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Title: St. Martin's Summer
Author: Sabatini, Rafael
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "St. Martin's Summer" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



ST. MARTIN’S SUMMER

By Rafael Sabatini


Originally published in 1921



CONTENTS


CHAPTER I.   THE SENESCHAL OF DAUPHINY

CHAPTER II.   MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE

CHAPTER III.   THE DOWAGER’S COMPLIANCE

CHAPTER IV.   THE CHATEAU DE CONDILLAC

CHAPTER V.   MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE LOSES HIS TEMPER

CHAPTER VI.   MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE KEEPS HIS TEMPER

CHAPTER VII.   THE OPENING OF THE TRAP

CHAPTER VIII.   THE CLOSING OF THE TRAP

CHAPTER IX.   THE SENESCHAL’S ADVICE

CHAPTER X.   THE RECRUIT

CHAPTER XI.   VALERIE’S GAOLER

CHAPTER XII.   A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE

CHAPTER XIII.   THE COURIER

CHAPTER XIV.   FLORIMOND’S LETTER

CHAPTER XV.   THE CONFERENCE

CHAPTER XVI.   THE UNEXPECTED

CHAPTER XVII.   HOW MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE LEFT CONDILLAC

CHAPTER XVIII.   IN THE MOAT

CHAPTER XIX.   THROUGH THE NIGHT

CHAPTER XX.   FLORIMOND DE CONDILLAC

CHAPTER XXI.   THE GHOST IN THE CUPBOARD

CHAPTER XXII.   THE OFFICES OF MOTHER CHURCH

CHAPTER XXIII.     THE JUDGMENT OF GARNACHE

CHAPTER XXIV.   SAINT MARTIN’S EVE



SAINT MARTIN’S SUMMER



CHAPTER I. THE SENESCHAL OF DAUPHINY

My Lord of Tressan, His Majesty’s Seneschal of Dauphiny, sat at his
ease, his purple doublet all undone, to yield greater freedom to his
vast bulk, a yellow silken undergarment visible through the gap, as is
visible the flesh of some fruit that, swollen with over-ripeness, has
burst its skin.

His wig--imposed upon him by necessity, not fashion--lay on the table
amid a confusion of dusty papers, and on his little fat nose, round
and red as a cherry at its end, rested the bridge of his horn-rimmed
spectacles. His bald head--so bald and shining that it conveyed an
unpleasant sense of nakedness, suggesting that its uncovering had been
an act of indelicacy on the owner’s part--rested on the back of his
great chair, and hid from sight the gaudy escutcheon wrought upon the
crimson leather. His eyes were closed, his mouth open, and whether from
that mouth or from his nose--or, perhaps, conflicting for issue between
both--there came a snorting, rumbling sound to proclaim that my Lord the
Seneschal was hard at work upon the King’s business.

Yonder, at a meaner table, in an angle between two windows, a pale-faced
thread-bare secretary was performing for a yearly pittance the
duties for which my Lord the Seneschal was rewarded by emoluments
disproportionately large.

The air of that vast apartment was disturbed by the sounds of Monsieur
de Tressan’s slumbers, the scratch and splutter of the secretary’s
pen, and the occasional hiss and crackle of the logs that burned in the
great, cavern-like fireplace. Suddenly to these another sound was added.
With a rasp and rattle the heavy curtains of blue velvet flecked with
silver fleurs-de-lys were swept from the doorway, and the master of
Monsieur de Tressan’s household, in a well filled suit of black relieved
by his heavy chain of office, stepped pompously forward.

The secretary dropped his pen, and shot a frightened glance at his
slumbering master; then raised his hands above his head, and shook them
wildly at the head lackey.

“Sh!” he whispered tragically. “Doucement, Monsieur Anselme.”

Anselme paused. He appreciated the gravity of the situation. His bearing
lost some of its dignity; his face underwent a change. Then with a
recovery of some part of his erstwhile resolution:

“Nevertheless, he must be awakened,” he announced, but in an undertone,
as if afraid to do the thing he said must needs be done.

The horror in the secretary’s eyes increased, but Anselme’s reflected
none of it. It was a grave thing, he knew by former experience, to
arouse His Majesty’s Seneschal of Dauphiny from his after-dinner
nap; but it was an almost graver thing to fail in obedience to that
black-eyed woman below who was demanding an audience.

Anselme realized that he was between the sword and the wall. He was,
however, a man of a deliberate habit that was begotten of inherent
indolence and nurtured among the good things that fell to his share as
master of the Tressan household. Thoughtfully he caressed his tuft of
red beard, puffed out his cheeks, and raised his eyes to the ceiling
in appeal or denunciation to the heaven which he believed was somewhere
beyond it.

“Nevertheless, he must be awakened,” he repeated.

And then Fate came to his assistance. Somewhere in the house a door
banged like a cannon-shot. Perspiration broke upon the secretary’s brow.
He sank limply back in his chair, giving himself up for lost. Anselme
started and bit the knuckle of his forefinger in a manner suggesting an
inarticulate imprecation.

My Lord the Seneschal moved. The noise of his slumbers culminated in a
sudden, choking grunt, and abruptly ceased. His eyelids rolled slowly
back, like an owl’s, revealing pale blue eyes, which fixed themselves
first upon the ceiling, then upon Anselme. Instantly he sat up, puffing
and scowling, his hands shuffling his papers.

“A thousand devils! Anselme, why am I interrupted?” he grumbled
querulously, still half-asleep. “What the plague do you want? Have you
no thought for the King’s affairs? Babylas”--this to his secretary--“did
I not tell you that I had much to do; that I must not be disturbed?”

It was the great vanity of the life of this man, who did nothing, to
appear the busiest fellow in all France, and no audience--not even that
of his own lackeys--was too mean for him to take the stage to in that
predilect role.

“Monsieur le Comte,” said Anselme, in tones of abject self-effacement,
“I had never dared intrude had the matter been of less urgency.
But Madame the Dowager of Condillac is below. She begs to see Your
Excellency instantly.”

At once there was a change. Tressan became wide-awake upon the instant.
His first act was to pass one hand over the wax-like surface of his
bald head, whilst his other snatched at his wig. Then he heaved himself
ponderously out of his great chair. He donned his wig, awry in his
haste, and lurched forward towards Anselme, his fat fingers straining at
his open doublet and drawing it together.

“Madame la Douairiere here?” he cried. “Make fast these buttons, rascal!
Quick! Am I to receive a lady thus? Am I--? Babylas,” he snapped,
interrupting himself and turning aside even as Anselme put forth hands
to do his bidding. “A mirror, from my closet! Dispatch!”

The secretary was gone in a flash, and in a flash returned, even as
Anselme completed his master’s toilet. But clearly Monsieur de Tressan
had awakened in a peevish humour, for no sooner were the buttons of
his doublet secured than with his own fingers he tore them loose again,
cursing his majordomo the while with vigour.

“You dog, Anselme, have you no sense of fitness, no discrimination? Am
I to appear in this garment of the mode of a half-century ago before
Madame la Marquise? Take it off; take it off, man! Get me the coat that
came last month from Paris--the yellow one with the hanging sleeves and
the gold buttons, and a sash--the crimson sash I had from Taillemant.
Can you move no quicker, animal? Are you still here?”

Anselme, thus enjoined, lent an unwonted alacrity to his movements,
waddling grotesquely like a hastening waterfowl. Between him and the
secretary they dressed my Lord the Seneschal, and decked him out till he
was fit to compare with a bird of paradise for gorgeousness of colouring
if not for harmony of hues and elegance of outline.

Babylas held the mirror, and Anselme adjusted the Seneschal’s wig,
whilst Tressan himself twisted his black mustachios--how they kept their
colour was a mystery to his acquaintance--and combed the tuft of beard
that sprouted from one of his several chins.

He took a last look at his reflection, rehearsed a smile, and bade
Anselme introduce his visitor. He desired his secretary to go to the
devil, but, thinking better of it, he recalled him as he reached the
door. His cherished vanity craved expression.

“Wait!” said he. “There is a letter must be written. The King’s business
may not suffer postponement--not for all the dowagers in France. Sit
down.”

Babylas obeyed him. Tressan stood with his back to the open door. His
ears, strained to listen, had caught the swish of a woman’s gown. He
cleared his throat, and began to dictate:

“To Her Majesty the Queen-Regent--” He paused, and stood with knitted
brows, deep in thought. Then he ponderously repeated--“To Her Majesty
the Queen Regent--Have you got that?”

“Yes, Monsieur le Comte. ‘To Her Majesty the Queen Regent.’”

There was a step, and a throat-clearing cough behind him.

“Monsieur de Tressan,” said a woman’s voice, a rich, melodious voice, if
haughty and arrogant of intonation.

On the instant he turned, advanced a step, and bowed.

“Your humblest servant, madame,” said he, his hand upon his heart. “This
is an honour which--”

“Which necessity thrusts upon you,” she broke in imperiously. “Dismiss
that fellow.”

The secretary, pale and shy, had risen. His eyes dilated at the woman’s
speech. He looked for a catastrophe as the natural result of her taking
such a tone with this man who was the terror of his household and of
all Grenoble. Instead, the Lord Seneschal’s meekness left him breathless
with surprise.

“He is my secretary, madame. We were at work as you came. I was on the
point of inditing a letter to Her Majesty. The office of Seneschal in
a province such as Dauphiny is helas!--no sinecure.” He sighed like
one whose brain is weary. “It leaves a man little time even to eat or
sleep.”

“You will be needing a holiday, then,” said she, with cool insolence.
“Take one for once, and let the King’s business give place for half an
hour to mine.”

The secretary’s horror grew by leaps and bounds.

Surely the storm would burst at last about this audacious woman’s head.
But the Lord Seneschal--usually so fiery and tempestuous--did no more
than make her another of his absurd bows.

“You anticipate, madame, the very words I was about to utter. Babylas,
vanish!” And he waved the scribbler doorwards with a contemptuous hand.
“Take your papers with you--into my closet there. We will resume that
letter to Her Majesty when madame shall have left me.”

The secretary gathered up his papers, his quills, and his inkhorn, and
went his way, accounting the end of the world at hand.

When the door had closed upon him, the Seneschal, with another bow and
a simper, placed a chair at his visitor’s disposal. She looked at the
chair, then looked at the man much as she had looked at the chair,
and turning her back contemptuously on both, she sauntered towards the
fireplace. She stood before the blaze, with her whip tucked under her
arm, drawing off her stout riding-gloves. She was a tall, splendidly
proportioned woman, of a superb beauty of countenance, for all that she
was well past the spring of life.

In the waning light of that October afternoon none would have guessed
her age to be so much as thirty, though in the sunlight you might have
set it at a little more. But in no light at all would you have guessed
the truth, that her next would be her forty-second birthday. Her face
was pale, of an ivory pallor that gleamed in sharp contrast with the
ebony of her lustrous hair. Under the long lashes of low lids a pair of
eyes black and insolent set off the haughty lines of her scarlet lips.
Her nose was thin and straight, her neck an ivory pillar splendidly
upright upon her handsome shoulders.

She was dressed for riding, in a gown of sapphire velvet, handsomely
laced in gold across the stomacher, and surmounted at the neck, where
it was cut low and square, by the starched band of fine linen which in
France was already replacing the more elaborate ruff. On her head, over
a linen coif, she wore a tall-crowned grey beaver, swathed with a scarf
of blue and gold.

Standing by the hearth, one foot on the stone kerb, one elbow leaning
lightly on the overmantel, she proceeded leisurely to remove her gloves.

The Seneschal observed her with eyes that held an odd mixture of
furtiveness and admiration, his fingers--plump, indolent-looking
stumps--plucking at his beard.

“Did you but know, Marquise, with what joy, with what a--”

“I will imagine it, whatever it may be,” she broke in, with that brusque
arrogance that marked her bearing. “The time for flowers of rhetoric is
not now. There is trouble coming, man; trouble, dire trouble.”

Up went the Seneschal’s brows; his eyes grew wider.

“Trouble?” quoth he. And, having opened his mouth to give exit to that
single word, open he left it.

She laughed lazily, her lip curling, her face twisting oddly, and
mechanically she began to draw on again the glove she had drawn off.

“By your face I see how well you understand me,” she sneered. “The
trouble concerns Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye.”

“From Paris--does it come from Court?” His voice was sunk.

She nodded. “You are a miracle of intuition today, Tressan.”

He thrust his tiny tuft of beard between his teeth--a trick he had when
perplexed or thoughtful. “Ah!” he exclaimed at last, and it sounded like
an indrawn breath of apprehension. “Tell me more.”

“What more is there to tell? You have the epitome of the story.”

“But what is the nature of the trouble? What form does it take, and by
whom are you advised of it?”

“A friend in Paris sent me word, and his messenger did his work well,
else had Monsieur de Garnache been here before him, and I had not so
much as had the mercy of this forewarning.”

“Garnache?” quoth the Count. “Who is Garnache?”

“The emissary of the Queen-Regent. He has been dispatched hither by her
to see that Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye has justice and enlargement.”

Tressan fell suddenly to groaning and wringing his hands a pathetic
figure had it been less absurd.

“I warned you, madame! I warned you how it would end,” he cried. “I told
you--”

“Oh, I remember the things you told me,” she cut in, scorn in her voice.
“You may spare yourself their repetition. What is done is done, and I’ll
not--I would not--have it undone. Queen-Regent or no Queen-Regent, I
am mistress at Condillac; my word is the only law we know, and I intend
that so it shall continue.”

Tressan looked at her in surprise. This unreasoning, feminine obstinacy
so wrought upon him that he permitted himself a smile and a lapse into
irony and banter.

“Parfaitement,” said he, spreading his hands, and bowing. “Why speak of
trouble, then?”

She beat her whip impatiently against her gown, her eyes staring into
the fire. “Because, my attitude being such as it is, trouble will there
be.”

The Seneschal shrugged his shoulders, and moved a step towards her. He
was cast down to think that he might have spared himself the trouble
of donning his beautiful yellow doublet from Paris. She had eyes for no
finery that afternoon. He was cast down, too, to think how things might
go with him when this trouble came. It entered his thoughts that he had
lain long on a bed of roses in this pleasant corner of Dauphiny, and
he was smitten now with fear lest of the roses he should find nothing
remaining but the thorns.

“How came the Queen-Regent to hear of--of
mademoiselle’s--ah--situation?” he inquired.

The Marquise swung round upon him in a passion.

“The girl found a dog of a traitor to bear a letter for her. That is
enough. If ever chance or fate should bring him my way, by God! he shall
hang without shrift.”

Then she put her anger from her; put from her, too, the insolence and
scorn with which so lavishly she had addressed him hitherto. Instead she
assumed a suppliant air, her beautiful eyes meltingly set upon his face.

“Tressan,” said she in her altered voice, “I am beset by enemies. But
you will not forsake me? You will stand by me to the end--will you not,
my friend? I can count upon you, at least?”

“In all things, madame,” he answered, under the spell of her gaze. “What
force does this man Garnache bring with him? Have you ascertained?”

“He brings none,” she answered, triumph in her glance.

“None?” he echoed, horror in his. “None? Then--then--”

He tossed his arms to heaven, and stood a limp and shaken thing. She
leaned forward, and regarded him stricken in surprise.

“Diable! What ails you?” she snapped. “Could I have given you better
news?”

“If you could have given me worse, I cannot think what it might have
been,” he groaned. Then, as if smitten by a sudden notion that flashed a
gleam of hope into this terrifying darkness that was settling down upon
him, he suddenly looked up. “You mean to resist him?” he inquired.

She stared at him a second, then laughed, a thought unpleasantly.

“Pish! But you are mad,” she scorned him. “Do you need ask if I intend
to resist--I, with the strongest castle in Dauphiny? By God! sir, if you
need to hear me say it, hear me then say that I shall resist him and
as many as the Queen may send after him, for as long as one stone of
Condillac shall stand upon another.”

The Seneschal blew out his lips, and fell once more to the chewing of
his beard.

“What did you mean when you said I could have given you no worse news
than that of his coming alone?” she questioned suddenly.

“Madame,” said he, “if this man comes without force, and you resist the
orders of which he is the bearer, what think you will betide?”

“He will appeal to you for the men he needs that he may batter down my
walls,” she answered calmly.

He looked at her incredulously. “You realize it?” he ejaculated. “You
realize it?”

“What is there in it that should puzzle a babe?”

Her callousness was like a gust of wind upon the living embers of his
fears. It blew them into a blaze of wrath, sudden and terrific as that
of such a man at bay could be. He advanced upon her with the rolling
gait of the obese, his cheeks purple, his arms waving wildly, his dyed
mustachios bristling.

“And what of me, madame?” he spluttered. “What of me? Am I to be ruined,
gaoled, and hanged, maybe, for refusing him men?--for that is what is
in your mind. Am I to make myself an outlaw? Am I, who have been Lord
Seneschal of Dauphiny these fifteen years, to end my days in degradation
in the cause of a woman’s matrimonial projects for a simpering
school-girl? Seigneur du Ciel!” he roared, “I think you are gone
mad--mad, mad! over this affair. You would not think it too much to set
the whole province in flames so that you could have your way with this
wretched child. But, Ventregris! to ruin me--to--to--”

He fell silent for very want of words; just gaped and gasped, and then,
with hands folded upon his paunch, he set himself to pace the chamber.

Madame de Condillac stood watching him, her face composed, her glance
cold. She was like some stalwart oak, weathering with unshaken front
a hurricane. When he had done, she moved away from the fireplace, and,
beating her side gently with her whip, she stepped to the door.

“Au revoir, Monsieur de Tressan,” said she, mighty cool, her back
towards him.

At that he halted in his feverish stride, stood still and threw up his
head. His anger went out, as a candle is extinguished by a puff of wind.
And in its place a new fear crept into his heart.

“Madame, madame!” he cried. “Wait! Hear me.”

She paused, half-turned, and looked at him over her shoulder, scorn in
her glance, a sneer on her scarlet mouth, insolence in every line of
her.

“I think, monsieur, that I have heard a little more than enough,” said
she. “I am assured, at least, that in you I have but a fair-weather
friend, a poor lipserver.”

“Ah, not that, madame,” he cried, and his voice was stricken. “Say not
that. I would serve you as would none other in all this world--you know
it, Marquise; you know it.”

She faced about, and confronted him, her smile a trifle broader, as if
amusement were now blending with her scorn.

“It is easy to protest. Easy to say, ‘I will die for you,’ so long as
the need for such a sacrifice be remote. But let me do no more than
ask a favour, and it is, ‘What of my good name, madame? What of my
seneschalship? Am I to be gaoled or hanged to pleasure you?’ Faugh!” she
ended, with a toss of her splendid head. “The world is peopled with your
kind, and I--alas! for a woman’s intuitions--had held you different from
the rest.”

Her words were to his soul as a sword of fire might have been to his
flesh. They scorched and shrivelled it. He saw himself as she would have
him see himself--a mean, contemptible craven; a coward who made big talk
in times of peace, but faced about and vanished into hiding at the first
sign of danger. He felt himself the meanest, vilest thing a-crawl upon
this sinful earth, and she--dear God!--had thought him different from
the ruck. She had held him in high esteem, and behold, how short had he
not fallen of all her expectations! Shame and vanity combined to work a
sudden, sharp revulsion in his feelings.

“Marquise,” he cried, “you say no more than what is just. But punish
me no further. I meant not what I said. I was beside myself. Let me
atone--let my future actions make amends for that odious departure from
my true self.”

There was no scorn now in her smile; only an ineffable tenderness,
beholding which he felt it in his heart to hang if need be that he might
continue high in her regard. He sprang forward, and took the hand she
extended to him.

“I knew, Tressan,” said she, “that you were not yourself, and that when
you bethought you of what you had said, my valiant, faithful friend
would not desert me.”

He stooped over her hand, and slobbered kisses upon her unresponsive
glove.

“Madame,” said he, “you may count upon me. This fellow out of Paris
shall have no men from me, depend upon it.”

She caught him by the shoulders, and held him so, before her. Her face
was radiant, alluring; and her eyes dwelt on his with a kindness he had
never seen there save in some wild daydream of his.

“I will not refuse a service you offer me so gallantly,” said she. “It
were an ill thing to wound you by so refusing it.”

“Marquise,” he cried, “it is as nothing to what I would do did the
occasion serve. But when this thing ‘tis done; when you have had your
way with Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye, and the nuptials shall have been
celebrated, then--dare I hope--?”

He said no more in words, but his little blue eyes had an eloquence that
left nothing to mere speech.

Their glances met, she holding him always at arm’s length by that grip
upon his shoulders, a grip that was firm and nervous.

In the Seneschal of Dauphiny, as she now gazed upon him, she beheld a
very toad of a man, and the soul of her shuddered at the sight of him
combining with the thing that he suggested. But her glance was steady
and her lips maintained their smile, just as if that ugliness of his
had been invested with some abstract beauty existing only to her gaze; a
little colour crept into her cheeks, and red being the colour of love’s
livery, Tressan misread its meaning.

She nodded to him across the little distance of her outstretched arms,
then smothered a laugh that drove him crazed with hope, and breaking
from him she sped swiftly, shyly it almost seemed to him, to the door.

There she paused a moment looking back at him with a coyness that might
have become a girl of half her years, yet which her splendid beauty
saved from being unbecoming even in her.

One adorable smile she gave him, and before he could advance to hold the
door for her, she had opened it and passed out.



CHAPTER II. MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE

To promise rashly, particularly where a woman is the suppliant, and
afterwards, if not positively to repent the promise, at least to regret
that one did not hedge it with a few conditions, is a proceeding
not uncommon to youth. In a man of advanced age, such as Monsieur de
Tressan, it never should have place; and, indeed, it seldom has, unless
that man has come again under the sway of the influences by which youth,
for good or ill, is governed.

Whilst the flush of his adoration was upon him, hot from the contact
of her presence, he knew no repentance, found room in his mind for no
regrets. He crossed to the window, and pressed his huge round face to
the pane, in a futile effort to watch her mount and ride out of the
courtyard with her little troop of attendants. Finding that he might
not--the window being placed too high--gratify his wishes in that
connection, he dropped into his chair, and sat in the fast-deepening
gloom, reviewing, fondly here, hurriedly there, the interview that had
but ended.

Thus night fell, and darkness settled down about him, relieved only
by the red glow of the logs smouldering on the hearth. In the gloom
inspiration visited him. He called for lights and Babylas. Both came,
and he dispatched the lackey that lighted the tapers to summon Monsieur
d’Aubran, the commander of the garrison of Grenoble.

In the interval before the soldier’s coming he conferred with Babylas
concerning what he had in mind, but he found his secretary singularly
dull and unimaginative. So that, perforce, he must fall back upon
himself. He sat glum and thoughtful, his mind in unproductive travail,
until the captain was announced.

Still without any definite plan, he blundered headlong, nevertheless,
into the necessary first step towards the fulfilment of his purpose.

“Captain,” said he, looking mighty grave, “I have cause to believe that
all is not as it should be in the hills in the district of Montelimar.”

“Is there trouble, monsieur?” inquired the captain, startled.

“Maybe there is, maybe there is not,” returned the Seneschal
mysteriously. “You shall have your full orders in the morning.
Meanwhile, make ready to repair to the neighbourhood of Montelimar
to-morrow with a couple of hundred men.”

“A couple of hundred, monsieur!” exclaimed d’Aubran. “But that will be
to empty Grenoble of soldiers.”

“What of it? We are not likely to require them here. Let your orders for
preparation go round tonight, so that your knaves may be ready to set
out betimes to-morrow. If you will be so good as to wait upon me early
you shall have your instructions.”

Mystified, Monsieur d’Aubran departed on his errand, and my Lord
Seneschal went down to supper well pleased with the cunning device by
which he was to leave Grenoble without a garrison. It was an astute way
of escape from the awkward situation into which his attachment to the
interests of the dowager of Condillac was likely to place him.

But when the morning came he was less pleased with the idea, chiefly
because he had been unable to invent any details that should lend it the
necessary colour, and d’Aubran--worse luck--was an intelligent officer
who might evince a pardonable but embarrassing curiosity. A leader of
soldiers has a right to know something at least of the enterprise upon
which he leads them. By morning, too, Tressan found that the intervening
space of the night, since he had seen Madame de Condillac, had cooled
his ardour very considerably.

He had reached the incipient stages of regret of his rash promise.

When Captain d’Aubran was announced to him, he bade them ask him to come
again in an hour’s time. From mere regrets he was passing now, through
dismay, into utter repentance of his promise. He sat in his study,
at his littered writing-table, his head in his hands, a confusion of
thoughts, a wild, frenzied striving after invention in his brain.

Thus Anselme found him when he thrust aside the portiere to announce
that a Monsieur de Garnache, from Paris, was below, demanding to see the
Lord Seneschal at once upon an affair of State.

Tressan’s flesh trembled and his heart fainted. Then, suddenly,
desperately, he took his courage in both hands. He remembered who he was
and what he was the King’s Lord Seneschal of the Province of Dauphiny.
Throughout that province, from the Rhone to the Alps, his word was law,
his name a terror to evildoers--and to some others besides. Was he to
blench and tremble at the mention of the name of a Court lackey out of
Paris, who brought him a message from the Queen-Regent? Body of God! not
he.

He heaved himself to his feet, warmed and heartened by the thought; his
eye sparkled, and there was a deeper flush than usual upon his cheek.

“Admit this Monsieur de Garnache,” said he with a fine loftiness, and in
his heart he pondered what he would say and how he should say it; how he
should stand, how move, and how look. His roving eye caught sight of his
secretary. He remembered something--the cherished pose of being a man
plunged fathoms-deep in business. Sharply he uttered his secretary’s
name.

Babylas raised his pale face; he knew what was coming; it had come so
many times before. But there was no vestige of a smile on his drooping
lips, no gleam of amusement in his patient eye. He thrust aside the
papers on which he was at work, and drew towards him a fresh sheet on
which to pen the letter which, he knew by experience, Tressan was
about to indite to the Queen-mother. For these purposes Her Majesty was
Tressan’s only correspondent.

Then the door opened, the portiere was swept aside, and Anselme
announced “Monsieur de Garnache.”

Tressan turned as the newcomer stepped briskly into the room, and
bowed, hat in hand, its long crimson feather sweeping the ground, then
straightened himself and permitted the Seneschal to take his measure.

Tressan beheld a man of a good height, broad to the waist and spare
thence to the ground, who at first glance appeared to be mainly clad in
leather. A buff jerkin fitted his body; below it there was a glimpse of
wine-coloured trunks, and hose of a slightly deeper hue, which vanished
immediately into a pair of huge thighboots of untanned leather. A
leather swordbelt, gold-embroidered at the edges, carried a long
steel-halted rapier in a leather scabbard chaped with steel. The sleeves
of his doublet which protruded from his leather casing were of the same
colour and material as his trunks. In one hand he carried his broad
black hat with its crimson feather, in the other a little roll of
parchment; and when he moved the creak of leather and jingle of his
spurs made pleasant music for a martial spirit.

Above all, this man’s head, well set upon his shoulders, claimed some
attention. His nose was hooked and rather large, his eyes were blue,
bright as steel, and set a trifle wide. Above a thin-lapped, delicate
mouth his reddish mustachios, slightly streaked with grey, stood out,
bristling like a cat’s. His hair was darker--almost brown save at the
temples, where age had faded it to an ashen colour. In general his
aspect was one of rugged strength.

The Seneschal, measuring him with an adversary’s eye, misliked his
looks. But he bowed urbanely, washing his hands in the air, and
murmuring:

“Your servant, Monsieur de--?”

“Garnache,” came the other’s crisp, metallic voice, and the name had a
sound as of an oath on his lips. “Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache.
I come to you on an errand of Her Majesty’s, as this my warrant will
apprise you.” And he proffered the paper he held, which Tressan accepted
from his hand.

A change was visible in the wily Seneschal’s fat countenance. Its round
expanse had expressed interrogation until now; but at the Parisian’s
announcement that he was an emissary of the Queen’s, Tressan insinuated
into it just that look of surprise and of increased deference which
would have been natural had he not already been forewarned of Monsieur
de Garnache’s mission and identity.

He placed a chair at his visitor’s disposal, himself resuming his seat
at his writing-table, and unfolding the paper Garnache had given him.
The newcomer seated himself, hitched his sword-belt round so that he
could lean both hands upon the hilt, and sat, stiff and immovable,
awaiting the Lord Seneschal’s pleasure. From his desk across the room
the secretary, idly chewing the feathered end of his goose-quill, took
silent stock of the man from Paris, and wondered.

Tressan folded the paper carefully, and returned it to its owner. It
was no more than a formal credential, setting forth that Garnache was
travelling into Dauphiny on a State affair, and commanding Monsieur de
Tressan to give him every assistance he might require in the performance
of his errand.

“Parfaitement,” purred the Lord Seneschal. “And now, monsieur, if you
will communicate to me the nature of your affair, you shall find me
entirely at your service.”

“It goes without saying that you are acquainted with the Chateau de
Condillac?” began Garnache, plunging straight into business.

“Perfectly.” The Seneschal leaned back, and was concerned to feel his
pulses throbbing a shade too quickly. But he controlled his features,
and maintained a placid, bland expression.

“You are perhaps acquainted with its inhabitants?”

“Yes.”

“Intimate with them?”

The Seneschal pursed his lips, arched his brows, and slowly waved his
podgy hands, a combination of grimace and gesture that said much or
nothing. But reflecting that Monsieur de Tressan had a tongue, Garnache
apparently did not opine it worth his while to set a strain upon his own
imagination, for--

“Intimate with them?” he repeated, and this time there was a sharper
note in his voice.

Tressan leaned forward and brought his finger-tips together. His voice
was as urbane as it lay within its power to be.

“I understood that monsieur was proposing to state his business, not to
question mine.”

Garnache sat back in his chair, and his eyes narrowed. He scented
opposition, and the greatest stumbling-block in Garnache’s career had
been that he could never learn to brook opposition from any man. That
characteristic, evinced early in life, had all but been the ruin of him.
He was a man of high intellectual gifts, of military skill and great
resource; out of consideration for which had he been chosen by Marie de
Medicis to come upon this errand. But he marred it all by a temper so
ungovernable that in Paris there was current a byword, “Explosive as
Garnache.”

Little did Tressan dream to what a cask of gunpowder he was applying the
match of his smug pertness. Nor did Garnache let him dream it just yet.
He controlled himself betimes, bethinking him that, after all, there
might be some reason in what this fat fellow said.

“You misapprehend my purpose, sir,” said he, his lean brown hand
stroking his long chin. “I but sought to learn how far already you may
be informed of what is taking place up there, to the end that I may
spare myself the pains of citing facts with which already you are
acquainted. Still, monsieur, I am willing to proceed upon the lines
which would appear to be more agreeable to yourself.

“This, then, is the sum of the affair that brings me: The late Marquis
de Condillac left two sons. The elder, Florimond--who is the present
marquis, and who has been and still continues absent, warring in Italy,
since before his father’s death--is the stepson of the present Dowager,
she being the mother of the younger son, Marius de Condillac.

“Should you observe me to be anywhere at error, I beg, monsieur, that
you will have the complaisance to correct me.”

The Seneschal bowed gravely, and Monsieur de Garnache continued:

“Now this younger son--I believe that he is in his twenty-first year at
present--has been something of a scapegrace.”

“A scapegrace? Bon Dieu, no. That is a harsh name to give him. A little
indiscreet at times, a little rash, as is the way of youth.”

He would have said more, but the man from Paris was of no mind to waste
time on quibbles.

“Very well,” he snapped, cutting in. “We will say, a little indiscreet.
My errand is not concerned with Monsieur Marius’s morals or with his
lack of them. These indiscretions which you belittle appear to have been
enough to have estranged him from his father, a circumstance which but
served the more to endear him to his mother. I am told that she is a
very handsome woman, and that the boy favours her surprisingly.”

“Ah!” sighed the Seneschal in a rapture. “A beautiful woman--a noble,
splendid woman.’

“Hum!” Garnache observed the ecstatic simper with a grim eye. Then he
proceeded with his story.

“The late marquis possessed in his neighbour, the also deceased Monsieur
de La Vauvraye, a very dear and valued friend. Monsieur de La Vauvraye
had an only child, a daughter, to inherit his very considerable estates
probably the wealthiest in all Dauphiny, so I am informed. It was
the dearest wish of his heart to transform what had been a lifelong
friendship in his own generation into a closer relationship in the
next--a wish that found a very ready echo in the heart of Monsieur de
Condillac. Florimond de Condillac was sixteen years of age at the time,
and Valerie de La Vauvraye fourteen. For all their tender years, they
were betrothed, and they grew up to love each other and to look forward
to the consummation of the plans their fathers had laid for them.”

“Monsieur, monsieur,” the Seneschal protested, “how can you possibly
infer so much? How can you say that they loved each other? What
authority can you have for pretending to know what was in their inmost
hearts?”

“The authority of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye,” was the unanswerable
rejoinder. “I am telling you, more or less, what she herself wrote to
the Queen.”

“Ah! Well, well--proceed, monsieur.”

“This marriage should render Florimond de Condillac the wealthiest and
most powerful gentleman in Dauphiny--one of the wealthiest in France;
and the idea of it pleased the old marquis, inasmuch as the disparity
there would be between the worldly possessions of his two sons would
serve to mark his disapproval of the younger. But before settling down,
Florimond signified a desire to see the world, as was fit and proper
and becoming in a young man who was later to assume such wide
responsibilities. His father, realizing the wisdom of such a step, made
but slight objection, and at the age of twenty Florimond set out for the
Italian wars. Two years afterwards, a little over six months ago, his
father died, and was followed to the grave some weeks later by Monsieur
de La Vauvraye. The latter, with a want of foresight which has given
rise to the present trouble, misjudging the character of the Dowager
of Condillac, entrusted to her care his daughter Valerie pending
Florimond’s return, when the nuptials would naturally be immediately
celebrated. I am probably telling you no more than you already know.
But you owe the infliction to your own unwillingness to answer my
questions.”

“No, no, monsieur; I assure you that in what you say there is much that
is entirely new to me.”

“I rejoice to hear it, Monsieur de Tressan,” said Garnache very
seriously, “for had you been in possession of all these facts, Her
Majesty might have a right to learn how it chanced that you had nowise
interfered in what is toward at Condillac.

“But to proceed: Madame de Condillac and her precious Benjamin--this
Marius--finding themselves, in Florimond’s absence, masters of the
situation, have set about turning it to their own best advantage.
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye, whilst being nominally under their
guardianship, finds herself practically gaoled by them, and odious plans
are set before her to marry Marius. Could the Dowager but accomplish
this, it would seem that she would not only be assuring a future of
ease and dignity for her son, but also be giving vent to all her pent-up
hatred of her stepson.

“Mademoiselle, however, withstands them, and in this she is aided by
a fortuitous circumstance which has arisen out of the overbearing
arrogance that appears to be madame’s chief characteristic. Condillac
after the marquis’s death had refused to pay tithes to Mother Church
and has flouted and insulted the Bishop. This prelate, after finding
remonstrance vain, has retorted by placing Condillac under an Interdict,
depriving all within it of the benefit of clergy. Thus, they have been
unable to find a priest to venture thither, so that even had they willed
to marry mademoiselle by force to Marius, they lacked the actual means
of doing so.

“Florimond continues absent. We have every reason to believe that he has
been left in ignorance of his father’s death. Letters coming from him
from time to time prove that he was alive and well at least until three
months ago. A messenger has been dispatched to find him and urge him to
return home at once. But pending his arrival the Queen has determined
to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye
shall be released from her captivity, that she shall suffer no further
molestation at the hands of Madame de Condillac and her son--enfin, that
she shall run no further risks.

“My errand, monsieur, is to acquaint you with these facts, and to
request you to proceed to Condillac and deliver thence Mademoiselle de
La Vauvraye, whom I am subsequently to escort to Paris and place under
Her Majesty’s protection until such time as the new marquis shall return
to claim her.”

Having concluded, Monsieur de Garnache sat back in his chair, and threw
one leg over the other, fixing his eyes upon the Seneschal’s face and
awaiting his reply.

On that gross countenance before him he saw fall the shadow of
perplexity. Tressan was monstrous ill-at-ease, and his face lost a good
deal of its habitual plethora of colour. He sought to temporize.

“Does it not occur to you, monsieur, that perhaps too much importance
may have been attached to the word of this child--this Mademoiselle de
La Vauvraye?”

“Does it occur to you that such has been the case, that she has
overstated it?” counter-questioned Monsieur de Garnache.

“No, no. I do not say that. But--but--would it not be
better--more--ah--satisfactory to all concerned, if you yourself were
to go to Condillac, and deliver your message in person, demanding
mademoiselle?”

The man from Paris looked at him a moment, then stood up suddenly, and
shifted the carriages of his sword back to their normal position. His
brows came together in a frown, from which the Seneschal argued that his
suggestion was not well received.

“Monsieur,” said the Parisian very coldly, like a man who contains a
rising anger, “let me tell you that this is the first time in my life
that I have been concerned in anything that had to do with women and I
am close upon forty years of age. The task, I can assure you, was little
to my taste. I embarked upon it because, being a soldier and having
received my orders, I was in the unfortunate position of being unable to
help myself. But I intend, monsieur, to adhere rigidly to the letter of
these commands. Already I have endured more than enough in the interests
of this damsel. I have ridden from Paris, and that means close upon a
week in the saddle--no little thing to a man who has acquired certain
habits of life and developed a taste for certain minor comforts which he
is very reluctant to forgo. I have fed and slept at inns, living on the
worst of fares and sleeping on the hardest, and hardly the cleanest, of
beds. Ventregris! Figure to yourself that last night we lay at Luzan,
in the only inn the place contained--a hovel, Monsieur le Seneschal, a
hovel in which I would not kennel a dog I loved.”

His face flushed, and his voice rose as he dwelt upon the things he had
undergone.

“My servant and I slept in a dormitory’--a thousand devils! monsieur, in
a dormitory! Do you realize it? We had for company a drunken vintner,
a pedlar, a pilgrim on his way to Rome, and two peasant women; and
they sent us to bed without candles, for modesty’s sake. I ask you to
conceive my feelings in such a case as that. I could tell you more; but
that as a sample of what I have undergone could scarcely be surpassed.”

“Truly-truly outrageous,” sympathized the Seneschal; yet he grinned.

“I ask you--have I not suffered inconvenience enough already in the
service of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye that you can blame me if I refuse
to go a single step further than my orders bid me?”

The Seneschal stared at him now in increasing dismay. Had his own
interests been less at issue he could have indulged his mirth at the
other’s fiery indignation at the inconveniences he recited. As it was,
he had nothing to say; no thought or feeling other than what concerned
finding a way of escape from the net that seemed to be closing in about
him--how to seem to serve the Queen without turning against the Dowager
of Condillac; how to seem to serve the Dowager without opposing the
wishes of the Queen.

“A plague on the girl!” he growled, unconsciously uttering his thoughts
aloud. “The devil take her!”

Garnache smiled grimly. “That is a bond of sympathy between us,” said
he. “I have said those very words a hundred times--a thousand times,
indeed--between Paris and Grenoble. Yet I scarcely see that you can damn
her with as much justice as can I.

“But there, monsieur; all this is unprofitable. You have my message. I
shall spend the day at Grenoble, and take a well-earned rest. By this
time to-morrow I shall be ready to start upon my return journey. I
shall have then the honour to wait upon you again, to the end that I
may receive from you the charge of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. I shall
count upon your having her here, in readiness to set out with me, by
noon to-morrow.”

He bowed, with a flourish of his plumed hat, and would with that have
taken his departure but that the Seneschal stayed him.

“Monsieur, monsieur,” he cried, in piteous affright, “you do not know
the Dowager of Condillac.”

“Why, no. What of it?”

“What of it? Did you know her, you would understand that she is not the
woman to be driven. I may order her in the Queen’s name to deliver up
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. But she will withstand me.”

“Withstand you?” echoed Garnache, frowning into the face of this fat
man, who had risen also, brought to his feet by excitement. “Withstand
you--you, the Lord Seneschal of Dauphiny? You are amusing yourself at my
expense.”

“But I tell you that she will,” the other insisted in a passion. “You
may look for the girl in vain tomorrow unless you go to Condillac
yourself and take her.”

Garnache drew himself up and delivered his answer in a tone that was
final.

“You are the governor of the province, monsieur, and in this matter you
have in addition the Queen’s particular authority--nay, her commands are
imposed upon you. Those commands, as interpreted by me, you will execute
in the manner I have indicated.”

The Seneschal shrugged his shoulders, and chewed a second at his beard.

“It is an easy thing for you to tell me what to do. Tell me, rather, how
to do it, how to overcome her opposition.”

“You are very sure of opposition--strangely sure, monsieur,” said
Garnache, looking him between the eyes. “In any case, you have
soldiers.”

“And so has she, and the strongest castle in southern France--to say
nothing of the most cursed obstinacy in the world. What she says, she
does.”

“And what the Queen says her loyal servants do,” was Garnache’s
rejoinder, in a withering tone. “I think there is nothing more to be
said, monsieur,” he added. “By this time to-morrow I shall expect to
receive from you, here, the charge of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. A
demain, donc, Monsieur le Seneschal.”

And with another bow the man from Paris drew himself erect, turned on
his heel, and went jingling and creaking from the room.

The Lord Seneschal sank back in his chair, and wondered to himself
whether to die might not prove an easy way out of the horrid situation
into which chance and his ill-starred tenderness for the Dowager of
Condillac had thrust him.

At his desk sat his secretary, who had been a witness of the interview,
lost in wonder almost as great as the Seneschal’s own.

For an hour Tressan remained where he was, deep in thought and gnawing
at his beard. Then with a sudden burst of passion, expressed in a round
oath or two, he rose, and called for his horse that he might ride to
Condillac.



CHAPTER III. THE DOWAGER’S COMPLIANCE

Promptly at noon on the morrow Monsieur de Garnache presented himself
once more at the Seneschal’s palace, and with him went Rabecque, his
body-servant, a lean, swarthy, sharp-faced man, a trifle younger than
his master.

Anselme, the obese master of the household, received them with profound
respect, and at once conducted Garnache to Monsieur de Tressan’s
presence.

On the stairs they met Captain d’Aubran, who was descending. The captain
was not in the best of humours. For four-and-twenty hours he had kept
two hundred of his men under arms, ready to march as soon as he should
receive his orders from the Lord Seneschal, yet those instructions were
not forthcoming. He had been to seek them again that morning, only to be
again put off.

Monsieur de Garnache had considerable doubt, born of his yesterday’s
interview with the Seneschal, that Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye would
be delivered into his charge as he had stipulated. His relief was,
therefore, considerable, upon being ushered into Tressan’s presence,
to find a lady in cloak and hat, dressed as for a journey, seated in a
chair by the great fireplace.

Tressan advanced to meet him, a smile of cordial welcome on his lips,
and they bowed to each other in formal greeting.

“You see, monsieur,” said the Seneschal, waving a plump hand in the
direction of the lady, “that you have been obeyed. Here is your charge.”

Then to the lady: “This is Monsieur de Garnache,” he announced, “of whom
I have already told you, who is to conduct you to Paris by order of Her
Majesty.

“And now, my good friends, however great the pleasure I derive from your
company, I care not how soon you set out, for I have some prodigious
arrears of work upon my hands.”

Garnache bowed to the lady, who returned his greeting by an inclination
of the head, and his keen eyes played briskly over her. She was a
plump-faced, insipid child, with fair hair and pale blue eyes, stolid
and bovine in their expressionlessness.

“I am quite ready, monsieur,” said she, rising as she spoke, and
gathering her cloak about her; and Garnache remarked that her voice had
the southern drawl, her words the faintest suggestion of a patois. It
was amazing how a lady born and bred could degenerate in the rusticity
of Dauphiny. Pigs and cows, he made no doubt, had been her chief
objectives. Yet, even so, he thought he might have expected that she
would have had more to say to him than just those five words expressing
her readiness to depart. He had looked for some acknowledgment of
satisfaction at his presence, some utterances of gratitude either to
himself or to the Queen-Regent for the promptness with which she had
been succoured. He was disappointed, but he showed nothing of it, as
with a simple inclination of the head--

“Good!” said he. “Since you are ready and Monsieur le Seneschal is
anxious to be rid of us, let us by all means be moving. You have a long
and tedious journey before you, mademoiselle.”

“I--I am prepared for that,” she faltered.

He stood aside, and bending from the waist he made a sweeping gesture
towards the door with the hand that held his hat. To the invitation to
precede him she readily responded, and, with a bow to the Seneschal, she
began to walk across the apartment.

Garnache’s eyes, narrowing slightly, followed her, like points of steel.
Suddenly he shot a disturbing glance at Tressan’s face, and the corner
of his wild-cat mustachios twitched. He stood erect, and called her very
sharply.

“Mademoiselle!”

She stopped, and turned to face him, an incredible shyness seeming to
cause her to avoid his gaze.

“You have, no doubt, Monsieur le Seneschal’s word for my identity. But
I think it is as well that you should satisfy yourself. Before placing
yourself entirely in my care, as you are about to do, you would be well
advised to assure yourself, that I am indeed Her Majesty’s emissary.
Will you be good enough to glance at this?”

He drew forth as he spoke the letter in the queen’s own hand, turned
it upside down, and so presented it to her. The Seneschal looked on
stolidly, a few paces distant.

“But certainly, mademoiselle, assure yourself that this gentleman is no
other than I have told you.”

Thus enjoined, she took the letter; for a second her eyes met Garnache’s
glittering gaze, and she shivered. Then she bent her glance to the
writing, and studied it a moment, what time the man from Paris watched
her closely.

Presently she handed it back to him.

“Thank you, monsieur,” was all she said.

“You are satisfied that it is in order, mademoiselle?” he inquired, and
a note of mockery too subtle for her or the Seneschal ran through his
question.

“I am quite satisfied.”

Garnache turned to Tressan. His eyes were smiling, but unpleasantly,
and in his voice when he spoke there was something akin to the distant
rumble that heralds an approaching storm.

“Mademoiselle,” said he, “has received an eccentric education.”

“Eh?” quoth Tressan, perplexed.

“I have heard tell, monsieur, of a people somewhere in the East who
read and write from right to left; but never yet have I heard tell of
any--particularly in France--so oddly schooled as to do their reading
upside down.”

Tressan caught the drift of the other’s meaning. He paled a little,
and sucked his lip, his eyes wandering to the girl, who stood in stolid
inapprehension of what was being said.

“Did she do that?” said he, and he scarcely knew what he was saying;
all that he realized was that it urged him to explain this thing.
“Mademoiselle’s education has been neglected--a by no means uncommon
happening in these parts. She is sensitive of it; she seeks to hide the
fact.”

Then the storm broke about their heads. And it crashed and thundered
awfully in the next few minutes.

“O liar! O damned, audacious liar,” roared Garnache uncompromisingly,
advancing a step upon the Seneschal, and shaking the parchment
threateningly in his very face, as though it were become a weapon of
offence. “Was it to hide the fact that she had not been taught to write
that she sent the Queen a letter pages-long? Who is this woman?” And the
finger he pointed at the girl quivered with the rage that filled him at
this trick they had thought to put upon him.

Tressan sought refuge in offended dignity. He drew himself up, threw
back his head, and looked the Parisian fiercely in the eye.

“Since you take this tone with me, monsieur--”

“I take with you--as with any man--the tone that to me seems best. You
miserable fool! As sure as you’re a rogue this affair shall cost you
your position. You have waxed fat and sleek in your seneschalship; this
easy life in Dauphiny appears to have been well suited to your health.
But as your paunch has grown, so, of a truth, have your brains dwindled,
else had you never thought to cheat me quite so easily.

“Am I some lout who has spent his days herding swine, think you, that
you could trick me into believing this creature to be Mademoiselle de
La Vauvraye--this creature with the mien of a peasant, with a breath
reeking of garlic like a third-rate eating-house, and the walk of a
woman who has never known footgear until this moment? Tell me, sir, for
what manner of fool did you take me?”

The Seneschal stood with blanched face and gaping mouth, his fire all
turned to ashes before the passion of this gaunt man.

Garnache paid no heed to him. He stepped to the girl, and roughly raised
her chin with his hand so that she was forced to look him in the face.

“What is your name, wench?” he asked her.

“Margot,” she blubbered, bursting into tears.

He dropped her chin, and turned away with a gesture of disgust.

“Get you gone,” he bade her harshly. “Get you back to the kitchen or the
onion-field from which they took you.”

And the girl, scarce believing her good fortune, departed with a speed
that bordered on the ludicrous. Tressan had naught to say, no word to
stay her with; pretence, he realized, was vain.

“Now, my Lord Seneschal,” quoth Garnache, arms akimbo, feet planted
wide, and eyes upon the wretched man’s countenance, “what may you have
to say to me?”

Tressan shifted his position; he avoided the other’s glance; he was
visibly trembling, and when presently he spoke it was in faltering
accents.

“It--it--seems, monsieur, that--ah--that I have been the victim of some
imposture.”

“It had rather seemed to me that the victim chosen was myself.”

“Clearly we were both victims,” the Seneschal rejoined. Then he
proceeded to explain. “I went to Condillac yesterday as you desired me,
and after a stormy interview with the Marquise I obtained from her--as
I believed--the person of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. You see I was not
myself acquainted with the lady.”

Garnache looked at him. He did not believe him. He regretted almost that
he had not further questioned the girl. But, after all, perhaps it
might be easier and more expedient if he were to appear to accept the
Seneschal’s statement. But he must provide against further fraud.

“Monsieur le Seneschal,” said he in calmer tones, putting his anger
from him, “at the best you are a blunderer and an ass, at the worst
a traitor. I will inquire no further at present; I’ll not seek to
discriminate too finely.”

“Monsieur, these insults--” began the Seneschal, summoning dignity to
his aid. But Garnache broke in:

“La, la! I speak in the Queen’s name. If you have thought to aid the
Dowager of Condillac in this resistance of Her Majesty’s mandate, let
me enjoin you, as you value your seneschalship--as you value your very
neck--to harbour that thought no longer.

“It seems that, after all, I must deal myself with the situation. I must
go myself to Condillac. If they should resist me, I shall look to you
for the necessary means to overcome that resistance.

“And bear you this in mind: I have chosen to leave it an open question
whether you were a party to the trick it has been sought to put upon the
Queen, through me, her representative. But it is a question that I have
it in my power to resolve at any moment--to resolve as I choose.
Unless, monsieur, I find you hereafter--as I trust--actuated by the most
unswerving loyalty, I shall resolve that question by proclaiming you
a traitor; and as a traitor I shall arrest you and carry you to Paris.
Monsieur le Seneschal, I have the honour to give you good-day!”

When he was gone, Monsieur de Tressan flung off his wig, and mopped the
perspiration from his brow. He went white as snow and red as fire by
turns, as he paced the apartment in a frenzy. Never in the fifteen
years that were sped since he had been raised to the governorship of
the province had any man taken such a tone with him and harangued him in
such terms.

A liar and a traitor had he been called that morning, a knave and a
fool; he had been browbeaten and threatened; and he had swallowed it
all, and almost turned to lick the hand that administered the dose.
Dame! What manner of cur was he become? And the man who had done
all this--a vulgar upstart out of Paris, reeking of leather and the
barrack-room still lived!

Bloodshed was in his mind; murder beckoned him alluringly to take her as
his ally. But he put the thought from him, frenzied though he might be.
He must fight this knave with other weapons; frustrate his mission, and
send him back to Paris and the Queen’s scorn, beaten and empty-handed.

“Babylas!” he shouted.

Immediately the secretary appeared.

“Have you given thought to the matter of Captain d’Aubran?” he asked,
his voice an impatient snarl.

“Yes, monsieur, I have pondered it all morning.”

“Well? And what have you concluded?”

“Helas! monsieur, nothing.”

