Infomotions, Inc.An Enemy to the King / Stephens, Robert Neilson, 1867-1906



Author: Stephens, Robert Neilson, 1867-1906
Title: An Enemy to the King
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): tournoire; montignac; chatre; berquin; blaise; clochonne; mademoiselle; monsieur; chateau; inn; bussy d'amboise; sword; governor; duke
Contributor(s): Derbyshire, Charles E. [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 105,993 words (short) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 68 (easy)
Identifier: etext9965
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Title: An Enemy To The King

Author: Robert Neilson Stephens

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                          AN ENEMY TO THE KING

     From the recently discovered memoirs of the Sieur de la Tournoire

                       By Robert Neilson Stephens

Author of "The Continental Dragoon," "The Road to Paris," "Philip
Winwood," etc.

                                  1897




CONTENTS.

I.     TWO ENCOUNTERS BY NIGHT
II.    LOVE-MAKING AT SHORT ACQUAINTANCE
III.   THE STRANGE REQUEST OF MLLE. D'ARENCY
IV.    HOW LA TOURNOIRE WAS ENLIGHTENED IN THE DARK
V.     HOW LA TOURNOIRE ESCAPED FROM PARIS
VI.    HOW HE FLED SOUTHWARD
VII.   HOW HE ANNOYED MONSIEUR DE LA CHATRE
VIII.  A SWEET LADY IN DISTRESS
IX.    THE FOUR RASCALS
X.     A DISAPPEARANCE
XI.    HOW THE HERO GAVE HIS WORD AND KEPT IT
XII.   AT THE CHATEAU OF MAURY
XIII.  HOW DE BERQUIN INVITED DEATH
XIV.   "GOD GRANT I DO NOT FIND YOU FALSE"
XV.    TO CLOCHONNE, AFTER MADEMOISELLE!
XVI.   BEHIND THE CURTAINS
XVII.  SWORD AND DAGGER
XVIII. THE RIDE TOWARDS GUIENNE




AN ENEMY TO THE KING




CHAPTER I.

TWO ENCOUNTERS BY NIGHT


Hitherto I have written with the sword, after the fashion of greater men,
and requiring no secretary. I now take up the quill to set forth,
correctly, certain incidents which, having been noised about, stand in
danger of being inaccurately reported by some imitator of Brantome and De
l'Estoile. If all the world is to know of this matter, let it know
thereof rightly.

It was early in January, in the year 1578, that I first set out for
Paris. My mother had died when I was twelve years old, and my father had
followed her a year later. It was his last wish that I, his only child,
should remain at the chateau, in Anjou, continuing my studies until the
end of my twenty-first year. He had chosen that I should learn manners as
best I could at home, not as page in some great household or as gentleman
in the retinue of some high personage. "A De Launay shall have no master
but God and the King," he said. Reverently I had fulfilled his
injunctions, holding my young impulses in leash. I passed the time in
sword practice with our old steward, Michel, who had followed my father
in the wars under Coligny, in hunting in our little patch of woods,
reading the Latin authors in the flowery garden of the chateau, or in my
favorite chamber,--that one at the top of the new tower which had been
built in the reign of Henri II. to replace the original black tower from
which the earliest De Launay of note got the title of Sieur de la
Tournoire. All this while I was holding in curb my impatient desires. So
almost resistless are the forces that impel the young heart, that there
must have been a hard struggle within me had I had to wait even a month
longer for the birthday which finally set me free to go what ways I
chose. I rose early on that cold but sunlit January day, mad with
eagerness to be off and away into the great world that at last lay open
to me. Poor old Michel was sad that I had decided to go alone. But the
only servant whom I would have taken with me was the only one to whom I
would entrust the house of my fathers in my absence,--old Michel himself.
I thought the others too rustic. My few tenants would have made awkward
lackeys in peace, sorry soldiers in war.

Michel had my portmanteau fastened on my horse, which had been brought
out into the courtyard, and then he stood by me while I took my last
breakfast in La Tournoire; and, in my haste to be off, I would have
eaten little had he not pressed much upon me, reminding me how many
leagues I would have to ride before meeting a good inn on the Paris
road. He was sad, poor old Michel, at my going, and yet he partook of
some of my own eagerness. At last I had forced down my unwilling throat
food enough to satisfy even old Michel's solicitude. He girded on me the
finest of the swords that my father had left, placed over my violet
velvet doublet the new cloak I had bought for the occasion, handed me my
new hat with its showy plumes, and stood aside for me to pass out. In
the pocket of my red breeches was a purse holding enough golden crowns
to ease my path for some time to come. I cast one last look around the
old hall and, trying to check the rapidity of my breath, and the rising
of the lump in my throat, strode out to the court-yard, breathed the
fresh air with a new ecstasy, mounted the steaming horse, gave Michel my
hand for a moment, and, purposely avoiding meeting his eyes, spoke a
last kind word to the old man. After acknowledging the farewells of the
other servants, who stood in line trying to look joyous, I started my
horse with a little jerk of the rein, and was borne swiftly through the
porte, over the bridge, and out into the world. Behind me was the home
of my fathers and my childhood; before me was Paris. It was a fine,
bracing winter morning, and I was twenty-one. A good horse was under me,
a sword was at my side, there was money in my pocket. Will I ever feel
again as I did that morning?

Some have stupidly wondered why, being a Huguenot born and bred, I did
not, when free to leave La Tournoire, go at once to offer my sword to
Henri of Navarre or to some other leader of our party. This is easily
answered. If I was a Huguenot, I was also a man of twenty-one; and the
latter much more than the former. Paris was the centre of the world.
There was the court, there were the adventures to be had, there must one
go to see the whole of life; there would I meet men and make conquests of
women. There awaited me the pleasures of which I had known only by
report, there the advancement, the triumphs in personal quarrels; and,
above all else, the great love affair of my dreams. Who that is a man and
twenty-one has not such dreams? And who that is a man and seventy would
have been without them? Youth and folly go together, each sweetening the
other. The greatest fool, I think, is he who would have gone through life
entirely without folly. What then mattered religion to me? Or what
mattered the rivalry of parties, except as they might serve my own
personal ambitions and desires? Youth was ebullient in me. The longing to
penetrate the unknown made inaction intolerable to me. I must rush into
the whirlpool; I must be in the very midst of things; I longed for
gaiety, for mystery, for contest; I must sing, drink, fight, make love.
It is true that there would have been some outlet for my energies in camp
life, but no gratification for my finer tastes, no luxury, no such
pleasures as Paris afforded,--little diversity, no elating sense of being
at the core of events, no opportunities for love-making. In Paris were
the pretty women. The last circumstance alone would have decided me.

I had reached twenty-one without having been deeply in love. I had, of
course, had transient periods of inclination towards more than one of the
demoiselles in the neighborhood of La Tournoire; but these demoiselles
had rapidly become insipid to me. As I grew older, I found it less easy
to be attracted by young ladies whom I had known from childhood up. I had
none the less the desire to be in love; but the woman whom I should love
must be new to me, a mystery, something to fathom and yet unfathomable.
She must be a world, inexhaustible, always retaining the charm of the
partly unknown. I had high aspirations. No pretty maid, however low in
station, was unworthy a kiss and some flattery; but the real _affaire
d'amour_ of my life must have no elements but magnificent ones. She must
be some great lady of the court, and our passion must be attended by
circumstances of mystery, danger, everything to complicate it and raise
it to an epic height. Such was the amour I had determined to find in
Paris. Remember, you who read this, that I am disclosing the inmost
dreams of a man of twenty-one. Such dreams are appropriate to that age;
it is only when they are associated with middle age that they become
ridiculous; and when thoughts of amatory conquest are found in common
with gray hairs, they are loathsome. If I seem to have given my mind
largely up to fancies of love, consider that I was then at the age when
such fancies rather adorn than deface. Indeed, a young man without
thoughts of love is as much an anomaly as is an older man who gives
himself up to them.

I looked back once at La Tournoire, when I reached the top of the hill
that would, in another minute, shut it from my view. I saw old Michel
standing at the porte. I waved my hand to him, and turned to proceed on
my way. Soon the lump in my throat melted away, the moisture left my
eyes, and only the future concerned me. Every object that came into
sight, every tree along the roadside, now interested me. I passed several
travellers, some of whom seemed to envy me my indifference to the cold
weather, my look of joyous content.

About noon I overtook, just where the road left a wood and turned to
cross a bridge, a small cavalcade consisting of an erect, handsome
gentleman of middle age, and several armed lackeys. The gentleman wore a
black velvet doublet, and his attire, from his snowy ruff to his black
boots, was in the best condition. He had a frank, manly countenance that
invited address. At the turn of the road he saw me, and, taking me in at
a glance, he fell behind his lackeys that I might come up to him. He
greeted me courteously, and after he had spoken of the weather and the
promise of the sky, he mentioned, incidentally, that he was going to
Paris. I told him my own destination, and we came to talking of the
court. I perceived, from his remarks, that he was well acquainted there.
There was some talk of the quarrels between the King's favorites and
those of his brother, the Duke of Anjou; of the latter's sulkiness over
his treatment at the hands of the King; of the probabilities for and
against Anjou's leaving Paris and putting himself at the head of the
malcontent and Huguenot parties; of the friendship between Anjou and his
sister Marguerite, who remained at the Court of France while her husband,
Henri of Navarre, held his mimic Huguenot court in Bearn. Presently, the
name of the Duke of Guise came up.

Now we Huguenots held, and still hold, Henri de Guise to have been a
chief instigator of the event of St. Bartholomew's Night, in 1572.
Always I had in my mind the picture of Coligny, under whom my father had
fought, lying dead in his own courtyard, in the Rue de Bethizy, his
murder done under the direction of that same Henri, his body thrown from
his window into the court at Henri's orders, and there spurned by
Henri's foot. I had heard, too, of this illustrious duke's open
continuance of his amour with Marguerite, queen of our leader, Henri of
Navarre. When I spoke of him to the gentleman at whose side I rode, I
put no restraint on my tongue.

"The Duke of Guise!" I said. "All that I ever wish to say of him can
be very quickly spoken. If, as you Catholics believe, God has an
earthly representative in the Pope, then I think the devil has one in
Henri de Guise."

The gentleman was quiet for a moment, and looked very sober. Then he
said gravely:

"All men have their faults, monsieur. The difference between men is that
some have no virtues to compensate for their vices."

"If Henri de Guise has any virtues," I replied, "he wears a mask over
them; and he conceals them more effectually than he hides his
predilection for assassination, his amours, and his design to rule France
through the Holy League of which he is the real head."

The gentleman turned very red, and darted at me a glance of anger. Then
restraining himself, he answered in a very low tone:

"Monsieur, the subject can be discussed by us in only one way, or not
at all. You are young, and it would be too pitiful for you to be cut
off before you have even seen Paris. Doubtless, you are impatient to
arrive there. It would be well, then, if you rode on a little faster.
It is my intention to proceed at a much slower pace than will be
agreeable to you."

And he reined in his horse.

I reined in mine likewise. I was boiling with wrath at his superior tone,
and his consideration for my youth, but I imitated his coolness as well
as I could.

"Monsieur," said I, "whether or not I ever see Paris is not a matter to
concern you. I cannot allow you to consider my youth. You wish to be
obliging; then consider that nothing in the world would be a greater
favor to me than an opportunity to maintain with my sword my opinion of
Henri de Guise."

The man smiled gently, and replied without passion:

"Then, as we certainly are not going to fight, let my refusal be, not on
account of your youth, but on account of my necessity of reaching Paris
without accident."

His horse stood still. His lackeys also had stopped their horses, which
stood pawing and snorting at a respectful distance. It was an awkward
moment for me. I could not stand there trying to persuade a perfectly
serene man to fight. So with an abrupt pull of the rein I started my
horse, mechanically applied the spur, and galloped off. A few minutes
later I was out of sight of this singularly self-controlled gentleman,
who resented my description of the Duke of Guise. I was annoyed for some
time to think that he had had the better of the occurrence; and I gave
myself up for an hour to the unprofitable occupation of mentally
reenacting the scene in a manner more creditable to myself.

"I may meet him in Paris some day," I said to myself, "and find an
occasion to right myself in his estimation. He shall not let my youth
intercede for me again."

Then I wished that I had learned his name, that I might, on reaching
Paris, have found out more about him. Having in his suite no gentlemen,
but several lackeys, he was, doubtless, not himself an important
personage, but a follower of one. Not wishing to meet him again until
circumstances should have changed, I passed the next inn to which I came,
guessing that he would stop there. He must have done so, for he did not
come up with me that day, or at any time during my journey.

It was at sunset on a clear, cold evening that, without further
adventure, I rode into Paris through the Porte St. Michel, and stared,
as I proceeded along the Rue de la Harpe, at the crowds of people
hurrying in either direction in each of the narrow, crooked streets,
each person so absorbed in his own errand, and so used to the throng and
the noise, that he paid no heed to the animation that so interested and
stirred me. The rays of the setting sun lighted up the towers of the
colleges and abbeys at my right, while those at my left stood black
against the purple and yellow sky. I rode on and on, not wishing to stop
at an inn until I should have seen more of the panorama that so charmed
me. At last I reached the left bank of the Seine, and saw before me the
little Isle of the City, the sunlit towers of Notre Dame rising above
the wilderness of turrets and spires surrounding them. I crossed the
Pont St. Michel, stopping for a moment to look westward towards the Tour
de Nesle, and then eastward to the Tournelle, thus covering, in two
glances, the river bank of the University through which I had just come.
Emerging from the bridge, I followed the Rue de la Barillerie across the
Isle of the City, finding everywhere the same bustle, the same coming
and going of citizens, priests, students, and beggars, all alert, yet
not to be surprised by any spectacle that might arise before them.
Reaching the right arm of the Seine, I stopped again, this time on the
Pont-au-Change, and embraced, in a sweeping look from left to right, the
river bank of the town, the Paris of the court and the palaces, of the
markets and of trade, the Paris in which I hoped to find a splendid
future, the Paris into which, after taking this comprehensive view from
the towers of the Louvre and the Tour de Bois away leftward, to the Tour
de Billy away right ward, I urged my horse with a jubilant heart. It was
a quite dark Paris by the time I plunged into it. The Rue St. Denis,
along which I rode, was beginning to be lighted here and there by stray
rays from windows. The still narrower streets, that ran, like crooked
corridors in a great chateau, from the large thoroughfare, seemed to be
altogether dark.

But, dark as the city had become, I had determined to explore some of it
that night, so charming was its novelty, so inviting to me were its
countless streets, leading to who knows what? I stopped at a large inn in
the Rue St. Denis, saw my tired horse well cared for by an hostler, who
seemed amazed at my rustic solicitude for details, had my portmanteau
deposited in a clean, white-washed chamber, overlooking the street, ate a
supper such as only a Paris innkeeper can serve and a ravenous youth from
the country can devour, and went forth afoot, after curfew, into the now
entirely dark and no longer crowded street, to find what might befall me.

It had grown colder at nightfall, and I had to draw my cloak closely
around me. A wind had come up, too, and the few people whom I met were
walking with head thrust forward, the better to resist the breeze when it
should oppose them. Some were attended by armed servants bearing
lanterns. The sign-boards, that hung from the projecting stories of the
tall houses, swung as the wind swayed, and there was a continual sound of
creaking. Clouds had risen, and the moon was obscured much of the time,
so that when I looked down some of the narrower streets I could not see
whether they ended within a short distance, turned out of sight, or
continued far in the same direction. Being accustomed to the country
roads, the squares of smaller towns, and the wide avenues of the little
park at La Tournoire, I was at first surprised at the narrowness of the
streets. Across one of them lay a drunken man, peacefully snoring. His
head touched the house on one side of the street, and his feet pressed
the wall on the opposite side. It surprised me to find so many of the
streets no wider than this. But there was more breathing room wherever
two streets crossed and where several of them opened into some great
place. The crookedness and curvature of the streets constantly tempted me
to seek what might be beyond, around the corner, or the bend; and
whenever I sought, I found still other corners or bends hiding the
unknown, and luring me to investigate.

I had started westward from the inn, intending to proceed towards the
Louvre. But presently, having turned aside from one irregular street
into another, I did not know what was the direction in which I went.
The only noises that I heard were those caused by the wind, excepting
when now and then came suddenly a burst of loud talk, mingled mirth and
jangling, as quickly shut off, when the door of some cabaret opened and
closed. When I heard footsteps on the uneven pebble pavement of the
street, and saw approaching me out of the gloom some cloaked
pedestrian, I mechanically gripped the handle of my sword, and kept a
wary eye on the stranger,--knowing that in passing each other we must
almost touch elbows. His own suspicious and cautious demeanor and
motions reflected mine.

At night, in the narrow streets of a great town, there exists in every
footfall heard, every human figure seen emerging from the darkness, the
possibility of an encounter, an adventure, something unexpected. So, to
the night roamer, every human sound or sight has an unwonted interest.

As I followed the turning of one of the narrowest streets, the darkness,
some distance ahead of me, was suddenly cleft by a stream of light from a
window that was quickly opened in the second story of a tall house on the
right-hand side of the way. Then the window was darkened by the form of a
man coming from the chamber within. At his appearance into view I stood
still. Resting for a moment on his knees on the window-ledge, he lowered
first one leg, then the other, then his body, and presently he was
hanging by his hands over the street. Then the face of a woman appeared
in the window, and as the man remained there, suspended, he looked up at
her inquiringly.

"It is well," she said, in a low tone; "but be quick. We are just in
time." And she stood ready to close the window as soon as he should be
out of the way.

"Good night, adorable," he replied, and dropped to the street. The
lady immediately closed the window, not even waiting to see how the
man had alighted.

Had she waited to see that, she would have seen him, in lurching over to
prevent his sword from striking the ground, lose his balance on a
detached paving-stone, and fall heavily on his right arm.

"_Peste_!" he hissed, as he slowly scrambled to his feet. "I have
broken my arm!"

With his right arm hanging stiff by his side, and clutching its elbow
with his left hand, as if in great pain, he hastened away from the spot,
not having noticed me. I followed him.

After a second turn, the street crossed another. In the middle of the
open space at the junction, there stood a cross, as could be seen by the
moonlight that now came through an interval in the procession of
wind-driven clouds.

Just as the man with the hurt arm, who was slender, and had a dandified
walk, entered this open space, a gust of wind came into it with him; and
there came, also, from the other street, a robust gentleman of medium
height, holding his head high and walking briskly. Caught by the gust of
wind, my gentleman from the second story window ran precipitantly into
the other. The robust man was not sent backward an inch. He took the
shock of meeting with the firmness of an unyielding wall, so that the
slender gentleman rebounded. Each man uttered a brief oath, and grasped
his sword, the slender one forgetting the condition of his arm.

"Oh, it is you," said the robust man, in a virile voice, of which the
tone was now purposely offensive. "The wind blows fragile articles into
one's face to-night."

"It blows gentlemen into muck-heaps," responded the other, quickly.

The hearty gentleman gave a loud laugh, meant to aggravate the other's
anger, and then said:

"We do not need seconds, M. de Quelus," putting into his utterance of the
other's name a world of insult.

"Come on, then, M. Bussy d'Amboise," replied the other, pronouncing the
name only that he might, in return, hiss out the final syllable as if it
were the word for something filthy.

Both whipped out their swords, M. de Quelus now seemingly unconscious of
the pain in his arm.

I looked on from the shadow in which I had stopped, not having followed
De Quelus into the little open space. My interest in the encounter was
naturally the greater for having learned the names of the antagonists. At
La Tournoire I had heard enough of the court to know that the Marquis de
Quelus was the chief of the King's effeminate chamberlains, whom he
called his minions, and that Bussy d'Amboise was the most redoubtable of
the rufflers attached to the King's discontented brother, the Duke of
Anjou; and that between the dainty gentlemen of the King and the bullying
swordsmen of the Duke, there was continual feud.

Bussy d'Amboise, disdaining even to remove his cloak, of which he quickly
gathered the end under his left arm, made two steps and a thrust at De
Quelus. The latter made what parade he could for a moment, so that Bussy
stepped back to try a feint. De Quelus, trying to raise his sword a
trifle higher, uttered an ejaculation of pain, and then dropped the
point. Bussy had already begun the motion of a lunge, which it was too
late to arrest, even if he had discovered that the other's arm was
injured and had disdained to profit by such an advantage. De Quelus would
have been pierced through had not I leaped forward with drawn sword and,
by a quick thrust, happened to strike Bussy's blade and make it diverge
from its course.

De Quelus jumped back on his side, as Bussy did on his. Both regarded me
with astonishment.

"Oh, ho, an ambush!" cried Bussy. "Then come on, all of you, messieurs of
the daubed face and painted beard! I shall not even call my servants, who
wait at the next corner."

And he made a lunge at me, which I diverted by a parry made on instinct,
not having had time to bring my mind to the direction of matters. Bussy
then stood back on guard.

"You lie," said De Quelus, vainly trying to find sufficient strength
in his arm to lift his sword. "I was alone. My servants are as near
as yours, yet I have not called. As for this gentleman, I never saw
him before."

"That is true," I said, keeping up my guard, while Bussy stood with his
back to the cross, his brows knit in his effort to make out my features.

"Oh, very well," said Bussy. "I do not recognize him, but he is evidently
a gentleman in search of a quarrel, and I am disposed to be
accommodating."

He attacked me again, and I surprised myself, vastly, by being able to
resist the onslaughts of this, the most formidable swordsman at the
court of France. But I dared not hope for final victory. It did not even
occur to me as possible that I might survive this fight. The best for
which I hoped was that I might not be among the easiest victims of this
famous sword.

"Monsieur," said De Quelus, while Bussy and I kept it up, with offence
on his part, defence on mine, "I am sorry that I cannot intervene to
save your life. My arm has been hurt in a fall, and I cannot even hold
up my sword."

"I know that," I replied. "That is why I interfered."

"The devil!" cried Bussy. "Much as I detest you, M. de Quelus, you know I
would not have attacked you had I known that. But this gentleman, at
least, has nothing the matter with his arm."

And he came for me again.

Nothing the matter with my arm! Actually a compliment upon my
sword-handling from the most invincible fighter, whether in formal duel
or sudden quarrel, in France! I liked the generosity which impelled him
to acknowledge me a worthy antagonist, as much as I resented his
overbearing insolence; and I began to think there was a chance for me.

For the first time, I now assumed the offensive, and with such suddenness
that Bussy fell back, out of sheer surprise. He had forgotten about the
cross that stood in the centre of the place, and, in leaping backward, he
struck this cross heavily with his sword wrist. His glove did not save
him from being jarred and bruised; and, for a moment, he relaxed his firm
grasp of his sword, and before he could renew his clutch I could have
destroyed his guard and ended the matter; but I dropped my point instead.

Bussy looked at me in amazement, and then dropped his.

"Absurd, monsieur! You might very fairly have used your advantage.
Now you have spoiled everything. We can't go on fighting, for I would
not give you another such opening, nor would I kill a man who gives
me my life."

"As you will, monsieur," said I. "I am glad not to be killed, for what
is the use of having fought Bussy d'Amboise if one may not live to
boast of it?"

He seemed pleased in his self-esteem, and sheathed his sword. "I am
destined not to fight to-night," he answered. "One adversary turns out to
have a damaged arm, which would make it a disgrace to kill him, and the
other puts me under obligation for my life. But, M. de Quelus, your arm
will recover."

"I hope so, if for only one reason," replied Quelus.

Bussy d'Amboise then bowed to me, and strode on his way. He was joined at
the next crossing of streets by four lackeys, who had been waiting in
shadow. All had swords and pistols, and one bore a lantern, which had
been concealed beneath his cloak.

De Quelus, having looked after him with an angry frown, now turned to me,
and spoke with affability:

"Monsieur, had you not observed the condition of my arm, I should have
resented your aid. But as it is, I owe you my life no less than he owes
you his, and it may be that I can do more than merely acknowledge the
obligation."

I saw here the opportunity for which a man might wait months, and I was
not such a fool as to lose it through pride.

"Monsieur," I said, "I am Ernanton de Launay, Sieur de la Tournoire. I
arrived in Paris to-day, from Anjou, with the desire of enlisting in the
French Guards."

De Quelus smiled. "You desire very little for a gentleman, and one who
can handle a sword so well."

"I know that, but I do not bring any letters, and I am not one who could
expect the favor of a court appointment. I am a Huguenot."

"A Huguenot?" said De Quelus. "And yet you come to Paris?"

"I prefer to serve the King of France. He is at present on good terms
with the Huguenots, is he not?"

"Yes,--at least, he is not at war with them. Well, gentlemen like you are
not to be wasted, even though Huguenots. Attach yourself to Duret's
company of the guards for the present, and who knows when you may win a
vacant captaincy? I will bring you to the attention of the King. Can you
be, to-morrow at eleven o'clock, at the principal gate of the Louvre?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Very well. I will speak to Captain Duret, also, about you."

He looked at my active figure, neither tall nor short, neither broad nor
too thin, observed the length of my arm, and remembered that I had made
so respectable a showing with the sword against Bussy, I could see that
he was thinking, "It is well to have in one's debt as many such strong
and honest young gentlemen as can be had. Even a Huguenot may be useful
in these days."

Then, when so many leaders contended, every man was desirous of gaining
partisans. At court, wise people were scrupulous to repay obligations, in
the hope of securing future benefit. I divined De Quelus's motives, but
was none the less willing to profit by them as to the possible vacant
captaincy.

