp knife shall rid
Paris of the vermin! Gentlemen of the quarter, the word of the night
is 'Kill, and no quarter! Death to the Huguenots!'"

"Death! Death to the Huguenots! Kill, and no quarter!" A dozen--the
room was beginning to fill--waved their weapons and echoed the cry.

Tignonville had been fortunate enough to apprehend the position--and
the peril in which he stood--before Maillard advanced to him bearing a
white linen sleeve. In the instant of discovery his heart had stood a
moment, the blood had left his cheeks; but with some faults, he was no
coward, and he managed to hide his emotion. He held out his left arm,
and suffered the beadle to pass the sleeve over it and to secure the
white linen above the elbow. Then at a gesture he gave up his velvet
cap, and saw it decorated with a white cross of the same material.
"Now the register, Monsieur," Maillard continued briskly; and waving
him in the direction of a clerk, who sat at the end of the long table,
having a book and an ink-horn before him, he turned to the next comer.

Tignonville would fain have avoided the ordeal of the register, but
the clerk's eye was on him. He had been fortunate so far, but he knew
that the least breath of suspicion would destroy him, and summoning
his wits together he gave his name in a steady voice. "Anne
Desmartins." It was his mother's maiden name, and the first that came
into his mind.

"Of Paris?"

"Recently; by birth, of the Limousin."

"Good, Monsieur," the clerk answered, writing in the name. And he
turned to the next. "And you, my friend?"



                             CHAPTER IV.

                        THE EVE OF THE FEAST.


IT was Tignonville's salvation that the men who crowded the long
white-walled room, and exchanged vile boasts under the naked flaring
lights, were of all classes. There were butchers, natives of the
surrounding quarter whom the scent of blood had drawn from their
lairs; and there were priests with hatchet faces, who whispered in the
butchers' ears. There were gentlemen of the robe, and plain mechanics,
rich merchants in their gowns, and bare-armed ragpickers, sleek
choristers, and shabby led-captains; but differ as they might in other
points, in one thing all were alike. From all, gentle or simple, rose
the same cry for blood, the same aspiration to be first equipped for
the fray. In one corner a man of rank stood silent and apart, his hand
on his sword, the working of his face alone betraying the storm that
reigned within. In another, a Norman horse-dealer talked in low
whispers with two thieves. In a third, a gold-wire drawer addressed an
admiring group from the Sorbonne; and meantime the middle of the floor
grew into a seething mass of muttering, scowling men, through whom the
last comers, thrust as they might, had much ado to force their way.

And from all under the low ceiling rose a ceaseless hum, though none
spoke loud. "Kill! kill! kill!" was the burden; the accompaniment such
profanities and blasphemies as had long disgraced the Paris pulpits,
and day by day had fanned the bigotry--already at a white heat--of the
Parisian populace. Tignonville turned sick as he listened, and would
fain have closed his ears. But for his life he dared not. And
presently a cripple in a beggar's garb, a dwarfish, filthy creature
with matted hair, twitched his sleeve, and offered him a whetstone.

"Are you sharp, noble sir?" he asked with a leer. "Are you sharp? It's
surprising how the edge goes on the bone. A cut and thrust? Well,
every man to his taste. But give me a broad butcher's knife and I'll
ask no help, be it man, woman, or child!"

A bystander, a lean man in rusty black, chuckled as he listened. "But
the woman or the child for choice, eh, Jehan?" he said. And he looked
to Tignonville to join in the jest.

"Ay, give me a white throat for choice!" the cripple answered, with
horrible zest. "And there'll be delicate necks to prick to-night!
Lord, I think I hear them squeal! You don't need it, sir?" he
continued, again proffering the whetstone. "No? Then I'll give my
blade another whet, in the name of our Lady, the Saints, and good
Father Pezelay!"

"Ay, and give me a turn!" the lean man cried, proffering his weapon.
"May I die if I do not kill one of the accursed for every finger of my
hands!"

"And toe of my feet!" the cripple answered, not to be outdone. "And
toe of my feet! A full score!"

"'Tis according to your sins!" the other, who had something of the air
of a Churchman, answered. "The more heretics killed, the more sins
forgiven. Remember that, brother, and spare not if your soul be
burdened! They blaspheme God and call Him paste! In the paste of their
own blood," he continued ferociously, "I will knead them and roll them
out, saith the good Father Pezelay, my master!"

The cripple crossed himself. "Whom God keep," he said. "He is a good
man. But you are looking ill, noble sir?" he continued, peering
curiously at the young Huguenot.

"'Tis the heat," Tignonville muttered. "The night is stifling, and the
lights make it worse. I will go nearer the door."

He hoped to escape them; he had some hope even of escaping from the
room and giving the alarm. But when he had forced his way to the
threshold, he found it guarded by two pikemen; and glancing back to
see if his movements were observed--for he knew that his agitation
might have awakened suspicion--he found that the taller of the two
whom he had left, the black-garbed man with the hungry face, was
watching him a-tiptoe, over the shoulders of the crowd.

With that, and the sense of his impotence, the lights began to swim
before his eyes. The catastrophe that overhung his party, the fate so
treacherously prepared for all whom he loved and all with whom his
fortunes were bound up, confused his brain almost to delirium. He
strove to think, to calculate chances, to imagine some way in which he
might escape from the room, or from a window might cry the alarm. But
he could not bring his mind to a point. Instead, in lightning flashes
he foresaw what must happen: his betrothed in the hands of the
murderers, the fair face that had smiled on him frozen with terror;
brave men, the fighters of Montauban, the defenders of Angely, strewn
dead through the dark lanes of the city. And now a gust of passion,
and now a shudder of fear, seized him; and in any other assembly his
agitation must have led to detection. But in that room were many
twitching faces and trembling hands. Murder, cruel, midnight, and most
foul, wrung even from the murderers her toll of horror. While some, to
hide the nervousness they felt, babbled of what they would do, others
betrayed by the intentness with which they awaited the signal, the
dreadful anticipations that possessed their souls.

Before he had formed any plan, a movement took place near the door.
The stairs shook beneath the sudden trampling of feet, a voice
cried "De par le Roi! De par le Roi!" and the babel of the room died
down. The throng swayed and fell back on either hand, and Marshal
Tavannes entered, wearing half armour, with a white sash; he was
followed by six or eight gentlemen in like guise. Amid cries of
"Jarnac! Jarnac!"--for to him the credit of that famous fight,
nominally won by the King's brother, was popularly given--he advanced
up the room, met the Provost of the merchants, and began to confer
with him. Apparently he asked the latter to select some men who could
be trusted on a special mission, for the Provost looked round and
beckoned to his side one or two of higher rank than the herd, and then
one or two of the most truculent aspect.

Tignonville trembled lest he should be singled out. He had hidden
himself as well as he could at the rear of the crowd by the door; but
his dress, so much above the common, rendered him conspicuous. He
fancied that the Provost's eye ranged the crowd for him; and to avoid
it and efface himself he moved a pace to his left.

The step was fatal. It saved him from the Provost, but it brought him
face to face and eye to eye with Count Hannibal, who stood in the
first rank at his brother's elbow. Tavannes stared an instant as if he
doubted his eyesight. Then, as doubt gave slow place to certainty, and
surprise to amazement, he smiled. And after a moment he looked another
way.

Tignonville's heart gave a great bump and seemed to stand still. The
lights whirled before his eyes, there was a roaring in his ears. He
waited for the word that should denounce him. It did not come. And
still it did not come; and Marshal Tavannes was turning. Yes, turning,
and going; the Provost, bowing low, was attending him to the door; his
suite were opening on either side to let him pass. And Count Hannibal?
Count Hannibal was following also, as if nothing had occurred. As if
he had seen nothing!

The young man caught his breath. Was it possible that he had imagined
the start of recognition, the steady scrutiny, the sinister smile? No;
for as Tavannes followed the others, he hung an instant on his heel,
their eyes met again, and once more he smiled. In the next breath he
was gone through the doorway, his spurs rang on the stairs; and the
babel of the crowd, unchecked by the great man's presence, broke out
anew, and louder.

Tignonville shuddered. He was saved as by a miracle, saved he did not
know how. But the respite, though its strangeness diverted his
thoughts for a while, brought short relief. The horrors which impended
over others surged afresh into his mind, and filled him with a
maddening sense of impotence. To be one hour, only one short half-hour
without! To run through the sleeping streets, and scream in the dull
ears which a King's flatteries had stopped as with wool! To go up and
down and shake into life the guests whose royal lodgings daybreak
would turn to a shambles reeking with their blood! They slept, the
gentle Teligny, the brave Pardaillan, the gallant Rochefoucauld, Piles
the hero of St. Jean, while the cruel city stirred rustling about
them, and doom crept whispering to the door. They slept, they and a
thousand others, gentle and simple, young and old; while the half-mad
Valois shifted between two opinions, and the Italian woman, accursed
daughter of an accursed race, cried "Hark!" at her window, and looked
eastwards for the dawn.

And the women? The woman he was to marry? And the others? In an access
of passion he thrust aside those who stood between, he pushed his way,
disregarding complaints, disregarding opposition, to the door. But the
pikes lay across it, and he could not utter a syllable to save his
life. He would have flung himself on the door-keepers, for he was
losing control of himself; but as he drew back for the spring, a hand
clutched his sleeve, and a voice he loathed hummed in his ear.

"No, fair play, noble sir; fair play!" the cripple Jehan muttered,
forcibly drawing him aside. "All start together, and it's no man's
loss. But if there is any little business," he continued, lowering his
tone and peering with a cunning look into the other's face, "of your
own, noble sir, or your friends', anything or anybody you want
despatched, count on me. It were better, perhaps, you didn't appear in
it yourself, and a man you can trust----"

"What do you mean?" the young man cried, recoiling from him.

"No need to look surprised, noble sir," the lean man, who had joined
them, answered in a soothing tone. "Who kills to-night does God
service, and who serves God much may serve himself a little. 'Thou
shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn,' says good Father
Pezelay."

"Hear, hear!" the cripple chimed in eagerly, his impatience such that
he danced on his toes. "He preaches as well as the good father his
master! So frankly, noble sir, what is it? What is it? A woman grown
ugly? A rich man grown old, with perchance a will in his chest? Or a
young heir that stands in my lord's way? Whichever it be, or whatever
it be, trust me and our friend here, and my butcher's gully shall cut
the knot."

Tignonville shook his head.

"But something there is," the lean man persisted obstinately; and he
cast a suspicious glance at Tignonville's clothes. It was evident that
the two had discussed him, and the motives of his presence there.
"Have the dice proved fickle, my lord, and are you for the jewellers'
shops on the bridge to fill your purse again? If so, take my word, it
were better to go three than one, and we'll enlist."

"Ay, we know shops on the bridge where you can plunge your arm
elbow-deep in gold," the cripple muttered, his eyes sparkling
greedily. "There's Baillet's, noble sir! There's a shop for you! And
there's the man's shop who works for the King. He's lame like me. And
I know the way to all. Oh, it will be a merry night if they ring
before the dawn. It must be near daybreak now. And what's that?"

Ay, what was it? A score of voices called for silence; a breathless
hush fell on the crowd. A moment the fiercest listened, with parted
lips and starting eyes. Then, "It was the bell!" cried one, "let us
out!" "It was not!" cried, another. "It was a pistol shot!" "Anyhow
let us out!" the crowd roared in chorus; "let us out!" And they
pressed in a furious mass towards the door, as if they would force it,
signal or no signal.

But the pikemen stood fast, and the throng, checked in their first
rush, turned on one another, and broke into wrangling and disputing;
boasting, and calling Heaven and the saints to witness how thoroughly,
how pitilessly, how remorselessly they would purge Paris of this
leprosy when the signal did sound. Until again above the babel a man
cried "Silence!" and again they listened. And this time, dulled by
walls and distance, but unmistakable by the ears of fear or hate, the
heavy note of a bell came to them on the hot night-air. It was the
boom, sullen and menacing, of the death signal.

The door-keepers lowered their pikes, and with a wild rush as of
wolves swarming on their prey, the band stormed the door, and thrust
and struggled and battled a way down the narrow staircase, and along
the narrow passage. "A bas les Huguenots! Mort aux Huguenots!" they
shouted; and shrieking, sweating, spurning with vile hands viler
faces, they poured pell-mell into the street, and added their clamour
to the boom of the tocsin that, as by magic and in a moment, turned
the streets of Paris into a hell of blood and cruelty. For as it was
here, so it was in a dozen other quarters.

Quickly as they streamed out--and to have issued more quickly would
have been impossible--fiercely as they pushed and fought and clove
their way, Tignonville was of the foremost. And for a moment, seeing
the street clear before him and almost empty, the Huguenot thought
that he might do something. He might outstrip the stream of rapine, he
might carry the alarm; at worst he might reach his betrothed before
harm befel her. But when he had sped fifty yards, his heart sank.
True, none passed him; but under the spell of the alarm-bell the
stones themselves seemed to turn to men. Houses, courts, alleys, the
very churches vomited men. In a twinkling the street was alive with
men, roared with them as with a rushing tide, gleamed with their
lights and weapons, thundered with the volume of their thousand
voices. He was no longer ahead, men were running before him, behind
him, on his right hand and on his left. In every side-street, every
passage, men were running; and not men only, but women, children,
furious creatures without age or sex. And all the time the bell tolled
overhead, tolled faster and faster, and louder and louder; and shots
and screams, and the clash of arms, and the fall of strong doors began
to swell the maelstrom of sound.

He was in the Rue St. Honoré now, and speeding westward. But the flood
still rose with him, and roared abreast of him. Nay, it outstripped
him. When he came, panting, within sight of his goal, and lacked but a
hundred paces of it, he found his passage barred by a dense mass of
people moving slowly to meet him. In the heart of the press the light
of a dozen torches shone on half as many riders mailed and armed;
whose eyes, as they moved on, and the furious gleaming eyes of the
rabble about them, never left the gabled roofs on their right. On
these from time to time a white-clad figure showed itself, and passed
from chimney-stack to chimney-stack, or, stooping low, ran along the
parapet. Every time that this happened, the men on horseback pointed
upwards and the mob foamed with rage.

Tignonville groaned, but he could not help. Unable to go forward, he
turned, and with others hurrying, shouting, and brandishing weapons,
he pressed into the Rue du Roule, passed through it, and gained the
Bethizy. But here, as he might have foreseen, all passage was barred
at the Hôtel Pouthieu by a horde of savages, who danced and yelled and
sang songs round the Admiral's body, which lay in the middle of the
way; while to right and left men were bursting into houses and forcing
new victims into the street. The worst had happened there, and he
turned panting, regained the Rue St. Honoré and, crossing it and
turning left-handed, darted through side streets until he came again
into the main thoroughfare a little beyond the Croix du Tiroir, that
marked the corner of Mademoiselle's house.

Here his last hope left him. The street swarmed with bands of men
hurrying to and fro as in a sacked city. The scum of the Halles, the
rabble of the quarter poured this way and that, here at random, there
swayed and directed by a few knots of men-at-arms, whose corselets
reflected the glare of a hundred torches. At one time and within
sight, three or four houses were being stormed. On every side rose
heartrending cries, mingled with brutal laughter, with savage jests,
with cries of "To the river!" The most cruel of cities had burst its
bounds and was not to be stayed; nor would be stayed until the Seine
ran red to the sea, and leagues below, in pleasant Normandy hamlets,
men, for fear of the pestilence, pushed the corpses from the bridges
with poles and boat-hooks.

All this Tignonville saw, though his eyes, leaping the turmoil, looked
only to the door at which he had left Mademoiselle a few hours
earlier. There a crowd of men pressed and struggled; but from the spot
where he stood he could see no more. That was enough, however. Rage
nerved him, and despair; his world was dying round him. If he could
not save her he would avenge her. Recklessly he plunged into the
tumult; blade in hand, with vigorous blows he thrust his way through,
his white sleeve and the white cross in his hat gaining him passage
until he reached the fringe of the band who beset the door. Here his
first attempt to pass failed; and he might have remained hampered by
the crowd if a squad of archers had not ridden up. As they spurred to
the spot, heedless over whom they rode, he clutched a stirrup, and was
borne with them into the heart of the crowd. In a twinkling he stood
on the threshold of the house, face to face and foot to foot with
Count Hannibal, who stood also on the threshold, but with his back to
the door, which, unbarred and unbolted, gaped open behind him.



                              CHAPTER V.

                           A ROUGH WOOING.


The young man had caught the delirium that was abroad that night. The
rage of the trapped beast was in his heart, his hand held a sword. To
strike blindly, to strike without question the first who withstood him
was the wild-beast instinct; and if Count Hannibal had not spoken on
the instant, the Marshal's brother had said his last word in the
world.

Yet as he stood there, a head above the crowd, he seemed unconscious
alike of Tignonville and the point that all but pricked his breast.
Swart and grim-visaged, his harsh features distorted by the glare
which shone upon him, he looked beyond the Huguenot to the sea of
tossing arms and raging faces that surged about the saddles of the
horsemen. It was to these he spoke.

"Begone, dogs!" he cried, in a voice that startled the nearest, "or I
will whip you away with my stirrup-leathers! Do you hear? Begone! This
house is not for you! Burn, kill, plunder where you will, but go
hence!"

"But 'tis on the list!" one of the wretches yelled. "'Tis on the
list!" And he pushed forward until he stood at Tignonville's elbow.

"And has no cross!" shrieked another, thrusting himself forward in his
turn. "See you, let us by, whoever you are! In the King's name, kill!
It has no cross!"

"Then," Tavannes thundered, "will I nail you for a cross to the front
of it! No cross, say you? I will make one of you, foul crow!"

And as he spoke, his arm shot out; the man recoiled, his fellow
likewise. But one of the mounted archers took up the matter.

"Nay, but, my lord," he said--he knew Tavannes--"it is the King's will
there be no favour shown to-night to any, small or great. And this
house is registered, and is full of heretics."

"And has no cross!" the rabble urged in chorus. And they leapt up and
down in their impatience, and to see the better. "And has no cross!"
they persisted. They could understand that. Of what use crosses, if
they were not to kill where there was no cross? Daylight was not
plainer.

Tavannes' face grew dark, and he shook his finger at the archer who
had spoken. "Rogue," he cried, "does the King's will run here only?
Are there no other houses to sack or men to kill, that you must beard
me? And favour? You will have little of mine, if you do not budge and
take your vile tail with you! Off! Or must I cry 'Tavannes!' and bid
my people sweep you from the streets?"

The foremost rank hesitated, awed by his manner and his name; while
the rearmost, attracted by the prospect of easier pillage, had gone
off already. The rest wavered; and another and another broke away. The
archer who had put himself forward saw which way the wind was blowing,
and he shrugged his shoulders. "Well, my lord, as you will," he said
sullenly. "All the same I would advise you to close the door and bolt
and bar. We shall not be the last to call to-day." And he turned his
horse in ill-humour, and forced it, snorting and plunging, through the
crowd.

"Bolt and bar?" Tavannes cried after him in fury. "See you my answer
to that!" And turning on the threshold, "Within there!" he cried.
"Open the shutters and set lights, and the table! Light, I say; light!
And lay on quickly, if you value your lives! And throw open, for I sup
with your mistress tonight, if it rain blood without! Do you hear me,
rogues? Set on!"

He flung the last word at the quaking servants; then he turned again
to the street. He saw that the crowd was melting, and, looking in
Tignonville's face, he laughed aloud. "Does Monsieur sup with us?" he
said. "To complete the party? Or will he choose to sup with our
friends yonder? It is for him to say. I confess, for my part," with an
awful smile, "their hospitality seems a trifle crude, and boisterous."

Tignonville looked behind him and shuddered. The same horde which had
so lately pressed about the door had found a victim lower down the
street, and, as Tavannes spoke, came driving back along the roadway, a
mass of tossing lights and leaping, running figures, from the heart of
which rose the screams of a creature in torture. So terrible were the
sounds that Tignonville leant half swooning against the door-post; and
even the iron heart of Tavannes seemed moved for a moment.

For a moment only: then he looked at his companion, and his lip
curled. "You'll join us, I think?" he said with an undisguised sneer.
"Then, after you, Monsieur. They are opening the shutters. Doubtless
the table is laid, and Mademoiselle is expecting us. After you,
Monsieur, if you please. A few hours ago I should have gone first, for
you, in this house"--with a sinister smile--"were at home! Now, we
have changed places."

Whatever he meant by the gibe--and some smack of an evil jest lurked
in his tone--he played the host so far as to urge his bewildered
companion along the passage and into the living-chamber on the left,
where he had seen from without that his orders to light and lay were
being executed. A dozen candles shone on the board, and lit up the
apartment. What the house contained of food and wine had been
got together and set on the table; from the low, wide window,
beetle-browed and diamond-paned, which extended the whole length of
the room and looked on the street at the height of a man's head above
the roadway, the shutters had been removed--doubtless by trembling and
reluctant fingers. To such eyes of passers-by as looked in, from the
inferno of driving crowds and gleaming weapons which prevailed
outside--and not outside only, but throughout Paris--the brilliant
room and the laid table must have seemed strange indeed!

To Tignonville, all that had happened, all that was happening, seemed
a dream: a dream his entrance under the gentle impulsion of this man
who dominated him; a dream Mademoiselle standing behind the table with
blanched face and stony eyes; a dream the cowering servants huddled in
a corner beyond her; a dream his silence, her silence, the moment of
waiting before Count Hannibal spoke.

When he did speak it was to count the servants. "One, two, three,
four, five," he said. "And two of them women. Mademoiselle is but
poorly attended. Are there not"--and he turned to her--"some lacking?"

The girl opened her lips twice, but no sound issued. The third time,
"Two went out," she muttered in a hoarse, strangled voice, "and have
not returned."

"And have not returned?" he answered, raising his eyebrows. "Then I
fear we must not wait for them. We might wait long!" And turning
sharply to the panic-stricken servants, "Go you to your places! Do you
not see that Mademoiselle waits to be served?"

The girl shuddered and spoke.

"Do you wish me," she muttered, in the same strangled tone, "to play
this farce--to the end?"

"The end may be better, Mademoiselle, than you think," he answered,
bowing. And then to the miserable servants, who hung back afraid to
leave the shelter of their mistress's skirts, "To your places!" he
cried. "Set Mademoiselle's chair. Are you so remiss on other days? If
so," with a look of terrible meaning, "you will be the less loss! Now,
Mademoiselle, may I have the honour? And when we are at table we can
talk."

He extended his hand, and, obedient to his gesture, she moved to the
place at the head of the table, but without letting her fingers come
into contact with his. He gave no sign that he noticed this, but he
strode to the place on her right, and signed to Tignonville to take
that on her left. "Will you not be seated?" he continued. For she kept
her feet.

She turned her head stiffly, until for the first time her eyes looked
into his. A shudder more violent than the last shook her. "Had you not
better--kill us at once?" she whispered. The blood had forsaken even
her lips. Her face was the face of a statue--white, beautiful,
lifeless.

"I think not," he said gravely. "Be seated, and let us hope for the
best. And you, sir," he continued, turning to Carlat, "serve your
mistress with wine. She needs it."

The steward filled for her, and then for each of the men, his shaking
hand spilling as much as it poured. Nor was this strange. Above the
din and uproar of the street, above the crash of distant doors, above
the tocsin that still rang from the reeling steeple of St. Germain's,
the great bell of the Palais on the island had just begun to hurl its
note of doom upon the town. A woman crouching at the end of the
chamber burst into hysterical weeping, but, at a glance from Tavannes'
terrible eye, was mute again.

Tignonville found voice at last. "Have they--killed the Admiral?" he
muttered, his eyes on the table.

"M. Coligny! An hour ago."

"And Teligny?"

"Him also."

"M. de Rochefoucauld?"

"They are dealing with M. le Comte now, I believe," Tavannes answered.
"He had his chance, and cast it away." And he began to eat.

The man at the table shuddered. The woman continued to look before
her, but her lips moved as if she prayed. Suddenly a rush of feet, a
roar of voices surged past the window; for a moment the glare of the
torches which danced ruddily on the walls of the room, showed a
severed head borne above the multitude on a pike. Mademoiselle, with a
low cry, made an effort to rise, but Count Hannibal grasped her wrist
and she sank back half fainting. Then the nearer clamour sank a
little, and the bells, unchallenged, flung their iron tongues above
the maddened city. In the east the dawn was growing; soon its grey
light would fall on cold hearths, on battered doors and shattered
weapons, on hordes of wretches drunk with greed and hate.

When he could be heard, "What are you going to do with us?" the man
asked hoarsely.

"That depends," Count Hannibal replied after a moment's thought.

"On what?"

"On Mademoiselle de Vrillac."

The other's eyes gleamed with passion. He leaned forward. "What has
she to do with it?" he cried. And he stood up and sat down again in a
breath.

Tavannes raised his eyebrows with a blandness that seemed at odds with
his harsh visage. "I will answer that question by another question,"
he replied. "How many are there in the house, my friend?"

"You can count."

Tavannes counted again. "Seven?" he said.

Tignonville nodded impatiently.

"Seven lives?"

"Well?"

"Well, Monsieur, you know the King's will?"

"I can guess it," the other replied furiously. And he cursed the King,
and the King's mother, calling her Jezebel.

"You can guess it?" Tavannes answered; and then with sudden heat, as
if that which he had to say could not be said even by him in cold
blood, "Nay, you know it! You heard it from the archer at the door.
You heard him say, 'No favour, no quarter for man, for woman, or for
child. So says the King.' You heard it, but you fence with me.
Foucauld, with whom his Majesty played to-night, hand to hand and face
to face--Foucauld is dead! And you think to live? You?" he continued,
lashing himself into passion. "I know not by what chance you came
where I saw you an hour gone, nor by what chance you came by that and
that"--pointing with accusing finger to the badges the Huguenot wore.
"But this I know! I have but to cry your name from yonder casement,
nay, Monsieur, I have but to stand aside when the mob go their rounds
from house to house, as they will go presently, and you will perish as
certainly as you have hitherto escaped!"

For the second time Mademoiselle turned and looked at him. "Then," she
whispered, with white lips, "to what end this--mockery?"

"To the end that seven lives may be saved, Mademoiselle," he answered,
bowing.

"At a price?" she muttered.

"At a price," he answered. "A price which women do not find it hard to
pay--at Court. 'Tis paid every day for pleasure or a whim, for rank or
the _entrée_, for robes and gewgaws. Few, Mademoiselle, are privileged
to buy a life; still fewer, seven!"

She began to tremble. "I would rather die--seven times!" she cried,
her voice quivering. And she tried to rise, but sat down again.

"And these?" he said, indicating the servants.

"Far, far rather!" she repeated passionately.

"And Monsieur? And Monsieur!" he urged with stern persistence, while
his eyes passed lightly from her to Tignonville and back to her again,
their depths inscrutable. "If you love Monsieur, Mademoiselle, and I
believe you do----"

"I can die with him!" she cried.

"And he with you!"

She writhed in her chair.

"And he with you?" Count Hannibal repeated, with emphasis; and he
thrust forward his head. "For that is the question. Think, think,
Mademoiselle. It is in my power to save from death him whom you love;
to save you; to save this _canaille_, if it so please you. It is in my
power to save him, to save you, to save all; and I will save all--at a
price! If, on the other hand, you deny me that price, I will as
certainly leave all to perish, as perish they will, before the sun
that is now rising sets to-night!"

Mademoiselle looked straight before her, the flicker of a dreadful
prescience in her eyes. "And the price?" she muttered. "The price?"

"You, Mademoiselle."

"Yes, you! Nay, why fence with me?" he continued gently. "You knew it,
you have said it. You have read it in my eyes these seven days."

She did not speak, move, or seem to breathe. As he said, she had
foreseen, she had known the answer. But Tignonville, it seemed, had
not. He sprang to his feet. "M. de Tavannes," he cried, "you are a
villain!"

"Monsieur?"

"You are a villain! But you shall pay for this!" the young man
continued vehemently. "You shall not leave this room alive! You shall
pay for this insult!"

"Insult?" Tavannes answered in apparent surprise; and then, as if
comprehension broke upon him, "Ah! Monsieur mistakes me," he said,
with a generous sweep of his hand. "And Mademoiselle also, perhaps?
Oh! be content, she shall have bell, book, and candle; she shall be
tied as tight as Holy Church can tie her! Or, if she please, and one
survive, she shall have a priest of her own church--you call it a
church? She shall have whichever of the two will serve her better.
'Tis one to me! But for paying me, Monsieur," he continued with irony
in voice and manner; "when, I pray you? In Eternity! For if you refuse
my offer, you have done with time. Now? I have but to sound this
whistle"--he touched a silver whistle which hung at his breast--"and
there are those within hearing will do your business before you make
two passes. Dismiss the notion, sir, and understand. You are in my
power. Paris runs with blood, as noble as yours, as innocent as hers.
If you would not perish with the rest, decide! And quickly! For what
you have seen are but the forerunners, what you have heard are but the
gentle whispers that predict the gale. Do not parley too long; so long
that even I may no longer save you."

"I would rather die!" Mademoiselle moaned, her face covered. "I would
rather die!"

"And see him die?" he answered quietly. "And see these die? Think,
think, child!"

"You will not do it!" she gasped. She shook from head to foot.

"I shall do nothing," he answered firmly. "I shall but leave you to
your fate, and these to theirs. In the King's teeth I dare save my
wife and her people; but no others. You must choose--and quickly."

One of the frightened women--it was Mademoiselle's tiring-maid, a girl
called Javette--made a movement, as if to throw herself at her
mistress's feet. Tignonville drove her to her place with a word. He
turned to Count Hannibal. "But, M. le Comte," he said, "you must be
mad! Mad, to wish to marry her in this way! You do not love her. You
do not want her. What is she to you more than other women?"

"What is she to you more than other women?" Tavannes retorted in a
tone so sharp and incisive that Tignonville started, and a faint touch
of colour crept into the wan cheek of the girl, who sat between them,
the prize of the contest. "What is she more to you than other women?
Is she more? And yet--you want her!"

"She is more to me," Tignonville answered.

"Is she?" the other retorted, with a ring of keen meaning. "Is she?
But we bandy words and the storm is rising, as I warned you it would
rise. Enough for you that I _do_ want her. Enough for you that I will
have her. She shall be the wife, the willing wife, of Hannibal de
Tavannes--or I leave her to her fate, and you to yours!"

"Ah, God!" she moaned. "The willing wife!"

"Ay, Mademoiselle, the willing wife," he answered sternly. "Or no
man's wife!"



                             CHAPTER VI.

                        WHO TOUCHES TAVANNES?


In saying that the storm was rising Count Hannibal had said no more
than the truth. A new mob had a minute before burst from the eastward
into the Rue St. Honoré; and the roar of its thousand voices swelled
louder than the importunate clangour of the bells. Behind its moving
masses the dawn of a new day--Sunday, the 24th of August, the feast of
St. Bartholomew--was breaking over the Bastille, as if to aid the
crowd in its cruel work. The gabled streets, the lanes, and gothic
courts, the stifling wynds, where the work awaited the workers, still
lay in twilight; still the gleam of the torches, falling on the
house-fronts, heralded the coming of the crowd. But the dawn was
growing, the sun was about to rise. Soon the day would be here, giving
up the lurking fugitive whom darkness, more pitiful, had spared, and
stamping with legality the horrors that night had striven to hide.

And with day, with the full light, killing would grow more easy,
escape more hard. Already they were killing on the bridge where the
rich goldsmiths lived, on the wharves, on the river. They were killing
at the Louvre, in the courtyard under the King's eyes, and below the
windows of the Médicis. They were killing in St. Martin and St. Denis
and St. Antoine; wherever hate, or bigotry, or private malice impelled
the hand. From the whole city went up a din of lamentation, and wrath,
and foreboding. From the Cour des Miracles, from the markets, from the
Boucherie, from every haunt of crime and misery, hordes of wretched
creatures poured forth; some to rob on their own account, and where
they listed, none gainsaying; more to join themselves to one of the
armed bands whose business it was to go from street to street, and
house to house, quelling resistance, and executing through Paris the
high justice of the King.

It was one of these swollen bands which had entered the street while
Tavannes spoke; nor could he have called to his aid a more powerful
advocate. As the deep "A bas! A bas!" rolled like thunder along the
fronts of the houses, as the more strident "Tuez! Tuez!" drew nearer
and nearer, and the lights of the oncoming multitude began to flicker
on the shuttered gables, the fortitude of the servants gave way.
Madame Carlat, shivering in every limb, burst into moaning; the
tiring-maid, Javette, flung herself in terror at Mademoiselle's knees,
and, writhing herself about them, shrieked to her to save her, only to
save her! One of the men moved forward on impulse, as if he would
close the shutters; and only old Carlat remained silent, praying
mutely with moving lips and a stern, set face.

And Count Hannibal? As the glare of the links in the street grew
brighter, and ousted the sickly daylight, his form seemed to dilate.
He stilled the shrieking woman by a glance. "Choose! Mademoiselle, and
quickly!" he said. "For I can only save my wife and her people! Quick,
for the pinch is coming, and 'twill be no boy's play."

A shot, a scream from the street, a rush of racing feet before the
window seconded his words.

"Quick, Mademoiselle!" he cried. And his breath came a little faster.
"Quick, before it be too late! Will you save life, or will you kill!"

She looked at her lover with eyes of agony, dumbly questioning him.
But he made no sign, and only Tavannes marked the look. "Monsieur has
done what he can to save himself," he said with a sneer. "He has
donned the livery of the King's servants; he has said, 'Whoever
perishes, I will live!' But--"

"Curse you!" the young man cried, and, stung to madness, he tore the
cross from his cap and flung it on the ground. He seized his white
sleeve and ripped it from shoulder to elbow. Then, when it hung by the
string only, he held his hand.

"Curse you!" he cried furiously. "I will not at your bidding! I may
save her yet! I will save her!"

"Fool!" Tavannes answered--but his words were barely audible above the
deafening uproar. "Can you fight a thousand? Look! Look!" and seizing
the other's wrist he pointed to the window. The street glowed like a
furnace in the red light of torches, raised on poles above a sea of
heads; an endless sea of heads, and gaping faces, and tossing arms
which swept on and on, and on and by. For a while it seemed that the
torrent would flow past them and would leave them safe. Then came a
check, a confused outcry, a surging this way and that; the torches
reeled to and fro, and finally with a dull roar of "Open! Open!" the
mob faced about to the house and the lighted window.

For a second it seemed that even Count Hannibal's iron nerves shook a
little. He stood between the sullen group that surrounded the
disordered table and the maddened rabble, that gloated on the victims
before they tore them to pieces. "Open! Open!" the mob howled: and a
man dashed in the window with his pike.

In that crisis Mademoiselle's eyes met Tavannes' for the fraction of a
second. She did not speak; nor, had she retained the power to frame
the words, would they have been audible. But something she must have
looked, and something of import, though no other than he marked or
understood it. For in a flash he was at the window and his hand was
raised for silence.

"Back!" he thundered. "Back, knaves!" And he whistled shrilly. "Do
what you will," he continued in the same tone, "but not here! Pass on!
Pass on!--do you hear?"

But the crowd were not to be lightly diverted. With a persistence
brutal and unquestioning they continued to howl "Open! Open!" while
the man who had broken the window the moment before, Jehan, the
cripple with the hideous face, seized the lead-work, and tore away a
great piece of it. Then laying hold of a bar, he tried to drag it out,
setting one foot against the wall below.

Tavannes saw what he did, and his frame seemed to dilate with the fury
and violence of his character. "Dogs!" he shouted, "must I call out my
riders and scatter you? Must I flog you through the streets with
stirrup-leathers? I am Tavannes, beware of me! I have claws and teeth
and I bite!" he continued, the scorn in his words exceeding even the
rage of the crowd, at which he flung them. "Kill where you please, rob
where you please, but not where I am! Or I will hang you by the heels
on Montfaucon, man by man! I will flay your backs. Go! go! I am
Tavannes!"

But the mob, cowed for a moment by the thunder of his voice, by his
arrogance and recklessness, showed at this that their patience was
exhausted. With a yell which drowned his tones they swayed forward; a
dozen thundered on the door, crying, "In the King's name!" As many
more tore out the remainder of the casement, seized the bars of the
window, and strove to pull them out or to climb between them. Jehan,
the cripple, with whom Tignonville had rubbed elbows at the
rendezvous, led the way.

Count Hannibal watched them a moment, his harsh face bent down to
them, his features plain in the glare of the torches. But when the
cripple, raised on the others' shoulders, and emboldened by his
adversary's inactivity, began to squeeze himself through the bars,
Tavannes raised a pistol, which he had held unseen behind him, cocked
it at leisure, and levelled it at the foul face which leered close to
his. The dwarf saw the weapon and tried to retreat; but it was too
late. A flash, a scream, and the wretch, shot through the throat,
flung up his hands, and fell back into the arms of a lean man in black
who had lent him his shoulder to ascend.

For a few seconds the smoke of the pistol filled the window and the
room. There was a cry that the Huguenots were escaping, that the
Huguenots were resisting, that it was a plot; and some shouted to
guard the back and some to watch the roof, and some to be gone. But
when the fumes cleared away, the mob saw, with stupor, that all was as
it had been. Count Hannibal stood where he had stood before, a grim
smile on his lips.

"Who comes next!" he cried in a tone of mockery. "I have more
pistols!" And then with a sudden change to ferocity, "You dogs!" he
went on. "You scum of a filthy city, sweepings of the Halles! Do you
think to beard me? Do you think to frighten me or murder me? I am
Tavannes, and this is my house, and were there a score of Huguenots in
it, you should not touch one, nor harm a hair of his head! Begone, I
say again, while you may! Seek women and children, and kill them. But
not here!"

For an instant the mingled scorn and brutality of his words silenced
them. Then from the rear of the crowd came an answer--the roar of an
arquebuse. The ball whizzed past Count Hannibal's head, and, splashing
the plaster from the wall within a pace of Tignonville, dropped to the
ground.

Tavannes laughed. "Bungler!" he cried. "Were you in my troop I would
dip your trigger-finger in boiling oil to teach you to shoot! But you
weary me, dogs. I must teach you a lesson, must I?" And he lifted a
pistol and levelled it. The crowd did not know whether it was the one
he had discharged or another, but they gave back with a sharp gasp. "I
must teach you, must I?" he continued with scorn. "Here Bigot,
Badelon, drive me these blusterers! Rid the street of them! A
Tavannes! A Tavannes!"

Not by word or look had he before this betrayed that he had supports.
But as he cried the name, a dozen men armed to the teeth, who had
stood motionless under the Croix du Tiroir, fell in a line on the
right flank of the crowd. The surprise for those nearest them was
complete. With the flash of the pikes before their eyes, with the cold
steel in fancy between their ribs, they fled every way, uncertain how
many pursued, or if any pursuit there was. For a moment the mob, which
a few minutes before had seemed so formidable that a regiment might
have quailed before it, bade fair to be routed by a dozen pikes.

And so, had all in the crowd been what he termed them, the rabble and
sweepings of the streets, it would have been. But in the heart of it,
and felt rather than seen, were a handful of another kidney; Sorbonne
students and fierce-eyed priests, with three or four mounted archers,
the nucleus that, moving through the streets, had drawn together this
concourse. And these with threats and curses and gleaming eyes stood
fast, even Tavannes' dare-devils recoiling before the tonsure. The
check thus caused allowed those who had budged a breathing space. They
rallied behind the black robes, and began to stone the pikes; who in
their turn withdrew until they formed two groups, standing on their
defence, the one before the window the other before the door.

Count Hannibal had watched the attack and the check, as a man watches
a play; with smiling interest. In the panic, the torches had been
dropped or extinguished, and now between the house and the sullen
crowd which hung back, yet grew moment by moment more dangerous, the
daylight fell cold on the littered street and the cripple's huddled
form prone in the gutter. A priest raised on the shoulders of the lean
man in black began to harangue the mob, and the dull roar of assent,
the brandished arms which greeted his appeal, had their effect on
Tavannes' men. They looked to the window, and muttered among
themselves. It was plain that they had no stomach for a fight with the
Church, and were anxious for the order to withdraw.

But Count Hannibal gave no order, and, much as his people feared the
cowls, they feared him more. Meanwhile the speaker's eloquence rose
higher; he pointed with frenzied gestures to the house. The mob
groaned, and suddenly a volley of stones fell among the pikemen, whose
corselets rattled under the shower. The priest seized that moment. He
sprang to the ground, and to the front. He caught up his robe and
waved his hand, and the rabble, as if impelled by a single will,
rolled forward in a huge one-fronted thundering wave, before which the
two handfuls of pikemen--afraid to strike, yet afraid to fly--were
swept away like straws upon the tide.

But against the solid walls and oak-barred door of the house the wave
beat, only to fall back again, a broken, seething mass of brandished
arms and ravening faces. One point alone was vulnerable, the window,
and there in the gap stood Tavannes. Quick as thought he fired two
pistols into the crowd; then, while the smoke for a moment hid all, he
whistled.

Whether the signal was a summons to his men to fight their way
back--as they were doing to the best of their power--or he had
resources still unseen, was not to be known. For as the smoke began to
rise, and while the rabble before the window, cowed by the fall of two
of their number, were still pushing backward instead of forward, there
rose behind them strange sounds--yells, and the clatter of hoofs,
mingled with screams of alarm. A second, and into the loose skirts of
the crowd came charging helter-skelter, pell-mell, a score of
galloping, shrieking, cursing horsemen, attended by twice as many
footmen, who clung to their stirrups or to the tails of the horses,
and yelled and whooped, and struck in unison with the maddened riders.

"On! on!" the foremost shrieked, rolling in his saddle, and foaming at
the mouth. "Bleed in August, bleed in May! Kill!" And he fired a
pistol among the rabble, who fled every way to escape his rearing,
plunging charger.

"Kill! Kill!" cried his followers, cutting the air with their swords,
and rolling to and fro on their horses in drunken emulation. "Bleed in
August, bleed in May!"

"On! On!" cried the leader, as the crowd which beset the house fled
every way before his reckless onset. "Bleed in August, bleed in May!"

The rabble fled, but not so quickly but that one or two were ridden
down, and this for an instant checked the riders. Before they could
pass on, "Ohé!" cried Count Hannibal from his window. "Ohé!" with a
shout of laughter, "ride over them, dear brother! Make me a clean
street for my wedding!"

Marshal Tavannes--for he, the hero of Jarnac, was the leader of this
wild orgy--turned that way, and strove to rein in his horse. "What
ails them?" he cried, as the maddened animal reared upright, its iron
hoofs striking fire from the slippery pavement.

"They are rearing like thy Bayard!" Count Hannibal answered. "Whip
them, whip them for me! Tavannes! Tavannes!"

"What? This canaille!"

"Ay, that canaille!"

"Who touches my brother, touches Tavannes!" the Marshal replied, and
spurred his horse among the rabble, who had fled to the sides of the
street and now strove hard to efface themselves against the walls.
"Begone, dogs; begone!" he cried, still hunting them. And then, "You
would bite, would you?" And snatching another pistol from his boot, he
fired it among them, careless whom he hit. "Ha! ha! That stirs you,
does it!" he continued as the wretches fled headlong. "Who touches my
brother, touches Tavannes! On! On!"

Suddenly, from a doorway near at hand, a sombre figure darted into the
roadway, caught the Marshal's rein, and for a second checked his
course. The priest--for a priest it was, Father Pezelay, the same who
had addressed the mob--held up a warning hand. "Halt!" he cried, with
burning eyes. "Halt, my lord! It is written, thou shalt not spare the
Canaanitish woman. 'Tis not to spare the King has given command and a
sword, but to kill! 'Tis not to harbour, but to smite! To smite!"

"Then smite I will!" the Marshal retorted, and with the butt of his
pistol struck the zealot down. Then, with as much indifference as he
would have treated a Huguenot, he spurred his horse over him, with a
mad laugh at his jest. "Who touches my brother, touches Tavannes!" he
yelled. "Touches Tavannes! On! On! Bleed in August, bleed in May!"

"On!" shouted his followers, striking about them in the same desperate
fashion. They were young nobles who had spent the night feasting at
the Palace, and, drunk with wine and mad with excitement, had left the
Louvre at daybreak to rouse the city. "A Jarnac! A Jarnac!" they
cried, and some saluted Count Hannibal as they passed. And so,
shouting and spurring and following their leader, they swept away down
the now empty street, carrying terror and a flame wherever their
horses bore them that morning.

Tavannes, his hands on the ledge of the shattered window, leaned out
laughing, and followed them with his eyes. A moment, and the mob was
gone, the street was empty; and one by one, with sheepish faces, his
pikemen emerged from the doorways and alleys in which they had taken
refuge. They gathered about the three huddled forms which lay prone
and still in the gutter: or, not three--two. For even as they
approached them, one, the priest, rose slowly and giddily to his feet.
He turned a face bleeding, lean, and relentless towards the window at
which Tavannes stood. Solemnly, with the sign of the cross, and with
uplifted hands, he cursed him in bed and at board, by day and by
night, in walking, in riding, in standing, in the day of battle, and
at the hour of death. The pikemen fell back appalled, and hid their
eyes; and those who were of the north crossed themselves, and those
who came from the south bent two fingers horse-shoe fashion. But
Hannibal de Tavannes laughed; laughed in his moustache, his teeth
showing, and bade them move that carrion to a distance, for it would
smell when the sun was high. Then he turned his back on the street,
and looked into the room.



                             CHAPTER VII.

                         IN THE AMPHITHEATRE.


The movements of the women had overturned two of the candles; a third
had guttered out. The three which still burned, contending pallidly
with the daylight that each moment grew stronger, imparted to the
scene the air of a debauch too long sustained. The disordered board,
the wan faces of the servants cowering in their corner, Mademoiselle's
frozen look of misery, all increased the likeness; which a common
exhaustion so far strengthened that when Tavannes turned from the
window, and, flushed with his triumph, met the others' eyes, his
seemed the only vigour, and he the only man in the company. True,
beneath the exhaustion, beneath the collapse of his victims, there
burned passions, hatreds, repulsions, as fierce as the hidden fires of
the volcano; but for the time they smouldered ash-choked and inert.

He flung the discharged pistols on the table. "If yonder raven speak
truth," he said, "I am like to pay dearly for my wife, and have short
time to call her wife. The more need, Mademoiselle, for speed,
therefore. You know the old saying, 'Short signing, long seisin? Shall
it be my priest, or your minister?"

M. de Tignonville started forward. "She promised nothing!" he cried.
And he struck his hand on the table.

Count Hannibal smiled, his lip curling. "That," he replied, "is for
Mademoiselle to say."

"But if she says it? If she says it, Monsieur? What then?"

Tavannes drew forth a comfit-box, such as it was the fashion of the
day to carry, as men of a later time carried a snuff-box. He slowly
chose a prune. "If she says it?" he answered. "Then M. de Tignonville
has regained his sweetheart. And M. de Tavannes has lost his bride."

"You say so!"

"Yes. But----"

"But what?"

"But she will not say it," Tavannes replied coolly.

"Why not?"

"Why not?"

"Yes, Monsieur, why not?" the younger man repeated trembling.

"Because, M. de Tignonville, it is not true."

"But she did not speak!" Tignonville retorted, with passion--the
futile passion of the bird which beats its wings against a cage. "She
did not speak. She could not promise, therefore."

Tavannes ate the prune slowly, seemed to give a little thought to its
flavour, approved it a true Agen plum, and at last spoke. "It is not
for you to say whether she promised," he returned drily, "nor for me.
It is for Mademoiselle."

"You leave it to her?"

"I leave it to her to say whether she promised."

"Then she must say No!" Tignonville cried in a tone of triumph and
relief. "For she did not speak. Mademoiselle, listen!" he continued,
turning with outstretched hands and appealing to her with passion. "Do
you hear? Do you understand? You have but to speak to be free! You
have but to say the word, and Monsieur lets you go! In God's name,
speak! Speak then, Clotilde! Oh!" with a gesture of despair, as she
did not answer, but continued to sit stony and hopeless, looking
straight before her, her hands picking convulsively at the fringe of
her girdle. "She does not understand! Fright has stunned her! Be
merciful, Monsieur. Give her time to recover, to know what she does.
Fright has turned her brain."

Count Hannibal smiled. "I knew her father and her uncle," he said,
"and in their time the Vrillacs were not wont to be cowards. Monsieur
forgets, too," he continued with fine irony, "that he speaks of my
betrothed."

"It is a lie!"

Tavannes raised his eyebrows. "You are in my power," he said. "For the
rest, if it be a lie, Mademoiselle has but to say so."

"You hear him?" Tignonville cried. "Then speak, Mademoiselle!
Clotilde, speak! Say you never spoke, you never promised him!"

The young man's voice quivered with indignation, with rage, with pain;
but most, if the truth be told, with shame--the shame of a position
strange and unparalleled. For in proportion as the fear of death
instant and violent was lifted from him, reflection awoke, and the
situation in which he stood took uglier shape. It was not so much love
that cried to her, love that suffered, anguished by the prospect of
love lost; as in the highest natures it might have been. Rather it was
the man's pride which suffered; the pride of a high spirit which found
itself helpless between the hammer and the anvil, in a position so
false that hereafter men might say of the unfortunate that he had
bartered his mistress for his life. He had not! But he had perforce to
stand by; he had to be passive under stress of circumstances, and by
the sacrifice, if she consummated it, he would in fact be saved.

There was the pinch. No wonder that he cried to her in a voice which
roused even the servants from their lethargy of fear. "Say it!" he
cried. "Say it, before it be too late. Say you did not promise!"

Slowly she turned her face to him. "I cannot," she whispered; "I
cannot. Go," she continued, a spasm distorting her features. "Go,
Monsieur. Leave me. It is over."

"What?" he exclaimed. "You promised him?"

She bowed her head.

"Then," the young man cried, in a transport of resentment, "I will be
no part of the price. See! There! And there!" He tore the white sleeve
wholly from his arm, and, rending it in twain, flung it on the floor
and trampled on it. "It shall never be said that I stood by and let
you buy my life! I go into the street and I take my chance." And he
turned to the door.

But Tavannes was before him. "No!" he said; "you will stay here, M. de
Tignonville!" And he set his back against the door.

The young man looked at him, his face convulsed with passion. "I shall
stay here?" he cried. "And why, Monsieur? What is it to you if I
choose to perish?"

"Only this," Tavannes retorted. "I am answerable to Mademoiselle now,
in an hour I shall be answerable to my wife--for your life. Live,
then, Monsieur; you have no choice. In a month you will thank me--and
her."

"I am your prisoner?"

"Precisely."

"And I must stay here--to be tortured?" Tignonville cried.

Count Hannibal's eyes sparkled. Sudden stormy changes, from
indifference to ferocity, from irony to invective, were characteristic
of the man. "Tortured!" he repeated grimly. "You talk of torture while
Piles and Pardaillan, Teligny and Rochefoucauld lie dead in the
street! While your cause sinks withered in a night, like a gourd!
While your servants fall butchered, and France rises round you in a
tide of blood! Bah!"--with a gesture of disdain--"you make me also
talk, and I have no love for talk, and small time. Mademoiselle, you
at least act and do not talk. By your leave I return in an hour, and I
bring with me--shall it be my priest, or your minister?"

She looked at him with the face of one who awakes slowly to the full
horror, the full dread, of her position. For a moment she did not
answer. Then, "A minister," she murmured, her voice scarcely audible.

He nodded. "A minister?" he said lightly. "Very well, if I can find
one." And walking to the shattered, gaping casement--through which the
cool morning air blew into the room and gently stirred the hair of the
unhappy girl--he said some words to the man on guard outside. Then he
turned to the door, but on the threshold he paused, looked with a
strange expression at the pair, and signed to Carlat and the servants
to go out before him.

"Up, and lie close above!" he growled. "Open a window or look out,
and you will pay dearly for it! Do you hear? Up! Up! You, too, old
crop-ears. What! would you?"--with a sudden glare as Carlat
hesitated--"that is better! Mademoiselle, until my return."

He saw them all out, followed them, and closed the door on the two;
who, left together, alone with the gaping window and the disordered
feast, maintained a strange silence. The girl, gripping one hand in
the other as if to quell her rising horror, sat looking before her,
and seemed barely to breathe. The man, leaning against the wall at a
little distance, bent his eyes not on her, but on the floor, his face
gloomy and distorted.

His first thought should have been of her and for her; his first
impulse to console, if he could not save her. His it should have been
to soften, were that possible, the fate before her; to prove to her by
words of farewell, the purest and most sacred, that the sacrifice she
was making, not to save her own life but the lives of others, was
appreciated by him who paid with her the price.

And all these things, and more, may have been in M. de Tignonville's
mind; they may even have been uppermost in it, but they found no
expression. The man remained sunk in a sombre reverie. He had the
appearance of thinking of himself, not of her; of his own position,
not of hers. Otherwise he must have looked at her, he must have turned
to her; he must have owned the subtle attraction of her unspoken
appeal when she drew a deep breath and slowly turned her eyes on him,
mute, asking, waiting what he should offer.

Surely he should have! Yet it was long before he responded. He sat
buried in thought of himself, and his position, the vile, the unworthy
position in which her act had placed him. At length the constraint of
her gaze wrought on him, or his thoughts became unbearable, and he
looked up and met her eyes, and with an oath he sprang to his feet.

"It shall not be!" he cried, in a tone low, but full of fury. "You
shall not do it! I will kill him first! I will kill him with this
hand! Or----" a step took him to the window, a step brought him
back--ay, brought him back exultant, and with a changed face. "Or
better, we will thwart him yet. See, Mademoiselle, do you see? Heaven
is merciful! For a moment the cage is open!" His eyes shone with
excitement, the sweat of sudden hope stood on his brow as he pointed
to the unguarded casement. "Come! it is our one chance!" And he caught
her by her arm, and strove to draw her to the window.

But she hung back, staring at him. "Oh, no, no!" she cried.

"Yes, yes! I say!" he responded. "You do not understand. The way is
open! We can escape, Clotilde, we can escape!"

"I cannot! I cannot!" she wailed, still resisting him.

"You are afraid?"

"Afraid?" she repeated the word in a tone of wonder. "No, but I
cannot. I promised him. I cannot. And, O God!" she continued, in a
sudden outburst of grief, as the sense of general loss, of the great
common tragedy broke on her and whelmed for the moment her private
misery. "Why should we think of ourselves? They are dead, they are
dying, who were ours, whom we loved! Why should we think to live? What
does it matter how it fares with us? We cannot be happy. Happy?" she
continued wildly. "Are any happy now? Or is the world all changed in a
night? No, we could not be happy. And at least you will live,
Tignonville. I have that to console me."

"Live!" he responded vehemently. "I live? I would rather die a
thousand times. A thousand times rather than live shamed! Than see you
sacrificed to that devil! Than go out with a brand on my brow, for
every man to point at me! I would rather die a thousand times!"

"And do you think that I would not?" she answered, shivering. "Better,
far better die than--than live with him!"

"Then why not die?"

She stared at him, wide-eyed, and a sudden stillness possessed her.
"How?" she whispered. "What do you mean?"

"That!" he said. As he spoke, he raised his hand and signed to her to
listen. A sullen murmur, distant as yet, but borne to the ear on the
fresh morning air, foretold the rising of another storm. The sound
grew in intensity, even while she listened; and yet for a moment she
misunderstood him. "O God!" she cried, out of the agony of nerves
overwrought, "will that bell never stop? Will it never stop? Will no
one stop it?"

"'Tis not the bell!" he cried, seizing her hand as if to focus her
attention. "It is the mob you hear. They are returning. We have but to
stand a moment at this open window, we have but to show ourselves to
them, and we need live no longer! Mademoiselle! Clotilde!--if you mean
what you say, if you are in earnest, the way is open!"

"And we shall die--together!"

"Yes, together. But have you the courage?"

"The courage!" she cried, a brave smile lighting the whiteness of her
face. "The courage were needed to live. The courage were needed to do
that. I am ready, quite ready. It can be no sin! To live with that in
front of me were the sin! Come!" For the moment she had forgotten her
people, her promise, all! It seemed to her that death would absolve
her from all. "Come!"

He moved with her under the impulse of her hand until they stood at
the gaping window. The murmur, which he had heard indistinctly a
moment before, had grown to a roar of voices. The mob, on its return
eastward along the Rue St. Honoré, was nearing the house. He stood,
his arm supporting her, and they waited, a little within the window.
Suddenly he stooped, his face hardly less white than hers; their eyes
met, and he would have kissed her.

She did not withdraw from his arm, but she drew back her face, her
eyes half shut. "No!" she murmured. "No! While I live I am his. But we
die together, Tignonville! We die together. It will not last long,
will it? And afterwards----"

She did not finish the sentence, but her lips moved in prayer, and
over her features came a far-away look; such a look as that which on
the face of another Huguenot lady, Philippine de Luns--vilely done to
death in the Place Maubert fourteen years before--silenced the ribald
jests of the lowest rabble in the world. An hour or two earlier, awed
by the abruptness of the outburst, Mademoiselle had shrunk from her
fate; she had known fear. Now that she stood out voluntarily to meet
it, she, like many a woman before and since, feared no longer. She was
lifted out of and above herself.

But death was long in coming. Some cause beyond their knowledge stayed
the onrush of the mob along the street. The din, indeed, persisted,
deafened, shook them; but the crowd seemed to be at a stand a few
doors down the Rue St. Honoré. For a half-minute, a long half-minute,
which appeared an age, it drew no nearer. Would it draw nearer? Would
it come on? Or would it turn again?

The doubt, so much worse than despair, began to sap that courage of
the man which is always better fitted to do than to suffer. The sweat
rose on Tignonville's brow as he stood listening, his arm round the
girl--as he stood listening and waiting. It is possible that when he
had said a minute or two earlier that he would rather die a thousand
times than live thus shamed, he had spoken beyond the mark. Or it is
possible that he had meant his words to the full. But in this case he
had not pictured what was to come, he had not gauged correctly his
power of passive endurance. He was as brave as the ordinary man, as
the ordinary soldier; but martyrdom, the apotheosis of resignation,
comes more naturally to women than to men, more hardly to men than to
women. Yet had the crisis come quickly he might have met it. But he
had to wait, and to wait with that howling of wild beasts in his ears;
and for this he was not prepared. A woman might be content to die
after this fashion; but a man? His colour went and came, his eyes
began to rove hither and thither. Was it even now too late to escape?
Too late to avoid the consequences of the girl's silly persistence?
Too late to----? Her eyes were closed, she hung half lifeless on his
arm. She would not know, she need not know until afterwards. And
afterwards she would thank him! Afterwards--meantime the window was
open, the street was empty, and still the crowd hung back and did not
come.

He remembered that two doors away was a narrow passage, which leaving
the Rue St. Honoré turned at right angles under a beetling archway, to
emerge in the Rue du Roule. If he could gain that passage unseen by
the mob! He would gain it. With a swift movement, his mind made up, he
took a step forward. He tightened his grasp of the girl's waist, and,
seizing with his left hand the end of the bar which the assailants had
torn from its setting in the window jamb, he turned to lower himself.
One long step would land him in the street.

At that moment she awoke from the stupor of exaltation. She opened her
eyes with a startled movement; and her eyes met his.

He was in the act of stepping backwards and downwards, dragging her
after him. But it was not this betrayed him. It was his face, which in
an instant told her all, and that he sought not death, but life! She
struggled upright and strove to free herself. But he had the purchase
of the bar, and by this time he was furious as well as determined.
Whether she would or no, he would save her, he would drag her out.
Then, as consciousness fully returned, she, too, took fire. "No!" she
cried, "I will not!" and she struggled more violently.

"You shall!" he retorted between his teeth. "You shall not perish
here."

But she had her hands free, and as he spoke she thrust him from her
passionately, desperately, with all her strength. He had his one foot
in the air at the moment, and in a flash it was done. With a cry of
rage he lost his balance, and, still holding the bar, reeled backwards
through the window; while Mademoiselle, panting and half fainting,
recoiled--recoiled into the arms of Hannibal de Tavannes, who, unseen
by either, had entered the room a long minute before. From the
threshold, and with a smile, all his own, he had watched the contest
and the result.



                            CHAPTER VIII.

                         TWO HENS AND AN EGG.


M. de Tignonville was shaken by the fall, and in the usual course of
things he would have lain where he was, and groaned. But when a man
has once turned his back on death he is apt to fancy it at his
shoulder. He has small stomach for surprises, and is in haste to set
as great a distance as possible between the ugly thing and himself. So
it was with the Huguenot. Shot suddenly into the full publicity of the
street, he knew that at any instant danger might take him by the nape;
and he was on his legs and glancing up and down before the clatter of
his fall had travelled the length of three houses.

The rabble were still a hundred paces away, piled up and pressed about
a house where men were being hunted as men hunt rats. He saw that he
was unnoted, and apprehension gave place to rage. His thoughts turned
back hissing hot to the thing that had happened, and in a paroxysm of
shame he shook his fist at the gaping casement and the sneering face
of his rival, dimly seen in the background. If a look would have
killed Tavannes--and her--it had not been wanting.

For it was not only the man M. de Tignonville hated at this moment; he
hated Mademoiselle also, the unwitting agent of the other's triumph.
She had thrust him from her; she had refused to be guided by him; she
had resisted, thwarted, shamed him. Then let her take the
consequences. She willed to perish: let her perish!

He did not acknowledge even to himself the real cause of offence, the
proof to which she had put his courage, and the failure of that
courage to stand the test. Yet it was this, though he had himself
provoked the trial, which burned up his chivalry, as the smuggler's
fire burns up the dwarf heath upon the Landes. It was the discovery
that in an heroic hour he was no hero that gave force to his
passionate gesture, and next moment sent him storming down the
beetling passage to the Rue du Roule, his heart a maelstrom of fierce
vows and fiercer menaces.

He had reached the further end of the alley and was on the point of
entering the street before he remembered that he had nowhere to go.
His lodgings were no longer his, since his landlord knew him to be a
Huguenot, and would doubtless betray him. To approach those of his
faith whom he had frequented was to expose them to danger; and, beyond
the religion, he had few acquaintances and those of the newest. Yet
the streets were impossible. He walked them on the utmost edge of
peril; he lurked in them under the blade of an impending axe. And,
whether he walked or lurked, he went at the mercy of the first comers
bold enough to take his life.

The sweat stood on his brow as he paused under the low arch of the
alley-end, tasting the bitter forlornness of the dog banned and set
for death in that sunlit city. In every window of the gable end which
faced his hiding-place he fancied an eye watching his movements; in
every distant step he heard the footfall of doom coming that way to
his discovery. And while he trembled, he had to reflect, to think, to
form some plan.

In the town was no place for him, and short of the open country no
safety. And how could he gain the open country? If he succeeded in
reaching one of the gates--St. Antoine, or St. Denis, in itself a task
of difficulty--it would only be to find the gate closed, and the guard
on the alert. At last it flashed on him that he might cross the river;
and at the notion hope awoke. It was possible that the massacre had
not extended to the southern suburb; possible, that if it had, the
Huguenots who lay there--Frontenay, and Montgomery, and Chartres, with
the men of the North--might be strong enough to check it, and even to
turn the tables on the Parisians.

His colour returned. He was no coward, as soldiers go; if it came to
fighting he had courage enough. He could not hope to cross the river
by the bridge, for there, where the goldsmiths lived, the mob were
like to be most busy. But if he could reach the bank he might procure
a boat at some deserted point, or, at the worst, he might swim across.

From the Louvre at his back came the sound of gun-shots; from every
quarter the murmur of distant crowds, or the faint lamentable cries of
victims. But the empty street before him promised an easy passage, and
he ventured into it and passed quickly through it. He met no one, and
no one molested him; but as he went he had glimpses of pale faces that
from behind the casements watched him come and turned to watch him go;
and so heavy on his nerves was the pressure of this silent ominous
attention, that he blundered at the end of the street. He should have
taken the southerly turning; instead he held on, found himself in the
Rue Ferronerie, and a moment later was all but in the arms of a band
of city guards, who were making a house-to-house visitation.

He owed his safety rather to the condition of the street than to his
presence of mind. The Rue Ferronerie, narrow in itself, was so choked
at this date by stalls and bulkheads, that an edict directing the
removal of those which abutted on the cemetery had been issued a
little before. Nothing had been done on it, however, and this neck of
Paris, this main thoroughfare between the east and the west, between
the fashionable quarter of the Marais and the fashionable quarter of
the Louvre, was still a devious huddle of sheds and pent-houses.
Tignonville slid behind one of these, found that it masked the mouth
of an alley, and, heedless whither the passage led, ran hurriedly
along it. Every instant he expected to hear the hue and cry behind
him, and he did not halt or draw breath until he had left the soldiers
far in the rear, and found himself astray at the junction of four
noisome lanes, over two of which the projecting gables fairly met.
Above the two others a scrap of sky appeared, but this was too small
to indicate in which direction the river lay.

Tignonville hesitated, but not for long; a burst of voices heralded a
new danger, and he shrank into a doorway. Along one of the lanes a
troop of children, the biggest not twelve years old, came dancing and
leaping round something which they dragged by a string. Now one of the
hindmost would hurl it onward with a kick, now another, amid screams
of childish laughter, tripped headlong over the cord; now at the
crossways they stopped to wrangle and question which way they should
go, or whose turn it was to pull and whose to follow. At last they
started afresh with a whoop, the leader singing and all plucking the
string to the cadence of the air. Their plaything leapt and dropped,
sprang forward, and lingered like a thing of life. But it was no thing
of life, as Tignonville saw with a shudder when they passed him. The
object of their sport was the naked body of a child, an infant!