Tressan smote the table before him a blow that shook some of the dust
out of the papers that cumbered it. “Ventregris! How am I served? For
what do I pay you, and feed you, and house you, good-for-naught, if you
are to fail me whenever I need the things you call your brains? Have you
no intelligence, no thought, no imagination? Can you invent no plausible
business, no likely rising, no possible disturbances that shall justify
my sending Aubran and his men to Montelimar--to the very devil, if need
be.”

The secretary trembled in his every limb; his eyes shunned his master’s
as his master’s had shunned Garnache’s awhile ago. The Seneschal was
enjoying himself. If he had been bullied and browbeaten, here, at least,
was one upon whom he, in his turn, might taste the joys of bullying and
browbeating.

“You lazy, miserable calf,” he stormed, “I might be better served by
a wooden image. Go! It seems I must rely upon myself. It is always so.
Wait!” he thundered; for the secretary, only too glad to obey his last
order, had already reached the door. “Tell Anselme to bid the Captain
attend me here at once.”

Babylas’s bowed and went his errand.

A certain amount of his ill-humour vented, Tressan made an effort to
regain his self-control. He passed his handkerchief for the last time
over face and head, and resumed his wig.

When d’Aubran entered, the Seneschal was composed and in his wonted
habit of ponderous dignity. “Ah, d’Aubran,” said he, “your men are
ready?”

“They have been ready these four-and-twenty hours, monsieur.”

“Good. You are a brisk soldier, d’Aubran. You are a man to be relied
upon.”

D’Aubran bowed. He was a tall, active young fellow with a pleasant face
and a pair of fine black eyes.

“Monsieur le Seneschal is very good.”

With a wave of the hand the Seneschal belittled his own goodness.

“You will march out of Grenoble within the hour, Captain, and you will
lead your men to Montelimar. There you will quarter them, and await
my further orders. Babylas will give you a letter to the authorities,
charging them to find you suitable quarters. While there, d’Aubran, and
until my further orders reach you, you will employ your time in probing
the feeling in the hill district. You understand?”

“Imperfectly,” d’Aubran confessed.

“You will understand better when you have been in Montelimar a week or
so. It may, of course, be a false alarm. Still, we must safeguard the
King’s interests and be prepared. Perhaps we may afterwards be charged
with starting at shadows; but it is better to be on the alert from the
moment the shadow is perceived than to wait until the substance itself
has overwhelmed us.”

It sounded so very much as if the Seneschal’s words really had some
hidden meaning, that d’Aubran, if not content with going upon an errand
of which he knew so little, was, at least, reconciled to obey the orders
he received. He uttered words that conveyed some such idea to Tressan’s
mind, and within a half-hour he was marching out of Grenoble with
beating drums, on his two days’ journey to Montelimar.



CHAPTER IV. THE CHATEAU DE CONDILLAC

As Captain d’Aubran and his troop were speeding westwards from Grenoble,
Monsieur de Garnache, ever attended by his man, rode briskly in the
opposite direction, towards the grey towers of Condillac, that reared
themselves towards the greyer sky above the valley of the Isere. It was
a chill, dull, autumnal day, with a raw wind blowing from the Alps; its
breath was damp, and foretold of the rain that was likely to come anon,
the rain with which the clouds hanging low about the distant hills were
pregnant.

But Monsieur de Garnache was totally insensible to his surroundings; his
mind was very busy with the interview from which he had come, and
the interview to which he was speeding. Once he permitted himself a
digression, that he might point a moral for the benefit of his servant.

“You see, Rebecque, what a plague it is to have to do with women. Are
you sufficiently grateful to me for having quelled your matrimonial
ardour of two months ago? No, you are not. Grateful you may be;
sufficiently grateful, never; it would be impossible. No gratitude could
be commensurate with the benefit I conferred upon you. Yet if you had
married, and discovered for yourself the troubles that come from too
close an association with that sex which some wag of old ironically
called the weaker, and of which contemporary fools with no sense of
irony continue so to speak in good faith, you could have blamed only
yourself. You would have shrugged your shoulders and made the best of
it, realizing that no other man had put this wrong upon you. But with
me--thousand devils!--it is very different. I am a man who, in one
particular at least, has chosen his way of life with care; I have seen
to it that I should walk a road unencumbered by any petticoat. What
happens? What comes of all my careful plans?

“Fate sends an infernal cut-throat to murder our good king--whose soul
God rest eternally! And since his son is of an age too tender to wield
the sceptre, the boy’s mother does it in his name. Thus, I, a soldier,
being subject to the head of the State, find myself, by no devising of
my own, subject to a woman.

“In itself that is bad enough. Too bad, indeed--Ventregris!--too bad.
Yet Fate is not content. It must occur to this woman to select me--me
of all men--to journey into Dauphiny, and release another woman from
the clutches of yet a third. And to what shifts are we not put, to what
discomforts not subjected? You know them, Rabecque, for you have shared
them with me. But it begins to break upon my mind that what we have
endured may be as nothing to what may lie before us. It is an ill thing
to have to do with women. Yet you, Rabecque, would have deserted me for
one of them!”

Rabecque was silent. Maybe he was ashamed of himself; or maybe that,
not agreeing with his master, he had yet sufficient appreciation of
his position to be discreetly silent where his opinions might be at
variance. Thus Garnache was encouraged to continue.

“And what is all this trouble about, which they have sent me to set
right? About a marriage. There is a girl wants to marry one man, and
a woman who wants to marry her to another. Ponder the possibilities of
tragedy in such a situation. Half this world’s upheavals have had their
source in less. Yet you, Rabecque, would have married!”

Necessity at last turned his discourse to other matters.

“Tell me, now,” said he abruptly, in a different tone, “is there
hereabouts a ford?”

“There is a bridge up yonder, monsieur,” returned the servant, thankful
to have the conversation changed.

They rode towards it in silence, Garnache’s eyes set now upon the grey
pile that crowned the hillock, a half-mile away, on the opposite bank of
the stream. They crossed the bridge and rode up the gently rising, bare,
and rugged ground towards Condillac. The place wore an entirely peaceful
air, strong and massive though it appeared. It was encircled by a ditch,
but the drawbridge was down, and the rust on its chains argued that long
had it been so.

None coming to challenge them, the pair rode across the planks, and
the dull thud of their hooves started into activity some one in the
gatehouse.

A fellow rudely clad--a hybrid between man-at-arms and lackey--lounged
on a musket to confront them in the gateway. Monsieur de Garnache
announced his name, adding that he came to crave an audience of Madame
la Marquise, and the man stood aside to admit him. Thus he and Rabecque
rode forward into the roughly paved courtyard.

From several doorways other men emerged, some of martial bearing,
showing that the place was garrisoned to some extent. Garnache took
little heed of them. He flung his reins to the man whom he had first
addressed--the fellow had kept pace beside him--and leapt nimbly to the
ground, bidding Rabecque await him there.

The soldier lackey resigned the reins to Rabecque, and requested
Monsieur de Garnache to follow him. He led the way through a door on
the left, down a passage and across an anteroom, and ushered the visitor
finally into a spacious, gloomy hall, panelled in black oak and lighted
as much by the piled-up fire that flared on the noble hearth as by the
grey daylight that filtered through the tall mullioned windows.

As they entered, a liver-coloured hound that lay stretched before the
fire growled lazily, and showed the whites of his eyes. Paying little
attention to the dog, Garnache looked about him. The apartment was
handsome beyond praise, in a sombre, noble fashion. It was hung
with pictures of departed Condillacs--some of them rudely wrought
enough--with trophies of ancient armour, and with implements of the
chase. In the centre stood an oblong table of black oak, very richly
carved about its massive legs, and in a china bowl, on this, an armful
of late roses filled the room with their sweet fragrance.

Then Garnache espied a page on the window-seat, industriously burnishing
a cuirass. He pursued his task, indifferent to the newcomer’s advent,
until the knave who had conducted thither the Parisian called the boy
and bade him go tell the Marquise that a Monsieur de Garnache, with a
message from the Queen-Regent, begged an audience.

The boy rose, and simultaneously, out of a great chair by the hearth,
whose tall back had hitherto concealed him, there rose another figure.
This was a stripling of some twenty summers--twenty-one, in fact--of
a pale, beautifully featured face, black hair and fine black eyes, and
very sumptuously clad in a suit of shimmering silk whose colour shifted
from green to purple as he moved.

Monsieur de Garnache assumed that he was in the presence of Marius de
Condillac. He bowed a trifle stiffly, and was surprised to have his bow
returned with a graciousness that amounted almost to cordiality.

“You are from Paris, monsieur?” said the young man, in a gentle,
pleasant voice. “I fear you have had indifferent weather for your
journey.”

Garnache thought of other things besides the weather that he had found
indifferent, and he felt warmed almost to the point of anger at the very
recollection. But he bowed again, and answered amiably enough.

The young man offered him a seat, assuring him that his mother would not
keep him waiting long. The page had already gone upon his errand.

Garnache took the proffered chair, and sank down with creak and jingle
to warm himself at the fire.

“From what you have said, I gather that you are Monsieur Marius de
Condillac,” said he. “I, as you may have heard me announced by your
servant, am Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache--at your service.”

“We have heard of you, Monsieur de Garnache,” said the youth as he
crossed his shapely legs of silken violet, and fingered the great pearl
that depended from his ear. “But we had thought that by now you would be
on your way to Paris.”

“No doubt--with Margot,” was the grim rejoinder.

But Marius either gathered no suggestion from its grimness, or did not
know the name Garnache uttered, for he continued:

“We understood that you were to escort Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye to
Paris, to place her under the tutelage of the Queen-Regent. I will not
conceal from you that we were chagrined at the reflection cast upon
Condillac; nevertheless, Her Majesty’s word is law in Dauphiny as much
as it is in Paris.”

“Quite as much, and I am relieved to hear you confess it,” said Garnache
drily, and he scanned more closely the face of this young man. He found
cause to modify the excellent impression he had received at first.
Marius’s eyebrows were finely pencilled, but they arched a shade too
much, and his eyes were set a trifle too closely; the mouth, which
had seemed beautiful at first, looked, in addition, on this closer
inspection, weak, sensual, and cruel.

There fell upon the momentary silence the sound of an opening door, and
both men rose simultaneously to their feet.

In the splendid woman that entered, Monsieur de Garnache saw a wonderful
likeness to the boy who stood beside him. She received the emissary very
graciously. Marius set a chair for her between the two they had been
occupying, and thus interchanging phrases of agreeable greeting the
three sat down about the hearth with every show of the greatest amity.

A younger man might have been put out of countenance; the woman’s
surpassing beauty, her charm of manner, her melodious voice, falling
on the ear soft and gentle as a caress, might have turned a man of less
firmness a little from his purpose, a little perhaps from his loyalty
and the duty that had brought him all the way from Paris. But Monsieur
de Garnache was to her thousand graces as insensible as a man of stone.
And he came to business briskly. He had no mind to spend the day at her
fireside in pleasant, meaningless talk.

“Madame,” said he, “monsieur your son informs me that you have heard of
me and of the business that brings me into Dauphiny. I had not looked
for the honour of journeying quite so far as Condillac; but since
Monsieur de Tressan, whom I made my ambassador, appears to have failed
so signally, I am constrained to inflict my presence upon you.”

“Inflict?” quoth she, with a pretty look of make-believe dismay. “How
harsh a word, monsieur!”

The smoothness of the implied compliment annoyed him.

“I will use any word you think more adequate, madame, if you will
suggest it,” he answered tartly.

“There are a dozen I might suggest that would better fit the case--and
with more justice to yourself,” she answered, with a smile that revealed
a gleam of white teeth behind her scarlet lips. “Marcus, bid Benoit
bring wine. Monsieur de Garnache will no doubt be thirsting after his
ride.”

Garnache said nothing. Acknowledge the courtesy he would not; refuse it
he could not. So he sat, and waited for her to speak, his eyes upon the
fire.

Madame had already set herself a course. Keener witted than her son, she
had readily understood, upon Garnache’s being announced to her, that his
visit meant the failure of the imposture by which she had sought to be
rid of him.

“I think, monsieur,” she said presently, watching him from under her
lids, “that we have, all of us who are concerned in Mademoiselle de
La Vauvraye’s affairs, been at cross-purposes. She is an impetuous,
impulsive child, and it happened that some little time ago we had
words--such things will happen in the most united families. Whilst the
heat of her foolish anger was upon her, she wrote a letter to the
Queen, in which she desired to be removed from my tutelage. Since then,
monsieur, she has come to repent her of it. You, who no doubt understand
a woman’s mind--”

“Set out upon no such presumption, madame,” he interrupted. “I know as
little of a woman’s mind as any man who thinks he knows a deal--and that
is nothing.”

She laughed as at an excellent jest, and Marius, overhearing Garnache’s
retort as he was returning to resume his seat, joined in her laugh.

“Paris is a fine whetstone for a man’s wits,” said he.

Garnache shrugged his shoulders.

“I take it, madame, that you wish me to understand that Mademoiselle
de La Vauvraye, repenting of her letter, desires no longer to repair to
Paris; desires, in fact, to remain here at Condillac in your excellent
care.”

“You apprehend the position exactly, monsieur.”

“To my mind,” said he, “it presents few features difficult of
apprehension.”

Marius’s eyes flashed his mother a look of relief; but the Marquise, who
had an ear more finely trained, caught the vibration of a second meaning
in the emissary’s words.

“All being as you say, madame,” he continued, “will you tell me why,
instead of some message to this purport, you sent Monsieur de Tressan
back to me with a girl taken from some kitchen or barnyard, whom it was
sought to pass off upon me as Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye?”

The Marquise laughed, and her son, who had shown signs of perturbation,
taking his cue from her, laughed too.

“It was a jest, monsieur”--she told him, miserably conscious that the
explanation could sound no lamer.

“My compliments, madame, upon the humour that prevails in Dauphiny. But
your jest failed of its purpose. It did not amuse me, nor, so far as I
could discern, was Monsieur de Tressan greatly taken with it. But all
this is of little moment, madame,” he continued. “Since you tell me that
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye is content to remain here, I am satisfied
that it is so.”

They were the very words that she desired to hear from him; yet his
manner of uttering them gave her little reassurance. The smile on her
lips was forced; her watchful eyes smiled not at all.

“Still,” he continued, “you will be so good as to remember that I am not
my own master in this affair. Were that so, I should not fail to relieve
you at once of my unbidden presence.”

“Oh, monsieur--”

“But, being the Queen’s emissary, I have her orders to obey, and those
orders are to convey Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye to Paris. They make
no allowance for any change that may have occurred in mademoiselle’s
inclinations. If the journey is now distasteful to her, she has but her
own rashness to blame in having sought it herself. What imports is that
she is bidden by the Queen to repair to Paris; as a loyal subject she
must obey the Queen’s commands; you, as a loyal subject, must see to
it that she obeys them. So, madame, I count upon your influence with
mademoiselle to see that she is ready to set out by noon to-morrow.
One day already has been wasted me by your--ah--jest, madame. The Queen
likes her ambassadors to be brisk.”

The Dowager reclined in her chair, and bit her lip. This man was too
keen for her. She had no illusions. He had seen through her as if she
had been made of glass; he had penetrated her artifices and detected
her falsehoods. Yet feigning to believe her and them, he had first
neutralized her only weapons--other than offensive--then used them for
her own defeat. Marius it was who took up the conversation.

“Monsieur,” he cried--and there was a frown drawing together his fine
brows--“what you suggest amounts to a tyranny on the Queen’s part.”

Garnache was on his feet, his chair grating the polished floor.

“Monsieur says?” quoth he, his glittering eye challenging the rash boy
to repeat his words.

But the Dowager intervened with a little trill of laughter.

“Bon Dieu! Marius, what are you saying? Foolish boy! And you, Monsieur
de Garnache, do not heed him, I beg you. We are so far from Court in
this little corner of Dauphiny, and my son has been reared in so free
an atmosphere that he is sometimes betrayed into expressions whose
impropriety he does not realize.”

Garnache bowed in token of his perfect satisfaction, and at that moment
two servants entered bearing flagons and beakers, fruits and sweetmeats,
which they placed upon the table. The Dowager rose, and went to do the
honours of the board. The servants withdrew.

“You will taste our wine of Condillac, monsieur?”

He acquiesced, expressing thanks, and watched her fill a beaker for him,
one for herself, and another for her son. She brought him the cup in
her hands. He took it with a grave inclination of the head. Then she
proffered him the sweetmeats. To take one, he set down the cup on the
table, by which he had also come to stand. His left hand was gloved and
held his beaver and whip.

She nibbled, herself, at one of the comfits, and he followed her
example. The boy, a trifle sullen since the last words, stood on the
hearth with his back to the fire, his hands clasped behind him.

“Monsieur,” she said, “do you think it would enable you to comply
with what I have signified to be not only our own wishes, but those of
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye herself, if she were to state them to you?”

He looked up sharply, his lips parting in a smile that revealed his
strong white teeth.

“Are you proposing another of your jests, madame?”

She laughed outright. A wonderful assurance was hers, thought Monsieur
de Garnache. “Mon Dieu! no, monsieur,” she cried. “If you will, you may
see the lady herself.”

He took a turn in the apartment, idly, as does a man in thought.

“Very well,” said he, at last. “I do not say that it will alter my
determination. But perhaps--yes, I should be glad of an opportunity of
the honour of making Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye’s acquaintance. But no
impersonations, I beg, madame!” He said it half-laughingly, taking his
cue from her.

“You need have no fear of any.”

She walked to the door, opened it, and called “Gaston!” In answer came
the page whom Garnache had found in the room when he was admitted.

“Desire Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye to come to us here at once,” she
bade the boy, and closed the door.

Garnache had been all eyes for some furtive sign, some whispered word;
but he had surprised neither.

His pacing had brought him to the opposite end of the board, where stood
the cup of wine madame had poured for Marius. His own, Garnache had left
untouched. As if abstractedly, he now took up the beaker, pledged madame
with his glance, and drank. She watched him, and suddenly a suspicion
darted through her mind--a suspicion that he suspected them.

Dieu! What a man was this! He took no chances. Madame reflected that
this augured ill for the success of the last resource upon which, should
all else fail, she was counting to keep mademoiselle at Condillac. It
seemed incredible that one so wary and watchful should have committed
the rashness of venturing alone into Condillac without taking his
precautions to ensure his ability to retreat.

In her heart she felt daunted by him. But in the matter of that
wine--the faintest of smiles hovered on her lips, her eyebrows went up
a shade. Then she took up the cup that had been poured for the Parisian,
and bore it to her son.

“Marius, you are not drinking,” said she. And seeing a command in her
eyes; he took the beaker from her hand and bore it to his lips, emptying
the half of it, whilst with the faintest smile of scorn the Dowager
swept Garnache a glance of protest, as of one repudiating an unworthy
challenge.

Then the door opened, and the eyes of all three were centred upon the
girl that entered.



CHAPTER V. MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE LOSES HIS TEMPER

“You sent for me, madame,” said the girl, seeming to hesitate upon the
threshold of the room, and her voice--a pleasant, boyish contralto--was
very cold and conveyed a suggestion of disdain.

The Marquise detected that inauspicious note, and was moved by it to
regret her already of having embarked upon so bold a game as to confront
Monsieur de Garnache with Valerie. It was a step she had decided upon
as a last means of convincing the Parisian of the truth of her statement
touching the change that had taken place in mademoiselle’s inclinations.
And she had provided for it as soon as she heard of Garnache’s arrival
by informing mademoiselle that should she be sent for, she must tell
the gentleman from Paris that it was her wish to remain at Condillac.
Mademoiselle had incontinently refused, and madame, to win her
compliance, had resorted to threats.

“You will do as you consider best, of course,” she had said, in a voice
that was ominously sweet. “But I promise you that if you do otherwise
than as I tell you, you shall be married before sunset to Marius,
whether you be willing or not. Monsieur de Garnache comes alone, and if
I so will it alone he shall depart or not at all. I have men enough at
Condillac to see my orders carried out, no matter what they be.

“You may tell yourself that this fellow will return to help you. Perhaps
he will; but when he does, it will be too late so far as you shall be
concerned.”

Terrified by that threat, Valerie had blenched, and had felt her spirit
deserting her.

“And if I comply, madame?” she had asked. “If I do as you wish, if I
tell this gentleman that I no longer desire to go to Paris--what then?”

The Dowager’s manner had become more affectionate. She had patted the
shrinking girl upon the shoulder. “In that case, Valerie, you shall
suffer no constraint; you shall continue here as you have done.”

“And has there been no constraint hitherto?” had been the girl’s
indignant rejoinder.

“Hardly, child,” the Dowager had returned. “We have sought to guide you
to a wise choice--no more than that. Nor shall we do more hereafter if
you do my pleasure now and give this Monsieur de Garnache the answer
that I bid you. But if you fail me, remember--you marry Marius before
nightfall.”

She had not waited for the girl to promise her compliance. She was too
clever a woman to show anxiety on that score. She left her with that
threat vibrating in her mind, confident that she would scare the girl
into obedience by the very assurance she exhibited that Valerie would
not dare to disobey.

But now, at the sound of that chill voice, at the sight of that calm,
resolved countenance, madame was regretting that she had not stayed
to receive the girl’s promise before she made so very sure of her
pliability.

She glanced anxiously at Garnache. His eyes were upon the girl. He was
remarking the slender, supple figure, moderately tall and looking taller
in its black gown of mourning; the oval face, a trifle pale now from the
agitation that stirred her, with its fine level brows, its clear,
hazel eyes, and its crown of lustrous brown hair rolled back under the
daintiest of white coifs. His glance dwelt appreciatively on the slender
nose, with its delicate nostrils, the charming line of mouth and chin,
the dazzling whiteness of her skin, conspicuous not only in neck and
face but in the long, slender hands that were clasped before her.

These signs of breeding, everywhere proclaimed, left him content that
here was no imposture; the girl before him was, indeed, Valerie de La
Vauvraye.

At madame’s invitation she came forward. Marius hastened to close the
door and to set a chair for her, his manner an admirable suggestion of
ardour restrained by deference.

She sat down with an outward calm under which none would have suspected
the full extent of her agitation, and she bent her eyes upon the man
whom the Queen had sent for her deliverance.

After all, Garnache’s appearance was hardly suggestive of the role of
Perseus which had been thrust upon him. She saw a tall, spare man,
with prominent cheek-bones, a gaunt, high-bridged nose, very fierce
mustachios, and a pair of eyes that were as keen as sword-blades and
felt to her glance as penetrating. There was little about him like
to take a woman’s fancy or claim more than a moderate share of her
attention, even when circumstances rendered her as interested in him as
was now Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye.

There fell a silence, broken at last by Marius, who leaned, a supple,
graceful figure, his elbow resting upon the summit of Valerie’s chair.

“Monsieur de Garnache does us the injustice to find a difficulty in
believing that you no longer wish to leave us.”

That was by no means what Garnache had implied; still, since it really
expressed his mind, he did not trouble to correct Marius.

Valerie said nothing, but her eyes travelled to madame’s countenance,
where she found a frown. Garnache observed the silence, and drew his own
conclusions.

“So we have sent for you, Valerie,” said the Dowager, taking up her
son’s sentence, “that you may yourself assure Monsieur de Garnache that
it is so.”

Her voice was stern; it bore to the girl’s ears a subtle, unworded
repetition of the threat the Marquise had already voiced. Mademoiselle
caught it, and Garnache caught it too, although he failed to interpret
it as precisely as he would have liked.

The girl seemed to experience a difficulty in answering. Her eyes roved
to Garnache’s, and fell away in affright before their glitter. That
man’s glance seemed to read her very mind, she thought; and suddenly
the reflection that had terrified her became her hope. If it were as she
deemed it, what matter what she said? He would know the truth, in spite
of all.

“Yes, madame,” she said at last, and her voice was wholly void of
expression. “Yes, monsieur, it is as madame says. It is my wish to
remain at Condillac.”

From the Dowager, standing a pace or two away from Garnache, came the
sound of a half-sigh. Garnache missed nothing. He caught the sound,
and accepted it as an expression of relief. The Marquise stepped back a
pace; idly, one might have thought; not so thought Garnache. It had this
advantage: that it enabled her to stand where he might not watch her
face without turning his head. He was content that such was her motive.
To defeat her object, to show her that he had guessed it, he stepped
back, too, also with that same idleness of air, so that he was once more
in line with her. And then he spoke, addressing Valerie.

“Mademoiselle, that you should have written to the Queen in haste is
deplorable now that your views have undergone this change. I am a stupid
man, mademoiselle, just a blunt soldier with orders to obey and no
authority to think. My orders are to conduct you to Paris. Your will
was not taken into consideration. I know not how the Queen would have me
act, seeing your reluctance; it may be that she would elect to leave you
here, as you desire. But it is not for me to arrogate to determine the
Queen’s mind. I can but be guided by her orders, and those orders
leave me no course but one--to ask you, mademoiselle, to make ready
immediately to go with me.”

The look of relief that swept into Valerie’s face, the little flush
of colour that warmed her cheeks, hitherto so pale, were all the
confirmation that he needed of what he suspected.

“But, monsieur,” said Marius, “it must be plain to you that since the
Queen’s orders are but a compliance with mademoiselle’s wishes, now that
mademoiselle’s wishes have altered, so too would Her Majesty’s commands
alter to comply with them once more.”

“That may be plain to you, monsieur; for me, unfortunately, there are
my orders for only guide,” Garnache persisted. “Does not mademoiselle
herself agree with me?”

She was about to speak; her glance had looked eager, her lips had
parted. Then, of a sudden, the little colour faded from her cheeks
again, and she seemed stricken with a silence. Garnache’s eyes, directed
in a sidelong glance to the Marquise’s face, surprised there a frown
that had prompted that sudden change.

He half-turned, his manner changing suddenly to a freezing civility.

“Madame la Marquise,” said he, “I beg with all deference to suggest that
I am not allowed the interview you promised me with Mademoiselle de La
Vauvraye.”

The ominous coldness with which he had begun to speak had had a
disturbing effect upon the Dowager; the words he uttered, when she had
weighed them, brought an immense relief. It seemed, then, that he but
needed convincing that this was Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. This argued
that for the rest he was satisfied.

“There, monsieur, you are at fault,” she cried, and she was smiling into
his grave eyes. “Because once I put that jest upon you, you imagine--”

“No, no,” he broke in. “You misapprehend me. I do not say that this is
not Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye; I do not say that--”

He paused; he was at the end of his resources. He did not know how
to put the thing without giving offence, and it had been his
resolve--realizing the necessity for it--to conduct this matter with a
grave courtesy.

To feel that after having carried the affair so far with a for
him--commendable lightness of touch, he should be at a loss for a
delicate word to convey a harsh accusation began to anger him. And once
Garnache began to be angered, the rest followed quickly. It was just
that flaw in his character that had been the ruin of him, that had
blighted what otherwise might have been a brilliant career. Astute and
wily as a fox, brave as a lion, and active as a panther, gifted with
intelligence, insight and resource, he had carried a dozen enterprises
up to the very threshold of success, there to have ruined them all by
giving way to some sudden excess of choler.

So was it now. His pause was but momentary. Yet in that moment, from
calm and freezing that he had been, he became ruffled and hot. The
change was visible in his heightened colour, in his flashing eyes, and
in his twitching mustachios. For just a second he sought to smother
his wrath; he had a glimmer of remembrance of the need for caution and
diplomacy in the darkness of anger that was descending over him. Then,
without further warning, he exploded.

His nervous, sinewy hand clenched itself and fell with a crash upon the
table, overturning a flagon and sending a lake of wine across the board,
to trickle over at a dozen points and form in puddles at the feet of
Valerie. Startled, they all watched him, mademoiselle the most startled
of the three.

“Madame,” he thundered, “I have been receiving dancing-lessons at your
hands for long enough. It is time, I think, we did a little ordinary
walking, else shall we get no farther along the road I mean to go and
that is the road to Paris with mademoiselle for company.”

“Monsieur, monsieur!” cried the startled Marquise, placing herself
intrepidly before him; and Marius trembled for her, for so wild did the
man seem that he almost feared he might strike her.

“I have heard enough,” he blazed. “Not another word from any here in
Condillac! I’ll take this lady with me now, at once; and if any here
raises a finger to resist me, as Heaven is my witness, it will be the
last resistance he will ever offer any man. Let a hand be laid upon me,
or a sword bared before my eyes, and I swear, madame, that I’ll come
back and burn this dunghill of rebellion to the ground.”

In the blindness of his passion all his fine keenness was cast to the
wind, his all-observing watchfulness was smothered in the cloud of anger
that oppressed his brain. He never saw the sign that madame made to her
son, never so much as noticed Marius’s stealthy progress towards the
door.

“Oh,” he continued, a satirical note running now through his tempestuous
voice, “it is a fine thing to cozen each other with honeyed words,
with smirks and with grimaces. But we have done with that, madame.” He
towered grimly above her, shaking a threatening finger in her very face.
“We have done with that. We shall resort to deeds, instead.”

“Aye, monsieur,” she answered very coldly, sneering upon his red-hot
fury, “there shall be deeds enough to satisfy even your outrageous
thirst for them.”

That cold, sneering voice, with its note of threat, was like a hand
of ice upon his overheated brain. It cooled him on the instant. He
stiffened, and looked about him. He saw that Marius had disappeared,
and that mademoiselle had risen and was regarding him with singularly
imploring eyes.

He bit his lip in mortified chagrin. He cursed himself inwardly for a
fool and a dolt--the more pitiable because he accounted himself cunning
above others. Had he but kept his temper, had he done no more than
maintain the happy pretence that he was a slave to the orders he
had received--a mere machine--he might have gained his ends by sheer
audacity. At least, his way of retreat would have remained open, and he
might have gone, to return another day with force at his heels.

As it was, that pretty whelp, her son, had been sent, no doubt, for men.
He stepped up to Valerie.

“Are you ready, mademoiselle?” said he; for little hope though he might
still have of winning through, yet he must do the best to repair the
damage that was of his making.

She saw that the storm of passion had passed, and she was infected by
the sudden, desperate daring that prompted that question of his.

“I am ready, monsieur,” said she, and her boyish voice had an intrepid
ring. “I will come with you as I am.”

“Then, in God’s name, let us be going.”

They moved together towards the door, with never another glance for the
Dowager where she stood, patting the head of the hound that had risen
and come to stand beside her. In silence she watched them, a sinister
smile upon her beautiful, ivory face.

Then came a sound of feet and voices in the anteroom. The door was flung
violently open, and a half-dozen men with naked swords came blundering
into the room, Marius bringing up the rear.

With a cry of fear Valerie shrank back against the panelled wall, her
little hands to her cheeks, her eyes dilating with alarm.

Garnache’s sword rasped out, an oath rattled from his clenched teeth,
and he fell on guard. The men paused, and took his measure. Marius urged
them on, as if they had been a pack of dogs.

“At him!” he snapped, his finger pointing, his handsome eyes flashing
angrily. “Cut him down!”

They moved; but mademoiselle moved at the same moment. She sprang before
them, between their swords and their prey.

“You shall not do it; you shall not do it!” she cried, and her face
looked drawn, her eyes distraught. “It is murder--murder, you curs!” And
the memory of how that dainty little lady stood undaunted before so much
bared steel, to shield him from those assassins, was one that abode ever
after with Garnache.

“Mademoiselle,” said he, in a quiet voice, “if you will but stand aside
there will be some murder done among them first.”

But she did not move. Marius clenched his hands, fretted by the delay.
The Dowager looked on and smiled and patted her dog’s head. To her
mademoiselle now turned in appeal.

“Madame,” she exclaimed, “you’ll not allow it. You’ll not let them
do this thing. Bid them put up their swords, madame. Bethink you that
Monsieur de Garnache is here in the Queen’s name.”

Too well did madame bethink her of it. Garnache need not plague himself
with vexation that his rash temper alone had wrought his ruin now. It
had but accelerated it. It was just possible, perhaps, that suavity
might have offered him opportunities; but, for the rest, from the moment
that he showed himself firm in his resolve to carry mademoiselle to
Paris, his doom was sealed. Madame would never willingly have allowed
him to leave Condillac alive, for she realized that did she do so he
would stir up trouble enough to have them outlawed. He must perish here,
and be forgotten. If questions came to be asked later, Condillac would
know nothing of him.

“Monsieur de Garnache promised us some fine deeds on his own account,”
 she mocked him. “We but afford him the opportunity to perform them. If
these be not enough for his exceeding valour, there are more men without
whom we can summon.”

A feeling of pity for mademoiselle--perhaps of no more than decency--now
overcame Marius. He stepped forward.

“Valerie,” he said, “it is not fitting you should remain.”

“Aye, take her hence,” the Dowager bade him, with a smile. “Her presence
is unmanning our fine Parisian.”

Eager to do so, over-eager, Marius came forward, past his men-at-arms,
until he was but some three paces from the girl and just out of reach of
a sudden dart of Garnache’s sword.

Softly, very warily, Garnache slipped his right foot a little farther to
the right. Suddenly he threw his weight upon it, so that he was clear of
the girl. Before they understood what he was about, the thing had taken
place. He had leaped forward, caught the young man by the breast of his
shimmering doublet, leaped back to shelter beyond mademoiselle, hurled
Marius to the ground, and planted his foot, shod as it was in his
thickly mudded riding-boot, full upon the boy’s long, shapely neck.

“Move so much as a finger, my pretty fellow,” he snapped at him, “and
I’ll crush the life from you as from a toad.”

There was a sudden forward movement on the part of the men; but if
Garnache was vicious, he was calm. Were he again to lose his temper now,
there would indeed be a speedy end to him. That much he knew, and kept
repeating to himself, lest he should be tempted to forget it.

“Back!” he bade them in a voice so imperative that they stopped, and
looked on with gaping mouths. “Back, or he perishes!” And dropping the
point of his sword, he lightly rested it upon the young man’s breast.

In dismay they looked to the Dowager for instruction. She craned
forward, the smile gone from her lips, a horror in her eyes, her bosom
heaving. A moment ago she had smiled upon mademoiselle’s outward signs
of fear; had mademoiselle been so minded, she might in her turn have
smiled now at the terror written large upon the Dowager’s own face.
But her attention was all absorbed by the swiftly executed act by which
Garnache had gained at least a temporary advantage.

She had turned and looked at the strange spectacle of that dauntless
man, erect, his foot upon Marius’s neck, like some fantastic figure of
a contemporary Saint George and a contemporary dragon. She pressed her
hands tighter upon her bosom; her eyes sparkled with an odd approval of
that brisk deed.

But Garnache’s watchful eyes were upon the Dowager. He read the anxious
fear that marred the beauty of her face, and he took heart at the sight,
for he was dependent upon the extent to which he might work upon her
feelings.

“You smiled just now, madame, when it was intended to butcher a man
before your eyes. You smile no longer, I observe, at this the first of
the fine deeds I promised you.”

“Let him go,” she said, and her voice was scarce louder than a whisper,
horror-laden. “Let him go, monsieur, if you would save your own neck.”

“At that price, yes--though, believe me, you are paying too much for so
poor a life as this. Still, you value the thing, and I hold it; and so
you’ll forgive me if I am extortionate.”

“Release him, and, in God’s name, go your ways. None shall stay you,”
 she promised him.

He smiled. “I’ll need some security for that. I do not choose to take
your word for it, Madame de Condillac.”

“What security can I give you?” she cried, wringing her hands, her eyes
on the boy’s ashen face ashen from mingling fear and rage--where it
showed beyond Garnache’s heavy boot.

“Bid one of your knaves summon my servant. I left him awaiting me in the
courtyard.”

The order was given, and one of the cut-throats departed.

In a tense and anxious silence they awaited his return, though he kept
them but an instant.

Rabecque’s eyes took on a startled look when he had viewed the
situation. Garnache called to him to deprive those present of their
weapons.

“And let none refuse, or offer him violence,” he added, “or your
master’s life shall pay the price of it.”

The Dowager with a ready anxiety repeated to them his commands.
Rabecque, understanding nothing, went from man to man, and received from
each his weapons. He placed the armful on the windowseat, at the far
end of the apartment, as Garnache bade him. At the other end of the long
room, Garnache ordered the disarmed men to range themselves. When that
was done, the Parisian removed his foot from his victim’s neck.

“Stand up,” he commanded, and Marius very readily obeyed him.

Garnache placed himself immediately behind the boy. “Madame,” said he,
“no harm shall come to your son if he is but wise. Let him disobey me,
or let any man in Condillac lift a hand against us, and that shall be
the signal for Monsieur de Condillac’s death. Mademoiselle, it is your
wish to accompany me to Paris?”

“Yes, monsieur,” she answered fearlessly, her eyes sparkling now.

“We will be going then. Place yourself alongside of Monsieur de
Condillac. Rabecque, follow me. Forward, Monsieur de Condillac. You will
be so good as to conduct us to our horses in the courtyard.”

They made an odd procession as they marched out of the hall, under
the sullen eyes of the baulked cut-throats and their mistress. On the
threshold Garnache paused, and looked over his shoulder.

“Are you content, madame? Have you seen fine deeds enough for one
day?” he asked her, laughing. But, white to the lips with chagrin, she
returned no answer.

Garnache and his party crossed the anteroom, after having taken
the precaution to lock the door upon the Marquise and her men, and
proceeding down a gloomy passage they gained the courtyard. Here Marius
was consoled to find some men of the garrison of Condillac a half-score,
or so--all more or less armed, surrounding the horses of Garnache and
his lackey. At sight of the odd group that now appeared those ruffians
stood at gaze, surprised, and with suspicions aroused by Garnache’s
naked sword, ready for anything their master might demand of them.

Marius had in that instant a gleam of hope. Thus far, Garnache had been
master of the situation. But surely the position would be reversed
when Garnache and his man came to mount their horses, particularly
considering how hampered they must be by Valerie. This danger Garnache,
however, was no less quick to perceive, and with a dismaying promptness
did he take his measures.

“Remember,” he threatened Monsieur de Condillac, “if any of your men
show their teeth it will be the worse for you.” They had come to a halt
on the threshold of the courtyard. “You will be so good as to bid them
retreat through that doorway across the yard yonder.”

Marius hesitated. “And if I refuse?” he demanded hardily, but keeping
his back to Garnache. The men stirred, and stray words of mingling
wonder and anger reached the Parisian.

“You will not,” said Garnache, with quiet confidence.

“I think you make too sure,” Marius replied, and dissembled his
misgivings in a short laugh. Garnache became impatient. His position was
not being improved by delay.

“Monsieur de Condillac,” said he, speaking quickly and yet with an
incisiveness of tone that made his words sound deliberate, “I am a
desperate man in a desperate position. Every moment that I tarry here
increases my danger and shortens my temper. If you think to temporize
in the hope of gaining an opportunity of turning the tables upon me, you
must be mad to dream that I shall permit it. Monsieur, you will at once
order those men to leave the courtyard by that doorway, or I give you my
word of honour that I shall run you through as you stand.”

“That would be to destroy yourself,” said Marius with an attempted note
of confidence.

“I should be no less destroyed by delay,” answered Garnache; and added
more sharply, “Give the word, monsieur, or I will make an end.”

From the movement behind him Marius guessed almost by instinct that
Garnache had drawn back for a lunge. At his side Valerie looked over her
shoulder, with eyes that were startled but unafraid. For a second Marius
considered whether he might not attempt to elude Garnache by a wild and
sudden dash towards his men. But the consequences of failure were too
fearful.

He shrugged his shoulders, and gave the order. The men hesitated a
moment, then shuffled away in the direction indicated. But they went
slowly, with much half-whispered, sullen conferring and many a backward
glance at Marius and those with him.

“Bid them go faster,” snapped Garnache. Marius obeyed him, and the men
obeyed Marius, and vanished into the gloom of the archway. After
all, thought Monsieur de Condillac, they need go no farther than that
doorway; they must have appreciated the situation by now; and he was
confident they would have the sense to hold themselves in readiness for
a rush in the moment of Garnache’s mounting.

But Garnache’s next order shattered that last hope.

“Rebecque,” said he, without turning his head, “go and lock them in.”
 Before bidding the men go that way, he had satisfied himself that
there was a key on the outside of the door. “Monsieur de Condillac,”
 he resumed to Marius, “you will order your men in no way to hinder my
servant. I shall act upon any menace of danger to my lackey precisely as
I should were I, myself, in danger.”

Marius’s heart sank within him, as sinks a stone through water. He
realized, as his mother had realized a little while before, that in
Garnache they had an opponent who took no chances. In a voice thick with
the torturing rage of impotence he gave the order upon which the grim
Parisian insisted. There followed a silence broken by the fall of
Rabecque’s heavily shod feet upon the stones of the yard, as he crossed
it to do his master’s bidding. The door creaked on its hinges; the key
grated screaming in its lock, and Rabecque returned to Garnache’s side
even as Garnache tapped Marius on the shoulder.

“This way, Monsieur de Condillac, if you please,” said he, and as Marius
turned at last to face him, he stood aside and waved his left hand
towards the door through which they had lately emerged. A moment stood
the youth facing his stern conqueror; his hands were clenched until the
knuckles showed white; his face was a dull crimson. Vainly he sought
for words in which to vent some of the malicious chagrin that filled
his soul almost to bursting-point. Then, despairing, with a shrug and an
inarticulate mutter, he flung past the Parisian, obeying him as the cur
obeys, with pendant tail and teeth-revealing snarl.

Garnache closed the door upon him with a bang, and smiled quietly as he
turned to Valerie.

“I think we have won through, mademoiselle,” said he, with pardonable
vanity. “The rest is easy, though you may be subjected to some slight
discomfort between this and Grenoble.”

She smiled back at him, a pale, timid smile, like a gleam of sunshine
from a wintry sky. “That matters nothing,” she assured him, and strove
to make her voice sound brave.

There was need for speed, and compliments were set aside by Garnache,
who, at his best, was not felicitous with them. Valerie felt herself
caught by the wrist, a trifle roughly she remembered afterwards, and
hurried across the cobbles to the tethered horses, with which Rabecque
was already busy. She saw Garnache raise his foot to the stirrup and
hoist himself to the saddle. Then he held down a hand to her, bade her
set her foot on his, and called with an oath to Rabecque to lend her his
assistance. A moment later she was perched in front of Garnache, almost
on the withers of his horse. The cobbles rattled under its hooves, the
timbers of the drawbridge sent up a booming sound, they were across--out
of Condillac--and speeding at a gallop down the white road that led to
the river; after them pounded Rabecque, bumping horribly in his
saddle, and attempting wildly, and with awful objurgations, to find his
stirrups.

They crossed the bridge that spans the Isere and took the road to
Grenoble at a sharp pace, with scarce a backward glance at the grey
towers of Condillac. Valerie experienced an overwhelming inclination to
weep and laugh, to cry and sing at one and the same time; but whether
this odd emotion sprang from the happenings in which she had had her
part, or from the exhilaration of that mad ride, she could not tell. No
doubt it sprang from both, owing a part to each. She controlled herself,
however. A shy, upward glance at the stern, set face of the man whose
arm encircled and held her fast had a curiously sobering effect upon
her. Their eyes met, and he smiled a friendly, reassuring smile, such as
a father might have bestowed upon a daughter.

“I do not think that they will charge me with blundering this time,” he
said.

“Charge you with blundering?” she echoed; and the inflection of the
pronoun might have flattered him had he not reflected that it was
impossible she could have understood his allusion. And now she bethought
her that she had not thanked him--and the debt was a heavy one. He
had come to her aid in an hour when hope seemed dead. He had come
single-handed--save for his man Rabecque; and in a manner that was
worthy of being made the subject of an epic, he had carried her out
of Condillac, away from the terrible Dowager and her cut-throats. The
thought of them sent a shiver through her.

“Do you feel the cold?” he asked concernedly; and that the wind might
cut her less, he slackened speed.

“No, no,” she cried, her alarm waking again at the thought of the
folk of Condillac. “Make haste! Go on, go on! Mon Dieu! if they should
overtake us!”

He looked over his shoulder. The road ran straight for over a half-mile
behind them, and not a living thing showed upon it.

“You need have no alarm,” he smiled. “We are not pursued. They must
have realized the futility of attempting to overtake us. Courage,
mademoiselle. We shall be in Grenoble presently, and once there, you
will have nothing more to fear.”

“You are sure of that?” she asked, and there was doubt in her voice.

He smiled reassuringly again. “The Lord Seneschal shall supply us with
an escort,” he promised confidently.

“Still,” she said, “we shall not stay there, I hope, monsieur.”

“No longer than may be necessary to procure a coach for you.”

“I am glad of that,” said she. “I shall know no peace until Grenoble is
a good ten leagues behind us. The Marquise and her son are too powerful
there.”

“Yet their might shall not prevail against the Queen’s,” he made reply.
And as now they rode amain she fell to thanking him, shyly at first,
then, as she gathered confidence in her subject, with a greater fervour.
But he interrupted her ere she had gone far, “Mademoiselle de La
Vauvraye,” said he, “you overstate the matter.” His tone was chilling
almost; and she felt as she had been rebuked. “I am no more than the
emissary of Her Majesty--it is to her that your thanks are due.”

“Ah, but, monsieur,” she returned to the assault, “I owe some thanks
to you as well. What other in your place would have done what you have
done?”

“I know not that, nor do I greatly care,” said he, and laughed, but
with a laugh that jarred on her. “That which I did I must have done, no
matter whom it was a question of saving. I am but an instrument in this
matter, mademoiselle.”

His thought was to do no more than belittle the service he had rendered
her, to stem her flow of gratitude, since, indeed, he felt, as he said,
that it was to the Queen-Regent her thanks were due. All unwitting was
it--out of his ignorance of the ways of thought of a sex with which he
held the view that it is an ill thing to meddle--that he wounded her by
his disclaimer, in which her sensitive maiden fancy imagined a something
that was almost contemptuous.

They rode in silence for a little spell, broken at last by Garnache in
expression of the thoughts that had come to him as a consequence of what
she had said.

“On this same subject of thanks,” said he--and as she raised her eyes
again she found him smiling almost tenderly--“if any are due between us
they are surely due from me to you.”

“From you to me?” she asked in wonder.

“Assuredly,” said he. “Had you not come between me and the Dowager’s
assassins there had been an end to me in the hall of Condillac.”

Her hazel eyes were very round for a moment, then they narrowed, and
little humorous lines formed at the corners of her lips.

“Monsieur de Garnache,” said she, with a mock coldness that was a faint
echo of his own recent manner, “you overstate the case. That which I did
I must have done, no matter whom it was a question of saving. I was but
an instrument in this matter, monsieur.”

His brows went up. He stared at her a moment, gathering instruction from
the shy mockery of her glance. Then he laughed with genuine amusement.

“True,” he said. “An instrument you were; but an instrument of Heaven,
whereas in me you but behold the instrument of an earthly power. We are
not quite quits, you see.”

But she felt, at least, that she was quits with him in the matter of his
repudiation of her own thanks, and the feeling bridged the unfriendly
gap that she had felt was opening out between them; and for no reason in
the world that she could think of, she was glad that this was so.



CHAPTER VI. MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE KEEPS HIS TEMPER

Night had fallen and it had begun to rain when Garnache and Valerie
reached Grenoble. They entered the town afoot, the Parisian not desiring
to attract attention by being seen in the streets with a lady on the
withers of his horse.

With thought for her comfort, Monsieur de Garnache had divested himself
of his heavy horseman’s cloak and insisted upon her assuming it, so
setting it about her that her head was covered as by a wimple. Thus
was she protected not only from the rain, but from the gaze of the
inquisitive.

They made their way in the drizzle, through the greasy, slippery
streets ashine with the lights that fell from door and window, Rabecque
following closely with the horses. Garnache made straight for his
inn--the Auberge du Veau qui Tete--which enjoyed the advantage of facing
the Palais Seneschal.

The ostler took charge of the nags, and the landlord conducted them to
a room above-stairs, which he placed at mademoiselle’s disposal.
That done, Garnache left Rabecque on guard, and proceeded to make the
necessary arrangements for the journey that lay before them. He began by
what he conceived to be the more urgent measure, and stepping across to
the Palais Seneschal, he demanded to see Monsieur de Tressan at once.

Ushered into the Lord Seneschal’s presence, he startled that obese
gentleman by the announcement that he had returned from Condillac with
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye, and that he would require an escort to
accompany them to Paris.

“For I am by no means minded to be exposed to such measures as the
tigress of Condillac and her cub may take to recover their victim,” he
explained with a grim smile.

The Seneschal combed his beard and screwed up his pale eyes until they
vanished in the cushions of his cheeks. He was lost in amazement.
He could only imagine that the Queen’s emissary had been duped more
successfully this time.

“I am to gather, then,” said he, dissembling what was passing through
his mind, “that you delivered the lady by force or strategy.”

“By both, monsieur,” was the short answer.

Tressan continued to comb his beard, and pondered the situation. If
things were so, indeed, they could not have fallen out more to his
taste. He had had no hand in it, one way or the other. He had run with
the hare and hunted with the hounds, and neither party could charge him
with any lack of loyalty. His admiration and respect for Monsieur de
Garnache grew enormously. When the rash Parisian had left him that
afternoon for the purpose of carrying his message himself to Condillac,
Tressan had entertained little hope of ever again seeing him alive.
Yet there he stood, as calm and composed as ever, announcing that
singlehanded he had carried out what another might well have hesitated
to attempt with a regiment at his heels.

Tressan’s curiosity urged him to beg for the details of this marvel, and
Garnache entertained him with a brief recital of what had taken
place, whereat, realizing that Garnache had indeed outwitted them, the
Seneschal’s wonder increased.

“But we are not out of the quagmire yet,” cried Garnache; “and that is
why I want an escort.”

Tressan became uneasy. “How many men shall you require?” he asked,
thinking that the Parisian would demand at least the half of a company.

“A half-dozen and a sergeant to command them.”

Tressan’s uneasiness was dissipated, and he found himself despising
Garnache more for his rashness in being content with so small a number
than he respected him for the boldness and courage he had so lately
displayed. It was not for him to suggest that the force might prove
insufficient; rather was it for him to be thankful that Garnache had not
asked for more. An escort Tressan dared not refuse him, and yet refuse
it him he must have done--or broken with the Condillacs--had he asked
for a greater number. But six men! Pooh! they would be of little
account. So he very readily consented, inquiring how soon Garnache would
require them.

“At once,” was the Parisian’s answer. “I leave Grenoble to-night. I hope
to set out in an hour’s time. Meanwhile I’ll have the troopers form a
guard of honour. I am lodged over the way.”

Tressan, but too glad to be quit of him, rose there and then to give
the necessary orders, and within ten minutes Garnache was back at the
Sucking Calf with six troopers and a sergeant, who had left their horses
in the Seneschal’s stables until the time for setting out. Meanwhile
Garnache placed them on duty in the common-room of the inn.

He called for refreshment for them, and bade them remain there at the
orders of his man Rabecque. His reason for this step was that it became
necessary that he should absent himself for a while to find a carriage
suitable for the journey; for as the Sucking Calf was not a post-house
he must seek one elsewhere--at the Auberge de France, in fact, which was
situate on the eastern side of the town by the Porte de Savoie--and
he was not minded to leave the person of Valerie unguarded during his
absence. The half-dozen troopers he considered ample, as indeed they
were.

On this errand he departed, wrapped tightly in his cloak, walking
briskly through the now heavier rain.

But at the Auberge de France a disappointment awaited him. The host
had no horses and no carriage, nor would he have until the following
morning. He was sorrow-stricken that the circumstance should discompose
Monsieur de Garnache; he was elaborate in his explanations of how
it happened that he could place no vehicle at Monsieur de Garnache’s
disposal--so elaborate that it is surprising Monsieur de Garnache’s
suspicions should not have been aroused. For the truth of the matter
was that the folk of Condillac had been at the Auberge de France before
him--as they had been elsewhere in the town wherever a conveyance might
be procurable--and by promises of reward for obedience and threats of
punishment for disobedience, they had contrived that Garnache should
hear this same story on every hand. His mistake had lain in his
eagerness to obtain a guard from the Seneschal. Had he begun by making
sure of a conveyance, anticipating, as he should have done, this move on
the part of the Condillacs--a move which he did not even now suspect--it
is possible that he might have been spared much of the trouble that was
to follow.