"Then I thank you, monsieur, and will keep the appointment," I said.

"You are alone," said De Quelus. "One does not know when one may have
one's throat cut for a sou, after dark in the streets of Paris. Will you
accept the escort of two of my servants? They are waiting for me in the
next street. One does not, you know, let one's servants wait too near
windows out of which one expects to drop," he added with a smile.

"I thank you, monsieur, but I have already fared so well alone to-night,
that I should fear to change my fortune by taking attendants."

"Then good night, monsieur. No, thank you. I can sheathe my own sword. My
arm has lost its numbness. _Parbleu_, I should like to meet Bussy
d'Amboise now."

And he strode away, leaving me standing by the cross.

I hesitated between returning to the inn, and resuming my exploration of
the streets. I decided to go back, lest I be shut out for the night.

I had made my way some distance, in the labyrinth of streets, when, on
reaching another junction of ways, I heard steps at some distance to the
left. Looking in that direction, I saw approaching a little procession
headed by two men servants, one of whom carried a lantern. I stepped back
into the street from which I had just emerged, that I might remain
unseen, until it should pass. Peering around the street corner, I saw
that behind the two servants came a lady, whose form indicated youth and
elegance, and who leaned on the arm of a stout woman, doubtless a
servant. Behind these two came another pair of lackeys.

The lady wore a mask, and although heavily cloaked, shivered in the
January wind, and walked as rapidly as she could. The four men had swords
and pistols, and were sturdy fellows, able to afford her good protection.

The two men in advance passed without seeing me, stepping easily over a
pool of muddy water that had collected in a depression in the street, and
had not yet had time to freeze.

When the lady reached this pool, she stopped at its brink and looked down
at it, with a little motion of consternation.

"I cannot step across this lake," she said, in a voice that was
low-pitched, rich, and full of charm to the ear. "We must skirt
its borders."

And she turned to walk a short distance up the street in which I stood.

"Not so, madame," I said, stepping forth and bowing. "The lake is a long
one, and you would have to go far out of your way. I will convey you
across in a moment, if you will allow me." And I held out my arms,
indicating my willingness to lift her across the pool.

The two servants in the rear now hastened up, ready to attack me, and
those ahead turned and came back, their hands on their weapons.

The lady looked at me through the eye-holes of her mask. Her lips and
chin being visible, she could not conceal a quizzical smile that came
at my offer.

"Why not?" she said, motioning her servants back.

I caught her up in my arms and lifted her over the puddle. She slid from
my grasp with a slight laugh.

I sought some pretext to prolong this meeting. "When I came out
to-night," I said, "I dared not hope for such happiness as this."

"Nor did the astrologer predict anything of the kind to me," she replied.
From this I knew the cause of her being in the street so late,--a secret
visit to some fortune-teller. Then she called to the stout woman, who was
looking for a place to step over the pool. "Come, Isa, in the name of
Heaven. You know that if the guard is changed--"

She stopped, but she had already betrayed herself. She meant the guard of
the palace, doubtless; and that her secret entrance, so long after the
closing of the gates, depended for its ease on the presence of some
officer with whom she had an understanding. She must be one of the ladies
attached to the royal household, and her nocturnal excursion, from the
Louvre, was evidently clandestine.

Isa now joined her mistress, and the latter, with a mere, "I thank you,
monsieur," turned and hastened on her way. Soon the footsteps of her
attendants died out of hearing.

I had not even seen her face, save the white, curved chin and the
delicate mouth. I had only beheld her lithe figure, felt its heaving as I
carried her, had my cold cheek warmed for a moment by her breath, heard
her provoking laugh and her voice, rich with vitality. Yet her charm had
caught me and remained with me. I could not, nor did I try to throw it
off. I was possessed by a craving to see her again, to know more of her.
Already I made this unknown the heroine of my prospective love affair. I
could soon find her, after gaining the entree of the court; and I could
identify her by her voice as well as by her probable recognition of me.
Heaving a deep sigh, I left the place of our meeting and found my way
back to the inn. Thanks to the presence of some late drinkers, I got in
without much pounding on the door; and in my little white-washed chamber
I dreamt of soft eyes that glowed through the holes of a lady's mask.




CHAPTER II.

LOVE-MAKING AT SHORT ACQUAINTANCE


The next morning was bright, and not too cold. At eleven I approached the
great gate of the Louvre, wearing the bold demeanor of a man determined
not to be abashed, even by the presence of royalty. Yet within me there
was some slight trepidation lest I should, on first setting foot within
the precincts of a palace, betray my rustic bringing up.

Others were being admitted at the gate, and some were coming out, both
the King's council and the reception having been over for some time. A
page, who had been waiting just inside the court, came out as I
approached, and asked me if I were M. de Launay. Astonished, that he
should have so easily picked me out, I replied that I was. He then said
that he had come to conduct me to Monsieur the Marquis de Quelus, and I
followed him into the great courtyard of the Louvre.

Before me was the imposing facade of the palace. Around me was an
animated scene of well-dressed gentlemen coming and going, meeting one
another forming little groups for a moment's interchange of news or
inquiries, and as quickly breaking up. There were soldiers on guard,
officers on duty and off, courtiers in brilliant doublets, dazzling
ruffs, rich hose; gentlemen with gay plumes, costly cloaks, jewelled
sword-hilts. There were pages, strutting about with messages; lackeys,
belonging only to the greatest nobles or royal favorites. Everybody,
whether gentleman, soldier, household officer, priest, page, or valet,
went with an air of great consequence, with head high in air, every
step, expression, and attitude proclaiming a sense of vast superiority
to the rest of the world. It was as if people attached to the court were
an elevated race of beings; or as if the court were Olympus, and these
were gods and the servitors of gods, who, very properly, regarded
mortals with disdain. Each man, too, maintained not only this lofty air
as befitting one of the court, but also an aspect of individual
preciousness as towards his fellow divinities. There was, in many a face
or bearing, an expressed resentment, in advance, of any affront that
might be offered. The soldiers swaggered, the gentlemen showed
self-esteem in every motion. Nevertheless, there was much good nature
and courtesy in the salutations, fragments of conversation, and
exchanges of gossip. Leaving the sunlit courtyard behind, the page
showed me up a fine stairway, where some gentlemen tarried in little
parties, while others ascended or descended. We passed through large
galleries, the same animation continuing everywhere. I had no time, as
we passed, to examine the superb hangings and fanciful decorations of
the galleries in detail. The clothes of the courtiers, the brilliant
display of velvet, silk, furs, and the finest linen, of every known hue,
made a continually changing, moving panorama of color.

We approached, at last, a group extraordinarily radiant in attire. It was
composed of very young men, some of whom had hardly yet acquired the
beard required by the universal fashion. Even at a distance I could see
that their cheeks were painted, could note their affectation of feminine
attitudes, could smell the perfumes with which they had deluged their
bodies. These were some of the favorites of the King, and more of the
imitators of the favorites. No wonder that Bussy d'Amboise and the sturdy
gentlemen of the King's ungainly brother, Anjou, had a manly detestation
for these bedaubed effeminates, and sought opportunities to extirpate
them with the sword. Yet these dainty youths, one of whom was De Quelus,
who now came forward to meet me, were not cowards.

The young Marquis wore a slashed doublet of brown velvet and gold. His
silken hose were of a lighter tint of brown. His ruff was so enormous
that he had to keep the point of his beard thrust forward at an
elevation.

"I shall present you when the King passes," he said to me. "I have
already spoken a word to Captain Duret, to whom you will report
to-morrow. He will make a veteran of you in a quarter of an hour. The
King, by the way, knows of your family. He knows every family in France,
for that matter. I spoke of you to him at his rising this morning. He
said that your father was a Huguenot, and I told him that you also were
Protestant. You know enough of things in France to be aware that your
Protestantism stands a little in your way at court, just now; but things
may change before there is a vacant captaincy in the Guards."

People who have thought it bad enough that I should have gone to Paris,
instead of to the court of Henri of Navarre, have been astonished,
beyond expression, at my having desired to serve in the King's infantry,
which, in the event of another civil war, might be arrayed against the
army of our faith. But it must be borne in mind that I had this desire
at a time when none knew how the different armies might be placed
towards one another in the civil war, which everybody admitted must, at
some time or other, occur. I was one of the many who believed that the
Duke of Guise, using the newly formed Holy League as his instrument,
would aim for the throne of France; that King Henri III. would be
forced, in self-defence, to make an alliance with the Huguenot leaders;
and that, therefore, I, in fulfilling my ambition to be of this King's
own soldiers, with quarters in or near Paris in time of peace, would, at
the outbreak of civil war, find myself in line with the armies of our
faith, opposed to the common enemy, the great Catholic Guise faction. Of
the various predictions as to the future of France, I chose this one,
perhaps because it was the only one which permitted me to follow out my
wishes without outraging my sense of duty.

Before I could answer De Quelus, a voice said, "The King!" At the end of
the gallery, where two halberdiers and two ushers stood, a pair of
curtains had quickly parted, and out came a slender young man all velvet,
silk, gold, and jewels; with the legs and the walk of a woman; with face
painted like a courtesan's; a very slight beard on his chin, and a weak
growth of hair on his upper lip; with a look half brazen, half
shamefaced; with eyes half wistful, half malicious; his pear-shaped face
expressing some love of the beautiful, some wit, some cynicism, much
personal vanity, vicious inclinations and practices, restlessness, the
torture of secret self-reproach, a vague distress, a longing to escape
somewhere and be at peace.

He wore ear-rings, a necklace, bracelets, and a small jewelled velvet
cap; but he was without his famous basket of little dogs. This was Henri
III., and he was going to pray in one of the churches.

As he came down the gallery, he noticed De Quelus, from afar, and then
glanced at me. When he was before us, De Quelus made obeisance and
presented me. Before I could finish my bow, the King said:

"Ah, it was your sword that helped to preserve my chamberlain from the
ambush laid for him?" (From which it appeared that De Quelus had given
his own account of the previous night's occurrence.) "And you wish to
enlist in my regiment of French Guards? My faith, I have done well in
reestablishing that corps, if such brave young gentlemen are induced to
enter it. I'll wager you hope to earn a commission soon."

I could only reply: "Such a hope is beyond my deserts, sire."

It was indeed beyond them, for I had seen no military service; but it was
not beyond them for any other reason.

"Nothing is beyond the deserts of one whose sword is always loyal," said
the King, with intended significance, and passed on; his gentlemen
falling in behind him. De Quelus gave me directions as to my reporting,
on the morrow, to Captain Duret, and added, "Rely on me for any favor or
privilege that you may wish, and for access to the palace. You have only
to send me word." He then joined the following of the King.

I seemed now at liberty to remain in the Louvre as long as I might
choose, having once entered it. I thought I would look about, knowing
that if at any time I should be about to trespass on forbidden ground,
there would be guards to hinder me. I went first to a window overlooking
the court. I had no sooner turned my eyes down upon the splendid and
animated scene below, then I felt a touch on my elbow. Looking around, I
saw a familiar face,--that of M. de Rilly, another Anjou gentleman, whom
I had known before his coming to court. He was now one of the King's
equerries.

He was a sprightly man of about thirty, with none of the effeminacy that
marked so many of the officers of the King's household. Though not of my
religion, he made me heartily welcome, and undertook, at once, to
initiate me into the mysteries of the court. He was a loquacious,
open-minded man, who did not fear to express his thoughts, even in the
shadow of royalty itself.

Hearing some clatter in the direction whither the King had gone, I looked
after him. A short, compact young gentleman, plainly, but richly dressed,
slightly stooping, with a rather surly face, and an envious eye, was
coming towards the King. He wore riding-boots and a cloak, and behind
him came a troop of young men similarly attired. The foremost of them was
Bussy d'Amboise, expressing defiance in every line of his bold, square
countenance.

"Ah," said De Rilly, "there is the Duke of Anjou, who has been riding in
the faubourg."

I took a second look at the surly gentleman. At this moment he exchanged
glances with his brother, the King. The look of each was eloquent. The
King's said, "I hate you for being a disloyal brother and a fractious
subject; for conspiring to take away part of my kingdom; and who knows
but that you are secretly aiming at my throne and my life?" The younger
brother's look conveyed this much: "I hate you for your suspicions of me;
for your not obtaining for me in your court the respect due the son and
brother of a king; for encouraging your favorites to ridicule me. If I am
driven to rebel against you, it is your own fault."

The King received the Duke's perfunctory salutation indifferently, and
passed on. Anjou and his men turned into a gallery leading to his own
apartments.

"I see that everybody is following the King," I said.

"Yes, but not I," replied De Rilly. "I find it no more amusing to pray
when the King does than at any other time. I came here, this morning, to
catch a glimpse of one of the Queen's ladies, but her Majesty has a cold,
and my lady is in attendance."

"Which of the Queens has a cold?"

"Queen Louise, the King's wife. It is true, one may well ask which, when
there is mention of the Queen nowadays. The Queen of France is a small
factor when compared with the King's mother, Queen Catherine, or even
with his sister, the Queen of Navarre, whose name is on everyone's
tongue, on account of her love affairs, and of her suspected plots."

"What plots?"

"Some think she plots with the Duke of Guise, who cannot wait to rule
France until Catherine's sons are both dead,--but Catherine will make
him wait. Others believe that she plots with her Huguenot husband, the
King of Navarre, to join him; and that the King keeps her here virtually
a prisoner, lest her departure might be taken as a concession to the
Huguenots; and, lastly and chiefly, they aver that she plots with her
brother Anjou, to help him to join the Huguenots and malcontents as
their leader."

"This is very interesting, M. de Rilly; but, pardon me, is it safe to say
these things openly at court? I am fresh from the country, and anxious
not to blunder."

"It is safe for me, because I am nobody at all, and, moreover, I say
whatever is in my thoughts, and am looked upon as a rattlebrain, and not
taken seriously. But it would not be safe for some. There comes the Queen
of Navarre now. She and her ladies have been walking in their garden."

A number of ladies were entering the gallery from a side stairway.
Marguerite de Valois, who ought to have been with her husband, the King
of Navarre, at his little court at Nerac, remained instead at the court
of France, to be its greatest ornament. She was, alas, its greatest
scandal, also. But I admired her none the less for that, as she stood
there, erect among her women, full of color and grace. Vast possibilities
of mischief seemed buried in the depths of the big and brilliant eyes
which gave so much life to the small, round face.

While she stood still for one of her maids to detach from her ruff a
dead leaf that had dropped there during her walk, Bussy d'Amboise
returned from Anjou's apartment. He walked up to her with a conquering
air, bowed, and said something that made her laugh. Then he looked
around and saw me. He spoke to her again, in a low tone, and she cast
her fine eyes in my direction. She directed her ladies to fall back out
of hearing, and again conferred with Bussy. At the end of this he left
her, and strode over to me.

"Monsieur," he said, "the Queen of Navarre would like to know your name.
I do not remember to have heard it last night."

I told him my name, and he took me by the arm, led me to Marguerite, and
presented me, somewhat to my confusion, so rapidly was the thing done.

"You are a newcomer at court?" she said.

"I arrived in Paris only yesterday."

"And have taken service with--whom?"

"In the French Guards."

"We shall doubtless hear more of your skill with the sword," said
Marguerite.

"I knew not I had any," I replied, "until I found out that I could stand
up for a minute against the sword I met last night. Now I am glad to know
that I possess skill, that I may hold it ever at the service of your
Majesty as well as of the King."

This speech seemed to be exactly what Marguerite had desired of me, for
she smiled and said, "I shall not forget you, M. de la Tournoire," before
she turned away.

Bussy followed her, and I returned to De Rilly.

"Why should they pay any attention to me?" I said to him.

"No newcomer is too insignificant to be sought as an ally where there are
so many parties," he replied, indifferently. "Those two are with Anjou,
who may have use for as many adherents as he can get one of these days.
They say he is always meditating rebellion with the Huguenots or the
Politiques, or both, and I don't blame a prince who is so shabbily
treated at court."

"But what could a mere guardsman do, without friends or influence?
Besides, my military duties--"

"Will leave you plenty of time to get into other troubles, if you find
them amusing. How do you intend to pass the rest of the day?"

"I have no plans. I should like to see more of the Louvre on my first
visit; and, to tell the truth, I had hoped to find out more about a
certain lady who belongs to the court."

"What do you know of her?"

"Only that she has a beautiful figure and a pretty mouth and chin. She
wore a mask, but I should recognize her voice if I heard it again."

"I wish you better luck than I have had to-day."

Marguerite and her damsels had turned down a corridor leading to her
apartments. Bussy d'Amboise was disappearing down the stairs. There came,
from another direction, the lively chatter of women's voices, and there
appeared, at the head of the stairs up which Marguerite had come, another
group of ladies, all young and radiant but one. The exception was a
stout, self-possessed looking woman of middle age, dressed rather
sedately in dark satin. She had regular features, calm black eyes, an
unruffled expression, and an air of authority without arrogance.

"Queen Catherine and some of her Flying Squadron," said De Rilly, in
answer to my look of inquiry. "She has been taking the air after the
King's council. Her own council is a more serious matter, and lasts all
the time."

"Queen Catherine?" I exclaimed, incredulously, half refusing to see, in
that placid matron, the ceaseless plotter, the woman accused of poisoning
and all manner of bloodshed, whom the name represented.

"Catherine de Medici," said De Rilly, evidently finding it a pleasure to
instruct a newcomer as to the personages and mysteries of the court. "She
who preserves the royal power in France at this moment."

"She does not look as I have imagined her," I said.

"One would not suppose," said De Rilly, "that behind that serene
countenance goes on the mental activity necessary to keep the throne in
possession of her favorite son, who spends fortunes on his minions, taxes
his subjects to the utmost, and disgusts them with his eccentric piety
and peculiar vices."

"Dare one say such things in the very palace of that King?"

"Why not say what every one knows? It is what people say in hidden
places that is dangerous."

"I wonder what is passing in the Queen-mother's mind at this moment," I
said, as Catherine turned into the corridor leading to Anjou's
apartments.

In the light of subsequent events, I can now give a better answer to that
query than De Rilly, himself, could have given then. Catherine had to use
her wits to check the deep designs of Henri, Duke of Guise, who was
biding his time to claim the throne as the descendant of Charlemagne, and
was as beloved of the populace as Henri III. was odious to it. Thanks to
the rebellion of Huguenots and malcontents, Guise had been kept too busy
in the field to prosecute his political designs. As head of the Catholic
party, and heir to his father's great military reputation, he could not,
consistently, avoid the duties assigned him by the crown. That these
duties might not cease, Catherine found it to her interest that rebellion
should continue indefinitely. The Huguenot party, in its turn, was kept
by the Guise or Catholic party from assaults on the crown. In fine, while
both great factions were occupied with each other, neither could threaten
the King. This discord, on which she relied to keep her unpopular son
safe on his throne, was fomented by her in secret ways. She shifted from
side to side, as circumstances required. The parties must be maintained,
in order that discontent might vent itself in factional contest, and not
against the King. The King must belong to neither party, in order not to
be of the party that might be ultimately defeated; yet he must belong to
both parties, in order to be of the party that might ultimately triumph.
To the maintainance of this impossible situation was the genius of
Catherine de Medici successfully devoted for many years of universal
discontent and bloodshed.

Now the Duke of Guise had found a way to turn these circumstances to
account. Since the King of France could not hold down the Huguenots, the
Holy Catholic League, composed of Catholics of every class throughout the
most of France, would undertake the task. He foresaw that he, as leader
of the League, would earn from the Catholics a gratitude that would make
him the most powerful man in the kingdom. Catherine, too, saw this. To
neutralize this move, she caused the King to endorse the League and
appoint himself its head. The Huguenots must not take this as a step
against them; on the contrary, they must be led to regard it as a shrewd
measure to restrain the League. The King's first official edicts, after
assuming the leadership of the League, seemed to warrant this view. So
the King, in a final struggle against the Guise elements, might still
rely on the aid of the Huguenots. But the King still remained outside of
the League, although nominally its chief. Catherine saw that it was not
to be deluded from its real purpose. The only thing to do was to
conciliate the Duke of Guise into waiting. There was little likelihood of
either of her sons attaining middle age. The Duke of Guise, a splendid
specimen of physical manhood, would doubtless outlive them; he might be
induced to wait for their deaths. The rightful successor to the throne
would then be Henri of Navarre, head of the Bourbon family. But he was a
Huguenot; therefore Catherine affected to the Duke of Guise a great
desire that he should succeed her sons. The existing peace allowed the
Duke of Guise the leisure in which to be dangerous; so every means to
keep him quiet was taken.

Some of these things De Rilly told me, as we stood in the embrasure of a
window in the gallery, while Catherine visited her son, Anjou,--whose
discontent at court complicated the situation, for he might, at any time,
leave Paris and lead the Huguenots and malcontents in a rebellion which
would further discredit her family with the people, demonstrate anew the
King's incompetence, and give the League an opportunity.

"And does the Duke of Guise allow himself to be cajoled?" I asked De
Rilly.

"Who knows? He is a cautious man, anxious to make no false step. They
say he would be willing to wait for the death of the King, but that he is
ever being urged to immediate action by De Noyard."

"De Noyard?"

"One of Guise's followers; an obscure gentleman of very great virtue, who
has recently become Guise's most valued counsellor. He keeps Guise on his
guard against Catherine's wiles, they say, and discourages Guise's amour
with her daughter, Marguerite, which Catherine has an interest in
maintaining. Nobody is more _de trop_ to Catherine just at present, I
hear, than this same Philippe de Noyard. Ah! there he is now,--in the
courtyard, the tallest of the gentlemen who have just dismounted, and are
coming in this direction, with the Duke of Guise."

I looked out of the window, and at once recognized the Duke of Guise by
the great height of his slender but strong figure, the splendid bearing,
the fine oval face, with its small mustache, slight fringe of beard, and
its scar, and the truly manly and magnificent manner, of which report had
told us. He wore a doublet of cloth of silver, a black cloak of velvet,
and a black hat with the Lorraine cross on its front. The tallest man in
his following--Philippe de Noyard, of whom De Rilly had just been
speaking--was the gentleman whom I had met on the road to Paris, and who
had refused to fight me after resenting my opinion of the Duke of Guise.

He must have arrived in Paris close behind me.

I was watching Guise and his gentlemen as they crossed the court to enter
the palace, when suddenly I heard behind me the voice that had lingered
in my ears all the previous night. I turned hastily around, and saw a
group of Catherine's ladies, who stood around a fireplace, not having
followed the Queen-mother to Anjou's apartments.

"Who is the lady leaning against the tapestry?" I quickly asked De Rilly.

"The one with the indolent attitude, and the mocking smile?"

"Yes, the very beautiful one, with the big gray eyes. By heaven, her eyes
rival those of Marguerite, herself!"

"That is Mlle. d'Arency, a new recruit to Catherine's Flying Squadron."

Her face more than carried out the promise given by her chin and mouth.
It expressed to the eye all that the voice expressed to the ear.

She had not seen me yet. I had almost made up my mind to go boldly over
to her, when the Duke of Guise and his gentlemen entered the gallery. At
the same instant, Catherine reappeared on the arm of the Duke of Anjou.
The latter resigned her to the Duke of Guise, and went back to his
apartment, whereupon Catherine and Guise started for the further end of
the gallery, as if for private conversation. His manner was courteous,
but cold; hers calm and amiable.

"Ah, see!" whispered De Rilly to me. "What did I tell you?"

Catherine had cast a glance towards Guise's gentlemen. De Noyard, grave
and reserved, stood a little apart from the others. For an instant, a
look of profound displeasure, a deeply sinister look, interrupted the
composure of Catherine's features.

"You see that M. de Noyard does not have the effect on the Queen-mother
that a rose in her path would have," remarked De Rilly.

He did not notice what followed. But I observed it, although not till
long afterward did I see its significance. It was a mere exchange of
glances, and little did I read in it the secret which was destined to
have so vast an effect on my own life, to give my whole career its
course. It was no more than this: Catherine turned her glance, quickly,
from De Noyard to Mlle. d'Arency, who had already been observing her.
Mlle. d'Arency gave, in reply, an almost imperceptible smile of
understanding; then Catherine and Guise passed on.

Two looks, enduring not a moment; yet, had I known what was behind them,
my life would assuredly have run an entirely different course.

The gentlemen of the Duke of Guise now joined Catherine's ladies at the
fireplace. For a time, Mlle. d'Arency was thus lost to my sight; then the
group opened, and I saw her resting her great eyes, smilingly, on the
face of De Noyard, who was talking to her in a low tone, his gaze fixed
upon her with an expression of wistful adoration.

"The devil!" I muttered. "That man loves her."

"My faith!" said De Rilly, "one would think he was treading on your toes
in doing so; yet you do not even know her."

"She is the woman I have chosen to be in love with, nevertheless," I
said.

It seemed as if the Duke of Guise had come to the Louvre solely for a
word with the Queen-mother, for now he took his departure, followed by
his suite, while Catherine went to her own apartments. As De Noyard
passed out, he saw me. His face showed that he recognized me, and that he
wondered what I was doing in the palace. There was nothing of offence in
his look, only a slight curiosity.

De Rilly now expressed an intention of going out to take the air, but I
preferred to stay where I was; for Mile. d'Arency had remained in the
gallery, with some other of Catherine's ladies. So the loquacious equerry
went without me.