His gorge rose at the sight. Fear such as he had not before
experienced chilled his marrow. This was hate indeed, a hate before
which the strong man quailed; the hate of which Mademoiselle had
spoken when she said that the babes crossed themselves, at her
passing, and the houses tottered to fall upon her!

He paused a minute to recover himself, so deeply had the sight moved
him; and as he stood, he wondered if that hate already had its cold
eye fixed on him. Instinctively his gaze searched the opposite
wall, but save for two small double-grated windows it was blind;
time-stained and stone-built, dark with the ordure of the city lane,
it seemed but the back of a house, which looked another way. The outer
gates of an arched doorway were open, and a loaded hay-cart, touching
either side and brushing the arch above, blocked the passage. His
gaze, leaving the windows, dropped to this, he scanned it a moment;
and on a sudden he stiffened. Between the hay and the arch a hand
flickered an instant, then vanished.

Tignonville stared. At first he thought his eyes had tricked him. Then
the hand appeared again, and this time it conveyed an unmistakable
invitation. It is not from the unknown or the hidden that the fugitive
has aught to fear, and Tignonville, after casting a glance down the
lane--which revealed a single man standing with his face the other
way--slipped across and pushed between the hay and the wall. He
coughed.

A voice whispered to him to climb up; a friendly hand clutched him in
the act, and aided him. In a second he was lying on his face, tight
squeezed between the hay and the roof of the arch. Beside him lay a
man whose features his eyes, unaccustomed to the gloom, could not
discern. But the man knew him and whispered his name.

"You know me?" Tignonville muttered in astonishment.

"I marked you, M. de Tignonville, at the preaching last Sunday," the
stranger answered placidly.

"You were there?"

"I preached."

"Then you are M. la Tribe!"

"I am," the clergyman answered quietly. "They seized me on my
threshold, but I left my cloak in their hands and fled. One tore my
stocking with his point, another my doublet, but not a hair of my head
was injured. They hunted me to the end of the next street, but I lived
and still live, and shall live to lift up my voice against this wicked
city."

The sympathy between the Huguenot by faith and the Huguenot by
politics was imperfect. Tignonville, like most men of rank of the
younger generation, was a Huguenot by politics; and he was in a bitter
humour. He felt, perhaps, that it was men such as this who had driven
the other side to excesses such as these; and he hardly repressed a
sneer. "I wish I felt as sure!" he muttered bluntly. "You know that
all our people are dead?"

"He can save by few or by many," the preacher answered devoutly. "We
are of the few, blessed be God, and shall see Israel victorious, and
our people as a flock of sheep!"

"I see small chance of it," Tignonville answered contemptuously.

"I know it as certainly as I knew before you came, M. de Tignonville,
that you would come!"

"That I should come?"

"That some one would come," La Tribe answered, correcting himself. "I
knew not who it would be until you appeared and placed yourself in the
doorway over against me, even as Obadiah in the Holy Book passed
before the hiding-place of Elijah."

The two lay on their faces side by side, the rafters of the archway
low on their heads. Tignonville lifted himself a little, and peered
anew at the other. He fancied that La Tribe's mind, shaken by the
horrors of the morning and his narrow escape, had given way. "You
rave, man," he said. "This is no time for visions."

"I said naught of visions," the other answered.

"Then why so sure that we shall escape?"

"I am certified of it," La Tribe replied. "And more than that, I know
that we shall lie here some days. The time has not been revealed to
me, but it will be days and a day. Then we shall leave this place
unharmed, as we entered it, and, whatever betide others, we shall
live."

Tignonville shrugged his shoulders. "I tell you, you rave, M. la
Tribe," he said petulantly. "At any moment we may be discovered. Even
now I hear footsteps."

"They tracked me well-nigh to this place," the minister answered
placidly.

"The deuce they did!" Tignonville muttered, with irritation. He dared
not raise his voice. "I would you had told me that before I joined
you, Monsieur, and I had found some safer hiding-place! When we are
discovered----"

"Then," the other continued calmly, "you will see."

"In any case we shall be better farther back," Tignonville retorted.
"Here, we are within an ace of being seen from the lane." And he began
to wriggle himself backwards.

The minister laid his hand on him. "Have a care!" he muttered. "And do
not move, but listen. And you will understand. When I reached this
place--it would be about five o'clock this morning--breathless, and
expecting each minute to be dragged forth to make my confession before
men, I despaired as you despair now. Like Elijah under the juniper
tree, I said 'It is enough, O Lord! Take my soul also, for I am no
better than my fellows!' All the sky was black before my eyes, and my
ears were filled with the wailings of the little ones and the
lamentations of women. 'O Lord, it is enough,' I prayed. 'Take my
soul, or, if it be Thy will, then, as the angel was sent to take the
cakes to Elijah, give me also a sign that I shall live.'"

For a moment he paused, struggling with overpowering emotion. Even his
impatient listener, hitherto incredulous, caught the infection, and in
a tone of awe murmured, "Yes? And then, M. la Tribe!"

"The sign was given me. The words were scarcely out of my mouth when a
hen flew up, and, scratching a nest in the hay at my feet, presently
laid an egg."

Tignonville stared. "It was timely, I admit," he said. "But it is no
uncommon thing. Probably it has its nest here and lays daily."

"Young man, this is new-mown hay," the minister answered solemnly.
"This cart was brought here no further back than yesterday. It smells
of the meadow, and the flowers hold their colour. No, the fowl was
sent. To-morrow it will return, and the next, and the next, until the
plague be stayed and I go hence. But that is not all. A while later a
second hen appeared, and I thought it would lay in the same nest. But
it made a new one, on the side on which you lie and not far from your
foot. Then I knew that I was to have a companion, and that God had
laid also for him a table in the wilderness."

"It did lay, then?"

"It is still on the nest, beside your foot."

Tignonville was about to reply when the preacher grasped his arm and
by a sign enjoined silence. He did so not a moment too soon.
Preoccupied by the story, narrator and listener had paid no heed to
what was passing in the lane, and the voices of men speaking close at
hand took them by surprise. From the first words which reached them,
it was clear that the speakers were the same who had chased La Tribe
as far as the meeting of the four ways, and, losing him there, had
spent the morning in other business. Now they had returned to hunt him
down, and but for a wrangle which arose among them and detained them,
they had stolen on their quarry before their coming was suspected.

"'Twas this way he ran!" "No, 'twas the other!" they contended; and
their words, winged with vile threats and oaths, grew noisy and hot.
The two listeners dared scarcely to breathe. The danger was so near,
it was so certain that if the men came three paces farther, they would
observe and search the hay-cart, that Tignonville fancied the steel
already at his throat. He felt the hay rustle under his slightest
movement, and gripped one hand with the other to restrain the tremor
of overpowering excitement. Yet when he glanced at the minister he
found him unmoved, a smile on his face. And M. de Tignonville could
have cursed him for his folly.

For the men were coming on! An instant, and they perceived the cart,
and the ruffian who had advised this route pounced on it in triumph.
"There! Did I not say so?" he cried. "He is curled up in that hay, for
the Satan's grub he is! That is where he is, see you!"

"Maybe," another answered grudgingly, as they gathered before it. "And
maybe not, Simon!"

"To hell with your maybe not!" the first replied. And he drove his
pike deep into the hay and turned it viciously.

The two on the top controlled themselves. Tignonville's face was
livid; of himself he would have slid down amongst them and taken his
chance, preferring to die fighting, to die in the open, rather than to
perish like a rat in a stack. But La Tribe had gripped his arm and
held him fast.

The man whom the others called Simon thrust again, but too low and
without result. He was for trying a third time, when one of his
comrades who had gone to the other side of the lane announced that the
men were on the top of the hay.

"Can you see them!"

"No, but there's room and to spare."

"Oh, a curse on your room!" Simon retorted.

"Well, you can look."

"If that's all, I'll soon look!" was the answer. And the rogue,
forcing himself between the hay and the side of the gateway, found the
wheel of the cart, and began to raise himself on it. Tignonville, who
lay on that hand, heard, though he could not see his movements. He
knew what they meant, he knew that in a twinkling he must be
discovered; and with a last prayer he gathered himself for a spring.

It seemed an age before the intruder's head appeared on a level with
the hay; and then the alarm came from another quarter. The hen which
had made its nest at Tignonville's feet, disturbed by the movement or
by the newcomer's hand, flew out with a rush and flutter as of a great
firework. Upsetting the startled Simon, who slipped swearing to the
ground, it swooped scolding and clucking over the heads of the other
men, and reaching the street in safety scuttled off at speed, its
outspread wings sweeping the earth in its rage.

They laughed uproariously as Simon emerged, rubbing his elbow.
"There's for you! There's your preacher!" his opponent jeered.

"D----n her! she gives tongue as fast as any of them!" gibed a second.
"Will you try again, Simon? You may find another love-letter there!"

"Have done!" a third cried impatiently. "He'll not be where the hen
is! Let's back! Let's back! I said before that it wasn't this way he
turned! He's made for the river."

"The plague in his vitals!" Simon replied furiously. "Wherever he is,
I'll find him!" And reluctant to confess himself wrong, he lingered,
casting vengeful glances at the hay. But one of the other men cursed
him for a fool; and presently, forced to accept his defeat or be left
alone, he rejoined his fellows. Slowly the footsteps and voices
receded along the lane; slowly, until silence swallowed them, and on
the quivering strained senses of the two who remained behind,
descended the gentle influence of twilight and the sweet scent of the
new-mown hay on which they lay.

La Tribe turned to his companion, his eyes shining. "Our soul is
escaped," he murmured, "even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler.
The snare is broken and we are delivered!" His voice shook as he
whispered the ancient words of triumph.

But when they came to look in the nest at Tignonville's feet there was
no egg!



                             CHAPTER IX.

                              UNSTABLE.


And that troubled M. la Tribe no little, although he did not impart
his thoughts to his companion. Instead they talked in whispers of the
things which had happened; of the Admiral, of Teligny, whom all loved,
of Rochefoucauld the accomplished, the King's friend; of the princes
in the Louvre whom they gave up for lost, and of the Huguenot nobles
on the farther side of the river, of whose safety there seemed some
hope. Tignonville--he best knew why--said nothing of the fate of his
betrothed, or of his own adventures in that connection. But each told
the other how the alarm had reached him, and painted in broken words
his reluctance to believe in treachery so black. Thence they passed to
the future of the cause, and of that took views as opposite as light
and darkness, as Papegot and Huguenot. The one was confident, the
other in despair. And some time in the afternoon, worn out by the
awful experiences of the last twelve hours, they fell asleep, their
heads on their arms, the hay tickling their faces; and, with death
stalking the lane beside them, slept soundly until after sundown.

When they awoke hunger awoke with them, and urged on La Tribe's mind
the question of the missing egg. It was not altogether the prick of
appetite which troubled him, but regarding the hiding-place in which
they lay as an ark of refuge providentially supplied, protected and
victualled, he could not refrain from asking reverently what the
deficiency meant. It was not as if one hen only had appeared; as if no
farther prospect had been extended. But up to a certain point the
message was clear. Then when the Hand of Providence had shown itself
most plainly, and in a manner to melt the heart with awe and
thankfulness, the message had been blurred. Seriously the Huguenot
asked himself what it portended.

To Tignonville, if he thought of it at all, the matter was the matter
of an egg, and stopped there. An egg might alleviate the growing pangs
of hunger; its non-appearance was a disappointment, but he traced the
matter no farther. It must be confessed that the hay-cart was to him
only a hay-cart--and not an ark; and the sooner he was safely away
from it the better he would be pleased. While La Tribe, lying snug and
warm beside him, thanked God for a lot so different from that of such
of his fellows as had escaped--whom he pictured crouching in dank
cellars, or on roof-trees exposed to the heat by day and the dews by
night--the young man grew more and more restive.

Hunger pricked him, and the meanness of the part he had played moved
him to action. About midnight, resisting the dissuasions of his
companion, he would have sallied out in search of food if the passage
of a turbulent crowd had not warned him that the work of murder was
still proceeding. He curbed himself after that and lay until daylight.
But, ill content with his own conduct, on fire when he thought of his
betrothed, he was in no temper to bear hardship cheerfully or long;
and gradually there rose before his mind the picture of Madame St.
Lo's smiling face, and the fair hair which curled low on the white of
her neck.

He would, and he would not. Death that had stalked so near him
preached its solemn sermon. But death and pleasure are never far
apart; and at no time and nowhere have they jostled one another more
familiarly than in that age, wherever the influence of Italy and
Italian art and Italian hopelessness extended. Again, on the one side,
La Tribe's example went for something with his comrade in misfortune;
but in the other scale hung relief from discomfort, with the prospect
of a woman's smiles and a woman's flatteries, of dainty dishes,
luxury, and passion. If he went now, he went to her from the jaws of
death, with the glamour of adventure and peril about him; and the very
going into her presence was a lure. Moreover, if he had been willing
while his betrothed was still his, why not now when he had lost her?

It was this last reflection--and one other thing which came on a
sudden into his mind--which turned the scale. About noon he sat up in
the hay, and, abruptly and sullenly, "I'll lie here no longer," he
said; and he dropped his legs over the side. "I shall go."

The movement was so unexpected that La Tribe stared at him in silence.
Then, "You will run a great risk, M. de Tignonville," he said gravely,
"if you do. You may go as far under cover of night as the river, or
you may reach one of the gates. But as to crossing the one or passing
the other, I reckon it a thing impossible."

"I shall not wait until night," Tignonville answered curtly, a ring of
defiance in his tone. "I shall go now! I'll lie here no longer!"

"Now?"

"Yes, now."

"You will be mad if you do," the other replied. He thought it the
petulant outcry of youth tired of inaction; a protest, and nothing
more.

He was speedily undeceived. "Mad or not, I am going!" Tignonville
retorted. And he slid to the ground, and from the covert of the
hanging fringe of hay looked warily up and down the lane. "It is
clear, I think," he said. "Good-bye." And with no more, without one
upward glance or a gesture of the hand, with no further adieu or word
of gratitude, he walked out into the lane, turned briskly to the left,
and vanished.

The minister uttered a cry of astonishment, and made as if he would
descend also. "Come back, sir!" he called, as loudly as he dared. "M.
de Tignonville, come back! This is folly or worse!"

But M. de Tignonville was gone.

La Tribe listened a while, unable to believe it, and still expecting
his return. At last, hearing nothing, he slid, greatly excited, to the
ground and looked out. It was not until he had peered up and down the
lane and made sure that it was empty that he could persuade himself
that the other had gone for good. Then he climbed slowly and seriously
to his place again, and sighed as he settled himself. "Unstable as
water thou shalt not excel!" he muttered. "Now I know why there was
only one egg."

Meanwhile Tignonville, after putting a hundred yards between himself
and his bedfellow, plunged into the first dark entry which presented
itself. Hurriedly, and with a frowning face, he cut off his left
sleeve from shoulder to wrist; and this act, by disclosing his linen,
put him in possession of the white sleeve which he had once
involuntarily donned, and once discarded. The white cross on the cap
he could not assume, for he was bareheaded. But he had little doubt
that the sleeve would suffice, and with a bold demeanour he made his
way northward until he reached again the Rue Ferronerie.

Excited groups were wandering up and down the street, and, fearing to
traverse its crowded narrows, he went by lanes parallel with it as far
as the Rue St. Denis, which he crossed. Everywhere he saw houses
gutted and doors burst in, and traces of a cruelty and a fanaticism
almost incredible. Near the Rue des Lombards he saw a dead child,
stripped stark and hanged on the hook of a cobbler's shutter. A
little further on in the same street he stepped over the body of a
handsome young woman, distinguished by the length and beauty of her
hair. To obtain her bracelets, her captors had cut off her hands;
afterwards--but God knows how long afterwards--a passer-by, more
pitiful than his fellows, had put her out of her misery with a spit,
which still remained plunged in her body.

M. de Tignonville shuddered at the sight, and at others like it. He
loathed the symbol he wore, and himself for wearing it; and more than
once his better nature bade him return and play the nobler part. Once
he did turn with that intention. But he had set his mind on comfort
and pleasure, and the value of these things is raised, not lowered, by
danger and uncertainty. Quickly his stoicism oozed away; he turned
again. Barely avoiding the rush of a crowd of wretches who were
bearing a swooning victim to the river, he hurried through the Rue des
Lombards and reached in safety the house beside the "Golden Maid."

He had no doubt now on which side of the "Maid" Madame St. Lo lived;
the house was plain before him. He had only to knock. But in
proportion as he approached his haven, his anxiety grew. To lose all,
with all in his grasp, to fail upon the threshold, was a thing which
bore no looking at; and it was with a nervous hand and eyes cast
fearfully behind him that he plied the heavy iron knocker which
adorned the door.

He could not turn his gaze from a knot of ruffians, who were gathered
under one of the tottering gables on the farther side of the street.
They seemed to be watching him, and he fancied--though the distance
rendered this impossible--that he could see suspicion growing in their
eyes. At any moment they might cross the roadway, they might approach,
they might challenge him. And at the thought he knocked and knocked
again. Why did not the porter come?

Ay, why? For now a score of contingencies came into the young man's
mind and tortured him. Had Madame St. Lo withdrawn to safer quarters
and closed the house? Or, good Catholic as she was, had she given way
to panic, and determined to open to no one? Or was she ill? Or had she
perished in the general disorder? Or----

And then, even as the men began to slink towards him, his heart leapt.
He heard a footstep heavy and slow move through the house. It came
nearer and nearer. A moment, and an iron-grated Judas-hole in the door
slid open, and a servant, an elderly man, sleek and respectable,
looked out at him.

Tignonville could scarcely speak for excitement. "Madame St. Lo?" he
muttered tremulously. "I come to her from her cousin the Comte de
Tavannes. Quick! quick! if you please. Open to me!"

"Monsieur is alone?"

"Yes! Yes!"

The man nodded gravely and slid back the bolts. He allowed M. de
Tignonville to enter, then with care he secured the door, and led the
way across a small square court, paved with red tiles and enclosed by
the house, but open above to the sunshine and the blue sky. A gallery
which ran round the upper floor looked on this court, in which a great
quiet reigned, broken only by the music of a fountain. A vine climbed
on the wooden pillars which supported the gallery, and, aspiring
higher, embraced the wide carved eaves, and even tapestried with green
the three gables that on each side of the court broke the sky-line.
The grapes hung nearly ripe, and amid their clusters and the green
lattice of their foliage Tignonville's gaze sought eagerly but in vain
the laughing eyes and piquant face of his new mistress. For with the
closing of the door, and the passing from him of the horrors of the
streets, he had entered, as by magic, a new and smiling world; a world
of tennis and roses, of tinkling voices and women's wiles, a world
which smacked of Florence and the South, and love and life; a world
which his late experiences had set so far away from him, his memory of
it seemed a dream. Now, as he drank in its stillness and its
fragrance, as he felt its safety and its luxury lap him round once
more, he sighed. And with that breath he rid himself of much.

The servant led him to a parlour, a cool shady room on the farther
side of the tiny quadrangle, and, muttering something inaudible,
withdrew. A moment later a frolicsome laugh, and the light flutter of
a woman's skirt as she tripped across the court, brought the blood to
his cheeks. He went a step nearer to the door, and his eyes grew
bright.



                              CHAPTER X.

                            MADAME ST. LO.


So far excitement had supported Tignonville in his escape. It was only
when he knew himself safe, when he heard Madame St. Lo's footstep in
the courtyard and knew that in a moment he would see her, that he knew
also that he was failing for want of food. The room seemed to go round
with him; the window to shift, the light to flicker. And then again,
with equal abruptness, he grew strong and steady and perfectly master
of himself. Nay, never had he felt a confidence in himself so
overwhelming or a capacity so complete. The triumph of that which he
had done, the knowledge that of so many he, almost alone, had escaped,
filled his brain with a delicious and intoxicating vanity. When the
door opened, and Madame St. Lo appeared on the threshold, he advanced
holding out his arms. He expected that she would fall into them.

But Madame only backed and curtseyed, a mischievous light in her eyes.
"A thousand thanks, Monsieur!" she said, "but you are more ready than
I!" And she remained by the door.

"I have come to you through all!" he cried, speaking loudly because of
a humming in his ears. "They are lying in the streets! They are dying,
are dead, are hunted, are pursued, are perishing! But I have come
through all to you!"

She curtseyed anew. "So I see, Monsieur!" she answered. "I am
nattered!" But she did not advance, and gradually, light-headed as he
was, he began to see that she looked at him with an odd closeness. And
he took offence.

"I say, Madame, I have come to you!" he repeated. "And you do not seem
pleased!"

She came forward a step and looked at him still more oddly. "Oh, yes,"
she said. "I am pleased, M. de Tignonville. It is what I intended. But
tell me how you have fared. You are not hurt?"

"Not a hair!" he cried boastfully. And he told her in a dozen windy
sentences of the adventure of the hay-cart and his narrow escape. He
wound up with a foolish meaningless laugh.

"Then you have not eaten for thirty-six hours?" she said. And when he
did not answer, "I understand," she continued, nodding and speaking as
to a child. And she rang a silver handbell and gave an order. She
addressed the servant in her usual tone, but to Tignonville's ear her
voice seemed to fall to a whisper. Her figure--she was small and
fairy-like--began to sway before him; and then in a moment, as it
seemed to him, she was gone, and he was seated at a table, his
trembling fingers grasping a cup of wine which the elderly servant who
had admitted him was holding to his lips. On the table before him were
a spit of partridges and a cake of white bread. When he had swallowed
a second mouthful of wine--which cleared his eyes as by magic--the man
urged him to eat. And he fell to with an appetite that grew as he ate.

By and by, feeling himself again, he became aware that two of Madame's
women were peering at him through the open doorway. He looked that way
and they fled giggling into the court; but in a moment they were back
again, and the sound of their tittering drew his eyes anew to the
door. It was the custom of the day for ladies of rank to wait on their
favourites at table; and he wondered if Madame were with them, and why
she did not come and serve him herself.

But for a while longer the savour of the roasted game took up the
major part of his thoughts; and when prudence warned him to desist,
and he sat back, satisfied after his long fast, he was in no mood
to be critical. Perhaps--for somewhere in the house he heard a
lute--Madame was entertaining those whom she could not leave? Or
deluding some who might betray him if they discovered him?

From that his mind turned back to the streets and the horrors through
which he had passed; but for a moment and no more. A shudder, an
emotion of prayerful pity, and he recalled his thoughts. In the quiet
of the cool room, looking on the sunny, vine-clad court, with the
tinkle of the lute and the murmurous sound of women's voices in his
ears, it was hard to believe that the things from which he had emerged
were real. It was still more unpleasant, and as futile, to dwell on
them. A day of reckoning would come, and, if La Tribe were right, the
cause would rally, bristling with pikes and snorting with war-horses,
and the blood spilled in this wicked city would cry aloud for
vengeance. But the hour was not yet. He had lost his mistress, and for
that atonement must be exacted. But in the present another mistress
awaited him, and as a man could only die once, and might die at any
minute, so he could only live once and in the present. Then _vogue la
galère!_

As he roused himself from this brief reverie and fell to wondering how
long he was to be left to himself, a rosebud tossed by an unseen hand
struck him on the breast and dropped to his knees. To seize it and
kiss it gallantly, to spring to his feet and look about him were
instinctive movements. But he could see no one; and, in the hope of
surprising the giver, he stole to the window. The sound of the lute
and the distant tinkle of laughter persisted. The court, save for a
page, who lay asleep on a bench in the gallery, was empty. Tignonville
scanned the boy suspiciously; a male disguise was often adopted by the
court ladies, and if Madame would play a prank on him, this was a
thing to be reckoned with. But a boy it seemed to be, and after a
while the young man went back to his seat.

Even as he sat down, a second flower struck him more sharply in the
face, and this time he darted not to the window but to the door. He
opened it quickly and looked out, but again he was too late.

"I shall catch you presently, _ma reine!_" he murmured tenderly, with
intent to be heard. And he closed the door. But, wiser this time, he
waited with his hand on the latch until he heard the rustling of a
skirt, and saw the line of light at the foot of the door darkened by a
shadow. That moment he flung the door wide, and, clasping the wearer
of the skirt in his arms, kissed her lips before she had time to
resist.

Then he fell back as if he had been shot! For the wearer of the skirt,
she whom he had kissed, was Madame St. Lo's woman, and behind her
stood Madame herself, laughing, laughing, laughing with all the gay
abandonment of her light little heart. "Oh, the gallant gentleman!"
she cried, and clapped her hands effusively. "Was ever recovery so
rapid? Or triumph so speedy? Suzanne, my child, you surpass Venus.
Your charms conquer before they are seen!"

M. de Tignonville had put poor Suzanne from him as if she burned; and
hot and embarrassed, cursing his haste, he stood looking awkwardly at
them. "Madame," he stammered at last, "you know quite well that I----"

"Seeing is believing!"

"That I thought it was you!"

"Oh, what I have lost!" she replied. And she looked archly at Suzanne,
who giggled and tossed her head.

He was growing angry. "But, Madame," he protested, "you know----"

"I know what I know, and I have seen what I have seen!" Madame
answered merrily. And she hummed,


             "Ce fut le plus grand jour d'este
              Que m'embrassa la belle Suzanne!


"Oh, yes, I know what I know!" she repeated. And she fell again to
laughing immoderately; while the pretty piece of mischief beside her
hung her head, and, putting a finger in her mouth, mocked him with an
affectation of modesty.

The young man glowered at them between rage and embarrassment. This
was not the reception, nor this the hero's return to which he had
looked forward. And a doubt began to take form in his mind. The
mistress he had pictured would not laugh at kisses given to another;
nor forget in a twinkling the straits through which he had come to
her, the hell from which he had plucked himself! Possibly the court
ladies held love as cheap as this, and lovers but as playthings, butts
for their wit, and pegs on which to hang their laughter. But--but he
began to doubt, and, perplexed and irritated, he showed his feelings.

"Madame," he said stiffly, "a jest is an excellent thing. But pardon
me if I say that it is ill played on a fasting man."

Madame desisted from laughter that she might speak. "A fasting man?"
she cried. "And he has eaten two partridges!"

"Fasting from love, Madame."

Madame St. Lo held up her hands. "And it's not two minutes since he
took a kiss!"

He winced, was silent a moment, and then seeing that he got nothing by
the tone he had adopted he cried for quarter. "A little mercy, Madame,
as you are beautiful," he said, wooing her with his eyes. "Do not
plague me beyond what a man can bear. Dismiss, I pray you, this good
creature--whose charms do but set off yours as the star leads the eye
to the moon--and make me the happiest man in the world by so much of
your company as you will vouchsafe to give me."

"That may be but a very little," she answered, letting her eyes fall
coyly, and affecting to handle the tucker of her low ruff. But he saw
that her lip twitched; and he could have sworn that she mocked him to
Suzanne, for the girl giggled.

Still by an effort he controlled his feelings. "Why so cruel?" he
murmured, in a tone meant for her alone, and with a look to match.
"You were not so hard when I spoke with you in the gallery, two
evenings ago, Madame."

"Was I not?" she asked. "Did I look like this? And this?" And,
languishing, she looked at him very sweetly after two fashions.

"Something."

"Oh, then I meant nothing!" she retorted with sudden vivacity. And she
made a face at him, laughing under his nose. "I do that when I mean
nothing, Monsieur! Do you see? But you are Gascon, and given, I fear,
to flatter yourself."

Then he saw clearly that she played with him: and resentment, chagrin,
pique got the better of his courtesy. "I flatter myself?" he cried,
his voice choked with rage. "It may be I do now, Madame, but did I
flatter myself when you wrote me this note?" And he drew it out and
flourished it in her face. "Did I imagine when I read this? Or is it
not in your hand? It is a forgery, perhaps," he continued bitterly.
"Or it means nothing? Nothing, this note bidding me be at Madame St.
Lo's at an hour before midnight--it means nothing? At an hour before
midnight, Madame!"

"On Saturday night? The night before last night?"

"On Saturday night, the night before last night! But Madame knows
nothing of it? Nothing, I suppose?"

She shrugged her shoulders and smiled cheerfully on him. "Oh, yes, I
wrote it," she said. "But what of that, M. de Tignonville?"

"What of that?"

"Yes, Monsieur, what of that? Did you think it was written out of love
for you?"

He was staggered for the moment by her coolness. "Out of what, then?"
he cried hoarsely. "Out of what, then, if not out of love?"

"Why, out of pity, my little gentleman!" she answered sharply. "And
trouble thrown away it seems. Love!" And she laughed so merrily and
spontaneously it cut him to the heart. "No; but you said a dainty
thing or two, and smiled a smile; and like a fool, and like a woman, I
was sorry for the innocent calf that bleated so prettily on its way to
the butcher's! And I would lock you up and save your life, I thought,
until the blood-letting was over. Now you have it, M. de Tignonville,
and I hope you like it."

Like it, when every word she uttered stripped him of the selfish
illusions in which he had wrapped himself against the blasts of
ill-fortune? Like it, when the prospect of her charms had bribed him
from the path of fortitude, when for her sake he had been false to his
mistress, to his friends, to his faith, to his cause? Like it, when he
knew as he listened that all was lost, and nothing gained--not even
this poor, unworthy, shameful compensation? Like it? No wonder that
words failed him, and he glared at her in rage, in misery, in shame.

"Oh, if you don't like it," she continued, tossing her head after a
momentary pause, "then you should not have come! It is of no profit to
glower at me, Monsieur. You do not frighten me."

"I would--I would to God I had not come!" he groaned.

"And, I dare say, that you had never seen me--since you cannot win
me!"

"That too," he exclaimed.

She was of an extraordinary levity, and at that after staring at him a
moment she broke into shrill laughter. "A little more, and I'll send
you to my cousin Hannibal!" she said. "You do not know how anxious he
is to see you. Have you a mind," with a waggish look, "to play bride's
man, M. de Tignonville? Or will you give away the bride? It is not too
late, though soon it will be!"

He winced, and from red grew pale. "What do you mean?" he stammered.
And, averting his eyes in shame, seeing now all the littleness, all
the baseness of his position, "Has he--married her?" he continued.

"Ho, ho!" she cried in triumph. "I've hit you now, have I, Monsieur?
I've hit you!" And mocking him, "Has he--married her?" she lisped.
"No; but he will marry her, have no fear of that! He will marry her.
He waits but to get a priest. Would you like to see what he says?" she
continued, playing with him as a cat plays with a mouse. "I had a note
from him yesterday. Would you like to see how welcome you'll be at the
wedding?" And she flaunted a piece of paper before his eyes.

"Give it me," he said.

She let him seize it the while she shrugged her shoulders. "It's your
affair, not mine," she said. "See it if you like, and keep it if you
like. Cousin Hannibal wastes few words."

That was true, for the paper contained but a dozen or fifteen words,
and an initial by way of signature. "I may need your shoveling
to-morrow afternoon. Send him, and Tignonville in safeguard if he
come.--H."

"I can guess what use he has for a priest," she said. "It is not to
confess him, I warrant. It's long, I fear, since Hannibal told his
beads."

M. de Tignonville swore. "I would I had the confessing of him!" he
said between his teeth.

She clapped her hands in glee. "Why should you not?" she cried. "Why
should you not? 'Tis time yet, since I am to send to-day and have not
sent. Will you be the shaveling to go confess or marry him?" And she
laughed recklessly. "Will you, M. de Tignonville? The cowl will mask
you as well as another, and pass you through the streets better than a
cut sleeve. He will have both his wishes, lover and clerk in one then.
And it will be pull monk, pull Hannibal with a vengeance."

Tignonville gazed at her, and as he gazed courage and hope awoke in
his eyes. What if, after all, he could undo the past? What if, after
all, he could retrace the false step he had taken, and place himself
again where he had been--by her side? "If you meant it!" he exclaimed,
his breath coming fast. "If you only meant what you say, Madame."

"If?" she answered, opening her eyes. "And why should I not mean it?"

"Because," he replied slowly, "cowl or no cowl, when I meet your
cousin----"

"'Twill go hard with him?" she cried, with a mocking laugh. "And you
think I fear for him. That is it, is it?"

He nodded.

"I fear just _so much_ for him!" she retorted with contempt. "Just so
much!" And coming a step nearer to Tignonville she snapped her small
white fingers under his nose. "Do you see? No, M. de Tignonville," she
continued, "you do not know Count Hannibal if you think that he fears,
or that any fear for him. If you will beard the lion in his den, the
risk will be yours, not his!"

The young man's face glowed. "I take the risk!" he cried. "And I thank
you for the chance; that, Madame, whatever betide. But----"

"But what?" she asked, seeing that he hesitated and that his face
fell.

"If he afterwards learn that you have played him a trick," he said,
"will he not punish you?"

"Punish me?"

He nodded.

Madame laughed her high disdain. "You do not yet know Hannibal de
Tavannes," she said. "He does not war with women."



                             CHAPTER XI.

                              A BARGAIN.


It is the wont of the sex to snatch at an ell where an inch is
offered, and to press an advantage in circumstances in which a man,
acknowledging the claims of generosity, scruples to ask for more. The
habit, now ingrained, may have sprung from long dependence on the
male, and is one which a hundred instances, from the time of Judith
downward, prove to be at its strongest where the need is greatest.

When Mademoiselle de Vrillac came out of the hour-long swoon into
which her lover's defection had cast her, the expectation of the worst
was so strong upon her that she could not at once credit the respite
which Madame Carlat hastened to announce. She could not believe that
she still lay safe, in her own room above stairs; that she was in the
care of her own servants, and that the chamber held no presence more
hateful than that of the good woman who sat weeping beside her.

As was to be expected, she came to herself sighing and shuddering,
trembling with nervous exhaustion. She looked for _him_, as soon as
she looked for any; and even when she had seen the door locked and
double-locked, she doubted--doubted, and shook and hid herself in the
hangings of the bed. The noise of the riot and rapine which prevailed
in the city, and which reached the ear even in that locked room--and
although the window, of paper, with an upper pane of glass, looked
into a courtyard--was enough to drive the blood from a woman's cheeks.
But it was fear of the house, not of the street, fear from within, not
from without, which impelled the girl into the darkest corner and
shook her wits. She could not believe that even this short respite was
hers, until she had repeatedly heard the fact confirmed at Madame
Carlat's mouth.

"You are deceiving me!" she cried more than once. And each time she
started up in fresh terror. "He never said that he would not return
until to-morrow!"

"He did, my lamb, he did!" the old woman answered with tears. "Would I
deceive you?"

"He said he would not return?"

"He said he would not return until to-morrow. You had until to-morrow,
he said."

"And then?"

"He would come and bring the priest with him," Madame Carlat replied
sorrowfully.

"The priest? To-morrow!" Mademoiselle cried. "The priest!" and she
crouched anew with hot eyes behind the hangings of the bed, and,
shivering, hid her face.

But this for a time only. As soon as she had made certain of the
respite, and that she had until the morrow, her courage rose, and with
it the instinct of which mention has been made. Count Hannibal had
granted a respite; short as it was, and no more than the barest
humanity required, to grant one at all was not the act of the mere
butcher who holds the trembling lamb, unresisting, in his hands. It
was an act--no more, again be it said, than humanity required--and yet
an act which bespoke an expectation of some return, of some
correlative advantage. It was not in the part of the mere brigand.
Something had been granted. Something short of the utmost in the
captor's power had been exacted. He had shown that there were things
he would not do.

Then might not something more be won from him? A further delay,
another point; something, no matter what, which could be turned to
advantage. With the brigand it is not possible to bargain. But who
gives a little may give more; who gives a day may give a week; who
gives a week may give a month. And a month? Her heart leapt up. A
month seemed a lifetime, an eternity, to her who had but until
to-morrow!

Yet there was one consideration which might have daunted a spirit
less brave. To obtain aught from Tavannes it was needful to ask him,
and to ask him it was needful to see him; and to see him _before_ that
to-morrow which meant so much to her. It was necessary, in a word, to
run some risk; but without risk the card could not be played, and she
did not hesitate. It might turn out that she was wrong, that the man
was not only pitiless and without bowels of mercy, but lacked also the
shred of decency for which she gave him credit, and on which she
counted. In that case, if she sent for him--but she would not consider
that case.

The position of the window, while it increased the women's safety,
debarred them from all knowledge of what was going forward, except
that which their ears afforded them. They had no means of judging
whether Tavannes remained in the house or had sallied forth to
play his part in the work of murder. Madame Carlat, indeed, had no
desire to know anything. In that room above stairs, with the door
double-locked, lay a hope of safety in the present, and of ultimate
deliverance; there she had a respite from terror, as long as she kept
the world outside. To her, therefore, the notion of sending for
Tavannes, or communicating with him, came as a thunderbolt. Was her
mistress mad? Did she wish to court her fate? To reach Tavannes they
must apply to his riders, for Carlat and the men-servants were
confined above. Those riders were grim, brutal men, who might resort
to rudeness on their own account. And Madame, clinging in a paroxysm
of terror to her mistress, suggested all manner of horrors, one on top
of the other, until she increased her own terror tenfold. And yet, to
do her justice, nothing that even her frenzied imagination suggested
exceeded the things which the streets of Paris, fruitful mother of
horrors, were witnessing at that very hour. As we now know.

For it was noon--or a little more--of Sunday, August the twenty-fourth,
"a holiday, and therefore the people could more conveniently find
leisure to kill and plunder." From the bridges, and particularly
from the stone bridge of Notre Dame--while they lay safe in that
locked room, and Tignonville crouched in his haymow--Huguenots less
fortunate were being cast, bound hand and foot, into the Seine. On the
river bank Spire Niquet, the bookman, was being burnt over a slow
fire, fed with his own books. In their houses, Ramus the scholar and
Goujon the sculptor--than whom Paris has neither seen nor deserved a
greater--were being butchered like sheep; and in the Valley of Misery,
now the Quai de la Megisserie, seven hundred persons who had sought
refuge in the prisons were being beaten to death with bludgeons. Nay,
at this hour--a little sooner or a little later, what matters it?--M.
Tignonville's own cousin, Madame d'Yverne, the darling of the Louvre
the day before, perished in the hands of the mob; and the sister of M.
de Taverny, equally ill-fated, died in the same fashion, after being
dragged through the streets.

Madame Carlat, then, went not a whit beyond the mark in her argument.
But Mademoiselle had made up her mind, and was not to be dissuaded.

"If I am to be Monsieur's wife," she said with quivering nostrils,
"shall I fear his servants?"

And opening the door herself, for the others would not, she called.
The man who answered was a Norman; and short of stature, and wrinkled
and low-browed of feature, with a thatch of hair and a full beard, he
seemed the embodiment of the women's apprehensions. Moreover, his
_patois_ of the cider-land was little better than German to them;
their southern, softer tongue was sheer Italian to him. But he seemed
not ill-disposed, or Mademoiselle's air overawed him; and presently
she made him understand, and with a nod he descended to carry her
message.

Then Mademoiselle's heart began to beat; and beat more quickly when
she heard _his_ step--alas! she knew it already, knew it from all
others--on the stairs. The table was set, the card must be played, to
win or lose. It might be that with the low, opinion he held of women
he would think her reconciled to her lot; he would think this an
overture, a step towards kinder treatment, one more proof of the
inconstancy of the lower and the weaker sex, made to be men's
playthings. And at that thought her eyes grew hot with rage. But if it
were so, she must still put up with it. She must still put up with it!
She had sent for him, and he was coming--he was at the door!

He entered, and she breathed more freely. For once his face lacked the
sneer, the look of smiling possession, which she had come to know and
hate. It was grave, expectant, even suspicious; still harsh and dark,
akin, as she now observed, to the low-browed, furrowed face of the
rider who had summoned him. But the offensive look was gone, and she
could breathe.

He closed the door behind him, but he did not advance into the room.
"At your pleasure, Mademoiselle?" he said simply. "You sent for me, I
think."

She was on her feet, standing before him with something of the
submissiveness of Roxana before her conqueror. "I did," she said; and
stopped at that, her hand to her side as if she could not continue.
But presently in a low voice, "I have heard," she went on, "what you
said, Monsieur, after I lost consciousness."

"Yes?" he said; and was silent. Nor did he lose his watchful look.

"I am obliged to you for your thought of me," she continued in a faint
voice, "and I shall be still further obliged--I speak to you thus
quickly and thus early--if you will grant me a somewhat longer time."

"Do you mean--if I will postpone our marriage?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"It is impossible!"

"Do not say that," she cried, raising her voice impulsively. "I appeal
to your generosity. And for a short, a very short, time only."

"It is impossible," he answered quietly. "And for reasons,
Mademoiselle. In the first place I can more easily protect my wife. In
the second, I am even now summoned to the Louvre, and should be on my
way thither. By to-morrow evening, unless I am mistaken in the
business on which I am required, I shall be on my way to a distant
province with royal letters. It is essential that our marriage take
place before I go."

"Why?" she asked stubbornly.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Why?" he repeated. "Can you ask,
Mademoiselle, after the events of last night? Because, if you please,
I do not wish to share the fate of M. de Tignonville. Because in these
days life is uncertain, and death too certain. Because it was our turn
last night, and it may be the turn of your friends--to-morrow night!"

"Then some have escaped?" she cried.

He smiled. "I am glad to find you so shrewd," he replied. "In an
honest wife it is an excellent quality. Yes, Mademoiselle; one or
two."

"Who? Who? I pray you tell me."

"M. de Montgomery, who slept beyond the river, for one; and the
Vidame, and some with him. M. de Biron, whom I count a Huguenot, and
who holds the Arsenal in the King's teeth, for another. And a few
more. Enough, in a word, Mademoiselle, to keep us wakeful. It is
impossible, therefore, for me to postpone the fulfilment of your
promise."

"A promise on conditions!" she retorted, in rage that she could win no
more. And every line of her splendid figure, every tone of her voice
flamed sudden, hot rebellion. "I do not go for nothing! You gave me
the lives of all in the house, Monsieur! Of all!" she repeated with
passion. "And all are not here! Before I marry you, you must show me
M. de Tignonville alive and safe!"

He shrugged his shoulders. "He has taken himself off," he said. "It is
naught to me what happens to him now."

"It is all to me!" she retorted.

At that he glared at her, the veins of his forehead swelling suddenly.
But after a seeming struggle with himself he put the insult by,
perhaps for future reckoning and account. "I did what I could," he
said sullenly. "Had I willed it he had died there and then in the room
below. I gave him his life. If he has risked it anew and lost it, it
is naught to me."

"It was his life you gave me," she repeated stubbornly. "His life--and
the others. But that is not all," she continued; "you promised me a
minister."

He nodded, smiling sourly to himself, as if this confirmed a suspicion
he had entertained. "Or a priest," he said.

"No, a minister."

"If one could be obtained. If not, a priest."

"No, it was to be at my will; and I will a minister! I will a
minister!" she cried passionately. "Show me M. Tignonville alive, and
bring me a minister of my faith, and I will keep my promise, M. de
Tavannes. Have no fear of that. But otherwise, I will not."

"You will not?" he cried. "You will not?"

"No!"

"You will not marry me?"

"No!"

The moment she had said it fear seized her, and she could have fled
from him, screaming. The flash of his eyes, the sudden passion of his
face, burned themselves into her memory. She thought for a second that
he would spring on her and strike her down. Yet though the women
behind her held their breath, she faced him, and did not quail; and to
that, she fancied, she owed it that he controlled himself. "You will
not?" he repeated, as if he could not understand such resistance to
his will--as if he could not credit his ears. "You will not?" But
after that, when he had said it three times, he laughed; a laugh,
however, with a snarl in it that chilled her blood.

"You bargain, do you?" he said. "You will have the last tittle of the
price, will you? And have thought of this and that to put me off, and
to gain time until your lover, who is all to you, come to save you?
Oh, clever girl! clever! But have you thought where you stand--woman?
Do you know that if I gave the word to my people they would treat you
as the commonest baggage that tramps the Froidmantel? Do you know that
it rests with me to save you, or to throw you to the wolves whose
ravening you hear?" And he pointed to the window. "Minister? Priest?"
he continued. "_Mon Dieu_, Mademoiselle, I stand astonished at my
moderation. You chatter to me of ministers and priests, and the one or
the other, when it might be neither! When you are as much and as
hopelessly in my power to-day as the wench in my kitchen! You! You
flout me, and make terms with me! You!"

And he came so near her with his dark harsh face, his tone rose so
menacing on the last word, that her nerves, shattered before, gave
way, and, unable to control herself, she flinched with a low cry,
thinking he would strike her.

He did not follow, nor move to follow; but he laughed a low laugh of
content. And his eyes devoured her. "Ho! ho!" he said. "We are not so
brave as we pretend to be, it seems. And yet you dared to chaffer with
me? You thought to thwart me--Tavannes! _Mon Dieu_, Mademoiselle, to
what did you trust? To what did you trust? Ay, and to what do you
trust?"

She knew that by the movement, which fear had forced from her, she had
jeopardised everything. That she stood to lose all and more than all
which she had thought to win by a bold front. A woman less brave, of a
spirit less firm, would have given up the contest, and have been glad
to escape so. But this woman, though her bloodless face showed that
she knew what cause she had for fear, and though her heart was,
indeed, sick with sheer terror, held her ground at the point to which
she had retreated. She played her last card. "To what do I trust?" she
muttered with trembling lips.

"Yes, Mademoiselle," he answered, between his teeth. "To what do you
trust--that you play with Tavannes?"

"To his honour, Monsieur," she answered faintly. "And to your
promise."

He looked at her with his mocking smile. "And yet," he sneered, "you
thought a moment ago that I was going to strike you. You thought that
I should beat you! And now it is my honour and my promise! Oh, clever,
clever, Mademoiselle! 'Tis so that women make fools of men. I knew
that something of this kind was on foot when you sent for me, for I
know women and their ways. But, let me tell you, it is an ill time to
speak of honour when the streets are red! And of promises when the
King's word is 'No faith with a heretic!'"

"Yet you will keep yours," she said bravely.

He did not answer at once, and hope which was almost dead in her
breast began to recover; nay, presently sprang up erect. For the man
hesitated, it was evident; he brooded with a puckered brow and gloomy
eyes; an observer might have fancied that he traced pain as well as
doubt in his face. At last: "There is a thing," he said slowly and
with a sort of glare at her, "which, it may be, you have not reckoned.
You press me now, and will stand on your terms and your conditions,
your _ifs_ and your _unlesses!_ You will have the most from me, and
the bargain and a little beside the bargain! But I would have you
think if you are wise. Bethink you how it will be between us when you
are my wife--if you press me so now, Mademoiselle. How will it sweeten
things then? How will it soften them? And to what, I pray you, will
you trust for fair treatment then, if you will be so against me now?"

She shuddered. "To the mercy of my husband," she said in a low voice.
And her chin sank on her breast.

"You will be content to trust to that?" he answered grimly. And his
tone and the lifting of his brow promised little clemency. "Bethink
you! 'Tis your rights now, and your terms, Mademoiselle! And then it
will be only my mercy--Madame."

"I am content," she muttered faintly.

"And the Lord have mercy on my soul, is what you would add," he
retorted, "so much trust have you in my mercy! And you are right! You
are right, since you have played this trick on me. But as you will. If
you will have it so, have it so! You shall stand on your conditions
now; you shall have your pennyweight and full advantage, and the
rigour of the pact. But afterwards--afterwards, Madame de
Tavannes----"

He did not finish his sentence, for at the first word which granted
her petition, Mademoiselle had sunk down on the low wooden window-seat
beside which she stood, and, cowering into its farthest corner, her
face hidden on her arms, had burst into violent weeping. Her hair,
hastily knotted up in the hurry of the previous night, hung in a thick
plait to the curve of her waist; the nape of her neck showed beside it
milk-white. The man stood awhile contemplating her in silence, his
gloomy eyes watching the pitiful movement of her shoulders, the
convulsive heaving of her figure. But he did not offer to touch her,
and at length he turned about. First one and then the other of her
women quailed and shrank under his gaze; he seemed about to add
something. But he did not speak. The sentence he had left unfinished,
the long look he bent on the weeping girl as he turned from her, spoke
more eloquently of the future than a score of orations.

"_Afterwards, Madame de Tavannes!_"



                             CHAPTER XII.

                      IN THE HALL OF THE LOUVRE.


It is a strange thing that love--or passion, if the sudden fancy for
Mademoiselle which had seized Count Hannibal be deemed unworthy of the
higher name--should so entirely possess the souls of those who harbour
it that the greatest events and the most astounding catastrophes, even
measures which set their mark for all time on a nation, are to them of
importance only so far as they affect the pursuit of the fair one.

As Tavannes, after leaving Mademoiselle, rode through the paved lanes,
beneath the gabled houses, and under the shadow of the Gothic spires
of his day, he saw a score of sights, moving to pity, or wrath, or
wonder. He saw Paris as a city sacked; a slaughterhouse, where for a
week a masque had moved to stately music; blood on the nailed doors
and the close-set window bars; and at the corners of the ways strewn
garments, broken weapons, the livid dead in heaps. But he saw all with
eyes which in all and everywhere, among living and dead, sought only
Tignonville; Tignonville first, and next a heretic minister, with
enough of life in him to do his office.

Probably it was to this that one man hunted through Paris owed his
escape that day. He sprang from a narrow passage full in Tavannes'
view, and, hair on end, his eyes starting from his head, ran
blindly--as a hare will run when chased--along the street to meet
Count Hannibal's company. The man's face was wet with the dews of
death, his lungs seemed cracking, his breath hissed from him as he
ran. His pursuers were hard on him, and, seeing him headed by Count
Hannibal's party, yelled in triumph, holding him for dead. And dead he
would have been within thirty seconds had Tavannes played his part.
But his thoughts were elsewhere. Either he took the poor wretch for
Tignonville, or for the minister on whom his mind was running; at any
rate he suffered him to slip under the belly of his horse; then, to
make matters worse, he wheeled to follow him in so untimely and clumsy
a fashion that his horse blocked the way and stopped the pursuers in
their tracks. The quarry slipped into an alley and vanished. The
hunters stood and blasphemed, and even for a moment seemed inclined to
resent the mistake. But Tavannes smiled; a broader smile lightened the
faces of the six iron-clad men behind him; and for some reason the
gang of ruffians thought better of it and slunk aside.

There are hard men, who feel scorn of the things which in the breasts
of others excite pity. Tavannes' lip curled as he rode on through the
streets, looking this way and that, and seeing what a King twenty-two
years old had made of his capital. His lip curled most of all when he
came, passing between the two tennis-courts, to the east gate of the
Louvre, and found the entrance locked and guarded, and all
communication between city and palace cut off. Such a proof of
unkingly panic, in a crisis wrought by the King himself, astonished
him less a few minutes later, when, the keys having been brought and
the door opened, he entered the courtyard of the fortress.

Within and about the door of the gatehouse some three-score archers
and arquebusiers stood to their arms; not in array, but in disorderly
groups, from which the babble of voices, of feverish laughter, and
strained jests rose without ceasing. The westering sun, of which the
beams just topped the farther side of the quadrangle, fell slantwise
on their armour, and heightened their exaggerated and restless
movements. To a calm eye they seemed like men acting in a nightmare.
Their fitful talk and disjointed gestures, their sweating brows and
damp hair, no less than the sullen, brooding silence of one here and
there, bespoke the abnormal and the terrible. There were livid faces
among them, and twitching cheeks, and some who swallowed much; and
some again who bared their crimson arms and bragged insanely of the
part they had played. But perhaps the most striking thing was the
thirst, the desire, the demand for news, and for fresh excitement. In
the space of time it took him to pass through them, Count Hannibal
heard a dozen rumours of what was passing in the city; that Montgomery
and the gentlemen who had slept beyond the river had escaped on
horseback in their shirts; that Guise had been shot in the pursuit;
that he had captured the Vidame de Chartres and all the fugitives;
that he had never left the city; that he was even then entering by the
Porte de Bucy. Again that Biron had surrendered the Arsenal, that he
had threatened to fire on the city, that he was dead, that with the
Huguenots who had escaped he was marching on the Louvre, that----

And then Tavannes passed out of the blinding sunshine, and out of
earshot of their babble, and had plain in his sight across the
quadrangle, the new façade, Italian, graceful, of the Renaissance;
which rose in smiling contrast with the three dark Gothic sides that
now, the central tower removed, frowned unimpeded at one another. But
what was this which lay along the foot of the new Italian wall? This,
round which some stood, gazing curiously, while others strewed fresh
sand about it, or after long downward-looking glanced up to answer the
question of a person at a window?

Death; and over death--death in its most cruel aspect--a cloud of
buzzing, whirling flies, and the smell, never to be forgotten, of much
spilled blood. From a doorway hard by came shrill bursts of hysterical
laughter; and with the laughter plumped out, even as Tavannes crossed
the court, a young girl, thrust forth it seemed by her fellows, for
she turned about and struggled as she came. Once outside she hung
back, giggling and protesting, half willing, half unwilling; and
meeting Tavannes' eye thrust her way in again with a whirl of her
petticoats, and a shriek. But before he had taken four paces she was
out again.

He paused to see who she was, and his thoughts involuntarily went back
to the woman he had left weeping in the upper room. Then he turned
about again and stood to count the dead. He identified Piles,
identified Pardaillan, identified Soubise--whose corpse the murderers
had robbed of the last rag--and Touchet and St. Galais. He made his
reckoning with an unmoved face, and with the same face stopped and
stared, and moved from one to another; had he not seen the slaughter
about "_le petit home_" at Jarnac, and the dead of three pitched
fields? But when a bystander, smirking obsequiously, passed him a jest
on Soubise, and with his finger pointed the jest, he had the same hard
unmoved face for the gibe as for the dead. And the jester shrank away,
abashed and perplexed by his stare and his reticence.

Half way up the staircase to the great gallery or guardroom above,
Count Hannibal found his brother, the Marshal, huddled together in
drunken slumber on a seat in a recess. In the gallery to which he
passed on without awakening him, a crowd of courtiers and ladies, with
arquebusiers and captains of the quarters, walked to and fro, talking
in whispers; or peeped over shoulders towards the inner end of the
hall, where the querulous voice of the King rose now and again above
the hum. As Tavannes moved that way, Nançay, in the act of passing
out, booted and armed for the road, met him and almost jostled him.

"Ah, well met, M. le Comte," he sneered, with as much hostility as he
dared betray. "The King has asked for you twice."

"I am going to him. And you? Whither in such a hurry, M. Nançay?"

"To Chatillon."

"On pleasant business?"

"Enough that it is on the King's!" Nançay replied with unexpected
temper. "I hope that you may find yours as pleasant!" he added with a
grin. And he went on.

The gleam of malice in the man's eye warned Tavannes to pause. He
looked round for someone who might be in the secret, saw the Provost
of the Merchants and approached him. "What's amiss, M. le Charron?" he
asked. "Is not the affair going as it should?"

"'Tis about the Arsenal, M. le Comte," the Provost answered busily.
"M. de Biron is harbouring the vermin there. He has lowered the
portcullis and pointed his culverins over the gate and will not yield
it or listen to reason. The King would bring him to terms, but no one
will venture himself inside with the message. Rats in a trap, you
know, bite hard, and care little whom they bite."

"I begin to understand."

"Precisely, M. le Comte. His Majesty would have sent M. de Nançay. But
he elected to go to Chatillon, to seize the young brood there. The
Admiral's children, you comprehend."

"Whose teeth are not yet grown! He was wise."

"To be sure, M. de Tavannes, to be sure. But the King was annoyed, and
on top of that came a priest with complaints, and if I may make so
bold as to advise you, you will not----"

But Tavannes fancied that he had caught the gist of the difficulty,
and with a nod he moved on; and so he missed the point of the warning
which the other had it in his mind to give. A moment and he reached
the inner circle, and there halted, disconcerted, nay, taken aback.
For as soon as he showed his face, the King, who was pacing to and fro
like a caged beast, before a table at which three clerks knelt on
cushions, espied him and stood still. With a glare of something like
madness in his eyes, Charles raised his hand with a shaking finger and
singled him out.

"So, by G--d, you are there!" he cried, with a volley of blasphemy.
And he signed to those about Count Hannibal to stand away from him.
"You are there, are you? And you are not afraid to show your face? I
tell you, it's you and such as you bring us into contempt! so that it
is said everywhere Guise does all and serves God, and we follow
because we must! It's you, and such as you, are stumbling-blocks to
our good folk of Paris! Are you traitor, sirrah?" he continued with
passion, "or are you of our brother Alençon's opinions, that you
traverse our orders to the damnation of your soul and our discredit?
Are you traitor? Or are you heretic? Or what are you? God in heaven,
will you answer me, man, or shall I send you where you will find your
tongue?"

"I know not of what your Majesty accuses me," Count Hannibal answered,
with a scarcely perceptible shrug of the shoulders.

"I? 'Tis not I," the King retorted. His hair hung damp on his brow,
and he dried his hands continually; while his gestures had the
ill-measured and eccentric violence of an epileptic. "Here, you!
Speak, father, and confound him!"

Then Tavannes discovered on the farther side of the circle the priest
whom his brother had ridden down that morning. Father Pezelay's pale
hatchet-face gleamed paler than ordinary; and a great bandage hid one
temple and part of his face. But, below the bandage, the flame of his
eyes was not lessened, nor the venom of his tongue. To the King he had
come--for no other would deal with his violent opponent; to the King's
presence! and, as he prepared to blast his adversary, now his chance
was come, his long lean frame, in its narrow black cassock, seemed to
grow longer, leaner, more baleful, more snake-like. He stood there a
fitting representative of the dark fanaticism of Paris, which Charles
and his successor--the last of a doomed line--alternately used as tool
or feared as master; and to which the most debased and the most
immoral of courts paid, in its sober hours, a vile and slavish homage.
Even in the midst of the drunken, shameless courtiers--who stood, if
they stood for anything, for that other influence of the day, the
Renaissance--he was to be reckoned with; and Count Hannibal knew it.
He knew that in the eyes not of Charles only, but of nine out of ten
who listened to him, a priest was more sacred than a virgin, and a
tonsure than all the virtues of spotless innocence.

"Shall the King give with one hand and withdraw with the other?" the
priest began, in a voice hoarse yet strident, a voice borne high above
the crowd on the wings of passion. "Shall he spare of the best of the
men and the maidens whom God hath doomed, whom the Church hath
devoted, whom the King hath given? Is the King's hand shortened or his
word annulled that a man does as he forbiddeth and leaves undone what
he commandeth? Is God mocked? Woe, woe unto you," he continued,
turning swiftly, arms uplifted, towards Tavannes, "who please yourself
with the red and white of their maidens and take of the best of the
spoil, sparing where the King's word is 'Spare not!' Who strike at
Holy Church with the sword! Who----"

"Answer, sirrah!" Charles cried, spurning the floor in his fury. He
could not listen long to any man. "Is it so? Is it so? Do you do these
things?"

Count Hannibal shrugged his shoulders and was about to answer, when a
thick, drunken voice rose from the crowd behind him. "Is it what? Eh!
Is it what?" it droned. And a figure with bloodshot eyes, disordered
beard, and rich clothes awry, forced its way through the obsequious
circle. It was Marshal Tavannes. "Eh, what? You'd beard the King,
would you?" he hiccoughed truculently, his eyes on Father Pezelay, his
hand on his sword. "Were you a priest ten times--

"Silence!" Charles cried, almost foaming with rage at this fresh
interruption. "It's not he, fool! 'Tis your pestilent brother."

"Who touches my brother touches Tavannes!" the Marshal answered with a
menacing gesture. He was sober enough, it appeared, to hear what was
said, but not to comprehend its drift; and this caused a titter, which
immediately excited his rage. He turned and seized the nearest laugher
by the ear. "Insolent!" he cried. "I will teach you to laugh when the
King speaks! Puppy! Who laughs at his Majesty or touches my brother
has to do with Tavannes!"

The King, in a rage that almost deprived him of speech, stamped the
floor twice. "Idiot!" he cried. "Imbecile! Let the man go! 'Tis not
he! 'Tis your heretic brother, I tell you! By all the Saints! By the
body of----" and he poured forth a flood of oaths. "Will you listen to
me and be silent! Will you--your brother----"

"If he be not your Majesty's servant, I will kill him with this
sword!" the irrepressible Marshal struck in. "As I have killed ten
to-day! Ten!" And, staggering back, he only saved himself from falling
by clutching Chicot about the neck.

"Steady, my pretty Maréchale!" the jester cried, chucking him under
the chin with one hand, while with some difficulty he supported him
with the other--for he, too, was far from sober--


             "Pretty Margot, toy with me,
              Maiden bashful----"


"Silence!" Charles cried, darting forth his long arms in a fury of
impatience. "God, have I killed every man of sense? Are you all gone
mad? Silence! Do you hear? Silence! And let me hear what he has to
say," with a movement towards Count Hannibal. "And look you, sirrah,"
he continued with a curse, "see that it be to the purpose!"

"If it be a question of your Majesty's service," Tavannes answered.
"And obedience to your Majesty's orders, I am deeper in it than he who
stands there!" with a sign towards the priest. "I give my word for
that. And I will prove it."

"How, sir?" Charles cried. "How, how, how? How will you prove it?"

"By doing for you, sire, what he will not do!" Tavannes answered
scornfully. "Let him stand out, and if he will serve his Church as I
will serve my King----

"Blaspheme not!" cried the priest.

"Chatter not!" Tavannes retorted hardily, "but do! Better is he," he
continued, "who takes a city than he who slays women! Nay, sire," he
went on hurriedly, seeing the King start, "be not angry, but hear me!
You would send to Biron, to the Arsenal? You seek a messenger, sire?
Then let the good father be the man. Let him take your Majesty's will
to Biron, and let him see the Grand Master face to face, and bring him
to reason. Or, if he will not, I will! Let that be the test!"

"Ay, ay!" cried Marshal de Tavannes, "you say well, brother! Let him!"

"And if he will not, I will!" Tavannes repeated. "Let that be the
test, sire."

The King wheeled suddenly to Father Pezelay.

"You hear, father?" he said. "What say you!"

The priest's face grew sallow, and more sallow. He knew that the walls
of the Arsenal sheltered men whose hands no convention and no order of
Biron's would keep from his throat, were the grim gate and frowning
culverins once passed; men who had seen their women and children,
their wives and sisters immolated at his word, and now asked naught
but to stand face to face and eye to eye with him and tear him limb
from limb before they died! The challenge, therefore, was one-sided
and unfair; but for that very reason it shook him. The astuteness of
the man who, taken by surprise, had conceived this snare filled him
with dread. He dared not accept, and he scarcely dared to refuse the
offer. And meantime the eyes of the courtiers, who grinned in their
beards, were on him. At length he spoke, but it was in a voice which
had lost its boldness and assurance.

"It is not for me to clear myself," he cried, shrill and violent, "but
for those who are accused, for those who have belied the King's word,
and set at naught his Christian orders. For you, Count Hannibal,
heretic, or no better than heretic, it is easy to say 'I go.' For you
go but to your own, and your own will receive you!"

"Then you will not go?" with a jeer.

"At your command? No!" the priest shrieked with passion. "His Majesty
knows whether I serve him."

"I know," Charles cried, stamping his foot in a fury, "that you all
serve me when it pleases you! That you are all sticks of the same
faggot, wood of the same bundle, hell-babes in your own business, and
sluggards in mine! You kill to-day and you'll lay it to me to-morrow!
Ay, you will! you will!" he repeated frantically, and drove home the
asseveration with a fearful oath. "The dead are as good servants as
you! Foucauld was better! Foucauld? Foucauld? Ah, my God!"

And abruptly in presence of them all, with the sacred name, which he
so often defiled, on his lips, Charles turned, and covering his face
burst into childish weeping; while a great silence fell on all--on
Bussy with the blood of his cousin Resnel on his point, on Fervacques,
the betrayer of his friend, on Chicot, the slayer of his rival, on
Cocconnas the cruel--on men with hands unwashed from the slaughter,
and on the shameless women who lined the walls; on all who used this
sobbing man for their stepping-stone, and, to attain their ends and
gain their purposes, trampled his dull soul in blood and mire.

One looked at another in consternation. Fear grew in eyes that a
moment before were bold; cheeks turned pale that a moment before were
hectic. If he changed as rapidly as this, if so little dependence
could be placed on his moods or his resolutions, who was safe? Whose
turn might it not be to-morrow? Or who might not be held accountable
for the deeds done this day? Many, from whom remorse had seemed far
distant a while before, shuddered and glanced behind them. It was as
if the dead who lay stark without the doors, ay, and the countless
dead of Paris, with whose shrieks the air was laden, had flocked in
shadowy shape into the hall; and there, standing beside their
murderers, had whispered with their cold breath in the living ears, "A
reckoning! A reckoning! As I am, thou shalt be!"

It was Count Hannibal who broke the spell and the silence, and with
his hand on his brother's shoulder stood forward. "Nay, sire," he
cried, in a voice which rang defiant in the roof, and seemed to
challenge alike the living and the dead, "if all deny the deed, yet
will not I! What we have done we have done! So be it! The dead are
dead! So be it! For the rest, your Majesty has still one servant who
will do your will, one soldier whose life is at your disposition! I
have said I will go, and I go, sire. And you, churchman," he
continued, turning in bitter scorn to the priest, "do you go too--to
church! To church, shaveling! Go, watch and pray for us! Fast and flog
for us! Whip those shoulders, whip them till the blood runs down! For
it is all, it seems, you will do for your King!"

Charles turned. "Silence, railer!" he said in a broken voice. "Sow no
more troubles! Already," a shudder shook his tall ungainly form, "I
see blood, blood, blood everywhere! Blood! Ah, God, shall I from this
time see anything else? But there is no turning back. There is no
undoing. So, do you go to Biron. And do you," he went on, sullenly
addressing Marshal Tavannes, "take him and tell him what it is needful
he should know."

"'Tis done, sire!" the Marshal cried with a hiccough. "Come, brother!"