An hour or so later, after having vainly ransacked the town for the
thing he needed, he returned wet and annoyed to the Veau qui Tote. In a
corner of the spacious common-room--a corner by the door leading to the
interior of the inn--he saw the six troopers at table, waxing a trifle
noisy over cards. Their sergeant sat a little apart, in conversation
with the landlord’s wife, eyes upturned adoringly, oblivious of the
increasing scowl that gathered about her watchful husband’s brow.

At another table sat four gentlemen--seemingly travellers, by their air
and garb--in a conversation that was hushed at Garnache’s entrance.
But he paid no heed to them as he stalked with ringing step across the
rushstrewn floor, nor observed how covertly and watchfully their glances
followed him as returning, in passing the sergeant’s prompt salute he
vanished through the doorway leading to the stairs.

He reappeared again a moment later, to call the host, and give him
orders for the preparing of his own and Rabecque’s supper.

On the landing above he found Rabecque awaiting him.

“Is all well?” he asked, and received from his lackey a reassuring
answer.

Mademoiselle welcomed him gladly. His long absence, it appeared, had
been giving her concern. He told her on what errand he had been, and
alarm overspread her face upon hearing its result.

“But, monsieur,” she cried, “you are not proposing that I should remain
a night in Grenoble.”

“What alternative have we?” he asked, and his brows met, impatient at
what he accounted no more than feminine whimsey.

“It is not safe,” she exclaimed, her fears increasing. “You do not know
how powerful are the Condillacs.”

He strode to the fire, and the logs hissed under the pressure of his wet
boot. He set his back to the blaze, and smiled down upon her.

“Nor do you know how powerful are we,” he answered easily. “I have below
six troopers and a sergeant of the Seneschal’s regiment; with myself
and Rabecque we are nine men in all. That should be a sufficient guard,
mademoiselle. Nor do I think that with all their power the Condillacs
will venture here to claim you at the sword point.”

“And yet,” she answered, for all that she was plainly reassured, at
least in part, “I would rather you had got me a horse, that we might
have ridden to Saint Marcellin, where no doubt a carriage might be
obtained.”

“I did not see the need to put you to so much discomfort,” he returned.
“It is raining heavily.”

“Oh, what of that?” she flung back impatiently.

“Besides,” he added, “it seems there are no horses at the post-house. A
benighted place this Dauphiny of yours, mademoiselle.”

But she never heeded the gibe at her native province. “No horses?” she
echoed, and her hazel eyes looked up sharply, the alarm returning to her
face. She rose, and approached him. “Surely that is impossible.”

“I assure you that it is as I say--neither at the post-house nor at any
of the inns I visited could I find me a spare horse.”

“Monsieur,” she cried, “I see the hand of Condillac in this.”

“As how?” he inquired, and his tone again was quickened by impatience.

“They have anticipated you. They seek to keep you here--to keep us in
Grenoble.”

“But to what end?” he asked, his impatience growing. “The Auberge de
France has promised me a carriage in the morning. What shall it avail
them at Condillac to keep us here to-night?”

“They may have some project. Oh, monsieur! I am full of fears.”

“Dismiss them,” he answered lightly; and to reassure her he added,
smiling: “Rest assured we shall keep good watch over you, Rabecque and
I and the troopers. A guard shall remain in the passage throughout the
night. Rabecque and I will take turn about at sentry-go. Will that give
you peace?”

“You are very good,” she said, her voice quivering with feeling and real
gratitude, and as he was departing she called after him. “You will be
careful of yourself,” she said.

He paused under the lintel, and turned, surprised. “It is a habit of
mine,” said he, with a glint of humour in his eye.

But there was no answering smile from her. Her face was all anxiety.

“Beware of pitfalls,” she bade him. “Go warily; they are cruelly
cunning, those folk of Condillac. And if evil should befall you...”

“There would still remain Rabecque and the troopers,” he concluded.

She shrugged her shoulders. “I implore you to be careful,” she insisted.

“You may depend upon me,” he said, and closed the door.

Outside he called Rabecque, and together they went below. But mindful of
her fears, he dispatched one of the troopers to stand sentry outside her
door whilst he and his lackey supped. That done, he called the host, and
set himself at table, Rabecque at his elbow in attendance to hand him
the dishes and pour his wine.

Across the low-ceilinged room the four travellers still sat in talk, and
as Garnache seated himself, one of them shouted for the host and asked
in an impatient tone to know if his supper was soon to come.

“In a moment, sir,” answered the landlord respectfully, and he turned
again to the Parisian. He went out to bring the latter’s meal, and
whilst he was gone Rabecque heard from his master the reason of their
remaining that night in Grenoble. The inference drawn by the astute
lackey--and freely expressed by him--from the lack of horses or
carriages in Grenoble that night, coincided oddly with Valerie’s. He
too gave it as his opinion that his master had been forestalled by
the Dowager’s people, and without presuming to advise Garnache to go
warily--a piece of advice that Garnache would have resented, to the
extent perhaps of boxing the fellow’s ears--he determined, there and
then, to keep a close watch upon his master, and under no circumstances,
if possible, permit him to leave the Sucking Calf that night.

The host returned, bearing a platter on which there steamed a ragout
that gave out an appetizing odour; his wife followed with other dishes
and a bottle of Armagnac under her arm. Rabecque busied himself at
once, and his hungry master disposed himself to satisfy the healthiest
appetite in France, when suddenly a shadow fell across the table. A man
had come to stand beside it, his body screening the light of one of the
lamps that hung from a rafter of the ceiling.

“At last!” he exclaimed, and his voice was harsh with ill-humour.

Garnache looked up, pausing in the very act of helping himself to
that ragout. Rabecque looked up from behind his master, and his lips
tightened. The host looked up from the act of drawing the cork of the
flagon he had taken from his wife, and his eyes grew big as in his mind
he prepared a judicious blend of apology and remonstrance wherewith
to soothe this very impatient gentleman. But before he could speak,
Garnache’s voice cut sharply into the silence. An interruption at such a
moment vexed him sorely.

“Monsieur says?” quoth he.

“To you, sir--nothing,” answered the fellow impudently, and looked him
straight between the eyes.

With a flush mounting to his cheeks, and his brows drawn together in
perplexity, Garnache surveyed him. He was that same traveller who had
lately clamoured to know when he might sup, a man of rather more than
middle height, lithe and active of frame, yet with a breadth of shoulder
and depth of chest that argued strength and endurance as well. He had
fair, wavy hair, which he wore rather longer than was the mode, brown
eyes, and a face which, without being handsome, was yet more than
ordinarily engaging by virtue of its strength and frank ingenuousness.
His dress was his worst feature. It was flamboyant and showy; cheap, and
tawdrily pretentious. Yet he bore himself with the easy dignity of a man
who counts more inferiors than superiors.

Despite the arrogant manner of his address, Garnache felt prepossessed
in the newcomer’s favour. But before he could answer him, the host was
speaking.

“Monsieur mistakes...” he began.

“Mistakes?” thundered the other in an accent slightly foreign. “It is
you who mistake if you propose to tell me that this is not my supper.
Am I to wait all night, while every jackanapes who follows me into your
pigsty is to be served before me?”

“Jackanapes?” said Garnache thoughtfully, and looked the man in the face
again. Behind the stranger pressed his three companions now, whilst the
troopers across the room forgot their card-play to watch the altercation
that seemed to impend.

The foreigner--for such, indeed, his French proclaimed him--turned
half-contemptuously to the host, ignoring Garnache with an air that was
studiously offensive.

“Jackanapes?” murmured Garnache again, and he, too, turned to the host.
“Tell me, Monsieur l’Hote,” said he, “where do the jackanapes bury their
dead in Grenoble? I may need the information.”

Before the distressed landlord could utter a word, the stranger had
wheeled about again to face Garnache. “What shall that mean?” he asked
sharply, a great fierceness in his glance.

“That Grenoble may be witnessing the funeral of a foreign bully by
to-morrow, Monsieur l’Etranger,” said Garnache, showing his teeth in a
pleasant smile. He became conscious in that moment of a pressure on his
shoulder blade, but paid no heed to it, intent on watching the other’s
countenance. It expressed surprise a moment, then grew dark with anger.

“Do you mean that for me, sir?” he growled.

Garnache spread his hands. “If monsieur feels that the cap fits him, I
shall not stay him in the act of donning it.”

The stranger set one hand upon the table, and leaned forward towards
Garnache. “May I ask monsieur to be a little more definite?” he begged.

Garnache sat back in his chair and surveyed the man, smiling. Quick
though his temper usually might be, it was checked at present by
amusement. He had seen in his time many quarrels spring from the
flimsiest of motives, but surely never had he seen one quite so
self-begotten. It was almost as if the fellow had come there of set
purpose to pick it with him.

A suspicion flashed across his mind. He remembered the warning
mademoiselle had given him. And he wondered. Was this a trick to lure
him to some guet-apens? He surveyed his man more closely; but the
inspection lent no colour to his suspicions. The stranger looked so
frank and honest; then again his accent was foreign. It might very well
be that he was some Savoyard lordling unused to being kept waiting,
and that his hunger made him irritable and impatient. If that were so,
assuredly the fellow deserved a lesson that should show him he was now
in France, where different manners obtained to those that he displayed;
yet, lest he should be something else, Garnache determined to pursue a
policy of conciliation. It would be a madness to embroil himself just
then, whether this fellow were of Condillac or not.

“I have asked you, monsieur,” the stranger insisted, “to be a little
more definite.”

Garnache’s smile broadened and grew more friendly. “Frankly,” said he,
“I experience difficulty. My remark was vague. I meant it so to be.”

“But it offended me, monsieur,” the other answered sharply.

The Parisian raised his eyebrows, and pursed his lips. “Then I deplore
it,” said he. And now he had to endure the hardest trial of all. The
stranger’s expression changed to one of wondering scorn.

“Do I understand that monsieur apologizes?”

Garnache felt himself crimsoning; his self-control was slipping from
him; the pressure against his shoulder blade was renewed, and in time he
became aware of it and knew it for a warning from Rabecque.

“I cannot conceive, sir, that I have offended,” said he at length,
keeping a tight hand upon his every instinct--which was to knock this
impertinent stranger down. “But if I have, I beg that you will believe
that I have done so unwittingly. I had no such intent.”

The stranger removed his hand from the table and drew himself erect.

“So much for that, then,” said he, provokingly contemptuous. “If you
will be as amiable in the matter of the supper I shall be glad to
terminate an acquaintance which I can see no honour to myself in
pursuing.”

This, Garnache felt, was more than he could endure. A spasm of passion
crossed his face, another instant and despite Rabecque’s frantic
proddings he might have flung the ragout in the gentleman’s face; when
suddenly came the landlord unexpectedly to the rescue.

“Monsieur, here comes your supper now,” he announced, as his wife
reentered from the kitchen with a laden tray.

For a moment the stranger seemed out of countenance. Then he looked with
cold insolence from the dishes set before Garnache to those which were
being set for himself.

“Ah,” said he, and his tone was an insult unsurpassable, “perhaps it is
to be preferred. This ragout grows cold, I think.”

He sniffed, and turning on his heel, without word or sign of salutation
to Garnache, he passed to the next table, and sat down with his
companions. The Parisian’s eyes followed him, and they blazed
with suppressed wrath. Never in all his life had he exercised such
self-control as he was exercising then--which was the reason why he had
failed to achieve greatness--and he was exercising it for the sake of
that child above-stairs, and because he kept ever-present in his mind
the thought that she must come to grievous harm if ill befell himself.
But he controlled his passion at the cost of his appetite. He could not
eat, so enraged was he. And so he pushed the platter from him, and rose.

He turned to Rabecque, and the sight of his face sent the lackey back a
pace or two in very fear. He waved his hand to the table.

“Sup, Rabecque,” said he. “Then come to me above.”

And followed, as before, by the eyes of the stranger and his companions,
Garnache strode out of the room, and mounting the stairs went to find
solace in talk with Valerie. But however impossible he might find it to
digest the affront he had swallowed, no word of the matter did he utter
to the girl, lest it should cause her fears to reawaken.



CHAPTER VII. THE OPENING OF THE TRAP

Garnache spent a sleepless night at Grenoble, on guard throughout the
greater part of it since nothing short of that would appease the fears
of Valerie. Yet it passed without any bellicose manifestation on the
part of the Condillacs such as Valerie feared and such as Garnache was
satisfied would not--could not, indeed--take place.

Betimes next morning he dispatched Rabecque to the Auberge de France for
the promised carriage, and broke his fast in the common-room what time
he awaited his man’s return. The chamber was again occupied by the
stranger of yesternight, who sat apart, however, and seemed no longer
disposed to interfere with the Parisian. Garnache wondered idly, might
this be due to the circumstance that that same stranger was supported
now by one single companion, and was therefore less valorous than when
he had been in the company of three.

At another table were two gentlemen, sprung he knew not whence, quiet
in dress and orderly in manner, to whom he paid little heed until one of
them a slender, swarthy, hawk-faced fellow--looking up suddenly, started
slightly at sight of the Parisian and addressed him instantly by name.
Garnache paused in the act of rising from table, half-turned, and
sharply scrutinized the swarthy gentleman, but failed to recognize him.
He advanced towards him.

“I have the honour to be known to you, monsieur?” he half-stated,
half-inquired.

“Parbleu, Monsieur de Garnache!” exclaimed the other with a ready
smile, the more winning since it lighted up a face that at rest was very
sombre. “Lives there a Parisian to whom you are not known? I have seen
you often at the Hotel de Bourgogne.”

Garnache acknowledged the courtesy by a slight inclination of the head.

“And once,” continued the other, “I had the honour to be presented to
you by Monsieur le Duc himself. My name is Gaubert--Fabre Gaubert.” And
as he introduced himself he rose out of respect for Garnache, who had
remained standing. Garnache knew him not at all, yet never doubted that
his tale was true; the fellow had a very courtly, winning air; moreover,
Garnache was beginning to feel lonely in the wilds of Dauphiny, so that
it rejoiced him to come into the company of one whom he might regard as
something of a fellow-creature. He held out his hand.

“I am honoured in that you should have borne me in your memory,
monsieur,” said he. He was about to add that he would be overjoyed if
it should happen that Monsieur Gaubert was travelling to Paris, since he
might give himself the pleasure of his company on that tedious journey;
but he checked himself betimes. He had no reason to suspect this
gentleman; and yet, all things considered, he bethought him suddenly
that he would do well to observe the greatest circumspection. So with a
pleasant but meaningless civility touching Monsieur Gaubert’s presence
in those parts, Garnache passed on and gained the door. He paused in the
porch, above which the rebus-like sign of the Sucking Calf creaked and
grated in each gust of the chill wind that was blowing from the Alps.
The rain had ceased, but the sky was dark and heavy with great banks of
scudding clouds. In the street the men of his escort sat their horses,
having mounted at his bidding in readiness for the journey. A word or
two he exchanged with the sergeant, and then with a great rumble the
clumsy carriage from the Auberge de France heralded its approach. It
rolled up the street, a vast machine of wood and leather, drawn by three
horses, and drew up at the door of the inn. Out sprang Rabecque, to be
immediately sent by his master to summon mademoiselle. They would set
out upon the instant.

Rabecque turned to obey; but in that same moment he was thrust rudely
aside by a man with the air of a servant, who issued from he inn
carrying a valise; after him, following close upon his heels, with head
held high and eyes that looked straight before him and took no heed of
Garnache, came the foreigner of yesternight.

Rabecque, his shoulders touching the timbers of the porch, against which
he had been thrust, remained at gaze, following with resentful eye the
fellow who had so rudely used him. Garnache, on the other side, watched
with some wonder the advent of the ingenuous-looking stranger, but as
yet with no suspicion of his intent.

Not until the servant had thrown open the door of the coach and
deposited within the valise he carried, did Garnache stir. Not, indeed,
until the foreigner’s foot was on the step preparatory to mounting did
Garnache speak.

“Hi! monsieur,” he called to him, “what is your pleasure with my
carriage?”

The stranger turned, and stared at Garnache with a look of wonder that
artfully changed to one of disdainful recognition.

“Ah?” said he, and his eyebrows went up. “The apologetic gentleman! You
said?”

Garnache approached him, followed a step not only by Rabecque, but also
by Monsieur Gaubert, who had sauntered out a second earlier. Behind
them, in the porch, lounged now the foreigner’s friend, and behind him
again was to be seen the great face and staring, somewhat startled eyes
of the landlord.

“I asked you, monsieur,” said Garnache, already at grips with that quick
temper of his, “what might be your pleasure with my coach?”

“With your coach?” echoed the other, his superciliousness waxing more
and more offensive. “Voyons! on! my apologetic friend, do all things
in Grenoble belong to you?” He turned to the post-boy, who looked on
stolidly. “You are from the Auberge de France, are you not?” quoth he.

“I am, monsieur,” replied the man. “This carriage was ordered last night
by a gentleman lodging at the Veau qui Tete?”

“Perfectly,” replied the stranger, in a tone of finality. “It was
ordered by me.” And he was about to turn away, when Garnache approached
him by yet another step.

“I will ask you to observe, monsieur,” said he and for all that his tone
and words were civil, that they were forcedly so was obvious from their
quiver--“I will ask you to observe that the carriage was fetched by my
own man there, who rode hither in it.”

The stranger looked him up and down with a curling lip.

“It seems, sir,” said he, with a broad sneer, “that you are one of
those impertinent fellows who will be for ever thrusting themselves upon
gentlemen with an eye to such profit as they can make.” He produced
a purse and opened it. “Last night it was my supper you usurped. I
suffered that. Now you would do the same by my coach, and that I
shall not suffer. But there is for your pains, and to be quit of your
company.” And he tossed a silver coin at the Parisian.

There was an exclamation of horror in the background, and Monsieur de
Gaubert thrust himself forward.

“Sir, sir,” he exclaimed in an agitated voice, “you cannot know whom
you are addressing. This is Monsieur Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache,
Mestre-de-Champ in the army of the King.”

“Of all those names the one I should opine might fit him best, but for
his ugliness, is that of Marie,” answered the foreigner, leering, and
with a contemptuous shrug he turned again to mount the carriage.

At that all Garnache’s self-control deserted him, and he did a thing
deplorable. In one of his blind excesses of fury, heedless of the
faithful and watchful Rabecque’s arresting tug at his sleeve, he stepped
forward, and brought a heavy hand down upon the supercilious gentleman’s
shoulder. He took him in the instant in which, with one foot off the
ground and the other on the step of the carriage, the foreigner was
easily thrown’ off his balance; he dragged him violently backward, span
him round and dropped him floundering in the mire of the street-kennel.

That done, there fell a pause--a hush that was ominous of things
impending. A little crowd of idlers that had gathered was quickly
augmenting now, and from some there came a cry of “Shame!” at Garnache’s
act of violence.

This is no moment at which to pause to moralize. And yet, how often is
it not so? How often does not public sympathy go out to the man who has
been assaulted without thought of the extent to which that man may have
provoked and goaded his assailant.

That cry of “Shame!” did no more than increase the anger that was
mastering Garnache. His mission in Grenoble was forgotten; mademoiselle
above-stairs was forgotten; the need for caution and the fear of the
Condillacs were forgotten; everything was thrust from his mind but the
situation of the moment.

Amid the hush that followed, the stranger picked himself slowly up, and
sought to wipe the filth from his face and garments. His servant and his
friend flew to his aid, but he waved them aside, and advanced towards
Garnache, eyes blazing, lips sneering.

“Perhaps,” said he, in that soft, foreign tone of his, laden now with
fierce mock-politeness, “perhaps monsieur proposes to apologize again.”

“Sir, you are mad,” interposed Gaubert. “You are a foreigner, I
perceive, else you would--”

But Garnache thrust him quietly aside. “You are very kind, Monsieur
Gaubert,” said he, and his manner now was one of frozen calm--a manner
that betrayed none of the frenzy of seething passion underneath.
“I think, sir,” said he to the stranger, adopting something of that
gentleman’s sardonic manner, “that it will be a more peaceful world
without you. It is that consideration restrains me from apologizing. And
yet, if monsieur will express regret for having sought, and with such
lack of manners, to appropriate my carriage--”

“Enough!” broke in the other. “We are wasting time, and I have a long
journey before me. Courthon,” said he, addressing his friend, “will you
bring me the length of this gentleman’s sword? My name, sir,” he added
to Garnache, “is Sanguinetti.”

“Faith,” said Garnache, “it sorts well with your bloody spirit.”

“And will sort well, no doubt, with his condition presently,” put in
hawk-faced Gaubert. “Monsieur de Garnache, if you have no friend at hand
to act for you, I shall esteem myself honoured.” And he bowed.

“Why, thanks, sir. You are most opportunely met. You should be a
gentleman since you frequent the Hotel de Bourgogne. My thanks.”

Gaubert went aside to confer with Monsieur Courthon. Sanguinetti stood
apart, his manner haughty and impressive, his eye roaming scornfully
through the ranks of what had by now become a crowd. Windows were
opening in the street, and heads appearing, and across the way Garnache
might have beheld the flabby face of Monsieur de Tressan among the
spectators of that little scene.

Rabecque drew near his master.

“Have a care, monsieur,” he implored him. “If this should be a trap.”

Garnache started. The remark sobered him, and brought to his mind his
own suspicions of yesternight, which his present anger had for the
moment lulled. Still, he conceived that he had gone too far to extricate
himself. But he could at least see to it that he was not drawn away
from the place that sheltered mademoiselle. And so he stepped forward,
joining Courthon and Gaubert, to insist that the combat should take
place in the inn--either in the common room or in the yard. But the
landlord, overhearing this, protested loudly that he could not consent
to it. He had his house to think of. He swore that they should not fight
on his premises, and implored them in the same breath not to attempt it.

At that Garnache, now thoroughly on his guard, was for putting off the
encounter.

“Monsieur Courthon,” said he--and he felt a flush of shame mounting
to his brow, and realized that it may need more courage to avoid an
encounter than to engage in one--“there is something that in the heat
of passion I forgot; something that renders it difficult for me to meet
your friend at present.”

Courthon looked at him as he might look at an impertinent lackey.

“And what may that be?” he inquired, mightily contemptuous. There was
a snigger from some in the crowd that pressed about them, and even
Monsieur Gaubert looked askance.

“Surely, sir,” he began, “if I did not know you for Monsieur de
Garnache--”

But Garnache did not let him finish.

“Give me air,” he cried, and cuffed out to right and left of him at the
grinning spectators, who fell back and grinned less broadly. “My reason,
Monsieur de Courthon,” said he, “is that I do not belong to my self at
present. I am in Grenoble on business of the State, as the emissary of
the Queen-Regent, and so it would hardly become me to engage in private
quarrels.”

Courthon raised his brows.

“You should have thought of that before you rolled Monsieur Sanguinetti
in the mud,” he answered coldly.

“I will tender him my apologies for that,” Garnache promised, swallowing
hard, “and if he still insists upon a meeting he shall have it in, say,
a month’s time.”

“I cannot permit--” began Courthon, very fiercely.

“You will be so good as to inform your friend of what I have said,”
 Garnache insisted, interrupting him.

Cowed, Courthon shrugged and went apart to confer with his friend.

“Ah!” came Sanguinetti’s soft voice, yet loud enough to be heard by
all present. “He shall have a caning then for his impertinence.” And
he called loudly to the post-boy for his whip. But at that insult
Garnache’s brain seemed to take fire, and his cautious resolutions were
reduced to ashes by the conflagration. He stepped forward, and,
virulent of tone and terrific of mien, he announced that since Monsieur
Sanguinetti took that tone with him, he would cut his throat for him at
once and wherever they should please.

At last it was arranged that they should proceed there and then to the
Champs aux Capuchins, a half-mile away behind the Franciscan convent.

Accordingly they set out, Sanguinetti and Courthon going first, and
Garnache following with Gaubert; the rear being brought up by a regiment
of rabble, idlers and citizens, that must have represented a very
considerable proportion of the population of Grenoble. This audience
heartened Garnache, to whom some measure of reflection had again
returned. Before such numbers it was unthinkable that these
gentlemen--assuming them to be acting on behalf of Condillac--should
dare to attempt foul measures with him. For the rest he had taken the
precaution of leaving Rabecque at the Sucking Calf, and he had given the
sergeant strict injunctions that he was not to allow any of his men to
leave their posts during his absence, and that the troopers were to
hold themselves entirely at the orders of Rabecque. Comparatively easy
therefore in his mind, and but little exercised by any thought of the
coming encounter, Garnache walked briskly along.

They came at last to the Champs aux Capuchins--a pleasant stretch
of verdure covering perhaps half an acre and set about by a belt of
beech-trees.

The crowd disposed itself on the fringe of the sward, and the duellists
went forward, and set about the preparations. Principals and seconds
threw off cloak and doublet, and Sanguinetti, Courthon, and Gaubert
removed their heavy boots, whilst Garnache did no more than detach the
spurs from his.

Sanguinetti, observing this, drew the attention of the others to it, and
an altercation arose. It was Gaubert who came to beg Garnache that he
should follow the example they had set him in that respect. But Garnache
shook his head.

“The turf is sodden.”

“But it is precisely on that account, sir,” protested Gaubert very
earnestly. “In your boots you will be unable to stand firm; you will run
the risk of slipping every time that you break ground.”

“I venture to think, sir, that that is my affair,” said Garnache
stiffly.

“But it is not,” the other cried. “If you fight in your boots, we must
all do the same, and for myself--well, I have not come here to commit
suicide.”

“Look you, Monsieur Gaubert,” said Garnache quietly, “your opponent will
be Monsieur Courthon, and since he is in his stockinged feet, there is
no reason why you yourself should not remain so too. As for me, I retain
my boots, and Monsieur Sanguinetti may have all the advantage that may
give him. Since I am content, in Heaven’s name let the fight go forward.
I am in haste.”

Gaubert bowed in submission; but Sanguinetti, who had overheard, turned
with an oath.

“By God, no!” said he. “I need no such advantage, sir. Courthon, be so
good as to help me on with my boots again.” And there was a fresh delay
whilst he resumed them.

At last, however, the four men came together, and proceeded to the
measurement of swords. It was found that Sanguinetti’s was two inches
longer than any of the other three.

“It is the usual length in Italy,” said Sanguinetti with a shrug.

“If monsieur had realized that he was no longer in Italy, we might
perhaps have been spared this very foolish business,” answered Garnache
testily.

“But what are we to do?” cried the perplexed Gaubert.

“Fight,” said Garnache impatiently. “Is there never to be an end to
these preliminaries?”

“But I cannot permit you to oppose yourself to a sword two inches longer
than your own,” cried Gaubert, almost in a temper.

“Why not, if I am satisfied?” asked Garnache. “Mine is the longer reach;
thus matters will stand equal.”

“Equal?” roared Gaubert. “Your longer reach is an advantage that you
had from God, his longer sword is one he had from an armourer. Is that
equality?”

“He may have my sword, and I’ll take his,” cut in the Italian, also
showing impatience. “I too am in haste.”

“In haste to die, then,” snapped Gaubert.

“Monsieur, this is not seemly,” Courthon reproved him.

“You shall teach me manners when we engage,” snapped the hawk-faced
gentleman.

“Sirs, sirs,” Garnache implored them, “are we to waste the day in words?
Monsieur Gaubert, there are several gentlemen yonder wearing swords; I
make no doubt that you will find one whose blade is of the same length
as your own, sufficiently obliging to lend it to Monsieur Sanguinetti.”

“That is an office that my friend can do for me,” interposed
Sanguinetti, and thereupon Courthon departed, to return presently with a
borrowed weapon of the proper length.

At last it seemed that they might proceed with the business upon which
they were come; but Garnache was wrong in so supposing. A discussion now
arose between Gaubert and Courthon as to the choice of spot. The turf
was drenched and slippery, and for all that they moved from place to
place testing the ground, their principals following, nowhere could they
find the conditions sufficiently improved to decide upon engaging.
To Garnache the utility of this was apparent from the first. If these
gentlemen had thought to avoid slippery ground, they should have elected
to appoint the meeting elsewhere. But having chosen the Champs aux
Capuchins, it was idle to expect that one stretch of turf would prove
firmer than another.

Wearied at last by this delay, he gave expression to his thoughts.

“You are quite right, monsieur,” said Courthon. “But your second is
over-fastidious. It would simplify matters so much if you would remove
your boots.”

“Look you, sirs,” said Garnache, taking a firm stand, “I will engage in
my boots and on this very spot or not at all. I have told you that I am
in haste. As for the slipperiness of the ground, my opponent will run
no greater risks than I. I am not the only impatient one. The spectators
are beginning to jeer at us. We shall have every scullion in Grenoble
presently saying that we are afraid of one another. Besides which, sirs,
I think I am taking cold.”

“I am quite of monsieur’s mind, myself,” drawled Sanguinetti.

“You hear, sir,” exclaimed Courthon, turning to Gaubert. “You can scarce
persist in finding objections now.”

“Why, since all are satisfied, so be it,” said Gaubert, with a shrug. “I
sought to do the best for my principal. As it is, I wash my hands of all
responsibility, and by all means let us engage, sirs.”

They disposed themselves accordingly, Gaubert engaging Courthon, on
Garnache’s right hand, and Garnache himself falling on guard to receive
the attack of Sanguinetti. The jeers and murmurs that had been rising
from the ever-growing crowd that swarmed about the outskirts of the
place fell silent as the clatter of meeting swords rang out at last. And
then, scarce were they engaged when a voice arose, calling angrily:

“Hold, Sanguinetti! Wait!”

A big, broad-shouldered man, in a suit of homespun and a featherless
hat, thrust his way rudely trough the crowd and broke into the space
within the belt of trees. The combatants had fallen apart at this
commanding cry, and the newcomer now dashed forward, flushed and out of
breath as if with running.

“_Vertudieu_! Sanguinetti,” he swore, and his manner was half-angry,
half-bantering; “do you call this friendship?”

“My dear Francois” returned the foreigner, “you arrive most
inopportunely.”

“And is that all the greeting you have for me?”

Looking more closely, Garnache thought that he recognized in him one of
Sanguinetti’s companions of yesternight.

“But do you not see that I am engaged?”

“Ay; and that is my grievance that you should be engaged upon such an
affair, and that I should have no share in it. It is to treat me like
a lackey, and have the right to feel offended. Enfin! It seems I am not
come too late.”

Garnache cut in. He saw the drift of the fellow’s intentions, and he was
not minded to submit to fresh delays; already more than half an hour was
sped since he had left the Sucking Calf. He put it plainly to them that
more than enough delay had there been already and he begged the newcomer
to stand aside and allow them to terminate the business on which they
were met. But Monsieur Francois--as Sanguinetti had called him--would
not hear of it. He proved, indeed, a very testy fellow, and he had,
moreover, the support of the others, including even Monsieur Gaubert.

“Let me implore you not to spoil sport, sir,” the latter begged
Garnache. “I have a friend at the inn who would never forgive me if I
permitted him to miss such a morning’s diversion as this gentleman is
willing to afford him. Suffer me to go for him.”

“Look you, sir,” answered Garnache sharply, “however you may view this
meeting, it is not with me an affair of jest or sport. I am in a quarrel
that has been forced upon me, and--”

“Surely not, sir,” Courthon interrupted sweetly. “You forget that you
rolled Monsieur Sanguinetti in the mud. That is hardly to have a quarrel
forced upon you.”

Garnache bit his lip to the blood in his vexation.

“However the quarrel may have originated,” said Francois, with a great
laugh, “I swear that it goes not forward until I am accommodated, too.”

“You had better accede, monsieur,” murmured Gaubert. “I shall not be
gone five minutes, and it will save time in the end.”

“Oh, very well,” cried poor Garnache in his despair. “Anything to save
time; anything! In God’s name fetch your friend, and I hope you and he
and every man here will get his fill of fighting for once.”

Gaubert departed on his errand, and there were fresh murmurs in the mob
until the reason of his going was understood. Five minutes sped; ten
minutes, and yet he returned not. Grouped together were Sanguinetti
and his two friends, in easy, whispered talk. At a little distance from
them, Garnache paced up and down to keep himself warm. He had thrown his
cloak over his shoulders again, and with sword tucked under arm and head
thrust forward, he stamped backwards and forwards, the very picture
of ill-humour. Fifteen minutes passed; twelve o’clock boomed from the
Church of Saint Francois d’Assisi and still Monsieur Gaubert returned
not. Garnache stood still a moment, in angry thought. This must not go
on. There must be an end, and at once. The tastes and inclinations
of brawlers were no concern of his. He had business of State--however
unworthy--to dispatch. He turned, intending to demand of Monsieur
Sanguinetti that they should engage at once and be done, when suddenly
a fellow roughly dressed, with dirty face and a shock head of fair
hair, pushed his way through the throng and advanced towards Monsieur
Sanguinetti and his friends. Garnache checked in his movement to look
at the fellow, for he recognized in him the ostler of the Auberge de
France: He spoke at that moment, and Garnache overheard the words he
uttered.

“Monsieur Sanguinetti,” said he, addressing that gentleman, “my master
sends to inquire if you shall want the carriage you ordered for to-day.
It has been standing for an hour at the door of the Auberge de France,
awaiting you, and if you don’t want it--”

“Standing where?” asked Sanguinetti harshly.

“At the door of the Auberge de France.”

“Peste, fool!” cried the foreigner, “why is it there, when I bade it be
sent to the Sucking Calf?”

“I don’t know, sir. I know no more than Monsieur l’Hote told me.”

“Now, a plague on Monsieur l’Hote,” swore Sanguinetti, and in that
moment his eye fell upon Garnache, standing there, attentive. At sight
of the Parisian he seemed lost in confusion. He dropped his glance and
appeared on the point of turning aside. Then to the ostler: “I shall
want the carriage, and I shall come for it anon. Carry that message
to your master.” And with that he turned and advanced to Garnache. His
whilom arrogance was all fallen from him; he wore instead an air of
extreme contrition.

“Monsieur, what shall I say to you?” he asked in a voice that was rather
small. “It seems there has been an error. I am deeply grieved, believe
me--”

“Say no more, I beg,” cried Garnache, immensely relieved that at last
there should be a conclusion to an affair which had threatened to be
interminable. “Let me but express my regrets for the treatment you
received at my hands.”

“I accept your expressions, and I admire their generosity,” returned the
other as courteous now as subservient, indeed, in his courtesy--as
he had been erstwhile fierce and intractable. “As for the treatment I
received, I confess that my mistake and my opinionativeness deserved it
me. I deplore to deprive these gentlemen of the entertainment to which
they were looking forward, but unless you should prove of an excessive
amiability I am afraid they must suffer with me the consequences of my
error.”

Garnache assured him very briefly, and none too politely that he did not
intend to prove of any excessive amiability. He spoke whilst struggling
into his doublet. He felt that he could cheerfully have caned the fellow
for the inconvenience he had caused him, and yet he realized that he had
other more pressing matters to attend to. He sheathed his sword, took up
his cloak and hat, made those gentlemen the compliments that became the
occasion, in terms a trifle more brief, perhaps, than were usual, and,
still wondering why Monsieur de Gaubert had not yet returned, he stalked
briskly away. Followed by the booings of the disappointed crowd, he set
out for the Sucking Calf at a sharp pace, taking the shorter way behind
the Church and across the graveyard of Saint Francois.



CHAPTER VIII. THE CLOSING OF THE TRAP

Upon leaving the Champs aux Capuchins, hawk-faced Monsieur Gaubert had
run every foot of the way to the Sucking Calf, and he had arrived there
within some five minutes, out of breath and wearing every appearance of
distress--of a distress rather greater than his haste to find his friend
should warrant.

At the door of the inn he found the carriage still waiting; the
post-boy, however, was in the porch, leaning in talk with one of the
drawers. The troopers sat their horses in stolid patience, keeping
guard, and awaiting, as they had been bidden, the return of Monsieur de
Garnache. Rabecque, very watchful, lounged in the doorway, betraying in
his air none of the anxiety and impatience with which he looked for his
master.

At sight of Monsieur Gaubert, running so breathlessly, he started
forward, wondering and uneasy. Across the street, from the Palais
Seneschal, came at that same moment Monsieur de Tressan with rolling
gait. He reached the door of the inn together with Monsieur Gaubert.

Full of evil forebodings, Rabecque hailed the runner.

“What has happened?” he cried. “Where is Monsieur de Garnache?”

Gaubert came to a staggering halt; he groaned and wrung his hands.

“Killed!” he panted, rocking himself in a passion of distress. “He has
been butchered! Oh! it was horrible!”

Rabecque gripped him by the shoulder, and steadied him with a hand that
hurt. “What do you say?” he gasped, his face white to the lips.

Tressan halted, too, and turned upon Gaubert, a look of incredulity in
his fat countenance. “Who has been killed?” he asked. “Not Monsieur de
Garnache?”

“Helas! yes,” groaned the other. “It was a snare, a guet-apens to which
they led us. Four of them set upon us in the Champs aux Capuchins. As
long as he lived, I stood beside him. But seeing him fallen, I come for
help.”

“My God!” sobbed Rabecque, and loosed his grasp of Monsieur Gaubert’s
shoulder.

“Who did it?” inquired Tressan, and his voice rumbled fiercely.

“I know not who they were. The man who picked the quarrel with Monsieur
de Garnache called himself Sanguinetti. There is a riot down there at
present. There was a crowd to witness the combat, and they have fallen
to fighting among themselves. Would to Heaven they had stirred in time
to save that poor gentleman from being murdered.”

“A riot, did you say?” cried Tressan, the official seeming to awaken in
him.

“Aye,” answered the other indifferently; “they are cutting one another’s
throats.”

“But... But... Are you sure that he is dead, monsieur?” inquired
Rabecque; and his tone was one that implored contradiction.

Gaubert looked and paused, seeming to give the matter a second’s
thought. “I saw him fall,” said he. “It may be that he was no more than
wounded.”

“And you left him there?” roared the servant. “You left him there?”

Gaubert shrugged his shoulders. “What could I do against four? Besides,
the crowd was interfering already, and it seemed best to me to come for
help. These soldiers, now--”

“Aye,” cut in Tressan, and he turned about and called the sergeant.
“This becomes my affair.” And he announced his quality to Monsieur
Gaubert. “I am the Lord Seneschal of Dauphiny.”

“I am fortunate in finding you,” returned Gaubert, and bowed. “I could
place the matter in no better hand.”

But Tressan, without heeding him, was already ordering the sergeant
to ride hard with his troopers for the Champs aux Capuchins. Rabecque,
however, thrust himself suddenly forward.

“Not so, Monsieur le Seneschal,” he interposed in fresh alarm, and
mindful of his charge. “These men are here to guard Mademoiselle de La
Vauvraye. Let them remain. I will go to Monsieur de Garnache.”

The Seneschal stared at him with contemptuously pouting underlip. “You
will go?” said he. “And what can you do alone? Who are you?” he asked.

“I am Monsieur de Garnache’s servant.”

“A lackey? Ah!” And Tressan turned aside and resumed his orders as
if Rabecque did not exist or had never spoken. “To the Champs aux
Capuchins!” said he. “At the gallop, Pommier! I will send others after
you.”

The sergeant rose in his stirrups and growled an order. The troopers
wheeled about; another order, and they were off, their cantering hoofs
thundering down the narrow street.

Rabecque clutched at the Lord Seneschal’s arm.

“Stop them, monsieur!” he almost screamed in his excitement. “Stop them!
There is some snare, some trick in this.”

“Stop them?” quoth the Seneschal. “Are you mad?” He shook off Rabecque’s
detaining hand, and left him, to cross the street again with ponderous
and sluggish haste, no doubt to carry out his purpose of sending more
troopers to the scene of the disturbance.

Rabecque swore angrily and bitterly, and his vexation had two entirely
separate sources. On the one hand his anxiety and affection for his
master urged him to run at once to his assistance, whilst Tressan’s
removal of the troopers rendered it impossible for him to leave
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye unguarded--though what he should do with
her if Garnache came not back at all, he did not at this stage pause
to consider. On the other hand, an instinctive and growing suspicion of
this Monsieur Gaubert--who was now entering the inn--inspired him with
the opinion that the fat Seneschal had been duped by a wild tale to
send the troopers from the spot where they might presently become very
necessary.

Full of fears, anxiety, and mistrust, it was a very dispirited Rabecque
that now slowly followed Monsieur Gaubert into the inn. But as he set
his foot across the threshold of the common-room, a sight met his eyes
that brought him to a momentary standstill, and turned to certainty all
his rising suspicions. He found it tenanted by a half-dozen fellows of
very rude aspect, all armed and bearing an odd resemblance in air and
accoutrements to the braves he had seen at Condillac the day before.
As to how they came there, he could only surmise that they had entered
through the stable-yard, as otherwise he must have observed their
approach. They were grouped now at the other end of the long, low
chamber, by the door leading to the interior of the inn. A few paces
distant the landlord watched them with uneasy eyes.

But what dismayed Garnache’s servant most of all was to see the man who
called himself Gaubert standing in talk with a slender, handsome youth,
magnificently arrayed, in whom he recognized Marius de Condillac.

Rabecque checked in his advance, and caught in that moment from Marius
the words: “Let her be told that it is Monsieur de Garnache wishes her
to descend.”

At that Rabecque stepped towards them, very purposeful of mien. Gaubert
turned at his approach, and smiled. Marius looked up quickly; then
made a sign to the men. Instantly two of them went out by the door they
guarded, and ere it swung back again Rabecque saw that they were
making for the stairs. The remaining four ranged themselves shoulder
to shoulder across the doorway, plainly with intent to bar the way.
Gaubert, followed immediately by Marius, stepped aside and approached
the landlord with arms akimbo and a truculent smile on his pale hawk
face. What he and Marius said, Rabecque could not make out, but he
distinctly heard the landlord’s answer delivered with a respectful bow
to Marius:

“Bien, Monsieur de Condillac. I would not interfere in your
concerns--not for the world. I will be blind and deaf.”

Marius acknowledged the servile protestation by a sneer, and Rabecque,
stirring at last, went forward boldly towards the doorway and its ugly,
human barrier.

“By your leave, sirs,” said he--and he made to thrust one of them aside.

“You cannot pass this way, sir,” he was answered, respectfully but
firmly.

Rabecque stood still, clenching and unclenching his hands and quivering
with anger. It was in that moment that he most fervently cursed Tressan
and his stupid meddling. Had the troopers still been there, they could
have made short work of these tatter-demalions. As it was, and with
Monsieur de Garnache dead, or at least absent, everything seemed at an
end. He might have contended that, his master being slain, it was no
great matter what he did, for in the end the Condillacs must surely have
their way with Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. But he never paused to think
of that just then. His sense of trust was strong; his duty to his master
plain. He stepped back, and drew his sword.

“Let me pass!” he roared. But at the same instant there came the soft
slither of another weapon drawn, and Rabecque was forced to turn to meet
the onslaught of Monsieur Gaubert.

“You dirty traitor,” cried the angry lackey, and that was all they left
him breath to say. Strong arms gripped him from behind. The sword was
wrenched from his hand. He was flung down heavily, and pinned prone in a
corner by one of those bullies who knelt on his spine. And then the door
opened again, and poor Rabecque groaned in impotent anguish to behold
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye pause white-faced and wide-eyed on, the
threshold at sight of Monsieur de Condillac bowing low before her.

She stood there a moment between the two ruffians who had been sent to
fetch her, and her eyes travelling round that room discovered Rabecque
in his undignified and half; strangled condition.

“Where... Where is Monsieur de Garnache?” she faltered.

“He is where all those who cross the will of Condillac must sooner or
later find themselves,” said Marius airily. “He is... disposed of.”

“Do you mean that he is dead?” she cried.

“I think it very probable by now,” he smiled. “So you see, mademoiselle,
since the guardian the Queen appointed you has... deserted you, you
would do well to return to my mother’s roof. Let me assure you that we
shall very gladly welcome your return. We blame none but Garnache for
your departure, and he has paid for the brutality of his abduction of
you.”

She turned in despair from that mocking gentleman, and attempted to make
appeal to the landlord, as though he could help her who could not help
himself.

“Monsieur l’Hote--” she began, but Marius cut in sharply.

“Take her out that way,” he said, and pointed back down the passage by
the stairs. “To the coach. Make haste.”

She sought to resist them now; but they dragged her back, and there
was a rush of the others following through the doorway, the rear being
brought up by Gaubert.

“Follow presently,” was his parting command to the man who still knelt
upon Rabecque, and with that he vanished too.

Their steps died away in the passage; a door banged in the distance.
There followed a silence, disturbed only by the sound of Rabecque’s
laboured breathing; then came a stir outside the door of the inn; some
one shouted an order. There was a movement of hoofs, a creak and crunch
of wheels, and presently the rumble of a heavy carriage being driven
rapidly away. But too well did Rabecque surmise what had taken place.

The ruffian released him at last, and, leaping to his feet, was gone
before Rabecque could rise. Once up, however, the lackey darted to the
door. In the distance he saw his late assailant running hard; the
coach had disappeared. He turned, and his smouldering eye fell upon the
landlord.

“O pig!” he apostrophized him, snarling at him to vent some of his
pent-up rage. “O cowardly pig.”

“What would you?” expostulated the frightened taverner. “They had cut my
throat if I resisted them.”

Rabecque poured abuse upon him, until for very lack of words he was
forced to cease, then, with a final bark of contempt, he went to recover
his sword, which had been flung into a corner of the room. He was
stooping in the act, when a quick step rang behind him on the threshold,
an angry voice harsh and metallic pronounced his name:

“Rebecque!”

The sword clattered from Rabecque’s hand suddenly gone
nerveless--nerveless with sheer joy, all else forgotten in the
perception that there, safe and sound, stood his beloved master.

“Monsieur!” he cried, and the tears welled up to the rough servant’s
eyes. “Monsieur!” he cried again, and then with the tears streaming
down his cheeks, sallow and wrinkled as parchment, “Oh, thank God!” he
blubbered. “Thank God!”

“For what?” asked Garnache, coming forward, a scowl like a thunder-cloud
upon his brow. “Where is the coach, where the troopers? Where is
mademoiselle? Answer me!”

He caught Rabecque’s wrist in a grip that threatened to snap it. His
face was livid, his eyes aflame.

“They--they--” stammered Rabecque. He had not the courage to tell the
thing that had happened. He feared Garnache would strike him dead.

And then out of his terror he gathered an odd daring. He spoke to
Garnache as never he had dreamt to speak to him, and it may well be that
by his tone and by what he said he saved his life just then.

“You fool,” he cried to him. “I told you to be on your guard. I warned
you to go warily. But you would not heed me. You know better than
Rabecque. You would have your way. You must go a-brawling. And they
duped you, they fooled you to the very top of their bent, monsieur.”

Garnache dropped the servant’s hand and stood back a pace. That
counter-blast of passion and that plain speaking from a quarter so
unexpected served, in part at least, to sober him. He understood the
thing that had happened, the thing that already he suspected must have
happened; but he understood too that he alone was to blame for it--he
and his cursed temper.

“Who--who fooled me?” he stammered.

“Gaubert--the fellow that calls himself Gaubert. He and his friends.
They fooled you away. Then Gaubert returned with a tale that you
had been killed and that there was a disturbance in the Champs aux
Capuchins. Monsieur de Tressan was here, as ill-luck would have it,
and Gaubert implored him to send soldiers thither to quell the riot.
He dispatched the escort. I sought in vain to stay them. He would not
listen to me. The troopers went, and then Monsieur Gaubert entered
the inn, to join Monsieur de Condillac and six of his braves who were
waiting there. They overpowered me, and carried mademoiselle off in the
coach. I did what I could, but--”

“How long have they been gone?” Garnache interrupted him to inquire.

“But few minutes before you came.”

“It would be, then, the coach that passed me near the Porte de Savoie.
We must go after them, Rabecque. I made a short cut across the graveyard
of Saint Francis, or I must have met the escort. Oh, perdition!” he
cried, smiting his clenched right hand into his open left. “To have so
much good work undone by a moment’s unguardedness.” Then abruptly he
turned on his heels. “I am going to Monsieur de Tressan,” said he over
his shoulder, and went out.

As he reached the threshold of the porch, the escort rode up the street,
returned at last. At sight of him the sergeant broke into a cry of
surprise.

“At least you are safe, monsieur,” he said. “We had heard that you were
dead, and I feared it must be so, for all that the rest of the story
that was told us was clearly part of a very foolish jest.”

“Jest? It was no jest, _Vertudieu_!” said Garnache grimly. “You had best
return to the Palais Seneschal. I have no further need of an escort,” he
added bitterly. “I shall require a larger force.”

And he stepped out into the rain, which had begun again a few minutes
earlier, and was now falling in a steady downpour.



CHAPTER IX. THE SENESCHAL’S ADVICE

Straight across to the Palais Seneschal went Garnache. And sorely though
his temper might already have been tried that day, tempestuously though
it had been vented, there were fresh trials in store for him, fresh
storms for Tressan.

“May I ask, Monsieur le Seneschal,” he demanded arrogantly, “to what end
it was that you permitted yourself to order from its post the escort you
had placed under my command?”

“To what end?” returned the Seneschal, between sorrow and indignation.
“Why, to the end that it might succour you if still in time. I had heard
that if not dead already, you were in danger of your life.”

The answer was one that disarmed Garnache, in spite of his mistrust
of Tressan, and followed as it now was by the Seneschal’s profuse
expressions of joy at seeing Garnache safe and well, it left him
clearly unable to pursue the subject of his grievance in this particular
connection. Instead, he passed on to entertain Tressan with the recital
of the thing that had been done; and in reciting it his anger revived
again, nor did the outward signs of sympathetic perturbation which
the Seneschal thought it judicious to display do aught to mollify his
feelings.

“And now, monsieur,” he concluded, “there remains but one course to
be pursued--to return in force, and compel them at the sword-point to
surrender me mademoiselle. That accomplished, I shall arrest the Dowager
and her son and every jackanapes within that castle. Her men can lie
in Grenoble gaol to be dealt with by yourself for supporting her in an
attempt to resist the Queen’s authority. Madame and her son shall go
with me to Paris to answer there for their offence.”

The Seneschal looked grave. He thoughtfully combed his beard with his
forefinger, and his little eyes peered a shade fearfully at Garnache
through his horn-rimmed spectacles--Garnache had found him at his
never-failing pretence of work.

“Why, yes,” he agreed, speaking slowly, “that way lies your duty.”

“I rejoice, monsieur, to hear you say so. For I shall need your aid.”

“My aid?” The Seneschal’s face assumed a startled look.

“I shall require of you the necessary force to reduce that garrison.”

The Seneschal blew out his cheeks almost to bursting point, then wagged
his head and smiled wistfully.

“And where,” he asked, “am I to find such a force?”

“You have upwards of ten score men in quarters at Grenoble.”

“If I had those men--which I have not--what, think you, could they do
against a fortress such as Condillac? Monsieur deludes himself. If they
resist, you’ll need ten times that number to bring them to their senses.
They are well victualled; they have an excellent water-supply. My
friend, they would just draw up the bridge, and laugh at you and your
soldiers from the ramparts.”

Garnache looked at him from under lowering brows. But for all his
mistrust of the man--a mistrust most excellently founded--he was forced
to confess that there was wisdom in what Tressan said.

“I’ll sit down and besiege them if need be,” he announced.

Again the Seneschal wagged his head. “You would have to be prepared to
spend your winter there in that case, and it can be cold in the valley
of Isere. Their garrison is small--some twenty men at most; but it is
sufficient for their defence, and not too many mouths to feed. No, no,
monsieur, if you would win your way by force you must count upon more
than ten score men.”