I formed a bold resolution. Quelling the trepidation that came with it, I
strode quickly over to Mlle. d'Arency, who still stood against the
tapestry as if she had been a figure in it but had come to life and
stepped out into the apartment.

Her large eyes fell on me, and opened slightly wider, showing at once
recognition and a not unpleasant surprise. I bowed very low, partly to
conceal the flush that I felt mounting to my face.

"Pardon me, Mile. d'Arency," I said, in a voice as steady as I could make
it. Then I looked at her and saw her features assuming an expression of
such coldness and astonishment that for some time neither my tongue nor
my mind could continue the speech, nor could I move a step in retreat.
All the while she kept her eyes upon me.

I drew a deep breath at last, and said in desperation:

"Doubtless I ought not to address you, being unknown to you, but if you
will permit me, I will go and bring M. de Rilly, who will present me."

Her face softened somewhat, and she looked amused. "You seem quite able
to present yourself," she said.

I was immensely relieved at this melting of the ice, just when I was
beginning to feel that I was becoming a spectacle.

"I am Ernanton de Launay, Sieur de la Tournoire," I said, and to fill up
the embarrassing pause that followed, I added, "and, being a Huguenot, I
am a nobody in Paris,--in fact, a mere volunteer in the French Guards."

"Well, Monsieur Guardsman, what do you wish to say to me?"

She was now in quite a pleasant, quizzical mood.

"I trust you do not expect me to say it in one word," I answered; and
then I lowered my voice, "or in a single interview."

"It does not matter how many interviews it requires, if it is
interesting," she answered nonchalantly.

"Alas!" I said. "I fear it is a story which many others have told you."

"An old story may seem new, when it comes from new lips."

"And when it is new to the lips that tell it, as mine is. Actually, I
have never before made a confession of love."

"Am I to understand that you are about to make one now?"

"Have I not already made it?" I said.

We now stood quite apart from all others in the gallery, unnoticed by
them; and our voices had fallen almost to a whisper.

She smiled, as if refusing to take my words seriously.

"If you have waited so long before making any confession of love
whatever," she said, "you have certainly made up for the delay by the
speed which you use in making your first."

"On the contrary, I have had my confession ready for a long time, as my
love has existed for a long time. I waited only to meet its object,--the
woman of whom I had formed the ideal in my mind."

She looked as if about to burst into a laugh; but she changed her mind,
and regarded me with a look of inquiry, as if she would read my heart.
The smile was still on her lips, yet she spoke gravely when she said:

"Monsieur, I cannot make you out. If you are as sincere as you are
original,--but I must go to the Queen-mother now. To-morrow afternoon, I
shall walk in the gardens of the Tuileries, if the weather is clear."

"But one moment, I beg! M. de Noyard,--he is in love with you, is he
not?"

Her face again took on its mocking look. "I have not asked him," she said
lightly. Then she regarded me with a new and peculiar expression, as if
some daring idea had come into her mind, some project which had to be
meditated upon before it might be safely breathed.

"You look at me strangely, mademoiselle."

"Oh, I merely wonder at your curiosity in regard to M. de Noyard."

"My curiosity is not in regard to his feelings, but in regard to yours."

"Monsieur," she said, with a very captivating air of reproach, "have I
not told you that I shall walk in the gardens of the Tuileries to-morrow
afternoon?"

And she glided away, leaving behind her the most delighted and conceited
young man, at that moment, in France.




CHAPTER III.

THE STRANGE REQUEST OF MLLE. D'ARENCY


I was disappointed in the interview that I had with Mlle. d'Arency in
the gardens of the Tuileries, the next day. I saw her for only a few
minutes, and then within sight of other of Catherine's ladies. Although
I lost nothing of the ground I had taken, neither did I gain anything
further. Afterward, at court receptions and _fetes_, and, sometimes, in
the palace galleries, when she was off duty, I contrived to meet her.
She neither gave me opportunities nor avoided me. All the progress that
I made was in the measure of my infatuation for her. When I begged for a
meeting at which we might not be surrounded by half the court, she
smiled, and found some reason to prevent any such interview in the near
future. So, if I had carried things very far at our first meeting in the
Louvre, I now paid for my exceptional fortune by my inability to carry
them a step further.

Thus matters went for several days, during which the assertion of De
Rilly was proven true,--that my duties as a member of the French Guards
would leave me some time for pleasure. Thanks to De Quelus, and to his
enemy, Bussy d'Amboise, I made acquaintances both in the King's following
and in that of the King's brother, the Duke of Anjou. De Rilly made me
known to many who belonged to neither camp, and were none the worse for
that. Our company lodged in the Faubourg St. Honore, but I led the life
of a gentleman of pleasure, when off duty, and, as such, I had a private
lodging within the town, near the Louvre, more pretentious than the
whitewashed chamber in the Rue St. Denis. I drank often in cabarets,
became something of a swaggerer, and something of a fop,--though never
descending to the womanishness of the King's minions,--and did not allow
my great love affair, which I never mentioned save in terms of mystery,
to hinder me from the enjoyment of lesser amours of transient duration.
At this time everybody was talking of the feud between the King's
favorites and the followers of the Duke of Anjou. The King's minions
openly ridiculed Anjou for his ungainliness, which was all the greater
for his look of settled discontent and resentment. His faithful and
pugnacious Bussy retaliated by having his pages dress like the King's
minions,--with doublets of cloth of gold, stiff ruffs, and great
plumes,--and so attend him at the Twelfth Day _fetes_. The minions, in
their turn, sought revenge on Bussy by attacking him, on the following
night, while he was returning from the Louvre to his lodgings. He eluded
them, and the next morning he accused M. de Grammont of having led the
ambuscade. De Quelus then proposed that all the King's gentlemen should
meet all those of the Duke in a grand encounter to the death. The Duke's
followers gladly accepted the challenge. Three hundred men on each side
would have fought, had not the King resolutely forbidden the duel. De
Quelus, that night, led a number of gentlemen in an attack on Bussy's
lodgings. Bussy and his followers made a stout resistance, the tumult
becoming so great that the Marechal de Montmorency called out the Scotch
Guard to clear the street in front of Bussy's house; and it was time.
Several gentlemen and servants were lying in their blood; and some of
these died of their wounds.

It was openly known, about the court, that the Duke of Anjou held the
King to be privy to these attacks on Bussy, and was frightfully enraged
thereby; and that the King, in constant fear of the Duke's departure to
join the Huguenots,--which event would show the King's inability to
prevent sedition even in the royal family, and would give the Guise party
another pretext to complain of his incompetence,--would forcibly obstruct
the Duke's going.

It was this state of affairs that made Catherine de Medici again take up
her abode in the Louvre, that she might be on the ground in the event of
a family outbreak, which was little less probable to occur at night than
in the daytime. She had lately lived part of the time in her new palace
of the Tuileries, and part of the time in her Hotel des Filles Repenties,
holding her council in either of these places, and going to the Louvre
daily for the signature of the King to the documents of her own
fabrication. At this time, Mlle. d'Arency was one of the ladies of the
Queen-mother's bedchamber, and so slept in the Louvre. What should I be
but such a fool as, when off duty, to pass certain hours of the night in
gazing up at the window of my lady's chamber, as if I were a lover in an
Italian novel! Again I must beg you to remember that I was only
twenty-one, and full of the most fantastic ideas. I had undertaken an
epic love affair, and I would omit none of the picturesque details that
example warranted.

Going, one evening in February, to take up my post opposite the Louvre, I
suddenly encountered a gentleman attended by two valets with torches. I
recognized him as De Noyard, who had twice or thrice seen me about the
palaces, but had never spoken to me. I was therefore surprised when, on
this occasion, he stopped and said to me, in a low and polite tone:

"Monsieur, I have seen you, once or twice, talking with M. Bussy
d'Amboise, and I believe that, if you are not one of his intimates, you,
at least, wish him no harm."

"You are right, monsieur," I said, quite mystified.

"I am no friend of his," continued M. de Noyard, in his cold,
dispassionate tone, "but he is a brave man, who fights openly, and, so
far, he is to be commended. I believe he will soon return from the
Tuileries, where he has been exercising one of the horses of the Duke of
Anjou. I have just come from there myself. On the way, I espied, without
seeming to see them, a number of the gentlemen of the King waiting behind
the pillars of the house with a colonnade, near the Porte St. Honore."

"One can guess what that means."

"So I thought. As for me, I have more important matters in view than
interfering with the quarrels of young hot-heads; but I think that there
is yet time for Bussy d'Amboise to be warned, before he starts to return
from the Tuileries."

"M. de Noyard, I thank you," I said, with a bow of genuine respect, and
in a moment I was hastening along the Rue St. Honore.

I understood, of course, the real reasons why De Noyard himself had not
gone back to warn Bussy. Firstly, those in ambush would probably have
noticed his turning back, suspected his purpose, and taken means to
defeat it. Secondly, he was a man from whom Bussy would have accepted
neither warning nor assistance; yet he was not pleased that any brave man
should be taken by surprise, and he gave me credit for a similar feeling.
I could not but like him, despite my hidden suspicion that there was
something between Mlle. d'Arency and him.

I approached the house with the colonnade, feigning carelessness, as if I
were returning to my military quarters in the faubourg. The Porte St.
Honore was still open, although the time set for its closing was past.

Suddenly a mounted figure appeared in the gateway, which, notwithstanding
the dusk, I knew, by the way the rider sat his horse, to be that of
Bussy. I was too late to warn him; I could only give my aid.

Three figures rushed out from beneath the supported upper story of the
house, and made for Bussy with drawn swords. With a loud oath he reined
back his horse on its haunches, and drew his own weapon, with which he
swept aside the two points presented at him from the left. One of the
three assailants had planted himself in front of the horse, to catch its
bridle, but saw himself now threatened by Bussy's sword, which moved with
the swiftness of lightning. This man thereupon fell back, but stood ready
to obstruct the forward movement of the horse, while one of the other
two ran around to Bussy's right, so that the rider might be attacked,
simultaneously on both sides.

This much I had time to see before drawing my sword and running up to
attack the man on the horseman's left, whom I suddenly recognized as De
Quelus. At the same instant I had a vague impression of a fourth
swordsman rushing out from the colonnade, and, before I could attain my
object, I felt a heavy blow at the base of my skull, which seemed
almost to separate my head from my neck, and I fell forward, into
darkness and oblivion.

I suppose that the man, running to intercept me, had found a thrust less
practicable than a blow with the hilt of a dagger.

When I again knew that I was alive, I turned over and sat up. Several
men--bourgeois, vagabonds, menials, and such--were standing around,
looking down at me and talking of the affray. I looked for Bussy and De
Quelus, but did not see either. At a little distance away was another
group, and people walked from that group to mine, and _vice versa._

"Where is M. Bussy?" I asked.

"Oho, this one is all right!" cried one, who might have been a clerk or a
student; "he asks questions. You wish to know about Bussy, eh? You ought
to have seen him gallop from the field without a scratch, while his
enemies pulled themselves together and took to their heels."

"What is that, over there?" I inquired, rising to my feet, and
discovering that I was not badly hurt.

"A dead man who was as much alive as any of us before he ran to help M.
Bussy. It is always the outside man who gets the worst of it, merely for
trying to be useful. There come the soldiers of the watch, after the
fight is over."

I walked over to the other group and knelt by the body on the ground. It
was that of a gentleman whom I had sometimes seen in Bussy's company. He
was indeed dead. The blood was already thickening about the hole that a
sword had made in his doublet.

The next day the whole court was talking of the wrath of the Duke of
Anjou at this assault upon his first gentleman-in-waiting. I was ashamed
of having profited by the influence of De Quelus, who, I found, had not
recognized me on the previous evening. Anjou's rage continued deep. He
showed it by absenting himself from the wedding of Saint-Luc, one of De
Quelus's companions in the King's favor and in the attack on Bussy.
Catherine, knowing how the King's authority was weakened by the squabbles
between him and his brother, took the Duke out to Vincennes for a walk in
the park and a dinner at the chateau, that his temper might cool. She
persuaded him to show a conciliatory spirit and attend the marriage ball
to be held that night in the great hall of the Louvre. This was more than
she could persuade Marguerite to do, who accompanied mother and son to
Vincennes, sharing the feelings of the Duke for three reasons,--her love
for him, her hatred for her brother, the King, and her friendship for
Bussy d'Amboise. It would have been well had the Duke been, like his
sister, proof against his mother's persuasion. For, when he arrived at
the ball, he was received by the King's gentlemen with derisive looks,
and one of them, smiling insolently in the Duke's piggish, pockmarked
face, said, "Doubtless you have come so late because the night is most
favorable to your appearance."

Suppose yourself in the Duke's place, and imagine his resentment. He
turned white and left the ball. Catherine must have had to use her utmost
powers to keep peace in the royal family the next day.

On the second morning after the ball, I heard, from De Rilly, that the
King had put his brother under arrest, and kept him guarded in the Duke's
own apartment, lest he should leave Paris and lead the rebellion which
the King had to fear, not only on its own account, but because of the
further disrepute into which it would bring him with his people. The
King, doubtless, soon saw, or was made to see, that this conduct towards
his brother--who had many supporters in France and was then affianced to
Queen Elizabeth of England--would earn only condemnation; for, on the day
after the arrest, he caused the court to assemble in Catherine's
apartments, and there De Quelus went ironically through the form of an
apology to the Duke, and a reconciliation with Bussy. The exaggerated
embrace which Bussy gave De Quelus made everybody laugh, and showed that
this peace-making was not to be taken seriously. Soon after it, Bussy
d'Amboise and several of his followers left Paris.

The next thing I saw, which had bearing on the difference between the
King and Monsieur his brother, was the procession of penitents in which
Monsieur accompanied the King through the streets, after the hollow
reconciliation. I could scarcely convince myself that the
sanctimonious-looking person, in coarse penitential robe, heading the
procession through the mire and over the stones of Paris, from shrine to
shrine, was the dainty King whom I had beheld in sumptuous raiment in the
gallery of the Louvre. The Duke of Anjou, who wore ordinary attire,
seemed to take to this mummery like a bear, ready to growl at any moment.
His demeanor was all that the King's gentlemen could have needed as a
subject for their quips and jokes.

Two evenings after this, I was drinking in the public room of an inn,
near my lodgings in the town, when a young gentleman named Malerain, who,
though not a Scot, was yet one of the Scotch bodyguard, sat down at my
table to share a bottle with me.

"More amusement at the palace," he said to me. "To think that, any one of
these nights, I may be compelled to use force against the person of the
King's brother, and that some day he may be King! I wonder if he will
then bear malice?"

"What is the new trouble at the Louvre?" I asked.

"It is only the old trouble. Monsieur has been muttering again, I
suppose, and this, with the fact that Bussy d'Amboise keeps so quiet
outside of Paris, has led the King to fear that Monsieur has planned to
escape to the country. At least, it has been ordered that every member of
the Duke's household, who does not have to attend at his retiring, must
leave the palace at night; and Messieurs de l'Archant, De Losses, and the
other captains, have received orders from the King that, if Monsieur
attempts to go out after dark, he must be stopped. Suppose it becomes my
duty to stop him? That will be pleasant, will it not? To make it worse, I
am devoted to a certain damsel who is devoted to Queen Marguerite, who is
devoted to Monsieur, her brother. And here I am inviting misfortune,
too, by drinking wine on the first Friday in Lent. I ought to have
followed the example of the King, who has been doing penance all day in
the chapel of the Hotel de Bourbon."

"Let us hope that the King will be rewarded for his penance by the
submission of Monsieur. I, for one, hope that if Monsieur attempts to get
away, he will run across some Scotchman of the Guard who will not scruple
to impede a prince of France. For if he should lead a Huguenot army
against the King, I, as one of the Guards, might be called on to oppose
my fellow-Protestants."

"Oh, the Duke does not wish to join the Huguenots. All he desires is to
go to the Netherlands, where a throne awaits him if he will do a little
fighting for it."

"I fear he would rather revenge himself on the King for what he has had
to endure at court."

Presently Malerain left to go on duty at the Louvre, and soon I followed,
to take up my station in sight of the window where Mlle. d'Arency slept.
The night, which had set in, was very dark, and gusts of cold wind came
up from the Seine. The place where, in my infatuation and affectation, I
kept my lover's watch, was quite deserted. The Louvre loomed up gigantic
before me, the lights gleaming feebly in a few of its many windows,
serving less to relieve its sombre aspect than to suggest unknown, and,
perhaps, sinister doings within.

I laugh at myself now for having maintained those vigils by night beneath
a court lady's window; but you will presently see that, but for this
boyish folly, my body would have been sleeping in its grave these many
years past, and I should have never come to my greatest happiness.

Suddenly my attention was attracted to another window than that on which
I had fixed my gaze. This other window appertained to the apartments of
the King's sister, Queen Marguerite, and what caused me to transfer my
attention to it was the noise of its being opened. Then a head was thrust
out of it,--the small and graceful head of Marguerite herself. She looked
down at the moat beneath, and in either direction, and apparently saw no
one, I being quite in shadow; then she drew her head in.

Immediately a rope was let down into the moat, whose dry bed was about
five times a tall man's length below the window, which was on the second
story. Out of the window came a man of rather squat figure, who let
himself boldly and easily down the rope. As soon as he had reached the
bed of the moat, he was followed out of the window and down the rope by a
second man, who came bunglingly, as if in great trepidation. This person,
in his haste, let go the rope before he was quite down, but landed on
his feet. Then a third figure came out from the chamber and down the
cable, whereupon Marguerite's head again appeared in the opening, and I
could see the heads of two waiting-women behind her. But the Queen of
Navarre manifestly had no intention of following the three men. These now
clambered up the side of the moat, and the one who had been first down
turned and waved her a silent adieu, which she returned with a graceful
gesture of her partly bare arm. The three men then rapidly plunged into
one of the abutting streets and were gone. All this time I stood inactive
and unobserved.

Marguerite remained at the window to cast another look around. Suddenly,
from out the darkness at the base of the Louvre, as if risen from the
very earth at the bottom of the moat, sprang the figure of a man, who
started toward the guard-house as if his life depended on his speed.
Marguerite drew her head in at once with a movement of great alarm. An
instant later the rope was drawn up and the window closed.

Two conjectures came into my head, one after the other, each in a flash.
The one was that Marguerite had availed herself of the fraternal quarrel
that occupied the King's attention to plan an escape to her husband, King
Henri of Navarre, and that these three men had gone from a consultation
in her apartments to further the project. The other conjecture was that
they were but some of Monsieur's followers who had transgressed the new
rule, requiring their departure from the palace at nightfall, and had
taken this means of leaving to avoid discovery. If the former conjecture
embodied the truth, my sympathies were with the plot; for it little
pleased me that the wife of our Huguenot leader should remain at the
French court, a constant subject of scandalous gossip. If the second
guess was correct, I was glad of an opportunity to avert, even slight,
trouble from the wilful but charming head of Marguerite. In either case,
I might serve a beautiful woman, a queen, the wife of a Huguenot king.
Certainly, if that man, paid spy or accidental interloper, should reach
the guard-house with information that three men had left the Louvre by
stealth, the three men might be overtaken and imprisoned, and great
annoyance brought to Marguerite. All this occupied my mind but an
instant. Before the man had taken ten steps, I was after him.

He heard me coming, looked around, saw my hand already upon my
sword-hilt, and shouted, "The guard! Help!" I saw that, to avoid a
disclosure, I must silence him speedily; yet I dared not kill him, for he
might be somebody whose dead body found so near the palace would lead to
endless investigations, and in the end involve Marguerite, for suppose
that the King had set him to watch her? Therefore I called to him, "Stop
and face me, or I will split you as we run!"

The man turned at once, as if already feeling my sword-point entering his
back. Seeing that I had not even drawn that weapon, he, himself, drew a
dagger and raised it to strike. But I was too quick and too long of arm
for him. With my gloved fist I gave him a straight blow on the side of
the chin, and he dropped like a felled tree, at the very moat's edge,
over which I rolled him that he might recover in safety from the effects
of the shock.

I knew that, when he should awake, he would not dare inform the guard,
for the three men would then be far away, and he would have no evidence
to support his story. He would only put himself in danger of having
fabricated a false accusation against the King's sister.

I deemed it best to go from the vicinity of the Louvre at once, and I did
so, with a last wistful look at the windows behind which Mlle. d'Arency
might or might not be reposing. I did not reappear there until the next
morning. The first person I then met was Malerain, who was coming from
the church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, where he had been making up for
previous neglect of devotions.

"Well," I said, as I stood before him, and twisted my up-shooting
mustaches, in unconscious imitation of him, "I trust you found your
quarter on duty last night an easy one. You must thank me for saving you
some labor."

"What do you mean?" he asked, with a look of sudden interest.

"Nothing, only that you might have been called on to give chase to some
flying bird or other, if I had not knocked down a rascal who was running
to inform the guard."

"And you saw the bird fly?" he said, with increasing astonishment.

"From an opening in that great cage," I replied, looking towards
the Louvre.

"Then I, for myself, am glad you knocked down the said rascal who would
have made falcons of us to bring the bird down. But be more cautious.
Suppose what you did should reach the ears of the King?"

"Why should the King concern himself?"

"Monsieur, is it possible that you don't know that the bird that flew
from the Louvre last night was the Duke of Anjou?"

It was now my turn to stare in astonishment.

"But," I said, "what use for him to leave the palace? There would be the
gates of Paris to pass."

"There is more than one way to cross the fortifications of Paris,
especially when one has such an ally as Bussy d'Amboise, free, to arrange
matters. Monsieur is at this moment certainly on his way to some
stronghold of his own. The King is mad with rage. Queen Marguerite is
looking innocent and astonished, but I'll wager she had a hand in this
evasion. My friend, I am under obligations to you!"

"How?"

"Why, since Queen Marguerite undoubtedly rejoices at her favorite
brother's escape, and you helped to make it good, she owes you gratitude.
So do all her maids, who, naturally, share in her feelings and benefit by
her joy. Now, that gratitude extends of course to your friends, of whom I
am one. Therefore a good turn is due me from one of those maids in
particular, and for that I am obliged to you!"

I laughed at this fantastic extension of a debt of gratitude.
"Doubtless," I said; "but since neither Marguerite nor the maid knows
anything about my share in the matter, I don't see how you are going to
collect the debt."

Malerain said nothing, but there was already that in his mind which,
absurd as it might seem at that time, was to save me when death should
rise threateningly about me on every side. It is a world in which much
comes from little.

I was somewhat agitated at realizing that I had been the means of aiding
an escape which might result in opposing the troops of the King to those
of certain Huguenot leaders; but this thought was suddenly driven from my
mind by a sight which caused me to leave Malerain abruptly, and make for
one of the streets that led from the Louvre to the midst of the town.

It was Mlle. d'Arency, mounted on a plumed horse, with tassellated
trappings, which was led by a young equerry who wore Catherine's colors,
and followed by two mounted lackeys in similar livery. Beside her rode
the stout, elderly woman who usually attended her. Mlle. d'Arency wore a
mask of black velvet, but that could not conceal her identity from eyes
to which every line of her pretty head, every motion of her graceful
person, had become familiar in actual contemplation and in dreams. Her
cloak and gown were, alike, of embroidered velvet of the color of red
wine, as was the velvet toque which sat perched on her dark brown hair.

I followed her at some distance, resolved to find an opportunity for a
seemingly accidental meeting. I supposed that she was going to visit some
of the shops,--perhaps for the Queen-mother, perhaps for herself.

She led me on and on, until I began to wonder what could be her
destination. She avoided the streets of fine shops, such as were
patronized by the court, skirted market-places, and continued, in a
general easterly direction, until she had crossed both the Rue St. Denis
and the Rue St. Martin. At last, turning out of the Rue St. Antoine, she
reached, by a little street lined with bakeries, a quiet square before a
small church, of which I never even learned the name. She and the stout
woman dismounted, and entered the church, leaving her male attendants
outside with the horse.

"Oho," I mused, stopping at the door of a pastry-cook's at the place
where the little street joined the square; "she chooses an obscure place
for her devotions. Evidently she prefers to mingle solitude with them, so
I must not disturb her."

I decided, therefore, to wait at the pastry-cook's till she should come
out, and then to encounter her as if by chance. I would have, at least, a
word in payment for having come so far afoot.

The pastry-cook must have been convinced of two things before Mlle.
d'Arency came out of church: first, that his fortune was made if this new
customer, myself, should only continue to patronize him; second, that
there existed, at least, one human stomach able to withstand unlimited
quantities of his wares.

I stood back in the shop, devouring one doughy invention after another,
with my ear alert for the sound of her horse's hoofs on the stones. At
last it occurred to me that she might have left the square by some other
street. I made for the door of the shop to look. As I did so, a man
rapidly passed the shop, going from the square towards the Rue St.
Antoine. Was not that figure known to me? I hastened to the street. My
first glance was towards the church. There stood her horse, and her three
attendants were walking up and down in the sunlight. Then I looked after
the man; I thought that the figure looked like that of De Noyard.

He disappeared into the Rue St. Antoine, having given me no opportunity
to see his face. I would have followed, to make sure, roused into an
intolerable jealousy at the idea of a secret meeting between Mlle.
d'Arency and him, but that I now heard the full melodious voice of the
lady herself. Looking around, I saw her on the steps of the church, with
her middle-aged companion. At that instant her eyes met mine.