But when the two, the courtiers making quick way for them, had passed
down the hall to the door, the Marshal tapped Hannibal's sleeve. "It
was touch and go," he muttered; it was plain he had been more sober
than he seemed. "Mind you, it does not do to thwart our little master
in his fits! Remember that another time, or worse will come of it,
brother. As it is, you came out of it finely and tripped that black
devil's heels to a marvel! But you won't be so mad as to go to Biron?"

"Yes," Count Hannibal answered coldly. "I shall go."

"Better not! Better not!" the Marshal answered. "'Twill be easier to
go in than to come out--with a whole throat! Have you taken wild cats
in the hollow of a tree? The young first, and then the she-cat? Well,
it will be that! Take my advice, brother. Have after Montgomery, if
you please, ride with Nançay to Chatillon--he is mounting now--go
where you please out of Paris, but don't go there! Biron hates us,
hates me. And for the King, if he do not see you for a few days,
'twill blow over in a week."

Count Hannibal shrugged his shoulders. "No," he said, "I shall go."

The Marshal stared a moment. "Morbleu!" he said, "why? 'Tis not to
please the King, I know. What do you think to find there, brother?"

"A minister," Hannibal answered gently. "I want one with life in him,
and they are scarce in the open. So I must to covert after him." And,
twitching his sword-belt a little nearer to his hand, he passed across
the court to the gate, and to his horses. The Marshal went back
laughing, and, slapping his thigh as he entered the hall, jostled by
accident a gentleman who was passing out.

"What is it?" the Gascon cried hotly; for it was Chicot he had
jostled.

"Who touches my brother touches Tavannes!" the Marshal hiccoughed.
And, smiting his thigh anew, he went off into another fit of laughter.



                            CHAPTER XIII.

                              DIPLOMACY.


Where the old wall of Paris, of which no vestige remains, ran down on
the east to the north bank of the river, the space in the angle
between the Seine and the ramparts beyond the Rue St. Pol wore at this
date an aspect typical of the troubles of the time. Along the
waterside the gloomy old Palace of St. Pol, once the residence of the
mad King Charles the Sixth--and his wife, the abandoned Isabeau de
Bavière--sprawled its maze of mouldering courts and ruined galleries,
a dreary monument of the Gothic days which were passing from France.
Its spacious curtilage and dark pleasaunces covered all the ground
between the river and the Rue St. Antoine; and north of this, under
the shadow of the eight great towers of the Bastille, which looked,
four outward to check the stranger, four inward to bridle the town, a
second palace, beginning where St. Pol ended, carried the realm of
decay to the city wall.

This second palace was the Hôtel des Tournelles, a fantastic medley of
turrets, spires, and gables, that equally with its neighbour recalled
the days of the English domination; it had been the abode of the
Regent Bedford. From his time it had remained for a hundred years the
town residence of the kings of France; but the death of Henry II.,
slain in its lists by the lance of the same Montgomery who was this
day fleeing for his life before Guise, had given his widow a distaste
for it. Catherine de Médicis, her sons, and the Court had abandoned
it; already its gardens lay a tangled wilderness, its roofs let in the
rain, rats played where kings had slept; and in "our palace of the
Tournelles" reigned only silence and decay. Unless, indeed, as was
whispered abroad, the grim shade of the eleventh Louis sometimes
walked in its desolate precincts.

In the innermost angle between the ramparts and the river, shut off
from the rest of Paris by the decaying courts and enceintes of these
forsaken palaces, stood the Arsenal. Destroyed in great part by the
explosion of a powder-mill a few years earlier, it was in the main
new; and by reason of its river frontage, which terminated at the
ruined tower of Billy, and its proximity to the Bastille, it was
esteemed one of the keys of Paris. It was the appanage of the Master
of the Ordnance, and within its walls M. de Biron, a Huguenot in
politics, if not in creed, who held the office at this time, had
secured himself on the first alarm. During the day he had admitted a
number of refugees, whose courage or good luck had led them to his
gate; and as night fell--on such a carnage as the hapless city had not
beheld since the great slaughter of the Armagnacs, one hundred and
fifty-four years earlier--the glow of his matches through the dusk,
and the sullen tramp of his watchmen as they paced the walls,
indicated that there was still one place in Paris where the King's
will did not run.

In comparison of the disorder which prevailed in the city, a deadly
quiet reigned here; a stillness so chill that a timid man must have
stood and hesitated to approach. But a stranger who about nightfall
rode down the street towards the entrance, a single footman running at
his stirrup, only nodded a stern approval of the preparations. As he
drew nearer he cast an attentive eye this way and that; nor stayed
until a hoarse challenge brought him up when he had come within six
horses' lengths of the Arsenal gate. He reined up then, and raising
his voice, asked in clear tones for M. de Biron.

"Go," he continued boldly, "tell the Grand Master that one from the
King is here, and would speak with him."

"From the King of France?" the officer on the gate asked.

"Surely! Is there more than one King in France?"

A curse and a bitter cry of "King? King Herod!" were followed by a
muttered discussion that, in the ears of one of the two who waited in
the gloom below, boded little good. The two could descry figures
moving to and fro before the faint red light of the smouldering
matches; and presently a man on the gate kindled a torch, and held it
so as to fling its light downward. The stranger's attendant cowered
behind the horse. "Have a care, my lord!" he whispered. "They are
aiming at us!"

If so the rider's bold front and unmoved demeanour gave them pause.
Presently, "I will send for the Grand Master" the man who had spoken
before announced. "In whose name, monsieur?"

"No matter," the stranger answered. "Say, one from the King."

"You are alone?"

"I shall enter alone."

The assurance seemed to be satisfactory, for the man answered "Good!"
and after a brief delay a wicket in the gate was opened, the
portcullis creaked upward, and a plank was thrust across the ditch.
The horseman waited until the preparations were complete; then he slid
to the ground, threw his rein to the servant, and boldly walked
across. In an instant he left behind him the dark street, the river,
and the sounds of outrage, which the night breeze bore from the
farther bank, and found himself within the vaulted gateway, in a
bright glare of light, the centre of a ring of gleaming eyes and angry
faces.

The light blinded him for a few seconds; but the guards, on their
side, were in no better case. For the stranger was masked; and in
their ignorance who it was looked at them through the slits in the
black velvet they stared, disconcerted, and at a loss. There were some
there with naked weapons in their hands who would have struck him
through had they known who he was; and more who would have stood aside
while the deed was done. But the uncertainty--that and the masked
man's tone paralysed them. For they reflected that he might be any
one. Condé, indeed, stood too small, but Navarre, if he lived, might
fill that cloak; or Guise, or Anjou, or the King himself. And while
some would not have scrupled to strike the blood royal, more would
have been quick to protect and avenge it. And so before the dark
uncertainty of the mask, before the riddle of the smiling eyes which
glittered through the slits, they stared irresolute; until a hand, the
hand of one bolder than his fellows, was raised to pluck away the
screen.

The unknown dealt the fellow a buffet with his fist. "Down, rascal!"
he said hoarsely. "And you"--to the officer--"show me instantly to M.
de Biron!"

But the lieutenant, who stood in fear of his men, looked at him
doubtfully. "Nay," he said, "not so fast!" And one of the others,
taking the lead, cried, "No! We may have no need of M. de Biron. Your
name, monsieur, first."

With a quick movement the stranger gripped the officer's wrist. "Tell
your master," he said, "that he who clasped his wrist _thus_ on the
night of Pentecost is here, and would speak with him! And say, mark
you, that I will come to him, not he to me!"

The sign and the tone imposed upon the boldest. Two-thirds of the
watch were Huguenots, who burned to avenge the blood of their fellows;
and these, overriding their officer, had agreed to deal with the
intruder, if a Papegot, without recourse to the Grand Master, whose
moderation they dreaded. A knife-thrust in the ribs, and another body
in the ditch--why not, when such things were done outside? But even
these doubted now; and M. Peridol, the lieutenant, reading in the eyes
of his men the suspicions which he had himself conceived, was only
anxious to obey, if they would let him. So gravely was he impressed,
indeed, by the bearing of the unknown that he turned when he had
withdrawn, and came back to assure himself that the men meditated no
harm in his absence; nor until he had exchanged a whisper with one of
them would he leave them and go.

While he was gone on his errand the envoy leaned against the wall of
the gateway, and, with his chin sunk on his breast and his mind fallen
into reverie, seemed unconscious of the dark glances of which he was
the target. He remained in this position until the officer came back,
followed by a man with a lantern. Their coming roused the unknown,
who, invited to follow Peridol, traversed two courts without remark,
and in the same silence entered a building in the extreme eastern
corner of the enceinte abutting on the ruined Tour de Billy. Here, in
an upper floor, the Governor of the Arsenal had established his
temporary lodging.

The chamber into which the stranger was introduced betrayed the haste
in which it had been prepared for its occupant. Two silver lamps which
hung from the beams of the unceiled roof shed light on a medley of
arms and inlaid armour, of parchments, books, and steel caskets, which
encumbered not the tables only, but the stools and chests that, after
the fashion of that day, stood formally along the arras. In the midst
of the disorder, on the bare floor, walked the man who, more than any
other, had been instrumental in drawing the Huguenots to Paris--and to
their doom. It was not wonderful that the events of the day, the
surprise and horror still rode his mind; nor that even he who passed
for a model of stiffness and reticence betrayed for once the
indignation which filled his breast. Until the officer had withdrawn
and closed the door he did, indeed, keep silence; standing beside the
table and eyeing his visitor with a lofty port and a stern glance. But
the moment he was assured that they were alone he spoke.

"Your Highness may unmask now," he said, making no effort to hide his
contempt. "Yet were you well advised to take the precaution, since you
had hardly come at me in safety without it. Had those who keep the
gate seen you, I would not have answered for your Highness's life! The
more shame," he continued vehemently, "on the deeds of this day which
have compelled the brother of a King of France to hide his face in his
own capital and in his own fortress. For I dare to say, Monsieur, what
no other will say, now the Admiral is dead. You have brought back the
days of the Armagnacs. You have brought bloody days and an evil name
on France, and I pray God that you may not pay in your turn what you
have exacted. But if you continue to be advised by M. de Guise, this I
will say, Monsieur"--and his voice fell low and stern. "Burgundy slew
Orleans, indeed; but he came in his turn to the Bridge of Montereau."

"You take me for Monsieur?" the unknown asked. And it was plain that
he smiled under his mask.

Biron's face altered. "I take you," he answered sharply, "for him
whose sign you sent me."

"The wisest are sometimes astray," the other answered with a low
laugh. And he took off his mask.

The Grand Master started back, his eyes sparkling with anger. "M. de
Tavannes?" he cried, and for a moment he was silent in sheer
astonishment. Then, striking his hand on the table, "What means this
trickery!" he asked.

"It is of the simplest," Tavannes answered coolly. "And yet, as you
just now said, I had hardly come at you without it. And I had to come
at you. No, M. de Biron," he added quickly, as Biron in a rage laid
his hand on a bell which stood beside him on the table, "you cannot
that way undo what is done."

"I can at least deliver you," the Grand Master answered, in heat, "to
those who will deal with you as you have dealt with us and ours."

"It will avail you nothing," Count Hannibal replied soberly. "For see
here, Grand Master, I come from the King. If you are at war with him,
and hold his fortress in his teeth, I am his ambassador and
sacrosanct. If you are at peace with him and hold it at his will, I
am his servant, and safe also."

"At peace and safe?" Biron cried, his voice trembling with
indignation. "And are those safe or at peace who came here trusting to
_his_ word, who lay in his palace and slept in his beds? Where are
they, and how have they fared, that you dare appeal to the law of
nations, or he to the loyalty of Biron? And for you to beard me, whose
brother to-day hounded the dogs of this vile city on the noblest in
France, who have leagued yourself with a crew of foreigners to do a
deed which will make our country stink in the nostrils of the world
when we are dust! You, to come here and talk of peace and safety! M.
de Tavannes"--and he struck his hand on the table--"you are a bold
man. I know why the King had a will to send you, but I know not why
you had the will to come."

"That I will tell you later," Count Hannibal answered coolly. "For the
King, first. My message is brief, M. de Biron. Have you a mind to hold
the scales in France?"

"Between?" Biron asked contemptuously.

"Between the Lorrainers and the Huguenots."

The Grand Master scowled fiercely. "I have played the go-between once
too often," he growled.

"It is no question of going between, it is a question of holding
between," Tavannes answered coolly. "It is a question--but, in a word,
have you a mind, M. de Biron, to be Governor of Rochelle? The King,
having dealt the blow that has been struck to-day, looks to follow up
severity, as a wise ruler should, with indulgence. And to quiet the
minds of the Rochellois he would set over them a ruler at once
acceptable to them--or war must come of it--and faithful to his
Majesty. Such a man, M. de Biron, will in such a post be Master of the
Kingdom; for he will hold the doors of Janus, and as he bridles his
sea-dogs, or unchains them, there will be peace or war in France."

"Is all that from the King's mouth?" Biron asked with sarcasm. But his
passion had died down. He was grown thoughtful, suspicious; he eyed
the other intently as if he would read his heart.

"The offer is his, and the reflections are mine," Tavannes answered
drily. "Let me add one more. The Admiral is dead. The King of Navarre
and the Prince of Condé are prisoners. Who is now to balance the
Italians and the Guises? The Grand Master--if he be wise and content
to give the law to France from the citadel of Rochelle."

Biron stared at the speaker in astonishment at his frankness. "You are
a bold man," he cried at last. "But _timeo Danaos et dona ferentes_,"
he continued bitterly. "You offer, sir, too much."

"The offer is the King's."

"And the conditions? The price?"

"That you remain quiet, M. de Biron."

"In the Arsenal?"

"In the Arsenal. And do not too openly counteract the King's will.
That is all."

The Grand Master looked puzzled. "I will give up no one," he said. "No
one! Let that be understood."

"The King requires no one."

A pause. Then, "Does M. de Guise know of the offer?" Biron inquired;
and his eye grew bright. He hated the Guises and was hated by them. It
was _there_ he was a Huguenot.

"He has gone far to-day," Count Hannibal answered drily. "And if no
worse come of it should be content. Madame Catherine knows of it."

The Grand Master was aware that Marshal Tavannes depended on the
Queen-mother; and he shrugged his shoulders. "Ay, 'tis like her
policy," he muttered. "'Tis like her!" And pointing his guest to a
cushioned chest which stood against the wall, he sat down in a chair
beside the table and thought awhile, his brow wrinkled, his eyes
dreaming. By-and-by he laughed sourly. "You have lighted the fire," he
said, "and would fain I put it out."

"We would have you hinder it spreading."

"You have done the deed and are loth to pay the blood-money. That is
it, is it?"

"We prefer to pay it to M. de Biron," Count Hannibal answered civilly.

Again the Grand Master was silent awhile. At length he looked up and
fixed Tavannes with eyes keen as steel. "What is behind?" he growled.
"Say, man, what is it? What is behind?"

"If there be aught behind, I do not know it," Tavannes answered
steadfastly.

M. de Biron relaxed the fixity of his gaze. "But you said that you had
an object?" he returned.

"I had--in being the bearer of the message."

"What was it?"

"My object? To learn two things."

"The first, if it please you?" The Grand Master's chin stuck out a
little, as he spoke.

"Have you in the Arsenal a M. de Tignonville, a gentleman of Poitou?"

"I have not," Biron answered curtly. "The second?"

"Have you here a Huguenot minister?"

"I have not. And if I had I should not give him up," he added firmly.

Tavannes shrugged his shoulders. "I have a use for one," he said
carelessly. "But it need not harm him."

"For what, then, do you need him?"

"To marry me."

The other stared. "But you are a Catholic," he said.

"But she is a Huguenot," Tavannes answered.

The Grand Master did not attempt to hide his astonishment. "And she
sticks on that?" he exclaimed. "To-day?"

"She sticks on that. To-day."

"To-day? _Nom de Dieu!_ To-day! Well," brushing the matter aside after
a pause of bewilderment, "any way, I cannot help her. I have no
minister here. If there be aught else I can do for her----"

"Nothing, I thank you," Tavannes answered. "Then it only remains for
me to take your answer to the King?" And he rose politely, and taking
his mask from the table prepared to assume it.

M. de Biron gazed at him a moment without speaking, as if he pondered
on the answer he should give. At length he nodded, and rang the bell
which stood beside him.

"The mask!" he muttered in a low voice as footsteps sounded without.
And, obedient to the hint, Tavannes disguised himself. A second later
the officer who had introduced him opened the door and entered.

"Peridol," M. de Biron said--he had risen to his feet--"I have
received a message which needs confirmation; and to obtain this I must
leave the Arsenal. I am going to the house--you will remember this--of
Marshal Tavannes, who will be responsible for my person; in the
meantime this gentleman will remain under strict guard in the south
chamber upstairs. You will treat him as a hostage, with all respect,
and will allow him to preserve his _incognito_. But if I do not return
by noon to-morrow, you will deliver him to the men below, who will
know how to deal with him."

Count Hannibal made no attempt to interrupt him, nor did he betray the
discomfiture which he undoubtedly felt. But as the Grand Master
paused, "M. de Biron," he said, in a voice harsh and low, "you will
answer to me for this!" And his eyes glittered through the slits in
the mask.

"Possibly, but not to-day or to-morrow!" Biron replied, shrugging his
shoulders contemptuously. "Peridol! see the gentleman bestowed as I
have ordered, and then return to me. Monsieur," with a bow, half
courteous, half ironical, "let me commend to you the advantages of
silence and your mask." And he waved his hand in the direction of the
door.

A moment Count Hannibal hesitated. He was in the heart of a hostile
fortress where the resistance of a single man armed to the teeth must
have been futile; and he was unarmed, save for a poniard.
Nevertheless, for a moment the impulse to spring on Biron, and with
the dagger at his throat to make his life the price of a safe passage,
was strong. Then--for with the warp of a harsh and passionate
character were interwrought an odd shrewdness and some things little
suspected--he resigned himself. Bowing gravely, he turned with
dignity, and in silence followed the officer from the room.

Peridol had two men with lanterns in waiting at the door. From one of
these the lieutenant took the light, and, with an air at once sullen
and deferential, led the way up the stone staircase to the floor over
that in which M. de Biron had his lodging. Tavannes followed; the two
guards came last, carrying the second lantern. At the head of the
staircase, whence a bare passage ran north and south, the procession
turned right-handed, and, passing two doors, halted before the third
and last, which faced them at the end of the passage. The lieutenant
unlocked it with a key which he took from a hook beside the doorpost.
Then, holding up his light, he invited his charge to enter.

The room was not small, but it was low in the roof, and prison-like,
it had bare walls and smoke-marks on the ceiling. The window, set in a
deep recess, the floor of which rose a foot above that of the room,
was unglazed; and through the gloomy orifice the night wind blew in,
laden even on that August evening with the dank mist of the river
flats. A table, two stools, and a truckle bed without straw or
covering made up the furniture; but Peridol, after glancing round,
ordered one of the men to fetch a truss of straw and the other to
bring up a pitcher of wine. While they were gone Tavannes and he stood
silently waiting, until, observing that the captive's eyes sought the
window, the lieutenant laughed.

"No bars?" he said. "No, monsieur, and no need of them. You will not
go by that road, bars or no bars."

"What is below?" Count Hannibal asked carelessly. "The river?"

"Yes, monsieur," with a grin, "but not water. Mud, and six feet of it,
soft as Christmas porridge, but not so sweet. I've known two puppies
thrown in under this window that did not weigh more than a fat pullet
apiece. One was gone before you could count fifty, and the other did
not live thrice as long--nor would have lasted that time, but that it
fell on the first and clung to it."

Tavannes dismissed the matter with a shrug, and, drawing his cloak
about him, set a stool against the wall and sat down. The men who
brought in the wine and the bundle of straw were inquisitive, and
would have loitered, scanning him stealthily; but Peridol hurried them
away. The lieutenant himself stayed only to cast a glance round the
room and to mutter that he would return when his lord returned; then,
with a "Good night" which said more for his manners than his good
will, he followed them out. A moment later the grating of the key in
the lock and the sound of the bolts as they sped home told Tavannes
that he was a prisoner.



                             CHAPTER XIV.

                          TOO SHORT A SPOON.


Count Hannibal remained seated, his chin sunk on his breast, until his
ear assured him that the three men had descended the stairs to the
floor below. Then he rose, and, taking the lantern from the table, on
which Peridol had placed it, he went softly to the door, which, like
the window, stood in a recess--in this case the prolongation of the
passage. A brief scrutiny satisfied him that escape that way was
impossible, and he turned, after a cursory glance at the floor and
ceiling, to the dark, windy aperture which yawned at the end of the
apartment. Placing the lantern on the table, and covering it with his
cloak, he mounted the window recess, and, stepping to the unguarded
edge, looked out.

He knew, rather than saw, that Peridol had told the truth. The smell
of the aguish flats which fringed that part of Paris rose strong in
his nostrils. He guessed that the sluggish arm of the Seine which
divided the Arsenal from the Île des Louviers crawled below; but the
night was dark, and it was impossible to discern land from water. He
fancied that he could trace the outline of the island--an uninhabited
place, given up to wood piles; but the lights of the college quarter
beyond it, which rose feebly twinkling, to the crown of St. Geneviève,
confused his sight and rendered the nearer gloom more opaque. From
that direction and from the Cité to his right came sounds which told
of a city still heaving in its blood-stained sleep, and even in its
dreams planning further excesses. Now a distant shot, and now a faint
murmur on one of the bridges, or a far-off cry, raucous, sudden,
curdled the blood. But even of what was passing under cover of the
darkness, he could learn little; and after standing awhile with a hand
on either side of the window he found the night air chill. He stepped
back, and, descending to the floor, uncovered the lantern and set it
on the table. His thoughts travelled back to the preparations he had
made the night before with a view to securing Mademoiselle's person,
and he considered, with a grim smile, how little he had foreseen that
within twenty-four hours he would himself be a prisoner. Presently,
finding his mask oppressive, he removed it, and, laying it on the
table before him, sat scowling at the light.

Biron had jockeyed him cleverly. Well, the worse for Armand de Gontaut
de Biron if after this adventure the luck went against him! But in the
meantime? In the meantime his fate was sealed if harm befell Biron.
And what the King's real mind in Biron's case was, and what the
Queen-Mother's, he could not say; just as it was impossible to predict
how far, when they had the Grand Master at their mercy, they would
resist the temptation to add him to the victims. If Biron placed
himself at once in Marshal Tavannes' hands, all might be well. But if
he ventured within the long arm of the Guises, or went directly to the
Louvre, the fact that with the Grand Master's fate Count Hannibal's
was bound up, would not weigh a straw. In such crises the great
sacrificed the less great, the less great the small, without a
scruple. And the Guises did not love Count Hannibal; he was not loved
by many. Even the strength of his brother the Marshal stood rather in
the favour of the King's heir, for whom he had won the battle of
Jarnac, than intrinsically; and, durable in ordinary times, might snap
in the clash of forces and interests which the desperate madness of
this day had let loose on Paris.

It was not the peril in which he stood, however--though, with the cold
clear eye of the man who had often faced peril, he appreciated it to a
nicety--that Count Hannibal found least bearable, but his enforced
inactivity. He had thought to ride the whirlwind and direct the storm,
and out of the danger of others to compact his own success. Instead he
lay here, not only powerless to guide his destiny, which hung on the
discretion of another, but unable to stretch forth a finger to further
his plans.

As he sat looking darkly at the lantern, his mind followed Biron and
his riders through the midnight streets: along St. Antoine and La
Verrerie, through the gloomy narrows of the Rue la Ferronerie, and so
past the house in the Rue St. Honoré where Mademoiselle sat awaiting
the morrow--sat awaiting Tignonville, the minister, the marriage!
Doubtless there were still bands of plunderers roaming to and fro; at
the barriers troops of archers stopping the suspected; at the windows
pale faces gazing down; at the gates of the Temple, and of the walled
enclosures which largely made up the city, strong guards set to
prevent invasion. Biron would go with sufficient to secure himself;
and unless he encountered with the bodyguard of Guise his passage
would quiet the town. But was it so certain that _she_ was safe? He
knew his men, and while he had been free he had not hesitated to leave
her in their care. But now that he could not go, now that he could not
raise a hand to help, the confidence which had not failed him in
straits more dangerous grew weak. He pictured the things which might
happen, at which, in his normal frame of mind, he would have laughed.
Now they troubled him so that he started at a shadow, so that he
quailed at a thought. He, who last night, when free to act, had timed
his coming and her rescue to a minute! Who had rejoiced in the peril,
since with the glamour of such things foolish women were taken! Who
had not flinched when the crowd roared most fiercely for her blood!

Why had he suffered himself to be trapped! Why indeed? And thrice in
passion he paced the room. Long ago the famous Nostradamus had told
him that he would live to be a king, but of the smallest kingdom in
the world. "Every man is a king in his coffin," he had answered. "The
grave is cold and your kingdom shall be warm," the wizard had
rejoined. On which the courtiers had laughed, promising him a Moorish
island and a black queen. And he had gibed with the rest, but secretly
had taken note of the sovereign counties of France, their rulers and
their heirs. Now he held the thought in horror, foreseeing no county,
but the cage under the stifling tiles at Loches, in which Cardinal
Balue and many another had worn out their hearts.

He came to that thought not by way of his own peril, but of
Mademoiselle's; which affected him in so novel a fashion that he
wondered at his folly. At last, tired of watching the shadows which
the draught set dancing on the wall, he drew his cloak about him and
lay down on the straw. He had kept vigil the previous night, and in a
few minutes, with a campaigner's ease, he was asleep.

Midnight had struck. About two the light in the lantern burned low in
the socket, and with a soft sputtering went out. For an hour after
that the room lay still, silent, dark; then slowly the grey dawn, the
greyer for the river mist which wrapped the neighbourhood in a clammy
shroud, began to creep into the room and discover the vague shapes of
things. Again an hour passed, and the sun was rising above Montreuil,
and here and there the river began to shimmer through the fog. But in
the room it was barely daylight when the sleeper awoke, and sat up,
his face expectant. Something had roused him. He listened.

His ear, and the habit of vigilance which a life of danger instils,
had not deceived him. There were men moving in the passage; men who
shuffled their feet impatiently. Had Biron returned! Or had aught
happened to him, and were these men come to avenge him? Count Hannibal
rose and stole across the boards to the door, and, setting his ear to
it, listened.

He listened while a man might count a hundred and fifty, counting
slowly. Then, for the third part of a second, he turned his head, and
his eyes travelled the room. He stooped again and listened more
closely, scarcely breathing. There were voices as well as feet to be
heard now; one voice--he thought it was Peridol's--which held on long,
now low, now rising into violence. Others were audible at intervals,
but only in a growl or a bitter exclamation, that told of minds made
up and hands which would not be restrained. He caught his own name,
Tavannes--the mask was useless then! And once a noisy movement which
came to nothing, foiled, he fancied, by Peridol.

He knew enough. He rose to his full height, and his eyes seemed a
little closer together; an ugly smile curved his lips. His gaze
travelled over the objects in the room, the bare stools and table, the
lantern, the wine pitcher; beyond these, in a corner, the cloak and
straw on the low bed. The light, cold and grey, fell cheerlessly on
the dull chamber, and showed it in harmony with the ominous whisper
which grew in the gallery; with the stern-faced listener who stood,
his one hand on the door. He looked, but he found nothing to his
purpose, nothing to serve his end, whatever his end was; and with a
quick light step he left the door, mounted the window recess, and,
poised on the very edge, looked down.

If he thought to escape that way his hope was desperate. The depth to
the water-level was not, he judged, twelve feet. But Peridol had told
the truth. Below lay not water, but a smooth surface of viscid slime,
here luminous with the florescence of rottenness, there furrowed by a
tiny runnel of moisture which sluggishly crept across it to the slow
stream beyond. This quicksand, vile and treacherous, lapped the wall
below the window, and more than accounted for the absence of bars or
fastenings. But, leaning far out, he saw that it ended at the angle of
the building, at a point twenty feet or so to the right of his
position.

He sprang to the floor again, and listened an instant; then, with
guarded movements--for there was fear in the air, fear in the silent
room, and at any moment the rush might be made, the door burst in--he
set the lantern and wine pitcher on the floor, and took up the table
in his arms. He began to carry it to the window, but, halfway thither,
his eye told him that it would not pass through the opening, and he
set it down again and glided to the bed. Again he was thwarted; the
bed was screwed to the floor. Another might have despaired at that,
but he rose with no sign of dismay, and listening, always listening,
he spread his cloak on the floor, and deftly, with as little noise and
rustling as might be, he piled the straw in it, compressed the bundle,
and, cutting the bed-cords with his dagger, bound all together with
them. In three steps he was in the embrasure of the window, and, even
as the men in the passage thrust the lieutenant aside and with a
sudden uproar came down to the door, he flung the bundle lightly and
carefully to the right--so lightly and carefully, and with so nice and
deliberate a calculation, that it seemed odd it fell beyond the reach
of an ordinary leap.

An instant and he was on the floor again. The men had to unlock, to
draw back the bolts, to draw back the door which opened outwards;
their numbers, as well as their savage haste, impeded them. When they
burst in at last, with a roar of "To the river! To the river!"--burst
in a rush of struggling shoulders and lowered pikes, they found him
standing, a solitary figure, on the further side of the table, his
arms folded. And the sight of the passive figure for a moment stayed
them.

"Say your prayers, child of Satan!" cried the leader, waving his
weapon. "We give you one minute!"

"Ay, one minute!" his followers chimed in. "Be ready!"

"You would murder me?" he said with dignity. And when they shouted
assent, "Good!" he answered. "It is between you and M. de Biron, whose
guest I am. But"--with a glance which passed round the ring of glaring
eyes and working features--"I would leave a last word for some one. Is
there any one here who values a safe-conduct from the King? 'Tis for
two men coming and going for a fortnight." And he held up a slip of
paper.

The leader cried "To hell with his safe-conduct! Say your prayers!"

But all were not of his mind; on one or two of the crimson savage
faces--the faces, for the most part, of honest men maddened by their
wrongs--flashed an avaricious gleam. A safe-conduct? To avenge, to
slay, to kill--and to go safe! For some minds such a thing has an
invincible fascination. A man thrust himself forward. "Ay, I'll have
it!" he cried. "Give it here!"

"It is yours," Count Hannibal answered, "if you will carry ten words
to Marshal Tavannes--when I am gone."

The man's neighbour laid a restraining hand on his shoulder. "And
Marshal Tavannes will pay you finely," he said.

But Maudron, the man who had offered, shook off the hand. "If I take
the message!" he muttered in a grim aside. "Do you think me mad?" And
then aloud he cried, "Ay, I'll take your message! Give me the paper."

"You swear you will take it?"

The man had no intention of taking it, but he perjured himself and
went forward. The others would have pressed round too, half in envy,
half in scorn; but Tavannes by a gesture stayed them. "Gentlemen, I
ask a minute only," he said. "A minute for a dying man is not much.
Your friends had as much." And the fellows, acknowledging the claim
and assured that their victim could not escape, let Maudron go round
the table to him.

The man was in haste and ill at ease, conscious of his evil intentions
and the fraud he was practising; and at once greedy to have, yet
ashamed of the bargain he was making. His attention was divided
between the slip of paper, on which his eyes fixed themselves, and the
attitude of his comrades; he paid little heed to Count Hannibal, whom
he knew to be unarmed. Only when Tavannes seemed to ponder on his
message, and to be fain to delay, "Go on," he muttered with brutal
frankness; "your time is up!"

Tavannes started, the paper slipped from his fingers. Maudron saw a
chance of getting it without committing himself, and quick as the
thought leapt up in his mind he stooped, and grasped the paper, and
would have leapt back with it! But quick as he, and quicker, Tavannes
too stooped, gripped him by the waist, and with a prodigious effort,
and a yell in which all the man's stormy nature, restrained to a part
during the last few minutes, broke forth, he flung the ill-fated
wretch head first through the window.

The movement carried Tavannes himself--even while his victim's scream
rang through the chamber--into the embrasure. An instant he hung on
the verge; then, as the men, a moment thunderstruck, sprang forward to
avenge their comrade, he leapt out, jumping for the struggling body
that had struck the mud, and now lay in it face downwards.

He alighted on it, and drove it deep into the quaking slime; but he
himself bounded off right-handed. The peril was appalling, the
possibility untried, the chance one which only a doomed man would have
taken. But he reached the straw-bale, and it gave him a momentary, a
precarious footing. He could not regain his balance, he could not even
for an instant stand upright on it. But from its support he leapt on
convulsively, and as a pike, flung from above, wounded him in the
shoulder, he fell his length in the slough--but forward, with his
outstretched hands resting on soil of a harder nature. They sank, it
is true, to the elbow, but he dragged his body forward on them, and
forward, and freeing one by a last effort of strength--he could not
free both, and, as it was, half his face was submerged--he reached out
another yard, and gripped a balk of wood, which projected from the
corner of the building for the purpose of fending off the stream in
flood-time.

The men at the window shrieked with rage as he slowly drew himself
from the slough, and stood from head to foot a pillar of mud. Shout as
they might, they had no firearms, and, crowded together in the narrow
embrasure, they could take no aim with their pikes. They could only
look on in furious impotence, flinging curses at him until he passed
from their view, behind the angle of the building.

Here for a score of yards a strip of hard foreshore ran between mud
and wall. He struggled along it until he reached the end of the wall;
then with a shuddering glance at the black heaving pit from which he
had escaped, and which yet gurgled above the body of the hapless
Maudron--a tribute to horror which even his fierce nature could not
withhold--he turned and painfully climbed the river-bank. The
pike-wound in his shoulder was slight, but the effort had been
supreme; the sweat poured from his brow, his visage was grey and
drawn. Nevertheless, when he had put fifty paces between himself and
the buildings of the Arsenal he paused, and turned. He saw that the
men had run to other windows which looked that way; and his face
lightened and his form dilated with triumph.

He shook his fist at them. "Ho, fools!" he cried, "you kill not
Tavannes so! Till our next meeting at Montfaucon, fare you well!"



                             CHAPTER XV.

                     THE BROTHER OF ST. MAGLOIRE.


As the exertion of power is for the most part pleasing, so the
exercise of that which a woman possesses over a man is especially
pleasant. When in addition a risk of no ordinary kind has been run,
and the happy issue has been barely expected--above all when the
momentary gain seems an augury of final victory--it is impossible that
a feeling akin to exultation should not arise in the mind, however
black the horizon, and however distant the fair haven.

The situation in which Count Hannibal left Mademoiselle de Vrillac
will be remembered. She had prevailed on him; but in return he had
bowed her to the earth, partly by subtle threats, and partly by sheer
savagery. He had left her weeping, with the words "Madame de Tavannes"
ringing doom in her ears, and the dark phantom of his will pointing
onward to an inevitable future. Had she abandoned hope, it would have
been natural.

But the girl was of a spirit not long nor easily cowed; and Tavannes
had not left her half an hour before the reflection, that so far the
honours of the day were hers, rose up to console her. In spite of his
power and her impotence, she had imposed her will upon his; she had
established an influence over him, she had discovered a scruple which
stayed him, and a limit beyond which he would not pass. In the result
she might escape; for the conditions which he had accepted with an ill
grace, might prove beyond his fulfilling. She might escape! True, many
in her place would have feared a worse fate and harsher handling. But
there lay half the merit of her victory. It had left her not only in a
better position, but with a new confidence in her power over her
adversary. He would insist on the bargain struck between them; within
its four corners she could look for no indulgence. But if the
conditions proved to be beyond his power, she believed that he would
spare her: with an ill grace, indeed, with such ferocity and coarse
reviling as her woman's pride might scarcely support. But he would
spare her.

And if the worst befell her? She would still have the consolation of
knowing that from the cataclysm which had overwhelmed her friends she
had ransomed those most dear to her. Owing to the position of her
chamber, she saw nothing of the excesses to which Paris gave itself up
during the remainder of that day, and to which it returned with
unabated zest on the following morning. But the Carlats and her women
learned from the guards below what was passing; and quaking and
cowering in their corners fixed frightened eyes on her, who was their
stay and hope. How could she prove false to them? How doom them to
perish, had there been no question of her lover?

Of him she sat thinking by the hour together. She recalled with solemn
tenderness the moment in which he had devoted himself to the death
which came but halfway to seize them; nor was she slow to forgive his
subsequent withdrawal, and his attempt to rescue her in spite of
herself. She found the impulse to die glorious; the withdrawal--for
the actor was her lover--a thing done for her, which he would not have
done for himself, and which she quickly forgave him. The revulsion of
feeling which had conquered her at the time, and led her to tear
herself from him, no longer moved her much; while all in his action
that might have seemed in other eyes less than heroic, all in his
conduct--in a crisis demanding the highest--that smacked of common or
mean, vanished, for she still clung to him. Clung to him, not so much
with the passion of the mature woman, as with the maiden and
sentimental affection of one who has now no hope of possessing, and
for whom love no longer spells life but sacrifice.

She had leisure for these musings, for she was left to herself all
that day, and until late on the following day. Her own servants waited
on her, and it was known that below stairs Count Hannibal's riders
kept sullen ward behind barred doors and shuttered windows, refusing
admission to all who came. Now and again echoes of the riot which
filled the streets with bloodshed reached her ears: or word of the
more striking occurrences was brought to her by Madame Carlat. And
early on this second day, Monday, it was whispered that M. de Tavannes
had not returned, and that the men below were growing uneasy.

At last, when the suspense below and above was growing tense, it was
broken. Footsteps and voices were heard ascending the stairs, the
trampling and hubbub were followed by a heavy knock; perforce the door
was opened. While Mademoiselle, who had risen, awaited with a beating
heart she knew not what, a cowled father, in the dress of the monks of
St. Magloire, stood on the threshold, and, crossing himself, muttered
the words of benediction. He entered slowly.

No sight could have been more dreadful to Mademoiselle; for it set at
naught the conditions which she had so hardly exacted. What if Count
Hannibal were behind, were even now mounting the stairs, prepared to
force her to a marriage before this shaveling? Or ready to proceed, if
she refused, to the last extremity? Sudden terror taking her by the
throat choked her; her colour fled, her hand flew to her breast. Yet,
before the door had closed on Bigot, she had recovered herself.

"This intrusion is not by M. de Tavannes' orders!" she cried, stepping
forward haughtily. "This person has no business here. How dare you
admit him?"

The Norman showed his bearded visage a moment at the door. "My lord's
orders," he muttered sullenly. And he closed the door on them.

She had a Huguenot's hatred of a cowl; and, in this crisis, her
reasons for fearing it. Her eyes blazed with indignation. "Enough!"
she cried, pointing with a gesture of dismissal to the door. "Go back
to him who sent you! If he will insult me, let him do it to my face!
If he will perjure himself, let him forswear himself in person. Or, if
you come on your own account," she continued, flinging prudence to the
winds, "as your brethren came to Philippa de Luns, to offer me the
choice you offered her, I give you her answer! If I had thought of
myself only, I had not lived so long! And rather than bear your
presence or hear your arguments----"

She came to a sudden, odd, quavering pause on the word; her lips
remained parted, she swayed an instant on her feet. The next moment
Madame Carlat, to whom the visitor had turned his shoulder, doubted
her eyes, for Mademoiselle was in the monk's arms!

"Clotilde! Clotilde!" he cried, and held her to him.

For the monk was M. de Tignonville! Under the cowl was the lover with
whom Mademoiselle's thoughts had been engaged. In this disguise, and
armed with Tavannes' note to Madame St. Lo--which the guards below
knew for Count Hannibal's hand, though they were unable to decipher
the contents--he had found no difficulty in making his way to her.

He had learned before he entered that Tavannes was abroad, and was
aware therefore that he ran little risk. His betrothed, on the other
hand, who knew nothing of his adventures in the interval, saw in him
one who came to her at the greatest risk, across unnumbered perils,
through streets swimming with blood. And though she had never embraced
him save in the crisis of the massacre, though she had never called
him by his Christian name, in the joy of this meeting she abandoned
herself to him, she clung to him weeping, she forgot for the time his
defection, and thought only of him who had returned to her so
gallantly, who brought into the room a breath of Poitou, and the sea,
and the old days, and the old life; and at the sight of whom the
horrors of the last two days fell from her--for the moment.

And Madame Carlat wept also, and in the room was a sound of weeping.
The least moved was, for a certainty, M. de Tignonville himself, who,
as we know, had gone through much that day. But even his heart
swelled, partly with pride, partly with thankfulness that he had
returned to one who loved him so well. Fate had been kinder to him
than he deserved; but he need not confess that now. When he had
brought off the _coup_ which he had in his mind, he would hasten to
forget that he had entertained other ideas.

Mademoiselle had been the first to be carried away; she was also the
first to recover herself. "I had forgotten," she cried suddenly. "I
had forgotten," and she wrested herself from his embrace with
violence, and stood panting, her face white, her eyes affrighted. "I
must not! And you--I had forgotten that too! To be here, monsieur, is
the worst office you can do me. You must go! Go, monsieur, in mercy I
beg of you, while it is possible. Every moment you are here, every
moment you spend in this house, I shudder."

"You need not fear for me," he said, in a tone of bravado. He did not
understand.

"I fear for myself!" she answered. And then, wringing her hands,
divided between her love for him and her fear for herself, "Oh,
forgive me!" she said. "You do not know that he has promised to spare
me, if he cannot produce you, and--and--a minister! He has granted me
that; but I thought when you entered that he had gone back on his
word, and sent a priest, and it maddened me! I could not bear to think
that I had gained nothing. Now you understand, and you will pardon me,
monsieur? If he cannot produce you I am saved. Go then, leave me, I
beg, without a moment's delay."

He laughed derisively as he turned back his cowl and squared his
shoulders. "All that is over!" he said, "over and done with, sweet! M.
de Tavannes is at this moment a prisoner in the Arsenal. On my way
hither I fell in with M. de Biron, and he told me. The Grand Master,
who would have had me join his company, had been all night at Marshal
Tavannes' hotel, where he had been detained longer than he expected.
He stood pledged to release Count Hannibal on his return, but at my
request he consented to hold him one hour, and to do also a little
thing for me."

The glow of hope which had transfigured her face faded slowly. "It
will not help," she said, "if he find you here."

"He will not! Nor you!"

"How, monsieur?"

"In a few minutes," he explained--he could not hide his exultation, "a
message will come from the Arsenal in the name of Tavannes, bidding
the monk he sent to you bring you to him. A spoken message,
corroborated by my presence, should suffice: '_Bid the monk who is now
with Mademoiselle_,' it will run, '_bring her to me at the Arsenal,
and let four pikes guard them hither_.' When I begged M. de Biron to
do this, he laughed. 'I can do better,' he said. 'They shall bring one
of Count Hannibal's gloves, which he left on my table. Always
supposing my rascals have done him no harm, which God forbid, for I am
answerable.'"

Tignonville, delighted with the stratagem which the meeting with Biron
had suggested, could see no flaw in it. She could, and though she
heard him to the end, no second glow of hope softened the lines of her
features. With a gesture full of dignity, which took in not only
Madame Carlat and the waiting-woman who stood at the door but the
absent servants, "And what of these?" she said. "What of these? You
forgot them, monsieur. You do not think, you cannot have thought, that
I would abandon them? That I would leave them to such mercy as he,
defeated, might extend to them? No, you forgot them."

He did not know what to answer, for the jealous eyes of the frightened
waiting-woman, fierce with the fierceness of a hunted animal, were on
him. The Carlat and she had heard, could hear. At last, "Better one
than none!" he muttered, in a voice so low that if the servants caught
his meaning it was but indistinctly. "I have to think of you."

"And I of them," she answered firmly. "Nor is that all. Were they not
here, it could not be. My word is passed--though a moment ago,
monsieur, in the joy of seeing you I forgot it. And how," she
continued, "if I keep not my word, can I expect him to keep his? Or
how, if I am ready to break the bond, on this happening which I never
expected, can I hold him to conditions which he loves as little--as
little as I love him?"

Her voice dropped piteously on the last words; her eyes, craving her
lover's pardon, sought his. But rage, not pity or admiration, was the
feeling roused in Tignonville's breast. He stood staring at her,
struck dumb by folly so immense. At last, "You cannot mean this," he
blurted out. "You cannot mean, Mademoiselle, that you intend to stand
on that! To keep a promise wrung from you by force, by treachery, in
the midst of such horrors as he and his have brought upon us! It is
inconceivable!"

She shook her head. "I promised," she said.

"You were forced to it."

"But the promise saved our lives."

"From murderers! From assassins!" he protested.

She shook her head. "I cannot go back," she said firmly; "I cannot."

"Then you are willing to marry him," he cried in ignoble anger. "That
is it! Nay, you must wish to marry him! For, as for his conditions,
Mademoiselle," the young man continued, with an insulting laugh, "you
cannot think seriously of them. _He_ keep conditions and you in his
power! He, Count Hannibal! But for the matter of that, and were he in
the mind to keep them, what are they? There are plenty of ministers. I
left one only this morning. I could lay my hand on one in five
minutes. He has only to find one therefore--and to find me!"

"Yes, monsieur," she cried, trembling with wounded pride, "it is for
that reason I implore you to go. The sooner you leave me, the sooner
you place yourself in a position of security, the happier for me!
Every moment that you spend here, you endanger both yourself and me!"

"If you will not be persuaded----"

"I shall not be persuaded," she answered firmly, "and you do
but"--alas! her pride began to break down, her voice to quiver, she
looked piteously at him--"by staying here make it harder for me
to--to----"

"Hush!" cried Madame Carlat, "Hush!" And as they started and turned
towards her--she was at the end of the chamber by the door, almost out
of earshot--she raised a warning hand. "Listen!" she muttered, "some
one has entered the house."

"'Tis my messenger from Biron," Tignonville answered sullenly. And he
drew his cowl over his face, and, hiding his hands in his sleeves,
moved towards the door. But on the threshold he turned and held out
his arms. He could not go thus. "Mademoiselle! Clotilde!" he cried
with passion, "for the last time, listen to me, come with me. Be
persuaded!"

"Hush!" Madame Carlat interposed again, and turned a scared face on
them. "It is no messenger! It is Tavannes himself: I know his voice."
And she wrung her hands. "_Oh, mon Dieu, mon Dieu_, what are we to
do?" she continued, panic-stricken. And she looked all ways about the
room.



                             CHAPTER XVI.

                          AT CLOSE QUARTERS.


Fear leapt into Mademoiselle's eyes, but she commanded herself. She
signed to Madame Carlat to be silent, and they listened, gazing at one
another, hoping against hope that the woman was mistaken. A long
moment they waited, and some were beginning to breathe again, when the
strident tones of Count Hannibal's voice rolled up the staircase, and
put an end to doubt. Mademoiselle grasped the table and stood
supporting herself by it. "What are we to do?" she muttered. "What are
we to do?" and she turned distractedly towards the women. The courage
which had supported her in her lover's absence had abandoned her now.
"If he finds him here I am lost! I am lost!"

"He will not know me," Tignonville muttered. But he spoke uncertainly;
and his gaze, shifting hither and thither, belied the boldness of his
words.

Madame Carlat's eyes flew round the room; on her for once the burden
seemed to rest. Alas! the room had no second door, and the windows
looked on a courtyard guarded by Tavannes' people. And even now Count
Hannibal's step rang on the stair! his hand was almost on the latch.
The woman wrung her hands; then, a thought striking her, she darted to
a corner where Mademoiselle's robes hung on pegs against the wall.

"Here!" she cried, raising them. "Behind these! He may not be seen
here! Quick, monsieur, quick! Hide yourself!"

It was a forlorn hope--the suggestion of one who had not thought out
the position; and, whatever its promise, Mademoiselle's pride revolted
against it.

"No," she cried. "Not there!" while Tignonville, who knew that the
step was useless, since Count Hannibal must have learned that a monk
had entered, held his ground.

"You could not deny yourself!" he muttered hurriedly.

"And a priest with me?" she answered; and she shook her head.

There was no time for more, and even as Mademoiselle spoke Count
Hannibal's knuckles tapped the door. She cast a last look at her
lover. He had turned his back on the window; the light no longer fell
on his face. It was possible that he might pass unrecognised, if
Tavannes' stay was brief; at any rate the risk must be run. In a
half-stifled voice she bade her woman, Javette, open the door.

Count Hannibal bowed low as he entered; and he deceived the others.
But he did not deceive her. He had not crossed the threshold before
she repented that she had not acted on Tignonville's suggestion, and
denied herself. For what could escape those hard keen eyes, which
swept the room, saw all, and seemed to see nothing--those eyes in
which there dwelt even now a glint of cruel humour? He might deceive
others, but she who panted within his grasp, as the wild bird
palpitates in the hand of the fowler, was not deceived! He saw, he
knew! although, as he bowed, and smiling, stood upright, he looked
only at her.

"I expected to be with you before this," he said courteously, "but I
have been detained. First, Mademoiselle, by some of your friends, who
were reluctant to part with me; then by some of your enemies, who,
finding me in no handsome case, took me for a Huguenot escaped from
the river, and drove me to shifts to get clear of them. However, now I
am come, I have news."

"News?" she muttered with dry lips. It could hardly be good news.

"Yes, Mademoiselle, of M. de Tignonville," he answered. "I have little
doubt that I shall be able to produce him this evening, and so to
satisfy one of your scruples. And as I trust that this good father,"
he went on, turning to the ecclesiastic, and speaking with the sneer
from which he seldom refrained, Catholic as he was, when he mentioned
a priest, "has by this time succeeded in removing the other, and
persuading you to accept his ministrations----"

"No!" she cried impulsively.

"No?" with a dubious smile, and a glance from one to the other. "Oh, I
had hoped better things. But he still may? He still may. I am sure he
may. In which case, Mademoiselle, your modesty must pardon me if I
plead urgency, and fix the hour after supper this evening for the
fulfilment of your promise."

She turned white to the lips. "After supper?" she gasped.

"Yes, Mademoiselle, this evening. Shall I say--at eight o'clock?"

In horror of the thing which menaced her, of the thing from which only
two hours separated her, she could find no words but those which she
had already used. The worst was upon her; worse than the worst could
not befall her. "But he has not persuaded me!" she cried, clenching
her hands in passion. "He has not persuaded me!"

"Still he may, Mademoiselle."

"He will not!" she cried wildly. "He will not!"

The room was going round with her. The precipice yawned at her feet;
its naked terrors turned her brain. She had been pushed nearer, and
nearer, and nearer; struggle as she might she was on the verge. A mist
rose before her eyes, and though they thought she listened she
understood nothing of what was passing. When she came to herself after
the lapse of a minute, Count Hannibal was speaking.

"Permit him another trial," he was saying in a tone of bland irony. "A
short time longer, Mademoiselle! One more assault, father! The weapons
of the Church could not be better directed or to a more worthy object;
and, successful, shall not fail of due recognition and an earthly
reward."

And while she listened, half fainting, with a humming in her ears, he
was gone. The door closed on him, and the three--Mademoiselle's woman
had withdrawn when she opened to him--looked at one another. The girl
parted her lips to speak, but she only smiled piteously; and it was M.
de Tignonville who broke the silence, in a tone which betrayed rather
relief than any other feeling.

"Come, all is not lost yet," he said briskly. "If I can escape from
the house----"

"He knows you," she answered.

"What?"

"He knows you," Mademoiselle repeated in a tone almost apathetic. "I
read it in his eyes. He knew you at once: and knew, too," she added
bitterly, "that he had here under his hand one of the two things he
required."

"Then why did he hide his knowledge?" the young man retorted sharply.

"Why?" she answered. "To induce me to waive the other condition in the
hope of saving you. Oh!" she continued in a tone of bitter raillery,
"he has the cunning of hell, of the priests! You are no match for him,
monsieur. Nor I; nor any of us. And"--with a gesture of despair--"he
will be my master! He will break me to his will and to his hand! I
shall be his! His, body and soul, body and soul!" she continued
drearily, as she sank into a chair and, rocking herself to and fro,
covered her face. "I shall be his! His till I die!"

The man's eyes burned, and the pulse in his temples beat wildly. "But
you shall not," he exclaimed. "I may be no match for him in cunning,
you say well. But I can kill him. And I will!" He paced up and down.
"I will!"

"You should have done it when he was here," she answered, half in
scorn, half in earnest.

"It is not too late," he cried; and then he stopped, silenced by the
opening door. It was Javette who entered.

They looked at her, and before she spoke were on their feet. Her face,
white and eager, marking something besides fear, announced that she
brought news. She closed the door behind her, and in a moment it was
told.

"Monsieur can escape, if he is quick," she cried in a low tone; and
they saw that she trembled with excitement. "They are at supper. But
he must be quick! He must be quick!"

"Is not the door guarded!"

"It is, but----"

"And he knows! Your mistress says that he knows that I am here."

For a moment Javette looked startled. "It is possible," she muttered.
"But he has gone out."

Madame Carlat clapped her hands. "I heard the door close," she said,
"three minutes ago."

"And if monsieur can reach the room in which he supped last night, the
window that was broken is only blocked"--she swallowed once or twice
in her excitement--"with something he can move. And then monsieur is
in the street, where his cowl will protect him."

"But Count Hannibal's men?" he asked eagerly.

"They are eating in the lodge by the door."

"Ha! And they cannot see the other room from there?"

Javette nodded. Her tale told, she seemed to be unable to add a word.
Mademoiselle, who knew her for a craven, wondered that she had found
courage either to note what she had or to bring the news. But as
Providence had been so good to them as to put it into this woman's
head to act as she had, it behoved them to use the opportunity--the
last, the very last opportunity they might have.

She turned to Tignonville. "Oh, go!" she cried feverishly. "Go, I beg!
Go now, monsieur! The greatest kindness you can do me is to place
yourself as quickly as possible beyond his reach." A faint colour, the
flush of hope, had returned to her cheeks. Her eyes glittered.

"Right, Mademoiselle!" he cried, obedient for once. "I go! And do you
be of good courage." He held her hand an instant, then, moving to the
door, he opened it and listened. They all pressed behind him to hear.
A murmur of voices, low and distant, mounted the staircase and bore
out the girl's tale; apart from this the house was silent. Tignonville
cast a last look at Mademoiselle, and, with a gesture of farewell,
glided a-tiptoe to the stairs and began to descend, his face hidden in
his cowl. They watched him reach the angle of the staircase, they
watched him vanish beyond it; and still they listened, looking at one
another when a board creaked or the voices below were hushed for a
moment.



                            CHAPTER XVII.

                              THE DUEL.


At the foot of the staircase Tignonville paused. The droning Norman
voices of the men on guard issued from an open door a few paces before
him on the left. He caught a jest, the coarse chuckling laughter which
attended it, and the gurgle of applause which followed; and he knew
that at any moment one of the men might step out and discover him.
Fortunately the door of the room with the shattered window was almost
within reach of his hand on the right side of the passage, and he
stepped softly to it. He stood an instant hesitating, his hand on the
latch; then, alarmed by a movement in the guard-room, as if some were
rising, he pushed the door in a panic, slid into the room, and shut
the door behind him. He was safe, and he had made no noise; but at the
table, at supper, with his back to him and his face to the partly
closed window, sat Count Hannibal!

The young man's heart stood still. For a long minute he gazed at the
Count's back, spellbound and unable to stir. Then, as Tavannes ate on
without looking round, he began to take courage. Possibly he had
entered so quietly that he had not been heard, or possibly his
entrance was taken for that of a servant. In either case, there was a
chance that he might retire after the same fashion; and he had
actually raised the latch, and was drawing the door to him with
infinite precaution, when Tavannes' voice struck him, as it were, in
the face.

"Pray do not admit the draught, M. de Tignonville," he said, without
looking round. "In your cowl you do not feel it, but it is otherwise
with me."

The unfortunate Tignonville stood transfixed, glaring at the back of
the other's head. For an instant he could not find his voice. At last
"Curse you!" he hissed in a transport of rage. "Curse you! You did
know, then? And she was right."

"If you mean that I expected you, to be sure, monsieur," Count
Hannibal answered. "See, your place is laid. You will not feel the air
from without there. The very becoming dress which you have adopted
secures you from cold. But--do you not find it somewhat oppressive
this summer weather?"

"Curse you!" the young man cried, trembling.

Tavannes turned and looked at him with a dark smile. "The curse may
fall," he said, "but I fancy it will not be in consequence of your
petitions, monsieur. And now, were it not better you played the man?"

"If I were armed," the other cried passionately, "you would not insult
me!"

"Sit down, sir, sit down," Count Hannibal answered sternly. "We will
talk of that presently. In the meantime I have something to say to
you. Will you not eat?"

But Tignonville would not.

"Very well," Count Hannibal answered; and he went on with his supper,
"I am indifferent whether you eat or not. It is enough for me that you
are one of the two things I lacked an hour ago; and that I have you,
M. de Tignonville. And through you I look to obtain the other."

"What other?" Tignonville cried.

"A minister," Tavannes answered, smiling. "A minister. There are not
many left in Paris--of your faith. But you met one this morning, I
know!"

"I? I met one?"

"Yes, monsieur, you! And can lay your hand on him in five minutes, you
know."

M. de Tignonville gasped. His face turned a shade paler. "You have a
spy," he cried. "You have a spy upstairs!"

Tavannes raised his cup to his lips, and drank. When he had set it
down, "It may be," he said, and he shrugged his shoulders. "I know, it
boots not how I know. It is my business to make the most of my
knowledge--and of yours!"

M. de Tignonville laughed rudely. "Make the most of your own," he
said; "you will have none of mine."

"That remains to be seen," Count Hannibal answered. "Carry your mind
back two days, M. de Tignonville. Had I gone to Mademoiselle de
Vrillac last Saturday and said to her 'Marry me, or promise to marry
me,' what answer would she have given?"

"She would have called you an insolent!" the young man replied hotly.
"And I----"

"No matter what you would have done!" Tavannes said. "Suffice it that
she would have answered as you suggest. Yet to-day she has given me
her promise."

"Yes," the young man retorted, "in circumstances in which no man of
honour----"

"Let us say in peculiar circumstances."

"Well?"

"Which still exist! Mark me, M. de Tignonville," Count Hannibal
continued, leaning forward and eyeing the young man with meaning,
"_which still exist!_ And may have the same effect on another's will
as on hers! Listen! Do you hear?" And rising from his seat with a
darkening face, he pointed to the partly shuttered window, through
which the measured tramp of a body of men came heavily to the ear. "Do
you hear, monsieur? Do you understand? As it was yesterday it is
to-day! They killed the President La Place this morning! And they are
searching! They are still searching! The river is not yet full, nor
the gibbet glutted! I have but to open that window and denounce you,
and your life would hang by no stronger thread than the life of a mad
dog which they chase through the streets!"

The younger man had risen also. He stood confronting Tavannes, the
cowl fallen back from his face, his eyes dilated. "You think to
frighten me!" he cried. "You think that I am craven enough to
sacrifice her to save myself. You----"

"You were craven enough to draw back yesterday, when you stood at this
window and waited for death!" Count Hannibal answered brutally. "You
flinched then, and may flinch again!"

"Try me!" Tignonville retorted, trembling with passion. "Try me!" And
then, as the other stared at him and made no movement, "But you dare
not!" he cried. "You dare not!"

"No?"

"No! For if I die you lose her!" Tignonville replied in a voice of
triumph. "Ha, ha! I touch you there!" he continued. "You dare not, for
my safety is part of the price, and is more to you than it is to
myself! You may threaten, M. de Tavannes, you may bluster, and shout
and point to the window"--and he mocked, with a disdainful mimicry,
the other's gesture--"but my safety is more to you than to me! And
'twill end there!"

"You believe that?"

"I know it!"

In two strides Count Hannibal was at the window. He seized a great
piece of the boarding which closed one half of the opening; he
wrenched it away. A flood of evening light burst in through the
aperture, and fell on and heightened the flushed passion of his
features, as he turned again to his opponent. "Then if you know it,"
he cried vehemently, "in God's name act upon it!" And he pointed to
the window.

"Act upon it?"

"Ay, act upon it!" Tavannes repeated, with a glance of flame. "The
road is open! If you would save your mistress, behold the way! If you
would save her from the embrace she abhors, from the eyes under which
she trembles, from the hand of a master, there lies the way! And it is
not her glove only you will save, but herself, her soul, her body!
So," he continued with a certain wildness and in a tone wherein
contempt and bitterness were mingled, "to the lions, brave lover! Will
you your life for her honour? Will you death that she may live a maid?
Will you your head to save her finger? Then, leap down! leap down! The
lists are open, the sand is strewed! Out of your own mouth I have it
that if you perish she is saved! Then out, monsieur! Cry 'I am a
Huguenot!' And God's will be done!"

Tignonville was livid. "Rather, your will!" he panted. "Your will, you
devil! Nevertheless----"

"You will go! Ha! ha! You will go!"

For an instant it seemed that he would go. Stung by the challenge,
wrought on by the contempt in which Tavannes held him, he shot a look
of hate at the tempter; he caught his breath, and laid his hand on the
edge of the shuttering as if he would leap out.

But it goes hard with him who has once turned back from the foe. The
evening light, glancing cold on the burnished pike-points of a group
of archers who stood near, caught his eye and went chill to his heart.
Death, not in the arena, not in the sight of shouting thousands, but
in this darkening street, with an enemy laughing from the window,
death with no revenge to follow, with no certainty that after all she
would be safe, such a death could be compassed only by pure love--the
love of a child for a parent, of a parent for a child, of a man for
the one woman in the world!

He recoiled. "You would not spare her!" he cried, his face damp with
sweat--for he knew now that he would not go. "You want to be rid of
me! You would fool me, and then----"

"Out of your own mouth you are convict!" Count Hannibal retorted
gravely. "It was you who said it! But still I swear it! Shall I swear
it to you?"

But Tignonville recoiled another step and was silent.

"No? O _preux chevalier_, O gallant knight! I knew it! Do you think
that I did not know with whom I had to deal?" And Count Hannibal burst
into harsh laughter, turning his back on the other, as if he no longer
counted. "You will neither die with her nor for her! You were better
in her petticoats and she in your breeches! Or no, you are best as you
are, good father! Take my advice, M. de Tignonville, have done with
arms; and with a string of beads, and soft words, and talk of Holy
Mother Church, you will fool the women as surely as the best of them!
They are not all like my cousin, a flouting, gibing, jeering
woman--you had poor fortune there, I fear?"

"If I had a sword!" Tignonville hissed, his face livid with rage. "You
call me coward, because I will not die to please you. But give me a
sword, and I will show you if I am a coward!"

Tavannes stood still. "You are there, are you?" he said in an altered
tone. "I----"

"Give me a sword," Tignonville repeated, holding out his open
trembling hands. "A sword! A sword! 'Tis easy taunting an unarmed man,
but----"

"You wish to fight?"

"I ask no more! No more! Give me a sword," he urged, his voice
quivering with eagerness. "It is you who are the coward!"

Count Hannibal stared at him. "And what am I to get by fighting you?"
he reasoned slowly. "You are in my power. I can do with you as I
please. I can call from this window and denounce you, or I can summon
my men----"

"Coward! Coward!"

"Ay? Well, I will tell you what I will do," with a subtle smile. "I
will give you a sword, M. de Tignonville, and I will meet you foot to
foot here, in this room, on a condition."

"What is it? What is it?" the young man cried with incredible
eagerness. "Name your condition!"

"That if I get the better of you, you find me a minister."

"I find you a----"

"A minister. Yes, that is it. Or tell me where I can find one."

The young man recoiled. "Never!" he said.

"You know where to find one."

"Never! Never!"

"You can lay your hand on one in five minutes, you know."

"I will not."

"Then I shall not fight you!" Count Hannibal answered coolly; and he
turned from him, and back again. "You will pardon me if I say, M. de
Tignonville, that you are in as many minds about fighting as about
dying! I do not think that you would have made your fortune at Court.
Moreover, there is a thing which I fancy you have not considered. If
we fight you may kill me, in which case the condition will not help me
much. Or I--which is more likely--" he added with a harsh smile, "may
kill you, and again I am no better placed."

The young man's, pallid features betrayed the conflict in his breast.
To do him justice, his hand itched for the sword-hilt--he was brave
enough for that; he hated, and only so could he avenge himself. But
the penalty if he had the worse! And yet what of it? He was in hell
now, in a hell of humiliation, shame, defeat, tormented by this fiend!
'Twas only to risk a lower hell.

At last, "I will do it!" he cried hoarsely. "Give me a sword and look
to yourself."

"You promise?"

"Yes, yes, I promise!"

"Good," Count Hannibal answered suavely; "but we cannot fight so, we
must have more light," and striding to the door he opened it, and
calling the Norman bade him move the table and bring caudles--a dozen
candles; for in the narrow streets the light was waning, and in the
half-shuttered room it was growing dusk. Tignonville, listening with a
throbbing brain, wondered that the attendant expressed no surprise and
said no word--until Tavannes added to his orders one for a pair of
swords.

Then, "Monsieur's sword is here," Bigot answered in his
half-intelligible patois. "He left it here yester morning."

"You are a good fellow, Bigot," Tavannes answered, with a gaiety and
good-humour which astonished Tignonville. "And one of these days you
shall marry Suzanne."

The Norman smiled sourly and went in search of the weapon.

"You have a poniard?" Count Hannibal continued in the same tone of
unusual good temper, which had already struck Tignonville. "Excellent!
Will you strip, then, or--as we are? Very good, monsieur; in the
unlikely event of fortune declaring for you, you will be in a better
condition to take care of yourself. A man running through the streets
in his shirt is exposed to inconveniences!" And he laughed gaily.