And now a flash of inspiration helped Tressan. It was his aim, as we
know, to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Break with Madame
de Condillac his foolish hopeful heart would not permit him. Break with
this man, who personified authority and the King, he dared not. He
had sought--and it had given him much to do--to steer a middle course,
serving the Dowager and appearing not to withstand the Parisian. Now it
almost seemed to him as if he were come to an impasse beyond which he
could no longer pursue that course, but must halt and declare his side.
But the notion that now occurred to him helped him to win through
this difficulty. For Madame de Condillac’s schemes he cared not a jot;
whether they came safe to harbour or suffered shipwreck on the way
was all one to him; whether Valerie de La Vauvraye married Marius de
Condillac or the meanest cobbler in Grenoble was, similarly, a matter
that never disturbed his mind. He would not even be concerned if he,
himself, were to help the Dowager’s schemes to frustration, so long as
she were to remain in ignorance of his defection, so long as outwardly
he were to appear faithful to her interests.

“Monsieur,” said he gravely, “the only course that promises you success
is to return to Paris, and, raising sufficient men, with guns and other
modern siege appliances such as we possess not here, come back and
batter down the walls of Condillac.”

There the Seneschal spoke good sense. Garnache realized it, so much
so that he almost began to doubt whether he had not done the man an
injustice in believing him allied to the other party. But, however fully
he might perceive the wisdom of the advice, such a step was one that
must wound his pride, must be an acknowledgment that his own resources,
upon which the Queen had relied when she sent him single-handed to deal
with this situation, had proved insufficient.

He took a turn in the apartment without answering, tugging at his
mustachios and pondering the situation what time the Seneschal
furtively watched him in the candle-light. At last he came abruptly to
a standstill by the Seneschal’s writing-table, immediately opposite
Tressan. His hand fell to his side, his eyes took on a look of
determination.

“As a last resource your good advice may guide me, Monsieur le
Seneschal,” said he. “But first I’ll see what can be done with such men
as you have here.”

“But I have no men,” answered Tressan, dismayed to see the failure of
his effort.

Garnache stared at him in an unbelief that was fast growing to
suspicion. “No men?” he echoed dully. “No men?”

“I might muster a score--no more than that.”

“But, monsieur, it is within my knowledge that you have at least two
hundred. I saw at least some fifty drawn up in the courtyard below here
yesterday morning.”

“I had them, monsieur,” the Seneschal made haste to cry, his hands
upheld, his body leaning forward over his table. “I had them. But,
unfortunately, certain disturbances in the neighbourhood of Montelimar
have forced me to part with them. They were on the point of setting out
when you saw them.”

Garnache looked at him a moment without speaking. Then, sharply:

“They must be recalled, monsieur,” said he.

And now the Seneschal took refuge in a fine pretence of indignation.

“Recalled?” he cried, and besides indignation there was some horror
in his voice. “Recalled? And for what? That they may assist you in
obtaining charge of a wretched girl who is so headstrong as to wish to
marry other than her guardians have determined. A pretty affair that, as
God’s my life! And for the adjustment of such a family dispute as this,
a whole province is to go to ruin, a conflagration of rebellion is to
spread unquenched? On my soul, sir, I begin to think that this mission
of yours has served to turn your head. You begin to see it out of all
proportion to its size.”

“Monsieur, it may have turned my head, or it may not; but I shall not be
amazed if in the end it be the means of losing you yours. Tell me now:
What is the disturbance you speak of in Montelimar?” That was a question
all Tressan’s ingenuity could not answer.

“What affair is it of yours?” he demanded. “Are you Seneschal of
Dauphiny, or am I? If I tell you that there is a disturbance, let that
suffice. In quelling it I do but attend to my own business. Do you
attend to yours--which seems to be that of meddling in women’s matters.”

This was too much. There was such odious truth in it that the iron sank
deep into Garnache’s soul. The very reflection that such a business
should indeed be his, was of itself enough to put him in a rage, without
having it cast in his teeth as Tressan had none too delicately done.

He stormed and raged; he waved his arms and thumped the table, and
talked of cutting men to ribbons--among which men no doubt he counted my
Lord the Seneschal of Dauphiny. But from the storm of fierce invective,
of threats and promises with which he filled the air, the Seneschal
gathered with satisfaction the one clear statement that he would take
his advice.

“I’ll do as you say,” Garnache had ended. “I’ll get me back to Paris as
fast as horse can carry me. When I return woe betide Condillac! And I
shall send my emissaries into the district of Montelimar to inquire into
these disturbances you tell of. Woe betide you if they find the country
quiet. You shall pay a heavy price for having dispatched your soldiers
thither to the end that they might not be here to further the Queen’s
business.”

With that he caught up his rain-sodden hat, flung it on his head, and
stalked out of the room, and, so, out of the Palace.

He left Grenoble next morning, and it was a very tame and crestfallen
Garnache who quitted the Auberge du Veau qui Tete and rode out of the
town to take the road to Paris. How they would laugh at him at the
Luxembourg! Not even an affair of this kind was he fit to carry
through; not even as a meddler in women’s matters as Tressan had
called him--could he achieve success. Rabecque, reflecting his master’s
mood--as becomes a good lackey--rode silent and gloomy a pace or two in
the rear.

By noon they had reached Voiron, and here, at a quiet hostelry, they
descended to pause awhile for rest and refreshment. It was a chill,
blustering day, and although the rain held off, the heavens were black
with the promise of more to come. There was a fire burning in the
general-room of the hostelry, and Garnache went to warm him at its
cheerful blaze. Moodily he stood there, one hand on the high mantel
shelf, one foot upon an andiron, his eyes upon the flames.

He was disconsolately considering his position; considering how utterly,
how irrevocably he had failed; pondering the gibes he would have to
stomach on his return to Paris, the ridicule it would incumb him to live
down. It had been a fine thing to breathe fire and blood and vengeance
to Tressan yesterday, to tell him of the great deeds he would perform on
his return. It was odds he never would return. They would send another
in his place, if indeed they sent at all. For, after all, before he
could reach Paris and the force required be in Dauphiny, a fortnight
must elapse, let them travel never so quickly. By that time they must be
singularly sluggish at Condillac if they did not so contrive that no
aid that came should come in time for mademoiselle, now that they were
warned that the Queen was stirring in the matter.

Oh! he had blundered it all most cursedly. Had he but kept his temper
yesterday at Grenoble; had he but had the wit to thwart their plans, by
preserving an unruffled front to insult, he might have won through and
carried mademoiselle out of their hands. As it was--! he let his arms
fall to his sides in his miserable despair.

“Your wine, monsieur,” said Rabecque at his elbow. He turned, and took
the cup of mulled drink from his servant. The beverage warmed him in
body; but it would need a butt of it to thaw the misery from his soul.

“Rabecque,” he said with a pathetic grimness, “I think I am the most
cursed blunderer that ever was entrusted with an errand.”

The thing so obsessed his mind that he must speak of it, if it be only
to his lackey. Rabecque’s sharp face assumed a chastened look. He sighed
most dutifully. He sought for words of consolation. At last:

“At least, monsieur has made them fear him up there at Condillac,” said
he.

“Fear me?” laughed Garnache. “Pish! Deride me, you would say.”

“Fear you, I repeat, monsieur. Else why are they at such pains to
strengthen the garrison?”

“Eh?” he questioned. But his tone was not greatly interested. “Are they
doing that? Are they strengthening it? How know you?”

“I had it from the ostler at the Veau qui Tete that a certain Captain
Fortunio--an Italian soldier of fortune who commands the men at
Condillac--was at the Auberge de France last night, offering wine to
whomsoever would drink with him, and paying for it out of Madame la
Marquise’s purse. To such as accepted his hospitality he talked of the
glory of a military career, particularly a free-lance’s; and to those
who showed interest in what he said he offered a pike in his company.”

“Enrolled he many, did you learn?”

“Not one, monsieur, the ostler told me; and it seems he spent the
evening watching him weave his spider’s web. But the flies were
over-wary. They knew whence he came; they knew the business for which he
desired to enrol them--for a rumour had gone round that Condillac was in
rebellion against the Queen’s commands--and there were none so desperate
at the Auberge de France as to risk their necks by enlisting, no matter
what the wage he offered.”

Garnache shrugged his shoulders. “No matter,” said he. “Get me another
cup of wine.” But as Rabecque turned away to obey him there came a
sudden gleam into the eye of Monsieur de Garnache which lightened the
depression of his countenance.



CHAPTER X. THE RECRUIT

In the great hall of the Chateau de Condillac sat the Dowager, her son,
and the Lord Seneschal, in conference.

It was early in the afternoon of the last Thursday in October, exactly a
week since Monsieur de Garnache all but broken-hearted at the failure of
his mission--had departed from Grenoble. They had dined, and the table
was still strewn with vessels and the fragments of their meal, for
the cloth had not yet been raised. But the three of them had left the
board--the Seneschal with all that reluctance with which he was wont to
part company with the table, no matter how perturbed in spirit he
might be--and they had come to group themselves about the great open
fireplace.

A shaft of pale October sunshine entering through the gules of an
escutcheon on the mullioned windows struck a scarlet light into silver
and glass upon the forsaken board.

Madame was speaking. She was repeating words that she had uttered at
least twenty times a day during the past week.

“It was a madness to let that fellow go. Had we but put him and his
servant out of the way, we should be able now to sleep tranquil in our
beds. I know their ways at Court. They might have marvelled a little at
first that he should tarry so long upon his errand, that he should send
them no word of its progress; but presently, seeing him no more, he
would little by little have been forgotten, and with him the affair in
which the Queen has been so cursedly ready to meddle.

“As it is, the fellow will go back hot with the outrage put upon him;
there will be some fine talk of it in Paris; it will be spoken of as
treason, as defiance of the King’s Majesty, as rebellion. The Parliament
may be moved to make outlaws of us, and the end of it all--who shall
foresee?”

“It is a long distance from Condillac to Paris, madame,” said her son,
with a shrug.

“And you will find them none so ready to send soldiers all this way,
Marquise,” the Seneschal comforted her.

“Bah! You make too sure of your security. You make too sure of what they
will do, what leave undone. Time will show, my friends; and, mor-dieu! I
am much at fault if you come not both to echo my regret that we did not
dispose of Monsieur de Garnache and his lackey when we had them in our
power.”

Her eye fell with sinister promise upon Tressan, who shivered slightly
and spread his hands to the blaze, as though his shiver had been of
cold. But Marius did not so readily grow afraid.

“Madame,” he said, “at the worst we can shut our gates and fling
defiance at them. We are well-manned, and Fortunio is seeking fresh
recruits.”

“Seeking them, yes,” she sneered. “For a week has the fellow been
spending money like water, addling the brains of half Grenoble with the
best wine at the Auberge de France, yet not a single recruit has come
in, so far.”

Marius laughed. “Your pessimism leads you into rash conclusions,” he
cried. “You are wrong. One recruit has come in.”

“One!” she echoed. “A thousand devils! A brave number that! A fine
return for the river of wine with which we have washed the stomachs of
Grenoble.”

“Still, it is a beginning,” ventured the Seneschal.

“Aye, and, no doubt, an ending,” she flashed back at him. “And what
manner of fool may this one be, whose fortunes were so desperate that he
could throw them in with ours?”

“He is an Italian--a Piedmontese who has tramped across Savoy and was on
his way to Paris to make his fortune, when Fortunio caught him and made
it clear to him that his fortune was made for him at Condillac. He is
a lusty, stalwart fellow, speaking no word of French, who was drawn to
Fortunio by discovering in him a fellow-countryman.”

Mockery flashed from the Dowager’s beautiful eyes.

“In that you have the reason of his enrolling himself. He knew no word
of French, poor devil, so could not learn how rash his venture was.
Could we find more such men as this one it might be well. But where
shall we find them? Pish! my dear Marius, matters are little mended,
nor ever will be, for the mistake we made in allowing Garnache to go his
ways.”

“Madame;” again ventured Tressan, “I think that you want for
hopefulness.”

“At least, I do not want for courage, Monsieur le Comte,” she answered
him; “and I promise you that while I live--to handle a sword if need
be--no Paris men shall set foot in Condillac.”

“Aye,” grumbled Marius, “you can contemplate that, and it is all you
do contemplate. You will not see, madame that our position is far from
desperate; that, after all, there may be no need to resist the King. It
is three months since we had news of Florimond. Much may happen in three
months when a man is warring. It may well be that he is dead.”

“I wish I knew he was--and damned,” she snapped, with a tightening of
her scarlet lips.

“Yes,” agreed Marius, with a sigh, “that were an end to all our
troubles.”

“I’m none so sure. There is still mademoiselle, with her new-formed
friends in Paris--may a pestilence blight them all! There are still the
lands of La Vauvraye to lose. The only true end to our troubles as they
stand at present lies in your marrying this headstrong baggage.”

“That the step should be rendered impossible, you can but blame
yourself,” Marius reminded her.

“How so?” she cried, turning sharply upon him.

“Had you kept friends with the Church, had you paid tithes and saved
us from this cursed Interdict, we should have no difficulty in getting
hither a priest, and settling the matter out of hand, be Valerie willing
or not.”

She looked at him, scorn kindling in her glance. Then she swung round to
appeal to Tressan.

“You hear him, Count,” said she. “There is a lover for you! He would wed
his mistress whether she love him or not--and he has sworn to me that he
loves the girl.”

“How else should the thing be done since she opposes it?” asked Marius,
sulkily.

“How else? Do you ask me how else? God! Were I a man, and had I your
shape and face, there is no woman in the world should withstand me if
I set my heart on her. It is address you lack. You are clumsy as a lout
where a woman is concerned. Were I in your place, I had taken her by
storm three months ago, when first she came to us. I had carried her out
of Condillac, out of France, over the border into Savoy, where there are
no Interdicts to plague you, and there I would have married her.”

Marius frowned darkly, but before he could speak, Tressan was
insinuating a compliment to the Marquise.

“True, Marius,” he said, with pursed lips. “Nature has been very good to
you in that she has made you the very counterpart of your lady mother.
You are as comely a gentleman as is to be found in France--or out of
it.”

“Pish!” snapped Marius, too angered by the reflection cast upon his
address, to be flattered by their praises of his beauty. “It is an easy
thing to talk; an easy thing to set up arguments when we consider but
the half of a question. You forget, madame, that Valerie is betrothed to
Florimond and that she clings faithfully to her betrothal.”

“_Vertudieu_!” swore the Marquise, “and what is this betrothal, what
this faithfulness? She has not seen her betrothed for three years. She
was a child at the time of their fiancailles. Think you her faithfulness
to him is the constancy of a woman to her lover? Go your ways, you
foolish boy. It is but the constancy to a word, to the wishes of her
father. Think you constancy that has no other base than that would stand
between her and any man who--as you might do, had you the address--could
make her love him?”

“I do say so,” answered Marius firmly.

She smiled the pitying smile of one equipped with superior knowledge
when confronted with an obstinate, uninformed mind.

“There is a droll arrogance about you, Marius,” she told him, quietly.
“You, a fledgling, would teach me, a woman, the ways of a woman’s heart!
It is a thing you may live to regret.”

“As how?” he asked.

“Once already has mademoiselle contrived to corrupt one of our men,
and send him to Paris with a letter. Out of that has sprung our present
trouble. Another time she may do better. When she shall have bribed
another to assist her to escape; when she, herself, shall have made
off to the shelter of the Queen-mother, perhaps you will regret that my
counsel should have fallen upon barren ground.”

“It is to prevent any such attempt that we have placed her under guard,”
 said he. “You are forgetting that.”

“Forgetting it? Not I. But what assurance have you that she will not
bribe her guard?”

Marius laughed, rose, and pushed back his chair.

“Madame,” said he, “you are back at your contemplation of the worst side
of this affair; you are persisting in considering only how we may be
thwarted. But set your mind at rest. Gilles is her sentinel. Every night
he sleeps in her anteroom. He is Fortunio’s most trusted man. She will
not corrupt him.”

The Dowager smiled pensively, her eyes upon the fire. Suddenly she
raised them to his face. “Berthaud was none the less trusted. Yet, with
no more than a promise of reward at some future time should she succeed
in escaping from us, did she bribe him to carry her letter to the Queen.
What happened to Berthaud that may not happen to Gilles?”

“You might change her sentry nightly,” put in the Seneschal.

“Yes, if we knew whom we could trust; who would be above corruption.
As it is”--she shrugged her shoulders “that would be but to afford her
opportunities to bribe them one by one until they were all ready to act
in concert.”

“Why need she any sentinel at all?” asked Tressan, with some show of
sense.

“To ward off possible traitors,” she told him, and Marius smiled and
wagged his head.

“Madame is never done foreseeing the worst, monsieur.”

“Which shows my wisdom. The men in our garrison are mercenaries, all
attached to us only because we pay them. They all know who she is and
what her wealth.”

“Pity you have not a man who is deaf and dumb,” said Tressan, half in
jest. But Marius looked up suddenly, his eyes serious.

“We have as good,” said he. “There is the Italian knave Fortunio
enrolled yesterday, as I have told you. He knows neither her wealth nor
her identity; nor if he did could he enter into traffic with her, for he
knows no French, and she no Italian.”

The Dowager clapped her hands. “The very man!” she cried.

But Marius, either from sheer perverseness, or because he did not share
her enthusiasm, made answer: “I have faith in Gilles.”

“Yes,” she mocked him, “and you had faith in Berthaud. Oh, if you have
faith in Gilles, let him remain; let no more be said.”

The obstinate boy took her advice, and shifted the subject, speaking to
Tressan of some trivial business connected with the Seneschalship.

But madame, woman-like, returned to the matter whose abandoning she had
herself suggested. Marius, for all his affected disdain of it, viewed it
with a certain respect. And so in the end they sent for the recruit.

Fortunio--who was no other than the man Garnache had known as
“Sanguinetti”--brought him, still clad in the clothes in which he had
come. He was a tall, limber fellow, with a very swarthy skin and black,
oily-looking hair that fell in short ringlets about his ears and neck,
and a black, drooping mustache which gave him a rather hang-dog look.
There was a thick stubble of beard of several days’ growth about his
chin and face; his eyes were furtive in their glances, but of a deep
blue that contrasted oddly with his blackness when he momentarily raised
them.

He wore a tattered jerkin, and his legs, in default of stockings, were
swathed in soiled bandages and cross-gartered from ankle to knee. He
stood in a pair of wooden shoes, from one of which peeped forth some
wisps of straw, introduced, no doubt, to make the footgear fit. He
slouched and shuffled in his walk, and he was unspeakably dirty.
Nevertheless, he was girt with a sword in a ragged scabbard hanging from
a frayed and shabby belt of leather.

Madame scanned him with interest. The fastidious Marius eyed him with
disgust. The Seneschal peered at him curiously through shortsighted
eyes.

“I do not think I have ever seen a dirtier ruffian,” said he.

“I like his nose,” said madame quietly. “It is the nose of an intrepid
man.”

“It reminds me of Garnache’s,” laughed the Seneschal.

“You flatter the Parisian,” commented Marius.

The mercenary, meanwhile, stood blandly smiling at the party, showing at
least a fine array of teeth, and wearing the patient, attentive air of
one who realizes himself to be under discussion, yet does not understand
what is being said.

“A countryman of yours, Fortunio?” sneered Marius.

The captain, whose open, ingenuous countenance dissembled as
villainous a heart as ever beat in the breast of any man, disowned the
compatriotism with a smile.

“Hardly, monsieur,” said he. “‘Battista’ is a Piedmontese.” Fortunio
himself was a Venetian.

“Is he to be relied upon, think you?” asked madame. Fortunio shrugged
his shoulders and spread his hands. It was not his habit to trust any
man inordinately.

“He is an old soldier,” said he. “He has trailed a pike in the
Neapolitan wars. I have cross-questioned him, and found his answers bore
out the truth of what he said.”

“And what brings him to France?” asked Tressan. The captain smiled
again, and there came again that expressive shrug of his. “A little
over-ready with the steel,” said he.

They told Fortunio that they proposed to place him sentry over
mademoiselle instead of Gilles, as the Italian’s absolute lack of French
would ensure against corruption. The captain readily agreed with them.
It would be a wise step. The Italian fingered his tattered hat, his eyes
on the ground.

Suddenly madame spoke to him. She asked him for some account of himself
and whence he came, using the Italian tongue, of which she had a passing
knowledge. He followed her questions very attentively, at times with
apparent difficulty, his eyes on her face, his head craned a little
forward.

Now and then Fortunio had to intervene, to make plainer to this ignorant
Piedmontese mind the Marquise’s questions. His answers came in a
deep, hoarse voice, slurred by the accent of Piedmont, and madame--her
knowledge of Italian being imperfect--had frequently to have recourse to
Fortunio to discover the meaning of what he said.

At last she dismissed the pair of them, bidding the captain see that he
was washed and more fittingly clothed.

An hour later, after the Seneschal had taken his departure to ride home
to Grenoble, it was madame herself, accompanied by Marius and Fortunio,
who conducted Battista--such was the name the Italian had given--to
the apartments above, where mademoiselle was now confined practically a
prisoner.



CHAPTER XI. VALERIE’S GAOLER

My child, said the Dowager, and her eyes dwelt on Valerie with a look of
studied gentleness, “why will you not be reasonable?”

The constant reflection that Garnache was at large, making his way back
to Paris to stir up vengeance for the outrage put upon him, was not
without a certain chastening effect upon the Dowager. She had a way of
saying that she had as good a stomach for a fight as any man in France,
and a fight there should be if it came to it and Garnache should return
to assail Condillac. Yet a certain pondering of the consequences, a
certain counting of the cost--ordinarily unusual to her nature led her
to have recourse to persuasion and to a gentleness no less unusual.

Valerie’s eyes were raised to hers with a look that held more scorn than
wonder. They were standing in the antechamber of Valerie’s room. Yonder
at his post lounged the recruit “Battista,” looking a trifle cleaner
than when first he had been presented to the Marquise, but still not
clean enough for a lady’s antechamber. He was leaning stolidly against
the sill of the window, his eyes on the distant waters of the Isere,
which shone a dull copper colour in the afterglow of the October sunset.
His face was vacant, his eyes pensive, as he stood there undisturbed by
the flow of a language he did not understand.

Fortunio and Marius had departed, and the Marquise--played upon by her
unusual tremors--had remained behind for a last word with the obstinate
girl.

“In what, madame,” asked Valerie, “does my conduct fall short of
reasonableness?”

The Dowager made a movement of impatience. If at every step she were
to be confronted by these questions, which had in them a savour of
challenge, she was wasting time in remaining.

“You are unreasonable, in this foolish clinging to a promise given for
you.”

“Given by me, madame,” the girl amended, knowing well to what promise
the Dowager referred.

“Given by you, then; but given at an age when you could not understand
the nature of it. They had no right to bind you so.”

“If it is for any to question that right, it is for me,” Valerie made
answer, her eyes ever meeting the Dowager’s unflinchingly. “And I am
content to leave that right unquestioned. I am content to fill the
promise given. In honour I could not do less.”

“Ah! In honour!” The Dowager sighed. Then she came a step nearer, and
her face grew sweetly wistful. “But your heart, child; what of your
heart?”

“My heart concerns myself. I am the betrothed of Florimond--that is all
that concerns the world and you. I respect and admire him more than any
living man, and I shall be proud to become his wife when he returns, as
his wife I shall become in spite of all that you and your son may do.”

The Dowager laughed softly, as if to herself.

“And if I tell you that Florimond is dead?”

“When you give me proof of that, I shall believe it,” the girl replied.
The Marquise looked at her, her face manifesting no offence at the
almost insulting words.

“And if I were to lay that proof before you?” she inquired, sadly
almost.

Valerie’s eyes opened a trifle wider, as if in apprehension. But her
answer was prompt and her voice steady. “It still could have no effect
upon my attitude towards your son.”

“This is foolishness, Valerie--”

“In you it is, madame,” the girl broke in; “a foolishness to think you
can constrain a girl, compel her affections, command her love, by such
means as you have employed towards me. You think that it predisposes me
to be wooed, that it opens my heart to your son, to see myself gaoled
that he may pay me his court.”

“Gaoled, child? Who gaols you?” the Dowager cried, as if the most
surprising utterance had fallen from Valerie’s lips.

Mademoiselle smiled in sorrow and some scorn.

“Am I not gaoled, then?” she asked. “What call you this? What does that
fellow there? He is to lie outside my door at nights to see that none
holds communication with me. He is to go with me each morning to the
garden, when, by your gracious charity I take the air. Sleeping and
waking the man is ever within hearing of any word that I may utter--”

“But he has no French!” the Dowager protested.

“To ensure, no doubt, against any attempt of mine to win him to my side,
to induce him to aid me escape from this prison. Oh, madame, I tell you
you do but waste time, and you punish me and harass yourself to little
purpose. Had Marius been such a man as I might have felt it in my nature
to love--which Heaven forbid!--these means by which you have sought to
bring that thing about could but have resulted in making me hate him as
I do.”

The Dowager’s fears were banished from her mind at that, and with them
went all thought of conciliating Valerie. Anger gleamed in her eyes; the
set of her lips grew suddenly sneering and cruel, so that the beauty of
her face but served to render it hateful the more.

“So that you hate him, ma mie?” a ripple of mockery on the current of
her voice, “and he a man such as any girl in France might be proud
to wed. Well, well, you are not to be constrained, you say.” And
the Marquise’s laugh was menacing and unpleasant. “Be not so sure,
mademoiselle. Be not so sure of that. It may well betide that you shall
come to beg upon your knees for this alliance with a man whom you tell
me that you hate. Be not so sure you cannot be constrained.”

Their eyes met; both women were white to the lips, but it was curbed
passion in the one, and deadly fear in the other; for what the Dowager’s
words left unsaid her eyes most eloquently conveyed. The girl shrank
back, her hands clenched, her lip caught in her teeth.

“There is a God in heaven, madame,” she reminded the Marquise.

“Aye--in heaven,” laughed the Marquise, turning to depart. She paused by
the door, which the Italian had sprung forward to open for her.

“Marius shall take the air with you in the morning if it is fine. Ponder
meanwhile what I have said.”

“Does this man remain here, madame?” inquired the girl, vainly seeking
to render her voice steady.

“In the outer anteroom is his place: but as the key of this room is on
his side of the door, he may enter here when he so pleases, or when he
thinks that he has reason to. If the sight of him displeases you, you
may lock yourself from it in your own chamber yonder.”

The same she said in Italian to the man, who bowed impassively,
and followed the Dowager into the outer room, closing the door upon
mademoiselle. It was a chamber almost bare of furniture, save for a
table and chair which had been placed there, so that the gaoler might
take his meals.

The man followed the Marquise across the bare floor, their steps
resounding as they went, and he held the outer door for her.

Without another word she left him, and where he stood he could hear her
steps as she tripped down the winding staircase of stone. At last the
door of the courtyard closed with a bang, and the grating of a key
announced to the mercenary that he and his charge were both imprisoned
in that tower of the Chateau de Condillac.

Left alone in the anteroom, mademoiselle crossed to the window and
dropped limply into a chair. Her face was still very white, her heart
beating tumultuously, for the horrid threat that had been conveyed in
the Dowager’s words had brought her her first thrill of real fear since
the beginning of this wooing-by-force three months ago, a wooing which
had become more insistent and less like a wooing day by day, until it
had culminated in her present helpless position.

She was a strong-souled, high-spirited girl, but tonight hope seemed
extinguished in her breast. Florimond, too, seemed to have abandoned
her. Either he had forgotten her, or he was dead, as the Dowager said.
Which might be the true state of things she did not greatly care. The
realization of how utterly she was in the power of Madame de Condillac
and her son, and the sudden chance discovery of how unscrupulously that
power might be wielded, filled her mind to the exclusion of all else.

By the window she sat, watching, without heeding them, the fading
colours in the sky. She was abandoned to these monsters, and it seemed
they would devour her. She could hope for no help from outside since
they had as she believed--slain Monsieur de Garnache. Her mind dwelt for
a moment on that glimpse of rescue that had been hers a week ago, upon
the few hours of liberty which she had enjoyed, but which only seemed
now to increase the dark hopelessness of her imprisonment.

Again with the eyes of her mind she beheld that grim, stalwart figure,
saw his great nose, his greying hair, his fierce mustachios and his
stern, quick eyes. Again she heard the rasp of his metallic voice with
its brisk derision. She saw him in the hall below, his foot upon the
neck of that popinjay of Condillac daring them all to draw a breath,
should he forbid it; again in fancy she rode on the withers of his horse
at the gallop towards Grenoble. A sigh escaped her. Surely that was the
first man who was indeed a man she had ever set eyes on since her father
died. Had Garnache been spared, she would have felt courage and she
would have hoped, for there was something about him that suggested
energy and resource such as it is good to lean upon in times of stress.
Again she heard that brisk, metallic voice: “Are you content, madame?
Have you had fine deeds enough for one day?”

And then, breaking in upon her musings came the very voice of her
day-dream, so suddenly, sounding so natural and lifelike that she almost
screamed, so startled was she.

“Mademoiselle,” it said, “I beg that you’ll not utterly lose heart. I
have come back to the thing Her Majesty bade me do, and I’ll do it, in
spite of that tigress and her cub.”

She sat still as a statue, scarce breathing, her eyes fixed upon the
violet sky. The voice had ceased, but still she sat on. Then it was
slowly borne in upon her that that was no dream-voice, no trick of her
overburdened mind. A voice, a living, actual voice had uttered those
words in this room, here at her elbow.

She turned, and again she almost screamed; for there, just behind her,
his glittering eyes fixed upon her with singular intentness, stood the
swarthy, black-haired Italian gaoler they had given her because he had
no French.

He had come up so quietly behind her that she had not heard his
approach, and he was leaning forward now, with an odd suggestion of
crouching in his attitude, like a beast about to spring. Yet his gaze
riveted hers as with a fascination. And so, while she looked, his lips
moved, and from them, in that same voice of her dreams, came from this
man who had no French, the words:

“Be not afraid, mademoiselle. I am that blunderer, Garnache, that
unworthy fool whose temper ruined what chance of saving you he had a
week ago.”

She stared like one going mad.

“Garnache!” said she, in a husky whisper. “You Garnache?”

Yet the voice, she knew, was Garnache’s and none other. It was a voice
not easily mistaken. And now, as she looked and looked, she saw that the
man’s nose was Garnache’s, though oddly stained, and those keen eyes,
they were Garnache’s too. But the hair that had been brown and flecked
with grey was black; the reddish mustachios that had bristled like a
mountain cat’s were black, too, and they hung limp and hid from sight
the fine lines of his mouth. A hideous stubble of unshorn beard defaced
his chin and face, and altered its sharp outline; and the clear, healthy
skin that she remembered was now a dirty brown.

Suddenly the face smiled, and it was a smile that reassured her and
drove away the last doubt that she had. She was on her feet in an
instant.

“Monsieur, monsieur,” was all that she could say; but her longing was to
fling her arms about the neck of this man, as she might have flung them
about the neck of a brother or a father, and sob out upon his shoulder
the sudden relief and revulsion that his presence brought.

Garnache saw something of her agitation, and to relieve it he smiled and
began to tell her the circumstances of his return and his presentation
to Madame as a knave who had no French.

“Fortune was very good to me, mademoiselle,” said he. “I had little hope
that such a face as mine could be disguised, but I take no pride in what
you see. It is the handiwork of Rabecque, the most ingenious lackey that
ever served a foolish master. It helped me that having been ten years in
Italy when I was younger, I acquired the language so well as to be able
to impose even upon Fortunio. In that lay a circumstance which at once
disarmed suspicion, and if I stay not so long as it shall take the dye
to wear from my hair and beard and the staining from my face, I shall
have little to fear.”

“But, monsieur,” she cried, “you have everything to fear!” And alarm
grew in her eyes.

But he laughed again for answer. “I have faith in my luck, mademoiselle,
and I think I am on the tide of it at present. I little hoped when I
made my way into Condillac in this array that I should end, by virtue
of my pretended ignorance of French, in being appointed gaoler to you. I
had some ado to keep the joy from my eyes when I heard them planning it.
It is a thing that has made all else easy.”

“But what can you do alone, monsieur?” she asked him; and there was a
note almost of petulance in her voice.

He moved to the window, and leaned his elbow on the sill. The light was
fast fading. “I know not yet. But I am here to contrive a means. I shall
think and watch.”

“You know in what hourly peril I am placed,” she cried, and suddenly
remembering that he must have overheard and understood the Dowager’s
words, a sudden heat came to her cheeks to recede again and leave them
marble-pale. And she thanked Heaven that in the dusk and in the shadow
where she stood he could but ill make out her face.

“If you think that I have been rash in returning--”

“No, no, not rash, monsieur; noble and brave above all praise. I would
indeed I could tell you how noble and brave I account your action.”

“It is as nothing to the bravery required to let Rabecque do this
hideous work upon a face for which I have ever entertained some measure
of respect.”

He jested, sooner than enlighten her that it was his egregious pride
had fetched him back when he was but a few hours upon his journey
Pariswards, his inability to brook the ridicule that would be his when
he announced at the Luxembourg that failure had attended him.

“Ah, but what can you do alone?” she repeated.

“Give me at least a day or two to devise some means; let me look round
and take the measure of this gaol. Some way there must be. I have not
come so far and so successfully to be beaten now. Still,” he continued,
“if you think that I overrate my strength or my resource, if you
would sooner that I sought men and made an assault upon Condillac,
endeavouring to carry it and to let the Queen’s will prevail by force of
arms, tell me so, and I am gone tomorrow.”

“Whither would you go?” she cried, her voice strained with sudden
affright.

“I might seek help at Lyons or Moulins. I might find loyal soldiers who
would be willing to follow me by virtue of my warrant to levy such help
as I may require, if I but tell them that the help was refused me in
Grenoble. I am not sure that it would be so, for, unfortunately, my
warrant is for the Seneschal of Dauphiny only. Still, I might make the
attempt.”

“No, no,” she implored him, and in her eagerness to have him put all
thought of leaving her from his mind, she caught him by the arm and
raised a pleading face to his. “Do not leave me here, monsieur; of your
pity do not leave me alone amongst them. Think me a coward if you will,
monsieur: I am no less. They have made a coward of me.”

He understood the thing she dreaded, and a great pity welled up from
his generous heart for this poor unfriended girl at the mercy of the
beautiful witch of Condillac and her beautiful rascally son. He patted
the hand that clutched his arm.

“I think, myself, that it will be best if I remain, now that I have come
so far,” he said. “Let me ponder things. It may well be that I shall
devise some way.”

“May Heaven inspire you, monsieur. I shall spend the night in prayer, I
think, imploring God and His saints to show you the way you seek.”

“Heaven, I think, should hear your prayers, mademoiselle,” he answered
musingly, his glance upon the white, saintly face that seemed to shine
in the deepening gloom. Then, suddenly he stirred and bent to listen.

“Sh! Some one is coming,” he whispered. And he sped quickly from her
side and into the outer room, where he sank noiselessly on to his chair
as the steps ascended the stone staircase and a glow of yellow light
grew gradually in the doorway that opened on to it.



CHAPTER XII. A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE

That he might inspire the more confidence in the Dowager and her son
Garnache organized and performed a little comedy at Condillac a couple
of nights after his appointment as mademoiselle’s gaoler. He gave an
alarm at dead midnight, and when half-clad men, followed presently
by madame and Marian, rushed into the anteroom where he stood, a very
picture of the wildest excitement, he drew their attention to two
twisted sheets, tied end to end, hanging from the window which
overlooked the moat; and in answer to the marquise’s questions he
informed her that he had been disturbed by sounds of movements and
upon entering the chamber he had discovered mademoiselle making these
preparations for departure.

Valerie, locked in the inner chamber, refused to come forth as the
Marquise bade her, but her voice reassured Madame de Condillac of her
presence, and so, since her attempt had failed, madame was content to
let her be.

“The little fool,” she said, peering down from the window into the
night; “she would have been killed for certain. Her rope of sheets does
not reach more than a third of the way down. She would have had over
thirty feet to fall, and if that had not been enough to finish her, she
would of a certainty have, been drowned in the moat.”

She signified her satisfaction with the faithful “Battista’s” vigilance
by a present of some gold pieces in the morning, and since the height of
the window and the moat beneath it did not appear sufficient obstacles
to mademoiselle’s attempts at effecting her escape, the Dowager had the
window nailed down. Thus, only by breaking it could egress be obtained,
and the breaking of it could not be effected without such a noise as
must arouse “Battista.”

Under Garnache’s instructions the comedy was carried a little further.
Mademoiselle affected for her gaoler a most unconquerable aversion, and
this she took pains to proclaim.

One morning, three days after her attempted escape, she was taking the
air in the garden of Condillac, “Battista,” ever watchful, a few paces
behind her, when suddenly she was joined by Marius--a splendid, graceful
figure in a riding-suit of brown velvet and biscuit-coloured hose, his
points tipped with gold, his long boots of the finest marroquin leather,
his liver-coloured hound at his heels. It was the last day of October,
but the weather, from cold and wet that it had been for the past
fortnight, had taken on a sudden improvement. The sun shone, the air
was still and warm, and but for the strewn leaves and the faint smell
of decay with which the breath of autumn is ever laden, one might have
fancied it a day of early spring.

It was not Valerie’s wont to pause when Marius approached. Since she
might not prevent him from walking where he listed, she had long since
abandoned the futility of bidding him begone when he came near her. But,
at least, she had never stopped in her walk, never altered its pace; she
had suffered what she might not avoid, but she had worn the outward air
of suffering it with indifference. This morning, however, she made a
departure from her long habit. Not only did she pause upon observing his
approach, but she called to him as if she would have him hasten to her
side. And hasten he did, a new light in his eyes that was mostly of
surprise, but a little, also, of hope.

She was gracious to him for once, and gave him good morning in a manner
that bordered upon the pleasant. Wondering, he fell into step beside
her, and they paced together the yew-bordered terrace, the ever-vigilant
but discreet “Battista” following them, though keeping now a few paces
farther in the rear.

For a little while they appeared constrained, and their talk was of the
falling leaves and the grateful change that had so suddenly come upon
the weather. Suddenly she stopped and faced him.

“Will you do me a favour, Marius?” she asked. He halted too, and turned
to her, studying her gentle face, seeking to guess her mind in the
clear hazel eyes she raised to his. His eyebrows lifted slightly with
surprise. Nevertheless--

“There is in all the world, Valerie, nothing you could ask me that I
would not do,” he protested.

She smiled wistfully. “How easy it is to utter words!” she sighed.

“Marry me,” he answered, leaning towards her, his eyes devouring her
now, “and you shall find my words very quickly turned to deeds.”

“Ah,” said she, and her smile broadened and took on a scornful twist,
“you make conditions now. If I will marry you, there is nothing you will
not do for me; so that, conversely, I may take it that if I do not marry
you, there is nothing you will do. But in the meantime, Marius, until
I resolve me whether I will marry you or not, would you not do a little
thing that I might ask of you?”

“Until you resolve?” he cried, and his face flushed with the sudden hope
he gathered from those words. Hitherto there had been no suggestion of
a possible modification of attitude towards his suit. It had been
repulsion, definite and uncompromising. Again he studied her face.
Was she fooling him, this girl with the angel-innocence of glance? The
thought of such a possibility cooled him instantly. “What is it you want
of me?” he asked, his voice ungracious.

“Only a little thing, Marius.” Her glance travelled back over her
shoulder to the tall, limber fellow in leather jerkin and with
cross-gartered legs who lounged a dozen steps behind them. “Rid me of
that ruffian’s company,” said she.

Marius looked back at “Battista,” and from him to Valerie. Then he
smiled and made a slight movement with his shoulders.

“But to what end?” he asked, as one who pleadingly opposes an argument
that is unreasonable. “Another would replace him, and there is little to
choose among the men that garrison Condillac.”

“Little, perhaps; but that little matters.” Sure of her ground, and
gathering from his tone and manner that the more ardently she begged
this thing the less likely would it be that she should prevail, she
pursued her intercessions with a greater heat. “Oh,” she cried, in a
pretended rage, “it is to insult me to give me that unclean knave for
perpetual company. I loathe and detest him. The very sight of him is too
much to endure.”

“You exaggerate,” said he coldly.

“I do not; indeed I do not,” she rejoined, looking frankly, pleadingly
into his face. “You do not realize what it is to suffer the insolent
vigilance of such as he; to feel that your every step is under
surveillance; to feel his eyes ever upon you when you are within his
sight. Oh, it is insufferable!”

Suddenly he gripped her arm, his face within a hand’s breadth of her
own, his words falling hot and quickly on her ear.

“It is yours to end it when you will, Valerie,” he passionately reminded
her. “Give yourself into my keeping. Let it be mine to watch over you
henceforth. Let me--”

Abruptly he ceased. She had drawn back her head, her face was white to
the lips, and in her eyes, as they dwelt on his at such close quarters,
there appeared a look of terror, of loathing unutterable. He saw it, and
releasing her arm he fell back as if she had struck him. The colour left
his face too.

“Or is it,” he muttered thickly, “that I inspire you, with much the same
feeling as does he?”

She stood before him with lowered eyelids, her bosom heaving still from
the agitation of fear his closeness had aroused in her. He studied her
in silence a moment, with narrowing eyes and tightening lips. Then
anger stirred in him, and quenched the sorrow with which at first he had
marked the signs of her repulsion. But anger in Marius de Condillac was
a cold and deadly emotion that vented itself in no rantings, uttered
no loud-voiced threats or denunciations, prompted no waving of arms or
plucking forth of weapons.

He stooped towards her again from his stately, graceful height.
The cruelty hidden in the beautiful lines of his mouth took instant
prominence in the smile that flickered round it.

“I think that Battista makes a very excellent watchdog,” he said, and
you would have thought him amused, as if at the foolish subterfuge of
some little child. “You may be right to dislike him. He knows no French,
so that it may not be yours to pervert and bribe him with promises of
what you will do if he assists you to escape; but you will see that this
very quality which renders him detestable to you renders him invaluable
to us.”

He laughed softly, as one well pleased with his own astuteness, doffed
his hat with a politeness almost exaggerated, and whistling his dog he
abruptly left her.

Thus were Marius and his mother--to whom he bore the tale of Valerie’s
request--tricked further into reposing the very fullest trust in the
watchful, incorruptible “Battista.” Realizing that this would be so,
Garnache now applied himself more unreservedly to putting into effect
the plans he had been maturing. And he went about it with a zest that
knew no flagging, with a relish that nothing could impair. Not that it
was other than usual for Garnache to fling himself whole-heartedly into
the conduct of any enterprise he might have upon his hands; but he
had come into this affair at Condillac against his will; stress of
circumstances it was had driven him on, step by step, to take a personal
hand in the actual deliverance of Valerie.

It was vanity and pride that had turned him back when already he was on
the road to Paris; not without yet a further struggle would he accept
defeat. To this end had he been driven, for the first time in his life,
to the indignity of his foul disguise; and he, whose methods had ever
been direct, had been forced to have recourse to the commonest of
subterfuges. It was with anger in his heart that he had proceeded to
play the part he had assumed. He felt it to be a thing unworthy of
him, a thing that derogated from his self-respect. Had he but had the
justification of some high political aim, he might have endured it
with a better resignation; the momentous end to be served might have
sanctioned the ignoble means adopted. But here was a task in itself
almost as unworthy of him as the methods by which he now set about
accomplishing it. He was to black his face and dye his beard and hair,
stain his skin and garb himself in filthy rags, for no better end than
that he might compass the enlargement of a girl from the captivity into
which she had been forced by a designing lady of Dauphiny. Was that a
task to set a soldier, a man of his years and birth and name? He had
revolted at it; yet that stubborn pride of his that would not brook his
return to Paris to confess himself defeated by a woman over this woman’s
business, held him relentlessly to his distasteful course.

And gradually the distaste of it had melted. It had begun to fall
away five nights ago, when he had heard what passed between Madame de
Condillac and Valerie. A great pity for this girl, a great indignation
against those who would account no means too base to achieve their ends
with her, a proper realization of the indignities she was suffering,
caused him to shed some of his reluctance, some of his sense of injury
to himself.

His innate chivalry, that fine spirit of his which had ever prompted him
to defend the weak against the oppressor, stirred him now, and stirred
him to such purpose that, in the end, from taking up the burden of his
task reluctantly, he came to bear it zestfully and almost gladly. He was
rejoiced to discover himself equipped with histrionic gifts of which
he had had no suspicion hitherto, and it delighted him to set them into
activity.

Now it happened that at Condillac there was a fellow countryman of
“Battista’s,” a mercenary from Northern Italy, a rascal named Arsenio,
whom Fortunio had enlisted when first he began to increase the garrison
a month ago. Upon this fellow’s honesty Garnache had formed designs.
He had closely observed him, and in Arsenio’s countenance he thought he
detected a sufficiency of villainy to augur well for the prosperity
of any scheme of treachery that might be suggested to him provided the
reward were adequate.

Garnache went about sounding the man with a wiliness peculiarly his own.
Arsenio being his only compatriot at Condillac it was not wonderful
that in his few daily hours of relief from his gaoler’s duty “Battista”
 should seek out the fellow and sit in talk with him. The pair became
intimate, and intercourse between them grew more free and unrestrained.
Garnache waited, wishing to risk nothing by precipitancy, and watched
for his opportunity. It came on the morrow of All Saints. On that Day of
the Dead, Arsenio, whose rearing had been that of a true son of Mother
Church, was stirred by the memory of his earthly mother, who had died
some three years before. He was silent and moody, and showed little
responsiveness to Garnache’s jesting humour. Garnache, wondering what
might be toward in the fellow’s mind, watched him closely.

Suddenly the little man--he was a short, bowlegged, sinewy
fellow--heaved a great sigh as he plucked idly at a weed that grew
between two stones of the inner courtyard, where they were seated on the
chapel steps.

“You are a dull comrade to-day, compatriot,” said Garnache, clapping him
on the shoulder.

“It is the Day of the Dead,” the fellow answered him, as though that
were an ample explanation. Garnache laughed.

“To those that are dead it no doubt is; so was yesterday, so will
to-morrow be. But to us who sit here it is the day of the living.”

“You are a scoffer,” the other reproached him, and his rascally face was
oddly grave. “You don’t understand.”

“Enlighten me, then. Convert me.”

“It is the day when our thoughts turn naturally to the dead, and mine
are with my mother, who has lain in her grave these three years. I am
thinking of what she reared me and of what I am.”

Garnache made a grimace which the other did not observe. He stared at
the little cut-throat, and there was some dismay in his glance. What
ailed the rogue? Was he about to repent him of his sins, and to have
done with villainy and treachery; was he minded to slit no more gullets
in the future, be faithful to the hand that paid him, and lead a
godlier life? Peste! That was a thing that would nowise suit Monsieur
de Garnache’s ends just then. If Arsenio had a mind to reform, let him
postpone that reformation until Garnache should have done with him. So
he opened his lips and let out a deep guffaw of mockery.

“We shall have you turning monk,” said he, “a candidate for canonization
going barefoot, with flagellated back and shaven head. No more wine, no
more dice, no more wenches, no more--”

“Peace!” snapped the other.

“Say ‘Pax,”’ suggested Garnache, “‘Pax tecum,’ or ‘vobiscum.’ It is thus
you will be saying it later.”

“If my conscience pricks me, is it aught to you? Have you no conscience
of your own?”

“None. Men wax lean on it in this vale of tears. It is a thing invented
by the great to enable them to pursue the grinding and oppression of the
small. If your master pays you ill for the dirty work you do for him
and another comes along to offer you some rich reward for an omission in
that same service, you are warned that if you let yourself be tempted,
your conscience will plague you afterwards. Pish! A clumsy, childish
device that, to keep you faithful.”

Arsenio looked up. Words that defamed the great were ever welcome to
him; arguments that showed him he was oppressed and imposed upon sounded
ever gratefully in his ears. He nodded his approval of “Battista’s”
 dictum.

“Body of Bacchus!” he swore, “you are right in that, compatriot. But my
case is different. I am thinking of the curse that Mother Church has
put upon this house. Yesterday was All Saints, and never a Mass heard I.
To-day is All Souls, and never a prayer may I offer up in this place of
sin for the rest of my mother’s soul.”

“How so?” quoth Garnache, looking in wonder at this religiously minded
cut-throat.

“How so? Is not the House of Condillac under excommunication, and every
man who stays in it of his own free will? Prayers and Sacraments are
alike forbidden here.”

Garnache received a sudden inspiration. He leapt to his feet, his face
convulsed as if at the horror of learning of a hitherto undreamt-of
state of things. He never paused to give a moment’s consideration to the
cut-throat’s mind, so wonderfully constituted as to enable him to break
with impunity every one of the commandments every day of the week for
the matter of a louis d’or or two, and yet be afflicted by qualms of
conscience at living under a roof upon which the Church had hurled her
malediction.

“What are you saying, compatriot? What is it that you tell me?”

“The truth,” said Arsenio, with a shrug. “Any man who wilfully abides in
the services of Condillac”--and instinctively he lowered his voice
lest the Captain or the Marquise should be within earshot--, “is
excommunicate.”

“By the Host!” swore the false Piedmontese. “I am a Christian man
myself, Arsenio, and I have lived in ignorance of this thing?”

“That ignorance may be your excuse. But now that you know--” Arsenio
shrugged his shoulders.

“Now that I know, I had best have a care of my soul and look about me
for other employment.”

“Alas!” sighed Arsenio; “it is none so easy to find.”

Garnache looked at him. Garnache began to have in his luck a still
greater faith than hitherto. He glanced stealthily around; then he sat
down again, so that his mouth was close to Arsenio’s ear.

“The pay is beggarly here, yet I have refused a fortune offered me by
another that I might remain loyal to my masters at Condillac. But this
thing that you tell me alters everything. By the Host! yes.”

“A fortune?” sneered Arsenio.

“Aye, a fortune--at least, fifty pistoles. That is a fortune to some of
us.”

Arsenio whistled. “Tell me more,” said he.

Garnache rose with the air of one about to depart.

“I must think of it,” said he, and he made shift to go. But the other’s
hand fell with a clenching grip upon his arm.

“Of what must you think, fool?” said he. “Tell me this service you have
been offered. I have a conscience that upbraids me. If you refuse these
fifty pistoles, why should not I profit by your folly?”

“There would not be the need. Two men are required for the thing I speak
of, and there are fifty pistoles for each. If I decide to undertake the
task, I’ll speak of you as a likely second.”

He nodded gloomily to his companion, and shaking off his hold he set out
to cross the yard. But Arsenio was after him and had fastened again upon
his arm, detaining him.

“You fool!” said he; “you’d not refuse this fortune?”

“It would mean treachery,” whispered Garnache.

“That is bad,” the other agreed, and his face fell. But remembering what
Garnache had said, he was quick to brighten again. “Is it to these
folk here at Condillac?” he asked. Garnache nodded. “And they would
pay--these people that seek our service would pay you fifty pistoles?”

“They seek my service only, as yet. They might seek yours were I to
speak for you.”

“And you will, compatriot. You will, will you not? We are comrades, we
are friends, and we are fellow-countrymen in a strange land. There is
nothing I would not do for you, Battista. Look, I would die for you if
there should come the need! Body of Bacchus! I would. I am like that
when I love a man.”

Garnache patted his shoulder. “You are a good fellow, Arsenio.”

“And you will speak for me?”

“But you do not know the nature of the service,” said Garnache. “You may
refuse it when it is definitely offered you.”

“Refuse fifty pistoles? I should deserve to be the pauper that I am
if such had been my habits. Be the service what it may, my conscience
pricks me for serving Condillac. Tell me how the fifty pistoles are to
be earned, and you may count upon me to put my hand to anything.”

Garnache was satisfied. But he told Arsenio no more that day, beyond
assuring him he would speak for him and let him know upon the morrow.
Nor on the morrow, when they returned to the subject at Arsenio’s
eager demand, did Garnache tell him all, or even that the service was
mademoiselle’s. Instead he pretended that it was some one in Grenoble
who needed two such men as they.

“Word has been brought me,” he said mysteriously. “You must not ask me
how.”

“But how the devil are we to reach Grenoble? The Captain will never let
us go,” said Arsenio, in an ill-humour.

“On the night that you are of the watch, Arsenio, we will depart
together without asking the Captain’s leave. You shall open the postern
when I come to join you here in the courtyard.”