I advanced, with an exaggerated bow, sweeping the stones of the street
with the plumes of my hat.

"So it is true!" I said, making no effort to control my agitation, and
restraining my voice only that the lackeys might not hear; "you love
that man!"

She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then said, "Do you mean M.
de Noyard?"

"Ah, you admit it!"

"I admit nothing. But if I did love him, what right would you have to
call me to account?"

"The right of a man who adores you, mademoiselle."

"That is no right at all. A man's right concerning a woman must be
derived from her own actions. But come inside the church, monsieur."

She made a gesture to her attendants, and reentered the church. I
followed her. We stood together before the font in the dim light.

"And now," she continued, facing me, "suppose I grant that I have so
acted as to give you a right to question me; what then? Is it my fault
that you have followed me this morning? Is it, then, any more my fault
that I have been followed, also, by M. de Noyard?"

"But he must have been here before you."

"What does that prove? A score of people in the Louvre knew yesterday
that I was coming to this church to-day."

"But so deserted a church,--so out of the way! Who would come here from
the Louvre but for a tryst?"

She smiled, indulgently. "Can a thing have no cause except the obvious
one?" she said. "I visit this church once every month, because, obscure
though it be, it is associated with certain events in the history of my
ancestors."

"But," I went on, though beginning to feel relieved, "if M. de Noyard was
thrusting his presence on you, why did he leave before you did?"

"Probably because he knew that I would not leave the church while he
remained to press his company upon me outside."

The low tones that we had to use, on account of our surroundings, gave
our conversation an air of confidence and secrecy that was delicious to
me; and now her voice fell even lower, when she added:

"I take the pains to explain these things to you, monsieur, because I do
not wish you to think that I have intrigues;" and she regarded me fixedly
with her large gray eyes, which in the dimness of the place were darker
and more lustrous than usual.

Delightfully thrilled at this, I made to take her hand and stoop to kiss
it, but stopped for a last doubt.

"Mademoiselle," I said, "I think you only the most adorable woman in the
world. But there is one thing which has cost me many a sleepless hour,
many a jealous surmise. If I could be reassured as to the nature of your
errand that night when I first saw you--"

"Oh!" she laughed, "I was coming from an astrologer's."

"But you were not coming from the direction of Ruggieri's house."

"There are many astrologers in Paris, besides Ruggieri. Although the
Queen-mother relies implicitly on him, one may sometimes get a more
pleasing prediction from another; or, another may be clear on a point on
which he is vague."

"But the hour--"

"I took the time when I was not on duty, and he kept me late. It was for
a friend that I visited the astrologer,--a friend who was required in the
palace all that evening. The astrologer had to be consulted that night,
as my friend wished to be guided in a course that she would have to take
the next morning. Now, Monsieur Curiosity, are you satisfied?"

This time I took her hand and pressed my lips upon it.

She was silent for a moment, noting the look of admiration on my face.
Then, quickly, and in little more than a whisper, she said:

"I have answered your questions, though not admitting your right to ask
them. Would you know how to gain that right?"

"Tell me!" I said, my heart beating rapidly with elation.

"Challenge M. de Noyard, and kill him!"

I stared in astonishment.

"Now you may know whether or not I love him," she added.

"But, mademoiselle,--why--"

"Ah, that is the one thing about which I must always refuse to be
questioned! I ask you this service. Will you grant it?"

"If he has given you offence," I said, "certainly I will seek him at
once."

"Not a word of me is to be said between you! He must not know that I have
spoken to you."

"But a man is not to be killed without reason."

"A pretext is easily invented."

"Certainly,--a pretext to hide the cause of a quarrel from the world. But
the real cause ought to be known to both antagonists."

"I shall not discuss what ought or ought not to be. I ask you, will you
fight this man and try to kill him? I request nothing unusual,--men are
killed every day in duels. You are a good swordsman; Bussy d'Amboise
himself has said so. Come! will you do this?" She looked up at me with a
slight frown of repressed petulance.

"If you will assure me that he has affronted you, and permit me to let
him know, privately, the cause of my quarrel."

"Oh!" she exclaimed, with irritation, "must a lady give a hundred reasons
when she requests a service of a gentleman?"

"One sufficient reason, when it is a service like this."

"Well, I shall give none. I desire his death,--few gentlemen would ask a
further reason."

"I had not thought you so cruel, mademoiselle, as to desire the death
of any man."

"God forbid that I should desire the death of any other man! So,
monsieur, I must understand that you refuse to serve me in this?"

Her contemptuous look made me sigh. "Can you not see, mademoiselle, that
to resolve deliberately and secretly on a man's death, and with
premeditation to create a pretext for a challenge, is little better than
assassination?"

"A fine excuse to avoid risking your life!"

Again I had to endure a look of profound scorn from her.

"Mademoiselle," I replied, patiently, "I would that you might see how
ready I am to fight when an affront is given me or some one needs a
defender."

"Oh!" she said, with an ironical smile. "Then to show yourself a lion
against De Noyard, you require only that he shall affront you, or that
some one shall need a defender against him! Suppose that _I_ should ever
be in such need?"

"You know that in your defence I would fight an army."

Her smile now lost its irony, and she assumed a look of conciliation,
which I was both surprised and rejoiced to behold.

"Well, monsieur, it is pleasant to know that, if you will not take the
offensive for me, you will, at least, act readily on the defensive if
the occasion comes."

Much relieved at the turn the conversation had taken, I now undertook to
continue it to my advantage. After some bantering, maintained with gaiety
on her part, she said that she must return to the Louvre. Then, as she
would not have me accompany her in the streets, I begged her to appoint
another meeting. She evaded my petition at first, but, when I took her
hand and refused to release it until she should grant my request, she
said, after a little submissive shrug of her shoulders:

"Very well. Follow me, at a distance, from this church, and observe a
house before which I shall stop for a moment as if to adjust my cloak. It
is a house that has been taken by a friend of mine, one of the
Queen-mother's ladies. I shall be there tomorrow afternoon."

"Alas! To-morrow I shall be on duty till six in the evening."

"Then come at seven. Knock three times on the street door." And with that
she slipped her hand from mine, and hastened lightly out of the church. I
stood alone by the font, delighted and bewildered. There was so much to
mystify me that I did not even search my mind for explanations. I thought
my happiness about to be attained, and left it for the future to
explain,--as it did!




CHAPTER IV.

HOW LA TOURNOIRE WAS ENLIGHTENED IN THE DARK


It was already dark when I started, on the evening appointed, for the
house indicated by Mlle. d'Arency. I went without attendance, as was my
custom, relying on my sword, my alertness of eye, and my nimbleness of
foot. I had engaged a lackey, for whose honesty De Rilly had vouched, but
he was now absent on a journey to La Tournoire, whither I had sent him
with a message to my old steward. I have often wondered at the good
fortune which preserved me from being waylaid, by thieving rascals, on my
peregrinations, by night, through Paris streets. About this very time
several gentlemen, who went well attended, were set upon and robbed
almost within sight of the quarters of the provost's watch; and some of
these lost their lives as well as the goods upon their persons. Yet I
went fearlessly, and was never even threatened with attack.

On the way to the house, I reviewed, for the hundredth time, the
conversation in the church. There were different conjectures to be made.
Mlle. d'Arency may have made that surprising request merely to convince
me that she did not love De Noyard, and intending, subsequently, to
withdraw it; or it may have sprung from a caprice, a desire to ascertain
how far I was at her bidding,--women have, thoughtlessly, set men such
tasks from mere vanity, lacking the sympathy to feel how precious to its
owner is any human life other than their own;--or she may have had some
substantial reason to desire his death, something to gain by it,
something to lose through his continuing to live. Perhaps she had
encouraged his love and had given him a promise from which his death
would be the means of release easiest to her,--for women will, sometimes,
to secure the smallest immunity for themselves, allow the greatest
calamities to others. This arises less from an active cruelty than from a
lack of imagination, an inability to suppose themselves in the places of
others. I soon felt the uselessness of searching, in my own mind, for the
motive of Mlle. d'Arency's desire, or pretence of desire, for the death
of De Noyard. What had passed between them I could not guess. So, after
the manner of youth, I gave up the question, satisfied with knowing that
I had before me an interview with a charming woman, and willing to wait
for disclosures until events should offer them.

The street in which the house was situated was entirely dark and
deserted when I stepped into it. The house was wider than its neighbors,
and each of its upper stories had two chambers overlooking the street. At
the window of one of these chambers, on the second story, a light shone.
It was the only light visible in any of the houses, all of which frowned
down menacingly; and hence it was like a beacon, a promise of cheer and
warmth in the midst of this black, cold Paris.

I knocked three times on the street door, as she had directed me.
Presently the wicket at the side of the door was opened, and a light was
held up to it, that my face might be seen by a pair of eyes that peered
out through the aperture. A moment later the bolts of the door were
drawn, and I was let in by the possessor of the eyes. This was the
elderly woman who always attended Mlle. d'Arency when the latter was
abroad from the palace. She had invariably shown complete indifference to
me, not appearing aware of my existence, and this time she said only:

"This way, monsieur."

Protecting the flame of her lamp with her hand, she led me forward to a
narrow staircase and we ascended, stopping at a landing on which opened
the second story chamber whose street window had shone with light. She
gave three knocks at the door of this chamber. At the last knock, her
lamp went out.

"Curse the wind!" she muttered.

So I stood with her, on the landing, in darkness, expecting the door in
front of me to open, immediately, and admit me to the lighted chamber.

Suddenly I heard a piercing scream from within the chamber. It was the
voice of Mlle. d'Arency.

"Help! Help!" she cried. "My God, he will kill me!"

This was followed by one long series of screams, and I could hear her
running about the chamber as though she were fleeing from a pursuer.

I stood for an instant, startled.

"Good God!" cried the old woman at my elbow. "An assassin! Her enemies
have planned it! Monsieur, save her life!"

And the dame began pounding on the door, as if to break into the room to
assist her mistress.

I needed no more than this example. Discovering that the door was
locked on the inside, and assuming that Mlle. d'Arency, in the flight
which she maintained around the room, could not get an opportunity to
draw the bolt, I threw my weight forward, and sent the door flying open
on its hinges.

To my astonishment, the chamber was in complete darkness. Mlle. d'Arency
had doubtless knocked the light over in her movements around the room.

She was still screaming at the top of her voice, and running from one
side to another. The whiteness of the robe she wore made it possible to
descry her in the absence of light.

I stood for a second, just inside the threshold, and drew my sword. At
first, I could not see by whom or what she was threatened; but I heard
heavy footsteps, as of some one following her in her wild course about
the place. Then I made out, vaguely, the figure of a man.

"Fear not, mademoiselle!" I cried.

"Oh, monsieur!" she screamed. "Save me! Save my life!"

I thrust my sword at the figure of the man. An ejaculation of pain told
me that it touched flesh. A second later, I heard a sword slide from its
scabbard, and felt the wind of a wild thrust in my direction.

At this moment, Mlle d'Arency appeared between me and the street window
of the room. There was enough light from the sky to enable her head and
shoulders to stand out darkly against the space of the window. Her head
was moving with the violent coming and going of her breath, and her
shoulders were drawn up in an attitude of the greatest fright. Is it any
wonder that I did not stop to ascertain who or what her assailant might
be, or how he had come there? I could make out only that the man in the
darkness was a large and heavy one, and wielded a swift blade. All other
thoughts were lost in the immediate necessity of dealing with him. The
extreme terror that she showed gave me a sense of his being a formidable
antagonist; the prompt response that he had given to my own thrust showed
that he was not to be quelled by a mere command. In fine, there was
nothing to do but fight him as best I could in the blackness; and I was
glad for so early an opportunity to show Mlle. d'Arency how ready I was
to do battle for her when I found her threatened with danger.

From the absence of any sound or other demonstration, except what was
made by Mlle. d'Arency and the man and myself, I knew that we three were
the only ones in the room. The elderly woman had not entered with me,--a
fact whose strangeness, in view of the great desire she had first evinced
to reach her mistress's side, did not occur to me until afterward.

I made another thrust at the man, but, despite the darkness, he parried
it with his sword; and a quick backward step was all that saved me from
his prompt reply. Angered at having to give ground in the presence of the
lady, I now attacked in turn, somewhat recklessly, but with such good
luck as to drive him back almost to the window. Mlle. d'Arency gave
another terrified scream when he came near her, and she ran past me
towards the door of the apartment. Both my antagonist and myself were
now beginning to have a clearer impression of each other's outlines, and
there was sharp sword-work between us by the window. As we stood there,
breathing rapidly with our exertion and excitement, I heard the door
close through which I had entered. I knew from this that Mlle. d'Arency
had left the chamber, and I was glad that she was out of danger. It was
natural that she should close the door, instinct impelling her to put any
possible barrier between her assailant and herself.

The man and myself were alone together to maintain the fight which,
having once entered, and being roused to the mood of contest, I had no
thought of discontinuing now that Mlle. d'Arency was out of immediate
danger. It had reached a place at which it could be terminated only by
the disarming, the death, or the disabling of one of us.

I gradually acquired the power of knowing all my opponent's movements,
despite the darkness. I supposed that he was equipped with dagger as well
as with sword, but as he made no move to draw the shorter weapon, I did
not have recourse to mine. Though I would not take an advantage over him,
even in the circumstances, yet I was not willing to be at a disadvantage.
Therefore, as he was not encumbered with cloak or mantle, I employed a
breathing moment to tear off my own cloak and throw it aside, not
choosing to use it on my left arm as a shield unless he had been
similarly guarded.

So we lunged and parried in the darkness, making no sound but by our
heavy breathing and an occasional ejaculation and the tramping of our
feet, the knocking of our bodies against unseen pieces of furniture, and
the clashing of our blades when they met. Each of us fenced cautiously at
times, and at times took chances recklessly.

Finally, in falling back, he came to a sudden stop against a table, and
the collision disturbed for an instant his control over his body. In that
instant I felt a soft resistance encounter my sword and yield to it. At
once, with a feeling of revulsion, I drew my sword out of the casing that
his flesh had provided, and stood back. Something wet and warm sprinkled
my face. The man gave a low moan and staggered sideways over towards the
window. Then he plunged forward on his face. I stooped beside him and
turned him over on his back, wetting my gloves with the blood that gushed
from his wound and soaked his doublet. At that moment a splash of
moonlight appeared on the floor, taking the shape of the window. His head
and shoulders lay in this illumined space. I sprang back in horror,
crying out his name:

"De Noyard! My God, it is you!"

"Yes, monsieur," he gasped, "it is De Noyard. I have been trapped. I
ought to have suspected."

"But I do not understand, monsieur. Surely you could not have attacked
Mlle, d'Arency?"

"Attacked her! I came here by her appointment!"

"But her cry for help?"

"It took me by complete surprise. There was a knock on the door--"

"Yes,--mine. I, too, came by her appointment!"

"Mademoiselle instantly put out the light and began to scream. I thought
that the knock frightened her; then that she was mad. I followed to calm
her. You entered; you know the rest."

"But what does it mean?"

"Can you not see?" he said, with growing faintness. "We have been
tricked,--I, by her pretense of love and by this appointment, to my
death; you, by a similar appointment and her screams, to make yourself my
slayer. I ought to have known! she belongs to Catherine, to the
Queen-mother. Alas, monsieur! easily fooled is he who loves a woman!"

Then I remembered what De Rilly had told me,--that De Noyard's counsels
to the Duke of Guise were an obstacle to Catherine's design of
conciliating that powerful leader, who aspired to the throne on which her
son was seated.

"No, no, monsieur!" I cried, unwilling to admit Mlle. d'Arency capable
of such a trick, or myself capable of being so duped. "It cannot be
that; if they had desired your death, they would have hired assassins to
waylay you."

Yet I knew that he was right. The strange request that Mlle. d'Arency had
made of me in the church was now explained.

A kind of smile appeared, for a moment, on De Noyard's face, struggling
with his expression of weakness and pain.

"Who would go to the expense of hiring assassins," he said, "when honest
gentlemen can be tricked into doing the work for nothing? Moreover, when
you hire assassins, you take the risk of their selling your secret to the
enemy. They are apt to leave traces, too, and the secret instigator of a
deed may defeat its object by being found out."

"Then I have to thank God that you are not dead. You will recover,
monsieur."

"I fear not, my son. I do not know how much blood I lose at every word I
speak. _Parbleu_! you have the art of making a mighty hole with that toy
of yours, monsieur!"

This man, so grave and severe in the usual affairs of life, could take on
a tone of pleasantry while enduring pain and facing death.

"Monsieur," I cried, in great distress, "you must not die. I will save
you. I shall go for a surgeon. Oh, my God, monsieur, tell me what to do
to save your life!"

"You will find my lackeys, two of them, at the cabaret at the next
corner. It is closed, but knock hard and call for Jacques. Send him to
me, and the other for a surgeon."

De Noyard was manifestly growing weaker, and he spoke with great
difficulty. Not daring to trust to any knowledge of my own as to
immediate or temporary treatment of his wound, I made the greatest haste
to follow his directions. I ran out of the chamber, down the stairs, and
out to the street, finding the doors neither locked nor barred, and
meeting no human being. Mlle. d'Arency and her companion had silently
disappeared.

I went, in my excitement, first to the wrong corner. Then, discovering my
blunder, I retraced my steps, and at last secured admittance to the place
where De Noyard's valets tarried.

To the man who opened the door, I said, "Are you Jacques, the serving-man
of Monsieur de Noyard?"

"I am nobody's serving man," was the reply, in a tone of indignation; but
a second man who had come to the door spoke up, "I am Jacques."

"Hallo, Monsieur de la Tournoire," came a voice from a group of men
seated at a table. "Come and join us, and show my friends how you
fellows of the French Guards can drink!"

It was De Rilly, very merry with wine.

"I cannot, De Rilly," I replied, stepping into the place. "I have very
important business elsewhere." Then I turned to Jacques and said,
quietly, "Go, at once, to your master, and send your comrade for a
surgeon to follow you there. Do you know the house in which he is?"

The servant made no answer, but turned pale. "Come!" he said to another
servant, who had joined him from an obscure corner of the place. The two
immediately lighted torches and left, from which fact I inferred that
Jacques knew where to find his master.

"What is all this mystery?" cried De Rilly, jovially, rising and coming
over to me, while the man who had opened the door, and who was evidently
the host, closed it and moved away. "Come, warm yourself with a bottle!
Why, my friend, you are as white as a ghost, and you look as if you had
been perspiring blood!"

"I must go, at once, De Rilly. It is a serious matter."

"Then hang me if I don't come, too!" he said, suddenly sobered, and he
grasped his cloak and sword. "That is, unless I should be _de trop_."

"Come. I thank you," I said; and we left the place together.

"Whose blood is it?" asked De Rilly, as we hurried along the narrow
street, back to the house.

"That of M. de Noyard."

"What? A duel?"

"A kind of duel,--a strange mistake!

"The devil! Won't the Queen-mother give thanks! And won't the Duke of
Guise be angry!"

"M. de Noyard is not dead yet. His wound may not be fatal."

I led the way into the house and up the steps to the apartment. It was
now lighted up by the torch which Jacques had brought. De Noyard was
still lying in the position in which he had been when I left him. The
servant stood beside him, looking down at his face, and holding the torch
so as to light up the features.

"How do you feel now, monsieur?" I asked, hastening forward.

There was no answer. The servant raised his eyes to me, and said, in a
tone of unnatural calmness, "Do you not see that he is dead, M. de la
Tournoire?"

Horror-stricken, I knelt beside the body. The heart no longer beat; the
face was still,--the eyes stared between unquivering lids, in the light
of the torch.

"Oh, my God! I have killed him!" I murmured.

"Come away. You can do nothing here," said De Rilly, quietly. He caught
me by the shoulder, and led me out of the room.

"Let us leave this neighborhood as soon as possible," he said, as we
descended the stairs. "It is most unfortunate that the valet knows your
name. He heard me speak it at the tavern, and he will certainly recall
also that I hailed you as one of the French Guards."

"Why is that unfortunate?" I asked, still deprived of thought by the
horror of having killed so honorable a gentleman, who had not harmed me.

"Because he can let the Duke of Guise know exactly on whom to seek
vengeance for the death of De Noyard."

"The Duke of Guise will seek vengeance?" I asked, mechanically, as we
emerged from that fatal house, and turned our backs upon it.

"Assuredly. He will demand your immediate punishment. You must bespeak
the King's pardon as soon as possible. That is necessary, to protect
oneself, when one has killed one's antagonist in a duel. The edicts still
forbid duels, and one may be made to pay for a victory with one's life,
if the victim's friends demand the enforcement of the law,--as in this
case the Duke of Guise surely will demand."

"M. de Quelus can, doubtless, get me the King's pardon," I said, turning
my mind from the past to the future, from regret to apprehension. The
necessity of considering my situation prevented me from contemplating, at
that time, the perfidy of Mlle. d'Arency, the blindness with which I had
let myself be deceived, or the tragic and humiliating termination of my
great love affair.

"If M. de Quelus is with you, you are safe from the authorities. You will
then have only to guard against assassination at the hands of Guise's
followers."

"I shall go to M. de Quelus early in the morning," I said.

"By all means. And you will not go near your lodgings until you have
assured your safety against arrest. You must reach the King before the
Duke can see him; for the Duke will not fail to hint that, in killing De
Noyard, you were the instrument of the King or of the Queen-mother. To
disprove that, the King would have to promise the Duke to give you over
to the authorities. And now that I think of it, you must make yourself
safe before the Queen-mother learns of this affair, for she will advise
the King to act in such a way that the Duke cannot accuse him of
protecting you. My friend, it suddenly occurs to me that you have got
into a rather deep hole!"

"De Rilly," I asked, with great concern, "do you think that I was the
instrument of Catherine de Medici in this?"

"Certainly not!" was the emphatic answer. "The fight was about a woman,
was it not?"

"A woman was the cause of it," I answered, with a heavy sigh. "But how do
you know?"

"To tell the truth," he said, "many people have been amused to see
you make soft eyes at a certain lady, and to see De Noyard do
likewise. Neither young men like you, nor older men like him, can
conceal these things."

Thus I saw that even De Rilly did not suspect the real truth, and this
showed me how deep was the design of which I had been the tool. Everybody
would lay the quarrel to rivalry in love. The presence of so manifest a
cause would prevent people from hitting on the truth. Mlle. d'Arency had
trusted to my youth, agility, and supposed skill to give me the victory
in that fight in the dark; and then to circumstances to disclose who had
done the deed. "It was De Noyard's jealous rival," everybody would say.
Having found a sufficient motive, no one would take the trouble to seek
the real source,--to trace the affair to the instigation of Catherine de
Medici. The alert mind of De Rilly, it is true, divining the equally keen
mind of the Duke of Guise, had predicted that Guise might pretend a
belief in such instigation, and so force the King to avenge De Noyard,
in self-vindication. Mlle. d'Arency well knew that I would not
incriminate a woman, even a perfidious one, and counted also on my
natural unwillingness to reveal myself as the dupe that I had been.
Moreover, it would not be possible for me to tell the truth in such a way
that it would appear probable. And what would I gain by telling the
truth? The fact would remain that I was the slayer of De Noyard, and, by
accusing the instigators, I would but compel them to demonstrate
non-complicity; which they could do only by clamoring for my punishment.
And how could I prove that things were not exactly as they had
appeared,--that the woman's screams were not genuine: that she was not
actually threatened by De Noyard? Clearly as I saw the truth, clearly as
De Noyard had seen it in his last moments, it could never be established
by evidence.

With bitter self-condemnation, and profound rancor against the woman
whose tool I had been, I realized what an excellent instrument she had
found for her purpose of ridding her mistress of an obstacle.

It was not certain that the King, himself, had been privy to his mother's
design of causing De Noyard's death. In such matters she often acted
without consulting him. Therefore, when De Quelus should present my case
to him as merely that of a duel over a love affair, Henri would perhaps
give me his assurances of safety, at once, and would hold himself bound
in honor to stand by them. All depended on securing these before
Catherine or the Duke of Guise should have an opportunity to influence
him to another course.

I felt, as I walked along with De Rilly, that, if I should obtain
immunity from the punishment prescribed by edict, I could rely on
myself for protection against any private revenge that the Duke of
Guise might plan.

De Rilly took me to a lodging in the Rue de L'Autruche, not far from my
own, which was in the Rue St. Honore. Letting myself be commanded
entirely by him, I went to bed, but not to sleep. I was anxious for
morning to come, that I might be off to the Louvre. I lay speculating on
the chances of my seeing De Quelus, and of his undertaking to obtain the
King's protection for me. Though appalled at what I had done, I had no
wish to die,--the youth in me cried for life; and the more I desired
life, the more fearful I became of failing to get De Quelus's
intercession.

I grew many years older in that night. In a single flash, I had beheld
things hitherto unknown to me: the perfidy of which a woman was capable,
the falseness of that self-confidence and vanity which may delude a man
into thinking himself the conqueror of a woman's heart, the danger of
going, carelessly, on in a suspicious matter without looking forward to
possible consequences. I saw the folly of thoughtlessness, of blind
self-confidence, of reckless trust in the honesty of others and the luck
of oneself. I had learned the necessity of caution, of foresight, of
suspicion; and perhaps I should have to pay for the lesson with my life.