While he laughed the other listened; and his rage began to give place
to wonder. A man who regarded as a pastime a sword and dagger conflict
between four walls, who, having his adversary in his power, was ready
to discard the advantage, to descend into the lists, and to risk life
for a whim, a fancy--such a man was outside his experience, though in
Poitou in those days of war were men reckoned brave. For what, he
asked himself as he waited, had Tavannes to gain by fighting? The
possession of Mademoiselle? But Mademoiselle, if his passion for
her overwhelmed him, was in his power; and if his promise were
a barrier--which seemed inconceivable in the light of his
reputation--he had only to wait, and to-morrow, or the next day, or
the next, a minister would be found, and without risk he could gain
that for which he was now risking all.

Tignonville did not know that it was in the other's nature to find
pleasure in such utmost ventures. Nevertheless the recklessness to
which Tavannes' action bore witness had its effect upon him. By the
time the young man's sword arrived something of his passion for the
conflict had evaporated; and though the touch of the hilt restored his
determination, the locked door, the confined space, and the
unaccustomed light went a certain distance towards substituting
despair for courage.

The use of the dagger in the duels of that day, however, rendered
despair itself formidable. And Tignonville, when he took his place,
appeared anything but a mean antagonist. He had removed his robe and
cowl, and lithe and active as a cat he stood as it were on springs,
throwing his weight now on this foot and now on that, and was
continually in motion. The table bearing the candles had been pushed
against the window, the boarding of which had been replaced by Bigot
before he left the room. Tignonville had this, and consequently the
lights, on his dagger hand; and he plumed himself on the advantage,
considering his point the more difficult to follow.

Count Hannibal did not seem to notice this, however. "Are you ready?"
he asked. And then,

"On guard!" he cried, and he stamped the echo to the word. But, that
done, instead of bearing the other down with a headlong rush
characteristic of the man--as Tignonville feared--he held off warily,
stooping low; and when his slow opening was met by one as cautious, he
began to taunt his antagonist.

"Come!" he cried, and feinted half-heartedly. "Come, monsieur, are we
going to fight, or play at fighting?"

"Fight yourself, then!" Tignonville answered, his breath quickened by
excitement and growing hope. "'Tis not I hold back!" And he lunged,
but was put aside.

"Ça! ça!" Tavannes retorted; and he lunged and parried in his turn,
but loosely and at a distance. After which the two moved nearer the
door, their eyes glittering as they watched one another, their knees
bent, the sinews of their backs straining for the leap. Suddenly
Tavannes thrust, and leapt away, and as his antagonist thrust in
return the Count swept the blade aside with a strong parry, and for a
moment seemed to be on the point of falling on Tignonville with the
poniard. But Tignonville retired his right foot nimbly, which brought
them front to front again. And the younger man laughed.

"Try again, M. le Comte!" he said. And, with the word, he dashed in
himself quick as light; for a second the blades ground on one another,
the daggers hovered, the two suffused faces glared into one another;
then the pair disengaged again. The blood trickled from a scratch on
Count Hannibal's neck; half an inch to the right and the point had
found his throat. And Tignonville, elated, laughed anew, and swaying
from side to side on his hips, watched with growing confidence for a
second chance. Lithe as one of the leopards Charles kept at the
Louvre, he stooped lower and lower, and more and more with each moment
took the attitude of the assailant, watching for an opening; while
Count Hannibal, his face dark and his eyes vigilant, stood
increasingly on the defence. The light was waning a little, the wicks
of the caudles were burning long; but neither noticed it or dared to
remove his eyes from the other's. Their laboured breathing found an
echo on the farther side of the door, but this again neither observed.

"Well?" Count Hannibal said at last. "Are you coming?"

"When I please," Tignonville answered; and he feinted but drew back.
The other did the same, and again they watched one another, their
eyes seeming to grow smaller and smaller. Gradually a smile had
birth on Tignonville's lips. He thrust! It was parried! He thrust
again--parried! Tavannes, grown still more cautious, gave a yard.
Tignonville pushed on, but did not allow confidence to master caution.
He began, indeed, to taunt his adversary; to flout and jeer him. But
it was with a motive.

For suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, he repeated the peculiar
thrust which had been successful before. This time, however, Tavannes
was ready. He put aside the blade with a quick parade, and instead of
making a riposte sprang within the other's guard. The two came face to
face and breast to shoulder, and struck furiously with their daggers.
Count Hannibal was outside his opponent's sword and had the advantage.
Tignonville's dagger fell, but glanced off the metalwork of the
other's hilt; Tavannes' fell swift and hard between the young man's
eyes. The Huguenot flung up his hands and staggered back, falling his
length on the floor.

In an instant Count Hannibal was on his breast, and had knocked away
his dagger. Then, "You own yourself vanquished?" he cried.

The young man, blinded by the blood which trickled down his face, made
a sign with his hands. Count Hannibal rose to his feet again, and
stood a moment looking at his foe without speaking. Presently he
seemed to be satisfied. He nodded, and going to the table dipped a
napkin in water. He brought it, and carefully supporting Tignonville's
head, laved his brow. "It is as I thought," he said, when he had
stanched the blood. "You are not hurt, man. You are stunned. It is no
more than a bruise."

The young man was coming to himself. "But I thought----" he muttered,
and broke off to pass his hand over his face. Then he got up slowly,
reeling a little, "I thought it was the point," he muttered.

"No, it was the pommel," Tavannes answered drily. "It would not have
served me to kill you. I could have done that ten times."

Tignonville groaned, and, sitting down at the table, held the napkin
to his aching head. One of the candles had been overturned in the
struggle and lay on the floor, flaring in a little pool of grease.
Tavannes set his heel upon it; then, striding to the farther end of
the room, he picked up Tignonville's dagger and placed it beside his
sword on the table. He looked about to see if aught else remained to
do, and, finding nothing, he returned to Tignonville's side.

"Now, monsieur," he said in a voice hard and constrained, "I must ask
you to perform your part of the bargain."

A groan of anguish broke from the unhappy man. And yet he had set his
life on the cast; what more could he have done? "You will not harm
him?" he muttered.

"He shall go safe," Count Hannibal replied gravely.

"And----" he fought a moment with his pride, then blurted out the
words, "you will not tell her--that it was through me--you found him?"

"I will not," Tavannes answered in the same tone. He stooped and
picked up the other's robe and cowl, which had fallen from a chair--so
that as he spoke his eyes were averted. "She shall never know through
me," he said.

And Tignonville, his face hidden in his hands, told him.



                            CHAPTER XVIII.

                   ANDROMEDA, PERSEUS BEING ABSENT.


Little by little--while they fought below--the gloom had thickened,
and night had fallen in the room above. But Mademoiselle would not
have candles brought. Seated in the darkness, on the uppermost step of
the stairs, her hands clasped about her knees, she listened and
listened, as if by that action she could avert misfortune; or as if,
by going so far forward to meet it, she could turn aside the worst.
The women shivering in the darkness about her would fain have struck a
light and drawn her back into the room, for they felt safer there. But
she was not to be moved. The laughter and chatter of the men in the
guard-room, the coming and going of Bigot as he passed, below but out
of sight, had no terrors for her; nay, she breathed more freely on the
bare open landing of the staircase than in the close confines of a
room which her fears made hateful to her. Here at least she could
listen, her face unseen; and listening she bore the suspense more
easily.

A turn in the staircase, with the noise which proceeded from the
guard-room, rendered it difficult to hear what happened in the closed
room below. But she thought that if an alarm were raised there she
must hear it; and as the moments passed and nothing happened, she
began to feel confident that her lover had made good his escape by the
window.

Presently she got a fright. Three or four men came from the guard-room
and went, as it seemed to her, to the door of the room with the
shattered casement. She told herself that she had rejoiced too soon,
and her heart stood still. She waited for a rush of feet, a cry, a
struggle. But except an uncertain muffled sound which lasted for some
minutes, and was followed by a dull shock, she heard nothing more. And
presently the men went back whispering, the noise in the guard-room
which had been partially hushed broke forth anew, and perplexed but
relieved she breathed again. Surely he had escaped by this time.
Surely by this time he was far away, in the Arsenal, or in some place
of refuge! And she might take courage, and feel that for this day the
peril was overpast.

"Mademoiselle will have the lights now?" one of the women ventured.

"No! no!" she answered feverishly, and she continued to crouch where
she was on the stairs, bathing herself and her burning face in the
darkness and coolness of the stairway. The air entered freely through
a window at her elbow and the place was fresher, were that all, than
the room she had left. Javette began to whimper, but she paid no heed
to her; a man came and went along the passage below, and she heard the
outer door unbarred, and the jarring tread of three or four men who
passed through it. But all without disturbance; and afterwards the
house was quiet again. And as on this Monday evening the prime
virulence of the massacre had begun to abate--though it held after a
fashion to the end of the week--Paris without was quiet also. The
sounds which had chilled her heart at intervals during two days were
no longer heard. A feeling almost of peace, almost of comfort--a
drowsy feeling, that was three parts a reaction from excitement--took
possession of her. In the darkness her head sank lower and lower on
her knees. And half an hour passed, while Javette whimpered, and
Madame Carlat slumbered, her broad back propped against the wall.

Suddenly Mademoiselle opened her eyes, and saw, three steps below her,
a strange man whose upward way she barred. Behind him came Carlat, and
behind him Bigot, lighting both; and in the confusion of her thoughts
as she rose to her feet the three, all staring at her in a common
amazement, seemed a company. The air entering through the open window
beside her blew the flame of the candle this way and that, and added
to the nightmare character of the scene; for by the shifting light the
men seemed to laugh one moment and scowl the next, and their shadows
were now high and now low on the wall. In truth they were as much
amazed at coming on her in that place as she at their appearance; but
they were awake, and she newly roused from sleep; and the advantage
was with them.

"What is it?" she cried in a panic. "What is it?"

"If Mademoiselle will return to her room?" one of the men said
courteously.

"But--what is it?" She was frightened.

"If Mademoiselle----"

Then she turned without more and went back into the room, and the
three followed, and her woman and Madame Carlat. She stood resting one
hand on the table while Javette with shaking fingers lighted the
candles. Then, "Now, monsieur," she said in a hard voice, "if you will
tell me your business?"

"You do not know me?" The stranger's eyes dwelt kindly and pitifully
on her.

She looked at him steadily, crushing down the fears which knocked at
her heart. "No," she said. "And yet I think I have seen you."

"You saw me a week last Sunday," the stranger answered sorrowfully.
"My name is La Tribe. I preached that day, Mademoiselle, before the
King of Navarre. I believe that you were there."

For a moment she stared at him in silence, her lips parted. Then she
laughed, a laugh which set the teeth on edge. "Oh, he is clever!" she
cried. "He has the wit of the priests! Or the devil! But you come too
late, monsieur! You come too late! The bird has flown."

"Mademoiselle----"

"I tell you the bird has flown!" she repeated vehemently. And her
laugh of joyless triumph rang through the room. "He is clever, but I
have outwitted him! I have----"

She paused and stared about her wildly, struck by the silence; struck,
too, by something solemn, something pitiful in the faces that were
turned on her. And her lip began to quiver. "What?" she muttered. "Why
do you look at me so? He has not"--she turned from one to another--"he
has not been taken?"

"M. Tignonville?"

She nodded.

"He is below."

"Ah!" she said.

They expected to see her break down, perhaps to see her fall. But she
only groped blindly for a chair and sat. And for a moment there was
silence in the room. It was the Huguenot minister who broke it in a
tone formal and solemn.

"Listen, all present!" he said slowly. "The ways of God are past
finding out. For two days in the midst of great perils I have been
preserved by His hand and fed by His bounty, and I am told that I
shall live if, in this matter, I do the will of those who hold me in
their power. But be assured--and hearken all," he continued, lowering
his voice to a sterner note. "Rather than marry this woman to this man
against her will--if indeed in His sight such marriage can be--rather
than save my life by such base compliance, I will die not once but ten
times! See. I am ready! I will make no defence!" And he opened his
arms as if to welcome the stroke. "If there be trickery here, if there
has been practising below, where they told me this and that, it shall
not avail! Until I hear from Mademoiselle's own lips that she is
willing, I will not say over her so much as Yea, yea, or Nay, nay!"

"She is willing!"

La Tribe turned sharply, and beheld the speaker. It was Count
Hannibal, who had entered a few seconds earlier, and had taken his
stand within the door.

"She is willing!" Tavannes repeated quietly. And if, in this moment of
the fruition of his schemes, he felt his triumph, he masked it under a
face of sombre purpose. "Do you doubt me, man?"

"From her own lips!" the other replied, undaunted--and few could say
as much--by that harsh presence. "From no other's!"

"Sirrah, you----"

"I can die. And you can no more, my lord!" the minister answered
bravely. "You have no threat can move me."

"I am not sure of that," Tavannes answered, more blandly. "But had you
listened to me and been less anxious to be brave, M. La Tribe, where
no danger is, you had learned that here is no call for heroics!
Mademoiselle is willing, and will tell you so."

"With her own lips?"

Count Hannibal raised his eyebrows. "With her own lips, if you will,"
he said. And then, advancing a step and addressing her, with unusual
gravity, "Mademoiselle de Vrillac," he said, "you hear what this
gentleman requires. Will you be pleased to confirm what I have said?"

She did not answer, and in the intense silence which held the room in
its freezing grasp a woman choked, another broke into weeping. The
colour ebbed from the cheeks of more than one; the men fidgeted on
their feet.

Count Hannibal looked round, his head high. "There is no call for
tears," he said; and whether he spoke in irony or in a strange
obtuseness was known only to himself. "Mademoiselle is in no
hurry--and rightly--to answer a question so momentous. Under the
pressure of utmost peril, she passed her word; the more reason that,
now the time has come to redeem it, she should do so at leisure and
after thought. Since she gave her promise, monsieur, she has had more
than one opportunity of evading its fulfilment. But she is a Vrillac,
and I know that nothing is farther from her thoughts."

He was silent a moment; and then "Mademoiselle," he said, "I would not
hurry you."

Her eyes were closed, but at that her lips moved.

"I am--willing," she whispered. And a fluttering sigh, of relief, of
pity, of God knows what, filled the room.

"You are satisfied, M. La Tribe?"

"I do not----"

"Man!" With a growl as of a tiger, Count Hannibal dropped the mask. In
two strides he was at the minister's side, his hand gripped his
shoulder; his face, flushed with passion, glared into his. "Will you
play with lives!" he hissed. "If you do not value your own, have you
no thought of others? Of these? Look and count! Have you no bowels? If
she will save them, will not you?"

"My own I do not value."

"Curse your own!" Tavannes cried in furious scorn. And he shook the
other to and fro. "Who thought of your life? Will you doom these? Will
you give them to the butcher?"

"My lord," La Tribe answered, shaken in spite of himself, "if she be
willing----"

"She is willing."

"I have nought to say. But I caught her words indistinctly. And
without her consent----

"She shall speak more plainly. Mademoiselle----"

She anticipated him. She had risen, and stood looking straight before
her, seeing nothing. "I am willing," she muttered with a strange
gesture, "if it must be."

He did not answer.

"If it must be," she repeated slowly, and with a heavy sigh. And her
chin dropped on her breast. Then, abruptly, suddenly--it was a strange
thing to see--she looked up. A change as complete as the change which
had come over Count Hannibal a minute before came over her. She sprang
to his side; she clutched his arm and devoured his face with her eyes.
"You are not deceiving me?" she cried. "You have Tignonville below?
You--oh, no, no!" And she fell back from him, her eyes distended, her
voice grown suddenly shrill and defiant, "You have not! You are
deceiving me! He has escaped, and you have lied to me!"

"I?"

"Yes, you have lied to me!" It was the last fierce flicker of hope
when hope seemed dead: the last clutch of the drowning at the straw
that floated before the eyes.

He laughed harshly. "You will be my wife in five minutes," he said,
"and you give me the lie? A week, and you will know me better! A
month, and--but we will talk of that another time. For the present,"
he continued, turning to La Tribe, "do you, sir, tell her that the
gentleman is below. Perhaps she will believe you. For you know him."

La Tribe looked at her sorrowfully; his heart bled for her. "I have
seen M. de Tignonville," he said. "And M. le Comte says truly. He is
in the same case with ourselves, a prisoner."

"You have seen him?" she wailed.

"I left him in the room below, when I mounted the stairs."

Count Hannibal laughed, the grim mocking laugh which seemed to revel
in the pain it inflicted. "Will you have him for a witness?" he cried.
"There could not be a better, for he will not forget. Shall I fetch
him?"

She bowed her head, shivering. "Spare me that," she said. And she
pressed her hands to her eyes while an uncontrollable shudder passed
over her frame. Then she stepped forward: "I am ready," she whispered.
"Do with me as you will!"


                          *   *   *   *   *


When they had all gone out and closed the door behind them, and the
two whom the minister had joined were left together, Count Hannibal
continued for a time to pace the room, his hands clasped at his back,
and his head sunk somewhat on his chest. His thoughts appeared to run
in a new channel, and one, strange to say, widely diverted from his
bride and from that which he had just done. For he did not look her
way, or, for a time, speak to her. He stood once to snuff a candle,
doing it with an absent face; and once to look, but still absently, as
if he read no word of it, at the marriage writing which lay, the ink
still wet, upon the table. After each of these interruptions he
resumed his steady pacing to and fro, to and fro, nor did his eye
wander once in the direction of her chair.

And she waited. The conflict of emotions, the strife between hope and
fear, the final defeat had stunned her; had left her exhausted, almost
apathetic. Yet not quite, nor wholly. For when in his walk he came a
little nearer to her, a chill perspiration broke out on her brow, and
shudderings crept over her; and when he passed farther from her--and
then only, it seemed--she breathed again. But the change lay beneath
the surface, and cheated the eye. Into her attitude, as she sat, her
hands clasped on her lap, her eyes fixed, came no apparent change or
shadow of movement.

Suddenly, with a dull shock, she became aware that he was speaking.

"There was need of haste," he said, his tone strangely low and free
from emotion, "for I am under bond to leave Paris to-morrow for
Angers, whither I bear letters from the King. And as matters stood,
there was no one with whom I could leave you. I trust Bigot; he is
faithful, and you may trust him, Madame, fair or foul! But he is not
quick-witted. Badelon also you may trust. Bear it in mind. Your woman
Javette is not faithful; but as her life is guaranteed she must stay
with us until she can be securely placed. Indeed, I must take all with
me--with one exception--for the priests and monks rule Paris, and they
do not love me, nor would spare aught at my word."

He was silent a few moments. Then he resumed in the same tone, "You
ought to know how we, Tavannes, stand. It is by Monsieur and the
Queen-Mother; and _contra_ the Guises. We have all been in this
matter; but the latter push and we are pushed, and the old crack will
reopen. As it is, I cannot answer for much beyond the reach of my arm.
Therefore, we take all with us except M. Tignonville, who desires to
be conducted to the Arsenal."

She had begun to listen with averted eyes. But as he continued
to speak surprise awoke in her, and something stronger than
surprise--amazement, stupefaction. Slowly her eyes came to him, and
when he ceased to speak, "Why do you tell me these things!" she
muttered, her dry lips framing the words with difficulty.

"Because it behoves you to know them," he answered, thoughtfully
tapping the table. "I have no one, save my brother, whom I can trust."

She would not ask him why he trusted her, nor why he thought he could
trust her. For a moment or two she watched him, while he, with his
eyes lowered, stood in deep thought. At last he looked up and his eyes
met hers. "Come!" he said abruptly and in a different tone, "we must
end this! Is it to be a kiss or a blow between us?"

She rose, though her knees shook under her; and they stood face to
face, her face white as paper. "What--do you mean?" she whispered.

"Is it to be a kiss or a blow?" he repeated. "A husband must be a
lover, Madame, or a master, or both! I am content to be the one or the
other, or both, as it shall please you. But the one I will be."

"Then, a thousand times, a blow," she cried, her eyes flaming, "from
you!"

He wondered at her courage, but he hid his wonder. "So be it!" he
answered. And before she knew what he would be at, he struck her
sharply across the cheek with the glove which he held in his hand. She
recoiled with a low cry, and her cheek blazed scarlet where he had
struck it. "So be it!" he continued sombrely. "The choice shall be
yours, but you will come to me daily for the one or the other. If I
cannot be lover, Madame, I will be master. And by this sign I will
have you know it, daily, and daily remember it."

She stared at him, her bosom rising and falling, in an astonishment
too deep for words. But he did not heed her. He did not look at her
again. He had already turned to the door, and while she looked he
passed through it, he closed it behind him. And she was alone.



                             CHAPTER XIX.

                          IN THE ORLÉANNAIS.


"But you fear him?"

"Fear him?" Madame St. Lo answered; and, to the surprise of the
Countess, she made a little face of contempt. "No; why should I fear
him? I fear him no more than the puppy leaping at old Sancho's bridle
fears his tall playfellow! Or than the cloud you see above us fears
the wind before which it flies!" She pointed to a white patch, the
size of a man's hand, which hung above the hill on their left hand and
formed the only speck in the blue summer sky. "Fear him! Not I!" And,
laughing gaily, she put her horse at a narrow rivulet which crossed
the grassy track on which they rode.

"But he is hard!" the Countess murmured in a low voice, as she
regained her companion's side.

"Hard!" Madame St. Lo rejoined with a gesture of pride. "Ay, hard as
the stones in my jewelled ring! Hard as flint, or the nether
millstone--to his enemies! But to women! Bah! Who ever heard that he
hurt a woman!"

"Why then is he so feared!" the Countess asked, her eyes on the
subject of their discussion; a solitary figure, riding some fifty
paces in front of them.

"Because he counts no cost!" her companion answered. "Because he
killed Savillon in the court of the Louvre, though he knew his life
the forfeit. He would have paid the forfeit too, or lost his right
hand, if Monsieur, for his brother the Marshal's sake, had not
intervened. But Savillon had whipped his dog, you see. Then he killed
the Chevalier de Millaud, but 'twas in fair fight, in the snow, in
their shirts. For that, Millaud's son lay in wait for him with two, in
the passage under the Châtelet; but Hannibal wounded one, and the
others saved themselves. Undoubtedly he is feared!" she added with the
same note of pride in her voice.

The two, who talked, rode at the rear of the little company
which had left Paris at daybreak two days before, by the Porte St.
Jacques. Moving steadily south-westward by the lesser roads and
bridle-tracks--for Count Hannibal seemed averse from the great
road--they had lain the second night in a village three leagues from
Bonneval. A journey of two days on fresh horses is apt to change
scenery and eye alike; but seldom has an alteration--in themselves and
all about them--as great as that which blessed this little company,
been wrought in so short a time. From the stifling wynds and
evil-smelling lanes of Paris, they had passed to the green uplands,
the breezy woods and babbling streams of the upper Orléannais; from
sights and sounds the most appalling, to the solitude of the sandy
heath, haunt of the great bustard, or the sunshine of the hillside,
vibrating with the songs of larks; from an atmosphere of terror and
gloom to the freedom of God's earth and sky. Numerous enough--they
numbered a score of armed men--to defy the lawless bands which had
their lairs in the huge forest of Orleans, they halted where they
pleased: at mid-day under a grove of chestnut-trees, or among the
willows beside a brook; at night, if they willed it, under God's
heaven. Far, not only from Paris, but from the great road, with its
gibbets and pillories--the great road which at that date ran through a
waste, no peasant living willingly within sight of it--they rode in
the morning and in the evening, resting in the heat of the day. And
though they had left Paris with much talk of haste, they rode more at
leisure with every league.

For whatever Tavannes' motive, it was plain that he was in no hurry to
reach his destination. Nor for that matter were any of his company.
Madame St. Lo, who had seized the opportunity of escaping from the
capital under her cousin's escort, was in an ill-humour with cities,
and declaimed much on the joys of a cell in the woods. For the time
the coarsest nature and the dullest rider had had enough of alarums
and conflicts.

The whole company, indeed, though it moved in some fashion of array
with an avant and a rearguard, the ladies riding together, and Count
Hannibal proceeding solitary in the midst, formed as peaceful a band,
and one as innocently diverted, as if no man of them had ever grasped
pike or blown a match. There was an old rider among them who had seen
the sack of Rome, and the dead face of the great Constable, the idol
of the Free Companies. But he had a taste for simples and much skill
in them; and when Madame had once seen Badelon on his knees in the
grass searching for plants, she lost her fear of him. Bigot, with his
low brow and matted hair, was the abject slave of Suzanne, Madame St.
Lo's woman, who twitted him mercilessly on his Norman _patois_, and
poured the vials of her scorn on him a dozen times a day. In all, with
La Tribe and the Carlats, Madame St. Lo's servants, and the Countess's
following, they numbered not far short of two score; and when they
halted at noon, and under the shadow of some leafy tree, ate their
mid-day meal, or drowsed to the tinkle of Madame St. Lo's lute, it was
difficult to believe that Paris existed, or that these same people had
so lately left its blood-stained pavements.

They halted this morning a little earlier than usual. Madame St. Lo
had barely answered her companion's question before the subject of
their discussion swung himself from old Sancho's back, and stood
waiting to assist them to dismount. Behind him, where the green valley
through which the road passed narrowed to a rocky gate, an old mill
stood among willows at the foot of a mound. On the mound behind it a
ruined castle which had stood siege in the Hundred Years' War raised
its grey walls; and beyond this the stream which turned the mill
poured over rocks with a cool rushing sound that proved irresistible.
The men, their horses watered and hobbled, went off, shouting like
boys, to bathe below the falls; and after a moment's hesitation Count
Hannibal rose from the grass on which he had flung himself.

"Guard that for me, Madame," he said. And he dropped a packet, bravely
sealed and tied with a silk thread, into the Countess's lap. "'Twill
be safer than leaving it in my clothes. Ohe!" And he turned to Madame
St. Lo. "Would you fancy a life that was all gipsying, cousin?" And if
there was irony in his voice, there was desire in his eyes.

"There is only one happy man in the world," she answered, with
conviction.

"By name?"

"The hermit of Compiégne."

"And in a week you would be wild for a masque!" he said cynically. And
turning on his heel he followed the men.

Madame St. Lo sighed complacently. "Heigho!" she said. "He's right! We
are never content, _ma mie!_ When I am trifling in the Gallery my
heart is in the greenwood. And when I have eaten black bread and drunk
spring water for a fortnight I do nothing but dream of Zamet's, and
white mulberry tarts! And you are in the same case. You have saved
your round white neck, or it has been saved for you, by not so much as
the thickness of Zamet's pie-crust--I declare my mouth is beginning to
water for it!--and instead of being thankful and making the best of
things, you are thinking of poor Madame d'Yverne, or dreaming of your
calf-love!"

The girl's face--for a girl she was, though they called her
Madame--began to work. She struggled a moment with her emotion, and
then broke down, and fell to weeping silently. For two days she had
sat in public and not given way. But the reference to her lover was
too much for her strength.

Madame St. Lo looked at her with eyes which were not unkindly. "Sits
the wind in that quarter!" she murmured. "I thought so! But there, my
dear, if you don't put that packet in your gown you'll wash out the
address! Moreover, if you ask me, I don't think the young man is worth
it. It is only that which we have not got--we want!"

But the young Countess had borne to the limit of her powers. With an
incoherent word she rose to her feet, and walked hurriedly away. The
thought of what was and of what might have been, the thought of the
lover who still--though he no longer seemed, even to her, the perfect
hero--held a place in her heart, filled her breast to overflowing. She
longed for some spot where she could weep unseen, where the sunshine
and the blue sky would not mock her grief; and seeing in front of her
a little clump of alders, which grew beside the stream, in a bend that
in winter was marshy, she hastened towards it.

Madame St. Lo saw her figure blend with the shadow of the
trees--"Quite _à la_ Ronsard, I give my word!" she murmured. "And now
she is out of sight! _La, la!_ I could play at the game myself, and
carve sweet sorrow on the barks of trees, if it were not so lonesome!
And if I had a man!"

And gazing pensively at the stream and the willows, my lady tried to
work herself into a proper frame of mind; now murmuring the name of
one gallant, and now, finding it unsuited, the name of another. But
the soft inflection would break into a giggle, and finally into a
yawn; and, tired of the attempt, she began to pluck grass and throw it
from her. By-and-by she discovered that Madame Carlat and the women,
who had their place a little apart, had disappeared; and affrighted by
the solitude and silence--for neither of which she was made--she
sprang up and stared about her, hoping to discern them. Right and
left, however, the sweep of hillside curved upward to the skyline,
lonely and untenanted; behind her the castled rock frowned down on the
rugged gorge and filled it with dispiriting shadow. Madame St. Lo
stamped her foot on the turf.

"The little fool!" she murmured, pettishly. "Does she think that I am
to be murdered that she may fatten on sighs? Oh, come up, Madame, you
must be dragged out of this!" And she started briskly towards the
alders, intent on gaining company as quickly as possible.

She had gone about fifty yards, and had as many more to traverse when
she halted. A man, bent double, was moving stealthily along the
farther side of the brook a little in front of him. Now she saw him,
now she lost him; now she caught a glimpse of him again, through a
screen of willow branches. He moved with the utmost caution, as a man
moves who is pursued or in danger; and for a moment she deemed him a
peasant whom the bathers had disturbed and who was bent on escaping.
But when he came opposite to the alder-bed she saw that that was his
point, for he crouched down, sheltered by a willow, and gazed eagerly
among the trees, always with his back to her; and then he waved his
hand to someone in the wood.

Madame St. Lo drew in her breath. As if he had heard the sound--which
was impossible--the man dropped down where he stood, crawled a yard or
two on his face, and disappeared.

Madame stared a moment, expecting to see him or hear him. Then, as
nothing happened, she screamed. She was a woman of quick impulses,
essentially feminine; and she screamed three or four times, standing
where she was, her eyes on the edge of the wood. "If that does not
bring her out, nothing will!" she thought.

It brought her. An instant, and the Countess appeared, and hurried in
dismay to her side. "What is it?" the younger woman asked, glancing
over her shoulder; for all the valley, all the hills were peaceful,
and behind Madame St. Lo--but the lady had not discovered it--the
servants who had returned were laying the meal. "What is it?" she
repeated anxiously.

"Who was it?" Madame St. Lo asked curtly. She was quite calm now.

"Who was--who?"

"The man in the wood?"

The Countess stared a moment, then laughed. "Only the old soldier they
call Badelon, gathering simples. Did you think that he would harm me?"

"It was not old Badelon whom I saw!" Madame St. Lo retorted. "It was a
younger man, who crept along the other side of the brook, keeping
under cover. When I first saw him he was there," she continued,
pointing to the place. "And he crept on and on until he came opposite
to you. Then he waved his hand."

"To me!"

Madame nodded.

"But if you saw him, who was he?" the Countess asked.

"I did not see his face," Madame St. Lo answered. "But he waved to
you. That I saw."

The Countess had a thought which slowly flooded her face with crimson.
Madame St. Lo saw the change, saw the tender light which on a sudden
softened the other's eyes; and the same thought occurred to her. And
having a mind to punish her companion for her reticence--for she did
not doubt that the girl knew more than she acknowledged--she proposed
that they should return and find Badelon, and learn if he had seen the
man.

"Why?" Madame Tavannes asked. And she stood stubbornly, her head high.
"Why should we?"

"To clear it up," the elder woman answered mischievously. "But
perhaps, it were better to tell your husband and let his men search
the coppice."

The colour left the Countess's face as quickly as it had come. For a
moment she was tongue-tied. Then, "Have we not had enough of seeking
and being sought?" she cried; more bitterly than befitted the
occasion. "Why should we hunt him? I am not timid, and he did me no
harm. I beg, Madame, that you will do me the favour of being silent on
the matter."

"Oh, if you insist? But what a pother--"

"I did not see him, and he did not see me," Madame de Tavannes
answered vehemently. "I fail, therefore, to understand why we should
harass him, whoever he be. Besides, M. de Tavannes is waiting for us."

"And M. de Tignonville--is following us!" Madame St. Lo
muttered--under her breath. And she made a face at the other's back.

She was silent, however; they returned to the others; and nothing of
import, it would seem, had happened. The soft summer air played on the
meal laid under the willows as it had played on the meal of yesterday
laid under the chestnut-trees. The horses grazed within sight, moving
now and again, with a jingle of trappings or a jealous neigh; the
women's chatter vied with the unceasing sound of the mill-stream.
After dinner, Madame St. Lo touched the lute, and Badelon--Badelon who
had seen the sack of the Colonna's Palace, and been served by
cardinals on the knee--fed a water-rat, which had its home in one of
the willow-stumps, with carrot-parings. One by one the men laid
themselves to sleep with their faces on their arms; and to the eyes
all was as all had been yesterday in this camp of armed men living
peacefully.

But not to the Countess! She had accepted her life, she had resigned
herself, she had marvelled that it was no worse. After the horrors of
Paris the calm of the last two days had fallen on her as balm on a
wound. Worn out in body and mind, she had rested, and only rested;
without thought, almost without emotion, save for the feeling, half
fear, half curiosity, which stirred her in regard to the strange man,
her husband. Who on his side left her alone.

But the last hour had wrought a change. Her eyes were grown restless,
her colour came and went. The past stirred in its shallow--ah, so
shallow--grave; and dead hopes and dead forebodings, strive as she
might, thrust out hands to plague and torment her. If the man who
sought to speak with her by stealth, who dogged her footsteps and hung
on the skirts of her party, were Tignonville--her lover, who at his
own request had been escorted to the Arsenal before their departure
from Paris--then her plight was a sorry one. For what woman, wedded as
she had been wedded, could think otherwise than indulgently of his
persistence? And yet, lover and husband! What peril, what shame the
words had often spelled! At the thought only she trembled and her
colour ebbed. She saw, as one who stands on the brink of a precipice,
the depth which yawned before her. She asked herself, shivering, if
she would ever sink to that.

All the loyalty of a strong nature, all the virtue of a good woman
revolted against the thought. True, her husband--husband she must call
him--had not deserved her love; but his bizarre magnanimity, the
gloomy, disdainful kindness with which he had crowned possession, even
the unity of their interests, which he had impressed upon her in so
strange a fashion, claimed a return in honour.

To be paid--how? how? That was the crux which perplexed, which
frightened, which harassed her. For, if she told her suspicions, she
exposed her lover to capture by one who had no longer a reason to be
merciful. And if she sought occasion to see Tignonville and so to
dissuade him, she did it at deadly risk to herself. Yet what other
course lay open to her if she would not stand by? If she would not
play the traitor? If she----

"Madame,"--it was her husband, and he spoke to her suddenly,--"are you
not well?" And, looking up guiltily, she found his eyes fixed
curiously on hers.

Her face turned red and white and red again, and she faltered
something and looked from him, but only to meet Madame St. Lo's eyes.
My lady laughed softly in sheer mischief.

"What is it?" Count Hannibal asked sharply.

But Madame St. Lo's answer was a line of Ronsard.



                             CHAPTER XX.

                         ON THE CASTLE HILL.


Thrice she hummed it, bland and smiling. Then from the neighbouring
group came an interruption. The wine he had drunk had put it into
Bigot's head to snatch a kiss from Suzanne; and Suzanne's modesty,
which was very nice in company, obliged her to squeal. The uproar
which ensued, the men backing the man and the women the woman, brought
Tavannes to his feet. He did not speak, but a glance from his eyes was
enough. There was not one who failed to see that something was amiss
with him, and a sudden silence fell on the party.

He turned to the Countess. "You wished to see the castle?" he said.
"You had better go now, but not alone." He cast his eyes over the
company, and summoned La Tribe, who was seated with the Carlats. "Go
with Madame," he said curtly. "She has a mind to climb the hill. Bear
in mind, we start at three, and do not venture out of hearing."

"I understand, M. le Comte," the minister answered. He spoke quietly,
but there was a strange light in his face as he turned to go with her.

None the less he was silent until Madame's lagging feet--for all her
interest in the expedition was gone--had borne her a hundred paces
from the company. Then, "Who knoweth our thoughts and forerunneth all
our desires," he murmured. And when she turned to him, astonished,
"Madame," he continued, "I have prayed, ah, how I have prayed, for
this opportunity of speaking to you! And it has come. I would it had
come this morning, but it has come. Do not start or look round; many
eyes are on us, and alas! I have that to say to you which it will move
you to hear, and that to ask of you which it must task your courage to
perform."

She began to tremble, and stood, looking up the green slope to the
broken grey wall which crowned its summit. "What is it?" she
whispered, commanding herself with an effort. "What is it? If it have
aught to do with M. Tignonville----"

"It has not!"

In her surprise--for although she had put the question she had felt no
doubt of the answer--she started and turned to him. "It has not?" she
exclaimed almost incredulously.

"No."

"Then what is it, monsieur?" she replied, a little haughtily. "What
can there be that should move me so?"

"Life or death, Madame," he answered solemnly. "Nay, more; for since
Providence has given me this chance of speaking to you, a thing of
which, I despaired, I know that the burden is laid on us, and that it
is guilt or it is innocence, according as we refuse the burden or bear
it."

"What is it then?" she cried impatiently. "What is it?"

"I tried to speak to you this morning."

"Was it you then, whom Madame St. Lo saw stalking me before dinner?"

"It was."

She clasped her hands and heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank God,
monsieur!" she replied. "You have lifted a weight from me. I fear
nothing in comparison of that. Nothing!"

"Alas," he answered sombrely, "there is much to fear, for others if
not for ourselves! Do you know what that is which M. de Tavannes bears
always in his belt? What it is he carries with such care? What it was
he handed to you to keep while he bathed to-day?"

"Letters from the King."

"Yes, but the import of those letters?"

"No."

"And yet should they be written in letters of blood!" the minister
exclaimed, his face kindling. "They should scorch the hands that hold
them and blister the eyes that read them. They are the fire and the
sword! They are the King's order to do at Angers as they have done in
Paris. To slay all of the religion who are found there--and they are
many! To spare none, to have mercy neither on the old man nor the
unborn child! See yonder hawk!" he continued, pointing with a shaking
hand to a falcon which hung light and graceful above the valley, the
movement of its wings invisible. "How it disports itself in the face
of the sun! How easy its way, how smooth its flight! But see, it drops
upon its prey in the rushes beside the brook, and the end of its
beauty is slaughter! So is it with yonder company!" His finger sank
until it indicated the little camp seated toy-like in the green meadow
four hundred feet below them, with every man and horse, and the very
camp-kettle, clear-cut and visible, though diminished by distance to
fairy-like proportions. "So it is with yonder company!" he repeated
sternly. "They play and are merry, and one fishes and another sleeps!
But at the end of the journey is death. Death for their victims, and
for them the judgment!"

She stood, as he spoke, in the ruined gateway, a walled grass-plot
behind her and at her feet the stream, the smiling valley, the alders,
and the little camp. The sky was cloudless, the scene drowsy with the
stillness of an August afternoon. But his words went home so truly
that the sunlit landscape before the eyes added one more horror to the
picture he called up before the mind.

The Countess turned white and sick. "Are you sure?" she whispered at
last.

"Quite sure."

"Ah, God!" she cried, "are we never to have peace?" And turning from
the valley, she walked some distance into the grass court, and stood.
After a time, she turned to him; he had followed her doggedly, pace
for pace. "What do you want me to do?" she cried, despair in her
voice. "What can I do?"

"Were the letters he bears destroyed----"

"The letters?"

"Yes, were the letters destroyed," La Tribe answered relentlessly, "he
could do nothing! Nothing! Without that authority the magistrates of
Angers would not move. He could do nothing. And men and women and
children--men and women and children whose blood will otherwise cry
for vengeance, perhaps for vengeance on us who might have saved
them--will live! Will live!" he repeated with a softening eye. And
with an all-embracing gesture he seemed to call to witness the open
heavens, the sunshine and the summer breeze which wrapped them round.
"Will live!"

She drew a deep breath. "And you have brought me here," she said, "to
ask me to do this?"

"I was sent here to ask you to do this."

"Why me? Why me!" she wailed, and she held out her open hands to him,
her face wan and colourless. "You come to me, a woman! Why to me?"

"You are his wife!"

"And he is my husband!"

"Therefore he trusts you," was the unyielding, the pitiless answer.
"You, and you alone, have the opportunity of doing this."

She gazed at him in astonishment. "And it is you who say that?" she
faltered, after a pause. "You who made us one, who now bid me betray
him, whom I have sworn to love? To ruin him whom I have sworn to
honour?"

"I do!" he answered solemnly. "On my head be the guilt, and on yours
the merit."

"Nay, but--" she cried quickly, and her eyes glittered with
passion--"do you take both guilt and merit! You are a man," she
continued, her words coming quickly in her excitement, "he is but a
man! Why do you not call him aside, trick him apart on some pretence
or other, and when there are but you two, man to man, wrench the
warrant from him? Staking your life against his, with all those lives
for prize? And save them or perish? Why I, even I, a woman, could find
it in my heart to do that, were he not my husband! Surely you, you who
are a man, and young----"

"Am no match for him in strength or arms," the minister answered
sadly. "Else would I do it."

"Else would I stake my life, Heaven knows, as gladly to save their
lives as I sit down to meat! But I should fail, and if I failed all
were lost. Moreover," he continued solemnly, "I am certified that this
task has been set for you. It was not for nothing, Madame, nor to save
one poor household that you were joined to this man; but to ransom all
these lives and this great city. To be the Judith of our faith, the
saviour of Angers, the----"

"Fool! Fool!" she cried. "Will you be silent?" And she stamped the
turf passionately, while her eyes blazed in her white face. "I am no
Judith, and no madwoman as you are fain to make me. Mad?" she
continued, overwhelmed with agitation. "My God, I would I were, and I
should be free from this!" And, turning, she walked a little way from
him with the gesture of one under a crushing burden.

He waited a minute, two minutes, three minutes, and still she did not
return. At length she came back, her bearing more composed; she looked
at him and her eyes seized his and seemed as if they would read his
soul. "Are you sure," she said, "of what you have told me? Will you
swear that the contents of these letters are as you say?"

"As I live," he answered gravely. "As God lives."

"And you know--of no other way, monsieur? Of no other way?" she
repeated slowly and piteously.

"Of none, Madame, of none, I swear."

She sighed deeply, and stood sunk in thought. Then, "When do we reach
Angers?" she asked heavily.

"The day after to-morrow."

"I have--until the day after to-morrow?"

"Yes. To-night we lie near Vendôme."

"And to-morrow night?"

"Near a place called La Flèche. It is possible," he went on with
hesitation--for he did not understand her--"that he may bathe
to-morrow, and may hand the packet to you, as he did to-day when I
vainly sought speech with you. If he does that----"

"Yes?" she said, her eyes on his face.

"The taking will be easy. But when he finds you have it not--" he
faltered anew--"it may go hard with you."

She did not speak.

"And there, I think, I can help you. If you will stray from the party,
I will meet you and destroy the letter. That done--and would God it
were done already--I will take to flight as best I can, and you will
raise the alarm and say that I robbed you of it! And if you tear your
dress----"

"No," she said.

He looked a question.

"No!" she repeated in a low voice. "If I betray him I will not lie to
him! And no other shall pay the price! If I ruin him it shall be
between him and me, and no other shall have part in it!"

He shook his head. "I do not know," he murmured, "what he may do to
you!"

"Nor I," she said proudly. "That will be for him."


                          *   *   *   *   *


Curious eyes had watched the two as they climbed the hill. For the
path ran up the slope to the gap which served for gate, much as the
path leads up to the Castle Beautiful in old prints of the Pilgrim's
journey; and Madame St. Lo had marked the first halt and the second,
and, noting every gesture, had lost nothing of the interview save the
words. But until the two, after pausing a moment, passed out of sight
she made no sign. Then she laughed. And as Count Hannibal, at whom the
laugh was aimed, did not heed her, she laughed again. And she hummed
the line of Ronsard.

Still he would not be roused, and, piqued, she had recourse to words.
"I wonder what you would do," she said, "if the old lover followed us,
and she went off with him!"

"She would not go," he answered coldly, and without looking up.

"But if he rode off with her?"

"She would come back on her feet!"

Madame St. Lo's prudence was not proof against that. She had the
woman's inclination to hide a woman's secret; and she had not
intended, when she laughed, to do more than play with the formidable
man with whom so few dared to play. Now, stung by his tone and his
assurance, she must needs show him that his trustfulness had no base.
And, as so often happens in the circumstances, she went a little
farther than the facts bore her. "Any way, he has followed us so far!"
she cried viciously.

"M. de Tignonville?"

"Yes. I saw him this morning while you were bathing. She left me and
went into the little coppice. He came down the other side of the
brook, stooping and running, and went to join her."

"How did he cross the brook?"

Madame St. Lo blushed. "Old Badelon was there, gathering simples," she
said. "He scared him. And he crawled away."

"Then he did not cross?"

"No. I did not say he did!"

"Nor speak to her?"

"No. But if you think it will pass so next time--you do not know much
of women!"

"Of women generally, not much," he answered, grimly polite. "Of this
woman a great deal!"

"You looked in her big eyes, I suppose!" Madame St. Lo cried with
heat. "And straightway fell down and worshipped her!" She liked rather
than disliked the Countess; but she was of the lightest, and the least
opposition drove her out of her course. "And you think you know her!
And she, if she could save you from death by opening an eye, would go
with a patch on it till her dying day! Take my word for it, monsieur,
between her and her lover you will come to harm."

Count Hannibal's swarthy face darkened a tone, and his eyes grew a
very little smaller. "I fancy that he runs the greater risk," he
muttered.

"You may deal with him, but, for her----"

"I can deal with her. You deal with some women with a whip"

"You would whip me, I suppose?"

"Yes," he said quietly. "It would do you good, Madame. And with other
women otherwise. There are women who, if they are well frightened,
will not deceive you. And there are others who will not deceive you
though they are frightened. Madame de Tavannes is of the latter kind."

"Wait! Wait and see!" Madame cried in scorn.

"I am waiting."

"Yes! And whereas if you had come to me I could have told her that
about M. Tignonville which would have surprised her, you will go on
waiting and waiting and waiting until one fine day you'll wake up and
find Madame gone, and----"

"Then I'll take a wife I can whip!" he answered, with a look which
apprised her how far she had carried it. "But it will not be you,
sweet cousin. For I have no whip heavy enough for your case."



                             CHAPTER XXI.

                      SHE WOULD, AND WOULD NOT.


We noted some way back the ease with which women use one concession as
a stepping-stone to a second; and the lack of magnanimity, amounting
almost to unscrupulousness, which the best display in their dealings
with a retiring foe. But there are concessions which touch even a good
woman's conscience; and Madame de Tavannes, free by the tenure of a
blow, and with that exception treated from hour to hour with rugged
courtesy, shrank appalled before the task which confronted her.

To ignore what La Tribe had told her, to remain passive when a
movement on her part might save men, women, and children from death,
and a whole city from massacre--this was a line of conduct so craven,
so selfish that from the first she knew herself incapable of it. But
to take the only other course open to her, to betray her husband and
rob him of that, the loss of which might ruin him, this needed not
courage only, not devotion only, but a hardness proof against
reproaches as well as against punishment. And the Countess was no
fanatic. No haze of bigotry glorified the thing she contemplated, or
dressed it in colours other than its own. Even while she acknowledged
the necessity of the act and its ultimate righteousness, even while
she owned the obligation which lay upon her to perform it, she saw it
as he would see it, and saw herself as he would see her.

True, he had done her a great wrong; and this in the eyes of some
might pass for punishment. But he had saved her life where many had
perished; and, the wrong done, he had behaved to her with fantastic
generosity. In return for which she was to ruin him! It was not hard
to imagine what he would say of her, and of the reward with which she
had requited him.

She pondered over it as they rode that evening, with the westering sun
in their eyes and the lengthening shadows of the oaks falling athwart
the bracken which fringed the track. Across breezy heaths and over
downs, through green bottoms and by hamlets, from which every human
creature fled at their approach, they ambled on by twos and threes;
riding in a world of their own, so remote, so different from the real
world--from which they came and to which they must return--that she
could have wept in anguish, cursing God for the wickedness of man
which lay so heavy on creation. The gaunt troopers riding at ease with
swinging legs and swaying stirrups--and singing now a refrain from
Ronsard, and now one of those verses of Marot's psalms which all the
world had sung three decades before--wore their most lamblike aspect.
Behind them Madame St. Lo chattered to Suzanne of a riding mask which
had not been brought, or planned expedients, if nothing sufficiently
in the mode could be found at Angers. And the other women talked and
giggled, screamed when they came to fords, and made much of steep
places, where the men must help them. In time of war death's shadow
covers but a day, and sorrow out of sight is out of mind. Of all the
troop whom the sinking sun left within sight of the lofty towers and
vine-clad hills of Vendôme, three only wore faces attuned to the cruel
August week just ending; three only, like dark beads strung far apart
on a gay nun's rosary, rode, brooding and silent, in their places. The
Countess was one; the others were the two men whose thoughts she
filled, and whose eyes now and again sought her, La Tribe's with
sombre fire in their depths, Count Hannibal's fraught with a gloomy
speculation, which belied his brave words to Madame St. Lo.

He, moreover, as he rode, had other thoughts; dark ones, which did not
touch her. And she, too, had other thoughts at times, dreams of her
young lover, spasms of regret, a wild revolt of heart, a cry out of
the darkness which had suddenly whelmed her. So that of the three only
La Tribe was single-minded.

This day they rode a long league after sunset, through a scattered
oak-wood, where the rabbits sprang up under their horses' heads and
the squirrels made angry faces at them from the lower branches. Night
was hard upon them when they reached the southern edge of the forest,
and looked across the dusky open slopes to a distant light or two
which marked where Vendôme stood. "Another league," Count Hannibal
muttered; and he bade the men light fires where they were, and unload
the packhorses. "'Tis pure and dry here," he said. "Set a watch,
Bigot, and let two men go down for water. I hear frogs below. You do
not fear to be moonstruck, Madame!"

"I prefer this," she answered in a low voice.

"Houses are for monks and nuns!" he rejoined heartily. "Give me God's
heaven."

"The earth is His, but we deface it," she murmured, reverting to her
thoughts, and unconscious that it was to him she spoke.

He looked at her sharply, but the fire was not yet kindled; and in the
gloaming her face was a pale blot undecipherable. He stood a moment,
but she did not speak again; and Madame St. Lo bustling up, he moved
away to give an order. By-and-by the fires burned up, and showed the
pillared aisle in which, they sat, small groups dotted here and there
on the floor of Nature's cathedral. Through the shadowy Gothic
vaulting, the groining of many boughs which met overhead, a rare star
twinkled, as through some clerestory window; and from the dell below
rose in the night, now the monotonous chanting of the frogs, and now,
as some great bull-frog took the note, a diapason worthy of a Brescian
organ. The darkness walled all in; the night was still; a falling
caterpillar sounded. Even the rude men at the farthest fire stilled
their voices at times; awed, they knew not why, by the silence and
vastness of the night.

The Countess long remembered that vigil--for she lay late awake; the
cool gloom, the faint wood-rustlings, the distant cry of fox or wolf,
the soft glow of the expiring fires that at last left the world to
darkness and the stars; above all, the silent wheeling of the planets,
which spoke indeed of a supreme Ruler, but crushed the heart under a
sense of its insignificance, and of the insignificance of all human
revolutions. "Yet, I believe!" she cried, wrestling upwards, wrestling
with herself. "Though I have seen what I have seen, yet I believe!"

And though she had to bear what she had to bear, and do that from
which her soul shrank! The woman, indeed, within her continued to cry
out against this tragedy ever renewed in her path, against this
necessity for choosing evil or good, ease for herself or life for
others. But the moving heavens, pointing onward to a time when good
and evil alike should be past, strengthened a nature essentially
noble; and before she slept no shame and no suffering seemed--for the
moment at least--too great a price to pay for the lives of little
children. Love had been taken from her life; the pride which would
fain answer generosity with generosity--that must go, too!

She felt no otherwise when the day came, and the bustle of the start
and the common round of the journey put to flight the ideals of the
night. But things fell out in a manner she had not pictured. They
halted before noon on the north bank of the Loir, in a level meadow
with lines of poplars running this way and that, and filling all the
place with the soft shimmer of leaves. Blue succory, tiny mirrors of
the summer sky, flecked the long grass, and the women picked bunches
of them, or, Italian fashion, twined the blossoms in their hair. A
road ran across the meadow to a ferry, but the ferryman, alarmed by
the aspect of the party, had conveyed his boat to the other side and
hidden himself.

Presently Madame St. Lo espied the boat, clapped her hands and must
have it. The poplars threw no shade, the flies teased her, the life of
a hermit--in a meadow--was no longer to her taste. "Let us go on the
water!" she cried. "Presently you will go to bathe, monsieur, and
leave us to grill!"

"Two livres to the man who will fetch the boat!" Count Hannibal cried.
In less than half a minute three men had thrown off their boots, and
were swimming across, amid the laughter and shouts of their fellows.
In five minutes the boat was brought.

It was not large and would hold no more than four. Tavannes' eye fell
on Carlat. "You understand a boat," he said. "Go with Madame St. Lo.
And you, M. La Tribe."

"But you are coming?" Madame St. Lo cried, turning to the Countess.
"Oh, Madame," with a curtsey, "you are not? You----"

"Yes, I will come," the Countess answered.

"I shall bathe a short distance up the stream," Count Hannibal said.
He took from his belt the packet of letters, and as Carlat held the
boat for Madame St. Lo to enter, he gave it to the Countess, as he had
given it to her yesterday. "Have a care of it, Madame," he said in a
low voice, "and do not let it pass out of your hands. To lose it may
be to lose my head."

The colour ebbed from her cheeks. In spite of herself her shaking hand
put back the packet. "Had you not better then--give it to Bigot?" she
faltered.

"He is bathing."

"Let him bathe afterwards."

"No," he answered almost harshly; he found a species of pleasure in
showing her that, strange as their relations were, he trusted her.
"No; take it, Madame. Only have a care of it."

She took it then, hid it in her dress, and he turned away; and she
turned towards the boat. La Tribe stood beside the stern, holding it
for her to enter, and as her fingers rested an instant on his arm
their eyes met. His were alight, his arm even quivered; and she
shuddered.

She avoided looking at him a second time, and this was easy, since he
took his seat in the bows beyond Carlat, who handled the oars.
Silently the boat glided out on the surface of the stream, and floated
downwards, Carlat now and again touching an oar, and Madame St. Lo
chattering gaily in a voice which carried far on the water. Now it was
a flowering rush she must have, now a green bough to shield her face
from the sun's reflection; and now they must lie in some cool, shadowy
pool under fern-clad banks, where the fish rose heavily, and the
trickle of a rivulet fell down over stones.

It was idyllic. But not to the Countess. Her face burned, her temples
throbbed, her fingers gripped the side of the boat in the vain attempt
to steady her pulses. The packet within her dress scorched her. The
great city and its danger, Tavannes and his faith in her, the need of
action, the irrevocableness of action hurried through her brain. The
knowledge that she must act now--or never--pressed upon her with
distracting force. Her hand felt the packet, and fell again nerveless.

"The sun has caught you, _ma mie_," Madame St. Lo said. "You should
ride in a mask as I do."

"I have not one with me," she muttered, her eyes on the water.

"And I but an old one. But at Angers----"

The Countess heard no more; on that word she caught La Tribe's eye. He
was beckoning to her behind Carlat's back, pointing imperiously to the
water, making signs to her to drop the packet over the side. When she
did not obey--she felt sick and faint--she saw through a mist his brow
grow dark. He menaced her secretly. And still the packet scorched her;
and twice her hand went to it, and dropped again empty.

On a sudden Madame St. Lo cried out. The bank on one side of the
stream was beginning to rise more boldly above the water, and at the
head of the steep thus formed she had espied a late rose-bush in
bloom; nothing would now serve but she must land at once and plunder
it. The boat was put in therefore, she jumped ashore, and began to
scale the bank.

"Go with Madame!" La Tribe cried, roughly nudging Carlat in the back.
"Do you not see that she cannot climb the bank! Up, man, up!"

The Countess opened her mouth to cry "No!" but the word died
half-born on her lips; and when the steward looked at her, uncertain
what she had said, she nodded. "Yes, go!" she muttered. She was pale.

"Yes, man, go!" cried the minister, his eyes burning. And he almost
pushed the other out of the boat.

The next second the craft floated from the bank, and began to drift
downwards. La Tribe waited until a tree interposed and hid them from
the two whom they had left; then he leaned forward. "Now, Madame!" he
cried imperiously. "In God's name, now!"

"Oh!" she cried. "Wait! Wait! I want to think."

"To think?"

"He trusted me!" she wailed. "He trusted me! How can I do it?"
Nevertheless, and even while she spoke, she drew forth the packet.

"Heaven has given you the opportunity!"

"If I could have stolen it!" she answered.

"Fool!" he returned rocking himself to and fro and fairly beside
himself with impatience. "Why steal it? It is in your hands! You have
it! It is Heaven's own opportunity, it is God's opportunity given to
you!"

For he could not read her mind nor comprehend the scruple which held
her hand. He was single-minded. He had but one aim, one object. He saw
the haggard faces of brave men hopeless; he heard the dying cries of
women and children. Such an opportunity of saving God's elect, of
redeeming the innocent, was in his eyes a gift from Heaven. And having
these thoughts and seeing her hesitate--hesitate when every movement
caused him agony, so imperative was haste, so precious the
opportunity--he could bear the suspense no longer. When she did not
answer he stooped forward, until his knees touched the thwart on which
Carlat had sat; then without a word he flung himself forward, and,
with one hand far extended, grasped the packet.

Had he not moved, she would have done his will; almost certainly she
would have done it. But, thus attacked, she resisted instinctively;
she clung to the letters. "No!" she cried. "No! Let go, monsieur!" And
she tried to drag the packet from him.

"Give it me!"

"Let go, monsieur! Do you hear!" she repeated. And with a vigorous
jerk she forced it from him--he had caught it by the edge only--and
held it behind her. "Go back, and----"

"Give it me!" he panted.

"I will not!"

"Then throw it overboard!"

"I will not!" she cried again, though his face, dark with passion,
glared into hers, and it was clear that the man, possessed by one idea
only, was no longer master of himself. "Go back to your place!"

"Give it me," he gasped, "or I will upset the boat!" And seizing her
by the shoulder he reached over her, striving to take hold of the
packet which she held behind her. The boat rocked; and as much in rage
as fear she screamed.

A cry uttered wholly in rage answered hers; it came from Carlat. La
Tribe, however, whose whole mind was fixed on the packet, did not
heed, nor would have heeded, the steward. But the next moment a second
cry, fierce as that of a wild beast, clove the air from the lower and
farther bank; and the Huguenot, recognising Count Hannibal's voice,
involuntarily desisted and stood erect. A moment the boat rocked
perilously under him; then--for unheeded it had been drifting that
way--it softly touched the bank on which Carlat stood staring and
aghast.

La Tribe's chance was gone; he saw that the steward must reach him
before he could succeed in a second attempt. On the other hand, the
undergrowth on the bank was thick, he could touch it with his hand,
and if he fled at once he might escape.

He hung an instant irresolute; then, with a look which went to the
Countess's heart, he sprang ashore, plunged among the alders, and in a
moment was gone.

"After him! After him!" thundered Count Hannibal. "After him, man!"
and Carlat, stumbling down the steep slope and through the rough
briars, did his best to obey. But in vain. Before he reached the
water's edge, the noise of the fugitive's retreat had grown faint. A
few seconds and it died away.



                            CHAPTER XXII.

                          PLAYING WITH FIRE.


The impulse of La Tribe's foot as he landed had driven the boat into
the stream. It drifted slowly downward, and if naught intervened would
take the ground on Count Hannibal's side, a hundred and fifty yards
below him. He saw this, and walked along the bank, keeping pace with
it, while the Countess sat motionless, crouching in the stern of the
craft, her fingers strained about the fatal packet. The slow glide of
the boat, as almost imperceptibly it approached the low bank; the
stillness of the mirror-like surface on which it moved, leaving only
the faintest ripple behind it; the silence--for under the influence of
emotion Count Hannibal too was mute--all were in tremendous contrast
with the storm which raged in her breast.

Should she--should she even now, with his eyes on her, drop the
letters over the side? It needed but a movement. She had only to
extend her hand, to relax the tension of her fingers, and the deed was
done. It needed only that; but the golden sands of opportunity were
running out--were running out fast. Slowly and more slowly, silently
and more silently, the boat slid in towards the bank on which he
stood, and still she hesitated. The stillness, and the waiting figure,
and the watching eyes now but a few feet distant, weighed on her and
seemed to paralyse her will. A foot, another foot! A moment and it
would be too late, the last of the sands would have run out. The bow
of the boat rustled softly through the rushes; it kissed the bank. And
her hand still held the letters.

"You are not hurt?" he asked curtly.

"No."

"The scoundrel might have drowned you. Was he mad?"

She was silent. He held out his hand, and she gave him the packet. "I
owe you much," he said, a ring of gaiety, almost of triumph, in his
tone. "More than you guess, Madame. God made you for a soldier's wife,
and a mother of soldiers. What? You are not well, I am afraid?"

"If I could sit down a minute," she faltered. She was swaying on her
feet.

He supported her across the belt of meadow which fringed the bank, and
made her recline against a tree. Then as his men began to come up--for
the alarm had reached them--he would have sent two of them in the boat
to fetch Madame St. Lo to her. But she would not let him. "Your maid,
then?" he said.

"No, monsieur, I need only to be alone a little! Only to be alone,"
she repeated, her face averted; and believing this he sent the men
away, and, taking the boat himself, he crossed over, took in Madame
St. Lo and Carlat, and rowed them to the ferry. Here the wildest
rumours were current. One held that the Huguenot had gone out of his
senses; another, that he had watched for this opportunity of avenging
his brethren; a third, that his intention had been to carry off the
Countess and hold her to ransom. Only Tavannes himself, from his
position on the farther bank, had seen the packet of letters, and the
hand which withheld them; and he said nothing. Nay, when some of the
men would have crossed to search for the fugitive, he forbade them, he
scarcely knew why, save that it might please her; and when the women
would have hurried to join her and hear the tale from her lips he
forbade them also.

"She wishes to be alone," he said curtly.

"Alone?" Madame St. Lo cried, in a fever of curiosity. "You'll find
her dead, or worse! What? Leave a woman alone after such a fright as
that!"

"She wishes it."

Madame laughed cynically; and the laugh brought a tinge of colour to
his brow. "Oh, does she?" she sneered. "Then I understand! Have a
care, have a care, or one of these days, monsieur, when you leave her
alone, you'll find them together!"

"Be silent!"

"With pleasure," she returned. "Only when it happens don't say that
you were not warned. You think that she does not hear from him----"

"How can she hear?" The words were wrung from him.

Madame St. Lo's contempt passed all limits. "How can she!" she
retorted. "You trail a woman across France, and let her sit by
herself, and lie by herself, and all but drown by herself, and you ask
how she hears from her lover? You leave her old servants about her,
and you ask how she communicates with him?"

"You know nothing!" he snarled.

"I know this," she retorted. "I saw her sitting this morning, and
smiling and weeping at the same time! Was she thinking of you,
monsieur? Or of him? She was looking at the hills through tears; a
blue mist hung over them, and I'll wager she saw some one's eyes
gazing and some one's hand beckoning out of the blue!"

"Curse you!" he cried, tormented in spite of himself. "You love to
make mischief!"

"No!" she answered swiftly. "For 'twas not I made the match. But go
your way, go your way, monsieur, and see what kind of a welcome you'll
get!"

"I will," Count Hannibal growled. And he started along the bank to
rejoin his wife.

The light in his eyes had died down. Yet would they have been more
sombre, and his face more harsh, had he known the mind of the woman to
whom he was hastening. The Countess had begged to be left alone;
alone, she found the solitude she had craved a cruel gift. She had
saved the packet. She had fulfilled her trust. But only to experience,
the moment it was too late, the full poignancy of remorse. Before the
act, while the choice had lain with her, the betrayal of her husband
had loomed large; now she saw that to treat him as she had treated him
was the true betrayal, and that even for his own sake, and to save him
from a fearful sin, it had become her to destroy the letters.

Now, it was no longer her duty to him which loomed large, but her duty
to the innocent, to the victims of the massacre which she might have
stayed, to the people of her faith whom she had abandoned, to the
women and children whose death-warrant she had preserved. Now, she
perceived that a part more divine had never fallen to woman, nor a
responsibility so heavy been laid upon woman. Nor guilt more dread!

She writhed in misery, thinking of it. What had she done? She could
hear afar off the sounds of the camp; an occasional outcry, a snatch
of laughter. And the cry and the laughter rang in her ears, a bitter
mockery. This summer camp, to what was it the prelude? This
forbearance on her husband's part, in what would it end? Were not the
one and the other cruel make-believes? Two days, and the men who
laughed beside the water would slay and torture with equal zest. A
little, and the husband who now chose to be generous would show
himself in his true colours. And it was for the sake of such as these
that she had played the coward. That she had laid up for herself
endless remorse. That henceforth the cries of the innocent would haunt
her dreams.

Racked by such thoughts she did not hear his step, and it was his
shadow falling across her feet which first warned her of his presence.
She looked up, saw him, and involuntarily recoiled. Then, seeing the
change in his face, "Oh! monsieur," she stammered affrighted, her hand
pressed to her side, "I ask your pardon! You startled me!"

"So it seems," he answered. And he stood over her regarding her drily.

"I am not quite--myself yet," she murmured. His look told her that her
start had betrayed her feelings.

Alas, the plan of taking a woman by force has drawbacks, and among
others this one: that he must be a sanguine husband who deems her
heart his, and a husband without jealousy, whose suspicions are not
aroused by the faintest flush or the lightest word. He knows that she
is his unwillingly, a victim, not a mistress; and behind every bush
beside the road and behind every mask in the crowd be espies a rival.