“But what of the man at the door yonder?” And he jerked his thumb
towards the tower where mademoiselle was a captive, and where at night
“Battista” was locked in with her. At the door leading to the courtyard
a sentry was always posted for greater security. That door and that
sentry were obstacles which Garnache saw the futility of attempting
to overcome without aid. That was why he had been forced to enlist
Arsenio’s assistance.

“You must account for him, Arsenio,” said he.

“Thus?” inquired Arsenio coolly, and he passed the edge of his hand
significantly across his throat. Garnache shook his head.

“No,” said he; “there will be no need for that. A blow over the head
will suffice. Besides, it may be quieter. You will find the key of the
tower in his belt. When you have felled him, get it and unlock the door;
then whistle for me. The rest will be easy.”

“You are sure he has the key?”

“I have it from madame herself. They were forced to leave it with him to
provide for emergencies. Mademoiselle’s attempted escape by the window
showed them the necessity for it.” He did not add that it was the
implicit confidence they reposed in “Battista” himself that had overcome
their reluctance to leave the key with the sentry.

To seal the bargain, and in earnest of all the gold to come, Garnache
gave Arsenio a couple of gold louis as a loan to be repaid him when
their nameless employer should pay him his fifty pistoles in Grenoble.

The sight and touch of the gold convinced Arsenio that the thing was no
dream. He told Garnache that he believed he would be on guard-duty
on the night of the following Wednesday--this was Friday--and so for
Wednesday next they left the execution of their plans unless, meantime,
a change should be effected in the disposition of the sentries.



CHAPTER XIII. THE COURIER

Monsieur de Garnache was pleased with the issue of his little affair
with Arsenio.

“Mademoiselle,” he told Valerie that evening, “I was right to have faith
in my luck, right to believe that the tide of it is flowing. All we need
now is a little patience; everything has become easy.”

It was the hour of supper. Valerie was at table in her anteroom, and
“Battista” was in attendance. It was an added duty they had imposed upon
him, for, since her attempt to escape, mademoiselle’s imprisonment had
been rendered more rigorous than ever. No servant of the chateau was
allowed past the door of the outer anteroom, now commonly spoken of as
the guardroom of the tower. Valerie dined daily in the salon with Madame
de Condillac and Marius, but her other meals were served her in her
own apartments. The servants who brought the meals from the kitchen
delivered them to “Battista” in the guardroom, and he it was who laid
the cloth and waited upon mademoiselle. At first this added duty had
irritated him more than all that he had so far endured. Had he Martin
Marie Rigobert de Garnache lived to discharge the duties of a lackey,
to bear dishes to a lady’s table and to remain at hand to serve her?
The very thought had all but set him in a rage. But presently he grew
reconciled to it. It afforded him particular opportunities of being in
mademoiselle’s presence and of conferring with her; and for the sake
of such an advantage he might well belittle the unsavoury part of the
affair.

A half-dozen candles burned in two gleaming silver sconces on the table;
in her tall-backed leather chair mademoiselle sat, and ate and drank but
little, while Garnache told her of the preparations he had made.

“If my luck but holds until Wednesday next,” he concluded, “you may
count upon being well out of Condillac. Arsenio does not dream that you
come with us, so that even should he change his mind, at least we
have no cause to fear a betrayal. But he will not change his mind. The
prospect of fifty pistoles has rendered it immutable.”

She looked up at him with eyes brightened by hope and by the
encouragement to count upon success which she gathered from his
optimism.

“You have contrived it marvellously well,” she praised him. “If we
succeed--”

“Say when we succeed, mademoiselle,” he laughingly corrected her.

“Very well, then--when we shall have succeeded in leaving Condillac,
whither am I to go?”

“Why, with me, to Paris, as was determined. My man awaits me at Voiron
with money and horses. No further obstacle shall rise to hamper us once
our backs are turned upon the ugly walls of Condillac. The Queen shall
make you welcome and keep you safe until Monsieur Florimond comes to
claim his bride.”

She sipped her wine, then set down the glass and leaned her elbow on the
table, taking her chin in her fine white hand. “Madame tells me that he
is dead,” said she, and Garnache was shocked at the comparative calmness
with which she said it. He looked at her sharply from under his sooted
brows. Was she, after all, he wondered, no different from other women?
Was she cold and calculating, and had she as little heart as he had come
to believe was usual with her sex, that she could contemplate so calmly
the possibility of her lover being dead? He had thought her better, more
natural, more large-hearted and more pure. That had encouraged him to
stand by her in these straits of hers, no matter at what loss of dignity
to himself. It began to seem that his conclusions had been wrong.

His silence caused her to look up, and in his face she read something of
what was passing in his thoughts. She smiled rather wanly.

“You are thinking me heartless, Monsieur de Garnache?”

“I am thinking you--womanly.”

“The same thing, then, to your mind. Tell me, monsieur, do you know much
of women?”

“God forbid! I have found trouble enough in my life.”

“And you pass judgment thus upon a sex with which you have no
acquaintance?”

“Not by acquaintance only is it that we come to knowledge. There are
ways of learning other than by the road of experience. One may learn of
dangers by watching others perish. It is the fool who will be satisfied
alone with the knowledge that comes to him from what he undergoes
himself.”

“You are very wise, monsieur,” said she demurely, so demurely that he
suspected her of laughing at him. “You were never wed?”

“Never, mademoiselle,” he answered stiffly, “nor ever in any danger of
it.”

“Must you, indeed, account it a danger?”

“A deadly peril, mademoiselle,” said he; whereupon they both laughed.

She pushed back her chair and rose slowly. Slowly she passed from the
table and stepped towards the window. Turning she set her back to it,
and faced him.

“Monsieur de Garnache,” said she, “you are a good man, a true and noble
gentleman. I would that you thought a little better of us. All women are
not contemptible, believe me. I will pray that you may yet mate with one
who will prove to you the truth of what I say.”

He smiled gently, and shook his head.

“My child,” said he, “I am not half the noble fellow you account me. I
have a stubborn pride that stands me at times in the stead of virtue.
It was pride brought me back here, for instance. I could not brook the
laughter that would greet me in Paris did I confess that I was beaten by
the Dowager of Condillac. I tell you this to the end that, thinking
less well of me, you may spare me prayers which I should dread to see
fulfilled. I have told you before, mademoiselle, Heaven is likely to
answer the prayers of such a heart as yours.”

“Yet but a moment back you deemed me heartless,” she reminded him.

“You seemed so indifferent to the fate of Florimond de Condillac.”

“I must have seemed, then, what I am not,” she told him, “for I am far
from indifferent to Florimond’s fate. The truth is, monsieur, I do
not believe Madame de Condillac. Knowing me to be under a promise that
naught can prevail upon me to break, she would have me believe that
nature has dissolved the obligation for me. She thinks that were I
persuaded of Florimond’s death, I might turn an ear to the wooing
of Marius. But she is mistaken, utterly mistaken; and so I sought to
convince her. My father willed that I should wed Florimond. Florimond’s
father had been his dearest friend. I promised him that I would do his
will, and by that promise I am bound. But were Florimond indeed dead,
and were I free to choose, I should not choose Marius were he the only
man in all the world.”

Garnache moved nearer to her.

“You speak,” said he, “as if you were indifferent in the matter of
wedding Florimond, whilst I understand that your letter to the Queen
professed you eager for the alliance. I may be impertinent, but,
frankly, your attitude puzzles me.”

“I am not indifferent,” she answered him, but calmly, without
enthusiasm. “Florimond and I were playmates, and as a little child I
loved him and admired him as I might have loved and admired a brother
perhaps. He is comely, honourable, and true. I believe he would be the
kindest husband ever woman had, and so I am content to give my life into
his keeping. What more can be needed?”

“Never ask me, mademoiselle; I am by no means an authority,” said
he. “But you appear to have been well schooled in a most excellent
philosophy.” And he laughed outright. She reddened under his amusement.

“It was thus my father taught me,” said she, in quieter tones; “and
he was the wisest man I ever knew, just as he was the noblest and the
bravest.”

Garnache bowed his head. “God rest his soul!” said he with respectful
fervour.

“Amen,” the girl replied, and they fell silent.

Presently she returned to the subject of her betrothed.

“If Florimond is living, this prolonged absence, this lack of news
is very strange. It is three months since last we heard of him--four
months, indeed. Yet he must have been apprised of his father’s death,
and that should have occasioned his return.”

“Was he indeed apprised of it?” inquired Garnache. “Did you, yourself,
communicate the news to him?”

“I?” she cried. “But no, monsieur. We do not correspond.”

“That is a pity,” said Garnache, “for I believe that the knowledge of
the Marquis’s death was kept from him by his stepmother.”

“Mon Dieu!” she exclaimed, in horror. “Do you mean that he may still be
in ignorance of it?”

“Not that. A month ago a courier was dispatched to him by the
Queen-Mother. The last news of him some four months old, as you have
said--reported him at Milan in the service of Spain. Thither was the
courier sent to find him and to deliver him letters setting forth what
was toward at Condillac.”

“A month ago?” she said. “And still we have no word. I am full of fears
for him, monsieur.”

“And I,” said Garnache, “am full of hope that we shall have news of him
at any moment.”

That he was well justified of his hope was to be proven before they were
many days older. Meanwhile Garnache continued to play his part of gaoler
to the entire satisfaction and increased confidence of the Condillacs,
what time he waited patiently for the appointed night when it should be
his friend Arsenio’s turn to take the guard.

On that fateful Wednesday “Battista” sought out--as had now become his
invariable custom--his compatriot as soon as the time of his noontide
rest was come, the hour at which they dined at Condillac. He found
Arsenio sunning himself in the outer courtyard, for it seemed that year
that as the winter approached the warmth increased. Never could man
remember such a Saint Martin’s Summer as was this.

In so far as the matter of their impending flight was concerned,
“Battista” was as brief as he could be.

“Is all well?” he asked. “Shall you be on guard to-night?”

“Yes. It is my watch from sunset till dawn. At what hour shall we be
stirring?”

Garnache pondered a moment, stroking that firm chin of his, on which the
erstwhile stubble had now grown into a straggling, unkempt beard--and
it plagued him not a little, for a close observer might have discovered
that it was of a lighter colour at the roots. His hair, too, was
beginning to lose its glossy blackness. It was turning dull, and
presently, no doubt, it would begin to pale, so that it was high time he
spread his wings and took flight from Condillac.

“We had best wait until midnight. It will give them time to be soundly
in their slumbers. Though, should there be signs of any one stirring
even then, you had better wait till later. It were foolish to risk
having our going prevented for the sake of leaving a half-hour earlier.”

“Depend upon me,” Arsenio answered him. “When I open the door of your
tower I shall whistle to you. The key of the postern hangs on the
guardroom wall. I shall possess myself of that before I come.”

“Good,” said Garnache, “we understand each other.”

And on that they might have parted there and then, but that there
happened in that moment a commotion at the gate. Men hurried from the
guardhouse, and Fortunio’s voice sounded loud in command. A horseman had
galloped up to Condillac, walked his horse across the bridge--which
was raised only at night--and was knocking with the butt of his whip an
imperative summons upon the timbers of the gate.

By Fortunio’s orders it was opened, and a man covered with dust, astride
a weary, foam-flecked horse, rode under the archway of the keep into the
first courtyard of the chateau.

Garnache eyed him in surprise and inquiry, and he read in the man’s
appearance that he was a courier. The horseman had halted within a few
paces of the spot where “Battista” and his companion stood, and seeing
in the vilely clad Garnache a member of the Condillac household, he
flung him his reins, then got down stiffly from his horse.

Fortunio, bristling with importance, his left hand on the hilt of his
rapier, the fingers of his right twirling at his long fair mustachios,
at once confronted him and craved his business.

“I am the bearer of letters for Madame the Dowager Marquise de
Condillac,” was the reply; whereupon, with an arrogant nod, Fortunio
bade the fellow go with him, and issued an order that his horse should
be cared for.

Arsenio was speaking in Garnache’s ear. The man’s nature was
inquisitive, and he was indulging idle conjectures as to what might
be the news this courier brought. Garnache’s mind, actuated by very
different motives, was engaged upon the same task, so much so that not
a word heard he of what his supposed compatriot was whispering. Whence
came this courier? Why had not that fool Fortunio asked him, so that
Garnache might have overheard his answer? Was he from Paris and the
Queen, or was he, perchance, from Italy and Florimond? These were
questions to which it imported him to have the answers. He must know
what letters the fellow brought. The knowledge might guide him now;
might even cause him to alter the plans he had formed.

He stood in thought whilst, unheeded by him, Arsenio prattled at his
elbow. He bethought him of the old minstrel’s gallery at the end of the
hall in which the Condillacs were dining and whither the courier would
be conducted. He knew the way to that gallery, for he had made a very
close study of the chateau against the time when he might find himself
in need of the knowledge.

With a hurried excuse to Arsenio he moved away, and, looking round to
see that he was unobserved, he was on the point of making his way to the
gallery when suddenly he checked himself. What went he there to do? To
play the spy? To become fellow to the lackey who listens at keyholes?
Ah, no! That was something no service could demand of him. He might owe
a duty to the Queen, but there was also a duty that he owed himself, and
this duty forbade him from going to such extremes. Thus spake his Pride,
and he mistook its voice for that of Honour. Betide what might, it was
not for Garnache to play the eavesdropper. Not that, Pardieu!

And so he turned away, his desires in conflict with that pride of his,
and gloomily he paced the courtyard, Arsenio marvelling what might have
come to him. And well was it for him that pride should have detained
him; well would it seem as if his luck were indeed in the ascendant and
had prompted his pride to save him from a deadly peril. For suddenly
some one called “Battista!”

He heard, but for the moment, absorbed as he was in his own musings,
he overlooked the fact that it was the name to which he answered at
Condillac.

Not until it was repeated more loudly, and imperatively, did he turn to
see Fortunio beckoning him. With a sudden dread anxiety, he stepped
to the captain’s side. Was he discovered? But Fortunio’s words set his
doubts to rest at once.

“You are to re-conduct Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye to her apartments at
once.”

Garnache bowed and followed the captain up the steps and into the
chateau that he might carry out the order; and as he went he shrewdly
guessed that it was the arrival of that courier had occasioned the
sudden removal of mademoiselle.

When they were alone together--he and she--in her anteroom in the
Northern Tower, she turned to him before he had time to question her as
he was intending.

“A courier has arrived,” said she.

“I know; I saw him in the courtyard. Whence is he? Did you learn it?”

“From Florimond.” She was white with agitation.

“From the Marquis de Condillac?” he cried, and he knew not whether to
hope or fear. “From Italy?”

“No, monsieur. I do not think from Italy. From what was said I gathered
that Florimond is already on his way to Condillac. Oh, it made a fine
stir. It left them no more appetite for dinner, and they seem to have
thought it could have left me none for mine, for they ordered my instant
return to my apartments.”

“Then you know nothing--save that the courier is from the Marquis?”

“Nothing; nor am I likely to,” she answered, and her arms dropped limply
to her sides, her eyes looked entreatingly up into his gloomy face.

But Garnache could do no more than rap out an oath. Then he stood still
a moment, his eyes on the window, his chin in his hand, brooding.
His pride and his desire to know more of that courier’s message were
fighting it out again in his mind, just as they fought it out in the
courtyard below. Suddenly his glance fell on her, standing there, so
sweet, so frail, and so disconsolate. For her sake he must do the thing,
repulsive though it might be.

“I must know more,” he exclaimed. “I must learn Florimond’s whereabouts,
if only that we may go to meet him when we leave Condillac to-night.”

“You have arranged definitely for that?” she asked, her face lighting.

“All is in readiness,” he assured her. Then, lowering his voice without
apparent reason, and speaking quickly and intently, “I must go find out
what I can,” he said. “There may be a risk, but it is as nothing to
the risk we run of blundering matters through ignorance of what may be
afoot. Should any one come--which is unlikely, for all those interested
will be in the hall until the courier is dealt with--and should they
inquire into my absence, you are to know nothing of it since you have no
Italian and I no French. All that you will know will be that you believe
I went but a moment since to fetch water. You understand?”

She nodded.

“Then lock yourself in your chamber till I return.”

He caught up a large earthenware vessel in which water was kept for his
own and mademoiselle’s use, emptied it through the guard-room window
into the moat below, then left the room and made his way down the steps
to the courtyard.

He peered out. Not a soul was in sight. This inner courtyard was little
tenanted at that time of day, and the sentry at the door of the tower
was only placed there at nightfall. Alongside this there stood another
door, opening into a passage from which access might be gained to any
part of the chateau. Thrusting behind that door the earthenware
vessel that he carried, Garnache sped swiftly down the corridor on his
eavesdropping errand. Still his mind was in conflict. At times he cursed
his slowness, at times his haste and readiness to undertake so dirty a
business, wishing all women at the devil since by the work of women was
he put to such a shift as this.



CHAPTER XIV. FLORIMOND’S LETTER

In the great hall of Condillac, where the Marquise, her son, and
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye had been at dinner, a sudden confusion had
been spread by the arrival of that courier so soon as it was known that
he bore letters from Florimond, Marquis de Condillac.

Madame had risen hastily, fear and defiance blending in her face,
and she had at once commanded mademoiselle’s withdrawal. Valerie had
wondered might there not be letters--or, leastways, messages--for
herself from her betrothed. But her pride had suppressed the eager
question that welled up to her lips. She would, too, have questioned the
courier concerning Florimond’s health; she would have asked him how the
Marquis looked, and where the messenger had left him. But of all this
that she craved to know, nothing could she bring herself to ask before
the Marquise.

She rose in silence upon hearing the Dowager order Fortunio to summon
Battista that he might re-conduct mademoiselle to her apartments,
and she moved a few paces down the hall, towards the door, in proud,
submissive readiness to depart. Yet she could not keep her eyes from the
dust-stained courier, who, having flung his hat and whip upon the floor,
was now opening his wallet, the Dowager standing before him to receive
his papers.

Marius, affecting an insouciance he did not feel, remained at table,
his page behind his chair, his hound stretched at his feet; and he now
sipped his wine, now held it to the light that he might observe the
beauty of its deep red colour.

At last Fortunio returned, and mademoiselle took her departure, head in
the air and outwardly seeming nowise concerned in what was taking place.
With her went Fortunio. And the Marquise, who now held the package she
had received from the courier, bade the page depart also.

When the three were at last alone, she paused before opening the letter
and turned again to the messenger. She made a brave figure in the
flood of sunlight that poured through the gules and azures of the long
blazoned windows, her tall, lissome figure clad in a close-fitting robe
of black velvet, her abundant glossy black hair rolled back under its
white coif, her black eyes and scarlet lips detaching from the ivory of
her face, in which no trace of emotion showed, for all the anxiety that
consumed her.

“Where left you the Marquis de Condillac?” she asked the fellow.

“At La Rochette, madame,” the courier answered,’ and his answer brought
Marius to his feet with an oath.

“So near?” he cried out. But the Dowager’s glance remained calm and
untroubled.

“How does it happen that he did not hasten himself, to Condillac?” she
asked.

“I do not know, madame. I did not see Monsieur le Marquis. It was his
servant brought me that letter with orders to ride hither.”

Marius approached his mother, his brow clouded.

“Let us see what he says,” he suggested anxiously. But his mother did
not heed him. She stood balancing the package in her hand.

“Can you tell us, then, nothing of Monsieur le Marquis?”

“Nothing more than I have told you, madame.”

She bade Marius call Fortunio, and then dismissed the courier, bidding
her captain see to his refreshment.

Then, alone at last with her son, she hastily tore the covering from
the letter, unfolded it and read. And Marius, moved by anxiety, came to
stand beside and just behind her, where he too might read. The letter
ran:

“MY VERY DEAR MARQUISE,--I do not doubt but that it will pleasure you
to hear that I am on my way home, and that but for a touch of fever that
has detained us here at La Rochette, I should be at Condillac as soon as
the messenger who is the bearer of these presents. A courier from Paris
found me a fortnight since in Milan, with letters setting forth that my
father had been dead six months, and that it was considered expedient at
Court that I should return home forthwith to assume the administration
of Condillac. I am lost in wonder that a communication of this nature
should have been addressed to me from Paris instead of from you, as
surely it must have been your duty to advise me of my father’s decease
at the time of that untoward event. I am cast down by grief at this evil
news, and the summons from Court has brought me in all haste from Milan.
The lack of news from Condillac has been for months a matter of surprise
to me. My father’s death may be some explanation of this, but scarcely
explanation enough. However, madame, I count upon it that you will be
able to dispel such doubts as I am fostering. I count too, upon being
at Condillac by the end of week, but I beg that neither you nor my
dear Marius will allow this circumstance to make any difference to
yourselves, just as, although I am returning to assume the government of
Condillac as the Court has suggested to me, I hope that yourself and my
dear brother will continue to make it your home for as long as it shall
pleasure you. So long shall it pleasure me.

“I am, my dear marquise, your very humble and very affectionate servant
and stepson,

“FLORIMOND”

When she had read to the end, the Dowager turned back and read aloud
the passage: “However, madame, I count upon it that you will be able to
dispel such doubts as I am fostering.” She looked at her son, who had
shifted his position, so that he was now confronting her.

“He has his suspicions that all is not as it should be,” sneered Marius.

“Yet his tone is amiable throughout. It cannot be that they said too
much in that letter from Paris.” A little trill of bitter laughter
escaped her. “We are to continue to make this our home for as long as it
shall pleasure us. So long shall it pleasure him!”

Then, with a sudden seriousness, she folded the letter and, putting her
hands behind her, looked up into her son’s face.

“Well?” she asked. “What are you going to do?”

“Strange that he makes no mention of Valerie” said Marius pensively.

“Pooh! A Condillac thinks lightly of his women. What are you going to
do?”

His handsome countenance, so marvellously like her own, was overcast. He
looked gloomily at his mother for a moment; then with a slight twitch
of the shoulders he turned and moved past her slowly in the direction
of the hearth. He leaned his elbow on the overmantel and rested his brow
against his clenched right hand, and stood so awhile in moody thought.
She watched him, a frown between her arrogant eyes.

“Aye, ponder it,” said she. “He is at La Rochette, within a day’s ride,
and only detained there by a touch of fever. In any case he promises to
be here by the end of the week. By Saturday, then, Condillac will have
passed out of our power; it will be lost to you irretrievably. Will you
lose La Vauvraye as well?”

He let his hand fall to his side, and turned, fully to face her.

“What can I do? What can we do?” he asked, a shade of petulance in his
question.

She stepped close up to him and rested her hand lightly upon his
shoulder.

“You have had three months in which to woo that girl, and you have
tarried sadly over it, Marius. You have now at most three days in which
to accomplish it. What will you do?”

“I have been maladroit perhaps,” he said, with bitterness. “I have
been over-patient with her. I have counted too much upon the chance of
Florimond’s being dead, as seemed from the utter lack of news of him.
Yet what could I do? Carry her off by force and compel at the dagger’s
point some priest to marry us?”

She moved her hand from his shoulder and smiled, as if she derided him
and his heat.

“You want for invention, Marius,” said she. “And yet I beg that you will
exert your mind, or Sunday next shall find us well-nigh homeless. I’ll
take no charity from the Marquis de Condillac, nor, I think, will you.”

“If all fails,” said he, “we have still your house in Touraine.”

“My house?” she echoed, her voice shrill with scorn. “My hovel, you
would say. Could you abide there--in such a sty?”

“_Vertudieu_! If all else failed, we might be glad of it.”

“Glad of it? Not I, for one. Yet all else will fail unless you bestir
yourself in the next three days. Condillac is as good as lost to
you already, since Florimond is upon the threshold. La Vauvraye most
certainly will be lost to you as well unless you make haste to snatch it
in the little moment that is left you.”

“Can I achieve the impossible, madame?” he cried, and his impatience
waxed beneath this unreasonable insistence of his mother’s.

“Who asks it of you?”

“Do not you, madame?”

“I? Pish! All that I urge is that you take Valerie across the border
into Savoy where you can find a priest to marry you, and get it done
this side of Saturday.”

“And is not that the impossible? She will not go with me, as you well
know, madame.”

There was a moment’s silence. The Dowager shot him a glance; then her
eyes fell. Her bosom stirred as if some strange excitement moved
her. Fear and shame were her emotions; for a way she knew by which
mademoiselle might be induced to go with him--not only willingly, but
eagerly, she thought--to the altar. But she was his mother, and even her
harsh nature shuddered before the task of instructing him in this vile
thing. Why had the fool not wit enough to see it for himself?

Observing her silence Marius smiled sardonically.

“You may well ponder it,” said he. “It is an easy matter to tell me what
I should do. Tell me, rather, how it should be done.”

His blindness stirred her anger, and her anger whelmed her hesitation.

“Were I in your place, Marius, I should find a way,” said she, in a
voice utterly expressionless, her eyes averted ever from his own.

He scanned her curiously. Her agitation was plain to him, and it puzzled
him, as did the downcast glance of eyes usually so bold and insolent in
their gaze. Then he pondered her tone, so laden with expression by its
very expressionlessness, and suddenly a flood of light broke upon his
mind, revealing very clearly and hideously her meaning. He caught his
breath with a sudden gasp and blenched a little. Then his lips tightened
suddenly.

“In that case, madame,” he said, after a pause, and speaking as if he
were still without revelation of her meaning, “I can but regret that you
are not in my place. For, as it is, I am thinking we shall have to make
the best of the hovel in Touraine.”

She bit her lip in the intensity of her chagrin and shame. She was no
fool, nor did she imagine from his words that her meaning had been lost
upon him. She knew that he had understood, and that he chose to pretend
that he had not. She looked up suddenly, her dark eyes blazing, a splash
of colour in either cheek.

“Fool!” she snapped at him; “you lily-livered fool! Are you indeed
my son? Are you--by God!--that you talk so lightly of yielding?” She
advanced a step in his direction. “Through your cowardice you may be
content to spend your days in beggary; not so am I; nor shall I be,
so long as I have an arm and a voice. You may go hence if your courage
fails you outright; but I’ll throw up the bridge and entrench myself
within these walls. Florimond de Condillac sets no foot in here while I
live; and if he should come within range of musket-shot, it will be the
worse for him.”

“I think you are mad, madame--mad so to talk of resisting him, as you
are mad to call me coward. I’ll leave you till you are come to a more
tranquil frame of mind.” And turning upon his heel, his face on fire
from the lash of her contempt, he strode down the hall and passed out,
leaving her alone.

White again, with heaving bosom and clenched hands, she stood a moment
where he had left her, then dropped into a chair, and taking her chin
in her hand she rested her elbow on her knee. Thus she remained, the
firelight tinting her perfect profile, on which little might be read of
the storm that was raging in her soul. Another woman in her place would
have sought relief in tears, but tears came rarely to the beautiful eyes
of the Marquise de Condillac.

She sat there until the sun had passed from the windows behind her and
the corners of the room were lost in the quickening shadows. At last she
was disturbed by the entrance of a lackey, who announced that Monsieur
le Comte de Tressan, Lord Seneschal of Dauphiny, was come to Condillac.

She bade the fellow call help to clear the board, where still was set
their interrupted noontide meal, and then to admit the Seneschal.
With her back to the stirring, bustling servants she stood, pensively
regarding the flames, and a smile that was mocking rather than aught
else spread upon her face.

If all else failed her, she told herself, there would be no Touraine
hovel for her. She could always be Comtesse de Tressan. Let Marius work
out alone the punishment of his cowardice.

Away in the Northern Tower, where mademoiselle was lodged, she sat in
eager talk with Garnache, who had returned unobserved and successful
from his journey of espionage.

He had told her what from the conversation of Marius and his mother he
had learned touching the contents of that letter. Florimond lay as near
as La Rochette, detained there by a touch of fever, but promising to be
at Condillac by the end of the week. Since that was so, Valerie opined
there was no longer the need to put themselves to the trouble of the
escape they had planned. Let them wait until Florimond came.

But Garnache shook his head. He had heard more; and for all that he
accounted her at present safe from Marius, yet he made no false estimate
of that supple gentleman’s character, was not deluded by his momentary
show of niceness. As the time of Florimond’s arrival grew nearer, he
thought it very possible that Marius might be rendered desperate. There
was grave danger in remaining. He said naught of this, yet he convinced
mademoiselle that it were best to go.

“Though there will no longer be the need of a toilsome journey as far
as Paris,” he concluded. “A four hours’ ride to La Rochette, and you may
embrace your betrothed.”

“Did he speak of me in his letter, know you, monsieur?” she inquired.

“I heard them say that he did not,” Garnache replied. “But it may well
be that he had good reason. He may suspect more than he has written.”

“In that case,” she asked--and there was a wounded note in her
voice--“Why should a touch of fever keep him at La Rochette? Would a
touch of fever keep you from the woman you loved, monsieur, if you knew,
or even suspected, that she was in durance?”

“I do not know, mademoiselle. I am an old man who has never loved, and
so it would be unfair of me to pass judgment upon lovers. That they
think not as other folk is notorious; their minds are for the time
disordered.”

Nevertheless he looked at her where she sat by the window, so gentle, so
lissome, so sweet, and so frail, and he had a shrewd notion that were he
Florimond de Condillac, whether he feared her in durance or not, not the
fever, nor the plague itself should keep him for the best part of a week
at La Rochette within easy ride of her.

She smiled gently at his words, and turned the conversation to the
matter that imported most.

“Tonight then, it is determined that we are to go?”

“At midnight or a little after. Be in readiness, mademoiselle, and
do not keep me waiting when I rap upon your door. Haste may be of
importance.”

“You may count upon me, my friend,” she answered him, and stirred by a
sudden impulse she held out her hand. “You have been very good to me,
Monsieur de Garnache. You have made life very different for me since
your coming. I had it in my mind to blame you once for your rashness in
returning alone. I was a little fool. You can never know the peace that
has come to me from having you at hand. The fears, the terrors that
possessed me before you came have all been dispelled in this last week
that you have been my sentry in two senses.”

He took the hand she held out to him, and looked down at her out of his
grimy, disfigured face, an odd tenderness stirring him. He felt as might
have felt a father towards his daughter--at least, so thought he then.

“Child,” he answered her, “you overrate it. I have done no less than I
could do, no more than any other would have done.”

“Yet more than Florimond has done--and he my betrothed. A touch of fever
was excuse enough to keep him at La Rochette, whilst the peril of death
did not suffice to deter you from coming hither.”

“You forget, mademoiselle, that, maybe, he does not know your
circumstances.”

“Maybe he does not,” said she, with a half-sigh. Then she looked up
into his face again. “I am sad at the thought of going, monsieur,” she
surprised him by saying.

“Sad?” he cried. Then he laughed. “But what can there be to sadden you?”

“This, monsieur: that after to-night it is odds I shall never see you
more.” She said it without hesitation and without coquetry, for her
upbringing had been simple and natural in an atmosphere different far
from that in which had been reared the courtly women he had known. “You
will return to Paris and the great world, and I shall live out my life
in this, little corner of Dauphiny. You will forget me in the bustle of
your career, monsieur; but I shall always hold your memory very dear
and very gratefully. You are the only friend I have ever known since my
father died excepting Florimond, though it is so long since I have seen
him, and he never came to me in times of stress as you have done.”

“Mademoiselle,” he answered, touched despite himself more touched than
he could have believed possible to his callous, world-worn nature--“you
make me very proud; you make me feel a little better than I am, for if
I have earned your regard and friendship, there must be some good in old
Garnache. Believe me, mademoiselle, I too shall not forget.”

And thereafter they remained a spell in silence, she sitting by the
window, gazing out into the bright October sky, he standing by her
chair, thoughtfully considering her brown head so gracefully set upon
her little shoulders. A feeling came to him that was odd and unusual; he
sought to interpret it, and he supposed it to mean that he wished that
at some time in the dim past he might have married some woman who would
have borne him for daughter such a one as this.



CHAPTER XV. THE CONFERENCE

The matter that brought Monsieur de Tressan to Condillac--and brought
him in most fearful haste--was the matter of the courier who had that
day arrived at the chateau.

News of it had reached the ears of my Lord Seneschal. His mind had been
a prey to uneasiness concerning this business of rebellion in which he
had so rashly lent a hand, and he was anxious to know whence came
this courier and what news he brought. But for all his haste he had
paused--remembering it was the Marquise he went to visit--to don the
gorgeous yellow suit with the hanging sleeves which he had had from
Paris, and the crimson sash he had bought at Taillemant’s, all in the
very latest mode.

Thus arrayed, his wig well curled and a clump of it caught in ribbon of
flame-coloured silk on the left side, his sword hanging from belt and
carriages richly wrought with gold, and the general courtier-like effect
rather marred by the heavy riding-boots which he would have liked to
leave behind yet was constrained to wear, he presented himself before
the Dowager, hiding his anxiety in a melting smile, and the latter in
the profoundest of bows.

The graciousness of his reception overwhelmed him almost, for in his
supreme vanity he lacked the wit to see that this cordiality might be
dictated by no more than the need they had of him at Condillac. A lackey
placed a great chair for him by the fire that he might warm himself
after his evening ride, and the Dowager, having ordered lights, sat
herself opposite him with the hearth between them.

He simpered awhile and toyed with trivialities of speech before he gave
utterance to the matter that absorbed him. Then, at last, when they were
alone, he loosed the question that was bubbling on his lips.

“I hear a courier came to Condillac to-day.”

For answer she told him what he sought to learn, whence came that
courier, and what the message that he brought.

“And so, Monsieur de Tressan,” she ended, “my days at Condillac are
numbered.”

“Why so?” he asked, “since you say that Florimond has adopted towards
you a friendly tone. Surely he would not drive his father’s widow
hence?”

She smiled at the fire in a dreamy, pensive manner.

“No,” said she, “he would not drive me hence. He has offered me the
shelter of Condillac for as long as it may pleasure me to make it my
home.”

“Excellent!” he exclaimed, rubbing his little fat hands and screwing the
little features of his huge red face into the grotesque semblance of a
smile. “What need to talk of going, then?”

“What need?” she echoed, in a voice dull and concentrated. “Do you ask
that, Tressan? Do you think I should elect to live upon the charity of
this man?”

For all that the Lord Seneschal may have been dull-witted, yet he had
wit enough to penetrate to the very marrow of her meaning.

“You must hate Florimond very bitterly,” said he. She shrugged her
shoulders.

“I possess, I think, the faculty of feeling strongly. I can love well,
monsieur, and I can hate well. It is one or the other with me. And as
cordially as I love my own son Marius, as cordially do I detest this
coxcomb Florimond.”

She expressed no reasons for her hatred of her late husband’s elder son.
Hers were not reasons that could easily be put into words. They were
little reasons, trivial grains of offence which through long years had
accumulated into a mountain. They had their beginning in the foolish
grievance that had its birth with her own son, when she had realized
that but for that rosy-cheeked, well-grown boy borne to the Marquis by
his first wife, Marius would have been heir to Condillac. Her love of
her own child and her ambitions for him, her keen desire to see him fill
an exalted position in the world, caused her a thousand times a day to
wish his half-brother dead. Yet Florimond had flourished and grown, and
as he grew he manifested a character which, with all its imperfections,
was more lovable than the nature of her own offspring. And their common
father had never seen aught but the faults of Marius and the virtues
of Florimond. She had resented this, and Marius had resented it; and
Marius, having inherited with his mother’s beauty his mother’s arrogant,
dominant spirit, had returned with insolence such admonitions as from
time to time his father gave him, and thus the breach had grown. Later,
since he could not be heir to Condillac, the Marquise’s eyes, greedy of
advancement for him, had fallen covetously upon the richer La Vauvraye,
whose lord had then no son, whose heiress was a little girl.

By an alliance easy to compass, since the lords of Condillac and La
Vauvraye were lifelong friends, Marius’s fortunes might handsomely
have been mended. Yet when she herself bore the suggestion of it to
the Marquis, he had seized upon it, approved it, but adopted it for
Florimond’s benefit instead.

Thereafter war had raged fiercely in the family of Condillac--a war
between the Marquis and Florimond on the one side, and the Marquise and
Marius on the other. And so bitterly was it waged that it was by the old
Marquis’s suggestion that at last Florimond had gone upon his travels to
see the world and carry arms in foreign service.

Her hopes that he would take his death, as was a common thing when
warring, rose high--so high as to become almost assurance, a thing to be
reckoned with. Florimond would return no more, and her son should fill
the place to which he was entitled by his beauty of person and the high
mental gifts his doting mother saw in him.

Yet the months grew into years, and at long intervals full of hope for
the Marquise news came of Florimond, and the news was ever that he was
well and thriving, gathering honours and drinking deep of life.

And now, at last, when matters seemed to have been tumbled into her lap
that she might dispose of them as she listed; now, when in her anxiety
to see her son supplant his step-brother in the possession of La
Vauvraye--if not, perhaps, in that of Condillac as well she had done
a rashness which might end in making her and Marius outlaws, news
came that this hated Florimond was at the door; tardily returned, yet
returned in time to overthrow her schemes and to make her son the pauper
that her husband’s will had seemed to aim at rendering him.

Her mind skimmed lightly over all these matters, seeking somewhere some
wrong that should stand out stark and glaring, upon which she might
seize, and offer it to the Seneschal as an explanation of her hatred.
But nowhere could she find the thing she sought. Her hatred had for
foundation a material too impalpable to be fashioned into words.
Tressan’s voice aroused her from her thoughts.

“Have you laid no plans, madame?” he asked her. “It were surely a
madness now to attempt to withstand the Marquis.”

“The Marquis? Ah yes--Florimond.” She sat forward out of the shadows in
which her great chair enveloped her, and let candle and firelight play
about the matchless beauty of her perfect face. There was a flush upon
it, the flush of battle; and she was about to tell the Seneschal that
not while one stone of Condillac should stand upon another, not while a
gasp of breath remained in her frail body, would she surrender. But
she checked her rashness. Well might it be that in the end she should
abandon such a purpose. Tressan was ugly as a toad, the most absurd,
ridiculous bridegroom that ever led woman to the altar. Yet rumour
ran that he was rich, and as a last resource, for the sake of his
possessions she might bring herself to endure his signal shortcomings.

“I have taken no resolve as yet,” said she, in a wistful voice. “I
founded hopes upon Marius which Marius threatens to frustrate. I think I
had best resign myself to the poverty of my Touraine home.”

And then the Seneschal realized that the time was now. The opportunity
he might have sought in vain was almost thrust upon him. In the spirit
he blessed Florimond for returning so opportunely; in the flesh he rose
from the chair and, without more ado, he cast himself upon his knees
before the Dowager. He cast himself down, and the Dowager experienced
a faint stirring of surprise that she heard no flop such as must attend
the violent falling of so fat a body. But the next instant, realizing
the purpose of his absurd posture, she shrank back with a faint gasp,
and her face was mercifully blurred to his sight once more amid the
shadows of her chair. Thus was he spared the look of utter loathing, of
unconquerable, irrepressible disgust that leapt into her countenance.

His voice quivered with ridiculous emotion, his little fat red fingers
trembled as he outheld them in a theatrical gesture of supplication.

“Never contemplate poverty, madame, until you have discarded me,” he
implored her. “Say but that you will, and you shall be lady of Tressan.
All that I have would prove but poor adornment to a beauty such as
yours, and I should shrink from offering it you, were it not that, with
it all, I can offer you the fondest heart in France. Marquise--Clotilde,
I cast myself humbly at your feet. Do with me as you will. I love you.”

By an effort she crushed down her loathing of him--a loathing that grew
a hundredfold as she beheld him now transformed by his amorousness into
the semblance almost of a satyr--and listened to his foolish rantings.

As Marquise de Condillac it hurt her pride to listen and not have him
whipped for his audacity; as a woman it insulted her. Yet the Marquise
and the woman she alike repressed. She would give him no answer--she
could not, so near was she to fainting with disdain of him--yet must
she give him hope against the time when, should all else fail, she might
have to swallow the bitter draught he was now holding to her lips. So
she temporized.

She controlled her voice into a tone of gentle sadness; she set a mask
of sorrow upon her insolent face.

“Monsieur, monsieur,” she sighed, and so far overcame her nausea as for
an instant to touch his hand in a little gesture of caress, “you must
not speak so to a widow of six months, nor must I listen.”

The quivering grew in his hands and voice; but no longer did they shake
through fear of a rebuff: they trembled now in the eager strength of the
hope he gathered from her words. She was so beautiful, so peerless, so
noble, so proud--and he so utterly unworthy--that naught but her plight
had given him courage to utter his proposal. And she answered him in
such terms!

“You give me hope, Marquise? If I come again--?”

She sighed, and her face, which was once more within the light, showed a
look of sad inquiry.

“If I thought that what you have said, you have said out of pity,
because you fear lest my necessities should hurt me, I could give you
no hope at all. I have my pride, mon ami. But if what you have said
you would still have said though I had continued mistress of Condillac,
then, Tressan, you may repeat it to me hereafter, at a season when I may
listen.”

His joy welled up and overflowed in him as overflows a river in time of
spate.

He bent forward, caught her hand, and bore it to his lips.

“Clotilde!” he cried, in a smothered voice; then the door opened, and
Marius stepped into the long chamber.

At the creaking sound of the opening door the Seneschal bestirred
himself to rise. Even the very young care not so to be surprised,
how much less, then, a man well past the prime of life? He came up
laboriously--the more laboriously by virtue of his very efforts to show
himself still nimble in his mistress’s eyes. Upon the intruder he turned
a crimson, furious face, perspiration gleaming like varnish on brow and
nose. At sight of Marius, who stood arrested, scowling villainously upon
the pair, the fire died suddenly from his glance.

“Ah, my dear Marius,” said he, with a flourish and an air of being
mightily at his ease. But the young man’s eyes went over and beyond him
to rest in a look of scrutiny upon his mother. She had risen too, and he
had been in time to see the startled manner of her rising. In her cheeks
there was a guilty flush, but her eyes boldly met and threw back her
son’s regard.

Marius came slowly down the room, and no word was spoken. The Seneschal
cleared his throat with noisy nervousness. Madame stood hand on hip, the
flush fading slowly, her glance resuming its habitual lazy insolence. By
the fire Marius paused and kicked the logs into a blaze, regardless of
the delicate fabric of his rosetted shoes.

“Monsieur le Seneschal,” said madame calmly, “came to see us in the
matter of the courier.”

“Ah!” said Marius, with an insolent lifting of his brows and a sidelong
look at Tressan; and Tressan registered in his heart a vow that when he
should have come to wed the mother, he would not forget to take payment
for that glance from her pert son.

“Monsieur le Comte will remain and sup with us before riding back to
Grenoble,” she added.

“Ah!” said he again, in the same tone. And that for the moment was all
he said. He remained by the fire, standing between them where he
had planted himself in the flesh, as if to symbolize the attitude he
intended in the spirit.

But one chance he had, before supper was laid, of a word alone with his
mother, in her own closet.

“Madame,” he said, his sternness mingling with alarm, “are you mad that
you encourage the suit of this hedgehog Tressan?”

She looked him up and down with a deliberate eye, her lip curling a
little.

“Surely, Marius, it is my own concern.”

“Not so,” he answered her, and his grasp fastened almost viciously on
her wrist. “I think that it is mine as well. Mother, bethink you,” and
his tone changed to an imploring key, “bethink you what you would do!
Would you--you--mate with such a thing as that?”

His emphasis of the pronoun was very eloquent. Not in all the words of
the French language could he have told her better how high he placed her
in his thoughts, how utterly she must fall, how unutterably be soiled by
an alliance with Tressan.

“I had hoped you would have saved me from it, Marius,” she answered him,
her eyes seeming to gaze down into the depths of his. “At La Vauvraye I
had hoped to live out my widowhood in tranquil dignity. But--” She let
her arms fall sharply to her sides, and uttered a little sneering laugh.

“But, mother,” he cried, “between the dignity of La Vauvraye and the
indignity of Tressan, surely there is some middle course?”

“Aye,” she answered scornfully, “starvation on a dunghill in
Touraine--or something near akin to it, for which I have no stomach.”

He released her wrist and stood with bent head, clenching and
unclenching his long white hands, and she watched him, watching in him
the working of his proud and stubborn spirit.

“Mother,” he cried at last, and the word sounded absurd between them, by
so little did he seem the younger of the twain, “mother, you shall not
do it you must not!”

“You leave me little alternative--alas!” sighed she. “Had you been more
adroit you had been wed by now, Marius, and the future would give us no
concern. As it is, Florimond comes home, and we--” She spread her hands
and thrust out her nether lip in a grimace that was almost ugly. Then:
“Come,” she said briskly. “Supper is laid, and my Lord Seneschal will be
awaiting us.”

And before he could reply she had swept past him and taken her way
below. He followed gloomily, and in gloom sat he at table, never
heeding the reckless gaiety of the Seneschal and the forced mirth of the
Marquise. He well understood the sort of tacit bargain that his mother
had made with him. She had seen her advantage in his loathing of the
proposed union with Tressan, and she had used it to the full. Either he
must compel Valerie to wed him this side of Saturday or resign himself
to see his mother--his beautiful, peerless mother--married to this skin
of lard that called itself a man.

Living, he had never entertained for his father a son’s respect, nor,
dead, did he now reverence his memory as becomes a son. But in that
hour, as he sat at table, facing this gross wooer of his mother’s, his
eyes were raised to the portrait of the florid-visaged haughty Marquis
de Condillac, where it looked down upon them from the panelled wall, and
from his soul he offered up to that portrait of his dead sire an apology
for the successor whom his widow destined him.

He ate little, but drank great draughts, as men will when their mood
is sullen and dejected, and the heat of the wine, warming his veins and
lifting from him some of the gloom that had settled over him, lent him
anon a certain recklessness very different from the manner of his sober
moments.

Chancing suddenly to raise his eyes from the cup into which he had been
gazing, absorbed as gazes a seer into his crystal, he caught on the
Seneschal’s lips so odious a smile, in the man’s eyes so greedy, hateful
a leer as he bent them on the Marquise, that he had much ado not to
alter the expression of that flabby face by hurling at it the cup he
held.

He curbed himself; he smiled sardonically upon the pair; and in that
moment he swore that be the cost what it might, he would frustrate the
union of those two. His thoughts flew to Valerie, and the road they took
was fouled with the mud of ugly deeds. A despair, grim at first, then
mocking, took possession of him. He loved Valerie to distraction. Loved
her for herself, apart from all worldly advantages that must accrue to
him from an alliance with her. His mother saw in that projected marriage
no more than the acquisition of the lands of La Vauvraye, and she may
even have thought that he himself saw no more. In that she was wrong;
but because of it she may have been justified of her impatience with him
at the tardiness, the very clumsiness with which he urged his suit. How
was she to know that it was just the sincerity of his passion made
him clumsy? For like many another, normally glib, self-assured, and
graceful, Marius grew halting, shy, and clumsy only where he loved.

But in the despair that took him now the quality of his passion seemed
to change. Partly it was the wine, partly the sight of this other
lover--of whom there must be an end--whose very glance seemed to him an
insult to his mother. His imagination had taken fire that night, and it
had ripened him for any villainy. The Seneschal and the wine, between
them, had opened the floodgates of all that was evil in his nature, and
that evil thundered out in a great torrent that bid fair to sweep all
before it.

And suddenly, unexpectedly for the others, who were by now resigned to
his moody silence, the evil found expression. The Marquise had spoken
of something--something of slight importance--that must be done before
Florimond returned. Abruptly Marius swung round in his seat to face
his mother. “Must this Florimond return?” he asked, and for all that he
uttered no more words, so ample in their expression were those four that
he had uttered and the tone of them, that his meaning left little work
to the imagination.

Madame turned to stare at him, surprise ineffable in her glance--not
at the thing that he suggested, but at the abruptness with which the
suggestion came. The cynical, sneering tone rang in her ears after the
words were spoken, and she looked in his face for a confirmation of
their full purport.

She observed the wine-flush on his cheek, the wine-glitter in his eye,
and she remarked the slight smile on his lips and the cynical assumption
of nonchalance with which he fingered the jewel in his ear as he
returned her gaze. She beheld now in her son a man more purposeful than
she had ever known before.

A tense silence had followed his words, and the Lord Seneschal gaped
at him, some of the colour fading from his plethoric countenance,
suspecting as he did the true drift of Marius’s suggestion. At last it
was madame who spoke--very softly, with a narrowing of the eyes.

“Call Fortunio,” was all she said, but Marius understood full well the
purpose for which she would have Fortunio called.

With a half-smile he rose, and going to the door he bade his page who
was idling in the anteroom go summon the captain. Then he paced slowly
back, not to the place he had lately occupied at table, but to the
hearth, where he took his stand with his shoulders squared to the
overmantel.

Fortunio came, fair-haired and fresh-complexioned as a babe, his supple,
not ungraceful figure tawdrily clad in showy clothes of poor material
the worse for hard usage and spilt wine. The Countess bade him sit, and
with her own hands she poured a cup of Anjou for him.

In some wonder, and, for all his ordinary self-possession, with a little
awkwardness, the captain did her bidding, and with an apologetic air he
took the seat she offered him.

He drank this wine, and here was a spell of silence till Marius, grown
impatient, brutally put the thing for which the Marquise sought delicate
words.

“We have sent for you, Fortunio,” said he, in a blustering tone, “to
inquire of you what price you’d ask to cut the throat of my brother, the
Marquis de Condillac.”

The Seneschal sank back in his chair with a gasp. The captain, a frown
between his frank-seeming, wide-set eyes, started round to look at the
boy. The business was by no means too strong for the ruffler’s stomach,
but the words in which it was conveyed to him most emphatically were.

“Monsieur de Condillac,” said he, with an odd assumption of dignity, “I
think you have mistaken your man. I am a soldier, not a cut-throat.”

“But yes,” the Marquise soothed him, throwing herself instantly into the
breach, and laying a long, slender hand upon the frayed green velvet
of the captain’s sleeve. “What my son means and what he says are vastly
different things.”

“It will sorely tax your wits, madame,” laughed Marius brutally, “to
make clear that difference.”

And then the Seneschal nervously cleared his throat and muttering that
it waxed late and he must be riding home, made shift to rise. Him, too,
the Marquise at once subdued. She was not minded that he should go just
yet. It might be useful to her hereafter to have had him present at this
conference, into which she meant to draw him until she should have made
him one with them, a party to their guilt. For the task she needed not
over many words: just one or two and a melting glance or so, and the
rebellion in his bosom was quelled at once.

But with the captain her wiles were not so readily successful. He had no
hopes of winning her to wife--haply no desire, since he was not a man
of very great ambitions. On the other hand, he had against him the
very worst record in France, and for all that he might embark upon this
business under the auspices of the Lord Seneschal himself, he knew not
how far the Lord Seneschal might dare to go thereafter to save him from
a hanging, should it come to that.

He said as much in words. In a business of this kind, he knew from
experience, the more difficulties he advanced, the better a bargain
he drove in the end; and if he was to be persuaded to risk his neck in
this, he should want good payment. But even for good payment on this
occasion he was none too sure as yet that he would let himself be
persuaded.

“Monsieur Fortunio,” the Marquise said, very softly, “heed not Monsieur
Marius’s words. Attend to me. The Marquis de Condillac, as no doubt you
will have learned for yourself, is lying at La Rochette. Now it happens
that he is noxious to us--let the reasons be what they may. We need a
friend to put him out of our way. Will you be that friend?”

“You will observe,” sneered Marius, “how wide a difference there is
between what the Marquise suggests and my own frank question of what
price you would take to cut my brother’s throat.”

“I observe no difference, which is what you would say,” Fortunio
answered truculently, his head well back, his brown eyes resentful
of offence--for none can be so resentful of imputed villainy as your
villain who is thorough-paced. “And,” he concluded, “I return you the
same answer, madame--that I am no cut-throat.”

She repressed her anger at Marius’s sneering interference, and made a
little gesture of dismay with her eloquent white hands.

“But we do not ask you to cut a throat.”

“I have heard amiss, then,” said he, his insolence abating nothing.