Turning on the bed, watching the window for the dawn, giving in my mind a
hundred different forms to the account with which I should make De Quelus
acquainted with the matter, I passed the most of that night. At last, I
fell asleep, and dreamt that I had told De Quelus my story, and he had
brought me the King's pardon; again, that I was engaged in futile efforts
to approach him; again, that De Noyard had come to life. When De Rilly
awoke me, it was broad daylight.

I dressed, and so timed my movements as to reach the Louvre at the hour
when De Quelus would be about to officiate at the King's rising. De Rilly
left me at the gate, wishing me good fortune. He had to go to oversee the
labors of some grooms in the King's stables. One of the guards of the
gate sent De Quelus my message. I stood, in great suspense, awaiting the
answer, fearing at every moment to see the Duke of Guise ride into the
Place du Louvre on his way to crave an interview with the King.

At last a page came across the court with orders that I be admitted, and
I was soon waiting in a gallery outside the apartments of the
chamberlains. After a time that seemed very long, De Quelus came out to
me, with a look of inquiry on his face.

Ignoring the speech I had prepared for the occasion, I broke abruptly
into the matter.

"M. de Quelus," I said, "last night, in a sudden quarrel which arose out
of a mistake, I was so unfortunate as to kill M. de Noyard. It was
neither a duel nor a murder,--each of us seemed justified in attacking
the other."

De Quelus did not seem displeased to hear of De Noyard's death.

"What evidence is there against you?" he asked.

"That of M. de Noyard's servant, to whom I acknowledged that I had killed
his master. Other evidence may come up. What I have come to beg is your
intercession with the King--"

"I understand," he said, without much interest. "I shall bring up the
matter before the King leaves his bed."

"When may I expect to know?" I asked, not knowing whether to be reassured
or alarmed at his indifference.

"Wait outside the King's apartments. I am going there now," he replied.

I followed him, saw him pass into the King's suite, and had another
season of waiting. This was the longest and the most trying. I stood, now
tapping the floor with my foot, now watching the halberdiers at the
curtained door, while they glanced indifferently at me. Various officers
of the court, whose duty or privilege it was to attend the King's rising,
passed in, none heeding me or guessing that I waited there for the word
on which my life depended. I examined the tapestry over and over again,
noticing, particularly, the redoubtable expression of a horseman with
lance in rest, and wondering how he had ever emerged from the tower
behind him, of which the gateway was half his size.

A page came out of the doorway through which De Quelus had disappeared.
Did he bring word to me? No. He glanced at me casually, and passed on,
leaving the gallery at the other end. Presently he returned, preceding
Marguerite, the Queen of Navarre, whom he had gone to summon.

"More trouble in the royal family," I said to myself. The King must
have scented another plot, to have summoned his sister before the time
for the _petite levee_. I feared that this would hinder his
consideration of my case.

Suddenly a tall figure, wearing a doublet of cloth of silver, gray velvet
breeches, gray mantle, and gray silk stockings, strode rapidly through
the gallery, and curtly commanded the usher to announce him. While
awaiting the usher's return, he stood still, stroking now his light
mustaches, and now his fine, curly blonde beard, which was little more
than delicate down on his chin. As his glance roved over the gallery it
fell for a moment on me, but he did not know me, and his splendid blue
eyes turned quickly away. His face had a pride, a nobility, a subtlety
that I never saw united in another. He was four inches more than six feet
high, slender, and of perfect proportion, erect, commanding, and in the
flower of youth. How I admired him, though my heart sank at the sight of
him; for I knew he had come to demand my death! It was the Duke of Guise.
Presently the curtains parted, he passed in, and they fell behind him.

And now my heart beat like a hammer on an anvil. Had De Quelus
forgotten me?

Again the curtains parted. Marguerite came out, but this time entirely
alone. As soon as she had passed the halberdiers, her eyes fell on me,
but she gave no sign of recognition. When she came near me, she said,
in a low tone, audible to me alone, and without seeming to be aware of
my presence:

"Follow me. Make no sign,--your life depends on it!"

She passed on, and turned out of the gallery towards her own apartments.
For a moment I stood motionless; then, with a kind of instinctive sense
of what ought to be done, for all thought seemed paralyzed within me, I
made as if to return to the chamberlains' apartments, from which I had
come. Reaching the place where Marguerite's corridor turned off, I
pretended for an instant to be at a loss which way to go; then I turned
in the direction taken by Marguerite. If the halberdiers, at the entrance
to the King's apartments, saw me do this, they could but think I had made
a mistake, and it was not their duty to come after me. Should I seek to
intrude whither I had no right of entrance, I should encounter guards to
hinder me.

Marguerite had waited for me in the corridor, out of sight of the
halberdiers.

"Quickly, monsieur!" she said, and glided rapidly on. She led me boldly
to her own apartments and through two or three chambers, passing, on the
way, guards, pages, and ladies in waiting, before whom I had the wit to
assume the mien of one who was about to do some service for her, and had
come to receive instructions. So my entrance seemed to pass as nothing
remarkable. At last we entered a cabinet, where I was alone with her. She
opened the door of a small closet.

"Monsieur," she said, "conceal yourself in this closet until I return. I
am going to be present at the _petite levee_ of the King. Do not stir,
for they will soon be searching the palace, with orders for your arrest.
Had you not come after me, at once, two of the Scotch Guards would have
found you where you waited. I slipped out while they were listening to
the orders that my mother added to the King's."

I fell on my knee, within the closet.

"Madame," I said, trembling with gratitude, "you are more than a queen.
You are an angel of goodness."

"No; I am merely a woman who does not forget an obligation. I have heard,
from one of my maids, who heard it from a friend of yours, how you
knocked a too inquisitive person into the moat beneath my window. I had
to burn the rope that was used that night, but I have since procured
another, which may have to be put to a similar purpose!"

And, with a smile, she shut the closet door upon me.




CHAPTER V.

HOW LA TOURNOIRE ESCAPED FROM PARIS


I heard the key turn in the lock, and the Queen of Navarre leave the
cabinet. She took the key with her, so that a tiny beam of light came
through the keyhole, giving my dark hiding-place its only illumination.

I felt complete confidence both in Marguerite's show of willingness to
save me, and in her ability to do so. All I could do was to wait, and
leave my future in her hands.

After a long time, I heard steps in the cabinet outside the closet door,
the beam of light from the keyhole was cut off, the key turned again, the
door opened, and Marguerite again stood before me.

"Monsieur," she said, "that we may talk without danger, remain in the
closet. I will leave the door slightly ajar, thus, and will sit here,
near it, with my 'Book of Hours,' as if reading aloud to myself. Should
any one come, I can lock your door again and hide the key. Hark! be
silent, monsieur!"

And as she spoke, she shut the door, locked it, drew out the key, and
sat down. I listened to learn what had caused this act of precaution.

"Madame," I heard some one say, "M. de l'Archant desires, by order of the
King, to search your apartments for a man who is to be arrested, and who
is thought to have secreted himself somewhere in the palace."

"Let him enter." said Marguerite. My heart stood still. Then I heard her
say, in a tone of pleasantry:

"What, M. le Capitain, is there another St. Bartholomew, that people
choose my apartments for refuge?"

"This time it is not certain that the fugitive is here," replied Captain
de l'Archant, of the bodyguard. "He is known to have been in the palace
this morning, and no one answering his description has been seen to leave
by any of the gates. It was, indeed, a most sudden and mysterious
disappearance; and it is thought that he has run to cover in some chamber
or other. We are looking everywhere."

"Who is the man?" asked Marguerite, in a tone of indifference.

"M. de la Tournoire, of the French Guards."

"Very well. Look where you please. If he came into my apartments, he must
have done so while I attended the _petite levee_ of the King; otherwise I
should have seen him. What are you looking at? The door of that closet?
He could not have gone there without my knowledge. One of the maids
locked it the other day, and the key has disappeared." Whereupon, she
tried the door, herself, as if in proof of her assertion.

"Then he cannot be there," said De L'Archant, deceived by her manner; and
he took his leave.

For some minutes I heard nothing but the monotonous voice of Marguerite
as she read aloud to herself from her "Book of Hours."

Then she opened my door again. Through the tiny crack I saw a part
of her head.

"Monsieur," she said to me, keeping her eyes upon the book, and retaining
the same changeless tone of one reading aloud, "you see that you are
safe, for the present. No one in the palace, save one of my maids, is
aware that I know you or have reason to take the slightest interest in
you. Your entrance to my apartments was made so naturally and openly that
it left no impression on those who saw you come in. I have since sent
every one of those persons on some errand, so that all who might happen
to remember your coming here will suppose that you left during their
absence. It was well that I brought you here; had I merely told you to
leave the palace, immediately, you would not have known exactly how
matters stood, and you would have been arrested at your lodgings, or on
your way to your place of duty. By this time, orders have gone to the
city gates to prevent your leaving Paris. Before noon, not only the
body-guard, the Provost of the palace, and the French and Scotch Guards
will be on the lookout for you, but also the gendarmes of the Provost of
Paris. That is why we must be careful, and why stealth must be used in
conveying you out of Paris."

"They make a very important personage of me," I said, in a low tone.

"Hush! When you speak imitate my tone, exactly, and be silent the instant
I cough. Too many people are not to be trusted. That you may understand
me, you must know precisely how matters stand. This morning my mother
went to see the King in his chamber before he had risen. They discussed a
matter which required my presence, and I was sent for. After we had
finished our family council, my mother and I remained for a few words, in
private, with each other. While we were talking, M. de Quelus came in and
spoke for a while to the King. I heard the King reply, 'Certainly, as he
preserved you to me, my friend.' De Quelus was about to leave the King's
chamber, when the Duke of Guise was announced. De Quelus waited, out of
curiosity, I suppose. M. de Guise was admitted. He immediately told the
King that one of his gentlemen, M. de Noyard, had been killed by the
Sieur de la Tournoire, one of the French Guards. I became interested, for
I remembered your name as that of the gentleman who, according to my
maid, had stopped the spy from whom I had had so much to fear. I
recalled, also, that you had the esteem of my brother's faithful Bussy
d'Amboise. My mother immediately expressed the greatest horror at De
Noyard's death, with the greatest sympathy for M. de Guise; and she urged
the King to make an example of you."

I remembered, with a deep sigh, what De Rilly had told me,--that
Catherine, to prevent the Duke of Guise from laying the death of De
Noyard to her, would do her utmost to bring me to punishment.

"The King looked at De Quelus," continued Marguerite. "That gentleman,
seeing how things were, and, knowing that the King now wishes to seem
friendly to the Duke, promptly said, 'This is fortunate. La Tournoire is
now waiting for me in the red gallery; I suppose he wishes to beg my
intercession. His presumption will be properly punished when the guards
arrest him there.'"

I turned sick, at this revelation of treachery. This was the gentleman
who owed his life to me, and, in the first outburst of gratitude, had
promised to obtain for me a captaincy!

"The King," Marguerite went on, "at once ordered two of the Scotch Guards
to arrest you. All this time, I had been standing at the window, looking
out, as if paying no attention. My mother stopped the guards to give them
some additional direction. No one was watching me. I passed carelessly
out, and you know what followed. At the _petite levee_, I learned what
was thought of your disappearance,--that you had seen the Duke of Guise
enter the King's apartments, had guessed his purpose, and had
precipitately fled."

I did not dare tell his sister what I thought of a King who would,
without hesitation or question, offer up one of his guards as a sacrifice
to appease that King's greatest enemy.

"And now, monsieur," said Marguerite, still seeming to read from her
book, "the King and the Queen, my mother, will make every effort to have
you captured, lest it be thought that they are secretly protecting the
slayer of M. de Noyard. To convince you that you may rely on me,
thoroughly, I will confess that it is not solely gratitude for your
service the other night that induces me to help you,--although my
gratitude was great. I had seen the spy rise out of the moat and all
night I was in deadly fear that he had reached the guard-house and
prevented my brother's flight, or, at least, betrayed me. When I became
convinced that he had not done so, I thanked Heaven for the unknown
cause that had hindered him. So you may imagine, when my maid told me
that a friend of her lover's was that unknown cause, how I felt towards
that friend."

"Madame," I said, with emotion, "I ought to be content to die, having had
the happiness of eliciting your gratitude!"

"But I am not content that you should die, for I wish you to serve me
once more, this time as a messenger to my brother, the Duke of Anjou, who
is at Angers; to M. Bussy d'Amboise, who is with him; and to my husband,
the King of Navarre, who is at Nerac, in Gascony. Thus it is to my own
interest to procure your safe escape from Paris. And if you reach Nerac,
monsieur, you cannot do better than to stay there. The King of Navarre
will give you some post more worthy of you than that of a mere soldier,
which you hold here."

"I enlisted in the French Guards," I hastened to explain, "because I was
unknown, and a Huguenot, and could expect no higher beginning."

"For the very reason that you are a Huguenot, you can expect a great deal
from the King of Navarre. His kingdom is little more than a toy kingdom,
it is true, and his court is but the distant echo of the court of France,
but believe me, monsieur,"--and here Marguerite's voice indicated a
profound conviction,--"there is a future before my husband, the King of
Navarre! They do not know him. Moreover, Paris will never be a safe
place for you as long as the Duke of Guise lives. He does not forget!"

I knew that Marguerite had excellent means of knowing the Duke of Guise,
and I did not dispute her assertion. Moreover, I was now quite willing to
go from the city wherein I was to have achieved such great things. My
self-conceit had been shaken a little.

"But if every exit is watched, how can I leave Paris?" I asked.

"The exits were watched to prevent the going of my brother Anjou," said
Marguerite, "but he went. He crossed the Seine with his chamberlain,
Simier, and his valet, Cange, and went to the Abbey of St. Genevieve, of
which the gardens are bounded by the city wall. The Abbot Foulon was
secretly with us. M. Bussy had returned to Paris, and was waiting at the
Abbey for Monsieur. They left Paris by way of the Abbey garden. The Abbot
is a cautious soul, and to protect himself, in case of discovery, he had
M. Bussy tie him to a chair, and after Monsieur and Bussy had joined
their gentlemen, outside, and galloped off toward Angers, the Abbot came
to the Louvre, and informed the King of Monsieur's escape. Now I suppose
we shall have to make use of the same ingenious Foulon."

"You know what is best, madame," I said.

"But the Abbot of Saint Genevieve would not do for you, or even for me,
what he would do for my brother Anjou. If he knew who you were, he might
gladly seize an opportunity to offset, by giving you up, the suspicion
that he had a hand in my brother's escape."

"But if there is a suspicion of that, will they not watch the Abbey now,
on my account?"

"No; for you are not of my brother's party, and the Abbot would have no
reason for aiding you. The question is how to make him serve us in
this. I must now think and act, monsieur, and I shall have to lock you
up again."

She rose and did so, and again I was left to meditate. It is astonishing
how unconcerned I had come to feel, how reliant on the ingenuity of this
charming princess with the small head, the high, broad forehead, the
burning, black eyes the curly blonde hair, the quizzically discrete
expression of face.

After some hours, during which I learned, again, the value of patience,
the door was opened, and Marguerite thrust in some bread and cold meat,
which she had brought with her own hand. I took it in silence, and
stooped to kiss the hand, but it was too soon withdrawn, and the door
locked again.

When the door next opened, Marguerite stood before it with a candle in
her hand. I therefore knew that it was night. In her other hand, she held
four letters, three of them already sealed, the fourth open.

"I have made all arrangements," she said, quickly. "This letter is to the
Abbot Foulon. Read it."

She handed it to me, and held the candle for me while I read:

This gentleman bears private letters to Monsieur. As he was about to
depart with them, I learned that the King had been informed of his
intended mission, and had given orders for his arrest at the gate. I call
upon you to aid him to leave Paris, as you aided my brother Anjou. His
arrest would result in a disclosure of how that matter was conducted.

MARGUERITE.

I smiled, when I had finished reading the letter.

"That letter will frighten Brother Foulon into immediate action," said
Marguerite, "and he will be compelled to destroy it, as it incriminates
him. Take these others. You will first go to Angers, and deliver this to
the Duke of Anjou, this to M. de Bussy. Then proceed to Gascony with
this, for the King of Navarre."

"And I am to start?"

"To-night. I shall let you down into the moat, as Monsieur was let down.
You cannot cross the bridges of the Seine, lest you be stopped by guards
at the entrances; therefore I have employed, in this matter, the same boy
who served me the other night. Go immediately from the moat to that part
of the quay which lies east of the Hotel de Bourbon. You will find him
waiting there in a boat. He will take you across the river to the Quay of
the Augustines, and from there you will go alone to the Abbey. When
Foulon knows that you come in my name, he will at once admit you. I am
sorry that there is not time to have a horse waiting for you outside the
fortifications."

"Alas, I must leave my own horse in Paris! I must go forth as a deserter
from the Guards!"

"It is better than going to the executioner," said Marguerite, gaily.
"For the last time, monsieur, become a bird in a cage. I am about to
retire. As soon as all my people are dismissed, and the palace is asleep,
I shall come for you."

The door closed again upon my prison of a day. I placed the letters
within my doublet, and looked to the fastening of my clothes, as a man
who prepares for a race or contest. I straightened myself up in my place
of concealment, and stood ready to attempt my flight from this Paris of
which the King had made a cage to hold me.

More waiting, and then came Marguerite, this time without a candle. She
stood in the darkness, in a white _robe de nuit_, like a ghost.

"Now, monsieur," she whispered.

I stepped forth without a word, and followed her through the cabinet into
a chamber which also dark. Three of Marguerite's maids stood there, in
silence, one near the door, the other two at the window. One of the
latter held a stout stick, to the middle of which was fastened a rope,
which dangled down to the floor and lay there in irregular coils. I saw
this by the little light that came through the window from the clouded
night sky.

Marguerite took the stick and held it across the window. It was longer
than the width of the window, and hence its ends overlapped the chamber
walls on either side.

"Are you ready, monsieur?" asked Marguerite, in a whisper.

"Ready, madame."

Still holding the stick in position with one hand, she opened the window
with the other, and looked out. She then drew in her head, and passed the
loose end of the rope out of the window. Then she looked at me, and stood
a little at one side, that I might have room to pass.

Summoning a bold heart, I mounted the window-ledge, got on my knees with
my face towards the chamber, caught the rope in both hands, lowered my
head, and kissed one of the hands of the Queen of Navarre; then, resting
my weight on my elbows, dropped my legs out of the window. Two more
movements took my body after them, and presently I saw before me only the
wall of the Louvre, and was descending the rope, hand after hand, the
weight of my body keeping the stick above in position.

When I was half-way down, I looked up. The wall of the palace seemed now
to lean over upon me, and now to draw back from me. Marguerite was gazing
down at me.

At last, looking down, I saw the earth near, and dropped. I cast another
glance upward. Marguerite was just drawing in her head, and immediately
the rope's end flew out of my reach.

"There's no going back the way I came!" I said, to myself, and strode
along the moat to find a place where I could most easily climb out of it.
Such a place I found, and I was soon in the street, alone, near where I
had been wont to watch under the window of Mlle. d'Arency. I took a last
look at the window of Marguerite's chamber. It was closed, and the rope
had disappeared. My safety was no longer in the hands of the Queen of
Navarre. She had pointed out the way for me, and had brought me thus far;
henceforth, I had to rely on myself.

I shivered in the cold. I had left my large cloak beside the dead body of
M. de Noyard the previous night, and had worn to the Louvre, in the
morning, only a light mantle by way of outer covering.

"Blessings on the night for being so dark, and maledictions on it for
being so cold!" I muttered, as I turned towards the river.

I had reached the Hotel de Bourbon, when I heard, behind me, the sound
of footsteps in accord. I looked back. It was a body of several armed
men, two of them bearing torches.

Were they gendarmes of the watch, or were they guards of the King? What
were they doing on my track, and had they seen me?

Probably they had not seen me, for they did not increase their gait,
although they came steadily towards me. The torches, which illuminated
everything near them, served to blind them to what was at a distance
from them.

Fortunately, I had reached the end of the street, and so I turned
eastward and proceeded along the quay, high walls on one side of me, the
river on the other. It had been impossible for Marguerite to indicate to
me the exact place at which the boat was to be in waiting. I did not
think it best, therefore, to go to the edge of the quay and look for the
boat while the soldiers were in the vicinity. They might come upon the
quay at the moment of my embarking, and in that event, they would
certainly investigate. So I walked on along the quay.

Presently I knew, by the sound of their steps, that they, too, had
reached the quay, and that they had turned in the direction that I had
taken. I was still out of the range of their torchlight.

"How far will I be made to walk by these meddlesome archers?" I asked
myself, annoyed at this interruption, and considering it an incident of
ill omen. I looked ahead, to see whither my walking would lead me.

I saw another body of gendarmes, likewise lighted by torches, just
emerging from a street's end, some distance in front of me. They turned
and came towards me.

I stopped, feeling for an instant as if all my blood, all power of
motion, had left me. "Great God!" I thought, "I am caught between two
rows of teeth."

I must wait no longer to seek the boat. Would God grant that it might be
near, that I might reach it before either troop should see me?

I ran to the edge of the quay and looked over into the river. Of all the
boats that lay at rest there, not one in sight was unmoored, not one
contained a boatman!

The two bodies of men were approaching each other. In a few seconds the
two areas of torchlight would merge together. On one side were walls,
frowning and impenetrable; on the other was the river.

I took off my sword and dagger, on account of their weight, and dropped
them with their sheathes into the river. I started to undo the fastening
of my mantle, but the knot held; my fingers became clumsy, and time
pressed. So I gave up that attempt, threw away my hat, let myself over
the edge of the quay, and slid quietly into the icy water. I immediately
dived, and presently came to the surface at some distance from the
shore. I then swam for the middle of the river. God knows what powers
within me awoke to my necessity. I endured the cold, and found strength
to swim in spite of the clothes that impeded my movements and added
immensely to my weight.

Without looking back, I could tell, presently, from the talking on the
quay that the two detachments of gendarmes had met and were standing
still. Had either one descried me, there would have been loud or hurried
words, but there were none. After a while, during which I continued to
swim, the voices ceased, and I looked back. Two torches remained on the
quay. The others were moving away, along the river. I then made a guess,
which afterward was confirmed as truth. The boy sent by Marguerite had
been discovered in his boat, had been taken to the guard-house, and had
given such answers as led to the suspicion that he was waiting to aid
the flight of some one. The captain of the Guard, thinking so to catch
the person for whom the boatman waited, had sent two bodies of men out,
one to occupy the spot near which the boy had been found, the other to
patrol the river bank in search of questionable persons. I had arrived
on the quay in the interval between the boy's capture and the arrival
of the guards.

My first intention was to reach the left bank and proceed to the Abbey of
St. Genevieve. But it occurred to me that, although a boat could not pass
down the river, out of Paris, at night, because of the chain stretched
across the river from the Tour du Coin to the Tour de Nesle, yet a
swimmer might pass under or over that chain and then make, through the
faubourg outside the walls, for the open country. Neither Marguerite nor
I had thought of this way of leaving Paris, because of the seeming
impossibility of a man's surviving a swim through the icy Seine, and a
flight in wet clothes through the February night. Moreover, there was the
necessity of leaving my sword behind, and the danger of being seen by the
men on guard at the towers on either side of the river. But now that
necessity had driven me into the river, I chose this shorter route to
freedom, and swam with the current of the Seine. In front of me lay a
dark mass upon the water in the middle of the river. This was the barge
moored there to support the chain which stretched, from either side,
across the surface of the water, up the bank and to the Tour de Nesle on
the left side, and to the Tour du Coin on the right. I might pass either
to the right or to the left of this barge. Naturally, I chose to avoid
the side nearest the bank from which I had just fled, and to take the
left side, which lay in the shadow of the frowning Tour de Nesle.

By swimming close to the left bank of the river, I might pass the
boundary without diving under the chain, for the chain ascended obliquely
from the water to the tower, leaving a small part of the river's surface
entirely free. But this part was at the very foot of the tower, and if I
tried passage there I should probably attract the attention of the guard.
I was just looking ahead, to choose a spot midway between the barge and
the left bank, when suddenly the blackness went from the face of things,
a pale yellow light took its place, and I knew that the moon had come
from behind the clouds. A moment later, I heard a cry from the right bank
of the river, and knew that I was discovered. The shout came from the
soldiers whom I had so narrowly eluded.

I knew that it was a race for life now. The soldiers would know that any
man swimming the Seine on a February night was a man whom they ought to
stop. I did not look back,--the one thing to do was to pass the Tour de
Nesle before the guards there should be put on the alert by the cries
from the right bank. So on I swam, urging every muscle to its utmost.

Presently came the crack of an arquebus, and spattering sounds behind me
told me where the shot had struck the water. I turned to swim upon my
left side, and so I got a glimpse of the quay that I had left. By the
hurried movement of torches, I saw that the body that had gone to patrol
the river bank was returning to rejoin the other force. Of the latter,
several men were unmooring and manning a large boat. I turned on my back
to have a look at the sky. I saw that very soon a heavy mass of black
cloud would obscure the moon. At once I turned, and made towards the left
bank, as if not intending to pass the chain. I could hear the men in the
boat speaking rapidly at this, as if commenting on my change of course.
Again looking back, I saw that the boat had pushed off, and was making
towards that point on the left bank for which I seemed to be aiming. And
now I had something else to claim my attention: the sound of voices came
from the Tour de Nesle. I cast a glance thither. A troop of the watch was
out at last, having taken the alarm from the movements on the right bank.
This troop from the Tour de Nesle was moving towards the place for which
I seemed to be making; hence it was giving its attention solely to that
part of the left bank which was inside the fortifications. I felt a
thrill of exultation. The moon passed under the clouds. I changed my
course, and struck out for the chain. The light of the torches did not
reach me. Both the boat from the right bank and the watch from the Tour
de Nesle continued to move towards the same point. I approached the
chain, took a long breath, dived, felt the stifling embrace of the waters
for a season, rose to the surface, breathed the air of heaven again, and
cast a look behind. The chain stretched between me and the distant boat
and torches. I was out of Paris.