Moreover, where women are in question, who is always strong? Or who
can say how long he will pursue this plan or that? A man of sternest
temper, Count Hannibal had set out on a path of conduct carefully and
deliberately chosen; knowing--and he still knew--that if he abandoned
it he had little to hope, if the less to fear. But the proof of
fidelity which the Countess had just given him had blown to a white
heat the smouldering flame in his heart, and Madame St. Lo's gibes,
which should have fallen as cold water alike on his hopes and his
passion, had but fed the desire to know the best. For all that, he
might not have spoken now, if he had not caught her look of affright;
strange as it sounds, that look, which of all things should have
silenced him and warned him that the time was not yet, stung him out
of patience. Suddenly the man in him carried him away.

"You still fear me, then!" he said, in a voice hoarse and unnatural.
"Is it for what I do or for what I leave undone that you hate me,
Madame? Tell me, I beg, for----"

"For neither!" she said, trembling. His eyes, hot and passionate, were
on her, and the blood had mounted to his brow. "For neither! I do not
hate you, monsieur!"

"You fear me then! I am right in that."

"I fear--that which you carry with you," she stammered, speaking on
impulse and scarcely knowing what she said.

He started, and his expression changed. "So?" he exclaimed. "So? You
know what I carry, do you? And from whom? From whom?" he continued in
a tone of menace, "if you please, did you get that knowledge?"

"From M. La Tribe," she muttered. She had not meant to tell him. Why
had she told him?

He nodded. "I might have known it," he said. "I more than suspected
it. Therefore I should be the more beholden to you for saving the
letters. But"--he paused and laughed harshly--"it was out of no love
for me you saved them. That, too, I know."

She did not answer or protest; and when he had waited a moment in vain
expectation of her protest, a cruel look crept into his eyes.
"Madame," he said slowly, "do you never reflect that you may push the
part you play too far? That the patience, even of the worst of men,
does not endure for ever?"

"I have your word!" she answered.

"And you do not fear?"

"I have your word," she repeated. And now she looked him bravely in
the face, her eyes full of the courage of her race.

The lines of his mouth hardened as he met her look. "And what have I
of yours?" he said in a low voice. "What have I of yours?"

Her face began to burn at that, her eyes fell and she faltered. "My
gratitude," she murmured, with an upward look that craved for pity.
"God knows, monsieur, you have that!"

"God knows I do not want it!" he answered. And he laughed derisively.
"Your gratitude!" And he mocked her tone rudely and coarsely. "Your
gratitude?" Then for a minute--for so long a time that she began to
wonder and to quake--he was silent. At last, "A fig for your
gratitude," he said. "I want your love! I suppose--cold as you are,
and a Huguenot--you can love like other women!"

It was the first, the very first time he had used the word to her; and
though it fell from his lips like a threat, though he used it as a man
presents a pistol, she flushed anew from throat to brow. But she did
not quail. "It is not mine to give," she said.

"It is his!"

"Yes, monsieur," she answered, wondering at her courage, at her
audacity, her madness. "It is his."

"And it cannot be mine--at any time?"

She shook her head, trembling.

"Never?" And, suddenly reaching forward, he gripped her wrist in an
iron grasp. There was passion in his tone. His eyes burned her.

Whether it was that set her on another track, or pure despair, or the
cry in her ears of little children and of helpless women, something in
a moment inspired her, flashed in her eyes and altered her voice. She
raised her head and looked him firmly in the face. "What," she said,
"do you mean by love?"

"You!" he answered brutally.

"Then--it may be, monsieur," she returned. "There is a way if you
will."

"Away!"

"If you will!" As she spoke she rose slowly to her feet; for in his
surprise he had released her wrist. He rose with her, and they stood
confronting one another on the strip of grass between the river and
the poplars.

"If I will?" His form seemed to dilate, his eyes devoured her. "If I
will?"

"Yes," she replied. "If you will give me the letters that are in your
belt, the packet which I saved to-day--that I may destroy them--I will
be yours freely and willingly."

He drew a deep breath, still devouring her with his eyes. "You mean
it?" he said at last.

"I do." She looked him in the face as she spoke, and her cheeks were
white, not red. "Only--the letters! Give me the letters."

"And for them you will give me your love?"

Her eyes flickered, and involuntarily she shivered. A faint blush rose
and dyed her cheeks. "Only God can give love," she said, her tone
lower.

"And yours is given?"

"Yes."

"To another?"

"I have said it."

"It is his. And yet for these letters----"

"For these lives!" she cried proudly.

"You will give yourself?"

"I swear it," she answered, "if you will give them to me! If you will
give them to me," she repeated. And she held out her hands; her face,
full of passion, was bright with a strange light. A close observer
might have thought her distraught; still excited by the struggle in
the boat, and barely mistress of herself.

But the man whom she tempted, the man who held her price at his belt,
after one searching look at her turned from her; perhaps because he
could not trust himself to gaze on her. Count Hannibal walked a dozen
paces from her and returned, and again a dozen paces and returned; and
again a third time, with something fierce and passionate in his gait.
At last he stopped before her.

"You have nothing to offer for them," he said, in a cold, hard tone.
"Nothing that is not mine already, nothing that is not my right,
nothing that I cannot take at my will. My word?" he continued, seeing
her about to interrupt him. "True, Madame, you have it, you had it.
But why need I keep my word to you, who tempt me to break my word to
the King?"

She made a weak gesture with her hands. Her head had sunk on her
breast--she seemed dazed by the shock of his contempt, dazed by his
reception of her offer.

"You saved the letters?" he continued, interpreting her action. "True,
but the letters are mine, and that which you offer for them is mine
also. You have nothing to offer. For the rest, Madame," he went on,
eyeing her cynically, "you surprise me! You, whose modesty and virtue
are so great, would corrupt your husband, would sell yourself, would
dishonour the love of which you boast so loudly, the love that only
God gives!" He laughed derisively as he quoted her words. "Ay, and,
after showing at how low a price you hold yourself, you still look, I
doubt not, to me to respect you, and to keep my word. Madame!" in a
terrible voice, "do not play with fire! You saved my letters, it is
true! And for that, for this time, you shall go free, if God will help
me to let you go! But tempt me not! Tempt me not!" he repeated,
turning from her and turning back again with a gesture of despair, as
if he mistrusted the strength of the restraint which he put upon
himself. "I am no more than other men! Perhaps I am less. And you--you
who prate of love, and know not what love is--could love! could love!"

He stopped on that word as if the word choked him--stopped, struggling
with his passion. At last, with a half-stifled oath, he flung away
from her, halted and hung a moment, then, with a swing of rage, went
off again violently. His feet as he strode along the river-bank
trampled the flowers, and slew the pale water forget-me-not, which
grew among the grasses.



                           CHAPTER XXIII.

                       A MIND, AND NOT A MIND.


La Tribe tore through the thicket, imagining Carlat and Count Hannibal
hot on his heels. He dared not pause even to listen. The underwood
tripped him, the lissom branches of the alders whipped his face and
blinded him; once he fell headlong over a moss-grown stone, and picked
himself up groaning. But the hare hard-pushed takes no account of the
briars, nor does the fox heed the mud through which it draws itself
into covert. And for the time he was naught but a hunted beast. With
elbows pinned to his sides, or with hands extended to ward off the
boughs, with bursting lungs and crimson face, he plunged through the
tangle, now slipping downwards, now leaping upwards, now all but
prostrate, now breasting a mass of thorns. On and on he ran, until he
came to the verge of the wood, saw before him an open meadow devoid of
shelter or hiding-place, and with a groan of despair cast himself
flat. He listened. How far were they behind him?

He heard nothing. Nothing, save the common noises of the wood, the
angry chatter of a disturbed blackbird as it flew low into hiding, or
the harsh notes of a flock of starlings as they rose from the meadow.
The hum of bees filled the air, and the August flies buzzed about his
sweating brow, for he had lost his cap. But behind him--nothing.
Already the stillness of the wood had closed upon his track.

He was not the less panic-stricken. He supposed that Tavannes' people
were getting to horse, and calculated that if they surrounded and beat
the wood, he must be taken. At the thought, though he had barely got
his breath, he rose, and keeping within the coppice crawled down the
slope towards the river. Gently, when he reached it, he slipped into
the water, and stooping below the level of the bank, his head and
shoulders hidden by the bushes, he waded down stream until he had put
another hundred and fifty yards between himself and pursuit. Then he
paused and listened. Still he heard nothing, and he waded on again,
until the water grew deep. At this point he marked a little below
him a clump of trees on the farther side; and reflecting that that
side--if he could reach it unseen--would be less suspect, he swam
across, aiming for a thorn bush which grew low to the water. Under its
shelter he crawled out, and, worming himself like a snake across the
few yards of grass which intervened, he stood at length within the
shadow of the trees. A moment he paused to shake himself, and then,
remembering that he was still within a mile of the camp, he set off,
now walking, and now running in the direction of the hills which his
party had crossed that morning.

For a time he hurried on, thinking only of escape. But when he had
covered a mile or two, and escape seemed probable, there began to
mingle with his thankfulness a bitter--a something which grew more
bitter with each moment. Why had he fled and left the work undone? Why
had he given way to unworthy fear, when the letters were within his
grasp? True, if he had lingered a few seconds longer, he would have
failed to make good his escape; but what of that if in those seconds
he had destroyed the letters, he had saved Angers, he had saved his
brethren? Alas! he had played the coward. The terror of Tavannes'
voice had unmanned him. He had saved himself and left the flock to
perish; he, whom God had set apart by many and great signs for this
work!

He had commonly courage enough. He could have died at the stake for
his convictions. But he had not the presence of mind which is proof
against a shock, nor the cool judgment which, in the face of death,
sees to the end of two roads. He was no coward, but now he deemed
himself one, and in an agony of remorse he flung himself on his face
in the long grass. He had known trials and temptations, but hitherto
he had held himself erect; now, like Peter, he had betrayed his Lord.

He lay an hour groaning in the misery of his heart, and then he fell
on the text "Thou art Peter, and on this rock----" and he sat up. Peter
had betrayed his trust through cowardice--as he had. But Peter had not
been held unworthy. Might it not be so with him? He rose to his feet,
a new light in his eyes. He would return! He would return, and at all
costs, even at the cost of surrendering himself, he would obtain
access to the letters. And then--not the fear of Count Hannibal, not
the fear of instant death, should turn him from his duty.

He had cast himself down in a woodland glade which lay near the path
along which he had ridden that morning. But the mental conflict from
which he rose had shaken him so violently that he could not recall the
side on which he had entered the clearing, and he turned himself
about, endeavouring to remember. At that moment the light jingle of a
bridle struck his ear; he caught through the green bushes the flash
and sparkle of harness. They had tracked him then, they were here! So
had he clear proof that this second chance was to be his. In a happy
fervour he stood forward where the pursuers could not fail to see him.

Or so he thought. Yet the first horseman, riding carelessly with his
face averted and his feet dangling, would have gone by and seen
nothing if his horse, more watchful, had not shied. The man turned
then; and for a moment the two stared at one another between the
pricked ears of the horse. At last,

"M. de Tignonville!" the minister ejaculated.

"La Tribe!"

"It is truly you?"

"Well--I think so," the young man answered.

The minister lifted up his eyes and seemed to call the trees and the
clouds and the birds to witness. "Now," he cried, "I know that I am
chosen! And that we were instruments to do this thing from the day
when the hen saved us in the hay-cart in Paris! Now I know that all is
forgiven and all is ordained, and that the faithful of Angers shall
to-morrow live and not die!" And with a face radiant, yet solemn, he
walked to the young man's stirrup.

An instant Tignonville looked sharply before him. "How far ahead are
they?" he asked. His tone, hard and matter-of-fact, was little in
harmony with the other's enthusiasm.

"They are resting a league before you, at the ferry. You are in
pursuit of them?"

"Yes."

"Not alone?"

"No." The young man's look as he spoke was grim. "I have five behind
me--of your kidney, M. La Tribe. They are from the Arsenal. They have
lost one his wife, and one his son. The three others----"

"Yes?"

"Sweethearts," Tignonville answered drily. And he cast a singular look
at the minister.

But La Tribe's mind was so full of one matter, he could think only of
that. "How did you hear of the letters?" he asked.

"The letters?"

"Yes."

"I do not know what you mean."

La Tribe stared. "Then why are you following him?" he asked.

"Why?" Tignonville echoed, a look of hate darkening his face. "Do you
ask why we follow----" But on the name he seemed to choke and was
silent.

By this time his men had come up, and one answered for him. "Why are
we following Hannibal de Tavannes?" he said sternly. "To do to him as
he has done to us! To rob him as he has robbed us--of more than gold!
To kill him as he has killed ours, foully and by surprise! In his bed
if we can! In the arms of his wife if God wills it!"

The speaker's face was haggard from brooding and lack of sleep, but
his eyes glowed and burned, as his fellows growled assent.

"'Tis simple why we follow," a second put in. "Is there a man of our
faith who will not, when he hears the tale, rise up and stab the
nearest of this black brood--though it be his brother? If so, God's
curse on him!"

"Amen! Amen!"

"So, and so only," cried the first, "shall there be faith in our land!
And our children, our little maids, shall lie safe in their beds!"

"Amen! Amen!"

The speaker's chin sank on his breast, and with his last word the
light died out of his eyes. La Tribe looked at him curiously, then at
the others. Last of all at Tignonville, on whose face he fancied that
he surprised a faint smile. Yet Tignonville's tone when he spoke was
grave enough. "You have heard," he said. "Do you blame us?"

"I cannot," the minister answered, shivering. "I can not." He had been
for a while beyond the range of these feelings; and in the greenwood,
under God's heaven, with the sunshine about him, they jarred on him.
Yet he could not blame men who had suffered as these had suffered; who
were maddened, as these were maddened, by the gravest wrongs which it
is possible for one man to inflict on another. "I dare not," he
continued sorrowfully. "But in God's name I offer you a higher and a
nobler errand."

"We need none," Tignonville muttered impatiently.

"Yet may others need you," La Tribe answered in a tone of rebuke. "You
are not aware that the man you follow bears a packet from the King for
the hands of the magistrates of Angers?"

"Ha! Does he?"

"Bidding them do at Angers as his Majesty has done in Paris?"

The men broke into cries of execration. "But he shall not see Angers!"
they swore. "The blood that he has shed shall choke him by the way!
And as he would do to others it shall be done to him."

La Tribe shuddered as he listened, as he looked. Try as he would, the
thirst of these men for vengeance appalled him. "How?" he said. "He
has a score and more with him: and you are only six."

"Seven now," Tignonville answered with a smile.

"True, but----"

"And he lies to-night at La Flèche? That is so!"

"It was his intention this morning."

"At the old King's Inn at the meeting of the great roads?"

"It was mentioned," La Tribe admitted, with a reluctance he did not
comprehend. "But if the night be fair he is as like as not to lie in
the fields."

One of the men pointed to the sky. A dark bank of cloud fresh risen
from the ocean, and big with tempest, hung low in the west. "See! God
will deliver him into our hands!" he cried.

Tignonville nodded. "If he lie there," he said, "He will." And then to
one of his followers, as he dismounted, "Do you ride on," he said,
"and stand guard that we be not surprised. And do you, Perrot, tell
monsieur. Perrot here, as God wills it," he added with a faint smile
which did not escape the minister's eye, "married his wife from the
great inn at La Flèche, and he knows the place."

"None better," the man growled. He was a sullen, brooding knave, whose
eyes when he looked up surprised by their savage fire.

La Tribe shook his head. "I know it, too," he said. "'Tis strong as a
fortress, with a walled court, and all the windows look inwards. The
gates are closed an hour after sunset, no matter who is without. If
you think, M. de Tignonville, to take him there----"

"Patience, monsieur, you have not heard me," Perrot interposed. "I
know it after another fashion. Do you remember a rill of water which
runs through the great yard and the stables?"

La Tribe nodded.

"Grated with iron at either end, and no passage for so much as a dog?
You do? Well, monsieur, I have hunted rats there, and where the water
passes under the wall is a culvert, a man's height in length. In it is
a stone, one of those which frame the grating at the entrance, which a
strong man can remove--and the man is in!"

"Ay, in! But where!" La Tribe asked, his eyebrows drawn together.

"Well said, monsieur, where?" Perrot rejoined in a tone of triumph.
"There lies the point. In the stables, where will be sleeping men, and
a snorer on every truss? No, but in a fairway between two stables
where the water at its entrance runs clear in a stone channel; a
channel deepened in one place that they may draw for the chambers
above with a rope and a bucket. The rooms above are the best in the
house, four in one row, opening all on the gallery; which was
uncovered, in the common fashion, until Queen-Mother Jezebel, passing
that way to Nantes, two years back, found the chambers draughty; and
that end of the gallery was closed in against her return. Now,
monsieur, he and his madame will lie there; and he will feel safe, for
there is but one way to those four rooms---through the door which
shuts off the covered gallery from the open part. But----" he glanced
up an instant and La Tribe caught the smouldering fire in his
eyes--"we shall not go in by the door."

"The bucket rises through a trap?"

"In the gallery? To be sure, monsieur. In the corner beyond the fourth
door. There shall he fall into the pit which he dug for others, and
the evil that he planned rebound on his own head!"

La Tribe was silent. "What think you of it?" Tignonville asked.

"That it is cleverly planned," the minister answered.

"No more than that!"

"No more until I have eaten."

"Get him something!" Tignonville replied in a surly tone. "And we may
as well eat, ourselves. Lead the horses into the wood. And do you,
Perrot, call Tuez-les-Moines, who is forward. Two hours' riding should
bring us to La Flèche. We need not leave here, therefore, until the
sun is low. To dinner! To dinner!"

Probably he did not feel the indifference he affected, for his face as
he ate grew darker, and from time to time he shot a glance, barbed
with suspicion, at the minister. La Tribe on his side remained silent,
although the men ate apart. He was in doubt, indeed, as to his own
feelings. His instinct and his reason were at odds. Through all,
however, a single purpose, the rescue of Angers, held good, and
gradually other things fell into their places. When the meal was at an
end, and Tignonville challenged him, he was ready.

"Your enthusiasm seems to have waned," the younger man said with a
sneer, "since we met, monsieur! May I ask now if you find any fault
with the plan?"

"With the plan, none."

"If it was Providence brought us together, was it not Providence
furnished me with Perrot who knows La Flèche? If it was Providence
brought the danger of the faithful in Angers to your knowledge, was it
not Providence set us on the road--without whom you had been
powerless?"

"I believe it!"

"Then, in His name, what is the matter?" Tignonville rejoined with a
passion of which the other's manner seemed an inadequate cause. "What
will you? What is it?"

"I would take your place," La Tribe answered quietly.

"My place?"

"Yes."

"What, are we too many?"

"We are enough without you, M. Tignonville," the minister answered.
"These men, who have wrongs to avenge, God will justify them."

Tignonville's eyes sparkled with anger. "And have I no wrongs to
avenge?" he cried. "Is it nothing to lose my mistress, to be robbed of
my wife, to see the woman I love dragged off to be a slave and a toy?
Are these no wrongs?"

"He spared your life, if he did not save it," the minister said
solemnly. "And hers. And her servants."

"To suit himself."

La Tribe spread out his hands.

"To suit himself! And for that you wish him to go free?" Tignonville
cried in a voice half-choked with rage. "Do you know that this man,
and this man alone, stood forth in the great Hall of the Louvre, and
when even the King flinched, justified the murder of our people? After
that is he to go free?"

"At your hands," La Tribe answered quietly. "You alone of our people
must not pursue him." He would have added more, but Tignonville would
not listen.

Brooding on his wrongs behind the wall of the Arsenal, he had let
hatred eat away his more generous instincts. Vain and conceited, he
fancied that the world laughed at the poor figure he had cut; and the
wound in his vanity festered until nothing would serve but to see the
downfall of his enemy. Instant pursuit, instant vengeance--only these,
he fancied, could restore him in his fellows' eyes.

In his heart he knew what would become him better. But vanity is a
potent motive: and his conscience, even when supported by La Tribe,
struggled but weakly. From neither would he hear more. "You have
travelled with him, until you side with him!" he cried violently.
"Have a care, monsieur, have a care lest we think you papist!" And
walking over to the men he bade them saddle; adding a sour word which
turned their eyes, in no friendly gaze, on the minister.

After that La Tribe said no more. Of what use would it have been?

But as darkness came on and cloaked the little troop, and the storm
which the men had foreseen began to rumble in the west, his distaste
for the business waxed. The summer lightning which presently began to
play across the sky revealed not only the broad gleaming stream,
between which and a wooded hill their road ran, but the faces of his
companions; and these in their turn shed a grisly light on the bloody
enterprise towards which they were set. Nervous and ill at ease, the
minister's mind dwelt on the stages of that enterprise; the stealthy
entrance through the waterway, the ascent through the trap, the
surprise, the slaughter in the sleeping-chamber. And either because he
had lived for days in the victim's company, or was swayed by the
arguments he had addressed to another, the prospect shook his soul.

In vain he told himself that this was the oppressor; he saw only the
man, fresh roused from sleep, with the horror of impending dissolution
in his eyes. And when the rider, behind whom he sat, pointed to a
faint spark of light, at no great distance before them, and whispered
that it was St. Agnes 's Chapel, hard by the inn, he could have cried
with the best Catholic of them all, "Inter pontem et fontem, Domine!"
Nay, some such words did pass his lips.

For the man before him turned half-way in his saddle. "What?" he
asked.

But the Huguenot did not explain.



                            CHAPTER XXIV.

                          AT THE KING'S INN.


The Countess sat up in the darkness of the chamber. She had writhed
since noon under the stings of remorse; she could bear them no longer.
The slow declension of the day, the evening light, the signs of coming
tempest which had driven her company to the shelter of the inn at the
cross-roads, all had racked her, by reminding her that the hours were
flying, and that soon the fault she had committed would be
irreparable. One impulsive attempt to redeem it she had made, we know;
but it had failed, and, by rendering her suspect, had made reparation
more difficult. Still, by daylight it had seemed possible to rest
content with the trial made; not so now, when night had fallen, and
the cries of little children and the haggard eyes of mothers peopled
the darkness of her chamber. She sat up, and listened with throbbing
temples.

To shut out the lightning which played at intervals across the
heavens, Madame St. Lo, who shared the room, had covered the window
with a cloak; and the place was dark. To exclude the dull roll of the
thunder was less easy, for the night was oppressively hot, and behind
the cloak the casement was open. Gradually, too, another sound, the
hissing fall of heavy rain, began to make itself heard, and to mingle
with the regular breathing which proved that Madame St. Lo slept.

Assured of this fact, the Countess presently heaved a sigh, and
slipped from the bed. She groped in the darkness for her cloak, found
it, and donned it over her night-gear. Then, taking her bearings by
her bed, which stood with its head to the window and its foot to the
entrance, she felt her way across the floor to the door, and after
passing her hands a dozen times over every part of it, she found the
latch, and raised it. The door creaked, as she pulled it open, and she
stood arrested; but the sound went no farther, for the roofed gallery
outside, which looked by two windows on the courtyard, was full of
outdoor noises, the rushing of rain and the running of spouts and
eaves. One of the windows stood wide, admitting the rain and wind, and
as she paused, holding the door open, the draught blew the cloak from
her. She stepped out quickly and shut the door behind her. On her left
was the blind end of the passage; she turned to the right. She took
one step into the darkness and stood motionless. Beside her, within a
few feet of her, some one had moved, with a dull sound as of a boot on
wood; a sound so near her that she held her breath, and pressed
herself against the wall.

She listened. Perhaps some of the servants--it was a common usage--had
made their beds on the floor. Perhaps one of the women had stirred in
the room against the wall of which she crouched. Perhaps--but, even
while she reassured herself, the sound rose anew at her feet.

Fortunately at the same instant the glare of the lightning flooded
all, and showed the passage, and showed it empty. It lit up the row of
doors on her right and the small windows on her left; and discovered
facing her, the door which shut off the rest of the house. She could
have thanked--nay, she did thank God for that light. If the sound she
had heard recurred she did not hear it; for, as the thunder which
followed hard on the flash, crashed overhead and rolled heavily
eastwards, she felt her way boldly along the passage, touching first
one door, and then a second, and then a third.

She groped for the latch of the last, and found it, but, with her hand
on it, paused. In order to summon up her courage, she strove to hear
again the cries of misery and to see again the haggard eyes which had
driven her hither. And if she did not wholly succeed, other
reflections came to her aid. This storm, which covered all smaller
noises, and opened, now and again, God's lantern for her use, did it
not prove that He was on her side, and that she might count on His
protection? The thought at least was timely, and with a better heart
she gathered her wits. Waiting until the thunder burst over her head,
she opened the door, slid within it, and closed it. She would fain
have left it ajar, that in case of need she might escape the more
easily. But the wind, which beat into the passage through the open
window, rendered the precaution too perilous.

She went forward two paces into the room, and as the roll of the
thunder died away she stooped forward and listened with painful
intensity for the sound of Count Hannibal's breathing. But the window
was open, and the hiss of the rain persisted; she could hear nothing
through it, and fearfully she took another step forward. The window
should be before her; the bed in the corner to the left. But nothing
of either could she make out. She must wait for the lightning.

It came, and for a second or more the room shone. The window, the low
truckle-bed, the sleeper, she saw all with dazzling clearness, and
before the flash had well passed she was crouching low, with the hood
of her cloak dragged about her face. For the glare had revealed Count
Hannibal; but not asleep! He lay on his side, his face towards her;
lay with open eyes, staring at her.

Or had the light tricked her? The light must have tricked her, for in
the interval between the flash and the thunder, while she crouched
quaking, he did not move or call. The light must have deceived her.
She felt so certain of it that she found courage to remain where she
was until another flash came and showed him sleeping with closed eyes.

She drew a breath of relief at that, and rose slowly to her feet. But
she dared not go forward until a third flash had confirmed the second.
Then, while the thunder burst overhead and rolled away, she crept on
until she stood beside the pillow, and stooping, could hear the
sleeper's breathing.

Alas! the worst remained to be done. The packet, she was sure of it,
lay under his pillow. How was she to find it, how remove it without
rousing him? A touch might awaken him. And yet, if she would not
return empty-handed, if she would not go back to the harrowing
thoughts which had tortured her through the long hours of the day, it
must be done, and done now.

She knew this, yet she hung irresolute a while, blenching before the
manual act, listening to the persistent rush and downpour of the rain.
Then a second time she drew courage from the storm. How timely had it
broken! How signally had it aided her! How slight had been her chance
without it! And so at last, resolutely but with a deft touch, she slid
her fingers between the pillow and the bed, slightly pressing down the
latter with her other hand. For an instant she fancied that the
sleeper's breathing stopped, and her heart gave a great bound. But the
breathing went on the next instant--if it had stopped--and dreading
the return of the lightning, shrinking from being revealed so near
him, and in that act--for which the darkness seemed more fitting--she
groped farther, and touched something. And then, as her fingers closed
upon it and grasped it, and his breath rose hot to her burning cheek,
she knew that the real danger lay in the withdrawal.

At the first attempt he uttered a kind of grunt and moved, throwing
out his hand. She thought that he was going to awake, and had hard
work to keep herself where she was; but he did not move, and she began
again with so infinite a precaution that the perspiration ran down her
face and her hair within the hood hung dank on her neck. Slowly, oh so
slowly, she drew back the hand, and with it the packet; so slowly, and
yet so resolutely, being put to it, that when the dreaded flash
surprised her, and she saw his harsh swarthy face, steeped in the
mysterious aloofness of sleep, within a hand's breadth of hers, not a
muscle of her arm moved, nor did her hand quiver.

It was done--at last! With a burst of gratitude, of triumph, of
exultation, she stood erect. She realised that it was done, and that
here in her hand she held the packet. A deep gasp of relief, of joy,
of thankfulness, and she glided towards the door.

She groped for the latch, and in the act fancied his breathing was
changed. She paused and bent her head to listen. But the patter of the
rain, drowning all sounds save those of the nearest origin, persuaded
her that she was mistaken, and, finding the latch, she raised it,
slipped like a shadow into the passage, and closed the door behind
her.

That done she stood arrested, all the blood in her body running to her
heart. She must be dreaming! The passage in which she stood--the
passage which she had left in black darkness--was alight; was so far
lighted, at least, that to eyes fresh from the night, the figures of
three men, grouped at the farther end, stood out against the glow of
the lantern which they appeared to be trimming--for the two nearest
were stooping over it. These two had their backs to her, the third his
face; and it was the sight of this third man which had driven the
blood to her heart. He ended at the waist! It was only after a few
seconds, it was only when she had gazed at him awhile in speechless
horror, that he rose another foot from the floor, and she saw that he
had paused in the act of ascending through a trapdoor. What the scene
meant, who these men were, or what their entrance portended, with
these questions her brain refused at the moment to grapple. It was
much that--still remembering who might hear her, and what she
held--she did not shriek aloud.

Instead, she stood in the gloom at her end of the passage, gazing with
all her eyes until she had seen the third man step clear of the trap.
She could see him; but the light intervened and blurred his view of
her. He stooped, almost as soon as he had cleared himself, to help up
a fourth man, who rose with a naked knife between his teeth. She saw
then that all were armed, and something stealthy in their bearing,
something cruel in their eyes as the light of the lantern fell now on
one dark face and now on another, went to her heart and chilled it.
Who were they, and why were they here? What was their purpose? As her
reason awoke, as she asked herself these questions, the fourth man
stooped in his turn, and gave his hand to a fifth. And on that she
lost her self-control and cried out. For the last man to ascend was La
Tribe! La Tribe, from whom she had parted that morning!

The sound she uttered was low, but it reached the men's ears, and the
two whose backs were towards her turned as if they had been pricked.
He who held the lantern raised it, and the five glared at her and she
at them. Then a second cry, louder and more full of surprise, burst
from her lips. The nearest man, he who held the lantern high that he
might view her, was Tignonville, was her lover!

"_Mon Dieu!_" she whispered. "What is it? What is it?"

Then, not till then, did he know her. Until then the light of the
lantern had revealed only a cloaked and cowled figure, a gloomy
phantom which shook the heart of more than one with superstitious
terror. But they knew her now--two of them; and slowly, as in a dream,
Tignonville came forward.

The mind has its moments of crisis, in which it acts upon instinct
rather than upon reason. The girl never knew why she acted as she did;
why she asked no questions, why she uttered no exclamations, no
remonstrances. Why, with a finger on her lips and her eyes on his, she
put the packet into his hands.

He took it from her, too, as mechanically as she gave it--with the
hand which held his bare blade. That done, silent as she, with his
eyes set hard, he would have gone by her. The sight of her there,
guarding the door of him who had stolen her from him, exasperated his
worst passions.

But she moved to hinder him, and barred the way. With her hand raised
she pointed to the trapdoor. "Go now!" she whispered, her tone stern
and low, "you have what you want! Go!"

"No!" And he tried to pass her.

"Go!" she repeated in the same tone. "You have what you need." And
still she held her hand extended; still without faltering she faced
the five men, while the thunder, growing more distant, rolled sullenly
eastward, and the midnight rain, pouring from every spout and dripping
eave about the house, wrapped the passage in its sibilant hush.
Gradually her eyes dominated his, gradually her nobler nature and
nobler aim subdued his weaker parts. For she understood now; and he
saw that she did, and had he been alone he would have slunk away, and
said no word in his defence.

But one of the men, savage and out of patience, thrust himself between
them. "Where is he?" he muttered. "What is the use of this? Where is
he?" And his bloodshot eyes--it was Tuez-les-Moines--questioned the
doors, while his hand, trembling and shaking on the haft of his knife,
bespoke his eagerness. "Where is he? Where is he, woman? Quick,
or----"

"I shall not tell you," she answered.

"You lie," he cried, grinning like a dog. "You will tell us! Or we
will kill you, too! Where is he? Where is he?"

"I shall not tell you," she repeated, standing before him in the
fearlessness of scorn. "Another step and I rouse the house! M. de
Tignonville, to you who know me, I swear that if this man does not
retire----"

"He is in one of these rooms?" was Tignonville's answer. "In which? In
which?"

"Search them!" she answered, her voice low, but biting in its
contempt. "Try them. Rouse my women, alarm the house! And when you
have his people at your throats--five as they will be to one of
you--thank your own mad folly!"

Tuez-les-Moines' eyes glittered. "You will not tell us?" he cried.

"No!"

"Then----"

But as the fanatic sprang on her, La Tribe flung his arms round him
and dragged him back. "It would be madness," he cried. "Are you mad,
fool? Have done!" he panted, struggling with him. "If madame gives the
alarm--and he may be in any one of these four rooms, you cannot be
sure which--we are undone." He looked for support to Tignonville,
whose movement to protect the girl he had anticipated, and who had
since listened sullenly. "We have obtained what we need. Will you
requite madame, who has gained it for us at her own risk----"

"It is monsieur I would requite," Tignonville muttered grimly.

"By using violence to her?" the minister retorted passionately. He and
Tuez were still gripping one another. "I tell you, to go on is to risk
what we have got! And I for one----"

"Am chicken-hearted!" the young man sneered. "Madame--" he seemed to
choke on the word. "Will you swear that he is not here?"

"I swear that if you do not go I will raise the alarm!" she
hissed--all their words were sunk to that stealthy note. "Go! if you
have not stayed too long already. Go! Or see!" And she pointed to the
trapdoor, from which the face and arms of a sixth man had that moment
risen--the face dark with perturbation, so that her woman's wit told
her at once that something was amiss. "See what has come of your delay
already!"

"The water is rising," the man muttered earnestly. "In God's name
come, whether you have done it or not, or we cannot pass out again. It
is within a foot of the crown of the culvert now, and it is rising."

"Curse on the water!" Tuez-les-Moines answered in a frenzied whisper.
"And on this Jezebel. Let us kill her and him! What matter
afterwards?" And he tried to shake off La Tribe's grasp.

But the minister held him desperately. "Are you mad? Are you mad?" he
answered. "What can we do against thirty? Let us be gone while we can.
Let us be gone! Come."

"Ay, come," Perrot cried, assenting reluctantly. He had taken no side
hitherto. "The luck is against us! 'Tis no use to-night, man!" And he
turned with an air of sullen resignation. Letting his legs drop
through the trap he followed the bearer of the tidings out of sight.
Another made up his mind to go, and went. Then only Tignonville
holding the lantern, and La Tribe, who feared to release
Tuez-les-Moines, remained with the fanatic.

The Countess's eyes met her old lover's, and whether old memories
overcame her, or, now that the danger was nearly past, she began to
give way, she swayed a little on her feet. But he did not notice it.
He was sunk in black rage: rage against her, rage against himself.
"Take the light," she muttered unsteadily. "And--and he must follow!"

"And you?"

But she could bear it no longer. "Oh, go," she wailed. "Go! Will you
never go? If you love me, if you ever loved me, I implore you to go."

He had betrayed little of a lover's feeling. But he could not resist
that appeal, and he turned silently. Seizing Tuez-les-Moines by the
other arm, he drew him by force to the trap. "Quiet, fool," he
muttered savagely when the man would have resisted, "and go down! If
we stay to kill him, we shall have no way of escape, and his life will
be dearly bought. Down, man, down!" And between them, in a struggling
silence, with now and then an audible rap, or a ring of metal, the two
forced the desperado to descend.

La Tribe followed hastily. Tignonville was the last to go. In the act
of disappearing he raised his lantern for a last glimpse of the
Countess. To his astonishment the passage was empty; she was gone.
Hard by him a door stood an inch or two ajar, and he guessed that it
was hers, and swore under his breath, hating her at that moment. But
he did not guess how nicely she had calculated her strength; how
nearly exhaustion had overcome her; or that even while he paused--a
fatal pause had he known it--eyeing the dark opening of the door, she
lay as one dead, on the bed within. She had fallen in a swoon, from
which she did not recover until the sun had risen, and marched across
one quarter of the heavens.

Nor did he see another thing, or he might have hastened his steps.
Before the yellow light of his lantern faded from the ceiling of the
passage, the door of the room farthest from the trap slid open. A man,
whose eyes, until darkness swallowed him, shone strangely in a face
extraordinarily softened, came out on tip-toe. This man stood awhile,
listening. At length, hearing those below utter a cry of dismay, he
awoke to sudden activity. He opened with a turn of the key the door
which stood at his elbow, the door which led to the other part of the
house. He vanished through it. A second later a sharp whistle pierced
the darkness of the courtyard and brought a dozen sleepers to their
senses and their feet. A moment, and the courtyard hummed with voices,
above which one voice rang clear and insistent. With a startled cry
the inn awoke.



                             CHAPTER XXV.

                  THE COMPANY OF THE BLEEDING HEART.


"But why," Madame. St. Lo asked, sticking her arms akimbo, "why stay
in this forsaken place a day and a night, when six hours in the saddle
would set us in Angers?"

"Because," Tavannes replied coldly--he and his cousin were walking
before the gateway of the inn--"the Countess is not well, and will be
the better, I think, for staying a day."

"She slept soundly enough! I'll answer for that!"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"She never raised her head this morning, though my women were
shrieking 'Murder!' next door, and----Name of Heaven!" madame resumed,
after breaking off abruptly, and shading her eyes with her hand, "what
comes here? Is it a funeral? Or a pilgrimage? If all the priests about
here are as black, no wonder M. Rabelais fell out with them!"

The inn stood without the walls for the convenience of those who
wished to take the road early: a little also, perhaps, because food
and forage were cheaper, and the wine paid no town-dues. Four great
roads met before the house, along the most easterly of which the
sombre company which had caught Madame St. Lo's attention could be
seen approaching. At first Count Hannibal supposed with his companion
that the travellers were conveying to the grave the corpse of some
person of distinction; for the _cortége_ consisted mainly of priests
and the like mounted on mules, and clothed for the most part in black.
Black also was the small banner which waved above them, and bore in
place of arms the emblem of the Bleeding Heart. But a second glance
failed to discover either litter or bier; and a nearer approach showed
that the travellers, whether they wore the tonsure or not, bore
weapons of one kind or another about them.

Suddenly Madame St. Lo clapped her hands, and proclaimed in great
astonishment that she knew them. "Why, there is Father Boucher, the
Curé of St.-Benoist!" she said, "and Father Pezelay of St. Magloire.
And there is another I know, though I cannot remember his name! They
are preachers from Paris! That is who they are! But what can they be
doing here? Is it a pilgrimage, think you?"

"Ay, a pilgrimage of Blood!" Count Hannibal answered between his
teeth. And, turning to him to learn what moved him, she saw the look
in his eyes which portended a storm. Before she could ask a question,
however, the gloomy company, which had first appeared in the distance,
moving, an inky blot, through the hot sunshine of the summer morning,
had drawn near and was almost abreast of them. Stepping from her side,
he raised his hand and arrested the march.

"Who is master here?" he asked haughtily.

"I am the leader," answered a stout pompous Churchman, whose small
malevolent eyes belied the sallow fatuity of his face. "I, M. de
Tavannes, by your leave."

"And you, by your leave," Tavannes sneered, "are----"

"Archdeacon and Vicar of the Bishop of Angers and Prior of the Lesser
Brethren of St. Germain, M. le Comte. Visitor also of the Diocese of
Angers," the dignitary continued, puffing out his cheeks, "and
Chaplain to the Lieutenant-Governor of Saumur, whose unworthy brother
I am."

"A handsome glove, and well embroidered!" Tavannes retorted in a tone
of disdain. "The hand I see yonder!" He pointed to the lean parchment
mask of Father Pezelay, who coloured ever so faintly, but held his
peace under the sneer. "You are bound for Angers!" Count Hannibal
continued. "For what purpose, Sir Prior!"

"His Grace the Bishop is absent, and in his absence----"

"You go to fill his city with strife! I know you! Not you!" he
continued, contemptuously turning from the Prior, and regarding the
third of the principal figures of the party. "But you! You were the
Curé who got the mob together last All Souls'."

"I speak the words of Him Who sent me!" answered the third Churchman,
whose brooding face and dull curtained eyes gave no promise of the
fits of frenzied eloquence which had made his pulpit famous in Paris.

"Then Kill and Burn are His alphabet!" Tavannes retorted, and heedless
of the start of horror which a saying so near blasphemy excited among
the Churchmen, he turned to Father Pezelay. "And you! You, too, I
know!" he continued. "And you know me! And take this from me. Turn,
father! Turn! Or worse than a broken head--you bear the scar I
see--will befall you. These good persons, whom you have moved, unless
I am in error, to take this journey, may not know me; but you do, and
can tell them. If they will to Angers, they must to Angers. But if I
find trouble in Angers when I come, I will hang some one high. Don't
scowl at me, man!"--in truth, the look of hate in Father Pezelay's
eyes was enough to provoke the exclamation. "Some one, and it shall
not be a bare patch on the crown will save his windpipe from
squeezing!"

A murmur of indignation broke from the preachers' attendants; one or
two made a show of drawing their weapons. But Count Hannibal paid no
heed to them, and had already turned on his heel when Father Pezelay
spurred his mule a pace or two forward. Snatching a heavy brass cross
from one of the acolytes, he raised it aloft, and in the voice which
had often thrilled the heated congregation of St. Magloire, he called
on Tavannes to pause.

"Stand, my lord!" he cried. "And take warning! Stand, reckless and
profane, whose face is set hard as a stone, and his heart as a flint,
against High Heaven and Holy Church! Stand and hear! Behold the word
of the Lord is gone out against this city, even against Angers, for
the unbelief thereof! Her place shall be left unto her desolate, and
her children shall be dashed against the stones! Woe unto you,
therefore, if you gainsay it, or fall short of that which is
commanded! You shall perish as Achan, the son of Charmi, and as Saul!
The curse that has gone out against you shall not tarry, nor your days
continue! For the Canaanitish woman that is in your house, and for the
thought that is in your heart, the place that was yours is given to
another! Yea, the sword is even now drawn that shall pierce your
side!"

"You are more like to split my ears!" Count Hannibal answered sternly.
"And now mark me! Preach as you please here. But a word in Angers, and
though you be shaven twice over, I will have you silenced after a
fashion which will not please you! If you value your tongue therefore,
father----oh, you shake off the dust, do you? Well, pass on! 'Tis
wise, perhaps."

And undismayed by the scowling brows, and the cross ostentatiously
lifted to heaven, he gazed after the procession as it moved on under
its swaying banner, now one and now another of the acolytes looking
back and raising his hands to invoke the bolt of Heaven on the
blasphemer. As the _cortége_ passed the huge watering-troughs, and the
open gateway of the inn, the knot of persons congregated there fell on
their knees. In answer the Churchmen raised their banner higher, and
began to sing the _Eripe me, Domine!_ and to its strains, now
vengeful, now despairing, now rising on a wave of menace, they passed
slowly into the distance, slowly towards Angers and the Loire.

Suddenly Madame St. Lo twitched his sleeve. "Enough for me!" she cried
passionately. "I go no farther with you!"

"Ah?"

"No farther!" she repeated. She was pale, she shivered. "Many thanks,
my cousin, but we part company here. I do not go to Angers. I have
seen horrors enough. I will take my people, and go to my aunt by Tours
and the east road. For you, I foresee what will happen. You will
perish between the hammer and the anvil."

"Ah?"

"You play too fine a game," she continued, her face quivering. "Give
over the girl to her lover, and send away her people with her. And
wash your hands of her and hers. Or you will see her fall, and fall
beside her! Give her to him, I say--give her to him!"

"My wife?"

"Wife?" she echoed, for, fickle, and at all times swept away by the
emotions of the moment, she was in earnest now. "Is there a tie," and
she pointed after the vanishing procession, "that they cannot unloose?
That they will not unloose? Is there a life which escapes if they doom
it? Did the Admiral escape? Or Rochefoucauld? Or Madame de Luns in old
days? I tell you they go to rouse Angers against you, and I see
beforehand what will happen. She will perish, and you with her. Wife?
A pretty wife, at whose door you took her lover last night."

"And at your door!" he answered quietly, unmoved by the gibe.

But she did not heed. "I warned you of that!" she cried. "And you
would not believe me. I told you he was following. And I warn you of
this. You are between the hammer and the anvil, M. le Comte! If
Tignonville does not murder you in your bed----"

"'Tis not likely while I hold him in my power."

"Then Holy Church will fall on you and crush you. For me, I have seen
enough and more than enough. I go to Tours by the east road."

He shrugged his shoulders. "As you please," he said.

She flung away in disgust with him. She could not understand a man who
played fast and loose at such a time. The game was too fine for her,
its danger too apparent, the gain too small. She had, too, a woman's
dread of the Church, a woman's belief in the power of the dead hand to
punish. And in half an hour her orders were given. In two hours her
people were gathered, and she departed by the eastward road, three of
Tavannes' riders reinforcing her servants for a part of the way. Count
Hannibal stood to watch them start, and noticed Bigot riding by the
side of Suzanne's mule. He smiled; and presently, as he turned away,
he did a thing rare with him--he laughed outright.

A laugh which reflected a mood rare as itself. Few had seen Count
Hannibal's eye sparkle as it sparkled now; few had seen him laugh as
he laughed, walking to and fro in the sunshine before the inn. His men
watched him, and wondered, and liked it little, for one or two who had
overheard his altercation with the Churchmen had reported it, and
there was shaking of heads over it. The man who had singed the Pope's
beard and chucked Cardinals under the chin was growing old, and the
most daring of the others had no mind to fight with foes whose weapons
were not of this world.

Count Hannibal's gaiety, however, was well grounded, had they known
it. He was gay, not because he foresaw peril, and it was his nature to
love peril; nor--in the main, though a little, perhaps--because he
knew that the woman whose heart he desired to win had that night stood
between him and death; nor, though again a little, perhaps, because
she had confirmed his choice by conduct which a small man might have
deprecated, but which a great man loved; but chiefly, because the
events of the night had placed in his grasp two weapons by the aid of
which he looked to recover all the ground he had lost--lost by his
impulsive departure from the path of conduct on which he had started.

Those weapons were Tignonville, taken like a rat in a trap by the
rising of the water; and the knowledge that the Countess had stolen
the precious packet from his pillow. The knowledge--for he had lain
and felt her breath upon his cheek, he had lain and felt her hand
beneath his pillow, he had lain while the impulse to fling his arms
about her had been almost more than he could tame! He had lain and
suffered her to go, to pass out safely as she had passed in. And then
he had received his reward in the knowledge that, if she robbed him,
she robbed him not for herself; and that where it was a question of
his life she did not fear to risk her own.

When he came, indeed, to that point, he trembled. How narrowly had he
been saved from misjudging her! Had he not lain and waited, had he not
possessed himself in patience, he might have been led to think her in
collusion with the old lover whom he found at her door, and with those
who came to slay him. Either he might have perished unwarned; or
escaping that danger, he might have detected her with Tignonville and
lost for all time the ideal of a noble woman.

He had escaped that peril. More, he had gained the weapons we have
indicated; and the sense of power, in regard to her, almost
intoxicated him. Surely if he wielded those weapons to the best
advantage, if he strained generosity to the uttermost, the citadel of
her heart must yield at last.

He had the defect of his courage and his nature, a tendency to do
things after a flamboyant fashion. He knew that her act would plunge
him in perils which he had not foreseen. If the preachers roused the
Papists of Angers, if he arrived to find men's swords whetted for the
massacre and the men themselves awaiting the signal, then if he did
not give that signal there would be trouble. There would be trouble of
the kind in which the soul of Hannibal de Tavannes revelled, trouble
about the ancient cathedral and under the black walls of the Angevin
castle, trouble amid which the hearts of common men would be as water.

Then, when things seemed at their worst, he would reveal his
knowledge. Then, when forgiveness must seem impossible, he would
forgive. With the flood of peril which she had unloosed rising round
them, he would say, "Go!" to the man who had aimed at his life; he
would say to her, "I know, and I forgive!" That, that only, would
fitly crown the policy on which he had decided from the first, though
he had not hoped to conduct it on lines so splendid as those which now
dazzled him.



                            CHAPTER XXVI.

                               TEMPER.


It was his gaiety, that strange unusual gaiety, still continuing,
which on the following day began by perplexing and ended by terrifying
the Countess. She could not doubt that he had missed the packet on
which so much hung and of which he had indicated the importance. But
if he had missed it, why, she asked herself, did he not speak? Why did
he not cry the alarm, search and question and pursue? Why did he not
give her the opening to tell the truth, without which even her courage
failed, her resolution died within her?

Above all, what was the secret of his strange merriment? Of the
snatches of song which broke from him, only to be hushed by her look
of astonishment? Of the parades which his horse, catching the
infection, made under him, as he tossed his riding-cane high in the
air and caught it?

Ay, what? Why, when he had suffered so great a loss, when he had been
robbed of that of which he must give account--why did he cast off his
melancholy and ride like the youngest? She wondered what the men
thought, and looking, saw them stare, saw that they watched him
stealthily, saw that they laid their heads together. What were they
thinking of it? She could not tell; and slowly a terror, more
insistent than any to which the extremity of violence would have
reduced her, began to grip her heart.

Twenty hours of rest had lifted her from the state of collapse into
which the events of the night had cast her; still her limbs at
starting had shaken under her. But the cool freshness of the early
summer morning, and the sight of the green landscape and the winding
Loir, beside which their road ran, had not failed to revive her
spirits; and if he had shown himself merely gloomy, merely sunk in
revengeful thoughts, or darting hither and thither the glance of
suspicion, she felt that she could have faced him, and on the first
opportunity could have told him the truth.

But this strange mood veiled she knew not what. It seemed, if she
comprehended it at all, the herald of some bizarre, some dreadful
vengeance, in harmony with his fierce and mocking spirit. Before it
her heart became as water. Even her colour little by little left her
cheeks. She knew that he had only to look at her now to read the
truth; that it was written in her face, in her shrinking figure, in
the eyes which now guiltily sought and now avoided his. And feeling
sure that he did read it and know it, she fancied that he licked his
lips, as the cat which plays with the mouse; she fancied that he
gloated on her terror and her perplexity.

This, though the day and the road were warrants for all cheerful
thoughts. On one side vineyards clothed the warm red slopes, and rose
in steps from the river to the white buildings of a convent. On the
other the stream wound through green flats where the black cattle
stood knee-deep in grass, watched by wild-eyed and half-naked youths.
Again the travellers lost sight of the Loir, and crossing a shoulder,
rode through the dim aisles of a beech-forest, through deep rustling
drifts of last year's leaves. And out again and down again they
passed, and turning aside from the gateway, trailed along beneath the
brown machicolated wall of an old town, from the crumbling battlements
of which faces half-sleepy, half-suspicious, watched them as they
moved below through the glare and heat. Down to the river-level again,
where a squalid anchorite, seated at the mouth of a cave dug in the
bank, begged of them, and the bell of a monastery on the farther bank
tolled slumberously the hour of Nones.

And still he said nothing, and she, cowed by his mysterious gaiety,
yet spurning herself for her cowardice, was silent also. He hoped to
arrive at Angers before nightfall. What, she wondered, shivering,
would happen there? What was he planning to do to her? How would he
punish her? Brave as she was, she was a woman, with a woman's nerves;
and fear and anticipation got upon them; and his silence--his silence
which must mean a thing worse than words!

And then on a sudden, piercing all, a new thought. Was it possible
that he had other letters? If his bearing were consistent with
anything, it was consistent with that. Had he other genuine letters,
or had he duplicate letters, so that he had lost nothing, but instead
had gained the right to rack and torture her, to taunt and despise
her?

That thought stung her into sudden self-betrayal. They were riding
along a broad dusty track which bordered a stone causey raised above
the level of winter floods; impulsively she turned to him. "You
have other letters!" she cried. "You have other letters!" And freed
for the moment from her terror, she fixed her eyes on his and strove
to read his face.

He looked at her, his mouth grown hard. "What do you mean, madame?" he
asked.

"You have other letters?"

"For whom?"

"From the King, for Angers!"

He saw that she was going to confess, that she was going to derange
his cherished plan; and unreasonable anger awoke in the man who had
been more than willing to forgive a real injury. "Will you explain?"
he said between his teeth. And his eyes glittered unpleasantly. "What
do you mean?"

"You have other letters," she persisted, "besides those which I
stole."

"Which you stole?" He repeated the words without passion. Enraged by
this unexpected turn, he hardly knew how to take it.

"Yes, I!" she cried. "I! I took them from under your pillow!"

He was silent a minute. Then he laughed and shook his head. "It will
not do, madame," he said, his lip curling. "You are clever, but you do
not deceive me."

"Deceive you?"

"Yes."

"You do not believe that I took the letters?" she cried in great
amazement.

"No," he answered; "and for a good reason." He had hardened his heart
now. He had chosen his line, and he would not spare her.

"Why, then?" she cried. "Why?"

"For the best of all reasons," he answered. "Because the person who
stole the letters was seized in the act of making his escape, and is
now in my power."

"The person--who stole the letters?" she faltered.

"Yes, madame."

"Do you mean M. de Tignonville?"

"You have said it."

She turned white to the lips, and trembling could with difficulty sit
her horse. With an effort she pulled it up, and he stopped also. Their
attendants were some way ahead. "And you have the letters?" she
whispered, her eyes meeting his. "You have the letters?"

"No, but I have the thief!" Count Hannibal answered with sinister
meaning. "As I think you knew, madame," he continued ironically, "a
while back before you spoke."

"I? Oh, no, no!" and she swayed in her saddle. "What--what are
you--going to do?" she muttered after a moment's stricken silence.

"To him?"

"Yes."

"The magistrates will decide, at Angers."

"But he did not do it! I swear he did not."

Count Hannibal shook his head coldly.

"I swear, monsieur, I took the letters!" she repeated piteously.
"Punish me!" Her figure, bowed like an old woman's over the neck of
her horse, seemed to crave his mercy.

Count Hannibal smiled.

"You do not believe me?"

"No," he said. And then, in a tone which chilled her, "If I did
believe you," he continued, "I should still punish him!" She was
broken; but he would see if he could not break her further. He would
try if there were no weak spot in her armour. He would rack her now,
since in the end she must go free. "Understand, madame," he continued
in his harshest tone, "I have had enough of your lover. He has crossed
my path too often. You are my wife, I am your husband. In a day or two
there shall be an end of this farce and of him."

"He did not take them!" she wailed, her face sinking lower on her
breast. "He did not take them! Have mercy!"

"Any way, madame, they are gone!" Tavannes answered. "You have taken
them between you; and as I do not choose that you should pay, he will
pay the price."

If the discovery that Tignonville had fallen into her husband's hands
had not sufficed to crush her, Count Hannibal's tone must have done
so. The shoot of new life which had raised its head after those
dreadful days in Paris, and--for she was young--had supported her
under the weight which the peril of Angers had cast on her shoulders,
died, bruised under the heel of his brutality. The pride which had
supported her, which had won Tavannes' admiration and exacted his
respect, sank, as she sank herself, bowed to her horse's neck, weeping
bitter tears before him. She abandoned herself to her misery, as she
had once abandoned herself in the upper room in Paris.

And he looked at her. He had willed to crush her; he had his will, and
he was not satisfied. He had bowed her so low that his magnanimity
would now have its full effect, would shine as the sun into a dark
world; and yet he was not happy. He could look forward to the morrow,
and say, "She will understand me, she will know me!" and lo, the
thought that she wept for her lover stabbed him, and stabbed him anew;
and he thought, "Rather would she death from him, than life from me!
Though I give her creation, it will not alter her! Though I strike the
stars with my head, it is he who fills her world."

The thought spurred him to farther cruelty, impelled him to try if,
prostrate as she was, he could not draw a prayer from her? "You don't
ask after him?" he scoffed. "He may be before or behind? Or wounded or
well? Would you not know, madame? And what message he sent you? And
what he fears, and what hope he has? And his last wishes? And--for
while there is life there is hope--would you not learn where the key
of his prison lies to-night? How much for the key to-night, madame?"

Each question fell on her like the lash of a whip; but as one who has
been flogged into insensibility, she did not wince. That drove him on:
he felt a mad desire to hear her prayers, to force her lower, to bring
her to her knees. And he sought about for a keener taunt. Their
attendants were almost out of sight before them; the sun, declining
apace, was in their eyes. "In two hours we shall be in Angers," he
said. "Mon Dieu, madame, it was a pity, when you two were taking
letters, you did not go a step farther. You were surprised, or I doubt
if I should be alive to-day!"

Then she did look up. She raised her head and met his gaze with such
wonder in her eyes, such reproach in her tear-stained face, that his
voice sank on the last word. "You mean--that I would have murdered
you?" she said. "I would have cut off my hand first. What I did"--and
now her voice was as firm as it was low--"what I did, I did to save my
people. And if it were to be done again, I would do it again!"

"You dare to tell me that to my face?" he cried, hiding feelings which
almost choked him. "You would do it again, would you? Mon Dieu,
madame, you need to be taught a lesson!"

And by chance, meaning only to make the horses move on again, he
raised his whip. She thought that he was going to strike her, and she
flinched at last. The whip fell smartly on her horse's quarters, and
it sprang forward. Count Hannibal swore between his teeth.

He had turned pale, she red as fire. "Get on! Get on!" he cried
harshly. "We are falling behind!" And riding at her heels, flipping
her horse now and then, he forced her to trot on until they overtook
the servants.



                            CHAPTER XXVII.

                           THE BLACK TOWN.


It was late evening when, riding wearily on jaded horses, they came to
the outskirts of Angers, and saw before them the term of their
journey. The glow of sunset had faded, but the sky was still warm with
the last hues of day; and against its opal light the huge mass of the
Angevin castle, which even in sunshine rises dark and forbidding above
the Mayenne, stood up black and sharply defined. Below it, on both
banks of the river, the towers and spires of the city soared up from a
sombre huddle of ridge-roofs, broken here by a round-headed gateway,
crumbling and pigeon-haunted, that dated from St. Louis, and there by
the gaunt arms of a windmill.

The city lay dark under a light sky, keeping well its secrets.
Thousands were out of doors enjoying the evening coolness in alley and
court, yet it betrayed the life which pulsed in its arteries only by
the low murmur which rose from it. Nevertheless, the Countess at sight
of its roofs tasted the first moment of happiness which had been hers
that day. She might suffer, but she had saved. Those roofs would thank
her! In that murmur were the voices of women and children she had
redeemed! At the sight and at the thought a wave of love and
tenderness swept all bitterness from her breast. A profound humility,
a boundless thankfulness took possession of her. Her head sank lower
above her horse's mane; but it sank in reverence, not in shame.

Could she have known what was passing beneath those roofs which night
was blending in a common gloom--could she have read the thoughts which
at that moment paled the cheeks of many a stout burgher, whose gabled
house looked on the great square, she had been still more thankful.
For in attics and back rooms women were on their knees at that hour,
praying with feverish eyes; and in the streets men--on whom their
fellows, seeing the winding-sheet already at the chin, gazed
askance--smiled, and showed brave looks abroad, while their hearts
were sick with fear.

For darkly, no man knew how, the news had come to Angers. It had been
known, more or less, for three days. Men had read it in other men's
eyes. The tongue of a scold, the sneer of an injured woman had spread
it, the birds of the air had carried it. From garret window to garret
window across the narrow lanes of the old town it had been whispered
at dead of night; at convent grilles, and in the timber-yards beside
the river. Ten thousand, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand, it was
rumoured, had perished in Paris. In Orleans, all. In Tours this man's
sister; at Saumur that man's son. Through France the word had gone
forth that the Huguenots must die; and in the busy town the same
roof-tree sheltered fear and hate, rage and cupidity. On one side of
the party-wall murder lurked fierce-eyed; on the other, the victim lay
watching the latch, and shaking at a step. Strong men tasted the
bitterness of death, and women clasping their babes to their breasts
smiled sickly into children's eyes.

The signal only was lacking. It would come, said some, from Saumur,
where Montsoreau, the Duke of Anjou's Lieutenant-Governor and a
Papist, had his quarters. From Paris, said others, directly from the
King. It might come at any hour now, in the day or in the night; the
magistrates, it was whispered, were in continuous session, awaiting
its coming. No wonder that from, lofty gable windows, and from dormers
set high above the tiles, haggard faces looked northward and eastward,
and ears sharpened by fear imagined above the noises of the city the
ring of the iron shoes that carried doom.

Doubtless the majority desired--as the majority in France have always
desired--peace. But in the purlieus about the cathedral and in the
lanes where the sacristans lived, in convent parlours and college
courts, among all whose livelihood the new faith threatened, was a
stir as of a hive deranged. Here was grumbling against the
magistrates--why wait? There, stealthy plannings and arrangements;
everywhere a grinding of weapons and casting of slugs. Old grudges,
new rivalries, a scholar's venom, a priest's dislike, here was final
vent for all. None need leave this feast unsated!

It was a man of this class, sent out for the purpose, who first espied
Count Hannibal's company approaching. He bore the news into the town,
and by the time the travellers reached the city gate, the dusky street
within, on which lights were beginning to twinkle from booths and
casements, was alive with figures running to meet them and crying the
news as they ran. The travellers, weary and road-stained, had no
sooner passed under the arch than they found themselves the core of a
great crowd which moved with them and pressed about them; now
unbonneting, and now calling out questions, and now shouting "Vive le
Roi! Vive le Roi!" Above the press, windows burst into light; and over
all, the quaint leaning gables of the old timbered houses looked down
on the hurry and tumult.

They passed along a narrow street in which the rabble, hurrying at
Count Hannibal's bridle, and often looking back to read his face, had
much ado to escape harm; along this street and before the yawning
doors of a great church, whence a hot breath heavy with incense and
burning wax issued to meet them. A portion of the congregation had
heard the tumult and struggled out, and now stood close-packed on the
steps under the double vault of the portal. Among them the Countess's
eyes, as she rode by, a sturdy man-at-arms on either hand, caught and
held one face. It was the face of a tall, lean man in dusty black; and
though she did not know him she seemed to have an equal attraction for
him; for as their eyes met he seized the shoulder of the man next him
and pointed her out. And something in the energy of the gesture, or in
the thin lips and malevolent eyes of the man who pointed, chilled the
Countess's blood and shook her, she knew not why.

Until then, she had known no fear save of her husband. But at that a
sense of the force and pressure of the crowd--as well as of the fierce
passions, straining about her, which a word might unloose--broke upon
her; and looking to the stern men on either side she fancied that she
read anxiety in their faces.

She glanced behind. Bridle to bridle the Count's men came on, pressing
round her women and shielding them from the exuberance of the throng.
In their faces too she thought that she traced uneasiness.

What wonder if the scenes through which she had passed in Paris began
to recur to her mind, and shook nerves already overwrought?

She began to tremble. "Is there--danger?" she muttered, speaking in a
low voice to Bigot, who rode on her right hand. "Will they do
anything?"

The Norman snorted. "Not while he is in the saddle," he said, nodding
towards his master, who rode a pace in front of them, his reins loose.
"There be some here know him!" Bigot continued, in his drawling tone.
"And more will know him if they break line. Have no fear, madame, he
will bring you safe to the inn. Down with the Huguenots?" he
continued, turning from her and addressing a rogue who, holding his
stirrup, was shouting the cry till he was crimson. "Then why not away,
and----"

"The King! The King's word and leave!" the man answered.

"Ay, tell us!" shrieked another, looking upward, while he waved his
cap; "have we the King's leave?"

"You'll bide _his_ leave!" the Norman retorted, indicating the Count
with his thumb. "Or 'twill be up with you--on the three-legged horse!"

"But he comes from the King!" the man panted.

"To be sure. To be sure!"

"Then----"

"You'll bide his time! That's all!" Bigot answered, rather it seemed
for his own satisfaction than the other's enlightenment. "You'll all
bide it, you dogs!" he continued in his beard, as he cast his eye over
the weltering crowd. "Ha! so we are here, are we? And not too soon,
either."

He fell silent as they entered an open space, overlooked on one side
by the dark façade of the cathedral, on the other three sides by
houses more or less illumined. The rabble swept into this open space
with them and before them, filled much of it in an instant, and for a
while eddied and swirled this way and that, thrust onward by the
worshippers who had issued from the church and backwards by those who
had been first in the square, and had no mind to be hustled out of
hearing. A stranger, confused by the sea of excited faces, and
deafened by the clamour of "Vive le Roi!" "Vive Anjou!" mingled with
cries against the Huguenots, might have fancied that the whole city
was arrayed before him. But he would have been wide of the mark. The
scum, indeed--and a dangerous scum--frothed and foamed and spat under
Tavannes' bridle-hand; and here and there among them, but not of them,
the dark-robed figure of a priest moved to and fro; or a Benedictine,
or some smooth-faced acolyte egged on to the work he dared not do. But
the decent burghers were not there. They lay bolted in their houses;
while the magistrates, with little heart to do aught except bow to the
mob--or other their masters for the time being--shook in their council
chamber.

There is not a city of France which has not seen it; which has not
known the moment when the mass impended, and it lay with one man to
start it or stay its course. Angers within its houses heard the
clamour, and from the child, clinging to its mother's skirt, and
wondering why she wept, to the Provost, trembled, believing that the
hour had come. The Countess heard it too, and understood it. She
caught the savage note in the voice of the mob--that note which means
danger--and her heart beating wildly she looked to her husband. Then,
fortunately for her, fortunately for Angers, it was given to all to
see that in Count Hannibal's saddle sat a man.

He raised his hand for silence, and in a minute or two--not at once,
for the square was dusky--it was obtained. He rose in his stirrups,
and bared his head.

"I am from the King!" he cried, throwing his voice to all parts of the
crowd. "And this is his Majesty's pleasure and good will! That every
man hold his hand until to-morrow on pain of death, or worse! And at
noon his further pleasure will be known! Vive le Roi!"

And he covered his head again.