“You have heard aright, but you have understood amiss. There are other
ways of doing these things. If it were but the cutting of a throat,
should we have sent for you? There are a dozen in the garrison would
have sufficed for our purpose.”

“What is it, then, you need?” quoth he.

“We want an affair contrived with all decency. The Marquis is at the
Sanglier Noir at La Rochette. You can have no difficulty in finding
him, and having found him, less difficulty still in giving or provoking
insult.”

“Excellent,” murmured Marius from the background. “It is such an
enterprise as should please a ready swordsman of your calibre,
Fortunio.”

“A duel?” quoth the fellow, and his insolence went out of him, thrust
out by sheer dismay; his mouth fell open. A duel was another affair
altogether. “But, Sangdieu! what if he should slay me? Have you thought
of that?”

“Slay you?” cried the Marquise, her eyes resting on his face with an
expression as of wonder at such a question. “You jest, Fortunio.”

“And he with the fever,” put in Marius, sneering.

“Ah!” muttered Fortunio. “He has the fever? The fever is something.
But--but--accidents will happen.”

“Florimond was ever an indifferent swordsman,” murmured Marius dreamily,
as if communing with himself.

The captain wheeled upon him once more.

“Why, then, Monsieur Marius,” said he, “since that is so and you are
skilled--as skilled as am I, or more--and he has a fever, where is the
need to hire me to the task?”

“Where?” echoed Marius. “What affair may that be of yours? We ask you
to name a price on which you will do this thing. Have done with
counter-questions.”

Marius was skilled with the foils, as Fortunio said, but he cared not
for unbaited steel, and he was conscious of it, so that the captain’s
half-sneer had touched him on the raw. But he was foolish to take that
tone in answer. There was a truculent, Southern pride in the ruffler
which sprang immediately into life and which naught that they could say
thereafter would stamp out.

“Must I say again that you mistake your man?” was his retort, and as
he spoke he rose, as though to signify that the subject wearied him and
that his remaining to pursue it must be idle. “I am not of those to
whom you can say: ‘I need such a one killed, name me the price at which
you’ll be his butcher’.”

The Marquise wrung her hands in pretty mimicry of despair, and poured
out soothing words, as one might pour oil upon stormy waters. The
Seneschal sat in stolid silence, a half-scared spectator of this odd
scene, what time the Marquise talked and talked until she had brought
Fortunio back to some measure of subjection.

Such reasoning as she made use of she climaxed by an offer of no less a
sum than a hundred pistoles. The captain licked his lips and pulled at
his mustachios. For all his vaunted scorn of being a butcher at a price,
now that he heard the price he seemed not half so scornful.

“Tell me again the thing that you need doing and the manner of it,” said
he, as one who was moved to reconsider. She told him, and when she had
done he made a compromise.

“If I go upon this business, madame, I go not alone.”

“Oh, as for that,” said Marius, “it shall be as you will. Take what men
you want with you.”

“And hang with them afterwards, maybe,” he sneered, his insolence
returning. “The hundred pistoles would avail me little then. Look you,
Monsieur de Condillac, and you, madame, if I go, I’ll need to take with
me a better hostage than the whole garrison of this place. I’ll need for
shield some one who will see to it that he is not hurt himself, just as
I shall see to it that he is hurt before I am.”

“What do you mean? Speak out, Fortunio,” the Marquise bade him.

“I mean, madame, that I will go, not to do this thing, but to stand by
and render help if help be needed. Let Monsieur de Condillac go, and
I will go with him, and I will undertake to see to it that he returns
unhurt and that we leave the other stark.”

Both started, and the Seneschal leaned heavily upon the table. He was
not, with all his faults, a man of blood, and this talk of butchery
turned him sick and faint.

Vainly now did the Marquise seek to alter the captain’s resolution; but
in this she received a sudden check from Marius himself. He cut in upon
her arguments to ask the captain:

“How can you promise so much? Do you mean that you and I must fall upon
him? You forget that he will have men about him. A duel is one thing,
a rough-and-tumble another, and we shall fare none so well in this, I’m
thinking.”

The captain closed one eye, and a leer of subtle cunning overspread his
face.

“I’ve thought of that,” said he. “Neither a duel nor a rough-and-tumble
do I propose, but something between the two; something that shall seem a
duel yet be a rough-and-tumble.”

“Explain yourself.”

“What further explanation does it ask? We come upon Monsieur le Marquis
where his men are not. We penetrate, let us say, into his chamber. I
turn the key in the door. We are alone with him and you provoke him. He
is angry, and must fight you there and then. I am your friend; I must
fill the office of second for both sides. You engage, and I stand aside
and let you fight it out. You say he is indifferently skilled with the
sword, and, in addition, that he has a fever. Thus you should contrive
to put your steel through him, and a duel it will have been. But if by
luck or skill he should have you in danger, I shall be at hand to flick
in my sword at the right moment and make an opening through which you
may send yours home.”

“Believe me it were better--” began the Dowager. But Marius, who of a
sudden was much taken with the notion, again broke in.

“Are you to be depended upon to make no mistake, Fortunio?”

“Per Bacco!” swore the ruffler. “A mistake must cost me a hundred
pistoles. I think you may depend upon me there. If I err at all, it will
be on the side of eagerness to see you make short work of him. You have
my answer now, monsieur. If we talk all night, you shall not move me
further. But if my proposal suits you, I am your man.”

“And I yours, Fortunio,” answered Marius, and there was a ring almost of
exultation in his voice.

The Dowager looked from one to the other, as if she were weighing the
men and satisfying herself that Marius ran no risk. She put a question
or two to her son, another to the captain; then, seeming satisfied with
what had been agreed, she nodded her head and told them they had best be
stirring with the dawn.

“You will have light enough by half-past six. Do not delay later in
taking the road. And see that you are back here by nightfall; I shall be
anxious till you are returned.”

She poured wine again for the captain, and Marius coming up to the table
filled himself a glass, which he tossed off. The Marquise was speaking
to Tressan.

“Will you not drink to the success of the venture?” she asked him, in a
coaxing tone, her eyes upon his own. “I think we are like to see the
end of our troubles now, monsieur, and Marius shall be lord both of
Condillac and La Vauvraye.”

And the gross, foolish Seneschal, under the spell of her magnificent
eyes, slowly raised his cup to his lips and drank to the success of that
murderous business. Marius stood still, a frown between his eyes haled
thither by the mention of La Vauvraye. He might be winning it, as his
mother said, but he would have preferred to have won it differently.
Then the frown was smoothed away; a sardonic smile replaced it; another
cup of wine he poured himself. Then, without word to any there, he
turned on his heel and went from the room, a trifle unsteady in his
gait, yet with such lines of purposefulness in the way he bore himself
that the three of them stared after him in dull surprise.



CHAPTER XVI. THE UNEXPECTED

In her apartments in the Northern Tower Valerie had supped, and--to
spare Monsieur de Garnache the full indignity of that part of the
offices he was charged with--she had herself removed the cloth and set
the things in the guard-room, where they might lie till morning. When
that was done--and despite her protests, Garnache had insisted upon
lending a hand--the Parisian reminded her that it was already after
nine, and urged her to make such preparations as incumbed her for their
journey.

“My preparations are soon made,” she assured him with a smile. “I need
but what I may carry in a cloak.”

They fell to talking of their impending flight, and they laughed
together at the discomfiture that would be the Dowager’s and her son’s
when, in the morning, they came to discover the empty cage. From that
they passed on to talk of Valerie herself, of her earlier life at
La Vauvraye, and later the conversation shifted to Garnache, and she
questioned him touching the warring he had seen in early youth, and
afterwards asked him for particulars of Paris--that wonderful city which
to her mind was the only earthly parallel of Paradise--and of the life
at Court.

Thus in intimate talk did they while away the time of waiting, and in
the hour that sped they came, perhaps, to know more of each other than
they had done hitherto. Intimate, indeed, had they unconsciously become
already. Their singular position, locked together in that tower--a
position utterly impossible under any but the conditions that attended
it--had conduced to that good-fellowship, whilst the girl’s trust and
dependence upon the man, the man’s observance of that trust, and his
determination to show her that it had not been misplaced, had done the
rest.

But to-night they seemed to have drawn nearer in spirit to each other,
and that, maybe, it was that prompted Valerie to sigh, and in her sweet,
unthinking innocence to say again:

“I am truly sorry, Monsieur de Garnache, that our sojourn here is coming
to an end.”

He was no coxcomb, and he set no false value on the words. He laughed
for answer, as he rejoined:

“Not so am I, mademoiselle. Nor shall I know peace of mind again until
this ill-omened chateau is a good three leagues or so behind us. Sh!
What was that?”

He came instantly to his feet, his face intent and serious. He had been
sitting at his ease in an armchair, over the back of which he had tossed
the baldric from which his sword depended. The clang of the heavy door
below, striking the wall as it was pushed open, had reached his ears.

“Can it be time already?” asked mademoiselle; yet a panic took her, and
she blenched a little.

He shook his head.

“Impossible,” said he; “it is not more than ten o’clock. Unless that
fool Arsenio has blundered--” He stopped. “Sh!” he whispered. “Some one
is coming here.”

And suddenly he realized the peril that might lie in being found thus in
her company. It alarmed him more than did the visit itself, so unusual
at this hour. He saw that he had not time to reach the guard-room;
he would be caught in the act of coming forth, and that might be
interpreted by the Dowager or her son--if it should happen to be one
or the other of them--as a hurried act of flight such as guilt might
prompt. Perhaps he exaggerated the risk; but their fortunes at Condillac
had reached a point where they must not be jeopardized by any chance
however slight.

“To your chamber, mademoiselle,” he whispered fearfully, and he pointed
to the door of the inner room. “Lock yourself in. Quick! Sh!” And he
signed frantically to her to go silently.

Swift and quietly as a mouse she glided from the room and softly closed
the door of her chamber and turned the key in a lock, which Garnache had
had the foresight to keep well oiled. He breathed more freely when it
was done.

A step sounded in the guard-room. He sank without a rustle into the
chair from which he had risen, rested his head against the back of it,
closed his eyes, opened his mouth, and dissembled sleep.

The steps came swiftly across the guard-room floor, soft, as of one
lightly shod; and Garnache wondered was it the mother or the son, just
as he wondered what this ill-come visitor might be seeking.

The door of the antechamber was pushed gently open--it had stood
ajar--and under the lintel appeared the slender figure of Marius, still
in his brown velvet suit as Garnache last had seen him. He paused a
moment to peer into the chamber. Then he stepped forward, frowning to
behold “Battista” so cosily ensconced.

“Ola there!” he cried, and kicked the sentry’s outstretched legs, the
more speedily to wake him. “Is this the watch you keep?”

Garnache opened his eyes and stared a second dully at the disturber
of his feigned slumbers. Then, as if being more fully awakened he
recognized his master, he heaved himself suddenly to his feet and bowed.

“Is this the watch you keep?” quoth Marius again, and Garnache, scanning
the youth’s face with foolishly smiling eyes, noted the flush on his
cheek, the odd glitter in his handsome eyes, and even caught a whiff
of wine upon his breath. Alarm grew in Garnache’s mind, but his face
maintained its foolish vacancy, its inane smile. He bowed again and,
with a wave of the hands towards the inner chamber,

“La damigella a la,” said he.

For all that Marius had no Italian he understood the drift of the
words, assisted as they were by the man’s expressive gesture. He sneered
cruelly.

“It would be an ugly thing for you, my ugly friend, if she were not,”
 he answered. “Away with you. I shall call you when I need you.” And he
pointed to the door.

Garnache experienced some dismay, some fear even. He plied his wits,
and he determined that he had best seem to apprehend from his gestures
Marius’s meaning; but apprehend it in part only, and go no further than
the other side of that door.

He bowed, therefore, for the third time, and with another of his foolish
grins he shuffled out of the chamber, pulling the door after him, so
that Marius should not see how near at hand he stayed.

Marius, without further heeding him, stepped to mademoiselle’s door and
rapped on a panel with brisk knuckles.

“Who is there?” she inquired from within.

“It is I--Marius. Open, I have something I must say to you.”

“Will it not keep till morning?”

“I shall be gone by then,” he answered impatiently, “and much depends
upon my seeing you ere I go. So open. Come!”

There followed a pause, and Garnache in the outer room set his teeth and
prayed she might not anger Marius. He must be handled skillfully, lest
their flight should be frustrated at the last moment. He prayed, too,
that there might be no need for his intervention. That would indeed be
the end of all--a shipwreck within sight of harbour. He promised himself
that he would not lightly intervene. For the rest this news of Marius’s
intended departure filled him with a desire to know something of the
journey on which he was bound:

Slowly mademoiselle’s door opened. White and timid she appeared.

“What do you want, Marius?”

“Now and always and above all things the sight of you, Valerie,” said
he, and the flushed cheek, the glittering eye, and wine-laden breath
were as plain to her as they had been to Garnache, and they filled her
with a deeper terror. Nevertheless she came forth at his bidding.

“I see that you were not yet abed,” said he. “It is as well. We must
have a talk.” He set a chair for her and begged her to be seated; then
he perched himself on the table, his hands gripping the edges of it on
either side of him, and he turned his eyes upon her.

“Valerie,” he said slowly, “the Marquis de Condillac, my brother, is at
La Rochette.”

“He is coming home!” she cried, clasping her hands and feigning surprise
in word and glance.

Marius shook his head and smiled grimly.

“No,” said he. “He is not coming home. That is--not unless you wish it.”

“Not unless I wish it? But naturally I wish it!”

“Then, Valerie, if you would have what you wish, so must I. If Florimond
is ever to come to Condillac again, you must be my wife.”

He leaned towards her now, supported by his elbow, so that his face was
close to hers, a deeper flush upon it, a brighter glitter in his black
eyes, his vinous breath enveloping and suffocating her. She shrank back,
her hands locking themselves one in the other till the knuckles showed
white.

“What--what is it you mean?” she faltered.

“No more than I have said; no less. If you love him well enough to
sacrifice yourself,” and his lips curled sardonically at the word, “then
marry me and save him from his doom.”

“What doom?” Her voice came mechanically, her lips seeming scarce to
move.

He swung down from the table and stood before her.

“I will tell you,” he said, in a voice very full of promise. “I love
you, Valerie, above all else on earth or, I think, in heaven; and I’ll
not yield you to him. Say ‘No’ to me now, and at daybreak I start for La
Rochette to win you from him at point of sword.”

Despite her fears she could not repress a little smile of scorn.

“Is that all?” said she. “Why, if you are so rash, it is yourself,
assuredly, will be slain.”

He smiled tranquilly at that reflection upon his courage and his skill.

“So might it befall if I went alone,” said he. She understood. Her eyes
dilated with horror, with loathing of him. The angry words that sprang
to her lips were not to be denied.

“You cur, you cowardly assassin!” she blazed at him. “I might have
guessed that in some such cutthroat manner would your vaunt of winning
me at the sword-point be accomplished.”

She watched the colour fade from his cheeks, and the ugly, livid hue
that spread in its room to his very lips. Yet it did not daunt her. She
was on her feet, confronting him ere he had time to speak again. Her
eyes flashed, and her arm pointed quivering to the door.

“Go!” she bade him, her voice harsh for once. “Out of my sight! Go! Do
your worst, so that you leave me. I’ll hold no traffic with you.”

“Will you not?” said he, through setting teeth, and suddenly he caught
the wrist of that outstretched arm. But she saw nothing of immediate
danger. The only danger that she knew was the danger that threatened
Florimond, and little did that matter since at midnight she was to
leave Condillac to reach La Rochette in time to warn her betrothed. The
knowledge gave her confidence and an added courage.

“You have offered me your bargain,” she told him. “You have named your
price and you have heard my refusal. Now go.”

“Not yet awhile,” said he, in a voice so odiously sweet that Garnache
caught his breath.

He drew her towards him. Despite her wild struggles he held her fast
against his breast. Do what she would, he rained his hot kisses on her
face and hair, till at last, freeing a hand, she smote him with all her
might across the face.

He let her go then. He fell back with an oath, a patch of fingermarks
showing red on his white countenance.

“That blow has killed Florimond de Condillac,” he told her viciously.
“He dies at noon to-morrow. Ponder it, my pretty.”

“I care not what you do so that you leave me,” she answered defiantly,
restraining by a brave effort the tears of angry distress that welled
up from her stricken heart. And no less stricken, no less angry was
Garnache where he listened. It was by an effort that he had restrained
himself from bursting in upon them when Marius had seized her. The
reflection that were he to do so all would irretrievably be ruined alone
had stayed him.

Marius eyed the girl a moment, his face distorted by the rage that was
in him.

“By God!” he swore, “if I cannot have your love, I’ll give you cause
enough to hate me.”

“Already have you done that most thoroughly,” said she. And Garnache
cursed this pertness of hers which was serving to dare him on.

The next moment there broke from her a startled cry. Marius had seized
her again and was crushing her frail body in his arms.

“I shall kiss your lips before I go, ma mie,” said he, his voice thick
now with a passion that was not all of anger. And then, while he still
struggled to have his way with her, a pair of arms took him about the
waist like hoops of steel.

In his surprise he let her free, and in that moment he was swung back
and round and cast a good six paces down the room.

He came to a standstill by the table, at which he clutched to save
himself from falling, and turned bewildered, furious eyes upon
“Battista,” by whom he now dimly realized that he had been assailed.

Garnache’s senses had all left him in that moment when Valerie had cried
out. He cast discretion to the winds; reason went out of him, and only
blind anger remained to drive him into immediate action. And as suddenly
as that flood of rage had leaped, as suddenly did it ebb now that he
found himself face to face with the outraged Condillac and began to
understand the magnitude of the folly he had committed.

Everything was lost now, utterly and irretrievably--lost as a dozen
other fine emprises had been by his sudden and ungoverned frenzy. God!
What a fool he was! What a cursed, drivelling fool! What, after all, was
a kiss or two, compared with all the evil that might now result from his
interference? Haply Marius would have taken them and departed, and at
midnight they would have been free to go from Condillac.

The future would not have been lacking in opportunities to seek out and
kill Marius for that insult.

Why could he not have left the matter to the future? But now, with
Florimond to be murdered on the morrow at La Rochette, himself likely
to be murdered within the hour at Condillac, Valerie was at their mercy
utterly.

Wildly and vainly did he strive even then to cover up the foolish thing
that he had done. He bowed apologetically to Marius; he waved his hands
and filled the air with Italian phrases, frenziedly uttered, as if by
the very vigour of them he sought to drive explanation into his master’s
brain. Marius watched and listened, but his rage nowise abated; it grew,
instead, as if that farrago of a language he did not understand were
but an added insult. An oath was all he uttered. Then he swung round
and caught Garnache’s sword from the chair beside him, where it still
rested, and Garnache in that moment cursed the oversight. Whipping
the long, keen blade from its sheath, Marius bore down upon the rash
meddler.

“Par Dieu!” he swore between his teeth. “We’ll see the colour of your
dirty blood, you that lay hands upon a gentleman.”

But before he could send home the weapon, before Garnache could move to
defend himself, Valerie had slipped between them. Marius looked into
her white, determined face, and was smitten with surprise. What was this
hind to her that she should interfere at the risk of taking the sword
herself?

Then a slow smile spread upon his face. He was smarting still under
her disdain and resistance, as well as under a certain sense of the
discomfiture this fellow had put upon him. He saw a way to hurt her, to
abase her pride, and cut her to the very soul with shame.

“You are singularly concerned in this man’s life,” said he, an odious
undercurrent of meaning in his voice.

“I would not have you murder him,” she answered, “for doing no more than
madame your mother bade him.”

“I make no doubt he has proved a very excellent guard,” he sneered.

Even now all might have been well. With that insult Marius might
consider that he had taken payment for the discomfiture he had suffered.
He might have bethought him that, perhaps, as she said, “Battista”
 had done no more than observe the orders he had received--a trifle
excessively, maybe, yet faithfully nevertheless. Thinking thus, he might
even have been content to go his ways and take his fill of vengeance by
slaying Florimond upon the morrow. But Garnache’s rash temper, rising
anew, tore that last flimsy chance to shreds.

The insult that mademoiselle might overlook might even not have fully
understood--set him afire with indignation for her sake. He forgot his
role, forgot even that he had no French.

“Mademoiselle,” he cried, and she gasped in her affright at this ruinous
indiscretion, “I beg that you will stand aside.” His voice was low and
threatening, but his words were woefully distinct.

“Par la mort Dieu!” swore Marius, taken utterly aback. “What may your
name be--you who hitherto have had no French?”

Almost thrusting mademoiselle aside, Garnache stood out to face him, the
flush of hot anger showing through the dye on his cheeks.

“My name,” said he, “is Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache, and my
business now to make an end of one at least of this obscene brood of
Condillac.”

And, without more ado, he caught up a chair and held it before him in
readiness to receive the other’s onslaught.

But Marius hung back an instant--at first in sheer surprise, later in
fear. He had some knowledge of the fellow’s methods. Even the sword he
wielded gave him little confidence opposed to Garnache with a chair. He
must have help. His eyes sought the door, measuring the distance. Ere he
could reach it Garnache would cut him off. There was nothing for it
but to attempt to drive the Parisian back. And so with a sudden rush he
advanced to the attack. Garnache fell back and raised his chair, and in
that instant mademoiselle once more intervened between them.

“Stand aside, mademoiselle,” cried Garnache, who now, grown cool, as was
his way when once he was engaged, saw clearly through the purpose formed
by Marius. “Stand aside, or we shall have him giving the alarm.”

He leapt clear of her to stop Marius’s sudden rush for the door. On the
very threshold the young man was forced to turn and defend himself, lest
his brains be dashed out by that ponderous weapon Garnache was handling
with a rare facility. But the mischief was done, in that he had reached
the threshold. Backing, he defended himself and gained the anteroom.
Garnache followed, but the clumsy chair was defensive rather than
offensive, and Marius’s sword meanwhile darted above it and below it,
forcing him to keep a certain distance.

And now Marius raised his voice and shouted with all the power of his
lungs:

“To me! To me! Fortunio! Abdon! To me, you dogs! I am beset.”

From the courtyard below rose an echo of his words, repeated in a shout
by the sentinel, who had overheard them, and they caught the swift fall
of the fellow’s feet as he ran for help. Furious, picturing to himself
how the alarm would spread like a conflagration through the chateau,
cursing his headstrong folly yet determined that Marius at least should
not escape him, Garnache put forth his energies to hinder him from
gaining the door that opened on to the stairs. From the doorway of the
antechamber mademoiselle, with a white face and terrified eyes, watched
the unequal combat and heard the shouts for help. Anon despair might
whelm her at the thought of how they had lost their opportunity of
escaping; but for the present she had no thought save for the life of
that brave man who was defending himself with an unwieldy chair.

Garnache leapt suddenly aside to take his opponent in the flank and
thus turn him from his backward progress towards the outer door. The
manoeuvre succeeded, and gradually, always defending himself, Garnache
circled farther round him until he was between Marius and the threshold.

And now there came a sound of running feet on the uneven stones of the
courtyard. Light gleamed on the staircase, and breathless voices were
wafted up to the two men. Garnache bethought him that his last hour was
assuredly at hand. Well, if he must take his death, he might as well
take it here upon Marius’s sword as upon another’s. So he would risk
it for the sake of leaving upon Marius some token by which he might
remember him. He swung his chair aloft, uncovering himself for a second.
The young man’s sword darted in like a shaft of light. Nimbly Garnache
stepped aside to avoid it, and moved nearer his opponent. Down crashed
the chair, and down went Marius, stunned and bleeding, under its
terrific blow. The sword clattered from his hand and rolled, with a
pendulum-like movement, to the feet of Garnache.

The Parisian flung aside his chair and stooped to seize that very
welcome blade. He rose, grasping the hilt and gathering confidence from
the touch of that excellently balanced weapon, and he swung round even
as Fortunio and two of his braves appeared in the doorway.



CHAPTER XVII. HOW MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE LEFT CONDILLAC

Never was there a man with a better stomach for a fight than Martin de
Garnache, nor did he stop to consider that here his appetite in that
direction was likely to be indulged to a surfeit. The sight of those
three men opposing him, swords drawn and Fortunio armed in addition
with a dagger, drove from his mind every other thought, every other
consideration but that of the impending battle.

He fell on guard to receive their onslaught, his eyes alert, his lips
tight set, his knees like springs of steel, slightly flexed to support
his well-poised body.

But they paused a moment in the extremity of their surprise, and
Fortunio called to him in Italian to know the meaning of this attitude
of his as well as that of Marius, who lay huddled where he had fallen.

Garnache, reckless now, disdaining further subterfuge nor seeking to
have recourse to subtleties that could avail him nothing, retorted in
French with the announcement of his true name. At that, perceiving that
here was some deep treachery at work, they hesitated no longer.

Led by Fortunio they attacked him, and the din they made in the next few
minutes with their heavy breathing, their frequent oaths, their stamping
and springing this way and that, and, ringing above all, the clash and
clatter of sword on sword, filled the chamber and could be heard in the
courtyard below.

Minutes sped, yet they gained no advantage on this single man; not one,
but a dozen swords did he appear to wield, so rapid were his passes, so
ubiquitous his point. Had he but stood his ground there might have been
a speedy end to him, but he retreated slowly towards the door of the
antechamber. Valerie still stood there, watching with fearful eyes and
bated breath that tremendous struggle which at any moment she expected
to see terminate in the death of her only friend.

In her way she was helping Garnache, though she little realized it. The
six tapers in the candle-branch she held aloft afforded the only light
for that stormy scene, and that light was in the eyes of Garnache’s
assailants, showing him their faces yet leaving his own in shadow.

He fell back steadily towards that door. He could not see it; but there
was not the need. He knew that it was in a direct line with the one
that opened upon the stairs, and by the latter he steered his backward
course. His aim was to gain the antechamber, although they guessed it
not, thinking that he did but retreat through inability to stand his
ground. His reasons were that here in this guardroom the best he could
do would be to put his back to the wall, where he might pick off one or
two before they made an end of him. The place was too bare to suit
his urgent, fearful need. Within the inner room there was furniture to
spare, with which he might contrive to hamper his opponents and give
them such a lusty fight as would live in the memory of those who might
survive it for as long as they should chance to live thereafter.

He had no thought of perishing himself, although, to any less concerned,
his death, sooner or later, must seem inevitable--the only possible
conclusion to this affray, taken as he was. His mind was concerned only
with this fight; his business to kill, and not himself to be slain. He
knew that presently others would come to support these three. Already,
perhaps, they were on their way, and he husbanded his strength against
their coming. He was proudly conscious of his own superior skill, for
he had studied the art of fence in Italy--its home--during his earlier
years, and there was no trick of sword-play with which he was not
acquainted, no ruse of service in a rough-and-tumble in which he was
unversed. He was proudly conscious, too, of his supple strength, his
endurance, and his great length of reach, and upon all these he counted
to help him make a decent fight.

Valerie, watching him, guessed his purpose to be the gaining of the
inner chamber, the crossing of the threshold on which she was standing.
She drew back a pace or two, almost mechanically, to give him room. The
movement went near to costing him his life. The light no longer falling
so pitilessly upon Fortunio’s eyes, the captain saw more clearly than
hitherto, and shot a swift, deadly stroke straight at the region of
Garnache’s heart. The Parisian leapt back when it was within an inch of
his breast; one of the bravoes followed up, springing a pace in advance
of his companions and lengthening his arm in a powerful lunge. Garnache
caught the blade almost on his hilt, and by the slightest turn of
the wrist made a simultaneous presentment of his point at the other’s
outstretched throat. It took the fellow just above the Adam’s apple, and
with a horrid, gurgling cry he sank, stretched as he still was in the
attitude of that murderous lunge that had proved fatal only to himself.

Garnache had come on guard again upon the instant. Yet in the briefest
of seconds during which his sword had been about its work of death,
Fortunio’s rapier came at him a second time. He beat the blade aside
with his bare left hand and stopped with his point the rush of the
other bravo. Then he leapt back again, and his leap brought him to
the threshold of the anteroom. He retreated quickly a pace, and then
another. He was a sword’s length within the chamber, and now he stood,
firm as a rock and engaged Fortunio’s blade which had followed him
through the doorway. But he was more at his ease. The doorway was
narrow. Two men abreast could not beset him, since one must cumber the
movements of the other. If they came at him one at a time, he felt that
he could continue that fight till morning, should there still by then be
any left to face him.

A wild exultation took him, an insane desire to laugh. Surely
was sword-play the merriest game that was ever devised for man’s
entertainment. He straightened his arm, and his steel went out like a
streak of lightning. But for the dagger on which he caught its edge,
the blade had assuredly pierced the captain’s heart. And now, fighting
still, Garnache called to Valerie. He had need of her assistance to make
his preparations ere others came.

“Set down your tapers, mademoiselle,” he bade her, “on the mantel shelf
at my back. Place the other candle branch there too.”

Swiftly, yet with half-swimming senses, everything dim to her as to one
in a nightmare, she ran to do his bidding; and now the light placed so
at his back, gave him over his opponents the same slight advantage that
he had enjoyed before. In brisk tones he issued his fresh orders.

“Can you move the table, mademoiselle?” he asked her. “Try to drag it
here, to the wall on my left, as close to the door as you can bring it.”

“I will try, monsieur,” she panted through dry lips; and again she moved
to do his bidding. Quickened by the need there was, her limbs, which
awhile ago had seemed on the point of refusing their office, appeared to
gather more than ordinary strength. She was unconsciously sobbing in her
passionate anxiety to render him what help was possible. Frenziedly she
caught at the heavy oaken table, and began to drag it across the room as
Garnache had begged her. And now, Fortunio seeing what was toward, and
guessing Garnache’s intentions, sought by a rush to force his way into
the Chamber. But Garnache was ready for him. There was a harsh grind of
steel on steel, culminating in a resounding rush, and Fortunio was back
in the guard-room, whither he had leapt to save his skin. A pause fell
at that, and Garnache lowered his point to rest his arm until they
should again come at him. From beyond the doorway the captain called
upon him to yield. He took the summons as an insult, and flew into a
momentary passion.

“Yield?” he roared. “Yield to you, you cut-throat scum? You shall have
my sword if you will come for it, but you shall have it in your throat.”

Angered in his turn, Fortunio inclined his head to his companion’s ear,
issuing an order. In obedience to it, it was the bravo now who advanced
and engaged Garnache. Suddenly he dropped on to his knees, and over his
head Garnache found his blade suddenly opposed by Fortunio’s. It was a
clever trick, and it all but did Garnache’s business then. Yet together
with the surprise of it there came to him the understanding of what was
intended. Under his guard the kneeling man’s sword was to be thrust up
into his vitals. As a cry of alarm broke from mademoiselle, he leapt
aside and towards the wall, where he was covered from Fortunio’s weapon,
and turning suddenly he passed his sword from side to side through the
body of the kneeling mercenary.

The whole thing he had performed mechanically, more by instinct than
by reason; and when it was done, and the tables were thus effectively
turned upon his assailants, he scarcely realized how he had accomplished
it.

The man’s body cumbered now the doorway, and behind him Fortunio stood,
never daring to advance lest a thrust of that sword which he could not
see--Garnache still standing close against the wall--should serve him
likewise.

Garnache leaned there, in that friendly shelter, to breathe, and he
smiled grimly under cover of his mustache. So long as he had to deal
with a single assailant he saw no need to move from so excellent a
position. Close beside him, leaning heavily against the table she had
dragged thus far, stood Valerie, her face livid as death, her heart
sick within her at the horror inspired her by that thing lying on the
threshold. She could not take her eyes from the crimson stain that
spread slowly on the floor, coming from under that limply huddled mass
of arms and legs.

“Do not look, mademoiselle,” Garnache implored her softly. “Be brave,
child; try to be brave.”

She sought to brace her flagging courage, and by an effort she averted
her eyes from that horrid heap and fixed them upon Garnache’s calm,
intrepid face. The sight of his quietly watchful eyes, his grimly
smiling lips, seemed to infuse courage into her anew.

“I have the table, monsieur,” she told him. “I can bring it no nearer to
the wall.”

He understood that this was not because her courage or her strength
might be exhausted, but because he now occupied the spot where he had
bidden her place it. He motioned her away, and when she had moved he
darted suddenly and swiftly aside and caught the table, his sword still
fast in his two first fingers, which he had locked over the quillons.
He had pushed its massive weight halfway across the door before Fortunio
grasped the situation. Instantly the captain sought to take advantage of
it, thinking to catch Garnache unawares. But no sooner did he show his
nose inside the doorpost than Garnache’s sword flashed before his eyes,
driving him back with a bloody furrow in his cheek.

“Have a care, Monsieur le Capitaine,” Garnache mocked him. “Had you come
an inch farther it might have been the death of you.”

A clatter of steps sounded upon the stairs, and the Parisian bent once
more to his task, and thrust the table across the open doorway. He had a
moment’s respite now, for Fortunio stung--though lightly--was not likely
to come again until he had others to support him. And while the others
came, while the hum of their voices rose higher, and finally their steps
clattered over the bare boards of the guard-room floor, Garnache had
caught up and flung a chair under the table to protect him from an
attack from below, while he had piled another on top to increase and
further strengthen the barricade.

Valerie watched him agonizedly, leaning now against the wall, her hands
pressed across her bosom, as if to keep down its tempestuous heaving.
Yet her anguish was tempered by a great wonder and a great admiration of
this man who could keep such calm eyes and such smiling lips in the face
of the dreadful odds by which he was beset, in the face of the certain
death that must ultimately reach him before he was many minutes older.
And in her imagination she conjured up a picture of him lying there torn
by their angry swords and drenched in blood, his life gone out of him,
his brave spirit, quenched for ever--and all for her unworthy sake.
Because she-- little, worthless thing that she was--would not marry
as they listed, this fine, chivalrous soul was to be driven from its
stalwart body.

An agony of grief took her now, and she fell once more to those awful
sobs that awhile ago had shaken her. She had refused to marry Marius
that Florimond’s life should be spared, knowing that before Marius could
reach him she herself would have warned her betrothed. Yet even had that
circumstance not existed, she was sure that still she would have refused
to do the will of Marius. But equally sure was she that she would not so
refuse him were he now to offer as the price of her compliance the life
of Garnache, which she accounted irrevocably doomed.

Suddenly his steady, soothing voice penetrated her anguished musings.

“Calm yourself, mademoiselle; all is far from lost as yet.”

She thought that he but spoke so to comfort her; she did not follow the
working of his warlike mind, concentrated entirely upon the business
of the moment, with little thought--or care, for that matter--for what
might betide anon. Yet she made an effort to repress her sobs. She
would be brave, if only to show herself worthy of the companionship and
friendship of so brave a man.

Across his barricade he peered into the outer room to ascertain with
what fresh opponents he might have to reckon, and he was surprised to
see but four men standing by Fortunio, whilst behind them among the
thicker shadows, he dimly made out a woman’s figure and, beside her,
another man who was short and squat.

He bethought him that the hour, and the circumstance that most of the
mercenaries would be in their beds, accounted for the reinforcement not
being greater.

The woman moved forward, and he saw as he had suspected, that it was the
Dowager herself. The squat figure beside her, moving with her into the
shaft of light that fell from the doorway Garnache defended, revealed
to him the features of Monsieur de Tressan. If any doubt he had still
entertained concerning the Seneschal’s loyalty, that doubt was now
dispelled.

And now the Dowager uttered a sudden cry of fear. She had caught sight
of the fallen Marius, and she hurried to his side. Tressan sped after
her and between them they raised the boy and helped him to a chair,
where he now sat, passing a heavy hand across his no doubt aching brow.
Clearly he was recovering, from which Garnache opined with regret that
his blow had been too light. The Dowager turned to Fortunio, who had
approached her, and her eyes seemed to take fire at something that he
told her.

“Garnache?” the Parisian heard her say, and he saw Fortunio jerk his
thumb in the direction of the barricade.

She appeared to forget her son; she stepped suddenly from his side, and
peered through the doorway at the stalwart figure of Garnache, dimly to
be seen through the pile of furniture that protected him to the height
of his breast. No word said she to the Parisian. She stood regarding him
a moment with lips compressed and a white, startled, angry face. Then:

“It was by Marius’s contrivance that he was placed sentry over the
girl,” he heard her tell Fortunio, and he thought she sneered.

She looked at the two bodies on the floor, one almost at her feet, the
other just inside the doorway, now almost hidden in the shadows of the
table. Then she issued her commands to the men, and fiercely she bade
them pull down that barricade and take the dog alive.

But before they could move to do her bidding, Garnache’s voice rang
imperatively through the chamber.

“A word with you ere they begin, Monsieur de Tressan,” he shouted, and
such was the note of command he assumed that the men stood arrested,
looking to the Dowager for fresh orders. Tressan changed colour, for
all that there was surely naught to fear, and he fingered his beard
perplexedly, looking to the Marquise for direction. She flashed him a
glance, lifted one shoulder disdainfully, and to the men:

“Fetch him out,” said she, and she pointed to Garnache. But again
Garnache stayed them.

“Monsieur de Tressan,” he called impressively, “to your dying day--and
that will be none so distant--shall you regret it if you do not hear
me.”

The Seneschal was stirred by those words and the half-threat,
half-warning; they seemed to cover. He paused a moment, and this time
his eyes avoided the Marquise’s. At last, taking a step forward,

“Knave,” said he, “I do not know you.”

“You know me well enough. You have heard my name. I am Martin Marie
Rigobert de Garnache, Her Majesty’s emissary into Dauphiny to procure
the enlargement of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye from the Chateau de
Condillac, where she is detained by force and for the serving of
unscrupulous ends. Now you know me and my quality.”

The Dowager stamped her foot.

“Fetch him out!” she commanded harshly.

“Hear me first, Monsieur le Seneschal, or it will be the worse for
you.” And the Seneschal, moved by that confident promise of evil, threw
himself before the men-at-arms.

“A moment, I beseech you, Marquise,” he cried, and the men, seeing his
earnestness and knowing his quality, stood undecided, buffeted as they
were between his will and the Marquise’s. “What have you to say to me?”
 Tressan demanded, seeking to render arrogant his tone.

“This: That my servant knows where I am, and that should I fail within a
very few days to come forth safe and sound from Condillac to rejoin
him, he is to ride to Paris with certain letters I have given him. Those
letters incriminate you to the full in this infamous matter here at
Condillac. I have set forth in them how you refused me help, how you
ignored the Queen’s commands of which I was the bearer; and should it be
proved, in addition, that through your treachery and insubordination my
life has been lost, I promise you that nothing in all this world will
save you from a hanging.”

“Never listen, monsieur,” cried the Dowager, seeing Tressan start back
like a man in sudden fear. “It is no more than the ruse of a desperate
man.”

“Heed me or not, at your choice,” Garnache retorted, addressing himself
ever to Tressan. “You have had your warning. I little thought to see you
here to-night. But seeing you confirms my worst suspicions, and if I
am to die, I can die easy in my conscience at the thought that in
sacrificing you to Her Majesty’s wrath I have certainly not sacrificed
an innocent man.”

“Madame--” the Seneschal began, turning to the Dowager. But she broke in
impatiently upon his intended words, upon the prayer that bubbled to his
lips that she should pause a while ere she made an end of this Parisian.

“Monsieur,” said she, “you may bargain with him when he is taken. We
will have him alive. Go in,” she bade her men, her voice so resolute now
that none dared tarry longer. “Fetch the knave out--alive.”

Garnache smiled at mademoiselle as the words were uttered.

“They want me alive,” said he. “That is a hopeful state of things. Bear
up, child; I may need your help ere we are through.”

“You shall find me ready, monsieur,” she assured him for all her
tremors. He looked at the pale face, composed now by an effort of her
will, and at the beautiful hazel eyes which strove to meet his with calm
and to reflect his smile, and he marvelled at her courage as much as did
she at his.

Then the assault began, and he could have laughed at the way in which
a couple of those cut-throats--neither wishing to have the honour of
meeting him singly--hindered each other by seeking to attack him at
once.

At last the Dowager commanded one of them to go in. The fellow came,
and he was driven back by the sword that darted at him from above the
barricade.

There matters might have come to a deadlock, but that Fortunio came
forward with one of his men to repeat the tactics which had cost him
a life already. His fellow went down on his knees, and drove his sword
under the table and through the frame of the chair, seeking to prick
Garnache in the legs. Simultaneously the captain laid hold of an arm
of the chair above and sought to engage Garnache across it. The ruse
succeeded to the extent of compelling the Parisian to retreat. The table
seemed likely to be his undoing instead of helping him. He dropped like
lightning to one knee, seeking to force the fellow out from underneath.
But the obstacles which should have hindered his assailants hindered
Garnache even more at this juncture. In that instant Fortunio whipped
the chair from the table-top, and flung it forward. One of its legs
caught Garnache on the sword arm, deadening it for a second. The sword
fell from his hand, and Valerie shrieked aloud, thinking the battle
at an end. But the next moment he was on his feet, his rapier firmly
gripped once more, for all that his arm still felt a trifle numbed. As
seconds passed the numbness wore away, but before that had taken place
the table had been thrust forward, and the man beneath it had made it
impossible for Garnache to hinder this. Suddenly he called to Valerie.

“A cloak, mademoiselle! Get me a cloak!” he begged. And she, stemming
her fears once more, ran to do his bidding.

She caught up a cloak that lay on a chair by the door of her
bed-chamber, and brought it to him. He twisted it twice round his left
arm, letting its folds hang loose, and advanced again to try conclusions
with the gentleman underneath. He cast the garment so that it enmeshed
the sword when next it was advanced. Stepping briskly aside, he was up
to the table, and his busy blade drove back the man who assailed him
across it. He threw his weight against it, and thrust it back till it
was jammed hard once more against the doorposts, leaving the chair at
his very feet. The man beneath had recovered his sword by this, and
again he sought to use it. That was the end of him. Again Garnache
enmeshed it, kicked away the chair, or, rather, thrust it aside with his
foot, stooped suddenly, and driving his blade under the table felt it
sink into the body of his tormentor.

There was a groan and a spluttering cough, and then before Garnache
could recover he heard mademoiselle crying out to him to beware. The
table was thrust suddenly forward almost on top of him; its edge caught
his left shoulder, and sent him back a full yard, sprawling upon the
ground.

To rise again, gasping for air--for the fall had shaken him--was the
work of an instant. But in that instant Fortunio had thrust the table
clear of the doorway, and his men were pouring into the room.

They came at Garnache in a body, with wild shouts and fierce mockery,
and he hurriedly fell on guard and gave way before them until his
shoulders were against the wainscot and he had at least the assurance
that none could take him in the rear. Three blades engaged his own.
Fortunio had come no farther than the doorway, where he stood his torn
cheek drenched in blood, watching the scene the Marquise beside him, and
Tressan standing just behind them, very pale and scared.

Yet Garnache’s first thought even in that moment of dire peril was for
Valerie. He would spare her the sight that must before many moments be
spread to view within that shambles.

“To your chamber, mademoiselle,” he cried to her. “You hinder me,” he
added by way of compelling her obedience. She did his bidding, but only
in part. No farther went she than the doorway of her room, where she
remained standing, watching the fray as earlier she had stood and
watched it from the door of the antechamber.

Suddenly she was moved by inspiration. He had gained an advantage
before, by retreating through a doorway into an inner room. Might he not
do the same again, and be in better case if he were to retreat now to
her own chamber? Impulsively she called to him.

“In here, Monsieur de Garnache. In here.”

The Marquise looked across at her, and smiled in mockery. Garnache was
too well occupied, she thought, to attempt any such rashness. If he but
dared remove his shoulders from the wall there would be a speedier end
to him than as things were.

Not so, however, thought Garnache. The cloak twisted about his left
arm gave him some advantage, and he used it to the full. He flicked
the slack of it in the face of one, and followed it up by stabbing the
fellow in the stomach before he could recover guard, whilst with another
wave of that cloak he enmeshed the sword that shot readily into the
opening he had left.

Madame cursed, and Fortunio echoed her imprecations. The Seneschal
gasped, his fears lost in amazement at so much valour and dexterity.

Garnache swung away from the wall now, and set his back to mademoiselle,
determined to act upon her advice. But even in that moment he asked
himself for the first time since the commencement of that carnage--to
what purpose? His arms were growing heavy with fatigue, his mouth was
parched, and great beads of perspiration stood upon his brow. Soon he
would be spent, and they would not fail to take a very full advantage of
it.

Hitherto his mind had been taken up with the battle only, and if he
had thought of retreating, it was but to the end that he might gain a
position of some vantage. Now, conscious of his growing fatigue, his
thoughts turned them at last to the consideration of flight. Was there
no way out of it? Must he kill every man in Condillac before he could
hope to escape?

Whimsically, and almost mechanically, he set himself, in his mind,
to count the men. There were twenty mercenaries all told, excluding
Fortunio and himself. On Arsenio he might rely not to attack him,
perhaps even to come to his assistance at the finish. That left
nineteen. Four he had already either killed outright or effectively
disabled; so that fifteen remained him. The task of dealing with those
other fifteen was utterly beyond him. Presently, no doubt, the two now
opposing him would be reinforced by others. So that if any possible way
out existed, he had best set about finding it at once.

He wondered could he cut down these two, make an end of Fortunio, and,
running for it, attempt to escape through the postern before the rest of
the garrison had time to come up with him or guess his purpose. But the
notion was too wild, its accomplishment too impossible.

He was fighting now with his back to mademoiselle and his face to the
tall window, through the leaded panes of which he caught the distorted
shape of a crescent moon. Suddenly the idea came to him. Through that
window must lie his way. It was a good fifty feet above the moat, he
knew, and if he essayed to leap it, it must be an even chance that he
would be killed in leaping. But the chance of death was a certain one
if he tarried where he was until others came to support his present
opponents. And so he briskly determined upon the lesser risk.

He remembered that the window was nailed down, as it had remained since
mademoiselle’s pretended attempt at flight. But surely that should prove
no formidable obstacle.

And now that his resolve was taken his tactics abruptly changed.
Hitherto he had been sparing of his movements, husbanding his strength
against the long battle that seemed promised him. Suddenly he assumed
the offensive where hitherto he had but acted in self-defence, and a
most deadly offensive was it. He plied his cloak, untwisting it from his
arm and flinging it over the head and body of one of his assailants, so
that he was enmeshed and blinded by it. Leaping to the fellow’s flank,
Garnache, with a terrific kick, knocked his legs from under him so that
he fell heavily. Then, stooping suddenly, the Parisian ran his blade
under the other brave’s guard and through the fellow’s thigh. The man
cried out, staggered, and then went down utterly disabled.

One swift downward thrust Garnache made at the mass that wriggled
under his cloak. The activity of its wriggles increased in the next few
seconds, then ceased altogether.

Tressan felt wet from head to foot with a sweat provoked by horror of
what he saw. The Dowager’s lips were pouring forth a horrid litany
of guard-room oaths, and meanwhile Garnache had swung round to meet
Fortunio, the last of all who had stood with him.

The captain came on boldly, armed with sword and dagger, and in that
moment, feeling himself spent, Garnache bitterly repented having
relinquished his cloak. Yet he made a stubborn fight, and whilst
they fenced and stamped about that room, Marius came to watch them,
staggering to his mother’s side and leaning heavily upon Tressan’s
shoulder. The Marquise turned to him, her face livid to the lips.

“That man must be the very fiend,” Garnache heard her tell her son. “Run
for help, Tressan, or, God knows, he may escape us yet. Go for men, or
we shall have Fortunio killed as well. Bid them bring muskets.”

Tressan, moving like one bereft of wits, went her errand, while the two
men fought on, stamping and panting, circling and lunging, their breath
coming in gasps, their swords grinding and clashing till sparks leapt
from them.

The dust rose up to envelop and almost choke them, and more than once
they slipped in the blood with which the floor was spattered, whilst
presently Garnache barely recovered and saved himself from stumbling
over the body of one of his victims against which his swiftly moving
feet had hurtled.

And the Dowager, who watched the conflict and who knew something of
sword-play, realized that, tired though Garnache might be, unless
help came soon or some strange chance gave the captain the advantage,
Fortunio would be laid low with the others.

His circling had brought the Parisian round, so that his back was now to
the window, his face to the door of the bedchamber, where mademoiselle
still watched in ever-growing horror. His right shoulder was in line
with the door of the antechamber, which madame occupied, and he never
saw her quit Marius’s side and creep slyly into the room to speed
swiftly round behind him.

The only one from whom he thought that he might have cause to fear
treachery was the man whom he had dropped with a thigh wound, and he was
careful to keep beyond the reach of any sudden sword-thrust from that
fellow.

But if he did not see the woman’s movements, mademoiselle saw them,
and the sight set her eyes dilating with a new fear. She guessed the
Dowager’s treacherous purpose. And no sooner had she guessed it than,
with a choking sob, she told herself that what madame could do that
could she also.

Suddenly Garnache saw an opening; Fortunio’s eyes, caught by the
Dowager’s movements, strayed for a moment past his opponent, and the
thing would have been fatal to the captain but that in that moment,
as Garnache was on the point of lunging, he felt himself caught from
behind, his arms pinioned to his sides by a pair of slender ones that
twined themselves about him, and over his shoulder, the breath of it
fanning his hot cheek, came a vicious voice--

“Stab now, Fortunio!”

The captain asked nothing better. He raised his weary sword-arm and
brought his point to the level of Garnache’s breast, but in that instant
its weight became leaden. Imitating the Marquise, Valerie had been in
time. She seized Fortunio’s half-lifted arm and flung all her weight
upon it.

The captain cursed her horridly in a frenzy of fear, for he saw that
did Garnache shake off the Marquise there would be an end of himself. He
sought to wrench himself free of her detaining grasp, and the exertion
brought him down, weary as he was, and with her weight hanging to him.
He sank to his knees, and the girl, still clinging valiantly, sank with
him, calling to Garnache that she held the captain fast.

Putting forth all his remaining strength, the Parisian twisted from the
Dowager’s encircling grasp and hurled her from him with a violence he
nowise intended.

“Yours, madame, are the first woman’s arms that ever Martin de Garnache
has known,” said he. “And never could embrace of beauty have been less
welcome.”

Panting, he caught up one of the overturned chairs. Holding it by the
back he made for the window. He had dropped his sword, and he called
to mademoiselle to hold the captain yet an instant longer. He swung his
chair aloft and dashed it against the window. There was a thundering
crash of shivered glass and a cool draught of that November night came
to sweeten the air that had been fouled by the stamping of the fighters.

Again he swung up his chair and dashed it at the window, and yet again,
until no window remained, but a great, gaping opening with a fringe of
ragged glass and twisted leadwork.

In that moment Fortunio struggled to his feet, free of the girl, who
sank, almost in a swoon. He sprang towards Garnache. The Parisian turned
and flung his now shattered chair toward the advancing captain. It
dropped at his feet, and his flying shins struck against an edge of
it, bringing him, hurt and sprawling, to the ground. Before he could
recover, a figure was flying through the open gap that lately had been a
window.

Mademoiselle sat up and screamed.

“You will be killed, Monsieur de Garnache! Dear God, you will be
killed!” and the anguish in her voice was awful.

It was the last thing that reached the ears of Monsieur de Garnache as
he tumbled headlong through the darkness of the chill November night.



CHAPTER XVIII. IN THE MOAT

Fortunio and the Marquise reached the window side by side, and they were
in time to hear a dull splash in the waters fifty feet below them. There
was a cloud over the little sickle of moon, and to their eyes, fresh
from the blaze of candle-light, the darkness was impenetrable.

“He is in the moat,” cried the Marquise excitedly, and Valerie, who sat
on the floor whither she had slipped when Fortunio shook her off, rocked
herself in an agony of fear.

To the horrors about her--the huddled bodies lying so still upon the
floor, the bloody footprints everywhere, the shattered furniture,
and the groans of the man with the wounded thigh--to all this she was
insensible. Garnache was dead, she told herself; he was surely dead; and
it seemed as if the very thought of it were killing, too, a part of her
own self.