I swam on, past the mouth of the Paris moat, and then made for the left
bank. Exhaustion seized me as I laid hold of the earth, but I had
strength to clamber up. I fell into a sitting posture and rested my tired
arms and legs. What pains of cold and heat I felt I cannot describe.
Presently, with returning breath, came the strength to walk,--a strength
of which I would have to avail myself, not only that I might put distance
between myself and Paris, but also to keep my wet clothes from freezing.
I rose and started.

Choosing not to follow the left bank of the Seine, which was unknown
territory to me, I turned southeastward, in the hope of finding the road
by which I had entered Paris. To reach this, I had but to traverse the
Faubourg St. Germaine, along the line of the wall of Paris. I had already
gone some distance along the outer edge of the moat, with the sleeping
faubourg on my right, when I heard, behind me, the sound of men treading
a bridge. I looked back. The bridge was that which crossed the moat from
the Tour de Nesle.

Had the guards at last discovered my way of eluding pursuit, and was I
now being sought outside the walls? It appeared so, for, after crossing
the moat, the troop divided into two bodies, one of which went toward the
left bank below the chain, where I had landed, while the other came along
the moat after me. I began to run. The moon came out again.

"Look! he is there!" cried one of my pursuers. I heard their footsteps on
the frozen earth,--they, too, were running. But I had the advantage in
one respect: I had no weapons to impede me. The coming out of the moon
did not throw me into despair; it only increased my determination to make
good the escape I had carried so far. Though nature, herself, became the
ally of the King of France and the Duke of Guise against me, I would
elude them. I was filled with hate and resolution.

Suddenly, as I ran, it occurred to me that I was a fool to keep so near
the fortifications, for, at any of the gates, guards might emerge,
alarmed by the shouts of my pursuers; and even as I thought this, I
looked ahead and saw a number of halberdiers coming from the Porte St.
Germaine. My situation was now as it had been on the quay, with this
disadvantage, that I was seen by my enemies, and this advantage, that I
had a way of retreat open on my right; and I turned and sped along a
street of the Faubourg St. Germaine, towards the country.

It matters not how many pursue you, if you can run faster and longer
than the best of them all. Gradually, as I went, panting and plunging,
onward, heedless of every obstacle, I increased the distance between me
and the cries behind. Soon I was out of the faubourg, but I did not stop.
I do not know what ground I went over, save that I went southward, or
what village I presently went through, save that it was silent and
asleep. I came upon a good road, at last, and followed it, still running,
though a pain in my side warned me that soon I must halt. All my hunters
had abandoned the chase now but one. Every time I half turned for a
backward look, I saw this one coming after me. He had dropped his
weapons, and so had enabled himself to keep up the chase. Not being
weakened by a previous swim in the Seine, he was in better form than I,
and I knew that he would catch me in time. And what then? He was a large
fellow, but since the struggle must come, I would better let it come ere
I should be utterly exhausted. So I pretended to stagger and lurch
forward, and presently came to my knees and then prone upon the ground.
With a grunt of triumph, the man rushed up to me, caught me by the collar
of my doublet, and raised me from the ground. Hanging limp, and
apparently senseless, I put him quite off his guard.

"Stand up!" he cried. "Stomach of the Pope! Have I come so far only to
take a dead man back?"

While he was trying to make me stand, I suddenly gathered all my energy
into my right arm and gave him a quick blow in the pit of the stomach.
With a fearful howl, he let me go and fell upon his knees. A blow in the
face then made him drop as limp as I had pretended to be; and I resumed
my flight, this time at a more leisurely pace.

And now all my physical powers seemed to be leaving me. Pains racked my
head, and I seemed at one time to freeze and burn all over, at another
time to freeze in one part and burn in another. I ached in my muscles, my
bones, my stomach. At every step, I felt that it was vastly difficult to
take another, that it would be ineffably sweet to sink down upon the
earth and rest. Yet I knew that one taste of that sweetness meant death,
and I was determined not to lose a life that had been saved from so great
peril by so great effort. Despite all the soldiers at their command, the
King of France and the Duke of Guise should not have their will with me.
At last,--I know not how far from Paris,--I came to an inn. There were
still a few crowns in my pocket. Forgetting the danger from which I had
fled, not thinking that it might overtake me here, feeling only the need
of immediate shelter and rest, I pounded on the door until I got
admittance. I have never had any but the vaguest recollection of my
installation at that inn, so near to insensibility I was when I fell
against its door. I have a dim memory of having exchanged a few words
with a sleepy, stolid host; of being glad of the darkness of the night,
for it prevented him from noticing my wet, frozen, begrimed, bedraggled,
half-dead condition; of my bargaining for the sole occupancy of a room;
of his leading me up a winding stairway to a chamber; of my plunging from
the threshold to the bed as soon as the door was opened. I slept for
several hours. When I awoke, it was about noon, and I was very hungry and
thirsty. My clothes had dried upon me, and I essayed to put them into a
fairly presentable condition. I found within my doublet the four letters,
which had been first soaked and then stiffened. The now useless one
addressed to the Abbot Foulon, I destroyed; then I went down to the
kitchen, and saw, with relief, that it was empty. I ate and drank
hurriedly but ravenously. Again the fear of capture, the impulse to put
Paris further and further behind, awoke in me. I bought a peasant's cap
from the landlord, telling him that the wind had blown my hat into the
river the previous night, and set forth. It was my intention to walk to
La Tournoire, that my money might last. Afoot I could the better turn
from the road and conceal myself in woods or fields, at any intimation
of pursuit. At La Tournoire, I would newly equip myself with clothes,
weapons, horse, and money; and thence I would ride to Angers, and finally
away, southward, to Nerac.

It was a fine, sunlit day when I stepped from the inn to take the road
going southward. I had not gone four steps when I heard horses coming
from the north. I sought the shelter of a shed at the side of the inn.
There was a crack between two boards of this shed, through which I could
look. The horses came into sight, ten of them. The riders were
brown-faced men, all armed with swords and pistols, and most of them
having arquebusses slung over their backs. Their leader was a large,
broad, black-bearded man, with a very ugly red face, deeply scarred on
the forehead, and with fierce black eyes. He and his men rode up to the
inn, beat on the door, and, when the host came, ordered each a
stirrup-cup. When the landlord brought the wine, the leader asked him
some questions in a low tone. The landlord answered stupidly, shaking his
head, and the horsemen turned to resume their journey. Just as they did
so, there rode up, from the south, a merry-looking young cavalier
followed by two mounted servants. This newcomer gaily hailed the
ill-looking leader of the troop from the north with the words:

"Ah, M. Barbemouche, whither bound, with your back towards Paris?"

"For Anjou, M. de Berquin," growled the leader.

"What!" said the other, with a grin. "Have you left the Duke of Guise to
take service with the Duke of Anjou?"

"No, M. le Vicomte," said the leader. "It is neither for nor against the
Duke of Anjou that we go into his province. It is to catch a rascal who
may be now on the way to hide on his estate there, and whom my master,
the Duke of Guise, would like to see back in Paris."

"Indeed? Who is it that has given the Duke of Guise so great a desire for
his company?"

"The Sieur de la Tournoire," replied Barbemouche. "Have you met him on
the road?"

"I have never heard of him, before," said the young cavalier,
indifferently; and he rode on northward, while Barbemouche and his men
silently took the opposite direction.

He had never heard of me, as he said, nor I of him; yet he was to know
much of me at a time to come, was the Vicomte de Berquin; and so was
Barbemouche, the scowling man who was now riding towards Anjou in
search of me.




CHAPTER VI.

HOW HE FLED SOUTHWARD


When one is pursued, one's best course is to pursue the pursuer. So, when
M. Barbemouche and his troop of Guisards had gone some distance down the
road, I came forth from the shed and followed them, afoot, keeping well
to the roadside, ready to vanish, should any of them turn back. It was
evident that Barbemouche had little or no hope of catching me on the
road. His plan was to surprise me at my chateau, or to lie there in wait
for me. He had not shown any persistence in questioning the landlord. The
latter, through laziness or sheer stupidity, or a fear of incurring blame
for having sheltered a fugitive, had not given him any information that
might lead him to suspect that the man he was seeking was so near. So I
could follow, in comparative safety, into Anjou.

Their horses constantly increased the distance between the Guise
man-hunters and me, their desired prey. In a few hours they were out of
sight. Thus they would arrive at La Tournoire long before I could. Not
finding me there, they would probably put the servants under restraint,
and wait in ambush for me. Several days of such waiting, I said to
myself, would exhaust their patience; thereupon, they would give up the
hope of my seeking refuge at La Tournoire, and would return to their
master. My best course, therefore, would be to take my time on the road,
to be on the alert on coming near La Tournoire, and to lie in hiding
until I should be assured of their departure. In order to consume as much
time as I could, and to wear out the enemy's patience without putting my
own to the test, I decided to go first to Angers, deliver Marguerite's
letters to Monsieur and Bussy d'Amboise, and then make for La Tournoire.
Therefore, when, after a few days of walking, I came to LeMans, I did not
turn southward, towards La Tournoire, but followed the Sarthe
southwestward to Angers.

On this journey, I skirted Rambouillet, Anneau, and the other towns in my
way, and avoided large inns, for fear of coming up with the Guise party.
I made my money serve, too, by purchasing cheaply the hospitality of
farmers and woodmen. My youth had withstood well the experiences
attending my escape from Paris, and enabled me to fare on the coarse food
of the peasantry. There was plenty of healthy blood in my veins to keep
me warm. Outside of my doublet, my shoulders had no covering but the
light mantle, of which I was now glad that I had been unable to rid
myself in my swim down the Seine. People who saw me, with my rumpled
clothes and shapeless ruff and peasant's cap, probably took me for a
younger son who had endured hard fortune.

Such was my condition when I reached Angers and presented myself at the
gate of the chateau wherein the Duke of Anjou had taken residence. There
were many soldiers in and about the town, and horsemen were arriving and
departing. I might not easily have obtained audience of the Duke, had not
Bussy d'Amboise ridden up at the head of a small troop of horse, while I
was waiting at the gate. I called out his name, and he recognized me,
showing surprise at my appearance. I gave him his letter, and he had me
conducted to the Duke, who was striding up and down the hall of the
chateau. His mind was evidently preoccupied, perhaps already with fears
as to the outcome of his rebellious step, and he did not look at me when
he took the letter. His face brightened, though, when he saw the
inscription in Marguerite's handwriting, and he went, immediately, to a
window to read the letter. Bussy d'Amboise, who had dismounted and come
in with me, now beckoned me to follow him, and when we were outside, he
offered to supply me with a horse, money and arms, proposing that I enter
the service of the Duke of Anjou. But I told him that I was bound for
Gascony, and when he still offered me some equipment, I protested that I
would refurnish myself at my own chateau; so he let me go my way. I could
see that he was in haste to break the seal of Marguerite's letter.

I had gone two leagues or more northward from Angers, and was about to
turn eastward toward La Tournoire, when I saw a long and brilliant
cortege approaching from the direction of Paris. Several men-at-arms
were at the head, then came a magnificent litter, then a number of
mounted ladies and gentlemen, followed by a host of lackeys, a number of
mules with baggage, and another body of soldiers. This procession was
winding down the opposite hillside. The head of it was already crossing
the bridge over a stream that coursed through the valley toward the
Sarthe. Slowly it came along the yellow road, the soldiers and gentlemen
holding themselves erect on their reined-in horses, the ladies chatting
or laughing, and looking about the country, the wind stirring the plumes
and trappings, the sunlight sparkling on the armor and halberds of the
guards, the sword-hilts of the gentlemen, the jewels and rich stuffs
which shone in the attire of the riders. There were velvet cloaks and
gowns; satin and silk doublets, breeches, and hose; there were cloth of
gold and cloth of silver. Here and there the cavalcade passed clumps of
trees that lined the road, and it was then like pictures you have seen
in tapestry.

Concealment had lately become an instinctive act with me, and I now
sought refuge in the midst of some evergreen bushes, at a little distance
from the road, from which I could view the cavalcade as it passed. On it
came, the riders throwing back their shoulders as they filled their lungs
with the bracing country air. The day was a mild one for the time of
year, and the curtains of the litter were open. Inside sat a number of
ladies. With a start, I recognized two of the faces. One was Mlle.
d'Arency's; the other was the Queen-mother's. Mlle. d'Arency was
narrating something, with a derisive smile, to Catherine, who listened
with the slightest expression of amusement on her serene face.

Catherine was going to try to persuade her son, the Duke of Anjou, to
give up his insurrectionary designs and return to the court of his
brother. I guessed this much, as I lay hidden in the bushes, and I
heartily wished her failure. As for Mlle. d'Arency, I have no words for
the bitterness of my thoughts regarding her. I grated my teeth together
as I recalled how even circumstance itself had aided her. She could have
had no assurance that in the combat planned by her I should kill De
Noyard, or that he would not kill me, and yet what she had desired had
occurred. When the troop had passed, I arose and started for La
Tournoire. It seemed to me that a sufficient number of days had now
passed to tire the patience of Barbemouche, and that I might now visit my
chateau for the short time necessary.

Nevertheless, it was with great caution that I approached the
neighborhood in which all my life, until my departure for Paris, had been
passed. At each bend of the road, I stopped and listened before going on.
When I entered a piece of woods, I searched, with my eyes, each side of
the road ahead, for a possible ambush. When I approached the top of a
hill, it was with my ears on the alert for the sound of horsemen or of
human feet, and, when I reached the crest, I found some spot where, lying
on my stomach or crouching behind underbrush, I could survey the lowland
ahead. And so, meeting no indication of peril, treading familiar and
beloved ground, I at last reached the hill-top from which I would have my
long-expected view of La Tournoire. It was just sunset; with beating
heart, I hastened forward, risking something in my eagerness to look
again upon the home of my fathers. I gazed down, ready to feast my eyes
on the dear old tower, the peaceful garden, the--

And I saw only a smouldering pile of ruins, not one stone of my chateau
left upon another, save a part of the stables, before which, heeding the
desolation no more than crows are repelled by the sight of a dead body,
sat M. Barbemouche and two of his men throwing dice. Only one tree was
left in the garden, and from one of its limbs hung the body of a man,
through which a sword was thrust. By the white hair of the head, I knew
the body was that of old Michel.

So this was the beginning of the revenge of the Duke of Guise upon a poor
gentleman for having eluded him; thus he demonstrated that a follower of
his might not be slain with impunity. And the Duke must have had the
assurance of the King that this deed would be upheld; nay, probably the
King, in his design of currying favor with his powerful subject, had
previously sanctioned this act, or even suggested it, that the Duke might
have no ground for suspecting him of protecting me.

Grief at the sight of the home of my youth, the house of my ancestors,
laid low, gave way to rage at the powerful ones to whom that sight was
due,--the Duke who despoiled me, the King who had not protected me, the
Queen as whose unknowing tool I had made myself liable to this outrage.
As I stood on that hill-top, in the dusk, and looked down on the ruins of
my chateau, I declared myself, until death, the enemy to that Queen, that
Duke, and that King,--most of all to that King; for, having saved the
life of his favorite, having taken humble service in his Guards, and
having received from him a hinted promise of advancement, I had the
right to expect from him a protection such as he gave every day to
worthless brawlers.

At nightfall, I went to the hovel of a woodman, on whose fidelity I knew
I could depend. At my call, he opened the door of his little hut, and
received me with surprise and joy. With him was a peasant named
Frolichard.

"Then you are alive, monsieur?" cried the woodman, closing the door after
me, and making for me a seat on his rude bed.

"As you see," I replied. "I have come to pass the night in your hut.
To-morrow I shall be off for the south."

"Alas, you have seen what they have done! I knew nothing of it until
Michel was dead, and the servants came fleeing through the woods. They
have gone, I know not where, and the tenants, too. All but Frolichard. As
yet, the soldiers have not found this hut."

By questioning him, I learned that M. Barbemouche had denounced me as a
heretic and a traitor (I could see how my desertion from the French
Guards might be taken as implying intended rebellion and treason), and
had told Michel that my possessions were confiscated. What authority he
pretended to have, I could not learn. It was probably in wrath at not
finding me that he had caused the destruction of my chateau, to make
sure that it might not in any circumstances shelter me again.

I well knew that, whatever my rights might be, my safety lay far from La
Tournoire; and so did my means of retaliation.

"If I had but a horse and a sword left!" I said.

"There is a horse which I have been using, in my shed," replied the
forester; "and I made one of the servants leave here the swords that he
was carrying away in his flight. Moreover, he had filled a bag with
crowns from Michel's strong box. So you need not leave entirely
unprovided."

I thanked the faithful fellow as he brought forth the swords and the
little bag of gold pieces from under his bed, and then I lay down to
sleep. The peasant Frolichard was already dozing in a corner by the fire.

I was awakened suddenly by a shake of the shoulder. The woodman stood by
the bed, with every sign of alarm on his face.

"Monsieur," he whispered, "I fear you would best eat and begone. That
cursed rascal, Frolichard, left while I was asleep. I am sure that the
devil has been too much for him. He has probably gone to tell the
soldiers that you are here. Eat, monsieur!"

I sprang up, and saw that the forester had already prepared some
porridge for me.

"It is nearly dawn," he added, as I looked around I swallowed a few
mouthfuls of the porridge, and chose the better one of the swords. Then I
took up the little bag of golden crowns, and went out to mount horse. The
animal that the woodman held for me was a sorry one, the ugliest and
oldest of my stable.

Yet I rode blithely through the woods, happy to have again a horse
under me, and a sword at my side. I knew that the forester could take
care of himself as long as there should remain woods to hunt in or
streams to fish in.

When I reached, the road it was daylight. I made for the hill-top, and
stopped for a last look at my fields. I did not have to hesitate as to my
course. In my doublet was Marguerite's letter, to be borne to the King of
Navarre. Yet there was another reason why I should not attach myself to
the Duke of Anjou, although he was already in rebellion against the King:
the look on his face, when I saw him at Angers, had convinced me that he
would not hold out. Should Catherine not win him back to allegiance, his
own weakness would. I would place my hopes in the future of Henri of
Navarre. Nothing could, as yet, be predicted with assurance concerning
this Prince, who, being the head of the house of Bourbon, which
constituted the younger branch of the Royalty of France, was the highest,
by blood, of the really Huguenot leaders. Some, however, whispered that
there was more in him than appeared in his amours and his adventures of
the chase.

I was just about to turn my horse's head towards the south, when a man
came out of my half-ruined stable and looked up at me. Instantly he
called to some one in the stable, and two or three other soldiers came
out. I recognized the burly form of one of these as that of Barbemouche.
Another figure, a limp and cringing one, was that of Frolichard the
peasant. Barbemouche gave some orders, and two or three brought horses
out of the stable. I knew what all this meant.

I turned my horse, and galloped off towards the south. In a few moments I
heard the footfalls of galloping horses behind me. Again I was the object
of a chase.

When I had gone some distance, I looked back and saw my hunters coming,
ten of them, down the hillside behind me. But the morning was bracing,
and my horse had more life in him than at first sight appeared. I put
another hill behind me, but in time my followers appeared at its crest.
Now they gained on me, now I seemed to leave them further behind. All day
this race continued. I bore directly southward, and hence passed far east
of Angers. I soon made up my mind that M. Barbemouche was a man of
persistence. I did not stop anywhere for food or drink. Neither did M.
Barbemouche. I crossed the Loire at Saumur. So did he.

"Very well," I said. "If my horse only holds out, I will lead you all the
way to Gascony."

Once I let my horse eat and rest; twice I let him drink.

At nightfall, the sound of the hoofs behind me gradually died away. My
own beast was foaming and panting, so I reined in to a walk. Near Loudun,
I passed an inn whose look of comfort, I thought, would surely tempt my
tired pursuers to tarry, if, indeed, they should come so far. Some hours
later, coming to another and smaller inn, and hearing no sound of pursuit
behind me, I decided to stop for a few hours, or until the tramp of
horses' feet should disturb the silence of the night.

The inn kitchen, as I entered, was noisy with shouts and curses. One
might have expected to find a whole company of soldiers there, but to my
surprise, I saw only one man. This was a robust young fellow, with a big
round face, piercing gray eyes, fiercely up-sprouting red mustache, and a
double--pointed reddish beard. There was something irresistibly
pugnacious, and yet good-natured, in the florid face of this person. He
sat on a bench beside a table, forcibly detaining an inn maid with his
left arm, and holding a mug of wine in his right hand. Beside him, on the
bench, lay a sword, and in his belt was a pistol. He wore a brown cloth
doublet, brown breeches, and green hose.

"A thousand devils!" he roared, as I entered. "Must a fighting man stand
and beg for a kiss from a tavern wench? I don't believe in any of your
painted saints, wooden or ivory, but I swear by all of them, good-looking
girls are made to be hugged, and I was made to hug them! Here, you ten
times damned dog of a landlord, bring me another bottle of your filthy
wine, or I'll make a hole in your barrel of a body! Be quick, or I'll
roast you on your own spit, and burn down your stinking old inn!" At this
moment he saw me, as I stood in the doorway. "Come, monsieur!" he cried,
"I'm not fastidious, curse me, and you might drink with me if you were
the poxy old Pope himself! Here, wench, go and welcome the gentleman with
a kiss!" And he shoved the girl towards me and began to pound, in sheer
drunken turbulence, on the table with his mug.

I left the kitchen to this noisy guest, and took a room up-stairs, where
the landlord presently brought me light and supper.

I paid in advance for my night's lodging, and arranged to have access, at
any time during the night, to the shed in which was my horse, so that at
the least alarm I might make hasty flight. I opened my window, that the
sound of horses on the road might be audible to me from a distance.
Then, having eaten, I put out my light and lay down, in my clothes, ready
on occasion to rise and drop from the window, take horse, and be off.

From the kitchen, below, came frequent sounds emitted or caused by the
tipsy young Hercules in the brown doublet. Now he bellowed for wine, now
he thundered forth profanity, now he filled the place with the noise of
Gargantuan laughter; now he sang at the top or the depth of his big, full
voice; then could be heard the crash of furniture in collision. These
sounds continued until far into the night.

I had intended not to sleep, but to lie with ears alert. I could not yet
bring myself to feel that I was safe from pursuit. So used had I become
to a condition of flight, that I could not throw off the feeling of being
still pursued. And yet, I had hoped that Barbemouche would tire of the
chase. My plan had not been to confuse him as to my track, by taking
by-roads or skirting the towns, but merely to outrun him. Because I
wished to reach Nerac at the earliest possible moment, and because the
country was new to me and I desired not to lose my way, I had held to the
main road southward, being guided in direction by the sun or the stars.
Moreover, had I made detours, or skirted cities, Barbemouche might have
gone ahead by the main road and lain in wait further south for my coming
up, for Frolichard, the peasant, had heard me tell the woodman my
destination. So, in that first day's flight, I had trusted to the speed
of my horse, and now there was some reason to believe that Barbemouche
had abandoned pursuit, as the soldiers had done who chased me from Paris.
And yet, it seemed to me that this ugly Barbemouche was not one to give
up his chosen prey so soon.

Despite my intention, I feel asleep, and when I awoke it was daylight. I
sprang up and went cautiously down-stairs, sword in hand. But there was
no danger. Only the host and a servant were stirring in the inn. I made a
rapid breakfast, and went to see my horse fed. Before the shed, I saw the
young man who had made such drunken tumult in the kitchen the previous
night. He was just about to mount his horse; but there was now nothing of
the roysterer about his look or manner. He had restored neatness to his
attire, and his expression was sedate and humble, though strength and
sturdiness were as apparent in him as ever.

"A fine morning," I said, as the inn-servant brought out my own horse.

"Yes, monsieur," said the young man, in a very respectful tone. "A
sunrise like this is a gift from the good God."

"Yet you look pensive."

"It is because I know how little I deserve such mercy as to live on such
a day," answered the man, gravely; and he bowed politely, and rode
southward.

This devoutness and humility impressed me as being strangely out of
harmony with the profanity and turbulence of the night before, yet the
one seemed no less genuine than the other.

My horse fed, I mounted and rode after the sturdy youth.

Not far from Mirebeau, happening to turn my head towards the north, I
saw, in the distance, a group of horsemen approaching at a steady gallop.
From having looked back at this group many times during the preceding
day, I had stamped certain of its figures on my memory, and I now
recognized it as Barbemouche and his party.

"Another day of it," I said, to myself, and spurred my horse to a gallop.

An increase in their own pace told me that they in turn had
recognized me.

"This grows monotonous," I mused. "If there were only fewer of them, or
more of me, I would make a stand."