"Vive le Roi!" cried a number of the foremost. But their shouts were
feeble and half-hearted, and were quickly drowned in a rising murmur
of discontent and ill-humour, which, mingled with cries of "Is that
all? Is there no more? Down with the Huguenots!" rose from all parts.
Presently these cries became merged in a persistent call, which had
its origin, as far as could be discovered, in the darkest corner of
the square. A call for "Montsoreau! Montsoreau! Give us Montsoreau!"

With another man, or had Tavannes turned or withdrawn, or betrayed the
least anxiety, words had become actions, disorder a riot; and that in
the twinkling of an eye. But Count Hannibal, sitting his horse, with
his handful of riders behind him, watched the crowd, as little moved
by it as the Armed Knight of Notre Dame. Only once did he say a word.
Then, raising his hand as before to gain a hearing, "You ask for
Montsoreau?" he thundered. "You will have Montfaucon if you do not
quickly go to your homes!"

At which, and at the glare of his eye, the more timid took fright.
Feeling his gaze upon them, seeing that he had no intention of
withdrawing, they began to sneak away by ones and twos. Soon others
missed them and took the alarm, and followed. A moment and scores were
streaming away through lanes and alleys and along the main street. At
last the bolder and more turbulent found themselves a remnant. They
glanced uneasily at one another and at Tavannes, took fright in their
turn, and plunging into the current hastened away, raising now and
then as they passed through the streets a cry of "Vive Montsoreau!
Montsoreau!"--which was not without its menace for the morrow.

Count Hannibal waited motionless until no more than half a dozen
groups remained in the open. Then he gave the word to dismount; so
far, even the Countess and her women had kept their saddles, lest the
movement which their retreat into the inn must have caused should be
misread by the mob. Last of all he dismounted himself, and with lights
going before him and behind, and preceded by Bigot, bearing his cloak
and pistols, he escorted the Countess into the house. Not many minutes
had elapsed since he called for silence; but long before he reached
the chamber looking over the square from the first floor, in which
supper was being set for them, the news had flown through the length
and breadth of Angers that for this night the danger was past. The
hawk had come to Angers, and lo! it was a dove.

Count Hannibal strode to one of the open windows and looked out. In
the room, which was well lighted, were people of the house, going to
and fro, setting out the table; to Madame, standing beside the
hearth--which held its summer dressing of green boughs--while her
woman held water for her to wash, the scene recalled with painful
vividness the meal at which she had been present on the morning of the
St. Bartholomew--the meal which had ushered in her troubles. Naturally
her eyes went to her husband, her mind to the horror in which she had
held him then; and with a kind of shock, perhaps because the last few
minutes had shown him in a new light, she compared her old opinion of
him with that which, much as she feared him, she now entertained.

This afternoon, if ever, within the last few hours, if at all, he had
acted in a way to justify that horror and that opinion. He had treated
her--brutally; he had insulted and threatened her, had almost struck
her. And yet--and yet Madame felt that she had moved so far from the
point which she had once occupied that the old attitude was hard to
understand. Hardly could she believe that it was on this man, much as
she still dreaded him, that she had looked with those feelings of
repulsion.

She was still gazing at him with eyes which strove to see two men in
one, when he turned from the window. Absorbed in thought she had
forgotten her occupation, and stood, the towel suspended in her
half-dried hands. Before she knew what he was doing he was at her
side; he bade the woman hold the bowl, and he rinsed his hands. Then
he turned, and without looking at the Countess, he dried his hands on
the farther end of the towel which she was still using.

She blushed faintly. A something in the act, more intimate and more
familiar than had ever marked their intercourse, set her blood
running strangely. When he turned away and bade Bigot unbuckle his
spur-leathers, she stepped forward.

"I will do it!" she murmured, acting on a sudden and unaccountable
impulse. And as she knelt, she shook her hair about her face to hide
its colour.

"Nay, madame, but you will soil your fingers!" he said coldly.

"Permit me," she muttered half coherently. And though her fingers
shook, she pursued and performed her task.

When she rose he thanked her; and then the devil in the man, or the
Nemesis he had provoked when he took her by force from another--the
Nemesis of jealousy, drove him to spoil all. "And for whose sake,
madame?" he added with a jeer--"mine or M. de Tignonville's?" And with
a glance between jest and earnest, he tried to read her thoughts.

She winced as if he had indeed struck her, and the hot colour fled her
cheeks. "For his sake!" she said, with a shiver of pain. "That his
life may be spared!" And she stood back humbly, like a beaten dog.
Though, indeed, it was for the sake of Angers, in thankfulness for the
past rather than in any desperate hope of propitiating her husband,
that she had done it!

Perhaps he would have withdrawn his words. But before he could answer,
the host, bowing to the floor, came to announce that all was ready,
and that the Provost of the City, for whom M. le Comte had sent, was
in waiting below. "Let him come up!" Tavannes answered, grave and
frowning. "And see you, close the room, sirrah! My people will wait on
us. Ah!" as the Provost, a burly man with a face framed for jollity,
but now pale and long, entered and approached him with many
salutations. "How comes it, M. le Prévôt--you are the Prévôt, are you
not?"

"Yes, M. le Comte."

"How comes it that so great a crowd is permitted to meet in the
streets? And that at my entrance, though I come unannounced, I find
half of the city gathered together?"

The Provost stared. "Respect, M. le Comte," he said, "for His
Majesty's letters, of which you are the bearer, no doubt induced some
to come together----"

"Who said I brought letters?"

"Who----"

"Who said I brought letters?" Count Hannibal repeated in a strenuous
voice. And he ground his chair half about and faced the astonished
magistrate. "Who said I brought letters?"

"Why, my lord," the Provost stammered, "it was everywhere
yesterday----"

"Yesterday?"

"Last night, at latest--that letters were coming from the King."

"By my hand?"

"By your lordship's hand--whose name is so well known here," the
magistrate added, in the hope of clearing the great man's brow.

Count Hannibal laughed darkly. "My hand will be better known
by-and-by," he said. "See you, sirrah, there is some practice here.
What is this cry of Montsoreau that I hear?"

"Your lordship knows that he is His Grace's Lieutenant-Governor in
Saumur."

"I know that, man. But is he here?"

"He was at Saumur yesterday, and 'twas rumoured three days back that
he was coming here to extirpate the Huguenots. Then word came of your
lordship and of His Majesty's letters, and 'twas thought that M. de
Montsoreau would not come, his authority being superseded."

"I see. And now your rabble think that they would prefer M.
Montsoreau. That is it, is it?"

The magistrate shrugged his shoulders and opened his hands. "Pigs!" he
said. And having spat on the floor he looked apologetically at the
lady. "True pigs!"

"What connections has he here?" Tavannes asked.

"He is a brother of my lord the Bishop's Vicar, who arrived
yesterday."

"With a rout of shaven heads who have been preaching and stirring up
the town!" Count Hannibal cried, his face growing red. "Speak, man, is
it so? But I'll be sworn it is!"

"There has been preaching," the Provost answered reluctantly.

"Montsoreau may count his brother, then, for one. He is a fool, but
with a knave behind him, and a knave who has no cause to love us! And
the Castle? 'Tis held by one of M. de Montsoreau's creatures, I take
it?"

"Yes, my lord."

"With what force?"

The magistrate shrugged his shoulders, and looked doubtfully at
Badelon, who was keeping the door.

Tavannes followed the glance with his usual impatience. "Mon Dieu, you
need not look at him!" he cried. "He has sacked St. Peter's and singed
the Pope's beard with a holy candle! He has been served on the knee by
Cardinals; and is Turk or Jew, or monk or Huguenot as I please. And
madame"--for the Provost's astonished eyes, after resting awhile on
the old soldier's iron visage, had passed to her--"is Huguenot, so you
need have no fear of her! There, speak, man," with impatience, "and
cease to think of your own skin!"

The Provost drew a deep breath, and fixed his small eyes on Count
Hannibal.

"If I knew, my lord, what you--why, my own sister's son"--he paused,
his face began to work, his voice shook--"is a Huguenot! Ay, my lord,
a Huguenot! And they know it!" he continued, a flush of rage
augmenting the emotion which his countenance betrayed. "Ay, they know
it! And they push me on at the Council, and grin behind my back;
Lescot, who was Provost two years back and would match his son with my
daughter; and Thuriot who prints for the University! They nudge one
another, and egg me on, till half the city thinks it is I who would
kill the Huguenots! I!" Again his voice broke. "And my own sister's
son a Huguenot! And my girl at home white-faced for--for his sake."

Tavannes scanned the man shrewdly. "Perhaps she is of the same way of
thinking?" he said.

The Provost started, and lost one-half of his colour. "God forbid!" he
cried, "saving madame's presence! Who says so, my lord, lies!"

"Ay, lies not far from the truth."

"My lord!"

"Pish, man, Lescot has said it and will act on it. And Thuriot, who
prints for the University! Would you 'scape them? You would? Then
listen to me. I want but two things. First, how many men has
Montsoreau's fellow in the Castle? Few, I know, for he is a niggard,
and if he spends, he spends the Duke's pay."

"Twelve. But five can hold it."

"Ay, but twelve dare not leave it! Let them stew in their own broth!
And now for the other matter. See, man, that before daybreak three
gibbets, with a ladder and two ropes apiece, are set up in the square.
And let one be before this door. You understand? Then let it be done!
The rest," he added with a ferocious smile, "you may leave to me."

The magistrate nodded rather feebly. "Doubtless," he said, his eye
wandering here and there, "there are rogues in Angers. And for rogues
the gibbet! But saving your presence, my lord, it is a question
whether----"

But M. de Tavannes' patience was exhausted. "Will you do it?" he
roared. "That is the question. And the only question."

The Provost jumped, he was so startled. "Certainly, my lord,
certainly!" he muttered humbly. "Certainly, I will!" And bowing
frequently, but saying no more, he backed himself out of the room.

Count Hannibal laughed grimly after his fashion, and doubtless thought
that he had seen the last of the magistrate for that night. Great was
his wrath therefore, when, less than a minute later--and before Bigot
had carved for him--the door opened and the Provost appeared again. He
slid in, and without giving the courage he had gained on the stairs
time to cool, plunged into his trouble.

"It stands this way, M. le Comte," he bleated. "If I put up the
gibbets and a man is hanged, and you have letters from the King, 'tis
a rogue the less and no harm done. But if you have no letters from His
Majesty, then it is on my shoulders they will put it, and 'twill be
odd if they do not find a way to hang me to right him."

Count Hannibal smiled grimly. "And your sister's son?" he sneered.
"And your girl who is white-faced for his sake, and may burn on the
same bonfire with him? And----"

"Mercy! Mercy!" the wretched Provost cried. And he wrung his hands.
"Lescot and Thuriot----"

"Perhaps we may hang Lescot and Thuriot----"

"But I see no way out," the Provost babbled. "No way! No way!"

"I am going to show you one," Tavannes retorted. "If the gibbets are
not in place by sunrise, I shall hang you from this window. That is
one way out; and you'll be wise to take the other! For the rest and
for your comfort, if I have no letters, it is not always to paper that
the King commits his inmost heart."

The magistrate bowed. He quaked, he doubted, but he had no choice. "My
lord," he said, "I put myself in your hands. It shall be done,
certainly it shall be done. But, but----" and shaking his head in
foreboding he turned to the door.

At the last moment, when he was within a pace of it, the Countess rose
impulsively to her feet. She called to him. "M. le Prévôt, a minute,
if you please," she said. "There may be trouble to morrow; your
daughter may be in some peril. You will do well to send her to me.
My lord"--and on the word her voice, timid before, grew full and
steady--"will see that I am safe. And she will be safe with me."

The Provost saw before him only a gracious lady, moved by a
thoughtfulness unusual in persons of her rank. He was at no pains to
explain the flame in her cheek, or the soft light which glowed in her
eyes, as she looked at him, across her formidable husband. He was only
profoundly grateful--moved even to tears. Humbly thanking her he
accepted her offer for his child, and withdrew wiping his eyes.

When he was gone, and the door had closed behind him, Tavannes turned
to the Countess, who still kept her feet. "You are very confident this
evening," he sneered. "Gibbets do not frighten you, it seems, madame.
Perhaps if you knew for whom the one before the door is intended?"

She met his look with a searching gaze, and spoke with a ring of
defiance in her tone. "I do not believe it!" she said. "I do not
believe it! You who save Angers will not destroy him!" And then her
woman's mood changing, with courage and colour ebbing together, "Oh,
no, you will not! You will not!" she wailed. And she dropped on her
knees before him, and holding up her clasped hands, "God will put it
in your heart to spare him--and me!"

He rose with a stifled oath, took two steps from her, and in a tone
hoarse and constrained, "Go!" he said. "Go, or sit! Do you hear,
madame? You try my patience too far!"

But when she had gone his face was radiant. He had brought her, he had
brought all, to the point at which he aimed. To-morrow his triumph
awaited him. To-morrow he who had cast her down would raise her up.

He did not foresee what a day would bring forth.



                           CHAPTER XXVIII.

                     IN THE LITTLE CHAPTER-HOUSE.


The sun was an hour high, and in Angers the shops and booths, after
the early fashion of the day, were open or opening. Through all the
gates country folk were pressing into the gloomy streets of the Black
Town with milk and fruit; and at doors and windows housewives
cheapened fish, or chaffered over the fowl for the pot. For men must
eat, though there be gibbets in the Place Ste.-Croix: gaunt gibbets,
high and black and twofold, each, with its dangling ropes, like a
double note of interrogation.

But gibbets must eat also; and between ground and noose was so small a
space in those days that a man dangled almost before he knew it. The
sooner, then, the paniers were empty, and the clown, who pays for all,
was beyond the gates, the better he, for one, would be pleased. In the
market, therefore, was hurrying. Men cried their wares in lowered
voices, and tarried but a little for the oldest customer. The bargain
struck, the more timid among the buyers hastened to shut themselves
into their houses again; the bolder, who ventured to the Place to
confirm the rumour with their eyes, talked in corners and in lanes,
avoided the open, and eyed the sinister preparations from afar. The
shadow of the things which stood before the cathedral affronting the
sunlight with their gaunt black shapes lay across the length and
breadth of Angers. Even in the corners where men whispered, even in
the cloisters where men bit their nails in impotent auger, the
stillness of fear ruled all. Whatever Count Hannibal had it in his
mind to tell the city, it seemed unlikely--and hour by hour it seemed
less likely--that any would contradict him.

He knew this as he walked in the sunlight before the inn, his spurs
ringing on the stones as he made each turn, his movements watched by a
hundred peering eyes. After all, it was not hard to rule, nor to have
one's way in this world. But then, he went on to remember, not
everyone had his self-control, or that contempt for the weak and
unsuccessful which lightly took the form of mercy. He held Angers
safe, curbed by his gibbets. With M. de Montsoreau he might have
trouble; but the trouble would be slight, for he knew Montsoreau, and
what it was the Lieutenant-Governor valued above profitless bloodshed.

He might have felt less confident had he known what was passing at
that moment in a room off the small cloister of the Abbey of St.
Aubin, a room known at Angers as the Little Chapter-House. It was a
long chamber with a groined roof and stone walls, panelled as high as
a tall man might reach with dark chestnut wood. Gloomily lighted by
three grated windows, which looked on a small inner green, the last
resting-place of the Benedictines, the room itself seemed at first
sight no more than the last resting-place of worn-out odds and ends.
Piles of thin sheepskin folios, dog's-eared and dirty, the rejected of
the choir, stood against the walls; here and there among them lay a
large brass-bound tome on which the chains that had fettered it to
desk or lectern still rusted. A broken altar cumbered one corner: a
stand bearing a curious--and rotting--map filled another. In the other
two corners a medley of faded scutcheons and banners, which had seen
their last Toussaint procession, mouldered slowly into dust--into much
dust. The air of the room was full of it.

In spite of which the long oak table that filled the middle of the
chamber shone with use: so did the great metal standish which it bore.
And though the seven men who sat about the table seemed, at a first
glance and in that gloomy light, as rusty and faded as the rubbish
behind them, it needed but a second look at their lean jaws and hungry
eyes to be sure of their vitality.

He who sat in the great chair at the end of the table was indeed
rather plump than thin. His white hands, gay with rings, were well
cared for; his peevish chin rested on a falling-collar of lace worthy
of a Cardinal. But though the Bishop's Vicar was heard with deference,
it was noticeable that when he had ceased to speak his hearers looked
to the priest on his left, to Father Pezelay, and waited to hear his
opinion before they gave their own. The Father's energy, indeed, had
dominated the Angevins, clerks and townsfolk alike, as it had
dominated the Parisian _dévotes_ who knew him well. The vigour which
hate inspires passes often for solid strength; and he who had seen
with his own eyes the things done in Paris spoke with an authority to
which the more timid quickly and easily succumbed.

Yet gibbets are ugly things; and Thuriot, the printer, whose pride had
been tickled by a summons to the conclave, began to wonder if he had
done wisely in coming. Lescot, too, who presently ventured a word.
"But if M. de Tavannes' order be to do nothing," he began doubtfully,
"you would not, reverend Father, have us resist His Majesty's will?"

"God forbid, my friend!" Father Pezelay answered with unction. "But
His Majesty's will is to do--to do for the glory of God and the saints
and His Holy Church! How? Is that which was lawful at Saumur unlawful
here? Is that which was lawful at Tours unlawful here? Is that which
the King did in Paris--to the utter extermination of the unbelieving
and the purging of that Sacred City--against his will here? Nay, his
will is to do--to do as they have done in Paris and in Tours and in
Saumur! But his Minister is unfaithful! The woman whom he has taken to
his bosom has bewildered him with her charms and her sorceries, and
put it in his mind to deny the mission he bears."

"You are sure, beyond chance of error, that he bears letters to that
effect, good Father?" the printer ventured.

"Ask my lord's Vicar! He knows the letters and the import of them!"

"They are to that effect," the Archdeacon answered, drumming on the
table with his fingers and speaking somewhat sullenly. "I was in the
Chancellery and I saw them. They are duplicates of those sent to
Bordeaux."

"Then the preparations he has made must be against the Huguenots,"
Lescot, the ex-Provost, said with a sigh of relief. And Thuriot's face
lightened also. "He must intend to hang one or two of the ringleaders,
before he deals with the herd."

"Think it not!" Father Pezelay cried in his high shrill voice. "I tell
you the woman has bewitched him, and he will deny his letters!"

For a moment there was silence. Then, "But dare he do that, reverend
Father?" Lescot asked slowly and incredulously. "What? Suppress the
King's letters?"

"There is nothing he will not dare! There is nothing he has not
dared!" the priest answered vehemently; the recollection of the scene
in the great guard-room of the Louvre, when Tavannes had so skilfully
turned the tables on him, instilling venom into his tone. "She who
lives with him is the devil's. She has bewitched him with her spells
and her Sabbaths! She bears the mark of the Beast on her bosom, and
for her the fire is even now kindling!"

The laymen who were present shuddered. The two canons who faced them
crossed themselves, muttering "Avaunt, Satan!"

"It is for you to decide," the priest continued, gazing on them
passionately, "whether you will side with him or with the Angel of
God! For I tell you it was none other executed the divine judgments at
Paris! It was none other but the Angel of God held the sword at Tours!
It is none other holds the sword here! Are you for him or against him?
Are you for him, or for the woman with the mark of the Beast? Are you
for God or against God? For the hour draws near! The time is at hand!
You must choose! You must choose!" And, striking the table with his
hand, he leaned forward, and with glittering eyes fixed each of them
in turn, as he cried, "You must choose! You must choose!" He came to
the Archdeacon last.

The Bishop's Vicar fidgeted in his chair, his face a shade more
sallow, his cheeks hanging a trifle more loosely, than ordinary. "If
my brother were here!" he muttered. "If M. de Montsoreau had arrived!"

But Father Pezelay knew whose will would prevail if Montsoreau met
Tavannes at his leisure. To force Montsoreau's hand, to surround him
on his first entrance with a howling mob already committed to
violence, to set him at their head and pledge him before he knew with
whom he had to do--this had been, this still was, the priest's design.

But how was he to pursue it while those gibbets stood? While their
shadows lay even on the chapter table, and darkened the faces of his
most forward associates? That for a moment staggered the priest; and
had not private hatred, ever renewed by the touch of the scar on his
brow, fed the fire of bigotry he had yielded, as the rabble of Angers
were yielding, reluctant and scowling, to the hand which held the city
in its grip. But to have come so far on the wings of hate, and to do
nothing! To have come avowedly to preach a crusade, and to sneak away
cowed! To have dragged the Bishop's Vicar hither, and fawned and
cajoled and threatened by turns--and for nothing! These things were
passing bitter--passing bitter, when the morsel of vengeance he had
foreseen smacked so sweet on the tongue.

For it was no common vengeance, no layman's vengeance, coarse and
clumsy, which the priest had imagined in the dark hours of the night,
when his feverish brain kept him wakeful. To see Count Hannibal roll
in the dust had gone but a little way towards satisfying him. No! But
to drag from his arms the woman for whom he had sinned, to subject her
to shame and torture in the depths of some convent, and finally to
burn her as a witch--it was that which had seemed to the priest in the
night hours a vengeance sweet in the mouth.

But the thing seemed unattainable in the circumstances. The city was
cowed; the priest knew that no dependence was to be placed on
Montsoreau, whose vice was avarice and whose object was plunder. To
the Archdeacon's feeble words, therefore, "We must look," the priest
retorted sternly, "not to M. de Montsoreau, reverend Father, but to
the pious of Angers! We must cry in the streets, 'They do violence to
God! They wound God and His Mother!' And so, and so only, shall the
unholy thing be rooted out!"

"Amen!" the Cure of St.-Benoist muttered, lifting his head; and his
dull eyes glowed awhile. "Amen! Amen!" Then his chin sank again upon
his breast.

But the canons of Angers looked doubtfully at one another, and timidly
at the speakers; the meat was too strong for them. And Lescot and
Thuriot shuffled in their seats. At length, "I do not know," Lescot
muttered timidly.

"You do not know?"

"What can be done!"

"The people will know!" Father Pezelay retorted. "Trust them!"

"But the people will not rise without a leader."

"Then will I lead them!"

"Even so, reverend Father--I doubt," Lescot faltered. And Thuriot
nodded assent. Gibbets were erected in those days rather for laymen
than for the Church.

"You doubt!" the priest cried. "You doubt!" His baleful eyes passed
from one to the other; from them to the rest of the company. He saw
that with the exception of the Curé of St.-Benoist all were of a mind.
"You doubt! Nay, but I see what it is! It is this," he continued
slowly and in a different tone, "the King's will goes for nothing in
Angers! His writ runs not here. And Holy Church cries in vain for help
against the oppressor. I tell you, the sorceress who has bewitched him
has bewitched you also. Beware! beware, therefore, lest it be with you
as with him! And the fire that shall consume her, spare not your
houses!"

The two citizens crossed themselves, grew pale and shuddered. The fear
of witchcraft was great in Angers, the peril, if accused of it,
enormous. Even the canons looked startled. "If--if my brother were
here," the Archdeacon repeated feebly, "something might be done!"

"Vain is the help of man!" the priest retorted sternly, and with a
gesture of sublime dismissal. "I turn from you to a mightier than
you!" And, leaning his head on his hands, he covered his face.

The Archdeacon and the churchmen looked at him, and from him their
scared eyes passed to one another. Their one desire now was to be quit
of the matter, to have done with it, to escape; and one by one with
the air of whipped curs they rose to their feet, and in a hurry to be
gone muttered a word of excuse shamefacedly and got themselves out of
the room. Lescot and the printer were not slow to follow, and in less
than a minute the two strange preachers, the men from Paris, remained
the only occupants of the chamber; save, to be precise, a lean
official in rusty black, who throughout the conference had sat by the
door.

Until the last shuffling footstep had ceased to sound in the still
cloister no one spoke. Then Father Pezelay looked up, and the eyes of
the two priests met in a long gaze. "What think you?" Pezelay muttered
at last.

"Wet hay," the other answered dreamily, "is slow to kindle, yet burns
if the fire be big enough. At what hour does he state his will?"

"At noon."

"In the Council Chamber!"

"It is so given out."

"It is three hundred yards from the Place Ste.-Croix and he must go
guarded," the Curé of St.-Benoist continued in the same dull fashion.
"He cannot leave many in the house with the woman. If it were attacked
in his absence----"

"He would return, and----" Father Pezelay shook his head, his cheek
turned a shade paler. Clearly, he saw with his mind's eye more than he
expressed.

"_Hoc est corpus_," the other muttered, his dreamy gaze on the table.
"If he met us then, on his way to the house, and we had bell, book,
and candle, would he stop?"

"He would not stop!" Father Pezelay rejoined.

"He would not?"

"I know the man!"

"Then----" but the rest St.-Beuoist whispered, his head drooping
forward; whispered so low that even the lean man behind him, listening
with greedy ears, failed to follow the meaning of his superior's
words. But that he spoke plainly enough for his hearer Father
Pezelay's face was witness. Astonishment, fear, hope, triumph, the
lean pale face reflected all in turn; and, underlying all, a subtle
malignant mischief, as if a devil's eyes peeped through the holes in
an opera mask.

When the other was at last silent Pezelay drew a deep breath. "'Tis
bold! Bold! Bold!" he muttered. "But have you thought? He who bears
the----"

"Brunt?" the other whispered with a chuckle. "He may suffer? Yes, but
it will not be you or I! No, he who was last here shall be first
there! The Archdeacon-Vicar--if we can persuade him--who knows but
that even for him the crown of martyrdom is reserved?" The dull eyes
flickered with unholy amusement.

"And the alarm that brings him from the Council Chamber?"

"Need not of necessity be real. The pinch will be to make use of it.
Make use of it--and the hay will burn!"

"You think it will?"

"What can one man do against a thousand? His own people dare not
support him."

Father Pezelay turned to the lean man who kept the door, and,
beckoning to him, conferred a while with him in a low voice.

"A score or so I might get," the man answered presently after some
debate. "And well posted, something might be done. But we are not
in Paris, good father, where the Quarter of the Butchers is to be
counted on, and men know that to kill Huguenots is to do God service!
Here"--he shrugged his shoulders contemptuously--"they are sheep."

"It is the King's will," the priest answered, frowning on him darkly.

"Ay, but it is not Tavannes," the man in black answered with a
grimace. "And he rules here today."

"Fool!" Pezelay retorted. "He has not twenty with him. Do you do as I
say, and leave the rest to heaven!"

"And to you, good master?" the other answered. "For it is not all you
are going to do," he continued with a grin, "that you have told me.
Well, so be it! I'll do my part, but I wish we were in Paris. Ste.
Genevieve is ever kind to her servants."



                            CHAPTER XXIX.

                             THE ESCAPE.


In a small back room on the second floor of the inn at Angers, a mean,
dingy room which looked into a narrow lane, and commanded no prospect
more informing than a blind wall, two men sat, fretting; or, rather,
one man sat, his chin resting on his hand, while his companion, less
patient or more sanguine, strode ceaselessly to and fro. In the first
despair of capture--for they were prisoners--they had made up their
minds to the worst, and the slow hours of two days had passed over
their heads without kindling more than a faint spark of hope in their
breasts. But when they had been taken out and forced to mount and
ride--at first with feet tied to the horses' girths--they had let the
change, the movement, and the open air fan the flame. They had
muttered a word to one another, they had wondered, they had reasoned.
And though the silence of their guards--from whose sour vigilance the
keenest question drew no response--seemed of ill-omen, and, taken with
their knowledge of the man into whose hands they had fallen, should
have quenched the spark, these two, having special reasons, the one
the buoyancy of youth, the other the faith of an enthusiast, cherished
the flame. In the breast of one indeed it had blazed into a confidence
so arrogant that he now took all for granted, and was not content.

"It is easy for you to say, 'Patience!'" he cried, as he walked the
floor in a fever. "You stand to lose no more than your life, and if
you escape go free at all points! But he has robbed me of more than
life! Of my love, and my self-respect, curse him! He has worsted me
not once, but twice and thrice! And if he lets me go now, dismissing
me with my life, I shall--I shall kill him!" he concluded, through his
teeth.

"You are hard to please!"

"I shall kill him!"

"That were to fall still lower!" the minister answered, gravely
regarding him. "I would, M. de Tignonville, you remembered that you
are not yet out of jeopardy. Such a frame of mind as yours is no good
preparation for death, let me tell you!"

"He will not kill us!" Tignonville cried. "He knows better than most
men how to avenge himself!"

"Then he is above most!" La Tribe retorted. "For my part I wish I were
sure of the fact, and I should sit here more at ease."

"If we could escape, now, of ourselves!" Tignonville cried. "Then we
should save not only life, but honour! Man, think of it! If we could
escape, not by his leave but against it! Are you sure that this is
Angers!"

"As sure as a man can be who has only seen the Black Town once or
twice!" La Tribe answered, moving to the casement--which was not
glazed--and peering through the rough wooden lattice. "But if we could
escape we are strangers here. We know not which way to go, nor where
to find shelter. And for the matter of that," he continued, turning
from the window with a shrug of resignation, "'tis no use to talk of
it while yonder foot goes up and down the passage, and its owner bears
the key in his pocket."

"If we could get out of his power as we came into it!" Tignonville
cried.

"Ay, if! But it is not every floor has a trap!"

"We could take up a board."

The minister raised his eyebrows.

"We could take up a board!" the younger man repeated; and he stepped
the mean chamber from end to end, his eyes on the floor. "Or--yes,
_mon Dieu!_" with a change of attitude, "we might break through the
roof!" And, throwing back his head, he scanned the cobwebbed surface
of laths which rested on the unceiled joists.

"Umph!"

"Well, why not, monsieur? Why not break through the ceiling?"
Tignonville repeated, and in a fit of energy he seized his companion's
shoulder and shook him. "Stand on the bed, and you can reach it."

"And the floor which rests on it!"

"_Par Dieu_, there is no floor! 'Tis a cockloft above us! See there!
And there!" And the young man sprang on the bed, and thrust the rowel
of a spur through the laths.

La Tribe's expression changed. He rose slowly to his feet. "Try
again!" he said.

Tignonville, his face red, drove the spur again between the laths, and
worked it to and fro until he could pass his fingers into the hole he
had made. Then he gripped and bent down a length of one of the laths,
and, passing his arm as far as the elbow through the hole, moved it
this way and that. His eyes, as he looked down at his companion
through the lolling rubbish, gleamed with triumph. "Where is your
floor now?" he asked.

"You can touch nothing?"

"Nothing. It's open. A little more and I might touch the tiles." And
he strove to reach higher.

For answer La Tribe gripped him. "Down! Down, monsieur," he muttered.
"They are bringing our dinner."

Tignonville thrust back the lath as well as he could, and slipped to
the floor; and hastily the two swept the rubbish from the bed. When
Badelon, attended by two men, came in with the meal he found La Tribe
at the window blocking much of the light, and Tignonville laid
sullenly on the bed. Even a suspicious eye must have failed to detect
what had been done; the three who looked in suspected nothing and saw
nothing. They went out, the key was turned again on the prisoners, and
the footsteps of two of the men were heard descending the stairs.

"We have an hour, now!" Tignonville cried; and leaping, with flaming
eyes, on the bed, he fell to hacking and jabbing and tearing at
the laths amid a rain of dust and rubbish. Fortunately the stuff,
falling on the bed, made little noise; and in five minutes, working
half-choked and in a frenzy of impatience, he had made a hole through
which he could thrust his arms, a hole which extended almost from one
joist to its neighbour. By this time the air was thick with floating
lime; the two could scarcely breathe, yet they dared not pause.
Mounting on La Tribe's shoulders--who took his stand on the bed--the
young man thrust his head and arms through the hole, and, resting his
elbows on the joists, dragged himself up, and with a final effort of
strength landed nose and knees on the timbers, which formed his
supports. A moment to take breath, and press his torn and bleeding
fingers to his lips; then, reaching down, he gave a hand to his
companion and dragged him to the same place of vantage.

They found themselves in a long narrow cockloft, not more than six
feet high at the highest, and insufferably hot. Between the tiles,
which sloped steeply on either hand, a faint light filtered in,
disclosing the giant rooftree running the length of the house, and at
the farther end of the loft the main tie-beam, from which a network of
knees and struts rose to the rooftree.

Tignonville, who seemed possessed by unnatural energy, stayed only to
put off his boots. Then "Courage!" he panted, "all goes well!" and,
carrying his boots in his hands, he led the way, stepping gingerly
from joist to joist until he reached the tie-beam. He climbed on it,
and, squeezing himself between the struts, entered a second loft
similar to the first. At the farther end of this a rough wall of
bricks in a timber-frame lowered his hopes; but as he approached it,
joy! Low down in the corner where the roof descended, a small door,
square, and not more than two feet high, disclosed itself.

The two crept to it on hands and knees and listened. "It will lead to
the leads, I doubt?" La Tribe whispered. They dared not raise their
voices.

"As well that way as another!" Tignonville answered recklessly. He was
the more eager, for there is a fear which transcends the fear of
death. His eyes shone through the mask of dust, the sweat ran down to
his chin, his breath came and went noisily. "Naught matters if we can
escape him!" he panted. And he pushed the door recklessly. It flew
open, the two drew back their faces with a cry of alarm.

They were looking, not into the sunlight, but into a grey dingy
garret open to the roof, and occupying the upper part of a gable-end
somewhat higher than the wing in which they had been confined. Filthy
truckle-beds and ragged pallets covered the floor, and, eked out by
old saddles and threadbare horse-rugs, marked the sleeping quarters
either of the servants or of travellers of the meaner sort. But the
dinginess was naught to the two who knelt looking into it, afraid to
move. Was the place empty? That was the point; the question which had
first stayed, and then set their pulses at the gallop.

Painfully their eyes searched each huddle of clothing, scanned each
dubious shape. And slowly, as the silence persisted, their heads came
forward until the whole floor lay within the field of sight. And still
no sound! At last Tignonville stirred, crept through the doorway, and
rose up, peering round him. He nodded, and, satisfied that all was
safe, the minister followed him.

They found themselves a pace or so from the head of a narrow
staircase, leading downwards. Without moving they could see the door
which closed it below. Tignonville signed to La Tribe to wait, and
himself crept down the stairs. He reached the door, and, stooping, set
his eye to the hole through which the string of the latch passed. A
moment he looked, and then, turning on tiptoe, he stole up again, his
face fallen.

"You may throw the handle after the hatchet!" he muttered. "The man on
guard is within four yards of the door." And in the rage of
disappointment he struck the air with his hand.

"Is he looking this way?"

"No. He is looking down the passage towards our room. But it is
impossible to pass him."

La Tribe nodded, and moved softly to one of the lattices which lighted
the room. It might be possible to escape that way, by the parapet and
the tiles. But he found that the casement was set high in the roof,
which sloped steeply from its sill to the eaves. He passed to the
other window, in which a little wicket in the lattice stood open. He
looked through it. In the giddy void white pigeons were wheeling in
the dazzling sunshine, and gazing down he saw far below him, in the
hot square, a row of booths, and troops of people moving to and fro
like pigmies; and--and a strange thing, in the middle of all!
Involuntarily, as if the persons below could have seen his face at the
tiny dormer, he drew back.

He beckoned to M. Tignonville to come to him; and when the young man
complied, he bade him in a whisper look down. "See!" he muttered.
"There!"

The younger man saw and drew in his breath. Even under the coating of
dust his face turned a shade greyer.

"You had no need to fear that he would let us go!" the minister
muttered, with half-conscious irony.

"No."

"Nor I! There are two ropes." And La Tribe breathed a few words of
prayer. The object which had fixed his gaze was a gibbet: the only one
of the three which could be seen from their eyrie.

Tignonville, on the other hand, turned sharply away, and with haggard
eyes stared about the room. "We might defend the staircase," he
muttered. "Two men might hold it for a time."

"We have no food."

"No." And then he gripped La Tribe's arm. "I have it!" he cried. "And
it may do! It must do!" he continued, his face working. "See!" And
lifting from the floor one of the ragged pallets, from which the straw
protruded in a dozen places, he set it flat on his head. It drooped at
each corner--it had seen much wear--and while it almost hid his face,
it revealed his grimy chin and mortar-stained shoulders. He turned to
his companion.

La Tribe's face glowed as he looked. "It may do!" he cried. "It's a
chance! But you are right! It may do!"

Tignonville dropped the ragged mattress, and tore off his coat; then
he rent his breeches at the knee, so that they hung loose about his
calves. "Do you the same!" he cried. "And quick, man, quick! Leave
your boots! Once outside we must pass through the streets under
these"--he took up his burden again and set it on his head--"until we
reach a quiet part, and there we----"

"Can hide! Or swim the river!" the minister said. He had followed his
companion's example, and now stood under a similar burden. With
breeches rent and whitened, and his upper garments in no better case,
he looked a sorry figure.

Tignonville eyed him with satisfaction, and turned to the staircase.
"Come," he cried, "there is not a moment to be lost. At any minute
they may enter our room and find it empty! You are ready? Then, not
too softly, or it may rouse suspicion! And mumble something at the
door."

He began himself to scold, and, muttering incoherently, stumbled down
the staircase, the pallet on his head rustling against the wall on
each side. Arrived at the door he fumbled clumsily with the latch,
and, when the door gave way, plumped out with an oath--as if the
awkward burden he bore were the only thing on his mind. Badelon--he
was on duty--stared at the apparition; but the next moment he sniffed
the pallet, which was none of the freshest, and, turning up his nose,
he retreated a pace. He had no suspicion; the men did not come from
the part of the house where the prisoners lay, and he stood aside to
let them pass. In a moment, staggering, and going a little unsteadily,
as if they scarcely saw their way, they had passed by him, and were
descending the staircase.

So far well! Unfortunately, when they reached the foot of that flight
they came on the main passage of the first-floor. It ran right and
left, and Tignonville did not know which way he must turn to reach the
lower staircase. Yet he dared not hesitate; in the passage, waiting
about the doors, were four or five servants, and in the distance he
caught sight of three men belonging to Tavannes' company. At any
moment, too, an upper servant might meet them, ask what they were
doing, and detect the fraud. He turned at random, therefore--to the
left as it chanced--and marched along bravely, until the very thing
happened which he had feared. A man came from a room plump upon them,
saw them, and held up his hands in horror.

"What are you doing!" he cried in a rage and with an oath. "Who set
you on this?"

Tignonville's tongue clave to the roof of his mouth. La Tribe from
behind muttered something about the stable.

"And time too!" the man said. "Faugh! But how come you this way! Are
you drunk? Here!" He opened the door of a musty closet beside him,
"Pitch them in here, do you hear! And take them down when it is dark!
Faugh! I wonder you did not carry the things through her ladyship's
room at once! If my lord had been in and met you! Now then, do as I
tell you! Are you drunk!"

With a sullen air Tignonville threw in his mattress. La Tribe did the
same. Fortunately the passage was ill-lighted, and there were many
helpers and strange servants in the inn. The butler only thought them
ill-looking fellows who knew no better. "Now be off!" he continued
irascibly, "This is no place for your sort. Be off!" And, as they
moved, "Coming! Coming!" he cried in answer to a distant summons; and
he hurried away on the errand which their appearance had interrupted.

Tignonville would have gone to work to recover the pallets, for the
man had left the key in the door. But as he went to do so the butler
looked back, and the two were obliged to make a pretence of following
him. A moment, however, and he was gone; and Tignonville turned anew
to regain them. A second time fortune was adverse; a door within a
pace of him opened, a woman came out. She recoiled from the strange
figure; her eyes met his. Unluckily the light from the room behind her
fell on his face, and with a shrill cry she named him.

One second and all had been lost, for the crowd of idlers at the other
end of the passage had caught her cry, and were looking that way. With
presence of mind Tignonville clapped his hand on her mouth, and,
huddling her by force into the room, followed her, with La Tribe at
his heels.

It was a large room, in which seven or eight people, who had been at
prayers when the cry startled them, were rising from their knees. The
first thing they saw was Javette on the threshold, struggling in the
grasp of a wild man, ragged and begrimed; they deemed the city risen
and the massacre upon them. Carlat threw himself before his mistress,
the Countess in her turn sheltered a young girl, who stood beside her
and from whose face the last trace of colour had fled. Madame Carlat
and a waiting-woman ran shrieking to the window; another instant and
the alarm would have gone abroad.

Tignonville's voice stopped it. "Don't you know me?" he cried.
"Madame! you at least! Carlat! Are you all mad?"

The words stayed them where they stood in an astonishment scarce less
than their alarm. The Countess tried twice to speak; the third time,
"Have you escaped?" she muttered.

Tignonville nodded, his eyes bright with triumph. "So far," he said.
"But they may be on our heels at any moment! Where can we hide?"

The Countess, her hand pressed to her side, looked at Javette. "The
door, girl!" she whispered. "Lock it!"

"Ay, lock it! And they can go by the backstairs," Madame Carlat
answered, awaking suddenly to the situation. "Through my closet! Once
in the yard they may pass out through the stables."

"Which way?" Tignonville asked impatiently. "Don't stand looking at
me, but----"

"Through this door!" Madame Carlat answered, hurrying to it.

He was following when the Countess stepped forward and interposed
between him and the door. "Stay!" she cried; and there was not one who
did not notice a new decision in her voice, a new dignity in her
bearing. "Stay, monsieur, we may be going too fast. To go out now and
in that guise--may it not be to incur greater peril than you incur
here? I feel sure that you are in no danger of your life at present.
Therefore, why run the risk----"

"In no danger, madame!" he cried, interrupting her in astonishment.
"Have you seen the gibbet in the Square? Do you call that no danger?"

"It is not erected for you."

"No?"

"No, monsieur," she answered firmly, "I swear it is not. And I know of
reasons, urgent reasons, why you should not go. M. de Tavannes"--she
named her husband nervously, as conscious of the weak spot--"before he
rode abroad laid strict orders on all to keep within, since the
smallest matter might kindle the city. Therefore, M. de Tignonville, I
request, nay I entreat," she continued with greater urgency, as she
saw his gesture of denial, "you to stay here until he returns."

"And you, madame, will answer for my life!"

She faltered. For a moment, a moment only, her colour ebbed. What if
she deceived herself! What if she surrendered her old lover to death?
What if--but the doubt was of a moment only. Her duty was plain. "I
will answer for it," she said, with pale lips, "if you remain here.
And I beg, I implore you--by the love you once had for me, M.
Tignonville," she added desperately, seeing that he was about to
refuse, "to remain here."

"Once!" he retorted, lashing himself into ignoble rage. "By the
love I once had! Say, rather, the love I have, madame--for I am no
woman-weathercock to wed the winner, and hold or not hold, stay or go,
as he commands! You, it seems," he continued with a sneer, "have
learned the wife's lesson well! You would practise on me now, as you
practised on me the other night when you stood between him and me! I
yielded then, I spared him. And what did I get by it? Bonds and a
prison! And what shall I get now! The same! No, madame," he continued
bitterly, addressing himself as much to the Carlats and the others as
to his old mistress. "I do not change! I loved! I love! I was going
and I go! If death lay beyond that door"--and he pointed to it--"and
life at his will were certain here, I would pass the threshold rather
than take my life of him!" And, dragging La Tribe with him, with a
passionate gesture he rushed by her, opened the door, and disappeared
in the next room.

The Countess took one pace forward, as if she would have followed him,
as if she would have tried farther persuasion. But as she moved a cry
rooted her to the spot. A rush of feet and the babel of many voices
filled the passage with a tide of sound, which drew rapidly nearer.
The escape was known! Would the fugitives have time to slip out
below?

Someone knocked at the door, tried it, pushed and beat on it. But the
Countess and all in the room had run to the windows and were looking
out.

If the two had not yet made their escape they must be taken. Yet no;
as the Countess leaned from the window, first one dusty figure and
then a second darted from a door below, and made for the nearest
turning out of the Place Ste.-Croix. Before they gained it, four men,
of whom Badelon, his grey locks flying, was first, dashed out in
pursuit, and the street rang with cries of "Stop him! Seize him! Seize
him!" Someone--one of the pursuers or another--to add to the alarm let
off a musket, and in a moment, as if the report had been a signal, the
Place was in a hubbub, people flocked into it with mysterious
quickness, and from a neighbouring roof--whence, precisely, it was
impossible to say--the crackling fire of a dozen arquebuses alarmed
the city far and wide.

Unfortunately, the fugitives had been baulked at the first turning.
Making for a second, they found it choked, and, swerving, darted
across the Place towards St.-Maurice, seeking to lose themselves in
the gathering crowd. But the pursuers clung desperately to their
skirts, overturning here a man and there a child; and then in a
twinkling, Tignonville, as he ran round a booth, tripped over a peg
and fell, and La Tribe stumbled over him and fell also. The four
riders flung themselves fiercely on their prey, secured them, and
began to drag them with oaths and curses towards the door of the inn.

The Countess had seen all from her window; had held her breath while
they ran, had drawn it sharply when they fell. Now "They have them!"
she muttered, a sob choking her, "They have them!" And she clasped her
hands. If he had followed her advice! If he had only followed her
advice!

But the issue proved less certain than she deemed it. The crowd, which
grew each moment, knew nothing of pursuers or pursued. On the
contrary, a cry went up that the riders were Huguenots, and that the
Huguenots were rising and slaying the Catholics; and as no story was
too improbable for those days, and this was one constantly set about,
first one stone flew, and then another, and another. A man with a
staff darted forward and struck Badelon on the shoulder, two or three
others pressed in and jostled the riders; and if three of Tavannes'
following had not run out on the instant and faced the mob with their
pikes, and for a moment forced them to give back, the prisoners would
have been rescued at the very door of the inn. As it was they were
dragged in, and the gates were flung to and barred in the nick of
time. Another moment, almost another second, and the mob had seized
them. As it was, a hail of stones poured on the front of the inn, and
amid the rising yells of the rabble there presently floated heavy and
slow over the city the tolling of the great bell of St. Maurice.



                             CHAPTER XXX.

                              SACRILEGE!


M. de Montsoreau, Lieutenant-Governor of Saumur, almost rose from his
seat in his astonishment. "What! No letters?" he cried, a hand on
either arm of his chair.

The Magistrates stared, one and all. "No letters?" they muttered.

And "No letters?" the Provost chimed in more faintly.

Count Hannibal looked smiling round the Council table. He alone was
unmoved. "No," he said. "I bear none."

M. de Montsoreau, who, travel-stained and in his corselet, had the
second place of honour at the foot of the table, frowned. "But--but,
M. le Comte," he said, "my instructions from Monsieur were to proceed
to carry out his Majesty's will in co-operation with you, who, I
understood, would bring letters _de par le Roi_."

"I had letters," Count Hannibal answered, negligently. "But on the way
I mislaid them."

"Mislaid them?" Montsoreau cried, unable to believe his ears; while
the smaller dignitaries of the city, the magistrates and churchmen,
who sat on either side of the table, gaped open-mouthed. It was
incredible! It was unbelievable! Mislay the King's letters! Who had
ever heard of such a thing?

"Yes, I mislaid them. Lost them, if you like it better."

"But you jest!" the Lieutenant-Governor retorted, moving uneasily in
his chair. He was a man more highly named for address than courage;
and, like most men skilled in finesse, he was prone to suspect a trap.
"You jest, surely, monsieur! Men do not lose his Majesty's letters, by
the way."

"When they contain his Majesty's will, no," Tavannes answered, with a
peculiar smile.

"You imply, then?"

Count Hannibal shrugged his shoulders but had not answered when Bigot
entered and handed him his sweetmeat box; he paused to open it and
select a prune. He was long in selecting; but no change of countenance
led any of those at the table to suspect that inside the lid of the
box was a message--a scrap of paper informing him that Montsoreau had
left fifty spears in the suburb without the Saumur gate, besides those
whom he had brought openly into the town. Tavannes read the note
slowly while he seemed to be choosing his fruit. And then, "Imply?" he
answered. "I imply nothing, M. de Montsoreau."

"But----"

"But that sometimes his Majesty finds it prudent to give orders which
he does not mean to be carried out. There are things which start up
before the eye," Tavannes continued, negligently tapping the box on
the table, "and there are things which do not; sometimes the latter
are the more important. You, better than I, M. de Montsoreau, know
that the King in the Gallery at the Louvre is one, and in his closet
is another."

"Yes."

"And that being so----"

"You do not mean to carry the letters into effect?"

"Had I the letters, certainly, my friend. I should be bound by them.
But I took good care to lose them," Tavannes added naïvely. "I am no
fool."

"Umph!"

"However," Count Hannibal continued, with an airy gesture, "that is my
affair. If you, M. de Montsoreau, feel inclined, in spite of the
absence of my letters, to carry yours into effect, by all means do
so--after midnight of to-day."

M. de Montsoreau breathed hard. "And why," he asked, half sulkily and
half ponderously, "after midnight only, M. le Comte?"

"Merely that I may be clear of all suspicion of having lot or part in
the matter," Count Hannibal answered pleasantly. "After midnight of
to-night by all means, do as you please. Until midnight, by your
leave, we will be quiet."

The Lieutenant-Governor moved doubtfully in his chair, the fear--which
Tavannes had shrewdly instilled into his mind--that he might be
disowned if he carried out his instructions, struggling with his
avarice and his self-importance. He was rather crafty than bold; and
such things had been, he knew. Little by little, and while he sat
gloomily debating, the notion of dealing with one or two and holding
the body of the Huguenots to ransom--a notion which, in spite of
everything, was to bear good fruit for Angers--began to form in his
mind. The plan suited him: it left him free to face either way, and it
would fill his pockets more genteelly than would open robbery. On the
other hand, he would offend his brother and the fanatical party, with
whom he commonly acted. They were looking to see him assert himself.
They were looking to hear him declare himself. And----

Harshly Count Hannibal's voice broke in on his thoughts; harshly, a
something sinister in its tone. "Where is your brother?" he said. And
it was evident that he had not noted his absence until then. "My
lord's Vicar of all people should be here!" he continued, leaning
forward and looking round the table. His brow was stormy.

Lescot squirmed under his eye, Thuriot turned pale and trembled. It
was one of the canons of St.-Maurice who at length took on himself to
answer. "His Lordship requested, M. le Comte," he ventured, "that you
would excuse him. His duties----"

"Is he ill?"

"He----"

"Is he ill, sirrah?" Tavannes roared. And while all bowed before the
lightning of his eye, no man at the table knew what had roused the
sudden tempest. But Bigot knew, who stood by the door, and whose ear,
keen as his master's, had caught the distant report of a musket shot.
"If he be not ill," Tavannes continued, rising and looking round the
table in search of signs of guilt, "and there be foul play here, and
he the player, the Bishop's own hand shall not save him! By heaven it
shall not! Nor yours!" he continued, looking fiercely at Montsoreau.
"Nor your master's!"

The Lieutenant-Governor sprang to his feet. "M. le Comte," he
stammered, "I do not understand this language! Nor this heat, which
may be real or not! All I say is, if there be foul play here----"

"If!" Tavannes retorted. "At least, if there be, there be gibbets too!
And I see necks!" he added, leaning forward. "Necks!" And then, with a
look of flame, "Let no man leave this table until I return," he cried,
"or he will have to deal with me. Nay," he continued, changing his
tone abruptly, as the prudence which never entirely left him--and
perhaps the remembrance of the other's fifty spearmen--sobered him in
the midst of his rage, "I am hasty. I mean not you, M. de Montsoreau!
Ride where you will, ride with me if you will--and I will thank you.
Only remember, until midnight Angers is mine!"

He was still speaking when he moved from the table, and, leaving all
staring after him, strode down the room. An instant he paused on the
threshold and looked back; then he passed out, and clattered down the
stone stairs. His horse and riders were waiting, but, his foot in the
stirrup, he stayed for a word with Bigot. "Is it so?" he growled.

The Norman did not speak, but pointed towards the Place Ste.-Croix,
whence an occasional shot made answer for him.

In those days the streets of the Black City were narrow and crooked,
overhung by timber houses and hampered by booths; nor could Tavannes
from the old Town Hall--now abandoned--see the Place Ste.-Croix. But
that he could cure. He struck spurs to his horse, and, followed by his
ten horsemen, he clattered noisily down the paved street. A dozen
groups hurrying the same way sprang panic-stricken to the walls, or
saved themselves in doorways. He was up with them, he was beyond them!
Another hundred yards, and he would see the Place.

And then, with a cry of rage, he drew rein a little, discovering what
was before him. In the narrow gut of the way a great black banner,
borne on two poles, was lurching towards him. It was moving in the van
of a dark procession of priests, who, with their attendants and a
crowd of devout, filled the street from wall to wall. They were
chanting one of the penitential psalms, but not so loudly as to drown
the uproar in the Place beyond them.

They made no way, and Count Hannibal swore furiously, suspecting
treachery. But he was no madman, and at the moment the least
reflection would have sent him about to seek another road.
Unfortunately, as he hesitated a man sprang with a gesture of warning
to his horse's head and seized it; and Tavannes, mistaking the motive
of the act, lost his self-control. He struck the fellow down, and with
a reckless word rode headlong into the procession, shouting to the
black robes to make way, make way! A cry, nay, a very shriek of
horror, answered him and rent the air. And in a minute the thing was
done. Too late, as the Bishop's Vicar, struck by his horse, fell
screaming under its hoofs--too late, as the consecrated vessels which
he had been bearing rolled in the mud, Tavannes saw that they bore the
canopy and the Host!

He knew what he had done, then. Before his horse's iron shoes struck
the ground again, his face--even his face--had lost its colour. But he
knew also that to hesitate now, to pause now, was to be torn in
pieces; for his riders, seeing that which the banner had veiled from
him, had not followed him, and he was alone, in the middle of
brandished fists and weapons. He hesitated not a moment. Drawing a
pistol he spurred onwards, his horse plunging wildly among the
shrieking priests; and though a hundred hands, hands of acolytes,
hands of shaven monks, clutched at his bridle or gripped his boot,
he got clear of them. Clear, carrying with him the memory of one
face seen an instant amid the crowd, one face seen, to be ever
remembered--the face of Father Pezelay, white, evil, scarred,
distorted by wicked triumph.

Behind him, the thunder of "Sacrilege! Sacrilege!" rose to heaven, and
men were gathering. In front the crowd which skirmished about the inn
was less dense, and, ignorant of the thing that had happened in the
narrow street, made ready way for him, the boldest recoiling before
the look on his face. Some who stood nearest to the inn, and had begun
to hurl stones at the window and to beat on the doors--which had only
the minute before closed on Badelon and his prisoners--supposed that
he had his riders behind him; and these fled apace. But he knew better
even than they the value of time; he pushed his horse up to the gates,
and hammered them with his boot while he kept his pistol-hand towards
the Place and the cathedral, watching for the transformation which he
knew would come!

And come it did; on a sudden, in a twinkling! A white-faced monk,
frenzy in his eyes, appeared in the midst of the crowd. He stood and
tore his garments before the people, and, stooping, threw dust on his
head. A second and a third followed his example; then from a thousand
throats the cry of "Sacrilege! Sacrilege!" rolled up, while clerks
flew wildly hither and thither shrieking the tale, and priests denied
the Sacraments to Angers until it should purge itself of the evil
thing.

By that time Count Hannibal had saved himself behind the great gates,
by the skin of his teeth. The gates had opened to him in time. But
none knew better than he that Angers had no gates thick enough, nor
walls of a height, to save him for many hours from the storm he had
let loose!



                            CHAPTER XXXI.

                       THE FLIGHT FROM ANGERS.


But that only the more roused the devil in the man; that, and the
knowledge that he had his own headstrong act to thank for the
position. He looked on the panic-stricken people who, scared by the
turmoil without, had come together in the courtyard, wringing their
hands and chattering; and his face was so dark and forbidding that
fear of him took the place of all other fear, and the nearest shrank
from contact with him. On any other entering as he had entered, they
would have hailed questions; they would have asked what was amiss and
if the city were rising, and where were Bigot and his men. But Count
Hannibal's eye struck curiosity dumb. When he cried from his saddle,
"Bring me the landlord!" the trembling man was found, and brought, and
thrust forward almost without a word.

"You have a back gate?" Tavannes said, while the crowd leaned forward
to catch his words.

"Yes, my lord," the man faltered.

"Into the street which leads to the ramparts?"

"Ye--yes, my lord."

"Then"--to Badelon--"saddle! You have five minutes. Saddle as you
never saddled before," he continued in a low tone, "or----" His tongue
did not finish the threat, but his hand waved the man away. "For you,"
he held Tignonville an instant with his lowering eye, "and the
preaching fool with you, get arms and mount! You have never played
aught but the woman yet; but play me false now, or look aside but a
foot from the path I bid you take, and you thwart me no more,
monsieur! And you, madame," he continued, turning to the Countess, who
stood bewildered at one of the doors, the Provost's daughter clinging
and weeping about her, "you have three minutes to get your women to
horse! See you, if you please, that they take no longer!"

She found her voice with difficulty. "And this child?" she said. "She
is in my care."

"Bring her," he muttered with a scowl of impatience. And then, raising
his voice as he turned on the terrified gang of hostlers and inn
servants who stood gaping round him, "Go help!" he thundered. "Go
help! And quickly!" he added, his face growing a shade darker as a
second bell began to toll from a neighbouring tower, and the confused
babel in the Place Ste.-Croix settled into a dull roar of
"_Sacrilege_! _sacrilege!_"--"Hasten!"

Fortunately it had been his first intention to go to the Council
attended by the whole of his troop; and eight horses stood saddled in
the stalls. Others were hastily pulled out and bridled, and the women
were mounted. La Tribe, at a look from Tavannes, took behind him the
Provost's daughter, who was helpless with terror. Between the
suddenness of the alarm, the uproar without, and the panic within,
none but a man whose people served him at a nod and dreaded his very
gesture could have got his party mounted in time. Javette would fain
have swooned, but she dared not. Tignonville would fain have
questioned, but he shrank from the venture. The Countess would fain
have said something, but she forced herself to obey and no more. Even
so the confusion in the courtyard, the mingling of horses and men and
trappings and saddle-bags, would have made another despair; but
wherever Count Hannibal, seated in his saddle in the middle, turned
his face, chaos settled into a kind of order, servants, ceasing to
listen to the yells and cries outside, ran to fetch, women dropped
cloaks from the gallery, and men loaded muskets and strapped on
bandoliers.

Until at last--but none knew what those minutes of suspense cost
him--he saw all mounted, and, pistol in hand, shepherded them to the
back gates. As he did so he stooped for a few scowling words with
Badelon, whom he sent to the van of the party: then he gave the word
to open. It was done; and even as Montsoreau's horsemen, borne on the
bosom of a second and more formidable throng, swept raging into the
already crowded square, and the cry went up for "a ram! a ram!" to
batter in the gates, Tavannes, hurling his little party before him,
dashed out at the back, and putting to flight a handful of rascals who
had wandered to that side, cantered unmolested down the lane to the
ramparts. Turning eastward at the foot of the frowning Castle, he
followed the inner side of the wall in the direction of the gate by
which he had entered the preceding evening.

To gain this his party had to pass the end of the Rue Toussaint, which
issues from the Place Ste.-Croix and runs so straight that the mob
seething in front of the inn had only to turn their heads to see them.
The danger incurred at this point was great; for a party as small as
Tavannes' and encumbered with women would have had no chance if
attacked within the walls.

Count Hannibal knew it. But he knew also that the act which he had
committed rendered the north bank of the Loire impossible for him.
Neither King nor Marshal, neither Charles of Valois nor Gaspard of
Tavannes, would dare to shield him from an infuriated Church, a Church
too wise to forgive certain offences. His one chance lay in reaching
the southern bank of the Loire--roughly speaking, the Huguenot
bank--and taking refuge in some town, Rochelle or St. Jean d'Angely,
where the Huguenots were strong, and whence he might take steps to set
himself right with his own side.

But to cross the great river which divides France into two lands
widely differing he must leave the city by the east gate; for the only
bridge over the Loire within forty miles of Angers lay eastward from
the town, at Ponts de Cé, four miles away. To this gate, therefore,
past the Rue Toussaint, he whirled his party daringly; and though the
women grew pale as the sounds of riot broke louder on the ear, and
they discovered that they were approaching instead of leaving the
danger--and though Tignonville for an instant thought him mad, and
snatched at the Countess's rein--his men-at-arms, who knew him,
galloped stolidly on, passed like clockwork the end of the street,
and, reckless of the stream of persons hurrying in the direction of
the alarm, heedless of the fright and anger their passage excited,
pressed steadily on. A moment and the gate through which they had
entered the previous evening appeared before them. And--a sight
welcome to one of them--it was open.

They were fortunate indeed, for a few seconds later they had been too
late. The alarm had preceded them; as they dashed up, a man ran to the
chains of the portcullis and tried to lower it. He failed to do so at
the first touch, and quailing, fled from Badelon's levelled pistol. A
watchman on one of the bastions of the wall shouted to them to halt or
he would fire: but the riders yelled in derision, and thundering
through the echoing archway, emerged into the open, and saw, extended
before them, in place of the gloomy vistas of the Black Town, the
glory of the open country and the vine-clad hills, and the fields
about the Loire yellow with late harvest.

The women gasped their relief, and one or two who were most out of
breath would have pulled up their horses and let them trot, thinking
the danger at an end. But a curt savage word from the rear set them
flying again, and down and up and on again they galloped, driven
forward by the iron hand which never relaxed its grip of them. Silent
and pitiless he whirled them before him until they were within a mile
of the long Ponts de Cé--a series of bridges rather than one
bridge--and the broad shallow Loire lay plain before them, its
sandbanks grilling in the sun, and grey lines of willows marking its
eyots. By this time some of the women, white with fatigue, could only
cling to their saddles with their hands; while others were red-hot,
their hair unrolled, and the perspiration mingled with the dust on
their faces. But he who drove them had no pity for weakness in an
emergency. He looked back and saw, a half-mile behind them, the
glitter of steel following hard on their heels: and "Faster! faster!"
he cried, regardless of their prayers: and he beat the rearmost of the
horses with his scabbard. A waiting-woman shrieked that she should
fall, but he answered ruthlessly, "Fall then, fool!" and the instinct
of self-preservation coming to her aid, she clung and bumped and
toiled on with the rest until they reached the first houses of the
town about the bridges, and Badelon raised his hand as a signal that
they might slacken speed.

The bewilderment of the start had been so great that it was then only,
when they found their feet on the first link of the bridge, that two
of the party, the Countess and Tignonville, awoke to the fact that
their faces were set southwards. To cross the Loire in those days
meant much to all: to a Huguenot very much. It chanced that these two
rode on to the bridge side by side, and the memory of their last
crossing--the remembrance that, on their journey north a month before,
they had crossed it hand-in-hand with the prospect of passing their
lives together, and with no faintest thought of the events which were
to ensue, flashed into the mind of each of them. It deepened the flush
which exertion had brought to the woman's cheek, then left it paler
than before. A minute earlier she had been wroth with her old lover;
she had held him accountable for the outbreak in the town and this
hasty retreat; now her anger died as she looked and she remembered. In
the man, shallower of feeling and more alive to present contingencies,
the uppermost emotion as he trod the bridge was one of surprise and
congratulation.

He could not at first believe in their good fortune. "_Mon Dieu!_" he
cried, "we are crossing!" And then again in a lower tone, "We are
crossing! We are crossing!" And he looked at her.

It was impossible that she should not look back; that she who had
ceased to be angry should not feel and remember; impossible that her
answering glance should not speak to his heart. Below them, as on that
day a month earlier, when they had crossed the bridges going
northward, the broad shallow river ran its course in the sunshine,
its turbid currents gleaming and flashing about the sandbanks and
osier-beds. To the eye, the landscape, save that the vintage was
farther advanced and the harvest in part gathered in, was the same.
But how changed were their relations, their prospects, their hopes,
who had then crossed the river hand-in-hand, planning a life to be
passed together.

The young man's rage boiled up at the thought. Too vividly, too
sharply it showed him the wrongs which he had suffered at the hands of
the man who rode behind him, the man who even now drove him on and
ordered him and insulted him. He forgot that he might have perished in
the general massacre if Count Hannibal had not intervened. He forgot
that Count Hannibal had spared him once and twice. He laid on his
enemy's shoulders the guilt of all, the blood of all: and as, quick on
the thought of his wrongs and his fellows' wrongs followed the
reflection that with every league they rode southwards the chance of
requital grew, he cried again, and this time joyously, "We are
crossing! A little, and we shall be in our own land!"

The tears filled the Countess's eyes as she looked westwards and
southwards. "Vrillac is there!" she cried; and she pointed. "I smell
the sea!"

"Ay!" he answered, almost under his breath. "It lies there! And no
more than thirty leagues from us! With fresh horses we might see it in
two days!"

Badelon's voice broke in on them. "Forward!" he cried as they reached
the southern bank. "_En avant!_" And, obedient to the word, the little
party, refreshed by the short respite, took the road out of Ponts de
Cé at a steady trot. Nor was the Countess the only one whose face
glowed, being set southwards, or whose heart pulsed to the rhythm of
the horses' hoofs that beat out "Home!" Carlat's and Madame Carlat's
also. Javette even, hearing from her neighbour that they were over the
Loire, plucked up courage; while La Tribe, gazing before him with
moistened eyes, cried "Comfort" to the scared and weeping girl who
clung to his belt. It was singular to see how all sniffed the air as
if already it smacked of the sea and of the south; and how they of
Poitou sat their horses as if they asked nothing better than to ride
on and on and on until the scenes of home arose about them. For them
the sky had already a deeper blue, the air a softer fragrance, the
sunshine a purity long unknown!