Unconsciously she sobbed her fears aloud. “He is dead,” she moaned; “he
is dead.”

The Marquise overheard that piteous cry, and turned to survey the girl,
her brows lifting, her lips parting in an astonishment that for a second
effaced the horrors of that night. Suspicion spread like an oil stain
in her evil mind. She stepped forward and caught the girl by one of her
limp arms. Marius, paler than his stunning had left him, leaned more
heavily against the door-post, and looked on with bloodshot eyes.
If ever maiden avowed the secret of her heart, it seemed to him that
Valerie avowed it then.

The Marquise shook her angrily.

“What was he to you, girl? What was he to you?” she demanded shrilly.

And the girl, no more than half conscious of what she was saying, made
answer:

“The bravest gentleman, the noblest friend I have ever known.”

Pah! The Dowager dropped her arm and turned to issue a command to
Fortunio. But already the fellow had departed. His concern was not with
women, but with the man who had escaped him. He must make certain that
the fall had killed Garnache.

Breathless and worn as he was, all spattered now with blood from the
scratch in his cheek, which lent him a terrific aspect, he dashed
from that shambles and across the guard-room. He snatched up a lighted
lantern that had been left in the doorway and leapt down the stairs
and into the courtyard. Here he came upon Monsieur de Tressan with a
half-dozen fellows at his heels, all more or less half clad, but all
very fully armed with swords and knives, and one or two with muskets.

Roughly, with little thought for the dignity of his high office, he
thrust the Lord Seneschal aside and turned the men. Some he ordered off
to the stables to get horses, for if Garnache had survived his leap and
swum the moat, they must give chase. Whatever betide, the Parisian must
not get away. He feared the consequences of that as much for himself as
for Condillac. Some five or six of the men he bade follow him, and never
pausing to answer any of Tressan’s fearful questions, he sped across
the courtyard, through the kitchens--which was the nearest way--into the
outer quadrangle. Never pausing to draw breath, spent though he was, he
pursued his flight under the great archway of the keep and across the
drawbridge, the raising of which had been that night postponed to await
the Lord Seneschal’s departure.

Here on the bridge he paused and turned in a frenzy to scream to his
followers that they should fetch more torches. Meanwhile he snatched the
only one at hand from the man-at-arms that carried it.

His men sprang into the guard-room of the keep, realizing from his
almost hysterical manner the urgent need for haste. And while he waited
for them, standing there on the bridge, his torch held high, he scanned
by its lurid red light the water as far as eye could reach on either
side of him.

There was a faint movement on the dark, oily surface for all that no
wind stirred. Not more than four or five minutes could have elapsed
since Garnache’s leap, and it would seem as if the last ripple from the
disturbance of his plunge had not yet rolled itself out. But otherwise
there was nothing here, nor did Fortunio expect aught. The window of the
Northern Tower abutted on to the other side of the chateau, and it was
there he must look for traces of the fugitive or for his body.

“Hasten!” he shouted over his shoulder. “Follow me!” And without waiting
for them he ran across the bridge and darted round the building, his
torch scattering a shower of sparks behind him on the night, and sending
little rills of blood-red light down the sword which he still carried.

He gained the spot where Garnache must have fallen, and he stood below
the radiance that clove the night from the shattered window fifty feet
above, casting the light of his torch this way and that over the
black bosom of the moat. Not a ripple moved now upon that even, steely
surface. Voices sounded behind him, and with them a great glare of
ruddy light came to herald the arrival of his men. He turned to them and
pointed with his sword away from the chateau.

“Spread yourselves!” he shouted. “Make search yonder. He cannot have
gone far.”

And they, but dimly realizing whom they sought, yet realizing that they
sought a man, dashed off and spread themselves as he had bidden them,
to search the stretch of meadowland, where ill must betide any fugitive,
since no cover offered.

Fortunio remained where he was at the edge of the moat. He stooped,
and waving his torch along the ground he moved to the far angle of the
chateau, examining the soft, oozy clay. It was impossible that a man
could have clambered out over that without leaving some impression. He
reached the corner and found the clay intact; at least, nowhere could
he discover a mark of hands or a footprint set as would be that of a man
emerging from the water.

He retraced his steps and went back until he had reached the eastern
angle of the chateau, yet always with the same result. He straightened
himself at last, and his manner was more calm; his frenzied haste was
gone, and deliberately he now raised his torch and let its light shine
again over the waters. He pondered them a moment, his dark eyes musing
almost regretfully.

“Drowned!” he said aloud, and sheathed his sword.

From the window overhead a voice hailed him. He looked up and saw the
Dowager, and, behind her, the figure of her son. Away in the meadows
the lights of his men’s torches darted hither and thither like playful
jack-o’-lanterns.

“Have you got him, Fortunio?”

“Yes, madame,” he answered with assurance. “You may have his body when
you will. He is underneath here.” And he pointed to the water.

They appeared to take his word for it, for they questioned him no
further. The Marquise turned to mademoiselle, who was still sitting on
the floor.

“He is drowned, Valerie,” she said slowly, watching the girl’s face.

Valerie looked up. Her eyes were very wide, and her lips moved for a
second. Then she fell forward without a word. This last horror, treading
on the heels of all those that already had assailed her, proved too
great a strain for her brave spirit. She had swooned.

Tressan entered at that moment, full of questions as to what might be
toward, for he had understood nothing in the courtyard. The Marquise
called to him to help her with the girl, Marius being still too faint,
and between them they bore her to her chamber, laid her on the bed, and,
withdrawing, closed the door upon her. Then she signed to Marius and the
Seneschal.

“Come,” she said; “let us go. The sight and smell of the place are
turning me sick, although my stomach is strong enough to endure most
horrors.”

She took up one of the candle-branches to light them, and they went
below and made their way to the hall, where they found Marius’s page,
Gaston, looking very pale and scared at the din that had filled the
chateau during the past half-hour or so. With him was Marius’s hound,
which the poor boy had kept by him for company and protection in that
dreadful time.

The Marquise spoke to him kindly, and she stooped to pat the dog’s
glossy head. Then she bade Gaston set wine for them, and when it was
fetched the three of them drank in brooding, gloomy silence.

The draught invigorated Marius, it cheered Tressan’s drooping spirits,
and it quenched the Dowager’s thirst. The Seneschal turned to her
again with his unanswered questions touching the end of that butchery
above-stairs. She told him what Fortunio had said that Garnache was
drowned as a consequence of his mad leap from the window.

Into Tressan’s mind there sprang the memory of the thing Garnache had
promised should befall him in such a case. It drove the colour from his
cheeks and brought great lines of fearful care into sharp relief about
his mouth and eyes.

“Madame, we are ruined!” he groaned.

“Tressan,” she answered him contemptuously, “you are chicken-hearted.
Listen to me. Did he not say that he had left his man behind him when he
came to Condillac? Where think you that he left his man?”

“Maybe in Grenoble,” answered the Seneschal, staring.

“Find out,” she told him impressively, her eyes on his, and calm as
though they had never looked upon such sights as that very night had
offered them. “If not in Grenoble, certainly, at least, somewhere in
this Dauphiny of which you are the King’s Lord Seneschal. Turn the whole
province inside out, man, but find the fellow. Yours is the power to
do it. Do it, then, and you will have no consequences to fear. You have
seen the man?”

“Ay, I have seen him. I remember him; and his name, I bethink me, is
Rabecque.”

He took courage; his face looked less dejected.

“You overlook nothing, madame,” he murmured. “You are truly wonderful.
I will start the search this very night. My men are almost all at
Montelimar awaiting my commands. I’ll dispatch a messenger with orders
that they are to spread themselves throughout Dauphiny upon this quest.”

The door opened, and Fortunio entered. He was still unwashed and
terrible to look upon, all blood-bespattered. The sight of him drove a
shudder through Tressan. The Marquise grew solicitous.

“How is your wound, Fortunio?” was her first question.

He made a gesture that dismissed the matter.

“It is nothing. I am over full-blooded, and if I am scratched, I bleed,
without perceiving it, enough to drain another man.”

“Here, drink, mon capitaine,” she urged him, very friendly, filling
him a cup with her own hands. “And you, Marius?” she asked. “Are you
recovering strength?”

“I am well,” answered Marius sullenly. His defeat that evening had
left him glum and morose. He felt that he had cut a sorry figure in the
affair, and his vanity was wounded. “I deplore I had so little share in
the fight,” he muttered.

“The lustiest fight ever I or any man beheld,” swore Fortunio. “Dieu!
But he was a fighter, that Monsieur de Garnache, and he deserved a
better end than drowning.”

“You are quite sure that he is drowned?”

Fortunio replied by giving his reasons for that conclusion, and they
convinced both the Marquise and her son indeed they had never deemed
it possible that the Parisian could have survived that awful leap. The
Dowager looked at Marius, and from him to the captain.

“Do you think, you two, that you will be fit for tomorrow’s business?”

“For myself,” laughed Fortunio, “I am ready for it now.”

“And I shall be when I have rested,” answered Marius grimly.

“Then get you both to rest, you will be needing it,” she bade them.

“And I, too, madame,” said the Seneschal, bending over the hand she held
out to him. “Good-night to you all.” He would have added a word to wish
them luck in the morrow’s venture; but for the life of him he dared not.
He turned, made another of his bows, and rolled out of the room.

Five minutes later the drawbridge was being raised after his departure,
and Fortunio was issuing orders to the men he had recalled from their
futile search to go clear the guard-room and antechamber of the Northern
Tower, and to bear the dead to the chapel, which must serve as a
mortuary for the time. That done he went off to bed, and soon after the
lights were extinguished in Condillac; and save for Arsenio, who was, on
guard, sorely perturbed by all that had befallen and marvelling at the
rashness of his friend “Battista”--for he had no full particulars of the
business--the place was wrapped in sleep.

Had they been less sure that Garnache was drowned, maybe they had
slumbered less tranquilly that night at Condillac. Fortunio had been
shrewd in his conclusions, yet a trifle hasty; for whilst, as a matter
of fact, he was correct in assuming that the Parisian had not
crawled out of the moat--neither at the point he had searched, nor
elsewhere--yet was he utterly wrong to assume him at the bottom of it.

Garnache had gone through that window prepared to leap into
another--and, he hoped, a better world. He had spun round twice in the
air and shot feet foremost through the chill waters of the moat, and
down until his toes came in contact with a less yielding substance, yet
yielding nevertheless. Marvelling that he should have retained until now
his senses, he realized betimes that he was touching mud--that he was
really ankle deep in it. A vigorous, frantic kick with both legs at once
released him, and he felt himself slowly re-ascending to the surface.

It has been often said that a drowning man in his struggles sees his
whole life mirrored before him. In the instants of Garnache’s ascent
through the half stagnant waters of that moat he had reviewed the entire
situation and determined upon the course he should pursue. When he
reached the surface, he must see to it that he broke it gently, for at
the window above were sure to be watchers, looking to see how he had
fared. Madame, he remembered, had sent Tressan for muskets. If he had
returned with them and they should perceive him from above, a bullet
would be sent to dispose of him, and it were a pity to be shot now after
having come through so much.

His head broke the surface and emerged into the chill darkness of the
night. He took a deep breath of cold but very welcome air, and moving
his arms gently under water, he swam quietly, not to the edge of the
moat but to the chateau wall, close under which he thought he would be
secure from observation. He found by good fortune a crevice between two
stones; he did not see it, his fingers found it for him as they groped
along that granite surface. He clung there a moment and pondered the
situation. He heard voices above, and looking up he saw the glare of
light through the opening he had battered.

And now he was surprised to feel new vigour running through him. He had
hurled himself from that window with scarce the power to leap, bathed in
perspiration and deeming his strength utterly spent. The ice-cold waters
of the moat had served, it would seem, to brace him, to wash away his
fatigue, and to renew his energies. His mind was singularly clear and
his senses rendered superacute, and he set himself to consider what he
had best do.

Swim to the edge of the moat and, clambering out, take to his legs was
naturally the first impulse. But, reflecting upon the open nature of the
ground, he realized that that must mean his ruin. Presently they would
come to see how he had fared, and failing to find him in the water they
would search the country round about. He set himself in their place. He
tried to think as they would think, the better that he might realize
how they would act, and then an idea came to him that might be worth
heeding. In any case his situation was still very desperate; on that
score he allowed himself no illusions. That they would take his drowning
for granted, and never come to satisfy themselves, he was not optimist
enough to assume.

He abandoned his grip of the wall and began to swim gently toward the
eastern angle. If they came out, they must lower the bridge; he would
place himself so that in falling it should cover him and screen him from
their sight. He rounded the angle of the building, and now the friendly
cloud that had hung across the moon moved by, and a faint, silver
radiance was upon the water under his eyes. But yonder, ahead of him,
something black lay athwart the moat. At once he knew it for the bridge.
It was down. And he had the explanation in that he remembered that the
Lord Seneschal had not yet left Condillac. It mattered little to him one
way or the other. The bridge was there, and he made the best of it.

A few swift, silent strokes brought him to it. He hesitated a moment
before venturing into the darkness underneath; then, bethinking him that
it was that or discovery, he passed under. He made for the wall, and as
he groped along he found a chain depending and reaching down into the
water. He caught at it with both hands and hung by it to await events.

And now, for the first time that night, his pulses really quickened.
There in the dark he waited, and the moments that sped seemed very long
to him, and they were very anxious. He had no good sword wherewith to
defend himself were he attacked, no good, solid ground on which to take
his stand. If he were discovered, he was helpless, at their mercy, to
shoot, or take, or beat to death as best they listed. And so he waited,
his pulses throbbing, his breath coming short and fast. The cold water
that had invigorated him some minutes ago was numbing him now, and
seemed to be freezing his courage as it froze the blood in his veins,
the very marrow in his bones.

Presently his ears caught a rush of feet, a sound of voices, and
Fortunio’s raised above the others. Heavy steps rang on the bridge
over his head, and the thud of their fall was like thunder to the man
beneath. A crimson splash of light fell on the moat on either side of
him. The fellow on the bridge had halted. Then the steps went on. The
light flared this way and that, and Garnache almost trembled, expecting
at every moment that its rays would penetrate the spot where he was
hanging and reveal him cowering there like a frightened water-rat. But
the man moved on, and his light flared no longer.

Then others followed him. Garnache heard the sounds of their search. So
overwrought was he that there was a moment when he thought of swimming
to the edge and making across the country to the north while they were
hunting the meadows to the east; but he repressed the impulse and stayed
on. An eternity did it seem before those men returned and marched once
more over his head. A further eternity was it until the clatter of
hoofs on the courtyard stones and their thunder on the planks above him
brought him the news that Tressan was riding home. He heard the hoofs
quicken, and their loud rattle on the road that led down to the Isere,
a half-mile away; and then, when the hoof-beats grew more distant, there
came again the echo of voices up above.

Was it not over yet? Dear God! would it never end? He felt that a few
moments more of this immersion and he should be done for utterly; his
numbness must rob him of the power to cross the moat.

Suddenly the first welcome sound he had heard that night came to his
ears. Chains creaked, hinges groaned, and the great black pall above
him began gradually to rise. Faster it went, till, at last, it fell back
into position, flat with the wall of the chateau, and such little light
as there was from the moon was beating down upon his frozen face.

He let the chain go, and, with strokes swift and silent as he could
contrive, he crossed the water. He clambered up the bank, almost bereft
of strength. A moment he crouched there listening. Had he moved too
soon? Had he been incautious?

Nothing stirred behind him to confirm his fears. He crept softly
across the hard ground of the road where he had landed. Then, when the
yielding, silent turf was under his feet, he gave not another thought
for his numbness, but started to run as a man runs in a nightmare, so
little did the speed of his movements match the pace of his desire to
set a distance between himself and Condillac.



CHAPTER XIX. THROUGH THE NIGHT

It wanted something over an hour to midnight when Monsieur de Garnache
started out in his sodden clothes to run from Condillac. He bore away to
the north, and continued running until he had covered a mile or so, when
perforce he must slacken his pace lest presently he should have to give
way to utter exhaustion. He trudged on bravely thereafter, at a good,
swinging pace, realizing that in moving briskly lay his salvation from
such ill effects as might otherwise attend his too long immersion. His
run had set a pleasant glow upon his skin and seemed to have thawed the
frozen condition of his joints. Yet he could not disguise from himself
that he was sorely worn by that night’s happenings, and that, if he
would reach his goal, he must carefully husband such strength as yet
remained him.

That goal of his was Voiron, some four leagues distant to the north,
where, at the inn of the Beau Paon, his man, Rabecque, should be lodged,
ready for his coming at any time. Once already, when repairing to
Condillac, he had travelled by that road, and it was so direct that
there seemed scant fear of his mistaking it. On he plodded through the
night, his way lighted for him by the crescent moon, the air so still
that, despite his wet garments, being warmed as he was by his brisk
movements, he never felt the cold of it.

He had overheard enough of what had been said by Marius to Valerie to
understand the business that was afoot for the morrow, and he doubted
him that he had not sufficiently injured the Dowager’s son to make him
refrain from or adjourn his murderous ride across the border into Savoy.

Garnache’s purpose now was to reach Voiron, there to snatch a brief
rest, and then, equipped anew to set out with his man for La Rochette
and anticipate the fell plans of Marius and Fortunio.

He might have experienced elation at his almost miraculous escape and at
the circumstance that he was still at large to carry this duel with the
Condillacs to a fitting finish, were it not for the reflection that but
for his besetting sin of hastiness he might now be travelling in dry
garments toward La Rochette, with mademoiselle beside him. Once again
that rash temper of his had marred an enterprise that was on the point
of succeeding. And yet, even as he regretted his rashness, rage stirred
him again at the thought of Marius crushing that slender shape against
him and seeking to force his odious kisses upon her pure, immaculate
lips. And then the thought of her, left behind at Condillac at the
mercy of Marius and that she-devil the Marquise, and the fears that of
a sudden leapt up in his mind, brought him to a standstill, as though he
were contemplating the incomparable folly of a return. He beat his hands
together for a moment in a frenzy of anguish; he threw back his head
and raised his eyes to the sky above with a burst of imprecations on his
lips. And then reflection brought him peace. No, no; they dare offer
her no hurt. To do so must irrevocably lose them La Vauvraye; and it was
their covetousness had made them villains. Upon that covetousness did
their villainy rest, and he need fear from them no wanton ruthlessness
that should endanger their chance of profit.

He trudged on, reassured. He had been a fool so to give way to fear; as
great a fool as he had been when he had laid hands on Marius to quell
his excessive amorousness. Dieu! Was he bewitched? What ailed him? Again
he paused there in the night to think the situation out.

A dozen thoughts, all centering about Valerie, came crowding in upon
his brain, till in the end a great burst of laughter--the laughter of a
madman almost, eerie and terrific as it rang upon the silent night broke
from his parted lips. That brief moment of introspection had revealed
him to himself, and the revelation had fetched that peal of mocking
laughter from him.

He realized now, at last, that not because the Queen had ordered him to
procure Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye’s enlargement had he submitted
to assume a filthy travesty, to set his neck in jeopardy, to play
the lackey and the spy. It was because something in Valerie’s eyes,
something in her pure, lily face had moved him to it; and simultaneously
had come the thought of the relation in which she stood to that man at
La Rochette whose life he now sought to save for her, and it had stabbed
him with a bitterness no misfortune, no failure yet had brought him.

He trudged on, knowing himself for what he was a fool who, after close
upon forty years of a strenuous life in which no petticoat had played a
part, was come under the spell of a pair of innocent eyes belonging to a
child almost young enough to have been his daughter.

He despised himself a little for his weakness; he despised himself for
his apostasy from the faith that had governed his life--the faith to
keep himself immune from the folly to which womanhood had driven so many
a stout man.

And yet, mock himself, despise himself as he would, a great tenderness,
a great desire grew strong in his soul that night as he trudged on
toward distant Voiron. Mile after mile her image kept him company, and
once, when he had left Voreppe behind him, the greater portion of his
journey done, some devil whispered in his ear that he was weary; that
he would be over-weary on the morrow for any ride to La Rochette. He had
done all that mortal man could do; let him rest to-morrow whilst Marius
and Fortunio accomplished by Florimond what the fever had begun.

A cold perspiration broke on him as he wrestled with that grim
temptation. Valerie was his; she belonged to him by the right of dangers
shared; never had mother in her labours been nearer death for the
offspring’s sake than had he for Valerie during the days that were sped
and the hours that were but gone. She belonged to him by the title of
those dangers he had been through. What had Florimond done to establish
his claim to her? He had remained absent during long years, a-warring in
a foreign land. With how many banal loves might not the fellow in that
time have strewn his soldier’s path! Garnache knew well how close does
Cupid stalk in the wake of Mars, knew well the way of these gay soldiers
and the lightness of their loves.

Was, then, this fellow to come now and claim her, when perils were past,
when there was naught left to do but lead her to the altar? Could he be
worthy of such a pearl of womanhood, this laggard who, because a fever
touched him, sat him down in an inn within a few hours’ ride of her to
rest him, as though the world held no such woman as Valerie?

And she, herself, by what ties was she bound to him? By the ties of an
old promise, given at an age when she knew not what love meant. He
had talked of it with her, and he knew how dispassionately she awaited
Florimond’s return. Florimond might be betrothed to her--her father and
his had encompassed that between them--but no lover of hers was he.

Thus far did his thoughts journey, and temptation gripped him ever more
and more strongly. And then his manhood and his honour awoke with a
shudder, as awakens a man from an ugly dream. What manner of fool was
he? he asked himself again. Upon what presumptions did he base his silly
musings? Did he suppose that even were there no Florimond, it would be
left for a harsh, war-worn old greybeard such as he to awaken tenderness
in the bosom of that child? The tenderness of friendship perhaps--she
had confessed to that; but the tenderness of her sweet love must be won
by a younger, comelier man.

If love had indeed touched him at last, let him be worthy of it and of
her who inspired it. Let him strain every sinew in her service, asking
no guerdon; let him save the life of the man to whom she was affianced;
let him save her from the clutches of the Marquise de Condillac and her
beautiful, unscrupulous son.

He put his folly from him and-went on, seeking to hold his mind to the
planning of his to-morrow’s journey and its business. He had no means to
know that at that very hour Valerie was on her knees by her little white
bed, in the Northern Tower of Condillac, praying for the repose of the
soul of Monsieur de Garnache--the bravest gentleman, the noblest friend
she had ever known. For she accounted him dead, and she thought with
horror of his body lying in the slime under the cold waters of the moat
beneath the window of her antechamber. A change seemed to have come upon
her. Her soul was numb, her courage seemed dead, and little care had she
in that hour of what might betide her now.

Florimond was coming, she remembered: coming to wed her. Ah, well! It
mattered little, since Monsieur de Garnache was dead--as though it could
have mattered had he been living!

Three hours of his long striding brought Garnache at last to Voiron, and
the echo of his footsteps rang through the silent streets and scared a
stray cat or two that were preying out of doors. There was no watch
in the little township and no lights, but by the moon’s faint glimmer
Garnache sought the inn of the Beau Paon, and found it at the end of a
little wandering. A gaudy peacock, with tail spread wide, was the sign
above the door on which he thumped and kicked as if he would have beaten
it down.

It opened after some delay, and a man, half clad, candle in hand, a
night-cap on his hoary locks, showed an angry face at the opening.

At sight of the gaunt, bedraggled figure that craved admittance, the
landlord would have shut the door again, fearing that he had to do with
some wild bandit from the hills. But Garnache thrust his foot in the
way.

“There is a man named Rabecque, from Paris, lodging here. I must have
instant speech with him,” said he; and his words, together with the
crisp, commanding tones in which they were uttered, had their effect
upon the host.

Rabecque had been playing the great lord during the week he had spent
at Voiron, and had known how to command a certain deference and regard.
That this tatterdemalion, with the haughty voice, should demand to see
him at that hour of the night, with such scant unconcern of how far
he might incommode the great Monsieur Rabecque, earned for him too a
certain measure of regard, though still alloyed with some suspicion.

The landlord bade him enter. He did not know whether Monsieur Rabecque
would forgive him for being disturbed; he could not say whether Monsieur
Rabecque would consent to see this visitor at such an hour; very
probably he would not. Still, monsieur might enter.

Garnache cut him short before he had half done, announced his name
and bade him convey it to Rabecque. The alacrity with which the lackey
stirred from his bed upon hearing who it was that had arrived impressed
the host not a little, but not half so much as it impressed him
presently to observe the deference with which this great Monsieur
Rabecque of Paris confronted the scarecrow below stairs when he was
brought into its presence.

“You are safe and sound, monsieur?” he cried, in deferential joy.

“Aye, by a miracle, mon fils,” Garnache answered him, with a short
laugh. “Help me to bed; then bring me a cup of spiced wine. I have swum
a moat and done other wonders in these clothes.”

The host and Rabecque bustled now to minister to his wants between them,
and when, jaded and worn, Garnache lay at last between good-smelling
sheets with the feeling in him that he was like to sleep until the day
of judgment, he issued his final orders.

“Awake me at daybreak, Rabecque,” said he drowsily. “We must be stirring
then. Have horse ready and clothes for me. I shall need you to wash me
clean and shave me and make me what I was before your tricks and dyes
turned me into what I have been this week and more. Take away the light.
At daybreak! Don’t let me sleep beyond that as you value your place with
me. We shall have brisk work to-morrow. At--daybreak--Rabecque!”



CHAPTER XX. FLORIMOND DE CONDILLAC

It was noon of the next day when two horsemen gained the heights above
La Rochette and paused to breathe their nags and take a survey of the
little township in the plain at their feet. One of these was Monsieur
de Garnache, the other was his man Rabecque. But it was no longer the
travestied Garnache that Condillac had known as “Battista” during the
past days, it was that gentleman as he had been when first he presented
himself at the chateau. Rabecque had shaved him, and by means of certain
unguents had cleansed his skin and hair of the dyes with which he had
earlier overlaid them.

That metamorphosis, of itself, was enough to set Garnache in a good
humour; he felt himself again, and the feeling gave him confidence.
His mustachios bristled as fiercely as of old, his skin was clear and
healthy, and his dark brown hair showed ashen at the temples. He
was becomingly arrayed in a suit of dark brown camlet, with rows of
close-set gold buttons running up his hanging sleeves; a leather jerkin
hid much of his finery, and his great boots encased his legs. He wore a
brown hat, with a tallish crown and a red feather, and Rabecque carried
his cloak for him, for the persistent Saint Martin’s summer rendered
that day of November rather as one of early autumn.

A flood of sunshine descended from a cloudless sky to drench the country
at their feet, and all about them the trees preserved a green that was
but little touched by autumnal browning.

Awhile he paused there on the heights; then he gave his horse a touch
of the spur, and they started down the winding road that led into La
Rochette. A half-hour later they were riding under the porte cochere of
the inn of the Black Boar. Of the ostler who hastened forward to take
their reins Monsieur de Garnache inquired if the Marquis de Condillac
were lodged there. He was answered in the affirmative, and he got down
at once from his horse. Indeed, but for the formality of the thing, he
might have spared himself the question, for lounging about the
courtyard were a score of stalwart weather-tanned fellows, whose air and
accoutrements proclaimed them soldiers. It required little shrewdness
to guess in them the personal followers of the Marquis, the remainder of
the little troop that had followed the young seigneur to the wars when,
some three years ago, he had set out from Condillac.

Garnache gave orders for the horses to be cared for, and bade Rabecque
get himself fed in the common room. Heralded by the host, the Parisian
then mounted the stairs to Monsieur de Condillac’s apartments.

The landlord led the way to the inn’s best room, turned the handle, and,
throwing wide the door, stood aside for Monsieur de Garnache to enter.

From within the chamber came the sounds of a scuffle, a man’s soft
laugh, and a girl’s softer intercession.

“Let me go, monsieur. Of your pity, let me go. Some one is coming.”

“And what care I who comes?” answered a voice that seemed oppressed by
laughter.

Garnache strode into the chamber--spacious and handsomely furnished as
became the best room of the Auberge du Sanglier Noir--to find a meal
spread on the table, steaming with an odour promising of good things,
but neglected by the guest for the charms of the serving-wench, whose
waist he had imprisoned. As Garnache’s tall figure loomed before him he
let the girl go and turned a half-laughing, half-startled face upon the
intruder.

“Who the devil may you be?” he inquired, and a brown eye, rakish and
roving in its glance, played briskly over the Parisian, whilst Garnache
himself returned the compliment, and calmly surveyed this florid
gentleman of middle height with the fair hair and regular features.

The girl scurried by and darted from the room, dodging the smiting hand
which the host raised as she flew past him. The Parisian felt his gorge
rising. Was this the sort of fever that had kept Monsieur le Marquis at
La Rochette, whilst mademoiselle was suffering in durance at Condillac?
His last night’s jealous speculations touching a man he did not know had
leastways led him into no exaggeration. He found just such a man as he
had pictured--a lightly-loving, pleasure-taking roysterer, with never a
thought beyond the amusement which the hour afforded him.

With curling lip Garnache bowed stiffly, and in a cold, formal voice he
announced himself.

“My name is Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache. I am an emissary
dispatched from Paris by her Majesty the Queen-mother to procure the
enlargement of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye from the durance in which she
is held by madame your stepmother.”

The pleasant gentleman’s eyebrows went up; a smile that was almost
insolent broke on his face.

“That being so, monsieur, why the devil are you here?”

“I am here, monsieur,” answered him Garnache, throwing back his head,
his nostrils quivering, “because you are not at Condillac.”

The tone was truculent to the point of defiance, for despite the firm
resolve he had taken last night never again to let his temper overmaster
him, already Garnache’s self-control was slipping away.

The Marquis noted the tone, and observed the man. In their way he
liked both; in their way he disliked both. But he clearly saw that this
peppery gentleman must be treated less cavalierly, or trouble would come
of it. So he waved him gracefully to the table, where a brace of flagons
stood amid the steaming viands.

“You will dine with me, monsieur,” said he, the utmost politeness
marking his utterance now. “I take it that since you have come here in
quest of me you have something to tell me. Shall we talk as we eat? I
detest a lonely meal.”

The florid gentleman’s tone and manner were mollifying in the extreme.
Garnache had risen early and ridden far; the smell of the viands had
quickened an appetite already very keen; moreover, since he and this
gentleman were to be allies, it was as well they should not begin by
quarrelling.

He bowed less stiffly, expressed his willingness and his thanks, laid
hat and whip and cloak aside, unbuckled and set down his sword, and,
that done, took at table the place which his host himself prepared him.

Garnache took more careful stock of the Marquis now. He found much to
like in his countenance. It was frank and jovial; obviously that of
a sensualist, but, leastways, an honest sensualist. He was dressed
in black, as became a man who mourned his father, yet with a striking
richness of material, whilst his broad collar of fine point and the lace
cuffs of his doublet were worth a fortune.

What time they ate Monsieur de Garnache told of his journey from Paris
and of his dealings with Tressan and his subsequent adventures at
Condillac. He dwelt passingly upon the manner in which they had treated
him, and found it difficult to choose words to express the reason for
his returning in disguise to play the knight-errant to Valerie. He
passed on to speak of last night’s happenings and of his escape.
Throughout, the Marquis heard him with a grave countenance and a sober,
attentive glance, yet, when he had finished a smile crept round the
sensual lips.

“The letter that I had at Milan prepared me for some such trouble as
this,” said he, and Garnache was amazed at the lightness of his tone,
just as he had been amazed to see the fellow keep his countenance at
the narrative of mademoiselle’s position. “I guessed that my beautiful
stepmother intended me some such scurviness from the circumstance of her
having kept me in ignorance of my father’s death. But frankly, sir, your
tale by far outstrips my wildest imaginings. You have behaved very--very
bravely in this affair. You seem, in fact, to have taken a greater
interest in Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye’s enlargement than the Queen
could have a right to expect of you.” And he smiled, a world of
suggestion in his eyes. Garnache sat back in his chair and stared at the
man.

“This levity, monsieur, on such a subject, leaves me thunderstruck,” he
said at last.

“Diable!” laughed the other. “You are too prone, after your trials; to
view its tragic rather than its comic side. Forgive me if I am smitten
only with the humour of the thing.”

“The humour of the thing!” gurgled Garnache, his eyes starting from his
head. Then out leapt that temper of his like an eager hound that has
been suddenly unleashed. He brought down his clenched hand upon the
table, caught in passing a flagon, and sent it crashing to the floor. If
there was a table near at hand when his temper went, he never failed to
treat it so.

“Par la mort Dieu! monsieur, you see but the humour of it, do you? And
what of that poor child who is lying there, suffering this incarceration
because of her fidelity to a promise given you?”

The statement was hardly fully accurate. But it served its purpose. The
other’s face became instantly, grave.

“Calm yourself, I beg, monsieur,” he cried, raising a soothing hand. “I
have offended you somewhere; that is plain. There is something here that
I do not altogether understand. You say that Valerie has suffered on
account of a promise given me? To what are you referring?”

“They hold her a prisoner, monsieur, because they wish to wed her to
Marius,” answered Garnache, striving hard to cool his anger.

“Parfaitement! That much I understood.”

“Well, then, monsieur, is the rest not plain? Because she is betrothed
to you--” He paused. He saw, at last, that he was stating something not
altogether accurate. But the other took his meaning there and then, lay
back in his chair, and burst out laughing.

The blood hummed through Garnache’s head as he tightened his lips and
watched this gentleman indulge his inexplicable mirth. Surely Monsieur
de Condillac was possessed of the keenest sense of humour in all France.
He laughed with a will, and Garnache sent up a devout prayer that the
laugh might choke him. The noise of it filled the hostelry.

“Sir,” said Garnache, with an ever-increasing tartness, “there is a
by-word has it ‘Much laughter, little wit.’ In confidence won, is that
your case, monsieur?”

The other looked at him soberly a moment, then went off again.

“Monsieur, monsieur!” he gasped, “you’ll be the death of me. For the
love of Heaven look less fierce. Is it my fault that I must laugh? The
folly of it all is so colossal. Three years from home, yet there is
a woman keeps faithful and holds to a promise given for her. Come,
monsieur, you who have seen the world, you must agree that there is in
this something that is passing singular, extravagantly amusing. My poor
little Valerie!” he spluttered through his half-checked mirth, “does she
wait for me still? does she count me still betrothed to her? And because
of that, says ‘No’ to brother Marius! Death of my life! I shall die of
it.”

“I have a notion that you may, monsieur,” rasped Garnache’s voice, and
with it rasped Garnache’s chair upon the boards. He had risen, and he
was confronting his merry host very fiercely, white to the lips, his
eyes aflame. There was no mistaking his attitude, no mistaking his
words.

“Eh?” gasped the other, recovering himself at last to envisage what
appeared to develop into a serious situation.

“Monsieur,” said Garnache, his voice very cold, “do I understand that
you no longer intend to carry out your engagement and wed Mademoiselle
de La Vauvraye?”

A dull flush spread upon the Marquis’s face. He rose too, and across the
table he confronted his guest, his mien haughty, his eyes imperious.

“I thought, monsieur,” said he, with a great dignity, “I thought when
I invited you to sit at my table that your business was to serve me,
however little I might be conscious of having merited the honour. It
seems instead that you are come hither to affront me. You are my guest,
monsieur. Let me beg that you will depart before I resent a question on
a matter which concerns myself alone.”

The man was right, and Garnache was wrong. He had no title to take up
the affairs of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. But he was past reason now,
and he was not the man to brook haughtiness, however courteously it
might be cloaked. He eyed the Marquis’s flushed ace across the board,
and his lip curled.

“Monsieur,” said he, “I take your meaning very fully. Half a word with
me is as good as a whole sentence with another. You have dubbed me
in polite phrases an impertinent. That I am not; and I resent the
imputation.”

“Oh, that!” said the Marquis, with a half-laugh and a shrug. “If you
resent it--” His smile and his gesture made the rest plain.

“Exactly, monsieur,” was Garnache’s answer. “But I do not fight sick
men.”

Florimond’s brows grew wrinkled, his eyes puzzled.

“Sick men!” he echoed. “Awhile ago, monsieur, you appeared to cast a
doubt upon my sanity. Is it a case of the drunkard who thinks all the
world drunk but himself?”

Garnache gazed at him. That doubt he had entertained grew now into
something like assurance.

“I know not whether it is the fever makes your tongue run so--” he
began, when the other broke in, a sudden light of understanding in his
eyes.

“You are at fault,” he cried. “I have no fever.”

“But then your letter to Condillac?” demanded Garnache, lost now in
utter amazement.

“What of it? I’ll swear I never said I had a fever.”

“I’ll swear you did.”

“You give me the lie, then?”

But Garnache waved his hands as if he implored the other, to have
done with giving and taking offence. There was some misunderstanding
somewhere, he realized, and sheer astonishment had cooled his anger. His
only aim now was to have this obscure thing made clear.

“No, no,” he cried. “I am seeking enlightenment.”

Florimond smiled.

“I may have said that we were detained by a fever; but I never said the
patient was myself.”

“Who then? Who else?” cried Garnache.

“Why, now I understand, monsieur. But it is my wife who has the fever.”

“Your--!” Garnache dared not trust himself to utter the word.

“My wife, monsieur,” the Marquis repeated. “The journey proved too much
for her, travelling at the rate she did.”

A silence fell. Garnache’s long chin sank on to his breast, and he stood
there, his eyes upon the tablecloth, his thoughts with the poor innocent
child who waited at Condillac, so full of trust and faith and loyalty to
this betrothed of hers who had come home with a wife out of Italy.

And then, while he stood so and Florimond was regarding him curiously,
the door opened, and the host appeared.

“Monsieur le Marquis,” said he, “there are two gentlemen below asking to
see you. One of them is Monsieur Marius de Condillac.”

“Marius?” cried the Marquis, and he started round with a frown.

“Marius?” breathed Garnache, and then, realizing that the assassins
had followed so close upon his heels, he put all thoughts from his mind
other than that of the immediate business. He had, himself, a score
to settle with them. The time was now. He swung round on his heel, and
before he knew what he had said the words were out:

“Bring them up, Monsieur l’Hote.”

Florimond looked at him in surprise.

“Oh, by all means, if monsieur wishes it,” said he, with a fine irony.

Garnache looked at him, then back at the hesitating host.

“You have heard,” said he coolly. “Bring them up.”

“Bien, monsieur,” replied the host, withdrawing and closing the door
after him.

“Your interference in my affairs grows really droll, monsieur,” said the
Marquis tartly.

“When you shall have learned to what purpose I am interfering, you’ll
find it, possibly, not quite so droll,” was the answer, no less tart.
“We have but a moment, monsieur. Listen while I tell you the nature of
their errand.”



CHAPTER XXI. THE GHOST IN THE CUPBOARD

Garnache had but a few minutes in which to unfold his story, and he
needed, in addition, a second or two in which to ponder the situation as
he now found it.

His first reflection was that Florimond, since he was now married, might
perhaps, instead of proving Valerie’s saviour from Marius, join forces
with his brother in coercing her into this alliance with him. But
from what Valerie herself had told him he was inclined to think more
favourably of Florimond and to suppress such doubts as these. Still
he could incur no risks; his business was to serve Valerie and Valerie
only; to procure at all costs her permanent liberation from the power
of the Condillacs. To make sure of this he must play upon Florimond’s
anger, letting him know that Marius had journeyed to La Rochette for the
purpose of murdering his half-brother. That he but sought to murder
him to the end that he might be removed from his path to Valerie, was
a circumstance that need not too prominently be presented. Still,
presented it must be, for Florimond would require to know by what
motive his brother was impelled ere he could credit him capable of such
villainy.

Succinctly, but tellingly, Garnache brought out the story of the plot
that had been laid for Florimond’s assassination, and it joyed him to
see the anger rising in the Marquis’s face and flashing from his eyes.

“What reason have they for so damnable a deed?” he cried, between
incredulity and indignation.

“Their overweening ambition. Marius covets Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye’s
estates.”

“And to gain his ends he would not stop at murdering me? Is it, indeed,
the truth you tell me?”

“I pledge my honour for the truth of it,” answered Garnache, watching
him closely. Florimond looked at him a moment. The steady glance of
those blue eyes and the steady tone of that crisp voice scattered his
last doubt.

“The villains!” cried the Marquis. “The fools!” he added. “For me,
Marius had been welcome to Valerie. He might have found in me an ally
to aid him in the urging of his suit. But now--” He raised his clenched
hand and shook it in the air, as if in promise of the battle he would
deliver.

“Good,” said Garnache, reassured. “I hear their steps upon the stairs.
They must not find me with you.”

A moment later the door opened, and Marius, very bravely arrayed,
entered the room, followed closely by Fortunio. Neither showed much ill
effects of last night’s happenings, save for a long dark-brown scar that
ran athwart the captain’s cheek, where Garnache’s sword had ploughed it.

They found Florimond seated quietly at table, and as they entered he
rose and came forward with a friendly smile to greet his brother. His
sense of humour was being excited; he was something of an actor, and the
role he had adopted in the comedy to be played gave him a certain grim
satisfaction. He would test for himself the truth of what Monsieur
de Garnache had told him concerning his brother’s intentions. Marius
received his advances very coolly. He took his brother’s hand, submitted
to his brother’s kiss; but neither kiss nor hand-pressure did he return.
Florimond affected not to notice this.

“You are well, my dear Marius, I hope,” said he, and thrusting him
out at arms’ length, he held him by the shoulders and regarded him
critically. “Ma foi, but you are changed into a comely well-grown man.
And your mother--she is well, too, I trust.”

“I thank you, Florimond, she is well,” said Marius stiffly.

The Marquis took his hands from his brother’s shoulders; his florid,
good-natured face smiling ever, as if this were the happiest moment of
his life.

“It is good to see France again, my dear Marius,” he told his brother.
“I was a fool to have remained away so long. I am pining to be at
Condillac once more.”

Marius eyeing him, looked in vain for signs of the fever. He had
expected to find a debilitated, emaciated man; instead, he saw a very
lusty, healthy, hearty fellow, full of good humour, and seemingly
full of strength. He began to like his purpose less, despite such
encouragement as he gathered from the support of Fortunio. Still, it
must be gone through with.

“You wrote us that you had the fever,” he said, half inquiringly.

“Pooh! That is naught.” And Florimond snapped a strong finger against
a stronger thumb. “But whom have you with you?” he asked, and his eyes
took the measure of Fortunio, standing a pace or two behind his master.

Marius presented his bravo.

“This is Captain Fortunio, the commander of our garrison of Condillac.”

The Marquis nodded good-humouredly towards the captain.

“Captain Fortunio? He is well named for a soldier of fortune. My
brother, no doubt, will have family matters to tell me of. If you will
step below, Monsieur le Capitaine, and drink a health or so while you
wait, I shall be honoured.”

The captain, nonplussed, looked at Marius, and Florimond surprised the
look. But Marius’s manner became still chillier.

“Fortunio here,” said he, and he half turned and let his hand fall on
the captain’s shoulder, “is my very good friend. I have no secrets from
him.”

The instant lift of Florimond’s eyebrows was full of insolent,
supercilious disdain. Yet Marius did not fasten his quarrel upon that.
He had come to La Rochette resolved that any pretext would serve his
turn. But the sight of his brother so inflamed his jealousy that he had
now determined that the quarrel should be picked on the actual ground in
which it had its roots.

“Oh, as you will,” said the Marquis coolly. “Perhaps your friend will
be seated, and you, too, my dear Marius.” And he played the host to them
with a brisk charm. Setting chairs, he forced them to sit, and pressed
wine upon them.

Marius cast his hat and cloak on the chair where Garnache’s had been
left. The Parisian’s hat and cloak, he naturally assumed to belong to
his brother. The smashed flagon and the mess of wine upon the floor
he scarce observed, setting it down to some clumsiness, either his
brother’s or a servant’s. They both drank, Marius in silence, the
captain with a toast.

“Your good return, Monsieur le Marquis,” said he, and Florimond thanked
him by an inclination of the head. Then, turning to Marius:

“And so,” he said, “you have a garrison at Condillac. What the devil
has been taking place there? I have had some odd news of you. It would
almost seem as if you were setting up as rebels in our quiet little
corner of Dauphiny.”

Marius shrugged his shoulders; his face suggested that he was
ill-humoured.

“Madame the Queen-Regent has seen fit to interfere in our concerns. We
Condillacs do not lightly brook interference.”

Florimond showed his teeth in a pleasant smile.

“That is true, that is very true, Pardieu! But what warranted this
action of Her Majesty’s?”

Marius felt that the time for deeds was come. This fatuous conversation
was but a futile waste of time. He set down his glass, and sitting back
in his chair he fixed his sullen black eyes full upon his half-brother’s
smiling brown ones.

“I think we have exchanged compliments enough,” said he, and Fortunio
wagged his head approvingly. There were too many men in the courtyard
for his liking, and the more time they waited, the more likely were they
to suffer interruption. Their aim must be to get the thing done quickly,
and then quickly to depart before an alarm could be raised. “Our trouble
at Condillac concerns Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye.”

Florimond started forward, with a ready assumption of lover-like
solicitude.

“No harm has come to her?” he cried. “Tell me that no harm has come to
her.”

“Reassure yourself,” answered Marius, with a sneer, a greyness that
was of jealous rage overspreading his face. “No harm has come to her
whatever. The trouble was that I sought to wed her, and she, because
she is betrothed to you, would have none of me. So we brought her to
Condillac, hoping always to persuade her. You will remember that she was
under my mother’s tutelage. The girl, however, could not be constrained.
She suborned one of our men to bear a letter to Paris for her, and
in answer to it the Queen sent a hot-headed, rash blunderer down to
Dauphiny to procure her liberation. He lies now at the bottom of the
moat of Condillac.”

Florimond’s face had assumed a look of horror and indignation.

“Do you dare tell me this?” he cried.

“Dare?” answered Marius, with an ugly laugh. “Men enough have died over
this affair already. That fellow Garnache left some bodies on our hands
last night before he set out for another world himself. You little dream
how far my daring goes in this matter. I’ll add as many more as need
be to the death roll that we have already, before you set foot in
Condillac.”

“Ah!” said Florimond, as one upon whose mind a light breaks suddenly.
“So, that is the business on which you come to me. I doubted your
brotherliness, I must confess, my dear Marius. But tell me, brother
mine, what of our father’s wishes in this matter? Have you no respect
for those?”

“What respect had you?” flashed back Marius, his voice now raised in
anger. “Was it like a lover to remain away for three years--to let all
that time go by without ever a word from you to your betrothed? What
have you done to make good your claim to her?”

“Nothing, I confess; yet--”

“Well, you shall do something now,” exclaimed Marius, rising. “I am here
to afford you the opportunity. If you would still win Mademoiselle de La
Vauvraye, you shall win her from me--at point of sword. Fortunio, see to
the door.”

“Wait, Marius!” cried Florimond, and he looked genuinely aghast. “Do not
forget that we are brothers, men of the same blood; that my father was
your father.”

“I choose to remember rather that we are rivals,” answered Marius, and
he drew his rapier. Fortunio turned the key in the lock. Florimond gave
his brother a long searching look, then with a sigh he picked up his
sword where it lay ready to his hand and thoughtfully unsheathed it.
Holding the hilt in one hand and the blade in the other he stood,
bending the weapon like a whip, whilst again he searchingly regarded his
brother.

“Hear me a moment,” said he. “If you will force this unnatural quarrel
upon me, at least let the thing be decently done. Not here, not in these
cramped quarters, but out in the open let our meeting take place. If the
captain, there, will act for you, I’ll find a friend to do me the like
service.”

“We settle this matter here and now,” Marius answered him, in a tone of
calm finality.

“But if I were to kill you--” Florimond began.

“Reassure yourself,” said Marius with an ugly smile.

“Very well, then; either alternative will suit the case I wish to put.
If you were to kill me--it may be ranked as murder. The irregularity of
it could not be overlooked.”

“The captain, here, will act for both of us.”

“I am entirely at your service, gentlemen,” replied Fortunio pleasantly,
bowing to each in turn.

Florimond considered him. “I do not like his looks,” he objected. “He
may be the friend of your bosom, Marius; you may have no secrets from
him; but for my part, frankly, I should prefer the presence of some
friend of my own to keep his blade engaged.”

The Marquis’s manner was affable in the extreme. Now that it was settled
that they must fight, he appeared to have cast aside all scruples based
upon their consanguinity, and he discussed the affair with the greatest
bonhomie, as though he were disposing of a matter of how they should sit
down to table.

It gave them pause. The change was too abrupt. They did not like it.
It was as the calm that screens some surprise. Yet it was impossible he
should have been forewarned; impossible he could have had word of how
they proposed to deal with him.

Marius shrugged his shoulders.

“There is reason in what you say,” he acknowledged; “but I am in haste.
I cannot wait while you go in search of a friend.”

“Why then,” he answered, with a careless laugh, “I must raise one from
the dead.”

Both stared at him. Was he mad? Had the fever touched his brain?
Was that healthy colour but the brand of a malady that rendered him
delirious?

“Dieu! How you stare!” he continued, laughing in their faces. “You shall
see something to compensate you for your journey, messieurs. I have
learnt some odd tricks in Italy; they are a curious people beyond the
Alps. What did you say was the name of the man the Queen had sent from
Paris?--he who lies at the bottom of the moat of Condillac?”

“Let there be an end to this jesting,” growled Marius. “On guard,
Monsieur le Marquis!”

“Patience! patience!” Florimond implored him. “You shall have your way
with me, I promise you. But of your charity, messieurs, tell me first
the name of that man.”

“It was Garnache,” said Fortunio, “and if the information will serve
you, it was I who slew him.”

“You?” cried Florimond. “Tell me of it, I beg you.”

“Do you fool us?” questioned Marius in a rage that overmastered his
astonishment, his growing suspicion that here all was not quite as it
seemed.

“Fool you? But no. I do but wish to show you something that I learned in
Italy. Tell me how you slew him, Monsieur le Capitaine.”

“I think we are wasting time,” said the captain, angry too. He felt that
this smiling gentleman was deriding the pair of them; it crossed his
mind that for some purpose of his own the Marquis was seeking to gain
time. He drew his sword.

Florimond saw the act, watched it, and his eyes twinkled. Suddenly
Marius’s sword shot out at him. He leapt back beyond the table, and
threw himself on guard, his lips still wreathed in their mysterious
smile.

“The time has come, messieurs,” said he. “I should have preferred to
know more of how you slew that Monsieur de Garnache; but since you deny
me the information, I shall do my best without it. I’ll try to conjure
up his ghost, to keep you entertained, Monsieur le Capitaine.” And then,
raising his voice, his sword, engaging now his brother’s:

“Ola, Monsieur de Garnache!” he cried. “To me!”

And then it seemed to those assassins that the Marquis had been neither
mad nor boastful when he had spoken of strange things he had
learned beyond the Alps, or else it was they themselves were turned
light-headed, for the doors of a cupboard at the far end of the room
flew open suddenly, and from between them stepped the stalwart figure of
Martin de Garnache, a grim smile lifting the corners of his mustachios,
a naked sword in his hand flashing back the sunlight that flooded
through the window.

They paused, aghast, and they turned ashen; and then in the mind of each
arose the same explanation of this phenomenon. This Garnache wore the
appearance of the man who had announced himself by that name when he
came to Condillac a fortnight ago. Then, the sallow, black-haired knave
who had last night proclaimed himself as Garnache in disguise was some
impostor. That was the conclusion they promptly arrived at, and however
greatly they might be dismayed by the appearance of this ally of
Florimond’s, yet the conclusion heartened them anew. But scarce had they
arrived at it when Monsieur de Garnache’s crisp voice came swiftly to
dispel it.

“Monsieur le Capitaine,” it said, and Fortunio shivered at the sound,
for it was the voice he had heard but a few hours ago, “I welcome the
opportunity of resuming our last night’s interrupted sword-play.” And he
advanced deliberately.

Marius’s sword had fallen away from his brother’s, and the two
combatants stood pausing. Fortunio without more ado made for the door.
But Garnache crossed the intervening space in a bound.