Presently I came up with the young man in the brown doublet. He stared at
me with a look of inquiry as I passed at such speed; then he looked back
and saw the distant horsemen coming on at equal speed. He appeared to
realize the situation at a glance. Without a word, he gave his own horse
a touch of the spur, with the manifest intention of keeping my company in
my flight.

"You have a good horse," I said to him, at the same time watching him out
of the corner of my eye, seeking some indication that might show whether,
on occasion, he would stand as my friend or my enemy.

"Better than yours, I fear, monsieur," he replied.

"Mine has been hard run," I said, lightly.

Presently he looked back, and said:

"Ah, the devil! Your friends, back there, are sending out an advance
guard. Three of them are making a race of it, to see which shall have the
honor of first joining you."

I looked back. It was true; three of them were bearing down with
great speed, evidently on fresh horses. Barbemouche remained back
with the rest.

I urged on my horse.

"It is useless, monsieur," said the young man at my side. "Your beast is
no match for theirs. Besides, you will not find a better place to make a
stand than the bridge yonder." And he pointed ahead to a bridge that
crossed a narrow stream that lay between high banks.

"What, face ten men?" I said.

"There are only three. The thing may be over before the others come up."

I laughed. "Well, admitting that, three against one--" I began.

"Oh, there will be two of us," replied the other.

My heart gave a joyous bound, but I said, "I cannot expect you to risk
your life in my quarrel."

And he answered, "By God! I myself have a quarrel with every man that
wears on his hat the white cross of the Guises!" His grey eyes flashed,
his face became red with wrath. "Let us stop, monsieur."

We stopped and turned our horses on the narrow bridge. We both drew sword
and waited. My new-found ally threw back his hat, and I saw across his
forehead a deep red scar, which I had not before noticed.

The three men rode up to the attack. They all stopped suddenly before
they reached the bridge.

"Give up your sword and come with us, monsieur," cried one of them to me.

I said nothing. "Go to hell!" roared my companion. And with that he
charged with the fury of a wild beast, riding between two of the
horsemen, and thrusting his sword through the eye and into the brain of
one before either could make the least show of defence. His horse coming
to a quick stop, he drew his weapon out of the slain man's head and
turned on the other. While there was some violent fencing between the
two, and while the dead man's horse reared, and so rid itself of its
bleeding burden, the third horseman urged his horse towards me. I turned
the point of his rapier, whereupon he immediately backed, and then came
for me again just as I charged on him. Each was too quick to meet the
other's steel with steel. His sword passed under my right arm and my
sword under his right arm, and we found ourselves linked together, arm to
arm. I saw him reach with his left hand for his dagger, and I grew sick
at the thought that I had no similar weapon with which to make matters
even. He plucked the dagger from his belt, and raised it to plunge it
into my back; but his wrist was caught in a clutch of iron. My man in the
brown doublet, in backing his horse to make another charge on his still
remaining opponent, had seen my antagonist's motion, and now, with a
twist of his vigorous fingers, caused the dagger to fall from a limp arm.
Then my comrade returned to meet his own enemy, and I was again on equal
terms with mine. We broke away from each other. I was the quicker to
right myself, and a moment later he fell sidewise from his horse, pierced
through the right lung.

I backed my horse to the middle of the bridge, and was joined by my
stalwart friend, who had done for his second man with a dagger thrust
in the side.

"Whew!" he panted, holding his dripping weapons on either side of him, so
as not to get any more blood on his clothes. Then a grin of satisfaction
appeared on his perspiring face, and he said:

"Three Guisards less to shout '_Vive la messe_.' It's a pity we haven't
time to exchange horses with these dead whelps of hell. But the others
are coming up, and we ought to rest awhile."

We sheathed our weapons and spurred on our horses, again southward.
Looking back, soon, we saw that the other pursuers, on coming up to their
dead comrades, had chosen first to look after the belongings of the
latter rather than to avenge their deaths. And while Barbemouche and his
men, of whom there were now six, tarried over the dead bodies, we made
such good speed that at last we were out of sight of them.

My first use of my returned breath was to thank my stalwart ally.

He received my gratitude with great modesty, said that the Lord had
guided his arm in the fight, and expressed himself with a humility that
was in complete contrast to the lion-like fury shown by him in the
combat. Judging him, from his phrases, to be a Huguenot, I asked whether
he was one, by birth, as I was.

"By birth, from my mother," he replied. "My father was a Catholic, and in
order to win my mother, he pretended to have joined the reformers. That
deceit was the least of his many rascally deeds. He was one of the chosen
instruments of the devil,--a violent, roystering cut-throat, but a good
soldier, as was shown in Italy and at St. Quentin, Calais, Jarnac, and
elsewhere. My mother, though only the daughter of an armorer's workman,
was, in goodness, an angel. I thank God that she sometimes has the upper
hand in me, although too often it is my father that prevails in me." He
sighed heavily, and looked remorseful.

In subsequent talk, as we rode, I learned that he was a soldier who had
learned war, when a boy, under Coligny. He had fought at his father's
side against Italians, Spanish, and English, and against his father in
civil war. His father had died of a knife-wound, received, not in battle,
but from a comrade in a quarrel about a woman, during the sacking of a
town. His mother, when the news of the fate of her unworthy spouse
reached the village where she lived, died of grief. The son was now
returning from that village, which was near Orleans, and whither he had
been on a visit to his relations, to Gascony, where he had been employed
as a soldier in the small army with which Henri of Navarre made shift to
garrison his towns.

I told him that I hoped to find a place in that little army.

"You do well, monsieur," said the young soldier, whose intelligence and
native dignity made him, despite his peasant origin, one with whom a
gentleman might converse. "Some day they will learn in France of what
stuff the little Bearnaise King is made. I have stood watching him when
he little supposed that a common soldier might take note of such things,
and I have seen on his face the sign of great intentions. More goes on
under that black hair than people guess at,--he can do more than drink
and hunt and make love and jest and swear."

He was in no haste to reach Gascony, he said, and so he intended to visit
a former comrade who dwelt in a village some leagues from my road. In the
afternoon, coming to the by-road which led to this place, he left me,
with the words:

"My name is Blaise Tripault, and should it happen that you ever enroll a
company for the King of Navarre--"

"The first name on my list shall be Blaise Tripault," I replied, smiling,
and rode on, alone.

Whenever I heard riders behind me, I looked back. At evening I reached an
eminence which gave a good view of the country through which I had
passed. Two groups of horsemen were visible. One of these consisted of
seven men. The chief figure was a burly one which I could not mistake,--
that of Barbemouche.

"_Peste_!" I muttered, frowning. "So they are following me into Poitou!
Am I never to have any rest?"

I took similar precautions that night to those which I had taken the
night before. The next day, about noon, emerging out of a valley, I saw
my pursuers on the top of the hill at my rear. Plainly, they intended to
follow me to the end of the earth. I hoped they would stop in Poitiers
and get drunk, but they tarried there no more than I. And so it was,
later, at Civray and at Angouleme.

Every day I got one or two glimpses of this persistent pack of hounds.
Every night I used like measures to make sudden flight possible. One
night the sound for which I kept my ears expectant reached them,--the
sound of horses' hoofs on the hard road. I dropped from the open window
of the inn at which I was, led out my horse from the shed, and made off,
southward. The noise made by their own horses prevented my pursuers from
hearing that made by mine. Presently the clatter abruptly ceased,
whereupon I knew that they had stopped at the inn which I had left. My
relief at this was offset by chagrin at a discovery made by me at the
same moment: I had left my bag of golden crowns in the inn chamber. I
dared not now go back for them. Well, Nerac could not be far away, now. I
had traversed a good part of Guienne. The Dordogne was behind me.

I was glad that I had taken better care of the letter from Marguerite to
her husband than I had taken of my crowns. Fortunately it had not left
my doublet. I felt that my future depended on the delivery of that
letter. There could be no doubt that Marguerite had recommended me in it
with a favor that would obtain for me both protection and employment from
the King of Navarre.

Daylight came, and with it hunger. I stopped at an inn, and was about to
dismount, when I remembered that I had no money.

I could do without food for a time, but my horse could not. I told the
landlord,--a short, heavy, square-faced, small-eyed man,--that I would,
later, send him payment for a breakfast. He looked at me with a
contempt that even a peasant dare show to a gentleman, when the
gentleman has no money.

"Very well, then," I said. "I will leave you security."

He looked more respectful at this, and made a quick examination of me
with his eyes.

"Unless you have some jewelry about you," he said, "your sword is the
only thing that I would accept."

"You clod," I exclaimed, in a rage. "I ought to give you my sword through
the body."

"A gentleman ought not to demand, for nothing, that which a poor man
makes his living by selling," answered the host, turning to go in.

I looked down at my horse, which had already shown an endurance beyond
its stock, and which now turned its eyes, hungrily, towards the inn
stable. At the same time I thought I heard the sound of hoofs, away
northward. After all, the delivery of the letter depended more on the
horse than on my sword, for one horse is more likely to beat seven horses
than one sword to beat seven swords.

To try whether it were possible, I made one movement, as if to hand over
the weapon. But my arm refused. As well try to pluck the heart out of my
body, and give it to the dog's keeping. Rather kill the man on his own
threshold and, like a brigand, help myself. But I chose to be merciful.

"Be quick, then," I said. "Bring me some wine, and feed my horse as it
stands here. I could take, for nothing, what you ask such high
security for."

"And I have three strong sons," said the innkeeper, impudently. But he
brought the wine, and ordered one of his sons to bring oats for the
horse. So we made our breakfast there, horse and man, standing before the
inn door. When the animal had licked up the last grain, I suddenly hurled
the heavy wine-mug at the innkeeper's head, wheeled my horse about, and
galloped off, shouting back to the half-stunned rascal, "Your three sons
must be swift, as well as strong, to take my sword." And I rode on,
southward.

"Will the Guisards follow me over this river, also?" I asked myself, as
I crossed the Garonne.

In the afternoon, I stopped for another look backward. There was not a
soul to be seen on the road.

"Adieu, M. Barbemouche!" I said. "I believe you have grown tired of
me at last."

At that instant a group appeared at the distant turn of the road. I
counted them. Seven! And they were coming on at the speed of the wind.

I patted my horse on his quivering neck. "Come, old comrade," I said.
"Now for one last, long race. In your legs lies my future."

He obeyed the spur, and his increased pace revealed a slight lameness,
which had not before been perceptible.

"We have only to reach some Gascon town," I said to him. "The soldiers
of the King of Navarre will protect the bearer of a letter to him from
their Queen."

I turned in my saddle, and looked back. They were gaining ground.

"They know that this is their last chance," I said. "We are near the
country held by the King of Navarre, and so they make a last effort
before giving up the chase. On, my staunch fellow! You shall have fine
trappings, and shall fare as well as your master, for this!"

The animal maintained its pace as if it understood; but it panted
heavily and foamed, its eyes took on a wild look, and its lameness
increased.

"They are coming nearer, there is no doubt of it!" I told myself. "Have I
escaped from the Louvre and from Paris, led my enemies a chase through
five provinces, to be taken when refuge is at last in sight? Shall
Marguerite's letter to Henri of Navarre fall into the hands of those who
wish him no good?"

Tears gushed from my eyes as I thought of the cruelty of destiny, which
had sustained me so far in order to betray me at the end. I took the
letter from my doublet, and held it ready to tear into pieces should I
indeed be caught. Although Marguerite was thought to have secrets with
the Duke of Guise, it was likely that she would not wish him to know what
she might write to her husband, whose political ally she always was.

And now my horse dropped its head lower at each bound forward. The seven
horses behind showed no sign of tiring.

"Thank God, I kept my sword! I can kill one of them, at least!"

I no longer looked back. Blindly forward I went, impelled only to defer
the end to the last possible moment. God knew what might yet intervene.

Suddenly my horse gave a snort of pain, stumbled blindly, and fell to his
knees. He slid forward a short distance, carried on by his impetus, and
then turned over on his side, and lay quivering. I had taken my feet from
the stirrups at his stumble, so that I now stood over his body.

I heard the loud clank of the hoofs behind. I stepped over the horse, and
drew my sword. A short distance ahead was a clump of scrubby pines; there
I would turn and make my stand.

Then was the time when I might have torn up the letter, had I not
suddenly forgotten my intention. I held it clutched in my hand,
mechanically, as I ran. I was conscious of only one thing,--that death
was bearing down on me. The sound of the horses' footfalls filled my
ears. Louder and louder came that sound, drowning even the quick panting
of my breath. Again came that aching in the side, that intolerable pain
which I had felt in my flight from Paris.

I pressed my hand to my side, and plunged forward. Suddenly the road
seemed to rise and strike me in the face. I had fallen prostrate, and now
lay half-stunned on the earth. I had just time to turn over on my back,
that I might face my pursuers, when the foremost horse came up.

"Well, my man," cried the rider, in a quick, nervous voice, as I looked
stupidly up at his short, sturdy figure, hooked nose, keen eyes, black
hair and beard, and shrewd, good-natured face, "did you think the devil
was after you, that you ran so hard? _Ventre Saint Gris_! You would make
an excellent courier."

"I am a courier," I answered, trying to rise. "I ran so fast that I might
soon reach Nerac with this letter for your majesty."

And I held the letter out to King Henri of Navarre.




CHAPTER VII.

HOW HE ANNOYED MONSIEUR DE LA CHATRE


I had never seen Henri of Navarre, before, but had often heard him
described, and no other man exactly fitted his description. His favorite
oath confirmed my recognition.

He took the letter, saying, "It looks as if it had been through fire
and flood"

"I had to swim the Seine with it," I said.

He read it, sitting on his horse in the middle of the road, I standing
beside the horse, the other six riders eyeing me curiously.

Having finished it, he looked at me with some interest and approval. "And
what made you run from us?" he asked.

"Sire, there were seven horsemen left in the party that has been chasing
me for some days past. Counting seven in your group, I too quickly
assumed that it was the same."

The King of Navarre laughed, and ordered one of the lackeys to give me
his horse and proceed afoot to the nearest town. When I was mounted, he
asked me to ride beside him.

"The speed at which you rode excited our curiosity," he explained, "and
that is why we gave chase."

I learned, later, that Henri and three of his gentlemen, with three
valets, had been inspecting the defences of one of his Gascon towns, and
were now returning to Nerac. He sometimes traversed those parts of his
French provinces where his authority as governor was recognized, without
any state, and often without a guard.

In reply to his questions, I said that I preferred a military position to
a civil one, but confessed my inexperience. He told me that I might serve
as ensign in one of his regiments, at Nerac, until I should acquire some
knowledge of military affairs, when he would give me a captain's
commission, and I might enlist a company.

I told him of the destruction of my chateau, and the loss of my money. He
thereupon required me to accept the horse on which I rode, and a purse
which one of the valets handed over to me. As he then beckoned one of his
gentlemen to his side, I fell back. We entered Nerac in the evening. As
soon as the gate was passed, the King and his followers turned towards
the chateau, and I took the main street to an inn.

The King of Navarre kept his promises. I had been ensign for only a few
months, stationed at Nerac, when he sent for me, and informed me that he
intended to augment his army, and that he would maintain a company of my
raising. He caused a captain's commission to be given to me before I left
the chateau. I walked thence, down the avenue of fine trees, which were
now in full leaf, before the chateau, debating with myself the
possibility of easily raising a company. When I reached the square before
the inn, I heard from within a human roar which had a familiar sound.
Entering, I found that it proceeded from the stentorian lungs of Blaise
Tripault, the young soldier who had aided my flight to Gascony by killing
two Guisards in my defence. He was sitting at a table, very drunk.

"Ah, Blaise Tripault," I cried, "I see that your father prevails
in you now!"

He recognized me, threw his bottle of wine out of the open window, and
made an attempt at sobriety.

"You have been long on the way to Nerac," I went on, "but you come just
in time to keep your promise. I enroll you first in the company which the
King has commissioned me to raise."

"I thank you, monsieur," he replied. "I will now go to bed, and will come
to you as soon as I am sober."

He was of great use to me in enlisting the company. He scoured the
country daily, and brought me recruits. When the roll was complete, I was
ordered to remain at Nerac for a time. Subsequently, I was sent to
garrison different towns, one after another, not only in Gascony and
parts of Guienne but also in Henri's principality of Bearn and his little
kingdom of Navarre.

I am proud to have had a share in the constant efforts made by Henri of
Navarre, while the world thought him given over entirely to gallantry at
his small but agreeable court, to increase his territory and his
resources against the time when he was to strike the great blows that no
one yet dreamed he was meditating. Thanks to the unwillingness, or
inability, of the King of France to put him in actual possession of his
governorship of Guienne, we had the pleasant task, now and then, of
wresting some town from the troops of the League or of Henri III. Our
Henri had to take by force the places ceded to him by the King of France
as Marguerite's dower, but still withheld from him. One of these was
Cahors, in the taking of which I fought for days in the streets, always
near our Henri, where the heart of the fighting was. It was there that
Blaise Tripault covered himself with glory and the blood of the enemy,
and was openly praised by the King.

But my life in the south had other pleasures besides those of fighting.
As Henri's was a miniature kingdom, so was his court, at cheerful Nerac
or sombre Pau, a miniature court; yet it had its pretty women and
gallant gentlemen. Gaiety visited us, too, from the greater world. When
the King of France and the Queen-mother thought it to their interest to
seem friendly to our Henri, they ordered Marguerite to Nerac. Catherine
herself came with her, bringing the Flying Squadron, that Henri and his
Huguenots might be seduced into the onesided treaties desired by her.
Catherine was one of the few, I think, who foresaw Henri's possible
future. Her astrologer, Cosmo Ruggieri, had predicted that he would
succeed her three sons to the throne of France, and I suppose she could
not endure the thought of this. Better a Guise than a Bourbon, the son
of Jeanne d'Albret. But our Henri might be useful to her as an
instrument to check the Duke of Guise in any attempted usurpation
during the life of her son. Therefore, Henri was to be cajoled while he
was being restrained. But he was not fooled into disadvantageous
compacts or concessions. All that he lost was a single town, which
Catherine caused to be attacked while he was at a fete; but he learned
of this at the fete, and retaliated by taking a town of the French
King's on the same night.

I was presented to Catherine while she was at Nerac. No allusion was made
to the circumstances which had caused my flight from Paris, or, indeed,
to my having ever been in Paris. Yet, from her scrutiny of my features, I
knew that she recalled those circumstances with my name. But Nerac was
not the place where it would serve her to concern herself about me. I
learned from one of Catherine's gentlemen that Mlle. d'Arency, who had
not come with her to Nerac, had wedded the Marquis de Pirillaume, who was
jealous and kept her on his estate in Dauphiny, away from the court. I
wished him joy of her.

When Catherine and her troop went back to the French court, leaving
Marguerite at Nerac, they could boast of a few Huguenot gentlemen won
over to their designs, but I was not one of the few. I do not say that I
did not amuse myself where charming women abounded, but I kept my heart
to myself. I had not resolved to become invulnerable to woman, but I had
determined that she by whom I would let myself be wounded should be one
vastly unlike any in Catherine's train. When I should find the woman pure
as beautiful, incapable of guile, I would love. "Somewhere in France," I
often said to myself, "that woman exists. I shall know her when I see
her." As in the former affair, I had my ideal already formed, and was
already in love, watching for the embodiment of that ideal to appear. But
this second ideal was different from the first. And it is time to tell
how at last I met her,--and how, for a while, the reality seemed worse
even than the first The death of the Duke of Anjou, after his
reconciliation with the King, his brother, and his failure to win the
crown he sought in the Netherlands, was a great event for us in Gascony.
It left our Henri of Navarre next in succession to the throne of France.
And our Henri was a sturdy man, while Henri III. seemed marked by destiny
to follow the three other sons of Catherine to an early grave. It
appeared that Marguerite monopolized all the longevity granted to the
family. But we knew that the Guises and their League would not let our
Huguenot Henri peacefully ascend his throne. Therefore, Henri's policy
was to strengthen himself against the time when the death of Henri III.
should leave the throne vacant for him. It was his interest also to
prevent a usurpation of that throne during the life of Henri III., for
such a usurpation would eventually exclude himself also. Thus
circumstance made him the natural ally of Henri III. It was, conversely,
the interest of the Guises to sow enmity between the two kings. The power
of the League in France, and particularly in Paris, was now so great that
Henri III. dared not oppose the wishes of the Duke of Guise. He was
reduced to devices for gaining time. And so, against his own interest, he
sanctioned the war which the League presently demanded against the
Huguenots,--a war which might do two things for the Duke of Guise:
destroy the next heir to the throne, and deprive the present King of his
chief resource against a usurpation. For the present, the Duke of Guise
cloaked his design by having the Pope proclaim the old Cardinal de
Bourbon heir to the throne, our Henri being declared ineligible on
account of heresy.

In the summer of 1585, the King of France issued anti-Huguenot edicts
required by the League. Governors of provinces were ordered to make it
uncomfortable for the "heretics." Several of them promptly obeyed,
arresting some Huguenots for remaining in their provinces, and arresting
others for trying to escape therefrom. By this time, Henri of Navarre had
gathered a sufficient army and acquired a sufficient number of towns to
hold his own in Guienne, and, indeed, throughout southwestern France. The
Prince de Conde also put a Huguenot army in the field. Pending the actual
opening of war, which the edicts of Henri III. foreshadowed, our Henri
maintained a flying camp in Guienne. Every day recruits came, some of
them with stories of persecution to which they had been subjected, some
with accounts of difficulty in escaping from their provinces. One day I
was summoned to the presence of Henri of Navarre.

"M. de la Tournoire," said he, speaking with his usual briskness and
directness, "there are, in most of the provinces of France, many
Huguenots who have publicly recanted, to save their lives and estates.
Many of these are secretly for us. They would join me, but they fear to
do so lest their estates be confiscated. These are to be assured that
what they may lose now by aiding me shall some day be restored to them.
Here is a list of a number of such gentlemen in the province of Berry,
and you are to give them the assurances necessary to enlist them in our
cause. Use what persuasions you can. Take your company, and find some
place of concealment among the hills of the southern border of Berry. You
can thus provide escort in crossing the border for those who may need it.
Where you can in any way aid a Huguenot to escape from the province,
where you can rescue one from death or prison, do so, always on condition
of promised service in our cause. As for the gentlemen whose names are on
this list, have them bring, as contributions, what money and arms they
can. We are in even greater need of these than of men. Impress upon these
gentlemen that their only hope of ultimate security lies in our triumph.
It is a task of danger with which I charge you, monsieur, and I know that
you will, therefore, the more gladly undertake it. The governor of Berry,
M. de la Chatre, is one of the bulwarks of the League. I learn that he is
enforcing the edicts of Henri III. against the Protestants with the
greatest zeal. He is devoted to the Duke of Guise, and is one of our most
formidable enemies. It will not, therefore, be well for you to fall into
his hands. Go, monsieur, and God be with you!"

I bowed my thanks for the favor of this dangerous mission, and went
away with the list in my doublet, proud of having been made the
confidant of Henri's resolution to fight for his rights to the end. I
was elated, too, at the opportunity to work against the King of France
and the Duke of Guise.

To annoy and hamper M. de la Chatre in his work of carrying out the
public edicts of the King and the secret designs of the Duke, would give
me the keenest joy. For once, both my great enemies, usually so opposed
to each other in interest, could be injured at the same time by the same
deeds; and such deeds would help my beloved captain, by whom I had been
chosen to perform them. I could hardly contain my happiness when I
returned to my company, and ordered immediate preparations for a night's
march northward.

We set out, myself and Tripault mounted, the others afoot, with several
horses bearing provisions and supplies. Marching at night, and concealing
ourselves in the forests by day, we at last reached the mountains that
form part of the southern boundary of Berry. They were thickly wooded,
and though the month of August made them a series of masses of deep
green, they presented a sombre aspect.

"It is somewhere up there," I said, pointing toward the still and
frowning hills before us, "that we are to find a burrow, from which to
issue forth, now and then, to the plains on the other side."

"The only man in the company who knows this country," replied my devoted
squire, Blaise Tripault, "is Frojac, but he makes up for the ignorance of
the others by knowing it very well. He can lead us to the most deserted
spot among these mountains, where there is an abandoned chateau, which is
said to be under a curse."

"If part of it is under a roof as well, so much the better," I answered.
"Bring Frojac to me."

Blaise rode back along the irregular line formed by my rude soldiers,
picked out an intelligent looking young arquebusier, and led him forward
to me. I made this man, Frojac, our guide.

After toilsome marches, forcing our way up wooded ascents devoid of human
habitation, and through almost impenetrable thickets of brushwood, we
crossed the highest ridge of the mountain chain, and from a bare spot, a
natural clearing, gazed down on the Creuse, which wound along the line
formed by the northern base of the mountains. Beyond that lay the
province of Berry, which was to be the scene of our operations. Some
leagues to the northeast, crowning a rocky eminence that rose from the
left bank of the Creuse, stood a mass of grim-looking towers and high
gray walls. From the southern side of this edifice, a small town ran down
the declivity to the plain.

"What is that place yonder?" I asked.

"It is the town and chateau of Clochonne," said Frojac.

"Who occupies the chateau?"

"It belongs to M. de la Chatre, the governor of the province, who
sometimes comes there. A part of it is occupied by a garrison."

We resumed our progress through the forest, now descending the northern
slope of the ridge. After some hours, when night was already beginning to
fall in the woods, Frojac pointed ahead to a knoll covered with huge
trees between whose trunks the space was choked with lesser vegetation.