Was it wonderful, when they had suffered so much on that northern
bank? When their experience during the month had been comparable only
with the direst nightmare? Yet one among them, after the first impulse
of relief and satisfaction, felt differently. Tignonville's gorge rose
against the sense of compulsion, of inferiority. To be driven forward
after this fashion, whether he would or no, to be placed at the beck
of every base-born man-at-arms, to have no clearer knowledge of what
had happened or of what was passing, or of the peril from which they
fled, than the women among whom he rode--these things kindled anew the
sullen fire of hate. North of the Loire there had been some excuse for
his inaction under insult; he had been in the man's country and power.
But south of the Loire, within forty leagues of Huguenot Niort, must
he still suffer, still be supine?

His rage was inflamed by a disappointment he presently underwent.
Looking back as they rode clear of the wooden houses of Ponts de Cé,
he missed Tavannes and several of his men; and he wondered if Count
Hannibal had remained on his own side of the river. It seemed
possible; and in that event La Tribe and he and Carlat might deal with
Badelon and the four who still escorted them. But when he looked back
a minute later, Tavannes was within sight, following the party with a
stern face; and not Tavannes only. Bigot, with two of the ten men who
hitherto had been missing, was with him.

It was clear, however, that they brought no good news, for they had
scarcely ridden up before Count Hannibal cried "Faster! faster!" in
his harshest voice, and Bigot urged the horses to a quicker trot.
Their course lay almost parallel with the Loire in the direction of
Beaupréau; and Tignonville began to fear that Count Hannibal intended
to recross the river at Nantes, where the only bridge below Angers
spanned the stream. With this in view it was easy to comprehend his
wish to distance his pursuers before he recrossed.

The Countess had no such thought. "They must be close upon us!" she
murmured, as she urged her horse in obedience to the order.

"Whoever they are!" Tignonville muttered bitterly. "If we knew what
had happened, or who followed, we should know more about it, madame.
For that matter, I know what I wish he would do. And our heads are set
for it."

"What?"

"Make for Vrillac!" he answered, a savage gleam in his eyes.

"For Vrillac?"

"Yes."

"Ah, if he would!" she cried, her face turning pale. "If he would. He
would be safe there!"

"Ay, quite safe!" he answered with a peculiar intonation. And he
looked at her askance.

He fancied that his thought, the thought which had just flashed into
his brain, was her thought; that she had the same notion in reserve,
and that they were in sympathy. And Tavannes, seeing them talking
together, and noting her look and the fervour of her gesture, formed
the same opinion, and retired more darkly into himself. The downfall
of his plan for dazzling her by a magnanimity unparalleled and beyond
compare, a plan dependent on the submission of Angers--his
disappointment in this might have roused the worst passions of a
better man. But there was in this man a pride on a level at least with
his other passions: and to bear himself in this hour of defeat and
flight so that if she could not love him she must admire him, checked
in a strange degree the current of his rage. When Tignonville
presently looked back he found that Count Hannibal and six of his
riders had pulled up and were walking their horses far in the rear. On
which he would have done the same himself; but Badelon called over his
shoulder the eternal "Forward, monsieur, _en avant!_" and sullenly,
hating the man and his master more deeply every hour, Tignonville was
forced to push on, with thoughts of vengeance in his heart.

Trot, trot! Trot, trot! Through a country which had lost its smiling
wooded character and grew more sombre and less fertile the farther
they left the Loire behind them. Trot, trot! Trot, trot!--for ever, it
seemed to some. Javette wept with fatigue, and the other women were
little better. The Countess herself spoke seldom except to cheer the
Provost's daughter; who, poor girl, flung suddenly out of the round of
her life and cast among strangers, showed a better spirit than might
have been expected. At length, on the slopes of some low hills, which
they had long seen before them, a cluster of houses and a church
appeared; and Badelon, drawing rein, cried, "Beaupréau, madame! We
stay an hour!"

It was six o'clock. They had ridden some hours without a break. With
sighs and cries of pain the women dropped from their clumsy saddles,
while the men laid out such food--it was little--as had been brought,
and hobbled the horses that they might feed. The hour passed rapidly,
and when it had passed Badelon was inexorable. There was wailing when
he gave the word to mount again; and Tignonville, fiercely resenting
this dumb, reasonless flight, was at heart one of the mutineers. But
Badelon said grimly that they might go on and live, or stay and die,
as it pleased them; and once more they climbed painfully to their
saddles, and jogged steadily on through the sunset, through the
gloaming, through the darkness, across a weird, mysterious country of
low hills and narrow plains which grew more wild and less cultivated
as they advanced. Fortunately the horses had been well saved during
the long leisurely journey to Angers, and now went well and strongly.
When they at last unsaddled for the night in a little dismal wood
within a mile of Clisson, they had placed some forty miles between
themselves and Angers.



                            CHAPTER XXXII.

                         THE ORDEAL BY STEEL.


The women for the most part fell like sacks and slept where they
alighted, dead weary. The men, when they had cared for the horses,
followed the example; for Badelon would suffer no fire. In less than
half an hour, a sentry who stood on guard at the edge of the wood, and
Tignonville and La Tribe, who talked in low voices with their backs
against a tree, were the only persons who remained awake, with the
exception of the Countess. Carlat had made a couch for her, and
screened it with cloaks from the wind and the eye; for the moon had
risen, and where the trees stood sparsest its light flooded the soil
with pools of white. But Madame had not yet retired to her bed. The
two men, whose voices reached her, saw her from time to time moving
restlessly to and fro between the road and the little encampment.
Presently she came and stood over them.

"He led His people out of the wilderness," La Tribe was saying; "out
of the trouble of Paris, out of the trouble of Angers, and always,
always southward. If you do not in this, monsieur, see His finger----"

"And Angers?" Tignonville struck in, with a faint sneer. "Has He led
that out of trouble? A day or two ago you would risk all to save it,
my friend. Now, with your back safely turned on it, you think all for
the best."

"We did our best," the minister answered humbly. "From the day we met
in Paris we have been but instruments."

"To save Angers?"

"To save a remnant."

On a sudden the Countess raised her hand. "Do you not hear horses,
monsieur?" she cried. She had been listening to the noises of the
night, and had paid little heed to what the two were saying.

"One of ours moved," Tignonville answered listlessly. "Why do you not
lie down, madame?"

Instead of answering, "Whither is he going?" she asked. "Do you know?"

"I wish I did know," the young man answered peevishly. "To Niort, it
may be. Or presently he will double back and recross the Loire."

"He would have gone by Cholet to Niort," La Tribe said. "The direction
is rather that of Rochelle. God grant we be bound thither!"

"Or to Vrillac," the Countess cried, clasping her hands in the
darkness. "Can it be to Vrillac he is going?"

The minister shook his head.

"Ah, let it be to Vrillac!" she cried, a thrill in her voice. "We
should be safe there. And he would be safe."

"Safe?" echoed a fourth and deeper voice. And out of the darkness
beside them loomed a tall figure.

The minister looked and leapt to his feet. Tignonville rose more
slowly.

The voice was Tavannes' "And where am I to be safe?" he repeated
slowly, a faint ring of saturnine amusement in his tone.

"At Vrillac," she cried. "In my house, monsieur."

He was silent a moment. Then, "Your house, madame? In which direction
is it, from here?"

"Westwards," she answered impulsively, her voice quivering with
eagerness and emotion and hope. "Westwards, monsieur--on the sea. The
causeway from the land is long, and ten can hold it against ten
hundred."

"Westwards? And how far westwards?"

Tignonville answered for her; in his tone throbbed the same eagerness,
the same anxiety, which spoke in hers. Nor was Count Hannibal's ear
deaf to it. "Through Challans," he said, "thirteen leagues."

"From Clisson?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Comte."

"And by Commequiers less," the Countess cried.

"No, it is a worse road," Tignonville answered quickly; "and longer in
time."

"But we came----"

"At our leisure, madame. The road is by Challans, if we wish to be
there quickly."

"Ah!" Count Hannibal said. In the darkness it was impossible to see
his face or mark how he took it. "But being there, I have few men."

"I have forty will come at call," she cried with pride. "A word to
them, and in four hours or a little more----"

"They would outnumber mine by four to one," Count Hannibal answered
coldly, drily, in a voice like ice-water flung in their faces. "Thank
you, madame; I understand. To Vrillac is no long ride; but we will not
ride it at present." And he turned sharply on his heel and strode from
them.

He had not covered thirty paces before she overtook him in the middle
of a broad patch of moonlight and touched his arm. He wheeled swiftly,
his hand half-way to his hilt. Then he saw who it was. "Ah," he said,
"I had forgotten, madame. You have come----"

"No!" she cried passionately; and standing before him she shook back
the hood of her cloak that he might look into her eyes. "You owe me no
blow to-day. You have paid me, monsieur. You have struck me already,
and foully, like a coward. Do you remember," she continued rapidly,
"the hour after our marriage, and what you said to me? Do you remember
what you told me? And whom to trust and whom to suspect, where lay our
interest and where our foes? You trusted me then! What have I done
that you now dare--ay, dare, monsieur," she repeated fearlessly, her
face pale and her eyes glittering with excitement, "to insult me? That
you treat me as--Javette? That you deem me capable of _that?_ Of
luring you into a trap, and in my own house, or the house that was
mine, of----"

"Treating me as I have treated others."

"You have said it!" she cried. She could not herself understand why
his distrust had wounded her so sharply, so home, that all fear of him
was gone. "You have said it, and put that between us which will not be
removed. I could have forgiven blows," she continued, breathless in
her excitement, "so you had thought me what I am. But now you will do
well to watch me! You will do well to leave Vrillac on one side. For
were you there, and raised your hand against me--not that that touches
me, but it will do--and there are those, I tell you, would fling you
from the tower at my word."

"Indeed?"

"Ay, indeed! And indeed, monsieur!"

Her face was in moonlight, his was in shadow.

"And this is your new tone, madame, is it?" he said, slowly and after
a pregnant pause. "The crossing of a river has wrought so great a
change in you?"

"No!" she cried.

"Yes," he said. And despite herself she flinched before the grimness
of his tone. "You have yet to learn one thing, however: that I do not
change. That, north or south, I am the same to those who are the same
to me. That what I have won on the one bank I will hold on the other,
in the teeth of all, and though God's Church be thundering on my
heels! I go to Vrillac----"

"You--go?" she cried. "You go?"

"I go," he repeated, "to-morrow. And among your own people I will see
what language you will hold. While you were in my power I spared you.
Now that you are in your own land, now that you lift your hand against
me, I will show you of what make I am. If blows will not tame you, I
will try that will suit you less. Ay, you wince, madame! You had done
well had you thought twice before you threatened, and thrice before
you took in hand to scare Tavannes with a parcel of clowns and
fisherfolk. Tomorrow, to Vrillac and your duty! And one word more,
madame," he continued, turning back to her truculently when he had
gone some paces from her. "If I find you plotting with your lover by
the way I will hang not you, but him. I have spared him a score of
times; but I know him, and I do not trust him."

"Nor me," she said, and with a white, set face she looked at him in
the moonlight. "Had you not better hang me now?"

"Why?"

"Lest I do you an injury!" she cried with passion; and she raised her
hand and pointed northward. "Lest I kill you some night, monsieur! I
tell you, a thousand men on your heels are less dangerous than the
woman at your side--if she hate you."

"Is it so?" he cried. His hand flew to his hilt; his dagger flashed
out. But she did not move, did not flinch, only she set her teeth; and
her eyes, fascinated by the steel, grew wider.

His hand sank slowly. He held the weapon to her, hilt foremost; she
took it mechanically. "You think yourself brave enough to kill me, do
you?" he sneered. "Then take this, and strike, if you dare. Take
it--strike, madame! It is sharp, and my arms are open." And he
flung them wide, standing within a pace of her. "Here, above the
collar-bone, is the surest for a weak hand. What, afraid?" he
continued, as, stiffly clutching the weapon which he had put into her
hand, she glared at him, trembling and astonished. "Afraid, and a
Vrillac! Afraid, and 'tis but one blow! See, my arms are open. One
blow home, and you will never lie in them. Think of that. One blow
home, and you may lie in his. Think of that! Strike, then, madame," he
went on, piling taunt on taunt, "if you dare, and if you hate me.
What, still afraid! How shall I give you heart? Shall I strike you? It
will not be the first time by ten. I keep count, you see," he
continued mockingly. "Or shall I kiss you? Ay, that may do. And it
will not be against your will, either, for you have that in your hand
will save you in an instant. Even"--he drew a foot nearer--"now!
Even----" And he stooped until his lips almost touched hers.

She sprang back. "Oh, do not!" she cried. "Oh, do not!" And, dropping
the dagger, she covered her face with her hands, and burst into
weeping.

He stooped coolly, and, after groping some time for the poniard, drew
it from the leaves among which it had fallen. He put it into the
sheath, and not until he had done that did he speak. Then it was with
a sneer. "I have no need to fear overmuch," he said. "You are a poor
hater, madame. And poor haters make poor lovers. 'Tis his loss! If you
will not strike a blow for him, there is but one thing left. Go, dream
of him!"

And shrugging his shoulders contemptuously he turned on his heel.



                           CHAPTER XXXIII.

                             THE AMBUSH.


The start they made at daybreak was gloomy and ill-omened, through one
of those white mists which are blown from the Atlantic over the flat
lands of Western Poitou. The horses, looming gigantic through the fog,
winced as the cold harness was girded on them. The men hurried to and
fro with saddles on their heads, and stumbled over other saddles, and
swore savagely. The women turned mutinous and would not rise; or,
being dragged up by force, shrieked wild unfitting words, as they were
driven to the horses. The Countess looked on and listened, and
shuddered, waiting for Carlat to set her on her horse. She had gone
during the last three weeks through much that was dreary, much that
was hopeless; but the chill discomfort of this forced start, with
tired horses and wailing women, would have darkened the prospect of
home had there been no fear or threat to cloud it.

He whose will compelled all stood a little apart and watched all,
silent and gloomy. When Badelon, after taking his orders and
distributing some slices of black bread to be eaten in the saddle,
moved off at the head of his troop, Count Hannibal remained behind,
attended by Bigot and the eight riders who had formed the rearguard so
far. He had not approached the Countess since rising, and she had been
thankful for it. But now, as she moved away, she looked back and saw
him still standing; she marked that he wore his corselet, and in one
of those revulsions of feeling--which outrun man's reason--she who had
tossed on her couch through half the night, in passionate revolt
against the fate before her, took fire at his neglect and his silence;
she resented on a sudden the distance he kept, and his scorn of her.
Her breast heaved, her colour came, involuntarily she checked her
horse, as if she would return to him, and speak to him. Then the
Carlats and the others closed up behind her, Badelon's monotonous
"Forward, madame, _en avant!_" proclaimed the day's journey begun, and
she saw him no more.

Nevertheless, the motionless figure, looming Homeric through the fog,
with gleams of wet light reflected from the steel about it, dwelt long
in her mind. The road which Badelon followed, slowly at first, and
with greater speed as the horses warmed to their work, and the women,
sore and battered, resigned themselves to suffering, wound across a
flat expanse broken by a few hills. These were little more than
mounds, and for the most part were veiled from sight by the low-lying
sea-mist, through which gnarled and stunted oaks rose mysterious, to
fade as strangely. Weird trees they were, with branches unlike those
of this world's trees, rising in a grey land without horizon or limit,
through which our travellers moved, jaded phantoms in a clinging
nightmare. At a walk, at a trot, more often at a weary jog, they
pushed on behind Badelon's humped shoulders. Sometimes the fog hung so
thick about them that they saw only those who rose and fell in the
saddles immediately before them; sometimes the air cleared a little,
the curtain rolled up a space, and for a minute or two they discerned
stretches of unfertile fields, half-tilled and stony, or long tracts
of gorse and broom, with here and there a thicket of dwarf shrubs or a
wood of wind-swept pines. Some looked and saw these things; more rode
on sulky and unseeing, supporting impatiently the toils of a flight
from they knew not what.

To do Tignonville justice, he was not of these. On the contrary, he
seemed to be in a better temper on this day; and, where so many took
things unheroically, he showed to advantage. Avoiding the Countess and
riding with Carlat, he talked and laughed with marked cheerfulness;
nor did he ever fail, when the mist rose, to note this or that
landmark, and confirm Badelon in the way he was going.

"We shall be at Lége by noon!" he cried more than once, "and if M. le
Comte persists in his plan, may reach Vrillac by late sunset. By way
of Challans!"

And always Carlat answered, "Ay, by Challans, monsieur, so be it!"

He proved, too, so far right in his prediction that noon saw them
drag, a weary train, into the hamlet of Lége, where the road from
Nantes to Olonne runs southward over the level of Poitou. An hour
later Count Hannibal rode in with six of his eight men, and, after a
few minutes' parley with Badelon, who was scanning the horses, he
called Carlat to him. The old man came.

"Can we reach Vrillac to-night?" Count Hannibal asked curtly.

"By Challans, my lord," the steward answered, "I think we can. We call
it seven hours' riding from here."

"And that route is the shortest?"

"In time, M. le Comte, the road being better."

Count Hannibal bent his brows. "And the other way?" he said.

"Is by Commequiers, my lord. It is shorter in distance."

"By how much!"

"Two leagues. But there are fordings and a salt marsh; and with Madame
and the women----"

"It would be longer?"

The steward hesitated. "I think so," he said slowly, his eyes
wandering to the grey misty landscape, against which the poor hovels
of the village stood out naked and comfortless. A low thicket of oaks
sheltered the place from southwesterly gales. On the other three sides
it lay open.

"Very good," Tavannes said curtly. "Be ready to start in ten minutes.
You will guide us."

But when the ten minutes had elapsed and the party were ready to
start, to the astonishment of all the steward was not to be found. To
peremptory calls for him no answer came; and a hurried search through
the hamlet proved equally fruitless. The only person who had seen him
since his interview with Tavannes turned out to be M. de Tignonville;
and he had seen him mount his horse five minutes before, and move
off--as he believed--by the Challans road.

"Ahead of us!"

"Yes, M. le Comte," Tignonville answered, shading his eyes and gazing
in the direction of the fringe of trees. "I did not see him take the
road, but he was beside the north end of the wood when I saw him last.
Thereabouts!" and he pointed to a place where the Challans road wound
round the flank of the wood. "When we are beyond that point, I think
we shall see him."

Count Hannibal growled a word in his beard, and, turning in his
saddle, looked back the way he had come. Half a mile away, two or
three dots could be seen approaching across the plain. He turned
again. "You know the road?" he said, curtly addressing the young man.

"Perfectly. As well as Carlat."

"Then lead the way, monsieur, with Badelon. And spare neither whip nor
spur. There will be need of both, if we would lie warm to-night."

Tignonville nodded assent and, wheeling his horse, rode to the head of
the party, a faint smile playing about his mouth. A moment, and the
main body moved off behind him, leaving Count Hannibal and six men to
cover the rear. The mist, which at noon had risen for an hour or two,
was closing down again, and they had no sooner passed clear of the
wood than the trees faded out of sight behind them. It was not
wonderful that they could not see Carlat. Objects a hundred paces from
them were completely hidden.

Trot, trot! Trot, trot! through a. grey world so featureless, so
unreal that the riders, now dozing in the saddle, and now awaking,
seemed to themselves to stand still, as in a nightmare. A trot and
then a walk, and then a trot again; and all a dozen times repeated,
while the women bumped along in their wretched saddles, and the horses
stumbled, and the men swore at them.

Ha! La Garnache at last, and a sharp turn southward to Challans. The
Countess raised her head, and began to look about her. There, should
be a church, she knew; and there, the old ruined tower built by
wizards, or the Carthaginians, so old tradition ran; and there, to the
westward, the great salt marshes towards Noirmoutier. The mist hid
all, but the knowledge that they were there set her heart beating,
brought tears to her eyes, and lightened the long road to Challans.

At Challans they halted half-an-hour, and washed out the horses'
mouths with water and a little _guignolet_--the spirit of the country.
A dose of the cordial was administered to the women; and a little
after seven they began the last stage of the journey, through a
landscape which even the mist could not veil from the eyes of love.
There rose the windmill of Soullans! There the old dolmen, beneath
which the grey wolf that ate the two children of Tornic had its lair.
For a mile back they had been treading my lady's land; they had only
two more leagues to ride, and one of those was crumbling under each
dogged footfall. The salt flavour, which is new life to the
shore-born, was in the fleecy reek which floated by them, now thinner,
now more opaque; and almost they could hear the dull thunder of the
Biscay waves falling on the rocks.

Tignonville looked back at her and smiled. She caught the look; she
fancied that she understood it and his thoughts. But her own eyes were
moist at the moment with tears, and what his said, and what there was
of strangeness in his glance, half-warning, half-exultant, escaped
her. For there, not a mile before them, where the low hills about the
fishing village began to rise from the dull inland level--hills green
on the land side, bare and scarped towards the sea and the island--she
espied the wayside chapel at which the nurse of her early childhood
had told her beads. Where it stood, the road from Commequiers and the
road she travelled became one: a short mile thence, after winding
among the hillocks, it ran down to the beach and the causeway--and to
her home.

At the sight she bethought herself of Carlat, and calling to M. de
Tignonville she asked him what he thought of the steward's continued
absence.

"He must have outpaced us!" he answered with an odd laugh.

"But he must have ridden hard to do that."

He reined back to her. "Say nothing!" he muttered under his breath.
"But look ahead, madame, and see if we are expected!"

"Expected? How can we be expected?" she cried. The colour rushed into
her face.

He put his finger to his lip, and looked warningly at Badelon's humped
shoulders, jogging up and down in front of them. Then, stooping
towards her, in a lower tone, "If Carlat has arrived before us, he
will have told them," he said.

"Have told them!" she exclaimed.

"He came by the other road, and it is quicker."

She gazed at him in astonishment, her lips parted; and slowly she
comprehended, and her eyes grew hard. "Then why," she said, "did you
say it was longer? Had we been overtaken, monsieur, we had had you to
thank for it, it seems!"

He bit his lip. "But we have not been overtaken," he rejoined. "On the
contrary, you have me to thank for something quite different."

"As unwelcome, perhaps!" she retorted. "For what?"

"Softly, madame."

"For what?" she repeated, refusing to lower her voice. "Speak,
monsieur, if you please." He had never seen her look at him in that
way.

"For the fact," he answered, stung by her look and tone, "that when
you arrive you will find yourself mistress in your own house! Is that
nothing?"

"You have called in my people?"

"Carlat has done so, or should have," he answered. "Henceforth," he
continued, a ring of exultation in his voice, "it will go hard with M.
le Comte, if he does not treat you better than he has treated you
hitherto. That is all!"

"You mean that it will go hard with him in any case?" she cried, her
bosom rising and falling.

"I mean, madame---- But there they are! Good Carlat! Brave Carlat! He
has done well."

"Carlat?"

"Ay, there they are! And you are mistress in your own land! At last
you are mistress, and you have me to thank for it! See!" And heedless
in his exultation whether Badelon understood or not, he pointed to a
place before them where the road wound between two low hills. Over the
green shoulder of one of these, a dozen bright points caught and
reflected the last evening light; while as he spoke a man rose to his
feet on the hill-side above, and began to make signs to persons below.
A pennon, too, showed an instant over the shoulder, fluttered, and was
gone.

Badelon looked as they looked. The next instant he uttered a low oath,
and dragged his horse across the front of the party. "Pierre!" he
cried to the man on his left, "Ride for your life! To my lord, and
tell him we are ambushed!" And as the trained soldier wheeled about
and spurred away, the sacker of Rome turned a dark scowling face on
Tignonville. "If this be your work," he hissed, "we shall thank you
for it in hell! For it is where most of us will lie to-night! They are
Montsoreau's spears, and they have those with them are worse to deal
with than themselves!" Then in a different tone, and throwing off all
disguise, "Men to the front!" he shouted. "And you, madame, to the
rear quickly, and the women with you! Now, men, forward, and draw!
Steady! Steady! They are coming!"

There was an instant of confusion, disorder, panic; horses jostling
one another, women screaming and clutching at men, men shaking them
off and forcing their way to the van. Fortunately the enemy did not
fall on at once, as Badelon expected, but after showing themselves in
the mouth of the valley, at a distance of three hundred paces, hung
for some reason irresolute. This gave Badelon time to array his seven
swords in front; but real resistance was out of the question, as he
knew. And to none seemed less in question than to Tignonville.

When the truth, and what he had done, broke on the young man, he sat a
moment motionless with horror. It was only when Badelon had twice
summoned him with opprobrious words that he awoke to the relief of
action. Even after that he hung an instant trying to meet the
Countess's eyes, despair in his own; but it was not to be. She had
turned her head, and was looking back, as if thence only and not from
him could help come. It was not to him she turned; and he saw it, and
the justice of it. And silent, grim, more formidable even than old
Badelon, the veteran fighter, who knew all the tricks and shifts of
the _mêlée_, he spurred to the flank of the line.

"Now, steady!" Badelon cried again, seeing that the enemy were
beginning to move. "Steady! Ha! Thank God, my lord! My lord is coming!
Stand! Stand!"

The distant sound of galloping hoofs had reached his ear in the nick
of time. He stood in his stirrups and looked back. Yes, Count Hannibal
was coming, riding a dozen paces in front of his men. The odds were
still desperate--for he brought but six--the enemy were still three to
one. But the thunder of his hoofs as he came up checked for a moment
the enemy's onset; and before Montsoreau's people got started again
Count Hannibal had ridden up abreast of the women, and the Countess,
looking at him, knew that, desperate as was their strait, she had not
looked behind in vain. The glow of battle, the stress of the moment,
had displaced the cloud from his face; the joy of the born fighter
lightened in his eye. His voice rang clear and loud above the press.

"Badelon! wait you and two with madame!" he cried. "Follow at fifty
paces' distance, and, when we have broken them, ride through! The
others with me! Now forward, men, and show your teeth! A Tavannes! A
Tavannes! A Tavannes! We carry it yet!"

And he dashed forward, leading them on, leaving the women behind; and
down the sward to meet him, thundering in double line, came
Montsoreau's men-at-arms, and with the men-at-arms, a dozen pale,
fierce eyed men in the Church's black, yelling the Church's curses.
Madame's heart grew sick as she heard, as she waited, as she judged
him by the fast-failing light a horse's length before his men--with
only Tignonville beside him.

She held her breath--would the shock never come? If Badelon had not
seized her rein and forced her forward, she would not have moved. And
then, even as she moved, they met! With yells and wild cries and a
mare's savage scream, the two bands crashed together in a huddle of
fallen or rearing horses, of flickering weapons, of thrusting men, of
grapples hand-to-hand. What happened, what was happening to anyone,
who it was fell, stabbed through and through by four, or who were
those who still fought single combats, twisting round one another's
horses, those on her right and on her left, she could not tell. For
Badelon dragged her on with whip and spur, and two horsemen--who
obscured her view--galloped in front of her, and rode down bodily the
only man who undertook to bar her passage. She had a glimpse of that
man's face, as his horse, struck in the act of turning, fell sideways
on him; and she knew it, in its agony of terror, though she had seen
it but once. It was the face of the man whose eyes had sought hers
from the steps of the church in Angers; the lean man in black, who had
turned soldier of the Church--to his misfortune.

Through? Yes, through, the way was clear before them! The fight with
its screams and curses died away behind them. The horses swayed and
all but sank under them. But Badelon knew it no time for mercy;
iron-shod hoofs rang on the road behind, and at any moment the
pursuers might be on their heels. He flogged on until the cots of the
hamlet appeared on either side of the way; on, until the road forked
and the Countess with strange readiness cried "The left!" on, until
the beach appeared below them at the foot of a sharp pitch, and beyond
the beach the slow heaving grey of the ocean.

The tide was high. The causeway ran through it, a mere thread lipped
by the darkling waves, and at the sight a grunt of relief broke from
Badelon. For at the end of the causeway, black against the western
sky, rose the gateway and towers of Vrillac; and he saw that, as the
Countess had said, it was a place ten men could hold against ten
hundred!

They stumbled down the beach, reached the causeway and trotted along
it; more slowly now, and looking back. The other women had followed by
hook or by crook, some crying hysterically, yet clinging to their
horses and even urging them; and in a medley, the causeway clear
behind them and no one following, they reached the drawbridge, and
passed under the arch of the gate beyond.

There friendly hands, Carlat's foremost, welcomed them and aided them
to alight, and the Countess saw, as in a dream, the familiar scene,
all unfamiliar: the gate, where she had played, a child, aglow with
lantern-light and arms. Men, whose rugged faces she had known in
infancy, stood at the drawbridge chains and at the winches. Others
blew matches and handled primers, while old servants crowded round
her, and women looked at her, scared and weeping. She saw it all at a
glance--the lights, the black shadows, the sudden glow of a match on
the groining of the arch above. She saw it, and turning swiftly,
looked back the way she had come; along the dusky causeway to the low,
dark shore, which night was stealing quickly from their eyes. She
clasped her hands.

"Where is Badelon?" she cried. "Where is he? Where is he?"

One of the men who had ridden before her answered that he had turned
back.

"Turned back!" she repeated. And then, shading her eyes, "Who is
coming?" she asked, her voice insistent. "There is someone coming. Who
is it? Who is it?"

Two were coming out of the gloom, travelling slowly and painfully
along the causeway. One was La Tribe, limping; the other a rider,
slashed across the forehead, and sobbing curses.

"No more!" she muttered. "Are there no more?"

The minister shook his head. The rider wiped the blood from his eyes,
and turned up his face that he might see the better. But he seemed to
be dazed, and only babbled strange words in a strange _patois_.

She stamped her foot in passion. "More lights!" she cried. "Lights!
How can they find their way? And let six men go down the _digue_, and
meet them. Will you let them be butchered between the shore and this?"

But Carlat, who had not been able to collect more than a dozen men,
shook his head; and before she could repeat the order, sounds of
battle, shrill, faint, like cries of hungry seagulls, pierced the
darkness which shrouded the farther end of the causeway. The women
shrank inward over the threshold, while Carlat cried to the men at the
chains to be ready, and to some who stood at loopholes above, to blow
up their matches and let fly at his word. And then they all waited,
the Countess foremost, peering eagerly into the growing darkness. They
could see nothing.

A distant scuffle, an oath, a cry, silence! The same, a little nearer,
a little louder, followed this time, not by silence, but by the slow
tread of a limping horse. Again a rush of feet, the clash of steel, a
scream, a laugh, all weird and unreal, issuing from the night; then
out of the darkness into the light, stepping slowly with hanging head,
moved a horse, bearing on its back a man--or was it a man!--bending
low in the saddle, his feet swinging loose. For an instant the horse
and the man seemed to be alone, a ghostly pair; then at their heels
came into view two figures, skirmishing this way and that; and now
coming nearer, and now darting back into the gloom. One, a squat
figure, stooping low, wielded a sword with two hands; the other
covered him with a half-pike. And then beyond these--abruptly as it
seemed--the night gave up to sight a swarm of dark figures pressing on
them and after them, driving them before them.

Carlat had an inspiration. "Fire!" he cried; and four arquebuses
poured a score of slugs into the knot of pursuers. A man fell, another
shrieked and stumbled, the rest gave back. Only the horse came on
spectrally, with hanging head and shining eyeballs, until a man ran
out and seized its head, and dragged it, more by his strength than its
own, over the drawbridge. After it Badelon, with a gaping wound in his
knee, and Bigot, bleeding from a dozen hurts, walked over the bridge,
and stood on either side of the saddle, smiling foolishly at the man
on the horse.

"Leave me!" he muttered. "Leave me!" He made a feeble movement with
his hand, as if it held a weapon; then his head sank lower. It was
Count Hannibal. His thigh was broken, and there was a lance-head in
his arm.

The Countess looked at him, then beyond him, past him into the
darkness. "Are there no more?" she whispered tremulously. "No more?
Tignonville--my----"

Badelon shook his head. The Countess covered her face and wept.



                            CHAPTER XXXIV.

                       WHICH WILL YOU, MADAME?


It was in the grey dawning of the next day, at the hour before the sun
rose, that word of M. de Tignonville's fate came to them in the
castle. The fog which had masked the van and coming of night hung
thick on its retreating skirts, and only reluctantly and little by
little gave up to sight and daylight a certain thing which night had
left at the end of the causeway. The first man to see it was Carlat,
from the roof of the gateway; and he rubbed eyes weary with watching,
and peered anew at it through the mist, fancying himself back in the
Place Ste.-Croix at Angers, supposing for a wild moment the journey a
dream, and the return a nightmare. But rub as he might, and stare as
he might, the ugly outlines of the thing he had seen persisted--nay,
grew sharper as the haze began to lift from the grey, slow-heaving
floor of sea. He called another man and bade him look. "What is it?"
he said. "D'you see, there? Below the village?"

"'Tis a gibbet," the man answered, with a foolish laugh; they had
watched all night. "God keep us from it."

"A gibbet?"

"Ay!"

"It is there to hang those they have taken, very like," the man
answered, stupidly practical. And then other men came up, and stared
at it and growled in their beards. Presently there were eight or ten
on the roof of the gateway looking towards the land and discussing the
thing; and by-and-by a man was descried approaching along the causeway
with a white flag in his hand.

At that Carlat bade one fetch the minister. "He understands things,"
he muttered, "and I misdoubt this. And see," he cried after the
messenger, "that no word of it come to Mademoiselle!" Instinctively in
the maiden home he reverted to the maiden title.

The messenger went, and came again bringing La Tribe, whose head rose
above the staircase at the moment the envoy below came to a halt
before the gate. Carlat signed to the minister to come forward; and La
Tribe, after sniffing the salt air, and glancing at the long, low,
misty shore and the stiff ugly shape which stood at the end of the
causeway, looked down and met the envoy's eyes. For a moment no one
spoke. Only the men who had remained on the gateway, and had watched
the stranger's coming, breathed hard.

At last, "I bear a message," the man announced loudly and clearly,
"for the lady of Vrillac. Is she present?"

"Give your message!" La Tribe replied.

"It is for her ears only."

"Do you want to enter?"

"No!" The man answered so hurriedly that more than one smiled. He had
the bearing of a lay clerk of some precinct, a verger or sacristan;
and after a fashion the dress of one also, for he was in dusty black
and wore no sword, though he was girded with a belt. "No!" he
repeated, "but if Madame will come to the gate, and speak to me----"

"Madame has other fish to fry," Carlat blurted out. "Do you think that
she has naught to do but listen to messages from a gang of bandits?"

"If she does not listen she will repent it all her life!" the fellow
answered hardily. "That is part of my message."

There was a pause while La Tribe considered the matter. In the end,
"From whom do you come?" he asked.

"From His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor of Saumur," the envoy
answered glibly, "and from my lord Bishop of Angers, him assisting by
his Vicar; and from others gathered lawfully, who will as lawfully
depart if their terms are accepted. Also from M. de Tignonville, a
gentleman, I am told, of these parts, now in their hands and adjudged
to die at sunset this day if the terms I bring be not accepted."

There was a long silence on the gate. The men looked down fixedly; not
a feature of one of them moved, for no one was surprised. "Wherefore
is he to die!" La Tribe asked at last.

"For good cause shown."

"Wherefore?"

"He is a Huguenot."

The minister nodded. "And the terms!" Carlat muttered.

"Ay, the terms!" La Tribe repeated, nodding afresh. "What are they?"

"They are for madame's ear only," the messenger made answer.

"Then they will not reach it!" Carlat broke forth in wrath. "So much
for that! And for yourself, see you go quickly before we make a target
of you!"

"Very well, I go," the envoy answered sullenly. "But----"

"But what?" La Tribe cried, gripping Carlat's shoulder to quiet him.
"But what! Say what you have to say, man! Speak out, and have done
with it!"

"I will say it to her and to no other."

"Then you will not say it!" Carlat cried again. "For you will not see
her. So you may go. And the black fever in your vitals."

"Ay, go!" La Tribe added more quietly.

The man turned away with a shrug of the shoulders, and moved off a
dozen paces, watched by all on the gate with the same fixed attention.
But presently he paused; he returned. "Very well," he said, looking up
with an ill grace. "I will do my office here, if I cannot come to her.
But I hold also a letter from M. de Tignonville, and that I can
deliver to no other hands than hers!" He held it up as he spoke, a
thin scrap of greyish paper, the fly-leaf of a missal perhaps. "See!"
he continued, "and take notice! If she does not get this, and learns
when it is too late that it was offered----"

"The terms," Carlat growled impatiently. "The terms! Come to them!"

"You will have them?" the man answered, nervously passing his tongue
over his lips. "You will not let me see her, or speak to her
privately?"

"No."

"Then hear them. His Excellency is informed that one Hannibal de
Tavannes, guilty of the detestable crime of sacrilege and of other
gross crimes, has taken refuge here. He requires that the said
Hannibal de Tavannes be handed to him for punishment, and, this being
done before sunset this evening, he will yield to you free and
uninjured the said M. de Tignonville, and will retire from the lands
of Vrillac. But if you refuse"--the man passed his eye along the line
of attentive faces which fringed the battlement--"he will at sunset
hang the said Tignonville on the gallows raised for Tavannes, and will
harry the demesne of Vrillac to its farthest border!"

There was a long silence on the gate. Some, their gaze still fixed on
him, moved their lips as if they chewed. Others looked aside, met
their fellows' eyes in a pregnant glance, and slowly returned to him.
But no one spoke. At his back the flush of dawn was flooding the east,
and spreading and waxing brighter. The air was growing warm; the shore
below, from grey, was turning green. In a minute or two the sun, whose
glowing marge already peeped above the low hills of France, would top
the horizon.

The man, getting no answer, shifted his feet uneasily. "Well," he
cried, "what answer am I to take?"

Still no one moved.

"I've done my part. Will no one give her the letter?" he cried. And he
held it up. "Give me my answer, for I am going."

"Take the letter!" The words came from the rear of the group in a
voice that startled all. They turned as though some one had struck
them, and saw the Countess standing beside the wooden hood which
covered the stairs. They guessed that she had heard all or nearly all;
but the glory of the sunrise, shining full on her at that moment, lent
a false warmth to her face, and life to eyes wofully and tragically
set. It was not easy to say whether she had heard or not. "Take the
letter," she repeated.

Carlat looked helplessly over the parapet.

"Go down!"

He cast a glance at La Tribe, but he got none in return, and he was
preparing to do her bidding when a cry of dismay broke from those who
still had their eyes bent downwards. The messenger, waving the letter
in a last appeal, had held it too loosely; a light air, as treacherous
as unexpected, had snatched it from his hand, and bore it--even as the
Countess, drawn by the cry, sprang to the parapet--fifty paces from
him. A moment it floated in the air, eddying, rising, falling; then,
light as thistle-down, it touched the water and began to sink.

The messenger uttered frantic lamentations, and stamped the causeway
in his rage. The Countess only looked, and looked, until the rippling
crest of a baby wave broke over the tiny venture, and with its freight
of tidings it sank from sight.

The man, silent now, stared a moment, then shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, 'tis fortunate it was his," he cried brutally, "and not His
Excellency's, or my back had suffered! And now," he added impatiently,
"by your leave, what answer?"

What answer? Ah, God, what answer? The men who leant on the parapet,
rude and coarse as they were, felt the tragedy of the question and the
dilemma, guessed what they meant to her, and looked everywhere save at
her. What answer? Which of the two was to live? Which die--shamefully!
Which? Which?

"Tell him--to come back--an hour before sunset," she muttered.

They told him and he went; and one by one the men began to go too, and
stole from the roof, leaving her standing alone, her face to the
shore, her hands resting on the parapet. The light breeze which blew
off the land stirred loose ringlets of her hair, and flattened the
thin robe against her sunlit figure. So had she stood a thousand
times in old days, in her youth, in her maidenhood. So in her father's
time had she stood to see her lover come riding along the sands to woo
her! So had she stood to welcome him on the eve of that fatal journey
to Paris! Thence had others watched her go with him. The men
remembered--remembered all; and one by one they stole shamefacedly
away, fearing lest she should speak or turn tragic eyes on them.

True, in their pity for her was no doubt of the end, or thought of the
victim who must suffer--of Tavannes. They, of Poitou, who had not been
with him, knew nothing of him; they cared as little. He was a northern
man, a stranger, a man of the sword, who had seized her--so they
heard--by the sword. But they saw that the burden of choice was laid
on her; there, in her sight and in theirs, rose the gibbet; and,
clowns as they were, they discerned the tragedy of her _rôle_, play it
as she might, and though her act gave life to her lover.

When all had retired save three or four, she turned and saw these
gathered at the head of the stairs in a ring about Carlat, who was
addressing them in a low eager voice. She could not catch a syllable,
but a look hard, and almost cruel, flashed into her eyes as she gazed;
and raising her voice she called the steward to her. "The bridge is
up," she said, her tone hard, "but the gates? Are they locked?"

"Yes, Madame."

"The wicket?"

"No, not the wicket." And Carlat looked another way.

"Then go, lock it, and bring the keys to me!" she replied. "Or stay!"
Her voice grew harder, her eyes spiteful as a cat's. "Stay, and be
warned that you play me no tricks! Do you hear? Do you understand? Or
old as you are, and long as you have served us, I will have you thrown
from this tower, with as little pity as Isabeau flung her gallants to
the fishes. I am still mistress here, never more mistress than this
day. Woe to you if you forget it."

He blenched and cringed before her, muttering incoherently.

"I know," she said, "I read you! And now the keys. Go, bring them to
me! And if by chance I find the wicket unlocked when I come down,
pray, Carlat, pray! For you will have need of prayers."

He slunk away, the men with him; and she fell to pacing the roof
feverishly. Now and then she extended her arms, and low cries broke
from her, as from a dumb creature in pain. Wherever she looked, old
memories rose up to torment her and redouble her misery. A thing she
could have borne in the outer world, a thing which might have seemed
tolerable in the reeking air of Paris or in the gloomy streets of
Angers, wore here its most appalling aspect. Henceforth, whatever
choice she made, this home, where even in those troublous times she
had known naught but peace, must bear a damning stain! Henceforth this
day and this hour must come between her and happiness, must brand her
brow, and fix her with a deed of which men and women would tell while
she lived! Oh, God--pray? Who said, pray?

"I!" And La Tribe with tears in his eyes held out the keys to her. "I,
madame," he continued solemnly, his voice broken with emotion. "For in
man is no help. The strongest man, he who rode yesterday a master of
men, a very man of war in his pride and his valour--see him now,
and----"

"Don't!" she cried, sharp pain in her voice. "Don't!" And she stopped
him with her hand, her face averted. After an interval, "You come from
him?" she muttered faintly.

"Yes."

"Is he--hurt to death, think you?" She spoke low, and kept her face
hidden from him.

"Alas, no!" he answered, speaking the thought in his heart. "The men
who are with him seem confident of his recovery."

"Do they know?"

"Badelon has had experience."

"No, no. Do they know of this?" she cried. "Of this!" And she pointed
with a gesture of loathing to the black gibbet on the farther strand.

He shook his head. "I think not," he muttered. And after a moment,
"God help you!" he added fervently. "God help and guide you, madame!"

She turned on him suddenly, fiercely. "Is that all you can do?" she
cried. "Is that all the help you can give! You are a man. Go down,
lead them out; drive off these cowards who drain our life's blood, who
trade on a woman's heart! On them! Do something, anything, rather than
lie in safety here--here!"

The minister shook his head sadly. "Alas, madame!" he said, "to sally
were to waste life. They outnumber us three to one. If Count Hannibal
could do no more than break through last night, with scarce a man
unwounded----"

"He had the women!"

"And we have not him!"

"He would not have left us!" she cried hysterically.

"I believe it."

"Had they taken me, do you think he would have lain behind walls? Or
skulked in safety here, while--while----" Her voice failed her.

He shook his head despondently.

"And that is all you can do?" she cried, and turned from him, and to
him again, extending her arms, in bitter scorn. "All you will do? Do
you forget that twice he spared your life? That in Paris once, and
once in Angers, he held his hand? That always, whether he stood or
whether he fled, he held himself between us and harm? Ay, always? And
who will now raise a hand for him? Who?"

"Madame!"

"Who? Who? Had he died in the field," she continued, her voice shaking
with grief, her hands beating the parapet--for she had turned from
him--"had he fallen where he rode last night, in the front, with his
face to the foe, I had viewed him tearless, I had deemed him happy! I
had prayed dry-eyed for him who--who spared me all these days and
weeks! Whom I robbed and he forgave me! Whom I tempted, and he forbore
me! Ay, and who spared not once or twice him for whom he must now--he
must now----" And unable to finish the sentence she beat her hands
again and passionately on the stones.

"Heaven knows, madame," the minister cried vehemently, "Heaven knows,
I would advise you if I could."

"Why did he wear his corselet?" she wailed, as if she had not heard
him. "Was there no spear could reach his breast, that he must come to
this? No foe so gentle he would spare him this? Or why did he not die
with me in Paris when we waited? In another minute death might have
come and saved us this."

With the tears running down his face he tried to comfort her. "Man
that is a shadow," he said, "passeth away--what matter how? A little
while, a very little while, and we shall pass!"

"With his curse upon us!" she cried. And, shuddering, she pressed her
hands to her eyes to shut out the sight her fancy pictured.

He left her for a while, hoping that in solitude she might regain
control of herself. When he returned he found her seated, and
outwardly more composed, her arms resting on the parapet-wall, her
eyes bent steadily on the long stretch of hard sand which ran
northward from the village. By that route her lover had many a time
come to her; there she had ridden with him in the early days; and that
way they had started for Paris on such a morning and at such an hour
as this, with sunshine about them, and larks singing hope above the
sand-dunes, and warm wavelets creaming to the horses' hoofs!

Of all which, La Tribe, a stranger, knew nothing. The rapt gaze, the
unchanging attitude only confirmed his opinion of the course she would
adopt. He was thankful to find her more composed; and in fear of such
a scene as had already passed between them he stole away again. He
returned by-and-by, but with the greatest reluctance, and only because
Carlat's urgency would take no refusal.

He came this time to crave the key of the wicket, explaining
that--rather to satisfy his own conscience and the men than with any
hope of success--he proposed to go half-way along the causeway, and
thence by signs invite a conference. "It is just possible," he added,
hesitating--he feared nothing so much as to raise hopes in her--"that
by the offer of a money ransom, Madame----"

"Go," she said, without turning her head. "Offer what you please.
But"--bitterly--"have a care of them! Montsoreau is very like
Montereau! Beware of the bridge!"

He went and came again in half-an-hour. Then, indeed, though she had
spoken as if hope was dead in her, she was on her feet at the first
sound of his tread on the stairs; her parted lips and her white face
questioned him. He shook his head.

"There is a priest," he said in broken tones, "with them, whom God
will judge. It is his plan, and he is without mercy or pity."

"You bring nothing from--him?"

"They will not suffer him to write again."

"You did not see him?"

"No."



                            CHAPTER XXXV.

                          AGAINST THE WALL.


In a room beside the gateway, into which, as the nearest and most
convenient place, Count Hannibal had been carried from his saddle, a
man sat sideways in the narrow embrasure of a loophole, to which his
eyes seemed glued. The room, which formed part of the oldest block of
the château, and was ordinarily the quarters of the Carlats, possessed
two other windows, deep-set indeed, yet superior to that through which
Bigot--for he it was--peered so persistently. But the larger windows
looked southwards, across the bay--at this moment the noon-high sun
was pouring his radiance through them; while the object which held
Bigot's gaze and fixed him to his irksome seat, lay elsewhere. The
loophole commanded the causeway leading shorewards; through it the
Norman could see who came and went, and even the crossbeam of the ugly
object which rose where the causeway touched the land.

On a flat truckle-bed behind the door lay Count Hannibal, his injured
leg protected from the coverlid by a kind of cage. His eyes were
bright with fever, and his untended beard and straggling hair
heightened the wildness of his aspect. But he was in possession of his
senses; and as his gaze passed from Bigot at the window to the old
Free Companion, who sat on a stool beside him, engaged in shaping a
piece of wood into a splint, an expression almost soft crept into his
harsh face.

"Old fool!" he said. And his voice, though changed, had not lost all
its strength and harshness. "Did the Constable need a splint when you
laid him under the tower at Gaeta?"

The old man lifted his eyes from his task, and glanced through the
nearest window. "It is long from noon to night," he said quietly, "and
far from cup to lip, my lord!"

"It would be if I had two legs," Tavannes answered, with a grimace,
half-snarl, half-smile. "As it is--where is that dagger? It leaves me
every minute."

It had slipped from the coverlid to the ground. Badelon took it up,
and set it on the bed within reach of his master's hand.

Bigot swore fiercely. "It would be farther still," he growled, "if you
would be guided by me, my lord. Give me leave to bar the door, and
'twill be long before these fisher clowns force it. Badelon and I----"

"Being in your full strength," Count Hannibal murmured cynically.

"Could hold it. We have strength enough for that," the Norman boasted,
though his livid face and his bandages gave the lie to his words. He
could not move without pain; and for Badelon, his knee was as big as
two with plaisters of his own placing.

Count Hannibal stared at the ceiling. "You could not strike two
blows!" he said. "Don't lie to me! And Badelon cannot walk two yards!
Fine fighters!" he continued with bitterness, not all bitter. "Fine
bars 'twixt a man and death! No, it is time to turn the face to the
wall. And, since go I must, it shall not be said Count Hannibal dared
not go alone! Besides----"

Bigot stopped him with an oath that was in part a cry of pain. "D--n
her!" he exclaimed in fury, "'tis she is that _besides!_ I know it.
'Tis she has been our ruin from the day we saw her first, ay, to this
day! 'Tis she has bewitched you until your blood, my lord, has turned
to water. Or you would never, to save the hand that betrayed us, never
to save a man----"

"Silence!" Count Hannibal cried, in a terrible voice. And rising on
his elbow, he poised the dagger as if he would hurl it. "Silence, or I
will spit you like the vermin you are! Silence, and listen! And you,
old ban-dog, listen too, for I know you obstinate! It is not to save
him. It is because I will die as I have lived, fearing nothing and
asking nothing! It were easy to bar the door as you would have me, and
die in the corner here like a wolf at bay, biting to the last. That
were easy, old wolf-hound! Pleasant and good sport!"

"Ay! That were a death!" the veteran cried, his eyes brightening. "So
I would fain die!"

"And I!" Count Hannibal returned, showing his teeth in a grim smile.
"I too! Yet I will not! I will not! Because so to die were to die
unwillingly, and give them triumph. Be dragged to death? No, old dog,
if die we must, we will go to death! We will die grandly, highly, as
becomes Tavannes! That when we are gone they may say, 'There died a
man!'"

"_She_ may say!" Bigot muttered scowling.

Count Hannibal heard and glared at him, but presently thought better
of it, and after a pause, "Ay, she too!" he said. "Why not? As we have
played the game--for her--so, though we lose, we will play it to the
end; nor because we lose throw down the cards! Besides, man, die in
the corner, die biting, and he dies too!"

"And why not?" Bigot asked, rising in a fury. "Why not? Whose work is
it we lie here, snared by these clowns of fisherfolk? Who led us wrong
and betrayed us? He die? Would the devil had taken him a year ago!
Would he were within my reach now! I would kill him with my bare
fingers! He die? And why not?"

"Why, because, fool, his death would not save me!" Count Hannibal
answered coolly. "If it would, he would die! But it will not; and
we must even do again as we have done. I have spared him--he's a
white-livered hound!--both once and twice, and we must go to the end
with it since no better can be! I have thought it out, and it must be.
Only see you, old dog, that I have the dagger hid in the splint where
I can reach it. And then, when the exchange has been made, and my lady
has her silk glove again--to put in her bosom!"--with a grimace and a
sudden reddening of his harsh features--"if master priest come within
reach of my arm, I'll send him before me, where I go."

"Ay, ay!" said Badelon. "And if you fail of your stroke I will not
fail of mine! I shall be there, and I will see to it he goes! I shall
be there!"

"You?"

"Ay, why not?" the old man answered quietly. "I may halt on this leg
for aught I know, and come to starve on crutches like old Claude
Boiteux who was at the taking of Milan and now begs in the passage
under the Châtelet."

"Bah, man, you will get a new lord!"

Badelon nodded. "Ay, a new lord with new ways!" he answered slowly and
thoughtfully. "And I am tired. They are of another sort, lords now,
than they were when I was young. It was a word and a blow then. Now I
am old, with most it is--'Old hog, your distance! You scent my lady!'
Then they rode, and hunted, and tilted year in and year out, and
summer or winter heard the lark sing. 'Now they are curled, and paint
themselves, and lie in silk and toy with ladies--who shamed to be seen
at Court or board when I was a boy--and love better to hear the mouse
squeak than the lark sing."

"Still, if I give you my gold chain," Count Hannibal answered quietly,
"'twill keep you from that."

"Give it to Bigot," the old man answered. The splint he was fashioning
had fallen on his knees, and his eyes were fixed on the distance of
his youth. "For me, my lord, I am tired, and I go with you. I go with
you. It is a good death to die biting before the strength be quite
gone. Have the dagger too, if you please, and I'll fit it within the
splint right neatly. But I shall be there----"

"And you'll strike home?" Tavannes cried eagerly. He raised himself on
his elbow, a gleam of joy in his gloomy eyes.

"Have no fear, my lord. See, does it tremble?" He held out his hand.
"And when you are sped, I will try the Spanish stroke--upwards with a
turn ere you withdraw, that I learned from Ruiz--on the shaven-pate. I
see them about me now!" the old man continued, his face flushing, his
form dilating.

"It will be odd if I cannot snatch a sword and hew down three to go
with Tavannes! And Bigot, he will see my lord the Marshal by-and-by;
and as I do to the priest, the Marshal will do to Montsoreau. Ho! ho!
He will teach him the _coup de Jarnac_, never fear!" And the old man's
moustaches curled up ferociously.

Count Hannibal's eyes sparkled with joy. "Old dog!" he cried--and he
held his hand to the veteran, who brushed it reverently with his
lips--"we will go together then! Who touches my brother, touches
Tavannes!"

"Touches Tavannes!" Badelon cried, the glow of battle lighting his
bloodshot eyes. He rose to his feet. "Touches Tavannes! You mind at
Jarnac----"

"Ah! At Jarnac!"

"When we charged their horse, was my boot a foot from yours, my lord?"

"Not a foot!"

"And at Dreux," the old man continued with a proud, elated gesture,
"when we rode down the German pikemen--they were grass before us,
leaves on the wind, thistle-down--was it not I who covered your bridle
hand, and swerved not in the _mêlée?_"

"It was! It was!"

"And at St. Quentin, when we fled before the Spaniard--it was his day,
you remember, and cost us dear----"

"Ay, I was young then," Tavannes cried in turn, his eyes glistening.
"St. Quentin! It was the tenth of August. And you were new with me,
and seized my rein----"

"And we rode off together, my lord--of the last, of the last, as God
sees me! And striking as we went, so that they left us for easier
game."

"It was so, good sword! I remember it as if it had been yesterday!"

"And at Cerisoles, the Battle of the Plain, in the old Spanish wars,
that was most like a joust of all the pitched fields I ever saw--at
Cerisoles, where I caught your horse? You mind me? It was in the shock
when we broke Guasto's line----"

"At Cerisoles?" Count Hannibal muttered slowly. "Why, man, I----"

"I caught your horse, and mounted you afresh? You remember, my lord?
And at Landriano, where Leyva turned the tables on us again."

Count Hannibal stared. "Landriano?" he muttered bluntly. "'Twas in
'29, forty years ago and more! My father, indeed----"

"And at Rome--at Rome, my lord? _Mon Dieu!_ in the old days at Rome!
When the Spanish company scaled the wall--Ruiz was first, I next--was
it not my foot you held? And was it not I who dragged you up, while
the devils of Swiss pressed us hard? Ah, those were days, my lord! I
was young then, and you, my lord, young too, and handsome as the
morning----"

"You rave!" Tavannes cried, finding his tongue at last. "Rome? You
rave, old man! Why, I was not born in those days. My father even was a
boy! It was in '27 you sacked it--five-and-forty years ago!"

The old man passed his hands over his heated face, and, as a man
roused suddenly from sleep looks, he looked round the room. The light
died out of his eyes--as a light blown out in a room; his form seemed
to shrink, even while the others gazed at him, and he sat down. "No, I
remember," he muttered slowly. "It was Prince Philibert of Chalons, my
lord of Orange."

"Dead these forty years!"

"Ay, dead these forty years! All dead!" the old man whispered, gazing
at his gnarled hand, and opening and shutting it by turns. "And I grow
childish! 'Tis time, high time, I followed them! It trembles now; but
have no fear, my lord, this hand will not tremble then. All dead! Ay,
all dead!"

He sank into a mournful silence; and Tavannes, after gazing at him
awhile in rough pity, fell to his own meditations, which were gloomy
enough. The day was beginning to wane, and with the downward turn,
though the sun still shone brightly through the southern windows, a
shadow seemed to fall across his thoughts. They no longer rioted in a
turmoil of defiance as in the forenoon. In its turn, sober reflection
marshalled the past before his eyes. The hopes of a life, the
ambitious of a life, moved in sombre procession, and things done and
things left undone, the sovereignty which Nostradamus had promised,
the faces of men he had spared and of men he had not spared--and the
face of one woman.

She would not now be his. He had played highly, and he would lose
highly, playing the game to the end, that to-morrow she might think of
him highly. Had she begun to think of him at all? In the chamber of
the inn at Angers he had fancied a change in her, an awakening to life
and warmth, a shadow of turning to him. It had pleased him to think
so, at any rate. It pleased him still to imagine--of this he was more
confident--that in the time to come, when she was Tignonville's, she
would think of him secretly and kindly. She would remember him, and in
her thoughts and in her memory he would grow to the heroic, even as
the man she had chosen would shrink as she learned to know him.

It pleased him, that. It was almost all that was left to please
him--that, and to die proudly as he had lived. But as the day wore on,
and the room grew hot and close, and the pain in his thigh became more
grievous, the frame of his mind altered. A sombre rage was born and
grew in him, and a passion fierce and ill-suppressed. To end thus,
with nothing done, nothing accomplished of all his hopes and
ambitions! To die thus, crushed in a corner by a mean priest and a
rabble of spearmen, he who had seen Dreux and Jarnac, had defied the
King, and dared to turn the St. Bartholomew to his ends! To die thus,
and leave her to that puppet! Strong man as he was, of a strength of
will surpassed by few, it taxed him to the utmost to lie and make no
sign. Once, indeed, he raised himself on his elbow with something
between an oath and a snarl, and he seemed about to speak. So that
Bigot came hurriedly to him.

"My lord?"

"Water!" he said. "Water, fool!" And, having drank, he turned his face
to the wall, lest he should name her or ask for her. For the desire to
see her before he died, to look into her eyes, to touch her hand once,
only once, assailed his mind and all but whelmed his will. She had
been with him, he knew it, in the night; she had left him only at
daybreak. But then, in his state of collapse, he had been hardly
conscious of her presence. Now to ask for her or to see her would
stamp him coward, say what he might to her. The proverb, that the
King's face gives grace, applied to her; and an overture on his side
could mean but one thing, that he sought her grace. And that he would
not do though the cold waters of death covered him more and more, and
the coming of the end--in that quiet chamber, while the September sun
sank to the appointed place--awoke wild longings and a wild rebellion
in his breast. His thoughts were very bitter, as he lay, his
loneliness of the uttermost. He turned his face to the wall.

In that posture he slept after a time, watched over by Bigot with
looks of rage and pity. And on the room fell a long silence. The sun
had lacked three hours of setting when he fell asleep. When he
reopened his eyes, and, after lying for a few minutes between sleep
and waking, became conscious of his position, of the day, of the
things which had happened, and his helplessness--an awakening which
wrung from him an involuntary groan--the light in the room was still
strong, and even bright. He fancied for a moment that he had merely
dozed off and awaked again; and he continued to lie with his face to
the wall, courting a return of slumber.

But sleep did not come, and little by little, as he lay listening and
thinking and growing more restless, he got the fancy that he was
alone. The light fell brightly on the wall to which his face was
turned; how could that be if Bigot's broad shoulders still blocked the
loophole? Presently, to assure himself, he called the man by name.

He got no answer.

"Badelon!" he muttered. "Badelon!"

Had he gone, too, the old and faithful? It seemed so, for again no
answer came.

He had been accustomed all his life to instant service; to see the act
follow the word ere the word ceased to sound. And nothing which had
gone before, nothing which he had suffered since his defeat at Angers,
had brought him to feel his impotence and his position--and that the
end of his power was indeed come--as sharply as this. The blood rushed
to his head; almost the tears to eyes which had not shed them since
boyhood, and would not shed them now, weak as he was! He rose on his
elbow and looked with a full heart; it was as he had fancied.
Badelon's stool was empty; the embrasure--that was empty too. Through
its narrow outlet he had a tiny view of the shore and the low rocky
hill, of which the summit shone warm in the last rays of the setting
sun.

The setting sun! Ay, for the lower part of the hill was growing cold;
the shore at its foot was grey. Then he had slept long, and the time
was come. He drew a deep breath and listened. But on all within and
without lay silence, a silence marked, rather than broken, by the dull
fall of a wave on the causeway. The day had been calm, but with the
sunset a light breeze was rising.

He set his teeth hard, and continued to listen. An hour before sunset
was the time they had named for the exchange. What did it mean? In
five minutes the sun would be below the horizon; already the zone of
warmth on the hillside was moving and retreating upwards. And Bigot
and old Badelon? Why had they left him while he slept? An hour before
sunset! Why, the room was growing grey, grey and dark in the corners,
and--what was that?

He started, so violently that he jarred his leg, and the pain wrung a
groan from him. At the foot of the bed, overlooked until then, a woman
lay prone on the floor, her face resting on her outstretched arms. She
lay without motion, her head and her clasped hands towards the
loophole, her thick, clubbed hair hiding her neck. A woman! Count
Hannibal stared, and, fancying he dreamed, closed his eyes, then
looked again. It was no phantasm. It was the Countess; it was his
wife!

He drew a deep breath, but he did not speak, though the colour rose
slowly to his cheek. And slowly his eyes devoured her from head to
foot, from the hands lying white in the light below the window to the
shod feet; unchecked he took his fill, of that which he had so much
desired--the seeing her! A woman prone, with all of her hidden but her
hands: a hundred acquainted with her would not have known her. But he
knew her, and would have known her from a hundred, nay from a
thousand, by her hands alone.

What was she doing here, and in this guise? He pondered; then he
looked from her for an instant and saw that while he had gazed at her
the sun had set, the light had passed from the top of the hill; the
world without and the room within were growing cold. Was that the
cause she no longer lay quiet? He saw a shudder run through her, and a
second; then it seemed to him--or was he going mad?--that she moaned,
and prayed in half-heard words, and, wrestling with herself, beat her
forehead on her arms, and then was still again, as still as death. By
the time the paroxysm had passed, the last flush of sunset had faded
from the sky, and the hills were growing dark.



                            CHAPTER XXXVI.

                             HIS KINGDOM.


Count Hannibal could not have said why he did not speak to her at
once. Warned by an instinct vague and ill-understood, he remained
silent, his eyes riveted on her, until she rose from the floor. A
moment later she met his gaze, and he looked to see her start. Instead
she stood quiet and thoughtful, regarding him with a kind of sad
solemnity, as if she saw not him only, but the dead; while first one
tremor and then a second shook her frame.

At length, "It is over!" she whispered. "Patience, monsieur; have no
fear, I will be brave. But I must give a little to him."

"To him!" Count Hannibal muttered, his face extraordinarily pale.

She smiled with an odd passionateness. "Who was my lover!" she cried,
her voice a-thrill. "Who will ever be my lover, though I have denied
him, though I have left him to die! It was just. He who has so tried
me knows it was just! He whom I have sacrificed--he knows it too, now!
But it is hard to be--just," with a quavering smile. "You who take all
may give him a little, may pardon me a little, may have--patience!"

Count Hannibal uttered a strangled cry, between a moan and a roar. A
moment he beat the coverlid with his hands in impotence. Then he sank
back on the bed. "Water!" he muttered. "Water!"

She fetched it hurriedly, and, raising his head on her arm, held it to
his lips. He drank, and lay back again with closed eyes. He lay so
still and so long that she thought that he had fainted; but after a
pause he spoke. "You have done that?" he whispered, "you have done
that?"

"Yes," she answered, shuddering. "God forgive me! I have done that! I
had to do that, or----"

"And is it too late--to undo it?"

"It is too late." A sob choked her voice.

Tears--tears incredible, unnatural--welled from under Count Hannibal's
closed eyelids, and rolled sluggishly down his harsh cheek to the edge
of his beard. "I would have gone," he muttered. "If you had spoken, I
would have spared you this."

"I know," she answered unsteadily; "the men told me."

"And yet----"

"It was just. And you are my husband," she replied. "More, I am the
captive of your sword, and as you spared me in your strength, my lord,
I spared you in your weakness."

"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu, madame!" he cried, "at what a cost!"

And that arrested, that touched her in the depths of her grief and her
horror; even while the gibbet on the causeway, which had burned itself
into her eyeballs, hung before her. For she knew that it was the cost
to her he was counting. She knew that for himself he had ever held
life cheap, that he could have seen Tignonville suffer without a
qualm. And the thoughtfulness for her, the value he placed on a
thing--even on a rival's life--because it was dear to her, touched her
home, moved her as few things could have moved her at that moment. She
saw it of a piece with all that had gone before, with all that had
passed between them, since that fatal Sunday in Paris. But she made no
sign. More than she had said she would not say; words of love, even of
reconciliation, had no place on her lips while he whom she had
sacrificed awaited his burial.

And meantime the man beside her lay and found it incredible. "It was
just," she had said. And he knew it; Tignonville's folly--that and
that only had led them into the snare and caused his own capture. But
what had justice to do with the things of this world? In his
experience, the strong hand--that was justice, in France; and
possession--that was law. By the strong hand he had taken her, and by
the strong hand she might have freed herself.