“Turn!” he cried. “Turn, or I’ll put my sword through your back. The
door shall serve you presently, but it is odds that it will need a
couple of men to bear you through it. Look to your dirty skin!”



CHAPTER XXII. THE OFFICES OF MOTHER CHURCH

A couple of hours after the engagement in the Marquis de Condillac’s
apartments at the Sanglier Noir at La Rochette, Monsieur de Garnache,
attended only by Rabecque, rode briskly into France once more and made
for the little town of Cheylas, which is on the road that leads down to
the valley of the Isere and to Condillac. But not as far as the township
did he journey. On a hill, the slopes all cultivated into an opulent
vineyard, some two miles east of Cheylas, stood the low, square grey
building of the Convent of Saint Francis. Thither did Monsieur de
Garnache bend his horse’s steps. Up the long white road that crept
zigzag through the Franciscans’ vineyards rode the Parisian and his
servant under the welcome sunshine of that November afternoon.

Garnache’s face was gloomy and his eyes sad, for his thoughts were all
of Valerie, and he was prey to a hundred anxieties regarding her.

They gained the heights at last, and Rabecque got down to beat with his
whip upon the convent gates.

A lay-brother came to open, and in reply to Garnache’s request that he
might have a word with the Father Abbot, invited him to enter.

Through the cloisters about the great quadrangle, where a couple of
monks, their habits girt high as their knees, were busy at gardeners’
work, Garnache followed his conductor, and up the steps to the Abbot’s
chamber.

The master of the Convent of Saint Francis of Cheylas a tall, lean
man with an ascetic face, prominent cheekbones, and a nose not unlike
Garnache’s own--the nose of a man of action rather than of prayer--bowed
gravely to this stalwart stranger, and in courteous accents begged to be
informed in what he might serve him.

Hat in hand, Garnache took a step forward in that bare, scantily
furnished little room, permeated by the faint, waxlike odour that is
peculiar to the abode of conventuals. Without hesitation he stated the
reason of his visit.

“Father,” said he, “a son of the house of Condillac met his end this
morning at La Rochette.”

The monk’s eyes seemed to quicken, as though his interest in the outer
world had suddenly revived.

“It is the Hand of God,” he cried. “Their evil ways have provoked at
last the anger of Heaven. How did this unfortunate meet his death?”

Garnache shrugged his shoulders.

“De mortuis nil nisi bonum,” said he. His air was grave, his blue eyes
solemn, and the Abbot had little cause to suspect the closeness with
which that pair of eyes was watching him. He coloured faintly at
the implied rebuke, but he inclined his head as if submissive to the
correction, and waited for the other to proceed.

“There is the need, Father, to give his body burial,” said Garnache
gently.

But at that the monk raised his head, and a deeper flush the flush of
anger--spread now upon his sallow cheeks. Garnache observed it, and was
glad.

“Why do you come to me?” he asked.

“Why?” echoed Garnache, and there was hesitancy now in his voice. “Is
not the burial of the dead enjoined by Mother Church? Is it not a part
of your sacred office?”

“You ask me this as you would challenge my reply,” said the monk,
shaking his head. “It is as you say, but it is not within our office to
bury the impious dead, nor those who in life were excommunicate and died
without repentance.”

“How can you assume he died without repentance?”

“I do not; but I assume he died without absolution, for there is no
priest who, knowing his name, would dare to shrive him, and if one
should do it in ignorance of his name and excommunication, why then it
is not done at all. Bid others bury this son of the house of Condillac;
it matters no more by what hands or in what ground he be buried than if
he were the horse he rode or the hound that followed him.”

“The Church is very harsh, Father,” said Garnache sternly.

“The Church is very just,” the priest answered him, more sternly still,
a holy wrath kindling his sombre eyes.

“He was in life a powerful noble,” said Garnache thoughtfully. “It is
but fitting that, being dead, honour and reverence should be shown his
body.”

“Then let those who have themselves been honoured by the Condillacs
honour this dead Condillac now. The Church is not of that number,
monsieur. Since the late Marquis’s death the house of Condillac has been
in rebellion against us; our priests have been maltreated, our authority
flouted; they paid no tithes, approached no sacraments. Weary of their
ungodliness the Church placed its ban upon them; under this ban it seems
they die. My heart grieves for them; but--”

He spread his hands, long and almost transparent in their leanness, and
on his face a cloud of sorrow rested.

“Nevertheless, Father,” said Garnache, “twenty brothers of Saint Francis
shall bear the body home to Condillac, and you yourself shall head this
grim procession.”

“I?” The monk shrank back before him, and his figure seemed to grow
taller. “Who are you, sir, that say to me what I shall do, the Church’s
law despite?”

Garnache took the Abbot by the sleeve of his rough habit and drew him
gently towards the window. There was a persuasive smile on his lips and
in his keen eyes which the monk, almost unconsciously, obeyed.

“I will tell you,” said Garnache, “and at the same time I shall seek to
turn you from your harsh purpose.”

At the hour at which Monsieur de Garnache was seeking to persuade the
Abbot of Saint Francis of Cheylas to adopt a point of view more kindly
towards a dead man, Madame de Condillac was at dinner, and with her
was Valerie de La Vauvraye. Neither woman ate appreciably. The one was
oppressed by sorrow, the other by anxiety, and the circumstance that
they were both afflicted served perhaps to render the Dowager gentler in
her manner towards the girl.

She watched the pale face and troubled eyes of Valerie; she observed the
almost lifeless manner in which she came and went as she was bidden, as
though a part of her had ceased to exist, and that part the part that
matters most. It did cross her mind that in this condition mademoiselle
might the more readily be bent to their will, but she dwelt not overlong
upon that reflection. Rather was her mood charitable, no doubt because
she felt herself the need of charity, the want of sympathy.

She was tormented by fears altogether disproportionate to their cause.
A hundred times she told herself that no ill could befall Marius.
Florimond was a sick man, and were he otherwise, there was still
Fortunio to stand by and see to it that the right sword pierced the
right heart, else would his pistoles be lost to him.

Nevertheless she was fretted by anxiety, and she waited impatiently for
news, fuming at the delay, yet knowing full well that news could not yet
reach her.

Once she reproved Valerie for her lack of appetite, and there was in
her voice a kindness Valerie had not heard for months--not since the old
Marquis died, nor did she hear it now, or, hearing it, she did not heed
it.

“You are not eating, child,” the Dowager said, and her eyes were gentle.

Valerie looked up like one suddenly awakened; and in that moment her
eyes filled with tears. It was as if the Dowager’s voice had opened the
floodgates of her sorrow and let out the tears that hitherto had been
repressed. The Marquise rose and waved the page and an attendant lackey
from the room. She crossed to Valerie’s side and put her arm about the
girl’s shoulder.

“What ails you, child?” she asked. For a moment the girl suffered the
caress; almost she seemed to nestle closer to the Dowager’s shoulder.
Then, as if understanding had come to her suddenly, she drew back and
quietly disengaged herself from the other’s arms. Her tears ceased; the
quiver passed from her lip.

“You are very good, madame,” she said, with a coldness that rendered the
courteous words almost insulting, “but nothing ails me save a wish to be
alone.”

“You have been alone too much of late,” the Dowager answered, persisting
in her wish to show kindness to Valerie; for all that, had she looked
into her own heart, she might have been puzzled to find a reason for her
mood--unless the reason lay in her own affliction of anxiety for Marius.

“Perhaps I have,” said the girl, in the same cold, almost strained
voice. “It was not by my own contriving.”

“Ah, but it was, child; indeed it was. Had you been reasonable you had
found us kinder. We had never treated you as we have done, never made a
prisoner of you.”

Valerie looked up into the beautiful ivory-white face, with its black
eyes and singularly scarlet lips, and a wan smile raised the corners of
her gentle mouth.

“You had no right--none ever gave it you--to set constraint and
restraint upon me.”

“I had--indeed, indeed I had,” the Marquise answered her, in a tone of
sad protest. “Your father gave me such a right when he gave me charge of
you.”

“Was it a part of your charge to seek to turn me from my loyalty to
Florimond, and endeavour to compel me by means gentle or ungentle into
marriage with Marius?”

“We thought Florimond dead; or, if not dead, then certainly unworthy of
you to leave you without news of him for years together. And if he was
not dead then, it is odds he will be dead by now.” The words slipped
out almost unconsciously, and the Marquise bit her lip and straightened
herself, fearing an explosion. But none came. The girl looked across
the table at the fire that smouldered on the hearth in need of being
replenished.

“What do you mean, madame?” she asked; but her tone was listless,
apathetic, as of one who though uttering a question is incurious as to
what the answer may be.

“We had news some days ago that he was journeying homewards, but that he
was detained by fever at La Rochette. We have since heard that his fever
has grown so serious that there is little hope of his recovery.”

“And it was to solace his last moments that Monsieur Marius left
Condillac this morning?”

The Dowager looked sharply at the girl; but Valerie’s face continued
averted, her gaze resting on the fire. Her tone suggested nothing beyond
a natural curiosity.

“Yes,” said the Dowager.

“And lest his own efforts to help his brother out of this world should
prove insufficient he took Captain Fortunio with him?” said Valerie, in
the same indifferent voice.

“What do you mean?” the Marquise almost hissed into the girl’s ear.

Valerie turned to her, a faint colour stirring in her white face.

“Just what I have said, madame. Would you know what I have prayed?
All night was I upon my knees from the moment that I recovered
consciousness, and my prayers were that Heaven might see fit to let
Florimond destroy your son. Not that I desire Florimond’s return, for
I care not if I never set eyes on him again. There is a curse upon this
house, madame,” the girl continued, rising from her chair and speaking
now with a greater animation, whilst the Marquise recoiled a step, her
face strangely altered and suddenly gone grey, “and I have prayed
that that curse might be worked out upon that assassin, Marius. A fine
husband, madame, you would thrust upon the daughter of Gaston de La
Vauvraye.”

And turning, without waiting for an answer, she moved slowly down
the room, and took her way to her own desolate apartments, so full of
memories of him she mourned--of him, it seemed to her, she must always
mourn; of him who lay dead in the black waters of the moat beneath her
window.

Stricken with a sudden, inexplicable terror, the Dowager, who for
all her spirit was not without a certain superstition, felt her knees
loosen, and she sank limply into a chair. She was amazed at the extent
of Valerie’s knowledge, and puzzled by it; she was amazed, too, at the
seeming apathy of Valerie for the danger in which Florimond stood, and
at her avowal that she did not care if she never again beheld him. But
such amazement as came to her was whelmed fathoms-deep in her sudden
fears for Marius. If he should die! She grew cold at the thought, and
she sat there, her hands folded in her lap, her face grey. That mention
of the curse the Church had put upon them had frozen her quick blood and
turned her stout spirit to mere water.

At last she rose and went out into the open to inquire if no messenger
had yet arrived, for all that she knew there was not yet time for any
messenger to have reached the chateau. She mounted the winding staircase
of stone that led to the ramparts, and there alone, in the November
sunshine, she paced to and fro for hours, waiting for news, straining
her eyes to gaze up the valley of the Isere, watching for the horseman
that must come that way. Then, as time sped on and the sun approached
its setting and still no one came, she bethought her that if harm had
befallen Marius, none would ride that night to Condillac. This very
delay seemed pregnant with news of disaster. And then she shook off her
fears and tried to comfort herself. There was not yet time. Besides,
what had she to fear for Marius? He was strong and quick, and Fortunio
was by his side. A man was surely dead by now at La Rochette; but that
man could not be Marius.

At last, in the distance, she espied a moving object, and down on the
silent air of eventide came the far-off rattle of a horse’s hoofs. Some
one was riding, galloping that way. He was returned at last. She leaned
on the battlements, her breath coming in quick, short gasps, and watched
the horseman growing larger with every stride of his horse.

A mist was rising from the river, and it dimmed the figure; and she
cursed the mist for heightening her anxiety, for straining further
her impatience. Then a new fear was begotten in her mind. Why came one
horseman only where two should have ridden? Who was it that returned,
and what had befallen his companion? God send, at least, it might be
Marius who rode thus, at such a breakneck pace.

At last she could make him out. He was close to the chateau now, and she
noticed that his right arm was bandaged and hanging in a sling. And then
a scream broke from her, and she bit her lip hard to keep another in
check, for she had seen the horseman’s face, and it was Fortunio’s.
Fortunio--and wounded! Then, assuredly, Marius was dead!

She swayed where she stood. She set her hand on her bosom, above her
heart, as if she would have repressed the beating of the one, the
heaving of the other; her soul sickened, and her mind seemed to turn
numb, as she waited there for the news that should confirm her fears.

The hoofs of his horse thundered over the planks of the drawbridge,
and came clatteringly to halt as he harshly drew rein in the courtyard
below. There was a sound of running feet and men sprang to his
assistance. Madame would have gone below to meet him; but her limbs
seemed to refuse their office. She leaned against one of the merlons of
the embattled parapet, her eyes on the spot where he should emerge from
the stairs, and thus she waited, her eyes haggard, her face drawn.

He came at last, lurching in his walk, being overstiff from his long
ride. She took a step forward to meet him. Her lips parted.

“Well?” she asked him, and her voice sounded harsh and strained. “How
has the venture sped?”

“The only way it could,” he answered. “As you would wish it.”

At that she thought that she must faint. Her lungs seemed to writhe for
air, and she opened her lips and took long draughts of the rising mist,
never speaking for a moment or two until she had sufficiently recovered
from this tremendous revulsion from her fears.

“Then, where is Marius?” she asked at last.

“He has remained behind to accompany the body home. They are bringing it
here.”

“They?” she echoed. “Who are they?”

“The monks of Saint Francis of Cheylas,” he answered.

A something in his tone, a something in his shifty eyes, a cloud upon
his fair and usually so ingenuous looking countenance aroused her
suspicions and gave her resurrected courage pause.

She caught him viciously by the arms, and forced his glance to meet her
own in the fading daylight.

“It is the truth you are telling me, Fortunio?” she snapped, and her
voice was half-angry, half-fearful.

He faced her now, his eyes bold. He raised a hand to lend emphasis to
his words.

“I swear, madame, by my salvation, that Monsieur Marius is sound and
well.”

She was satisfied. She released his arm.

“Does he come to-night?” she asked.

“They will be here to-morrow, madame. I rode on to tell you so.”

“An odd fancy, this of his. But”--and a sudden smile overspread her
face--“we may find a more useful purpose for one of these monks.”

An hour ago she would willingly have set mademoiselle at liberty in
exchange for the assurance that Marius had been successful in the
business that had taken him over the border into Savoy. She would have
done it gladly, content that Marius should be heir to Condillac. But
now that Condillac was assured her son, she must have more for him; her
insatiable greed for his advancement and prosperity was again upon
her. Now, more than ever--now that Florimond was dead--must she have La
Vauvraye for Marius, and she thought that mademoiselle would no longer
be difficult to bend. The child had fallen in love with that mad
Garnache, and when a woman is crossed in love, while her grief lasts
it matters little to her where she weds. Did she not know it out of the
fund of her own bitter experience? Was it not that--the compulsion her
own father had employed to make her find a mate in a man so much older
than herself as Condillac--that had warped her own nature, and done much
to make her what she was?

A lover she had had, and whilst he lived she had resisted them, and
stood out against this odious marriage that for convenience’ sake they
forced upon her. He was killed in Paris in a duel, and when the news of
it came to her, she had folded her hands and let them wed her to whom
they listed.

Of just such a dejection of spirit had she observed the signs in
Valerie; let them profit by it while it lasted. They had been long
enough without Church ceremonies at Condillac. There should be two
to-morrow to make up for the empty time--a wedding and a burial.

She was going down the stairs, Fortunio a step behind her, when her mind
reverted to the happening at La Rochette.

“Was it well done?” she asked.

“It made some stir,” said he. “The Marquis had men with him, and had the
affair taken place in France ill might have come of it.”

“You shall give me a full account of it,” said she, rightly thinking
that there was still something to be explained. Then she laughed
softly. “Yes, it was a lucky chance for us, his staying at La Rochette.
Florimond was born under an unlucky star, I think, and you under a lucky
one, Fortunio.”

“I think so, too, as regards myself,” he answered grimly, and he thought
of the sword that had ploughed his cheek last night and pierced his
sword-arm that morning, and he thanked such gods as in his godlessness
he owned for the luck that had kept that sword from finding out his
heart.



CHAPTER XXIII. THE JUDGMENT OF GARNACHE

On the morrow, which was a Friday and the tenth of November--a date to
be hereafter graven on the memory of all concerned in the affairs of
Condillac--the Dowager rose betimes, and, for decency’s sake, having in
mind the business of the day, she gowned herself in black.

Betimes, too, the Lord Seneschal rode out of Grenoble, attended by
a couple of grooms, and headed for Condillac, in doing which--little
though he suspected it--he was serving nobody’s interests more
thoroughly than Monsieur de Garnache’s.

Madame received him courteously. She was in a blithe and happy mood that
morning--the reaction from her yesterday’s distress of mind. The world
was full of promise, and all things had prospered with her and Marius.
Her boy was lord of Condillac; Florimond, whom she had hated and who had
stood in the way of her boy’s advancement, was dead and on his way to
burial; Garnache, the man from Paris who might have made trouble for
them had he ridden home again with the tale of their resistance, was
silenced for all time, and the carp in the moat would be feasting by
now upon what was left of him; Valerie de La Vauvraye was in a dejected
frame of mind that augured well for the success of the Dowager’s
plans concerning her, and by noon at latest there would be priests at
Condillac, and, if Marius still wished to marry the obstinate baggage,
there would be no difficulty as to that.

It was a glorious morning, mild and sunny as an April day, as though
Nature took a hand in the Dowager’s triumph and wished to make the best
of its wintry garb in honour of it.

The presence of this gross suitor of hers afforded her another source
of satisfaction. There would no longer be the necessity she once had
dreaded of listening to his suit for longer than it should be her
pleasure to be amused by him. But when Tressan spoke, he struck the
first note of discord in the perfect harmony which the Dowager imagined
existed.

“Madame,” said he, “I am desolated that I am not a bearer of better
tidings. But for all that we have made the most diligent search, the
man Rabecque has not yet been apprehended. Still, we have not abandoned
hope,” he added, by way of showing that there was a silver lining to his
cloud of danger.

For just a moment madame’s brows were knitted. She had forgotten
Rabecque until now; but an instant’s reflection assured her that in
forgetting him she had done him no more than such honour as he deserved.
She laughed, as she led the way down the garden steps--the mildness of
the day and the brightness of her mood had moved her there to receive
the Seneschal.

“From the sombreness of your tone one might fear your news to be of the
nature of some catastrophe. What shall it signify that Rabecque eludes
your men? He is but a lackey after all.”

“True,” said the Seneschal, very soberly; “but do not forget, I beg,
that he is the bearer of letters from one who is not a lackey.”

The laughter went out of her face at that. Here was something that had
been lost sight of in the all-absorbing joy of other things. In calling
the forgotten Rabecque to mind she had but imagined that it was no more
than a matter of the tale he might tell--a tale not difficult to refute,
she thought. Her word should always weigh against a lackey’s. But that
letter was a vastly different matter.

“He must be found, Tressan,” she said sharply.

Tressan smiled uneasily, and chewed at his beard.

“No effort shall be spared,” he promised her. “Of that you may be very
sure. The affairs of the province are at a standstill,” he added, that
vanity of his for appearing a man of infinite business rising even in
an hour of such anxiety, for to himself, no less than to her, was
there danger should Rabecque ever reach his destination with the papers
Garnache had said he carried.

“The affairs of the province are at a standstill,” he repeated, “while
all my energies are bent upon this quest. Should we fail to have news of
his capture in Dauphiny, we need not, nevertheless, despond. I have
sent men after him along the three roads that lead to Paris. They are to
spare neither money nor horses in picking up his trail and effecting his
capture. After all, I think we shall have him.”

“He is our only danger now,” the Marquise answered, “for Florimond is
dead--of the fever,” she added, with a sneering smile which gave Tressan
sensations as of cold water on his spine. “It were an irony of fate if
that miserable lackey were to reach Paris now and spoil the triumph for
which we have worked so hard.”

“It were, indeed,” Tressan agreed with her, “and we must see that he
does not.”

“But if he does,” she returned, “then we must stand together.” And with
that she set her mind at ease once more, her mood that morning being
very optimistic.

“Always, I hope, Clotilde,” he answered, and his little eyes leered up
out of the dimples of fat in which they were embedded. “I have stood by
you like a true friend in this affair; is it not so?”

“Indeed; do I deny it?” she answered half scornfully.

“As I shall stand by you always when the need arises. You are a little
in my debt concerning Monsieur de Garnache.”

“I--I realize it,” said she, and she felt again as if the sunshine were
gone from the day, the blitheness from her heart. She was moved to
bid him cease leering at her and to take himself and his wooing to the
devil. But she bethought her that the need for him might not yet
utterly be passed. Not only in the affair of Garnache--in which he stood
implicated as deeply as herself--might she require his loyalty, but also
in the matter of what had befallen yesterday at La Rochette; for despite
Fortunio’s assurances that things had gone smoothly, his tale hung none
too convincingly together; and whilst she did not entertain any serious
fear of subsequent trouble, yet it might be well not utterly to banish
the consideration of such a possibility, and to keep the Seneschal her
ally against it. So she told him now, with as much graciousness as she
could command, that she fully realized her debt, and when, encouraged,
he spoke of his reward, she smiled upon him as might a girl smile upon
too impetuous a wooer whose impetuosity she deprecates yet cannot wholly
withstand.

“I am a widow of six months,” she reminded him, as she had reminded him
once before. Her widowhood was proving a most convenient refuge. “It is
not for me to listen to a suitor, however my foolish heart may incline.
Come to me in another six months’ time.”

“And you will wed me then?” he bleated.

By an effort her eyes smiled down upon him, although her face was a
trifle drawn.

“Have I not said that I will listen to no suitor? and what is that but a
suitor’s question?”

He caught her hand; he would have fallen on his knees there and then, at
her feet, on the grass still wet with the night’s mist, but that he in
time bethought him of how sadly his fine apparel would be the sufferer.

“Yet I shall not sleep, I shall know no rest, no peace until you have
given me an answer. Just an answer is all I ask. I will set a curb upon
my impatience afterwards, and go through my period of ah--probation
without murmuring. Say that you, will marry me in six months’ time--at
Easter, say.”

She saw that an answer she must give, and so she gave him the answer
that he craved. And he--poor fool!--never caught the ring of her voice,
as false as the ring of a base coin; never guessed that in promising she
told herself it would be safe to break that promise six months hence,
when the need of him and his loyalty would be passed.

A man approached them briskly from the chateau. He brought news that a
numerous company of monks was descending the valley of the Isere towards
Condillac. A faint excitement stirred her, and accompanied by Tressan
she retraced her steps and made for the battlements, whence she might
overlook their arrival.

As they went Tressan asked for an explanation of this cortege, and she
answered him with Fortunio’s story of how things had sped yesterday at
La Rochette.

Up the steps leading to the battlements she went ahead of him, with
a youthful, eager haste that took no thought for the corpulence and
short-windedness of the following Seneschal. From the heights she looked
eastwards, shading her eyes from the light of the morning sun, and
surveyed the procession which with slow dignity paced down the valley
towards Condillac.

At its head walked the tall, lean figure of the Abbot of Saint Francis
of Cheylas, bearing on high a silvered crucifix that flashed and
scintillated in the sunlight. His cowl was thrown back, revealing his
pale, ascetic countenance and shaven head. Behind him came a coffin
covered by a black pall, and borne on the shoulders of six black-robed,
black cowled monks, and behind these again walked, two by two, some
fourteen cowled brothers of the order of Saint Francis, their heads
bowed, their arms folded, and their hands tucked away in their capacious
sleeves.

It was a numerous cortege, and as she watched its approach the Marquise
was moved to wonder by what arguments had the proud Abbot been induced
to do so much honour to a dead Condillac and bear his body home to this
excommunicated roof.

Behind the monks a closed carriage lumbered down the uneven mountain
way, and behind this rode four mounted grooms in the livery of
Condillac. Of Marius she saw nowhere any sign, and she inferred him to
be travelling in that vehicle, the attendant servants being those of the
dead Marquis.

In silence, with the Seneschal at her elbow, she watched the procession
advance until it was at the foot of the drawbridge. Then, while the
solemn rhythm of their feet sounded across the planks that spanned the
moat, she turned, and, signing to the Seneschal to follow her, she went
below to meet them. But when she reached the courtyard she was surprised
to find they had not paused, as surely would have been seemly. Unbidden,
the Abbot had gone forward through the great doorway and down the
gallery that led to the hall of Condillac. Already, when she arrived
below, the coffin and its bearers had disappeared, and the last of the
monks was passing from sight in its wake. Leaning against the doorway
through which they were vanishing stood Fortunio, idly watching that
procession and thoughtfully stroking his mustachios. About the yard
lounged a dozen or so men-at-arms, practically all the garrison that was
left them since the fight with Garnache two nights ago.

After the last monk had disappeared, she still remained there,
expectantly; and when she saw that neither the carriage nor the grooms
made their appearance, she stepped up to Fortunio to inquire into the
reason of it.

“Surely Monsieur de Condillac rides in that coach,” said she.

“Surely,” Fortunio answered, himself looking puzzled. “I will go seek
the reason, madame. Meanwhile will you receive the Abbot? The monks will
have deposited their burden.”

She composed her features into a fitting solemnity, and passed briskly
through to the hall, Tressan ever at her heels. Here she found
the coffin deposited on the table, its great black pall of velvet,
silver-edged, sweeping down to the floor. No fire had been lighted that
morning nor had the sun yet reached the windows, so that the place wore
a chill and gloomy air that was perhaps well attuned to the purpose that
it was being made to serve.

With a rare dignity, her head held high, she swept down the length of
that noble chamber towards the Abbot, who stood erect as a pikestaff: at
the tablehead, awaiting her. And well was it for him that he was a man
of austere habit of mind, else might her majestic, incomparable beauty
have softened his heart and melted the harshness of his purpose.

He raised his hand when she was within a sword’s length of him, and
with startling words, delivered in ringing tones, he broke the ponderous
silence.

“Wretched woman,” he denounced her, “your sins have found you out.
Justice is to be done, and your neck shall be bent despite your stubborn
pride. Derider of priests, despoiler of purity, mocker of Holy Church,
your impious reign is at an end.”

Tressan fell back aghast, his face blenching to the lips; for if justice
was at hand for her, as the Abbot said, then was justice at hand for
him as well. Where had their plans miscarried? What flaw was there that
hitherto she had not perceived? Thus he questioned himself in his sudden
panic.

But the Marquise was no sharer in his tremors. Her eyes opened a trifle
wider; a faint colour crept into her cheeks; but her only emotions were
of amazement and indignation. Was he mad, this shaveling monk? That was
the question that leapt into her mind, the very question with which she
coldly answered his outburst.

“For madness only,” she thought fit to add, “could excuse such rash
temerity as yours.”

“Not madness, madame,” he answered, with chill haughtiness--“not
madness, but righteous indignation. You have defied the power of Holy
Church as you have defied the power of our sovereign lady, and justice
is upon you. We are here to present the reckoning, and see its payment
made in full.”

She fancied he alluded to the body in the coffin--the body of her
stepson--and she could have laughed at his foolish conclusions that
she must account Florimond’s death an act of justice upon her for her
impiety. But her rising anger left her no room for laughter.

“I thought, sir priest, you were come to bury the dead. But it rather
seems you are come to talk.”

He looked at her long and sternly. Then he shook his head, and the
faintest shadow of a smile haunted his ascetic face.

“Not to talk, madame; oh, not to talk,” he answered slowly. “But to act,
I have come, madame, to liberate from this shambles the gentle lamb you
hold here prisoned.”

At that some of the colour left her cheeks; her eyes grew startled: at
last she began to realize that all was not as she had thought--as she
had been given to understand.--Still, she sought to hector it, from very
instinct.

“_Vertudieu_!” she thundered at him. “What mean you?”

Behind her Tressan’s great plump knees were knocking one against the
other. Fool that he had been to come to Condillac that day, and to be
trapped thus in her company, a partner in her guilt. This proud Abbot
who stood there uttering denunciations had some power behind him,
else had he never dared to raise his voice in Condillac within call of
desperate men who would give little thought to the sacredness, of his
office.

“What mean you?” she repeated--adding with a sinister smile, “in your
zeal, Sir Abbot, you are forgetting that my men are within call.”

“So, madame, are mine,” was his astounding answer, and he waved a hand
towards the array of monks, all standing with bowed heads and folded
arms.

At that her laughter rang shrill through the chamber. “These poor
shavelings?” she questioned.

“Just these poor shavelings, madame,” he answered, and he raised his
hand again and made a sign. And then an odd thing happened, and it
struck a real terror into the heart of the Marquise and heightened that
which was already afflicting her fat lover, Tressan.

The monks drew themselves erect. It was as if a sudden gust of wind had
swept through their ranks and set them all in motion. Cowls fell back
and habits were swept aside, and where twenty monks had stood, there
were standing now a score of nimble, stalwart men in the livery of
Condillac, all fully armed, all grinning in enjoyment of her and
Tressan’s dismay.

One of them turned aside and locked the door of the chamber. But his
movement went unheeded by the Dowager, whose beautiful eyes, starting
with horror, were now back upon the grim figure of the Abbot, marvelling
almost to see no transformation wrought in him.

“Treachery!” she breathed, in an awful voice, that was no louder than
a whisper, and again her eyes travelled round the company, and suddenly
they fastened upon Fortunio, standing six paces from her to the right,
pulling thoughtfully at his mustachios, and manifesting no surprise at
what had taken place.

In a sudden, blind choler, she swept round, plucked the dagger from
Tressan’s belt and flung herself upon the treacherous captain. He had
betrayed her in some way; he had delivered up Condillac--into whose
power she had yet had no time to think. She caught him by the throat
with a hand of such nervous strength as one would little have suspected
from its white and delicate contour. Her dagger was poised in the air,
and the captain, taken thus suddenly, was palsied with amazement and
could raise no hand to defend himself from the blow impending.

But the Abbot stepped suddenly to her side and caught her wrist in his
thin, transparent hand.

“Forbear,” he bade her. “The man is but a tool.”

She fell back--dragged back almost by the Abbot--panting with rage and
grief; and then she noticed that during the moment that her back had
been turned the pall had been swept from the coffin. The sight of the
bare deal box arrested her attention, and for the moment turned aside
her anger. What fresh surprise did they prepare her?

No sooner had she asked herself the question than herself she answered
it, and an icy hand seemed to close about her heart. It was Marius who
was dead. They had lied to her. Marius’s was the body they had borne to
Condillac--those men in the livery of her stepson.

With a sudden sob in her throat she took a step towards the coffin. She
must see for herself. One way or the other she must at once dispel this
torturing doubt. But ere she had taken three paces, she stood arrested
again, her hands jerked suddenly to the height of her breast, her lips
parting to let out a scream of terror. For the coffin-lid had slowly
raised and clattered over. And as if to pile terror for her, a figure
rose from the box, and, sitting up, looked round with a grim smile; and
the figure was the figure of a man whom she knew to be dead, a man
who had died by her contriving--it was the figure of Garnache. It
was Garnache as he had been on the occasion of his first coming to
Condillac, as he had been on the day they had sought his life in this
very room. How well she knew that great hooked nose and the bright,
steely blue eyes, the dark brown hair, ash-coloured at the temples where
age had paled it, and the fierce, reddish mustachios, bristling above
the firm mouth and long, square chin.

She stared and stared, her beautiful face livid and distorted, till
there was no beauty to be seen in it, what time the Abbot regarded her
coldly and Tressan, behind her, turned almost sick with terror. But not
the terror of ghosts was it afflicted him. He saw in Garnache a man who
was still of the quick--a man who by some miracle had escaped the fate
to which they supposed him to have succumbed; and his terror was the
terror of the reckoning which that man would ask.

After a moment’s pause, as if relishing the sensation he had created,
Garnache rose to his feet and leapt briskly to the ground. There was
nothing ghostly about the thud with which he alighted on his feet before
her. A part of her terror left her; yet not quite all. She saw that she
had but a man to deal with, yet she began to realize that this man was
very terrible.

“Garnache again!” she gasped.

He bowed serenely, his lips smiling.

“Aye, madame,” he told her pleasantly, “always Garnache. Tenacious as
a leech, madame; and like a leech come hither to do a little work of
purification.”

Her eyes, now kindling again as she recovered from her recent fears,
sought Fortunio’s shifty glance. Garnache followed it and read what was
in her mind.

“What Fortunio has done,” said he, “he has done by your son’s authority
and sanction.”

“Marius?” she inquired, and she was almost fearful lest she should hear
that by her son he meant her stepson, and that Marius was dead.

“Yes, Marius,” he answered her. “I bent him to my will. I threatened him
that he and this fellow of his, this comrade in arms so worthy of his
master, should be broken on the wheel together unless I were implicitly
obeyed. If they would save their lives, this was their chance. They were
wise, and they took it, and thus afforded me the means of penetrating
into Condillac and rescuing Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye.”

“Then Marius--?” She left her question unfinished, her hand clutching
nervously at the bosom of her gown.

“Is sound and well, as Fortunio truthfully will have told you. But he is
not yet out of my grasp, nor will be until the affairs of Condillac are
settled. For if I meet with further opposition here, broken on the wheel
he shall be yet, I promise you.”

Still she made a last attempt at hectoring it. The long habit of
mastership dies hard. She threw back her head; her courage revived now
that she knew Marius to be alive and sound.

“Fine words,” she sneered. “But who are you that you can threaten so and
promise so?”

“I am the Queen-Regent’s humble mouthpiece, madame. What I threaten, I
threaten in her name. Ruffle it no longer, I beseech you. It will prove
little worth your while. You are deposed, madame, and you had best take
your deposition with dignity and calm--in all friendliness do I advise
it.”

“I am not yet come so low that I need your advice,” she answered sourly.

“You may before the sun sets,” he answered, with his quiet smile. “The
Marquis de Condillac and his wife are still at La Rochette, waiting
until my business here is done that they may come home.”

“His wife?” she cried.

“His wife, madame. He has brought home a wife from Italy.”

“Then--then--Marius?” She said no more than that. Maybe she had no
intention of muttering even so much of her thoughts aloud. But Garnache
caught the trend of her mind, and he marvelled to see how strong a habit
of thought can be. At once upon hearing of the Marquis’s marriage her
mind had flown back to its wonted pondering of the possibilities of
Marius’s wedding Valerie.

But Garnache dispelled such speculations.

“No, madame,” said he. “Marius looks elsewhere for a wife--unless
mademoiselle of her own free will should elect to wed him--a thing
unlikely.” Then, with a sudden change to sternness--“Mademoiselle de La
Vauvraye is well, madame?” he asked.

She nodded her head, but made no answer in words. He turned to Fortunio.

“Go fetch her,” he bade the captain, and one of the men unlocked the
door to let Fortunio out upon that errand.

The Parisian took a turn in the apartment, and came close to Tressan.
He nodded to the Seneschal with a friendliness that turned him sick with
fright.

“Well met, my dear Lord Seneschal. I am rejoiced to find you here. Had
it been otherwise I must have sent for you. There is a little matter
to be settled between us. You may depend upon me to settle it to your
present satisfaction, if to your future grief.” And, with a smile, he
passed on, leaving the Seneschal too palsied to answer him, too stricken
to disclaim his share in what had taken place at Condillac.

“You have terms to make with me?” the Marquise questioned proudly.

“Certainly,” he answered, with his grim courtesy. “Upon your acceptance
of those terms shall depend Marius’s life and your own future liberty.”

“What are they?”

“That within the hour all your people--to the last scullion--shall have
laid down their arms and vacated Condillac.”

It was beyond her power to refuse.

“The Marquis will not drive me forth?” she half affirmed, half asked.

“The Marquis, madame, has no power in this matter. It is for the Queen
to deal with your insubordination--for me as the Queen’s emissary.”

“If I consent, monsieur, what then?”

He shrugged his shoulders, and smiled quietly.

“There is no ‘if,’ madame. Consent you must, willingly or unwillingly.
To make sure of that have I come back thus and with force. But should
you deliver battle, you will be worsted--and it will be very ill for
you. Bid your men depart, as I have told you, and you also shall have
liberty to go hence.”

“Aye, but whither?” she cried, in a sudden frenzy of anger.

“I realize, madame, from what I know of your circumstances that you will
be well-nigh homeless. You should have thought of how one day you might
come to be dependent upon the Marquis de Condillac’s generosity before
you set yourself to conspire against him, before you sought to encompass
his death. You can hardly look for generosity at his hands now, and so
you will be all but homeless, unless--” He paused, and his eyes strayed
to Tressan and were laden with a sardonic look.

“You take a very daring tone with me,” she told him. “You speak to me as
no man has ever dared to speak.”

“When the power was yours, madame, you dealt with me as none has ever
dared to deal. The advantage now is mine. Behold how I use it in your
own interests; observe how generously I shall deal with you who deal in
murder. Monsieur de Tressan,” he called briskly. The Seneschal started
forward as if some one had prodded him suddenly.

“Mu--monsieur?” said he.

“With you, too, will I return good for evil. Come hither.”

The Seneschal approached, wondering what was about to take place. The
Marquise watched his coming, a cold glitter in her eye, for--keener of
mental vision than Tressan--she already knew the hideous purpose that
was in Garnache’s mind.

The soldiers grinned; the Abbot looked on with an impassive face.

“The Marquise de Condillac is likely to be homeless henceforth,” said
the Parisian, addressing the Seneschal. “Will you not be gallant enough
to offer her a home, Monsieur de Tressan?”

“Will I?” gasped Tressan, scarce daring to believe his own ears, his
eyes staring with a look that was almost one of vacancy. “Madame well
knows how readily.”

“Oho?” crowed Garnache, who had been observing madame’s face. “She
knows? Then do so, monsieur; and on that condition I will forget your
indiscretions here. I pledge you my word that you shall not be called to
further account for the lives that have been lost through your treachery
and want of loyalty, provided that of your own free will you lay down
your Seneschalship of Dauphiny--an office which I cannot consent to see
you filling hereafter.”

Tressan stared from the Dowager to Garnache and back to the Dowager. She
stood there as if Garnache’s words had turned her into marble, bereft of
speech through very rage. And then the door opened, and Mademoiselle de
La Vauvraye entered, followed closely by Fortunio.

At sight of Garnache she stood still, set her hand on her heart, and
uttered a low cry. Was it indeed Garnache she saw--Garnache, her brave
knight-errant? He looked no longer as he had looked during those days
when he had been her gaoler; but he looked as she liked to think of him
since she had accounted him dead. He advanced to meet her, a smile in
his eyes that had something wistful in it. He held out both hands to
her, and she took them, and there, under the eyes of all, before he
could snatch them away, she had stooped and kissed them, whilst a murmur
of “Thank God! Thank God!” escaped from her lips to heaven.

“Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!” he remonstrated, when it was too late to
stay her. “You must not; it is not seemly in me to allow it.”

He saw in the act no more than an expression of the gratitude for what
he had done to serve her, and for the risk in which his life had been
so willingly placed in that service. Under the suasion of his words she
grew calm again; then, suddenly, a fear stirred her once more in that
place where she had known naught but fears.

“Why are you here, monsieur? You have come into danger again?”

“No, no,” he laughed. “These are my own men, at least for the time
being. I am come in power this time, to administer justice. What shall
be done with this lady, mademoiselle?” he asked; and knowing well the
merciful sweetness of the girl’s soul, he added, “Speak, now. Her fate
shall rest in your hands.”

Valerie looked at her enemy, and then her eyes strayed round the room
and took stock of the men standing there in silence, of the Abbot who
still remained at the table-head, a pale, scarce-interested spectator of
this odd scene.

The change had come so abruptly. A few minutes ago she had been still a
prisoner, suffering tortures at having heard that Marius was to return
that day, and that, willy-nilly, she must wed him now. And now she was
free it seemed: her champion was returned in power, and he stood bidding
her decide the fate of her late oppressors.

Madame’s face was ashen. She judged the girl by her own self; she had no
knowledge of any such infinite sweetness as that of this child’s nature,
a sweetness that could do no hurt to any. Death was what the Marquise
expected, since she knew that death would she herself have pronounced
had the positions been reversed. But--

“Let her go in peace, monsieur,” she heard mademoiselle say, and she
could not believe but that she was being mocked. And as if mockery were
at issue, Garnache laughed.

“We will let her go, mademoiselle--yet not quite her own way. You must
not longer remain unrestrained, madame,” he told the Marquise. “Natures
such as yours need a man’s guidance. I think you will be sufficiently
punished if you wed this rash Monsieur de Tressan, just as he will be
sufficiently punished later when disillusionment follows his present
youthful ardour. Make each other happy, then,” and he waved his arms
from one to the other. “Our good Father, here, will tie the knot at
once, and then, my Lord Seneschal, you may bear home your bride. Her son
shall follow you.”

But the Marquise blazed out now. She stamped her foot, and her eyes
seemed to have taken fire.

“Never, sir! Never in life!” she cried. “I will not be so constrained. I
am the Marquise de Condillac, monsieur. Do not forget it!”

“I am hardly in danger of doing that. It is because I remember it that
I urge you to change your estate with all dispatch; and cease to be the
Marquise de Condillac. That same Marquise has a heavy score against
her. Let her evade payment by this metamorphosis. I have opened for you,
madame, a door through which you may escape.”

“You are insolent,” she told him. “By God, sir! I am no baggage to be
disposed of by the will of any man.”

At that Garnache himself took fire. Her anger proved as the steel
smiting the flint of his own nature, and one of his fierce bursts of
blazing passion whirled about her head.

“And what of this child, here?” he thundered. “What of her, madame? Was
she a baggage to be disposed of by the will of any man or woman? Yet you
sought to dispose of her against her heart, against her nature, against
her plighted word. Enough said!” he barked, and so terrific was his mien
and voice that the stout-spirited Dowager was cowed, and recoiled as he
advanced a step in her direction. “Get you married. Take you this man
to husband, you who with such calmness sought to drive others into
unwilling wedlock. Do it, madame, and do it now, or by the Heaven above
us, you shall come to Paris with me, and you’ll not find them nice
there. It will avail you little to storm and shout at them that you are
Marquise de Condillac. As a murderess and a rebel shall you be tried,
and as both or either it is odds you will be broken on the wheel--and
your son with you. So make your choice, madame.”

He ceased. Valerie had caught him by the arm. At once his fury fell from
him. He turned to her.

“What is it, child?”

“Do not compel her, if she will not wed him,” said she. “I
know--and--she did not--how terrible a thing it is.”

“Nay, patience, child,” he soothed her, smiling now, his smile as the
sunshine that succeeds a thunderstorm.

“It is none so bad with her. She is but coy. They had plighted their
troth already, so it seems. Besides, I do not compel her. She shall
marry him of her own free will--or else go to Paris and stand her trial
and the consequences.”

“They had plighted their troth, do you say?”

“Well--had you not, Monsieur le Seneschal?”

“We had, monsieur,” said Tressan, with conscious pride; “and for myself
I am ready for these immediate nuptials.”

“Then, in God’s name, let Madame give us her answer now. We have not the
day to waste.”

She stood looking at him, her toe tapping the ground, her eyes sullenly
angry. And in the end, half-fainting in her great disdain, she consented
to do his will. Paris and the wheel formed too horrible an alternative;
besides, even if that were spared her, there was but a hovel in Touraine
for her, and Tressan, for all his fat ugliness, was wealthy.

So the Abbot, who had lent himself to the mummery of coming there to
read a burial service, made ready now, by order of the Queen’s emissary,
to solemnize a wedding.

It was soon done. Fortunio stood sponsor for Tressan, and Garnache
himself insisted upon handing the Lord Seneschal his bride, a stroke
of irony which hurt the proud lady of Condillac more than all her
sufferings of the past half-hour.

When it was over and the Dowager Marquise de Condillac had been
converted into the Comtesse de Tressan, Garnache bade them depart in
peace and at once.

“As I have promised, you shall be spared all prosecution, Monsieur de
Tressan,” he assured the Seneschal at parting. “But you must resign at
once the King’s Seneschalship of Dauphiny, else will you put me to the
necessity of having you deprived of your office--and that might entail
unpleasant consequences.”

They went, madame with bowed head, her stubborn pride broken at last as
the Abbot of Saint Francis had so confidently promised her. After them
went the Abbot and the lackeys of Florimond, and Fortunio went with
these to carry out Garnache’s orders that the men of the Dowager’s
garrison be sent packing at once, leaving with the Parisian, in the
great hall, just Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye.



CHAPTER XXIV. SAINT MARTIN’S EVE

Uneasy in his mind, seeking some way to tell the thing and acquit
himself of the painful task before him, Garnache took a turn in the
apartment.

Mademoiselle leaned against the table, which was still burdened by the
empty coffin, and observed him. His ponderings were vain; he could find
no way to tell, his story. She had said that she did not exactly love
this Florimond, that her loyalty to him was no more than her loyalty to
her father’s wishes. Nevertheless, he thought, what manner of hurt must
not her pride receive when she learned that Florimond had brought him
home a wife? Garnache was full of pity for her and for the loneliness
that must be hers hereafter, mistress of a vast estate in Dauphiny,
alone and friendless. And he was a little sorry for himself and the
loneliness which, he felt, would be his hereafter; but that was by the
way.

At last it was she herself who broke the silence.

“Monsieur,” she asked him, and her voice was strained and husky, “were
you in time to save Florimond?”

“Yes, mademoiselle,” he answered readily, glad that by that question she
should have introduced the subject. “I was in time.”

“And Marius?” she inquired. “From what I heard you say, I take it that
he has suffered no harm.”

“He has suffered none. I have spared him that he might participate in
the joy of his mother at her union with Monsieur de Tressan.”

“I am glad it was so, monsieur. Tell me of it.” Her voice sounded formal
and constrained.

But either he did not hear or did not heed the question.

“Mademoiselle,” he said slowly. “Florimond is coming--”

“Florimond?” she broke in, and her voice went shrill, as if with a
sudden fear, her cheeks turned white as chalk. The thing that for months
she had hoped and prayed for was come at last, and it struck her almost
dead with terror.

He remarked the change, and set it down to a natural excitement. He
paused a moment. Then:

“He is still at La Rochette. But he does no more than wait until he
shall have learned that his stepmother has departed from Condillac.”

“But--why--why--? Was he then in no haste to come to me?” she inquired,
her voice faltering.

“He is--” He stopped and tugged at his mustachios, his eyes regarding
her sombrely. He was close beside her now, where he had halted, and he
set his hand gently upon her shoulder, looked down into that winsome
little oval face she raised to his.

“Mademoiselle,” he inquired, “would it afflict you very sorely if you
were not destined, after all, to wed the Lord of Condillac?”

“Afflict me?” she echoed. The very question set her gasping with hope.
“No--no, monsieur; it would not afflict me.”

“That is true? That is really, really true?” he cried, and his tone
seemed less despondent.

“Don’t you know how true it is?” she said, in such accents and with such
a shy upward look that something seemed suddenly to take Garnache by the
throat. The blood flew to his cheeks. He fancied an odd meaning in those
words of hers--a meaning that set his pulses throbbing faster than joy
or peril had ever set them yet. Then he checked himself, and deep down
in his soul he seemed to hear a peal of mocking laughter--just such a
burst of sardonic mirth as had broken from his lips two nights ago when
on his way to Voiron. Then he went back to the business he had in hand.

“I am glad it is so with you,” he said quietly. “Because Florimond has
brought him home a wife.”

The words were out, and he stood back as stands a man who, having cast
an insult, prepares to ward the blow he expects in answer. He had looked
for a storm, a wild, frantic outburst; the lightning of flashing, angry
eyes; the thunder of outraged pride. Instead, here was a gentle calm, a
wan smile overspreading her sweet, pale face, and then she hid that
face in her hands, buried face and hands upon his shoulder and fell to
weeping very quietly.

This, he thought, was almost worse than the tempest he had looked for.
How was he to know that these tears were the overflow of a heart that
was on the point of bursting from sheer joy? He patted her shoulder; he
soothed her.

“Little child,” he whispered in her ear. “What does it matter? You did
not really love him. He was all unworthy of you. Do not grieve, child.
So, so, that is better.”

She was looking up at him, smiling through the tears that suffused er
eyes.

“I am weeping for joy, monsieur,” said she.

“For joy?” quoth he. “_Vertudieu_! There is no end to the things a woman
weeps for!”

Unconsciously, instinctively almost, she nestled closer to him, and
again his pulses throbbed, again that flush came to overspread his lean
countenance. Very softly he whispered in her ear:

“Will you go to Paris with me, mademoiselle?”

He meant by that question no more than to ask whether, now that here in
Dauphiny she would be friendless and alone, it were not better for her
to place herself under the care of the Queen-Regent. But what blame to
her if she misunderstood the question, if she read in it the very words
her heart was longing to hear from him? The very gentleness of his tone
implied his meaning to be the one she desired. She raised her hazel eyes
again to his, she nestled closer to him, and then, with a shy fluttering
of her lids, a delicious red suffusing her virgin cheek, she answered
very softly:

“I will go anywhere with you, monsieur--anywhere.”

With a cry he broke from her. There was no fancying now; no possibility
of misunderstanding. He saw how she had misread his question, how she
had delivered herself up to him in answer. His almost roughness startled
her, and she stared at him as he stamped down the apartment and back
to where she stood, seeking in vain to master the turbulence of his
feelings. He stood still again. He took her by the shoulders and held
her at arms’ length, before him, thus surveying her, and there was
trouble in his keen eyes.

“Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!” he cried. “Valerie, my child, what are you
saying to me?”

“What would you have me say?” she asked, her eyes upon the floor. “Was I
too forward? It seemed to me there could not be question of such a thing
between us now. I belong to you. What man has ever served a woman as
you have served me? What better friend, what nobler lover did ever woman
have? Why then need I take shame at confessing my devotion?”

He swallowed hard, and there was a mist before his eyes--eyes that had
looked unmoved on many a scene of carnage.

“You know not what you do,” he cried out, and his voice was as the voice
of one in pain. “I am old.”

“Old?” she echoed in deep surprise, and she looked up at him, as if she
sought evidence of what he stated.

“Aye, old,” he assured her bitterly. “Look at the grey in my hair, the
wrinkles in my face. I am no likely lover for you, child. You’ll need a
lusty, comely young gallant.”

She looked at him, and a faint smile flickered at the corners of her
lips. She observed his straight, handsome figure; his fine air of
dignity and of strength. Every inch a man was he; never lived there one
who was more a man; and what more than such a man could any maid desire?

“You are all that I would have you,” she answered him, and in his mind
he almost cursed her stubbornness, her want of reason.

“I am peevish and cross-grained,” he informed her, “and I have grown old
in ignorance of woman’s ways. Love has never come to me until now. What
manner of lover, think you, can I make?”

Her eyes were on the windows at his back. The sunshine striking through
them seemed to give her the reply she sought.

“To-morrow will be Saint Martin’s Day,” she told him; “yet see with a
warmth the sun is shining.”

“A poor, make-believe Saint Martin’s Summer,” said he. “I am fitly
answered by your allegory.”

“Oh, not make-believe, not make-believe,” she exclaimed. “There is no
make-believe in the sun’s brightness and its warmth. We see it and we
feel it, and we are none the less glad of it because the time of year
should be November; rather do we take the greater joy in it. And it is
not yet November in your life, not yet by many months.”

“What you say is apt, perhaps,” said he, “and may seem more apt than
it is since my name is Martin, though I am no saint.” Then he shook off
this mood that he accounted selfish; this mood that would take her--as
the wolf takes the lamb--with no thought but for his own hunger.

“No, no!” he cried out. “It were unworthy in me!”

“When I love you, Martin?” she asked him gently.

A moment he stared at her, as if through those clear eyes he would
penetrate to the very depths of her maiden soul. Then he sank on to his
knees before her as any stripling lover might have done, and kissed her
hands in token of the fact that he was conquered.





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