And she had not. There was the incredible thing. She had chosen
instead to do justice! It passed belief. Opening his eyes on a silence
which had lasted some minutes, a silence rendered more solemn by the
lapping water without, Tavannes saw her kneeling in the dusk of the
chamber, her head bowed over his couch, her face hidden in her hands.
He knew that she prayed, and feebly he deemed the whole a dream. No
scene akin to it had had place in his life; and, weakened and in pain,
he prayed that the vision might last for ever, that he might never
awake.

But by-and-by, wrestling with the dread thought of what she had done,
and the horror which would return upon her by fits and spasms, she
flung out a hand, and it fell on him. He started, and the movement,
jarring the broken limb, wrung from him a cry of pain. She looked up
and was going to speak, when a scuffling of feet under the gateway
arch, and a confused sound of several voices raised at once, arrested
the words on her lips. She rose to her feet and listened. Dimly he
could see her face through the dusk. Her eyes were on the door, and
she breathed quickly.

A moment or two passed in this way, and then from the hurly-burly in
the gateway the footsteps of two men--one limped--detached themselves
and came nearer and nearer. They stopped without. A gleam of light
shone under the door, and someone knocked.

She went to the door, and, withdrawing the bar, stepped quickly back
to the bedside, where for an instant the light borne by those who
entered blinded her. Then, above the lantern, the faces of La Tribe
and Bigot broke upon her, and their shining eyes told her that they
bore good news. It was well, for the men seemed tongue-tied. The
minister's fluency was gone; he was very pale, and it was Bigot who in
the end spoke for both. He stepped forward, and, kneeling, kissed her
cold hand.

"My lady," he said, "you have gained all, and lost nothing. Blessed be
God!"

"Blessed be God!" the minister wept. And from the passage without came
the sound of laughter and weeping and many voices, with a flutter of
lights and flying skirts, and women's feet.

She stared at him wildly, doubtfully, her hand at her throat. "What?"
she said, "he is not dead--M. de Tignonville?"

"No, he is alive," La Tribe answered, "he is alive." And he lifted up
his hands as if he gave thanks.

"Alive?" she cried. "Alive! Oh, heaven is merciful! You are sure! You
are sure?"

"Sure, Madame, sure. He was not in their hands. He was dismounted in
the first shock, it seems, and, coming to himself after a time, crept
away and reached St. Gilles, and came hither in a boat. But the enemy
learned that he had not entered with us, and of this the priest wove
his snare. Blessed be God, who put it into your heart to escape it!"

The Countess stood motionless and, with closed eyes, pressed her hands
to her temples. Once she swayed as if she would fall her length, and
Bigot sprang forward to support and save her. But she opened her eyes
at that, sighed very deeply, and seemed to recover herself.

"You are sure?" she said faintly. "It is no trick?"

"No, madame, it is no trick," La Tribe answered. "M. de Tignonville is
alive, and here."

"Here!" She started at the word. The colour fluttered in her cheek.
"But the keys," she murmured. And she passed her hand across her brow.
"I thought--that I had them."

"He has not entered," the minister answered, "for that reason. He is
waiting at the postern, where he landed. He came, hoping to be of use
to you."

She paused a moment, and when she spoke again her aspect had undergone
a subtle change. Her head was high, a flush had risen to her cheeks,
her eyes were bright. "Then," she said, addressing La Tribe, "do you,
monsieur, go to him, and pray him in my name to retire to St. Gilles,
if he can do so without peril. He has no place here--now; and if he
can go safely to his home it will be well that he do so. Add, if you
please, that Madame de Tavannes thanks him for his offer of aid, but
in her husband's house she needs no other protection."

Bigot's eyes sparkled with joy.

The minister hesitated. "No more, madame?" he faltered. He was
tender-hearted, and Tignonville was of his people.

"No more," she said gravely, bowing her head. "It is not M. de
Tignonville I have to thank, but Heaven's mercy, that I do not stand
here at this moment unhappy as I entered--a woman accursed, to be
pointed at while I live. And the dead"--she pointed solemnly through
the dark casement to the shore--"the dead lie there."

La Tribe went.

She stood a moment in thought, and then took the keys from the rough
stone window-ledge on which she had laid them when she entered. As the
cold iron touched her fingers she shuddered. The contact awoke again
the horror and misery in which she had groped, a lost thing, when she
last felt that chill.

"Take them," she said; and she gave them to Bigot. "Until my lord can
leave his couch they will remain in your charge, and you will answer
for all to him. Go, now, take the light; and in half-an-hour send
Madame Carlat to me."

A wave broke heavily on the causeway and ran down seething to the sea;
and another and another, filling the room with rhythmical thunders.
But the voice of the sea was no longer the same in the darkness, where
the Countess knelt in silence beside the bed--knelt, her head bowed on
her clasped hands, as she had knelt before, but with a mind how
different, with what different thoughts! Count Hannibal could see her
head but dimly, for the light shed upwards by the spume of the sea
fell only on the rafters. But he knew she was there, and he would
fain, for his heart was full, have laid his hand on her hair.

And yet he would not. He would not, out of pride. Instead he bit on
his harsh beard, and lay looking upward to the rafters, waiting what
would come. He who had held her at his will now lay at hers, and
waited. He who had spared her life at a price now took his own a gift
at her hands, and bore it.

"_Afterwards, Madame de Tavannes_----"

His mind went back by some chance to those words--the words he had
neither meant nor fulfilled. It passed from them to the marriage and
the blow; to the scene in the meadow beside the river; to the last
ride between La Flèche and Angers--the ride during which he had played
with her fears and hugged himself on the figure he would make on the
morrow. The figure! Alas! of all his plans for dazzling her had
come--_this!_ Angers had defeated him, a priest had worsted him. In
place of releasing Tignonville after the fashion of Bayard and the
Paladins, and in the teeth of snarling thousands, he had come near to
releasing him after another fashion and at his own expense. Instead of
dazzling her by his mastery and winning her by his magnanimity, he lay
here, owing her his life, and so weak, so broken, that the tears of
childhood welled up in his eyes.

Out of the darkness a hand, cool and firm, slid into his, clasped it
tightly, drew it to warm lips, carried it to a woman's bosom. "My
lord," she murmured, "I was the captive of your sword, and you spared
me. Him I loved you took and spared him too--not once or twice.
Angers, also, and my people you would have saved for my sake. And you
thought I could do this! Oh! shame, shame!" But her hand held his
always.

"You loved him," he muttered.

"Yes, I loved him," she answered slowly and thoughtfully. "I loved
him." And she fell silent a minute. Then, "And I feared you," she
added, her voice low. "Oh, how I feared you--and hated you!"

"And now?"

"I do not fear him," she answered, smiling in the darkness. "Nor hate
him. And for you, my lord, I am your wife and must do your bidding,
whether I will or no. I have no choice."

He was silent.

"Is that not so?" she asked.

He tried weakly to withdraw his hand.

But she clung to it. "I must bear your blows or your kisses. I must be
as you will and do as you will, and go happy or sad, lonely or with
you, as you will! As you will, my lord! For I am your chattel, your
property, your own. Have you not told me so?"

"But your heart," he cried fiercely, "is his! Your heart, which you
told me in the meadow could never be mine!"

"I lied," she murmured, laughing tearfully, and her hands hovered over
him. "It has come back! And it is on my lips."

And she leant over and kissed him. And Count Hannibal knew that he had
entered into his kingdom, the sovereignty of a woman's heart.


                          *   *   *   *   *


An hour later there was a stir in the village on the mainland.
Lanterns began to flit to and fro. Sulkily men were saddling and
preparing for the road. It was far to Challans, farther to Lège--more
than one day, and many a weary league to Ponts de Cé and the Loire.
The men who had ridden gaily southwards on the scent of spoil and
revenge turned their backs on the castle with many a sullen oath and
word. They burned a hovel or two, and stripped such as they spared,
after the fashion of the day; and it had gone ill with the peasant
woman who fell into their hands. Fortunately, under cover of the
previous night every soul had escaped from the village, some to sea,
and the rest to take shelter among the sand dunes; and as the troopers
rode up the path from the beach, and through the green valley, where
their horses shied from the bodies of the men they had slain, there
was not an eye to see them go.

Or to mark the man who rode last, the man of the white face--scarred
on the temple--and the burning eyes, who paused on the brow of the
hill, and, before he passed beyond, cursed with quivering lips the foe
who had escaped him. The words were lost, as soon as spoken, in the
murmur of the sea on the causeway; the sea, fit emblem of the Eternal,
which rolled its tide regardless of blessing or cursing, good or ill
will, nor spared one jot of ebb or flow because a puny creature had
spoken to the night.



                               THE END.



                        A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE



                              CONTENTS.

    CHAPTER

         I. The Sport of Fools.

         II. The King of Navarre.

       III. Boot And Saddle.

        IV. Mademoiselle de la Vire.

         V. The Road to Blois.

        VI. My Mother's Lodging.

       VII. Simon Fleix.

      VIII. An Empty Room.

        IX. The House in the Ruelle d'Arcy.

         X. The Fight on the Stairs.

        XI. The Man at the Door.

       XII. Maximilian de Bethune, Baron de Rosny.

      XIII. At Rosny.

       XIV. M. de Rambouillet.

        XV. Vilain Herodes.

       XVI. In the King's Chamber.

      XVII. The Jacobin Monk.

     XVIII. The Offer of the League.

       XIX. Men call it Chance.

        XX. The King's Face.

       XXI. Two Women.

      XXII. 'La Femme Dispose.'

     XXIII. The Last Valois.

      XXIV. A Royal Peril.

       XXV. Terms of Surrender.

      XXVI. Meditations.

     XXVII. To Me, my Friends!

    XXVIII. The Castle on the Hill.

      XXIX. Pestilence and Famine.

       XXX. Stricken.

      XXXI. Under the Greenwood.

     XXXII. A Tavern Brawl.

    XXXIII. At Meudon.

     XXXIV. ''Tis an Ill Wind.'

      XXXV. 'Le Roi est Mort.'

     XXXVI. 'Vive le Roi!'



                        A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE.



                              CHAPTER I.

                         THE SPORT OF FOOLS.


The death of the Prince of Condé, which occurred in the spring of
1588, by depriving me of my only patron, reduced me to such straits
that the winter of that year, which saw the King of Navarre come to
spend his Christmas at St. Jean d'Angely, saw also the nadir of my
fortunes. I did not know at this time--I may confess it to-day without
shame--whither to turn for a gold crown or a new scabbard, and neither
had nor discerned any hope of employment. The peace lately patched up
at Blois between the King of France and the League persuaded many of
the Huguenots that their final ruin was at hand; but it could not fill
their exhausted treasury or enable them to put fresh troops into the
field.

The death of the Prince had left the King of Navarre without a rival
in the affections of the Huguenots; the Vicomte de Turenne, whose
turbulent ambition already began to make itself felt, and M. de
Chatillon, ranking next to him. It was my ill-fortune, however, to be
equally unknown to all three leaders, and as the month of December
which saw me thus miserably straitened saw me reach the age of forty,
which I regard, differing in that from many, as the grand climacteric
of a man's life, it will be believed that I had need of all the
courage which religion and a campaigner's life could supply.

I had been compelled some time before to sell all my horses except the
black Sardinian with the white spot on its forehead; and I now found
myself obliged to part also with my valet de chambre and groom, whom I
dismissed on the same day, paying them their wages with the last links
of gold chain left to me. It was not without grief and dismay that I
saw myself thus stripped of the appurtenances of a man of birth, and
driven to groom my own horse under cover of night. But this was not
the worst. My dress, which suffered inevitably from this menial
employment, began in no long time to bear witness to the change in my
circumstances; so that on the day of the King of Navarre's entrance
into St. Jean I dared not face the crowd, always quick to remark the
poverty of those above them, but was fain to keep within doors and
wear out my patience in the garret of the cutler's house in the Rue de
la Coutellerie, which was all the lodging I could now afford.

Pardieu, 'tis a strange world! Strange that time seems to me; more
strange compared with this. My reflections on that day, I remember,
were of the most melancholy. Look at it how I would, I could not but
see that my life's spring was over. The crows'-feet were gathering
about my eyes, and my moustachios, which seemed with each day of
ill-fortune to stand out more fiercely in proportion as my face grew
leaner, were already grey. I was out at elbows, with empty pockets,
and a sword which peered through the sheath. The meanest ruffler who,
with broken feather and tarnished lace, swaggered at the heels of
Turenne, was scarcely to be distinguished from me. I had still, it is
true, a rock and a few barren acres in Brittany, the last remains of
the family property; but the small sums which the peasants could
afford to pay were sent annually to Paris, to my mother, who had no
other dower. And this I would not touch, being minded to die a
gentleman, even if I could not live in that estate.

Small as were my expectations of success, since I had no one at the
king's side to push my business, nor any friend at Court, I
nevertheless did all I could, in the only way that occurred to me. I
drew up a petition, and lying in wait one day for M. Forget, the King
of Navarre's secretary, placed it in his hand, begging him to lay it
before that prince. He took it, and promised to do so, smoothly, and
with as much lip-civility as I had a right to expect. But the careless
manner in which he doubled up and thrust away the paper on which I had
spent so much labour, no less than the covert sneer of his valet, who
ran after me to get the customary present--and ran, as I still blush
to remember, in vain--warned me to refrain from hope.

In this, however, having little save hope left, I failed so signally
as to spend the next day and the day after in a fever of alternate
confidence and despair, the cold fit following the hot with perfect
regularity. At length, on the morning of the third day--I remember it
lacked but three of Christmas--I heard a step on the stairs. My
landlord living in his shop, and the two intervening floors being
empty, I had no doubt the message was for me, and went outside the
door to receive it, my first glance at the messenger confirming me in
my highest hopes, as well as in all I had ever heard of the generosity
of the King of Navarre. For by chance I knew the youth to be one of
the royal pages; a saucy fellow who had a day or two before cried 'Old
Clothes' after me in the street. I was very far from resenting this
now, however, nor did he appear to recall it; so that I drew the
happiest augury as to the contents of the note he bore from the
politeness with which he presented it to me.

I would not, however, run the risk of a mistake, and before holding
out my hand, I asked him directly and with formality if it was for me.

He answered, with the utmost respect, that it was for the Sieur de
Marsac, and for me if I were he.

'There is an answer, perhaps?' I said, seeing that he lingered.

'The King of Navarre, sir,' he replied, with a low bow, 'will receive
your answer in person, I believe.' And with that, replacing the hat
which he had doffed out of respect to me, he turned and went down the
stairs.

Returning to my room, and locking the door, I hastily opened the
missive, which was sealed with a large seal, and wore every appearance
of importance. I found its contents to exceed all my expectations. The
King of Navarre desired me to wait on him at noon on the following
day, and the letter concluded with such expressions of kindness and
goodwill as left me in no doubt of the Prince's intentions. I read it,
I confess, with emotions of joy and gratitude which would better have
become a younger man, and then cheerfully sat down to spend the rest
of the day in making such improvements in my dress as seemed possible.
With a thankful heart I concluded that I had now escaped from poverty,
at any rate from such poverty as is disgraceful to a gentleman; and
consoled myself for the meanness of the appearance I must make at
Court with the reflection that a day or two would mend both habit and
fortune.

Accordingly, it was with a stout heart that I left my lodgings a few
minutes before noon next morning, and walked towards the castle. It
was some time since I had made so public an appearance in the streets,
which the visit of the King of Navarre's Court had filled with an
unusual crowd, and I could not help fancying as I passed that some of
the loiterers eyed me with a covert smile; and, indeed, I was shabby
enough. But finding that a frown more than sufficed to restore the
gravity of these gentry, I set down the appearance to my own
self-consciousness, and, stroking my moustachios, strode along boldly
until I saw before me, and coming to meet me, the same page who had
delivered the note.

He stopped in front of me with an air of consequence, and making me a
low bow--whereat I saw the bystanders stare, for he was as gay a young
spark as maid-of-honour could desire--he begged me to hasten, as the
king awaited me in his closet.

'He has asked for you twice, sir,' he continued importantly, the
feather of his cap almost sweeping the ground.

'I think,' I answered, quickening my steps, 'that the king's letter
says noon, young sir. If I am late on such an occasion, he has indeed
cause to complain of me.'

'Tut, tut!' he rejoined, waving his hand with a dandified air. 'It is
no matter. One man may steal a horse when another may not look over
the wall, you know.'

A man may be gray-haired, he may be sad-complexioned, and yet he may
retain some of the freshness of youth. On receiving this indication of
a favour exceeding all expectation, I remember I felt the blood rise
to my face, and experienced the most lively gratitude. I wondered who
had spoken in my behalf, who had befriended me; and concluding at last
that my part in the affair at Brouage had come to the king's ears,
though I could not conceive through whom, I passed through the castle
gates with an air of confidence and elation which was not unnatural, I
think, under the circumstances. Thence, following my guide, I mounted
the ramp and entered the courtyard.

A number of grooms and valets were lounging here, some leading horses
to and fro, others exchanging jokes with the wenches who leaned from
the windows, while their fellows again stamped up and down to keep
their feet warm, or played ball against the wall in imitation of their
masters. Such knaves are ever more insolent than their betters; but I
remarked that they made way for me with respect, and with rising
spirits, yet a little irony, I reminded myself as I mounted the stairs
of the words, 'whom the king delighteth to honour!'

Reaching the head of the flight, where was a soldier on guard, the
page opened the door of the ante-chamber, and standing aside bade me
enter. I did so, and heard the door close behind me.

For a moment I stood still, bashful and confused. It seemed to me that
there were a hundred people in the room, and that half the eyes which
met mine were women's. Though I was not altogether a stranger to such
state as the Prince of Condé had maintained, this crowded anteroom
filled me with surprise, and even with a degree of awe, of which I was
the next moment ashamed. True, the flutter of silk and gleam of jewels
surpassed anything I had then seen, for my fortunes had never led me
to the king's Court; but an instant's reflection reminded me that my
fathers had held their own in such scenes, and with a bow regulated
rather by this thought than by the shabbiness of my dress, I advanced
amid a sudden silence.

'M. de Marsac!' the page announced, in a tone which sounded a little
odd in my ears; so much so, that I turned quickly to look at him. He
was gone, however, and when I turned again the eyes which met mine
were full of smiles. A young girl who stood near me tittered. Put out
of countenance by this, I looked round in embarrassment to find
someone to whom I might apply.

The room was long and narrow, panelled in chestnut, with a row of
windows on the one hand, and two fireplaces, now heaped with glowing
logs, on the other. Between the fireplaces stood a rack of arms. Round
the nearer hearth lounged a group of pages, the exact counterparts of
the young blade who had brought me hither; and talking with these were
as many young gentlewomen. Two great hounds lay basking in the heat,
and coiled between them, with her head on the back of the larger, was
a figure so strange that at another time I should have doubted my
eyes. It wore the fool's motley and cap and bells, but a second glance
showed me the features were a woman's. A torrent of black hair flowed
loose about her neck, her eyes shone with wild merriment, and her
face, keen, thin, and hectic, glared at me from the dog's back. Beyond
her, round the farther fireplace, clustered more than a score of
gallants and ladies, of whom one presently advanced to me.

'Sir,' he said politely--and I wished I could match his bow--'you
wished to see?'

'The King of Navarre,' I answered, doing my best.

He turned to the group behind him, and said, in a peculiarly even,
placid tone, 'He wishes to see the King of Navarre.' Then in solemn
silence he bowed to me again and went back to his fellows.

Upon the instant, and before I could make up my mind how to take this,
a second tripped forward, and saluting me, said, 'M. de Marsac, I
think?'

'At your service, sir,' I rejoined. In my eagerness to escape the gaze
of all those eyes, and the tittering which was audible behind me, I
took a step forward to be in readiness to follow him. But he gave no
sign. 'M. de Marsac to see the King of Navarre' was all he said,
speaking as the other had done to those behind. And with that he too
wheeled round and went back to the fire.

I stared, a first faint suspicion of the truth aroused in my mind.
Before I could act upon it, however--in such a situation it was no
easy task to decide how to act--a third advanced with the same
measured steps. 'By appointment I think, sir?' he said, bowing lower
than the others.

'Yes,' I replied sharply, beginning to grow warm, 'by appointment at
noon.'

'M. de Marsac,' he announced in a sing-song tone to those behind him,
'to see the King of Navarre by appointment at noon.' And with a second
bow--while I grew scarlet with mortification--he too wheeled gravely
round and returned to the fireplace.

I saw another preparing to advance, but he came too late. Whether my
face of anger and bewilderment was too much for them, or some among
them lacked patience to see the end, a sudden uncontrollable shout of
laughter, in which all the room joined, cut short the farce. God knows
it hurt me: I winced, I looked this way and that, hoping here or there
to find sympathy and help. But it seemed to me that the place rang
with gibes, that every panel framed, however I turned myself, a cruel,
sneering face. One behind me cried 'Old Clothes,' and when I turned
the other hearth whispered the taunt. It added a thousandfold to my
embarrassment that there was in all a certain orderliness, so that
while no one moved, and none, while I looked at them, raised their
voices, I seemed the more singled out, and placed as a butt in the
midst.

One face amid the pyramid of countenances which hid the farther
fireplace so burned itself into my recollection in that miserable
moment, that I never thereafter forgot it; a small, delicate woman's
face, belonging to a young girl who stood boldly in front of her
companions. It was a face full of pride, and, as I saw it then, of
scorn--scorn that scarcely deigned to laugh; while the girl's graceful
figure, slight and maidenly, yet perfectly proportioned, seemed
instinct with the same feeling of contemptuous amusement.

The play, which seemed long enough to me, might have lasted longer,
seeing that no one there had pity on me, had I not, in my desperation,
espied a door at the farther end of the room, and concluded, seeing no
other, that it was the door of the king's bedchamber. The
mortification I was suffering was so great that I did not hesitate,
but advanced with boldness towards it. On the instant there was a lull
in the laughter round me, and half a dozen voices called on me to
stop.

'I have come to see the king,' I answered, turning on them fiercely,
for I was by this time in no mood for browbeating, 'and I will see
him!'

'He is out hunting,' cried all with one accord; and they signed
imperiously to me to go back the way I had come.

But having the king's appointment safe in my pouch, I thought I had
good reason to disbelieve them; and taking advantage of their
surprise--for they had not expected so bold a step on my part--I was
at the door before they could prevent me. I heard Mathurine, the fool,
who had sprung to her feet, cry 'Pardieu! he will take the Kingdom of
Heaven by force!' And those were the last words I heard; for, as I
lifted the latch--there was no one on guard there--a sudden swift
silence fell upon the room behind me.

I pushed the door gently open and went in. There were two men sitting
in one of the windows, who turned and looked angrily towards me. For
the rest the room was empty. The king's walking-shoes lay by his
chair, and beside them the boot-hooks and jack. A dog before the fire
got up slowly and growled, and one of the men, rising from the trunk
on which he had been sitting, came towards me and asked me, with every
sign of irritation, what I wanted there, and who had given me leave to
enter.

I was beginning to explain, with some diffidence--the stillness of the
room sobering me--that I wished to see the king, when he who had
advanced took me up sharply with, 'The king? the king? He is not here,
man. He is hunting at St. Valery. Did they not tell you so outside?'

I thought I recognised the speaker, than whom I have seldom seen a man
more grave and thoughtful for his years, which were something less
than mine, more striking in presence, or more soberly dressed. And
being desirous to evade his question, I asked him if I had not the
honour to address M. du Plessis Mornay; for that wise and courtly
statesman, now a pillar of Henry's counsels, it was.

'The same, sir,' he replied abruptly, and without taking his eyes from
me. 'I am Mornay. What of that?'

'I am M. de Marsac,' I explained. And there I stopped, supposing that,
as he was in the king's confidence, this would make my errand clear to
him.

But I was disappointed. 'Well, sir?' he said, and waited impatiently.

So cold a reception, following such treatment as I had suffered
outside, would have sufficed to have dashed my spirits utterly had I
not felt the king's letter in my pocket. Being pretty confident,
however, that a single glance at this would alter M. du Mornay's
bearing for the better, I hastened, looking on it as a kind of
talisman, to draw it out and present it to him.

He took it, and looked at it, and opened it, but with so cold and
immovable an aspect as made my heart sink more than all that had gone
before. 'What is amiss?' I cried, unable to keep silence. ''Tis from
the king, sir.'

'A king in motley!' he answered, his lip curling.

The sense of his words did not at once strike home to me, and I
murmured, in great disorder, that the king had sent for me.

'The king knows nothing of it,' was his blunt answer, bluntly given.
And he thrust the paper back into my hands. 'It is a trick,' he
continued, speaking with the same abruptness, 'for which you have
doubtless to thank some of those idle young rascals without. You had
sent an application to the king, I suppose? Just so. No doubt they got
hold of it, and this is the result. They ought to be whipped.'

It was not possible for me to doubt any longer that what he said was
true. I saw in a moment all my hopes vanish, all my plans flung to the
winds; and in the first shock of the discovery I could neither find
voice to answer him nor strength to withdraw. In a kind of vision I
seemed to see my own lean, haggard face looking at me as in a glass,
and, reading despair in my eyes, could have pitied myself.

My disorder was so great that M. du Mornay observed it. Looking more
closely at me, he two or three times muttered my name, and at last
said, 'M. de Marsac? Ha! I remember. You were in the affair of
Brouage, were you not?'

I nodded my head in token of assent, being unable at the moment to
speak, and so shaken that perforce I leaned against the wall, my head
sunk on my breast. The memory of my age, my forty years, and my
poverty, pressed hard upon me, filling me with despair and bitterness.
I could have wept, but no tears came.

M. du Mornay, averting his eyes from me, took two or three short,
impatient turns up and down the chamber. When he addressed me again
his tone was full of respect, mingled with such petulance as one brave
man might feel, seeing another so hard pressed. 'M. de Marsac,' he
said, 'you have my sympathy. It is a shame that men who have served
the cause should be reduced to such straits. Were it possible for me
to increase my own train at present, I should consider it an honour to
have you with me. But I am hard put to it myself, and so are we all,
and the King of Navarre not least among us. He has lived for a month
upon a wood which M. de Rosny has cut down. I will mention your name
to him, but I should be cruel rather than kind were I not to warn you
that nothing can come of it.'

With that he offered me his hand, and, cheered as much by this mark of
consideration as by the kindness of his expressions, I rallied my
spirits. True, I wanted comfort more substantial, but it was not to be
had. I thanked him therefore as becomingly as I could, and seeing
there was no help for it, took my leave of him, and slowly and
sorrowfully withdrew from the room.

Alas! to escape I had to face the outside world, for which his kind
words were an ill preparation. I had to run the gauntlet of the
ante-chamber. The moment I appeared, or rather the moment the door
closed behind me, I was hailed with a shout of derision. While one
cried, 'Way! way for the gentleman who has seen the king!' another
hailed me uproariously as Governor of Guyenne, and a third requested a
commission in my regiment.

I heard these taunts with a heart full almost to bursting. It seemed
to me an unworthy thing that, merely by reason of my poverty, I should
be derided by youths who had still all their battles before them; but
to stop or reproach them would only, as I well knew, make matters
worse, and, moreover, I was so sore stricken that I had little spirit
left even to speak. Accordingly, I made my way through them with what
speed I might, my head bent, and my countenance heavy with shame and
depression. In this way--I wonder there were not among them some
generous enough to pity me--I had nearly gained the door, and was
beginning to breathe, when I found my path stopped by that particular
young lady of the Court whom I have described above. Something had for
the moment diverted her attention from me, and it required a word from
her companions to apprise her of my near neighbourhood. She turned
then, as one taken by surprise, and finding me so close to her that my
feet all but touched her gown, she stepped quickly aside, and with a
glance as cruel as her act, drew her skirts away from contact with me.

The insult stung me, I know not why, more than all the gibes which
were being flung at me from every side, and moved by a sudden impulse
I stopped, and in the bitterness of my heart spoke to her.
'Mademoiselle,' I said, bowing low--for, as I have stated, she was
small, and more like a fairy than a woman, though her face expressed
both pride and self-will--'Mademoiselle,' I said sternly, 'such as I
am, I have fought for France! Some day you may learn that there are
viler things in the world--and have to bear them--than a poor
gentleman!'

The words were scarcely out of my mouth before I repented of them, for
Mathurine, the fool, who was at my elbow, was quick to turn them into
ridicule. Raising her hands above our heads, as in act to bless us,
she cried out that Monsieur, having gained so rich an office, desired
a bride to grace it; and this, bringing down upon us a coarse shout of
laughter and some coarser gibes, I saw the young girl's face flush
hotly.

The next moment a voice in the crowd cried roughly, 'Out upon his
wedding suit!' and with that a sweetmeat struck me in the face.
Another and another followed, covering me with flour and comfits. This
was the last straw. For a moment, forgetting where I was, I turned
upon them, red and furious, every hair in my moustachios bristling.
The next, the full sense of my impotence and of the folly of
resentment prevailed with me, and, dropping my head upon my breast, I
rushed from the room.

I believe that the younger among them followed me, and that the cry of
'Old Clothes!' pursued me even to the door of my lodgings in the Rue
de la Coutellerie. But in the misery of the moment, and my strong
desire to be within doors and alone, I barely noticed this, and am not
certain whether it was so or not.



                             CHAPTER II.

                         THE KING OF NAVARRE.


I have already referred to the danger with which the alliance between
Henry the Third and the League menaced us, an alliance whereof the
news, it was said, had blanched the King of Navarre's moustache in a
single night. Notwithstanding this, the Court had never shown itself
more frolicsome or more free from care than at the time of which I am
speaking; even the lack of money seemed for the moment forgotten. One
amusement followed another, and though, without doubt, something was
doing under the surface--for the wiser of his foes held our prince in
particular dread when he seemed most deeply sunk in pleasure--to the
outward eye St. Jean d'Angely appeared to be given over to enjoyment
from one end to the other.

The stir and bustle of the Court reached me even in my garret, and
contributed to make that Christmas, which fell on a Sunday, a trial
almost beyond sufferance. All day long the rattle of hoofs on the
pavement, and the laughter of riders bent on diversion, came up to me,
making the hard stool seem harder, the bare walls more bare, and
increasing a hundredfold the solitary gloom in which I sat. For as
sunshine deepens the shadows which fall athwart it, and no silence is
like that which follows the explosion of a mine, so sadness and
poverty are never more intolerable than when hope and wealth rub
elbows with them.

True, the great sermon which M. d'Amours preached in the market-house
on the morning of Christmas-day cheered me, as it cheered all the more
sober spirits. I was present myself, sitting in an obscure corner of
the building, and heard the famous prediction, which was so soon to be
fulfilled. 'Sire,' said the preacher, turning to the King, of Navarre,
and referring, with the boldness that ever characterised that great
man and noble Christian, to the attempt then being made to exclude the
prince from the succession--'Sire, what God at your birth gave you man
cannot take away. A little while, a little patience, and you shall
cause us to preach beyond the Loire! With you for our Joshua we shall
cross the Jordan, and in the Promised Land the Church shall be set
up.'

Words so brave, and so well adapted to encourage the Huguenots in the
crisis through which their affairs were then passing, charmed all
hearers; save indeed, those--and they were few--who, being devoted to
the Vicomte de Turenne, disliked, though they could not controvert,
this public acknowledgment of the King of Navarre as the Huguenot
leader. The pleasure of those present was evinced in a hundred ways,
and to such an extent that even I returned to my chamber soothed and
exalted, and found, in dreaming of the speedy triumph of the cause,
some compensation for my own ill-fortune.

As the day wore on, however, and the evening brought no change, but
presented to me the same dreary prospect with which morning had made
me familiar, I confess without shame that my heart sank once more,
particularly as I saw that I should be forced in a day or two to sell
either my remaining horse or some part of my equipment as essential; a
step which I could not contemplate without feelings of the utmost
despair. In this state of mind I was adding up by the light of a
solitary candle the few coins I had left, when I heard footsteps
ascending the stairs. I made them out to be the steps of two persons,
and was still lost in conjectures who they might be, when a hand
knocked gently at my door.

Fearing another trick, I did not at once open, the more as there was
something stealthy and insinuating in the knock. Thereupon my visitors
held a whispered consultation; then they, knocked again. I asked
loudly who was there, but to this they did not choose to give any
answer, while I, on my part, determined not to open until they did.
The door was strong, and I smiled grimly at the thought that this time
they would have their trouble for their pains.

To my surprise, however, they did not desist, and go away, as I
expected, but continued to knock at intervals and whisper much between
times. More than once they called me softly by name and bade me open,
but as they steadily refrained from saying who they were, I sat still.
Occasionally I heard them laugh, but under their breath as it were;
and persuaded by this that they were bent on a frolic, I might have
persisted in my silence until midnight, which was not more than two
hours off, had not a slight sound, as of a rat gnawing behind the
wainscot, drawn my attention to the door. Raising my candle and
shading my eyes I espied something small and bright protruding beneath
it, and sprang up, thinking they were about to prise it in. To my
surprise, however, I could discover, on taking the candle to the
threshold, nothing more threatening than a couple of gold livres,
which had been thrust through the crevice between the door and the
floor.

My astonishment may be conceived. I stood for full a minute staring at
the coins, the candle in my hand. Then, reflecting that the young
sparks at the Court would be very unlikely to spend such a sum on a
jest, I hesitated no longer, but putting down the candle, drew the
bolt of the door, purposing to confer with my visitors outside. In
this, however, I was disappointed, for the moment the door was open
they pushed forcibly past me and, entering the room pell-mell, bade me
by signs to close the door again.

I did so suspiciously, and without averting my eyes from my visitors.
Great were my embarrassment and confusion, therefore, when, the door
being shut, they dropped their cloaks one after the other, and I saw
before me M. du Mornay and the well-known figure of the King of
Navarre.

They seemed so much diverted, looking at one another and laughing,
that for a moment I thought some chance resemblance deceived me, and
that here were my jokers again. Hence while a man might count ten I
stood staring; and the king was the first to speak. 'We have made no
mistake, Du Mornay, have we?' he said, casting a laughing glance at
me.

'No, sire,' Du Mornay answered. 'This is the Sieur de Marsac, the
gentleman whom I mentioned to you.'

I hastened, confused, wondering, and with a hundred apologies, to pay
my respects to the king. He speedily cut me short, however, saying,
with an air of much kindness, 'Of Marsac, in Brittany, I think, sir?'

'The same, sire.'

'Then you are of the family of Bonne?'

'I am the last survivor of that family, sire,' I answered
respectfully.

'It has played its part,' he rejoined. And therewith he took his seat
on my stool with an easy grace which charmed me. 'Your motto is
"_Bonne foi_," is it not? And Marsac, if I remember rightly, is not
far from Rennes, on the Vilaine?'

I answered that it Was, adding, with a full heart, that it grieved me
to be compelled to receive so great a prince in so poor a lodging.

'Well, I confess,' Du Mornay struck in, looking carelessly round him,
'you have a queer taste, M. de Marsac, in the arrangement of your
furniture. You--'

'Mornay!' the king cried sharply.

'Sire?'

'Chut! your elbow is in the candle. Beware of it!'

But I well understood him. If my heart had been full before, it
overflowed now. Poverty is not so shameful as the shifts to which it
drives men. I had been compelled some days before, in order to make as
good a show as possible--since it is the undoubted duty of a gentleman
to hide his nakedness from impertinent eyes, and especially from the
eyes of the _canaille_, who are wont to judge from externals--to
remove such of my furniture and equipage as remained to that side of
the room, which was visible from without when the door was open. This
left the farther side of the room vacant and bare. To anyone within
doors the artifice was, of course, apparent, and I am bound to say
that M. du Mornay's words brought the blood to my brow.

I rejoiced, however, a moment later that he had uttered them; for
without them I might never have known, or known so early, the kindness
of heart and singular quickness of apprehension which ever
distinguished the king, my master. So, in my heart, I began to call
him from that hour.

The King of Navarre was at this time thirty-five years old, his hair
brown, his complexion ruddy, his moustache, on one side at least,
beginning to turn grey. His features, which Nature had cast in a harsh
and imperious mould, were relieved by a constant sparkle and animation
such as I have never seen in any other man, but in him became ever
more conspicuous in gloomy and perilous times. Inured to danger from
his earliest youth, he had come to enjoy it as others a festival,
hailing its advent with a reckless gaiety which astonished even brave
men, and led others to think him the least prudent of mankind. Yet
such he was not: nay, he was the opposite of this. Never did Marshal
of France make more careful dispositions for a battle--albeit once in
it he bore himself like any captain of horse--nor ever did Du Mornay
himself sit down to a conference with a more accurate knowledge of
affairs. His prodigious wit and the affability of his manners, while
they endeared him to his servants, again and again blinded his
adversaries; who, thinking that so much brilliance could arise only
from a shallow nature, found when it was too late that they had been
outwitted by him whom they contemptuously styled the Prince of Béarn,
a man a hundredfold more astute than themselves, and master alike of
pen and sword.

Much of this, which all the world now knows, I learned afterwards. At
the moment I could think of little save the king's kindness; to which
he added by insisting that I should sit on the bed while we talked.
'You wonder, M. de Marsac,' he said, 'what brings me here, and why I
have come to you instead of sending for you? Still more, perhaps, why
I have come to you at night and with such precautions? I will tell
you. But first, that my coming may not fill you with false hopes, let
me say frankly, that though I may relieve your present necessities,
whether you fall into the plan I am going to mention, or not, I cannot
take you into my service; wherein, indeed, every post is doubly
filled. Du Mornay mentioned your name to me, but in fairness to others
I had to answer that I could do nothing.'

I am bound to confess that this strange exordium dashed hopes which
had already risen to a high pitch. Recovering myself as quickly as
possible, however, I murmured that the honour of a visit from the King
of Navarre was sufficient happiness for me.

'Nay, but that honour I must take from you' he replied, smiling;
'though I see that you would make an excellent courtier--far better
than Du Mornay here, who never in his life made so pretty a speech.
For I must lay my commands on you to keep this visit a secret, M. de
Marsac. Should but the slightest whisper of it get abroad, your
usefulness, as far as I am concerned, would be gone, and gone for
good!'

So remarkable a statement filled me with wonder I could scarcely
disguise. It was with difficulty I found words to assure the king that
his commands should be faithfully obeyed.

'Of that I am sure,' he answered with the utmost kindness. 'Were I
not, and sure, too, from what I am told of your gallantry when my
cousin took Brouage, that you are a man of deeds rather than words, I
should not be here with the proposition I am going to lay before you.
It is this. I can give you no hope of public employment, M. de Marsac,
but I can offer you an adventure--if adventures be to your taste--as
dangerous and as thankless as any Amadis ever undertook.'

'As thankless, sire?' I stammered, doubting if I had heard aright, the
expression was so strange.

'As thankless,' he answered, his keen eyes seeming to read my soul. 'I
am frank with you, you see, sir,' he continued, carelessly. 'I can
suggest this adventure--it is for the good of the State--I can do no
more. The King of Navarre cannot appear in it, nor can he protect you.
Succeed or fail in it, you stand alone. The only promise I make is,
that if it ever be safe for me to acknowledge the act, I will reward
the doer.'

He paused, and for a few moments I stared at him in sheer amazement.
What did he mean? Were he and the other real figures, or was I
dreaming?

'Do you understand?' he asked at length, with a touch of impatience.

'Yes, sire, I think I do,' I murmured, very certain in truth and
reality that I did not.

'What do you say, then--yes or no?' he rejoined. 'Will you undertake
the adventure, or would you hear more before you make up your mind?'

I hesitated. Had I been a younger man by ten years I should doubtless
have cried assent there and then, having been all my life ready enough
to embark on such enterprises as offered a chance of distinction. But
something in the strangeness of the king's preface, although I had it
in my heart to die for him, gave me check, and I answered, with an air
of great humility, 'You will think me but a poor courtier now, sire,
yet he is a fool who jumps into a ditch without measuring the depth. I
would fain, if I may say it without disrespect, hear all that you can
tell me.'

'Then I fear,' he answered quickly, 'if you would have more light on
the matter, my friend, you must get another candle.'

I started, he spoke so abruptly; but perceiving that the candle had
indeed burned down to the socket, I rose, with many apologies, and
fetched another from the cupboard. It did not occur to me at the
moment, though it did later, that the king had purposely sought this
opportunity of consulting with his companion. I merely remarked, when
I returned to my place on the bed, that they were sitting a little
nearer one another, and that the king eyed me before he spoke--though
he still swung one foot carelessly in the air--with close attention.

'I speak to you, of course, sir,' he presently went on, 'in
confidence, believing you to be an honourable as well as a brave man.
That which I wish you to do is briefly, and in a word, to carry off a
lady. Nay,' he added quickly, with a laughing grimace, 'have no fear!
She is no sweetheart of mine, nor should I go to my grave friend here
did I need assistance of that kind. Henry of Bourbon, I pray God, will
always be able to free his own lady-love. This is a State affair, and
a matter of quite another character, though we cannot at present
entrust you with the meaning of it.'

I bowed in silence, feeling somewhat chilled and perplexed, as who
would not, having such an invitation before him? I had anticipated an
affair with men only--a secret assault or a petard expedition. But
seeing the bareness of my room, and the honour the king was doing me,
I felt I had no choice, and I answered, 'That being the case, sire, I
am wholly at your service.'

'That is well,' he answered briskly, though methought he looked at Du
Mornay reproachfully, as doubting his commendation of me. 'But will
you say the same,' he continued, removing his eyes to me, and speaking
slowly, as though he would try me, 'when I tell you that the lady to
be carried off is the ward of the Vicomte de Turenne, whose arm is
well-nigh as long as my own, and who would fain make it longer; who
never travels, as he told me yesterday, with less than fifty
gentlemen, and has a thousand arquebusiers in his pay? Is the
adventure still to your liking, M. de Marsac, now that you know that?'

'It is more to my liking, sire,' I answered stoutly.

'Understand this too,' he rejoined. 'It is essential that this lady,
who is at present confined in the Vicomte's house at Chizé, should be
released; but it is equally essential that there should be no breach
between the Vicomte and myself. Therefore the affair must be the work
of an independent man, who has never been in my service, nor in any
way connected with me. If captured, you pay the penalty without
recourse to me.'

'I fully understand, sire,' I answered.

'Ventre Saint Gris!' he cried, breaking into a low laugh. 'I swear the
man is more afraid of the lady than he is of the Vicomte! That is not
the way of most of our Court.'

Du Mornay, who had been sitting nursing his knee in silence, pursed up
his lips, though it was easy to see that he was well content with the
king's approbation. He now intervened. 'With your permission, sire,'
he said, 'I will let this gentleman know the details.'

'Do, my friend,' the king answered. 'And be short, for if we are here
much longer I shall be missed, and in a twinkling the Court will have
found me a new mistress.'

He spoke in jest and with a laugh, but I saw Du Mornay start at the
words, as though they were little to his liking; and I learned
afterwards that the Court was really much exercised at this time with
the question who would be the next favourite, the king's passion for
the Countess de la Guiche being evidently on the wane, and that which
he presently evinced for Madame de Guercheville being as yet a matter
of conjecture.

Du Mornay took no overt notice of the king's words, however, but
proceeded to give me my directions. 'Chizé, which you know by name,'
he said, 'is six leagues from here. Mademoiselle de la Vire is
confined in the northwest room, on the first-floor, overlooking the
park. More I cannot tell you, except that her woman's name is
Fanchette, and that she is to be trusted. The house is well guarded,
and you will need four or five men. There are plenty of cut-throats to
be hired, only see, M. de Marsac, that they are such as you can
manage, and that Mademoiselle takes no hurt among them. Have horses in
waiting, and the moment you have released the lady ride north with her
as fast as her strength will permit. Indeed, you must not spare her,
if Turenne be on your heels. You should be across the Loire in sixty
hours after leaving Chizé.'

'Across the Loire?' I exclaimed in astonishment.

'Yes, sir, across the Loire,' he replied, with some sternness. 'Your
task, be good enough to understand, is to convoy Mademoiselle de la
Vire with all speed to Blois. There, attracting as little notice as
may be, you will inquire for the Baron de Rosny at the Bleeding Heart,
in the Rue de St. Denys. He will take charge of the lady, or direct
you how to dispose of her, and your task will then be accomplished.
You follow me?'

'Perfectly,' I answered, speaking in my turn with some dryness. 'But
Mademoiselle I understand is young. What if she will not accompany me,
a stranger, entering her room at night, and by the window?'

'That has been thought of was the answer. He turned to the King of
Navarre, who, after a moment's search, produced a small object from
his pouch. This he gave to his companion, and the latter transferred
it to me. I took it with curiosity. It was the half of a gold carolus,
the broken edge of the coin being rough and jagged. 'Show that to
Mademoiselle, my friend,' Du Mornay continued, 'and she will accompany
you. She has the other half.'

'But be careful,' Henry added eagerly, 'to make no mention, even to
her, of the King of Navarre. You mark me, M. de Marsac! If you have at
any time occasion to speak of me, you may have the honour of calling
me _your friend_, and referring to me always in the same manner.'

This he said with so gracious an air that I was charmed, and thought
myself happy indeed to be addressed in this wise by a prince whose
name was already so glorious. Nor was my satisfaction diminished when
his companion drew out a bag containing, as he told me, three hundred
crowns in gold, and placed it in my hands, bidding me defray therefrom
the cost of the journey. 'Be careful, however,' he added earnestly,
'to avoid, in hiring your men, any appearance of wealth, lest the
adventure seem to be suggested by some outside person; instead of
being dictated by the desperate state of your own fortunes. Promise
rather than give, so far as that will avail. And for what you must
give, let each livre seem to be the last in your pouch.'

Henry nodded assent. 'Excellent advice!' he muttered, rising and
drawing on his cloak, 'such as you ever give me, Mornay, and I as
seldom take--more's the pity! But, after all, of little avail without
this.' He lifted my sword from the table as he spoke, and weighed it
in his hand. 'A pretty tool,' he continued, turning suddenly and
looking me very closely in the face. 'A very pretty tool. Were I in
your place, M. de Marsac, I would see that it hung loose in the
scabbard. Ay, and more, man, use it!' he added, sinking his voice and
sticking out his chin, while his grey eyes, looking ever closer into
mine, seemed to grow cold and hard as steel. 'Use it to the last, for
if you fall into Turenne's hands, God help you! I cannot!'

'If I am taken, sire,' I answered, trembling, but not with fear, 'my
fate be on my own head.'

I saw the king's eyes soften at that, and his face change so swiftly
that I scarce knew him for the same man. He let the weapon drop with a
clash on the table. 'Ventre Saint Gris!' he exclaimed with a strange
thrill of yearning in his tone. 'I swear by God, I would I were in
your shoes, sir. To strike a blow or two with no care what came of it.
To take the road with a good horse and a good sword, and see what
fortune would send. To be rid of all this statecraft and protocolling,
and never to issue another declaration in this world, but just to be
for once a Gentleman of France, with all to win and nothing to lose
save the love of my lady! Ah! Mornay, would it not be sweet to leave
all this fret and fume, and ride away to the green woods by Coarraze?'

'Certainly, if you prefer them to the Louvre, sire,' Du Mornay
answered drily; while I stood, silent and amazed, before this strange
man, who could so suddenly change from grave to gay, and one moment
spoke so sagely, and the next like any wild lad in his teens.
'Certainly,' he answered, 'if that be your choice, sire; and if you
think that even there the Duke of Guise will leave you in peace.
Turenne, I am sure, will be glad to hear of your decision. Doubtless
he will be elected Protector of the Churches. Nay, sire, for shame!'
Du Mornay continued, almost with sternness. 'Would you leave France,
which at odd times I have heard you say you loved, to shift for
herself? Would you deprive her of the only man who does love her for
her own sake?'

'Well, well, but she is such a fickle sweetheart, my friend,' the king
answered, laughing, the side glance of his eye on me. 'Never was one
so coy or so hard to clip! And, besides, has not the Pope divorced
us?'

'The Pope! A fig for the Pope!' Du Mornay rejoined with impatient
heat. 'What has he to do with France? An impertinent meddler, and an
Italian to boot! I would he and all the brood of them were sunk a
hundred fathoms deep in the sea. But, meantime, I would send him a
text to digest.'

'_Exemplum?_' said the king.

'Whom God has joined together let no man put asunder.'

'Amen!' quoth Henry softly. 'And France is a fair and comely bride.'

After that he kept such a silence, falling as it seemed to me into a
brown study, that he went away without so much as bidding me farewell,
or being conscious, as far as I could tell, of my presence. Du Mornay
exchanged a few words with me, to assure himself that I understood
what I had to do, and then, with many kind expressions, which I did
not fail to treasure up and con over in the times that were coming,
hastened downstairs after his master.

My joy when I found myself alone may be conceived. Yet was it no
ecstasy, but a sober exhilaration; such as stirred my pulses indeed,
and bade me once more face the world with a firm eye and an assured
brow, but was far from holding out before me a troubadour's palace or
any dazzling prospect. The longer I dwelt on the interview, the more
clearly I saw the truth. As the glamour which Henry's presence and
singular kindness had cast over me began to lose some of its power, I
recognised more and more surely why he had come to me. It was not out
of any special favour for one whom he knew by report only, if at all
by name; but because he had need of a man poor, and therefore
reckless, middle-aged (of which comes discretion), obscure--therefore
a safe instrument; to crown all, a gentleman, seeing that both a
secret and a woman were in question.

Withal I wondered too. Looking from the bag of money on the table to
the broken coin in my hand, I scarcely knew which to admire more: the
confidence which entrusted the one to a man broken and beggared, or
the courage of the gentlewoman who should accompany me on the faith of
the other.



                             CHAPTER III.

                           BOOT AND SADDLE.


As was natural, I meditated deeply and far into the night on the
difficulties of the task entrusted to me. I saw that it fell into two
parts: the release of the lady, and her safe conduct to Blois, a
distance of sixty leagues. The release I thought it probable I could
effect single-handed, or with one companion only; but in the troubled
condition of the country at this time, more particularly on both sides
of the Loire, I scarcely saw how I could ensure a lady's safety on the
road northwards unless I had with me at least five swords.

To get these together at a few hours' notice promised to be no easy
task; although the presence of the Court of Navarre had filled St.
Jean with a crowd of adventurers. Yet the king's command was urgent,
and at some sacrifice, even at some risk, must be obeyed. Pressed by
these considerations, I could think of no better man to begin with
than Fresnoy.

His character was bad, and he had long forfeited such claim as he had
ever possessed--I believe it was a misty one? on the distaff side--to
gentility. But the same cause which had rendered me destitute--I mean
the death of the Prince of Condé--had stripped him to the last rag;
and this, perhaps, inclining me to serve him, I was the more quick to
see his merits. I knew him already for a hardy, reckless man, very
capable of striking a shrewd blow. I gave him credit for being trusty,
as long as his duty jumped with his interest.

Accordingly, as soon as it was light, having fed and groomed the Cid,
which was always the first employment of my day, I set out in search
of Fresnoy, and was presently lucky enough to find him taking his
morning draught outside the 'Three Pigeons,' a little inn not far from
the north gate. It was more than a fortnight since I had set eyes on
him, and the lapse of time had worked so great a change for the worse
in him that, forgetting my own shabbiness, I looked at him askance, as
doubting the wisdom of enlisting one who bore so plainly the marks of
poverty and dissipation. His great face--he was a large man--had
suffered recent ill-usage, and was swollen and discoloured, one eye
being as good as closed. He was unshaven, his hair was ill-kempt, his
doublet unfastened at the throat, and torn and stained besides.
Despite the cold--for the morning was sharp and frosty, though free
from wind--there were half a dozen packmen drinking and squabbling
before the inn, while the beasts they drove quenched their thirst at
the trough. But these men seemed with one accord to leave him in
possession of the bench at which he sat; nor did I wonder much at this
when I saw the morose and savage glance which he shot at me as I
approached. Whether he read my first impressions in my face, or for
some other reason felt distaste for my company, I could not determine.
But, undeterred by his behaviour, I sat down beside him and called for
wine.

He nodded sulkily in answer to my greeting, and cast a half-shamed,
half-angry look at me out of the corners of his eyes. 'You need not
look at me as though I were a dog,' he muttered presently. 'You are
not so very spruce yourself, my friend. But I suppose you have grown
proud since you got that fat appointment at Court!' And he laughed out
loud, so that I confess I was in two minds whether I should not force
the jest down his ugly throat.

However I restrained myself, though my cheeks burned. 'You have heard
about it, then,' I said, striving to speak indifferently.

'Who has not?' he said, laughing with his lips, though his eyes were
far from merry. 'The Sieur de Marsac's appointment! Ha! ha! Why,
man----'

'Enough of it now!' I exclaimed. And I dare say I writhed on my seat.
'As far as I am concerned the jest is a stale one, sir, and does not
amuse me.'

'But it amuses me,' he rejoined with a grin.

'Let it be, nevertheless,' I said; and I think he read a warning in my
eyes. 'I have come to speak to you upon another matter.'

He did not refuse to listen, but threw one leg over the other, and
looking up at the inn-sign began to whistle in a rude, offensive
manner. Still, having an object in view, I controlled myself and
continued. 'It is this, my friend: money is not very plentiful at
present with either of us.'

Before I could say any more he turned on me savagely, and with a loud
oath thrust his bloated face, flushed with passion, close to mine.
'Now look here, M. de Marsac! he cried violently, 'once for all, it is
no good! I have not got the money, and I cannot pay it. I said a
fortnight ago, when you lent it, that you should have it this week.
Well,' slapping his hand on the bench, 'I have not got it, and it is
no good beginning upon me. You cannot have it, and that is flat!'

'Damn the money!' I cried.

'What?' he exclaimed, scarcely believing his ears.

'Let the money be!' I repeated fiercely. 'Do you hear? I have not come
about it. I am here to offer you work--good, well-paid work--if you
will enlist with me and play me fair, Fresnoy.'

'Play fair!' he cried with an oath.

'There, there,' I said, 'I am willing to let bygones be bygones if you
are. The point is, that I have an adventure on hand, and, wanting
help, can pay you for it.'

He looked at me cunningly, his eye travelling over each rent and darn
in my doublet. 'I will help you fast enough,' he said at last. 'But I
should like to see the money first.'

'You shall,' I answered.

'Then I am with you, my friend. Count on me till death!' he cried,
rising and laying his hand in mine with a boisterous frankness which
did not deceive me into trusting him far. 'And now, whose is the
affair, and what is it?'

'The affair is mine,' I said coldly. 'It is to carry off a lady.'

He whistled and looked me over again, an impudent leer in his eyes. 'A
lady?' he exclaimed. 'Umph! I could understand a young spark going in
for such--but that's your affair. Who is it?'

'That is my affair, too,' I answered coolly, disgusted by the man's
venality and meanness, and fully persuaded that I must trust him no
farther than the length of my sword. 'All I want you to do, M.
Fresnoy,' I continued stiffly, 'is to place yourself at my disposal
and under my orders for ten days. I will find you a horse and pay
you--the enterprise is a hazardous one, and I take that into
account--two gold crowns a day, and ten more if we succeed in reaching
a place of safety.'

'Such a place as----'

'Never mind that,' I replied. 'The question is, do you accept?'

He looked down sullenly, and I could see he was greatly angered by my
determination to keep the matter to myself. 'Am I to know no more than
that?' he asked, digging the point of his scabbard again and again
into the ground.

'No more,' I answered firmly. 'I am bent on a desperate attempt to
mend my fortunes before they fall as low as yours; and that is as much
as I mean to tell living man. If you are loth to risk your life with
your eyes shut, say so, and I will go to someone else.'

But he was not in a position, as I well knew, to refuse such an offer,
and presently he accepted it with a fresh semblance of heartiness. I
told him I should want four troopers to escort us, and these he
offered to procure, saying that he knew just the knaves to suit me. I
bade him hire two only, however, being too wise to put myself
altogether in his hands; and then, having given him money to buy
himself a horse--I made it a term that the men should bring their
own--and named a rendezvous for the first hour after noon, I parted
from him and went rather sadly away.

For I began to see that the king had not underrated the dangers of an
enterprise on which none but desperate men and such as were down in
the world could be expected to embark. Seeing this, and also a thing
which followed clearly from it--that I should have as much to fear
from my own company as from the enemy--I looked forward with little
hope to a journey during every day and every hour of which I must bear
a growing weight of fear and responsibility.

It was too late to turn back, however, and I went about my
preparations, if with little cheerfulness, at least with steadfast
purpose. I had my sword ground and my pistols put in order by the
cutler over whom I lodged, and who performed this last office for me
with the same goodwill which had characterised all his dealings with
me. I sought out and hired a couple of stout fellows whom I believed
to be indifferently honest, but who possessed the advantage of having
horses; and besides bought two led horses myself for mademoiselle and
her woman. Such other equipments as were absolutely necessary I
purchased, reducing my stock of money in this way to two hundred and
ten crowns. How to dispose of this sum so that it might be safe and
yet at my command was a question which greatly exercised me. In the
end I had recourse to my friend the cutler, who suggested hiding a
hundred crowns of it in my cap, and deftly contrived a place for the
purpose. This, the cap being lined with steel, was a matter of no
great difficulty. A second hundred I sewed up in the stuffing of my
saddle, placing the remainder in my pouch for present necessities.

A small rain was falling in the streets when, a little after noon, I
started with my two knaves behind me and made for the north gate. So
many were moving this way and the other that we passed unnoticed, and
might have done so had we numbered six swords instead of three. When
we reached the rendezvous, a mile beyond the gate, we found Fresnoy
already there, taking shelter in the lee of a big holly-tree. He had
four horsemen with him, and on our appearance rode forward to meet us,
crying heartily, 'Welcome, M. le Capitaine!'

'Welcome, certainly,' I answered, pulling the Cid up sharply, and
holding off from him. 'But who are these, M. Fresnoy?' and I pointed
with my riding-cane to his four companions.

He tried to pass the matter off with a laugh. 'Oh! these?' he said.
'That is soon explained. The Evangelists would not be divided, so I
brought them all--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--thinking it likely
you might fail to secure your men. And I will warrant them for four as
gallant boys as you will ever find behind you!'

They were certainly four as arrant ruffians as I had ever seen before
me, and I saw I must not hesitate. 'Two or none, M. Fresnoy,' I said
firmly. 'I gave you a commission for two, and two I will take--Matthew
and Mark, or Luke and John, as you please.'

''Tis a pity to break the party,' said he, scowling.

'If that be all,' I retorted, 'one of my men is called John. And we
will dub the other Luke, if that will mend the matter.'

'The Prince of Condé,' he muttered sullenly, 'employed these men.'

'The Prince of Condé employed some queer people sometimes, M.
Fresnoy,' I answered, looking him straight between the eyes, 'as we
all must. A truce to this, if you please. We will take Matthew and
Mark. The other two be good enough to dismiss.'

He seemed to waver for a moment, as if he had a mind to disobey, but
in the end, thinking better of it, he bade the men return; and as I
complimented each of them with a piece of silver, they went off, after
some swearing, in tolerably good humour. Thereon Fresnoy was for
taking the road at once, but having no mind to be followed, I gave the
word to wait until the two were out of sight.

I think, as we sat our horses in the rain, the holly-bush not being
large enough to shelter us all, we were as sorry a band as ever set
out to rescue a lady; nor was it without pain that I looked round and
saw myself reduced to command such people. There was scarcely one
whole un-patched garment among us, and three of my squires had but a
spur apiece. To make up for this deficiency we mustered two black
eyes, Fresnoy's included, and a broken nose. Matthew's nag lacked a
tail, and, more remarkable still, its rider, as I presently
discovered, was stone-deaf; while Mark's sword was innocent of a
scabbard, and his bridle was plain rope. One thing, indeed, I observed
with pleasure. The two men who had come with me looked askance at the
two who had come with Fresnoy, and these returned the stare with
interest. On this division and on the length of my sword I based all
my hopes of safety and of something more. On it I was about to stake,
not my own life only--which was no great thing, seeing what my
prospects were--but the life and honour of a woman, young, helpless,
and as yet unknown to me.

Weighed down as I was by these considerations, I had to bear the
additional burden of hiding my fears and suspicions under a cheerful
demeanour. I made a short speech to my following, who one and all
responded by swearing to stand by me to the death. I then gave the
word, and we started, Fresnoy and I leading the way, Luke and John
with the led horses following, and the other two bringing up the rear.

The rain continuing to fall and the country in this part being dreary
and monotonous, even in fair weather, I felt my spirits sink still
lower as the day advanced. The responsibility I was going to incur
assumed more serious proportions each time I scanned my following;
while Fresnoy, plying me with perpetual questions respecting my plans,
was as uneasy a companion as my worst enemy could have wished me.

'Come!' he grumbled presently, when we had covered four leagues or so,
'you have not told me yet, sieur, where we stay to-night. You are
travelling so slowly that----'

'I am saving the horses,' I answered shortly. 'We shall do a long day
to-morrow.'

'Yours looks fit for a week of days,' he sneered, with an evil look at
my Sardinian, which was, indeed, in better case than its master. 'It
is sleek enough, any way!'

'It is as good as it looks,' I answered, a little nettled by his tone.

'There is a better here,' he responded.

'I don't see it,' I said. I had already eyed the nags all round, and
assured myself that, ugly and blemished as they were, they were up to
their work. But I had discerned no special merit among them. I looked
them over again now, and came to the same conclusion--that, except the
led horses, which I had chosen with some care, there was nothing among
them to vie with the Cid, either in speed or looks. I told Fresnoy so.

'Would you like to try?' he said tauntingly.

I laughed, adding, 'If you think I am going to tire our horses by
racing them, with such work as we have before us, you are mistaken,
Fresnoy. I am not a boy, you know.'

'There need be no question of racing,' he answered more quietly. 'You
have only to get on that rat-tailed bay of Matthew's to feel its paces
and say I am right.'

I looked at the bay, a bald-faced, fiddle-headed horse, and saw that,
with no signs of breeding, it was still a big-boned animal with good
shoulders and powerful hips. I thought it possible Fresnoy might be
right, and if so, and the bay's manners were tolerable, it might do
for mademoiselle better than the horse I had chosen. At any rate, if
we had a fast horse among us, it was well to know the fact, so bidding
Matthew change with me, and be careful of the Cid, I mounted the bay,
and soon discovered that its paces were easy and promised speed, while
its manners seemed as good as even a timid rider could desire.

Our road at the time lay across a flat desolate heath, dotted here and
there with thorn-bushes; the track being broken and stony, extended
more than a score of yards in width, through travellers straying to
this side and that to escape the worst places. Fresnoy and I, in
making the change, had fallen slightly behind the other three, and
were riding abreast of Matthew on the Cid.

'Well,' he said, 'was I not right?'

'In part,' I answered. 'The horse is better than its looks.'

'Like many others,' he rejoined, a spark of resentment in his
tone--'men as well as horses, M. de Marsac. But what do you say? Shall
we canter on a little and overtake the others?'

Thinking it well to do so, I assented readily, and we started
together. We had ridden, however, no more than a hundred yards, and I
was only beginning to extend the bay, when Fresnoy, slightly drawing
rein, turned in his saddle and looked back. The next moment he cried,
'Hallo! what is this? Those fellows are not following us, are they?'

I turned sharply to look. At that moment, without falter or warning,
the bay horse went down under me as if shot dead, throwing me half a
dozen yards over its head; and that so suddenly that I had no time to
raise my arms, but, falling heavily on my head and shoulder, lost
consciousness.

I have had many falls, but no other to vie with that in utter
unexpectedness. When I recovered my senses I found myself leaning,
giddy and sick, against the bole of an old thorn-tree. Fresnoy and
Matthew supported me on either side, and asked me how I found myself;
while the other three men, their forms black against the stormy
evening sky, sat their horses a few paces in front of me. I was too
much dazed at first to see more, and this only in a mechanical
fashion; but gradually, my brain grew clearer, and I advanced from
wondering who the strangers round me were to recognising them, and
finally to remembering what had happened to me.

'Is the horse hurt?' I muttered as soon as I could speak.

'Not a whit,' Fresnoy answered, chuckling, or I was much mistaken. 'I
am afraid you came off the worse of the two, captain.'

He exchanged a look with the men on horseback as he spoke, and in a
dull fashion I fancied I saw them smile. One even laughed, and another
turned in his saddle as if to hide his face. I had a vague general
sense that there was some joke on foot in which I had no part. But I
was too much shaken at the moment to be curious, and gratefully
accepted the offer of one of the men to fetch me a little water. While
he was away the rest stood round me, the same look of ill-concealed
drollery on their faces. Fresnoy alone talked, speaking volubly of the
accident, pouring out expressions of sympathy and cursing the road,
the horse, and the wintry light until the water came; when, much
refreshed by the draught, I managed to climb to the Cid's saddle and
plod slowly onwards with them.

'A bad beginning,' Fresnoy said presently, stealing a sly glance at me
as we jogged along side by side, Chizé half a league before us, and
darkness not far off.

By this time, however, I was myself again, save for a little humming
in the head, and, shrugging my shoulders, I told him so. 'All's well
that ends well,' I added. 'Not that it was a pleasant fall, or that I
wish to have such another.'

'No, I should think not,' he answered. His face was turned from me,
but I fancied I heard him snigger.

Something, which may have been a vague suspicion, led me a moment
later to put my hand into my pouch. Then I understood. I understood
too well. The sharp surprise of the discovery was such that
involuntarily I drove my spurs into the Cid, and the horse sprang
forward.

'What is the matter?' Fresnoy asked.

'The matter?' I echoed, my hand still at my belt, feeling--feeling
hopel