"There it is," he said. "The Chateau de Maury."

We made our way through the thicket, and came suddenly upon ruined walls,
rising in the midst of trees. Wild growths of various kinds filled up
what had been the courtyard, and invaded the very doors. The broken walls
and cracked towers themselves seemed as much a part of nature as the
trees and bushes were. Branches thrust themselves through apertures in
the crumbling stone. Southward from the foot of the knoll rose the
mountains, eastward and westward extended an undulating natural platform
that interrupted the descent of the mountain side. Northward the ground
fell in a steep precipice to the left bank of the Creuse, along which ran
a little-used road from Clochonne, which was northeast, to Narjec, which
was southwest.

"Is there a path down the slope, by which we could reach that road,
should we wish to go north by way of Clochonne?" I asked.

"I do not think so," replied Frojac. "But there used to be a road from
here to Clochonne, through the forest. It has not been used since the
Sieur de Maury left, twenty years ago, to hunt for gold in the new world.
They said that, before going, he made a compact with the devil, here, by
which Satan was to lead him to a land of gold across the sea. The devil
is believed to be taking care of his estate until he returns. Perhaps
this road has not been entirely wiped out by the forest."

A part of the chateau was yet under roof. This portion included the hall
and three or four chambers above it. On the day after our arrival, we
found the road through the forest still sufficiently open to serve us for
expeditious egress. This abandoned way did not itself go to Clochonne,
but it ran into a road that went from that town southward across the
mountain. At the point of junction was the abode of an old woodman and
his wife, where the couple maintained a kind of inn for the
entertainment of people crossing the mountain. This man, Godeau, was
rheumatic, bent, thin, timid, shrill-voiced, and under the domination of
his large, robust, strong-lunged spouse, Marianne. By means of a little
flattery, a gold piece, promises of patronage, and hints of dire
vengeance upon any who might betray me, I secured this woman's complete
devotion. These two were the only human dwellers within two leagues of
our chosen hiding-place.

In Guienne, my master considered as enemies those who did not acknowledge
his authority, and he provisioned his army at their expense. Inasmuch as
the province of Berry was making war on our party, I treated it as
hostile country, subject to pillage, according to the customs of war. It
is true, some of its people were friendly to our cause, but it was as
much their duty to contribute to our maintenance, since we were fighting
in their behalf, as it was our right to take from those to whom our
relation was one of warfare. So I gave my men permission to forage,
putting but one condition upon them,--that of losing their lives rather
than allow our hiding-place to be disclosed. Thus, by virtue of many
nightly visits to farms in the vicinity of Clochonne and Narjec, we
contrived to avoid the pangs of an empty stomach.

Having established my company on a living basis at Maury, I began with
relish the work of annoying M. de la Chatre. I sent out certain of my
men, severally, to different parts of southern Berry as seekers of
information. In the guise of peasants, or of soldiers going to serve in
the army which the Governor, La Chatre, was then augmenting, they learned
much that was valuable to me. It is written, under the title of "How the
Lord Protected His Own and Chastised His Enemies in Berry," in the book
called "The Manifold Mercies of God to His Children," by the pastor
Laudrec, who has reported rightly what I related to him: how we made
recruits for Henri of Navarre by finding out Huguenots in towns and
villages and convincing them that they were sure to be arrested should
they remain in Berry; how we guided these out of the province by various
ways of our own discovery, across the mountain; how we interrupted the
hanging of several men at Issoudun, who had been condemned for heresy and
treason, and sent them in safety to Guienne; how certain of my men,
without my authority, despoiled Catholic churches of their instruments of
idolatry, and thus helped to replenish the treasury of our master; how I
once marched my company by night to a wood near Bourges, lay in wait
there until a guard came, conducting captured Huguenots for trial,
attacked the guard, rescued the prisoners, and protected them in a
hurried flight to the border, whence they proceeded to swell the army of
our Henri; and how we served our cause in numerous other exploits, which
I need not relate here, as you may read them in Laudrec's book, printed
in Geneva.

The many secret departures of Huguenots from southern Berry, despite the
vigilance of the garrisons at Clochonne and other frontier strongholds,
must naturally have attracted the attention of the authorities, and so
must the sudden public appearances that I made with my company on
occasions like that at Issoudun and that near Bourges. My men, who moved,
unknown, among the people, began to hear reports of a mysterious captain
who hid in the southern hills and sallied forth at night to spirit
Huguenots away. To this mysterious captain and his band were attributed
not only all the exploits that we did accomplish, but many that we did
not; and some daring robberies, of which we were innocent, were laid to
our charge.

Finally, in September, I had evidence that our deeds had begun to make an
impression on M. de la Chatre, the illustrious governor of the province
and of the Orleannais as well. One of my men, Roquelin, saw in the
market-place of Chateauroux an offer of five hundred crowns for the
capture of this unknown rebel captain, which document was signed by La
Chatre. I here saw an opportunity to make myself known in high places as
one capable of harming and defying his enemies, despite their greatness.
I was rejoiced at the hope of acquainting the Duke of Guise and the King
of France with the fact that I had survived to work defiantly against
their cause, under the very nose of one of their most redoubtable
servants. I had not been of sufficient consequence for the Duke to fear,
or for the King to protect, but now I was of sufficient consequence, as
their enemy, for a price to be put on my head. So I sent one of my clever
fellows, Sabray, to fasten by night beside La Chatre's placard in
Chateauroux, a proclamation of my own, in which I offered ten crowns for
the head of M. de la Chatre, and twenty crowns for that of his master,
the Duke of Guise. I appended this signature: "The Sieur de la Tournoire,
who does not forget." I knew that some of La Chatre's enemies would take
great pleasure in making this known to the Duke of Guise, and that the
latter would reproach the King with my continued existence. It irritates
the great to be defied by the small, and to irritate these two great ones
was my delight.

I soon learned, with glee, that my return of compliments had reached the
knowledge of the governor. Maugert brought me word of a notice posted in
Clochonne, in which La Chatre doubled his offer and termed me the
"heretic, rebel, traitor, and robber calling himself Sieur de la
Tournoire."

While I gave myself the pleasure of annoying M. de la Chatre, I did not
neglect the more important service imposed on me by Henri of Navarre.
Accompanied only by Blaise Tripault, and travelling by night, I visited,
one after another, the gentlemen named on my master's list, and used
what eloquence I had, pointing out the expediency of assuring future
security by making present sacrifices for our cause. Many of them
required very little persuasion. On hearing that Henri of Navarre had
given his word to defend his succession with his sword, they nobly left
their estates and went to join his army, carrying with them what money
and arms they could take. Thanks to the guidance of my men, they eluded
the garrisons on the border.

It was in early October, when the forests were turning yellow, brown, and
red, and the fallen leaves began to lie in the roads, that I started out
with Blaise Tripault to visit the gentleman named last on the list.

"Monsieur," said Blaise, as we neared the end of our hidden forest road
and were approaching the inn of Godeau, "I have in me a kind of feeling
that this, being our last excursion, is likely to be the most dangerous.
It would doubtless please Fortune to play us an ugly trick after having
served us so well hitherto."

"Nonsense!" I replied.

"I believe that is what the famous Bussy d'Amboise said when he was
warned not to keep his appointment with Mme. de Monsoreau," returned
Blaise; "yet he was, none the less, killed by the rascals that lay in
ambush with her husband."

"Thanks to the most kingly King of France, Henri III., who advised M. de
Monsoreau to force his wife to make the fatal appointment with Bussy.
Thanks, also, to the truly grateful Duke of Anjou, who rewarded Bussy for
his faithful service by concurring in the plot for his assassination."

"The Duke was worse than the King, for the King has been loyal to his
chosen favorites. Think of the monument he erected in honor of De Quelus,
and the others who got their deaths in that great duel in the
horse-market. _Par dieu!_ I should like to have seen those girl-men of
the King and those Guisards killing one another!"

"I have observed, Blaise, that you take an extraordinary pleasure in the
slaughter of Guisards."

"I was in Coligny's house, monsieur, on the night of the St. Bartholomew.
I was one of those who, at the Admiral's command, fled to the roof, and
from the roof of the next house I saw Coligny's body thrown into his
courtyard, and the Duke of Guise turn it over with his foot and wipe the
blood from the face to see if it were indeed my old captain's. Since
then, the sight of the white cross of Guise stirs in me all the hell that
my diabolical father transmitted to me. And I should not like to see you
fall into the hands of this Chatre, who is the right arm of the Duke of
Guise in Berry. That is why I give heed to the premonition that troubles
me regarding this journey."

"Certainly we cannot abandon the journey."

"No, but we can take unusual precautions, monsieur. Reports of our doings
are everywhere. Has it never occurred to you that you are, in appearance,
exactly the sort of man who would be taken for our leader? Ought you not
to disguise yourself?"

"An excellent idea, Blaise! I shall put on your clothes, and you shall
put on mine,--I shall pass as your lackey. It will be quite amusing."

"That is not the disguise I should have suggested," said Blaise, looking
not too well pleased with the idea. "It would require me to pass as a
gentleman."

But I saw possibilities of fun in the thing, and welcomed any means of
enlivening our excursion. Therefore, we dismounted at Godeau's inn, and
made the exchange of attire, much against the liking of Blaise, who now
repented of having advised any disguise at all. My clothes were a little
too tight for Blaise, for I was of medium size, and he puffed and turned
red in the face, and presented a curious appearance of fierceness and
discomfort. When I looked at him, I could not help laughing, and he met
my glance with a grim and reproachful countenance. I did not think that
his brown doublet and breeches and brown felt hat and feather were much
disguise for me. As we rode along, I diverted myself by trying to assume
a servile mien, which did not easily fit my rather bold face, prominent
nose, keen gray eyes, up-curling brown mustache and pointed brown beard.
With his curly reddish hair and beard, defiant mustache, honest, big,
blue eyes, swelling red cheeks, and robust body, Blaise looked like one
who must have had his dignities thrust upon him very recently.

We reached, without accident, our destination,--the chateau of the Baron
d'Equinay,--and that gentleman was speedily won by the assurances that I
bore him from Henri of Navarre. He desired, before starting for Guienne,
to go to Paris, where he had resources, and he rode off northward at the
same moment when we departed southward to return to Maury.

"It is well!" I cried to Blaise, as we rode in the bracing air of the
October morning. "We have carried our King's message to every one of his
chosen adherents in Berry. We ride through the province of M. de la
Chatre, breathe his fresh air, absorb his sunshine as freely as he does
himself. You see how reliable were your premonitions when we last set out
from Maury."

"It is not too late yet, monsieur," growled Blaise, whose temper was ill
while he wore my clothes; "we are not yet back at Maury."

"You will talk less dismally over a bottle of good wine, Blaise.
Therefore, I intend to stop at the first inn on the way. I hope it is a
good one, for I am very hungry."

"There is an inn at this end of Fleurier," said Blaise, "but I would not
stop if I were you."

But I was not to be moved from my intention. When a man has finished a
set task, it is time to eat and drink. Therefore, we stopped at the
little inn at the northern edge of Fleurier. A gray, bent innkeeper, very
desirous of pleasing, welcomed us and went to look after our horses,
while Blaise, acting the part of master, ordered a black-eyed, pretty
inn-maid to serve us dinner in a private chamber. The room assigned us
was at the head of a stairway leading from the kitchen. We had no sooner
seated ourselves than our ears were assailed by the clatter of many
horses on the road outside. They stopped before the inn, and we heard the
voices of two men who entered the kitchen, and of a great number who
remained without. When the inn-maid brought us a bottle of wine, Blaise
asked her whose cavalcade it was that waited before the inn.

"It is that of the governor of the province, M. de la Chatre," said she,
"who is below with his secretary, M. de Montignac."

And she left the room in haste to help serve so distinguished a guest.




CHAPTER VIII.

A SWEET LADY IN DISTRESS


Blaise looked at me solemnly, with a face that seemed to say, "Did I not
warn you?" We had seated ourselves at either side of a small, rough
table, I on the edge of the bed, Blaise on a three-legged stool. For a
moment I sat returning Blaise's gaze across the table; then noticing that
the maid had left the door of our chamber slightly ajar, I arose and
walked stealthily to the crack, through which I could see a part of the
kitchen below. Blaise remained seated at the table, glumly watching me.

I saw the maid bearing wine to a table near the window, where sat the two
guests whose names she had mentioned. The landlord was carrying a tray
full of bottles and drinking-cups out to La Chatre's men, who remained
before the inn, some having dismounted, some still on horse. I could hear
their talk, their oaths and cries to one another and to their horses, the
snorts and pawings of their steeds. A shout of welcome greeted the coming
of the landlord with the wine.

With curiosity I fastened my gaze on the two at the table. I knew
instantly that the stout, erect, authoritative gentleman with the
carefully trimmed gray beard, full cheeks, proud brow, fearless eyes, and
soldierly air, must be Claude de la Chatre, governor of the Orleannais
and Berri; and that the slender, delicately formed, sinuous, graceful
youth with smooth-shaven face, fine sharply cut features, intelligent
forehead, reddish hair, intent gray eyes, and mien of pretended humility,
was the governor's secretary, Montignac. La Chatre's look was frank,
open, brave. Montignac had the face of a man assuming a character, and
awaiting his opportunity, concealing his ambition and his pride,
suppressing the scorn that strove to disclose itself at the corners of
his womanish mouth. La Chatre wore a rich black velvet doublet and
breeches, and black leather riding-boots. Montignac was dressed, in
accordance with his pretence of servility, in a doublet of olive-colored
cloth, breeches of the same material, and buff boots. He sat entirely
motionless, looking across the table at his master with an almost
imperceptibly mocking air of profound attention.

Monsieur de la Chatre appeared to be in a bad humor. He gulped down his
wine hastily, seeming not to taste it. With a frown of irritation he
drew from his belt a letter, of which the seal was already broken.
Opening it with quick, angry motions, he held it before him, and
frowned the more deeply.

"_Peste!"_ he exclaimed, when the maid had left the kitchen; and then he
went on in a rich, virile, energetic voice: "To be met on the road by
such a letter! When I saw the courier in the distance I felt that he was
bound for me, and that he brought annoyance with him. The duke has never
before used such a tone to me. If he were on the ground, and knew the
trouble these dogs of heretics give me, he would doubtless change his
manner of speech."

"Monseigneur the Duke of Guise certainly wrote in haste, and therefore
his expressions have an abruptness that he did not intend," replied
Montignac, in a low, discreet, deferential voice, whose very tone was
attuned to the policy of subtle flattery which he employed towards his
master. "And he acknowledges, as well, your many successes as he
complains of your failure to catch this Sieur de la Tournoire."

So the letter by which the governor was so irritated came from the Duke
of Guise, and concerned myself! My work in Berri had not been in vain.
Instinctively I grasped the hilt of my sword, and at the same time I
smiled to myself to think how La Chatre might have felt had he known
that, while himself and his secretary were the only persons in the inn
kitchen, the Sieur de la Tournoire saw and heard them from the crack of
the slightly open door at the top of the stairway. To make myself safer
from discovery, I now took my eye from the crack, keeping my ear
sufficiently near to catch the words of my enemies. I glanced at Blaise,
who had heard enough to acquaint him with the situation, and whose
open-eyed face had taken on an expression of alertness and amazement
comical to behold. He, too, had mechanically clutched the handle of his
sword. Neither of us moving or speaking, we both listened. But the
governor's next words were drowned by the noise that came from outside,
as the landlord opened the front door to reenter the inn. La Chatre's
men, now supplied with wine, had taken up a song with whose words and
tune we were well acquainted.

"Hang every heretic high,
   Where the crows and pigeons pass!
Let the brood of Calvin die;
   Long live the mass!
A plague on the Huguenots, ah!
   Let the cry of battle ring:
Huguenots, Huguenots, Huguenots, ah!
   Long live the king!"

The singers uttered the word "Huguenots," and the exclamation "ah," with
an expression of loathing and scorn which could have been equalled only
by the look of defiance and hate that suddenly alighted on the face of
Blaise. He gave a deep gulp, as if forcing back, for safety, some
answering cry that rose from his breast and sought exit. Then he ground
his teeth, and through closed lips emitted from his throat a low growl,
precisely like that of a pugnacious dog held in restraint.

The landlord closed the door, and the song of La Chatre's men sank into a
rudely melodious murmur. The host then went out by a rear door, and the
governor resumed the conversation.

"_Corboeuf_! He is a fox, this Tournoire, who makes his excursions by
night, and who cannot be tracked to his burrow."

"We know, at least," put in the secretary, in his mild way, "that his
burrow is somewhere in the wooded mountains at the southern border of the
province."

"Then he knows those mountains better than the garrisons do," said
La Chatre. "The troops from the southern towns have hunted the
hills in vain."

"When such a task as the capture of this rebel is entrusted to many, it
is not undertaken with zeal. The chance of success, the burden of
responsibility, the blame of failure, are alike felt to be divided."

This observation on the part of the youthful secretary seemed to be
regarded by the governor as presumptuous. It elicited from him a frown
of reproof. His look became cold and haughty. Whereupon Montignac
gently added:

"As you, monsieur, remarked the other day."

La Chatre's expression immediately softened.

"The governor's brains are in the head of the secretary," thought I; "and
their place in his own head is taken by vanity."

"I remember," returned La Chatre. "And I added, did I not,
that--ahem, that--"

"That the finding of this Huguenot nuisance ought to be made the
particular duty of one chosen person, who should have all to gain by
success, or, better still, all to lose by failure."

And the suave secretary looked at his master with an expression of secret
contempt and amusement, although the innocent governor doubtless saw only
the respect and solicitude which the young man counterfeited.

"You are right," said the governor, with unconcealed satisfaction. "I
ought to reward you for reminding me. But your reward shall come,
Montignac. The coming war will give me the opportunity to serve both the
King and the Duke of Guise most effectually, and by whatever favor I
gain, my faithful secretary shall benefit."

"My benefit will be due to your generosity, not to my poor merit,
monsieur," replied Montignac, with an irony too delicate for the
perception of the noble governor.

"Oh, you have merit, Montignac," said La Chatre, with lofty
condescension. Then he glanced at the letter, and his face clouded. "But
meanwhile," he added, in obedience to a childish necessity of
communicating his troubles, "my favor depends, even for its continuance
in its present degree, on the speedy capture of this Tournoire. The
rascal appears to have obtained the special animosity of the Duke by
some previous act. Moreover, he is an enemy to the King, also a deserter
from the French Guards, so that he deserves death on various accounts,
old and new."

Herein I saw exemplified the inability of the great to forget or forgive
any who may have eluded their power.

"Let me, therefore," continued the governor, "consider as to what person
shall be chosen for the task of bagging this wary game."

And he was silent, seeming to be considering in his mind, but really, I
thought, waiting for the useful Montignac to suggest some one.

"It need not be a person of great skill," said Montignac, "if it be one
who has a strong motive for accomplishing the service with success. For,
indeed, the work is easy. The chosen person," he went on, as if taking
pleasure in showing the rapidity and ingenuity of his own thoughts, "has
but to go to the southern border, pretending to be a Huguenot trying to
escape the penalties of the new edicts. In one way or another, by moving
among the lower classes, this supposed fugitive will find out real
Huguenots, of whom there are undoubtedly some still left at Clochonne and
other towns near the mountains. Several circumstances have shown that
this Tournoire has made himself, or his agents, accessible to Huguenots,
for these escapes of heretics across the border began at the same time
when his rescues of Huguenot prisoners began. Without doubt, any
pretended Protestant, apparently seeking guidance to Guienne, would, in
associating with the Huguenots along the Creuse, come across one who
could direct him to this Tournoire."

"But what then?" said the governor, his eagerness making him forget his
pretence of being wiser than his secretary. "To find him is not to make
him prisoner,--for the Duke desires him to be taken alive. He probably
has a large following of rascals as daring and clever as himself."

"Knowing his hiding-place, you would send a larger body of troops
against him."

"But," interposed the governor, really glad to have found a weak point in
the plan suggested by his secretary, "in order to acquaint me with his
hiding-place, if he has a permanent hiding-place, my spy would have to
leave him. This would excite his suspicions, and he would change his
hiding-place. Or, indeed, he may be entirely migratory, and have no
fixed place of camping. Or, having one, he might change it, for any
reason, before my troops could reach it. Doubtless, his followers patrol
the hills, and could give him ample warning in case of attack."

"Your spy," said Montignac, who had availed himself of the governor's
interruption to empty a mug of wine, "would have to find means of doing
two things,--the first to make an appointment with La Tournoire, which
would take him from his men; the second, to inform you of that
appointment in time for you to lead or send a company of soldiers to
surprise La Tournoire at the appointed place."

"_Par dieu_, Montignac!" cried the governor, with a laugh of derision.
"Drink less wine, I pray you! Your scheme becomes preposterous. Of what
kind of man do you take him to be, this Sieur de la Tournoire, who offers
a reward, in my own province, for my head and that of the Duke of Guise?"

"The scheme, monsieur," said Montignac, quietly, not disclosing to the
governor the slightest resentment at the latter's ridicule, "is quite
practicable. This is the manner in which it can be best conducted. Your
chosen spy must be provided with two messengers, with whom he may have
communication as circumstances may allow. When the spy shall have met La
Tournoire, and learned his hiding-place, if he have a permanent one, one
messenger shall bring the information to you at Bourges, that you may
go to Clochonne to be near at hand for the final step. Having sent the
first messenger, the spy shall fall ill, so as to have apparent reason
for not going on to Guienne. On learning of your arrival at
Clochonne,--an event of which La Tournoire is sure to be informed,--your
spy shall make the appointment of which I spoke, and shall send the
second messenger to you at Clochonne with word of that appointment, so
that your troops can be at hand."

"The project is full of absurdities, Montignac," said the governor,
shaking his head.

"Enumerate them, monsieur," said Montignac, without change of tone or
countenance.

"First, the lesser one. Why impede the spy with the necessity of
communicating with more than one messenger?"

"Because the spy may succeed in learning the enemy's hiding-place, if
there be one, and yet fail in the rest of the design. To learn his
hiding-place is at least something worth gaining, though the project
accomplish nothing more. Moreover, the arrival of the first messenger
will inform you that the spy is on the ground and has won La Tournoire's
confidence, and that it is time for you to go to Clochonne. The
appointment must not be made until you are near at hand, for great
exactness must be observed as to time and place, so that you can surely
surprise him while he is away from his men."

"Montignac, I begin to despair of you," said the governor, with a look
of commiseration. "How do you suppose that La Tournoire could be induced
to make such an appointment? What pretext could be invented for
requesting such a meeting? In what business could he be interested that
would require a secret interview at a distance from his followers?"

I thought the governor's questions quite natural, and was waiting in much
curiosity for the answer of Montignac, of whose perspicacity I was now
beginning to lose my high opinion, when the inn-maid entered the kitchen,
and the secretary repressed the reply already on his lips. She took from
the spit a fowl that had been roasting, and brought it to our chamber. To
avoid exciting her suspicions I had to leave my place of observation and
reseat myself on the bed.

Having placed the fowl, hot and juicy, on the table between us, the maid
went away, again leaving the door partly open. Blaise promptly attacked
the fowl, but I returned to my post of outlook.

"Lack of zeal?" I heard the governor say. "_Par-dieu,_ where have I
let a known Huguenot rest in peace in my provinces since the edicts
have been proclaimed? And I have even made Catholics suffer for
Showing a disposition to shield heretics. There was that gentleman of
this very town--"

"M. de Varion," put in Montignac.

"Ay, M. de Varion,--a good Catholic. Yet I caused his arrest because he
hid his old friend, that Polignart, who had turned heretic. _Mon dieu_,
what can I do more? I punish not only heretics, but also those who shield
heretics. Yet the Duke of Guise hints that I lack zeal!"

"As to M. de Varion," said Montignac; "what is your intention
regarding him?"

"To make an example of him, that hereafter no Catholic will dare shelter
a Huguenot on the score of old friendship. Let him remain a prisoner in
the chateau of Fleurier until the judges, whom I will instruct, shall
find him guilty of treason. Then his body shall hang at the chateau gate
for the nourishment of the crows."

"Fortunately," said Montignac listlessly, "he has no family to give
trouble afterward."

"No son," replied the governor. "Did not M. de Brissard say that there
was a daughter?"

"Yes, an unmarried daughter who was visiting some bourgeois relation in
Bourges at the time of her father's arrest."

"When she learns of her father's incarceration she will probably pester
me with supplications for his release. See to it, Montignac, that this
Mlle. de Varion be not suffered to approach me."

My eavesdropping was again interrupted by the return of the inn-maid. On
going out of the chamber this time, she closed the door. Hunger and
prudence, together, overcoming my curiosity, I did not open it, but
joined Blaise in disposing of the dinner. The table at which we ate was
near the window of the chamber, and we could look out on the grassy space
of land before the inn. La Chatre's men were moving about, looking to
their horses and harness, talking in little groups, and watching for
their master's appearance at the inn door.

Presently four new figures came into view, all mounted. From our window
we could see them plainly as they approached the inn. One of these
newcomers was a young lady who wore a mask. At her side rode a maid,
slim, youthful, and fresh-looking. Behind these were two serving boys,
one tall, large, and strong; the other small and agile.

"By the blue heaven!" Blaise blurted out; "a dainty piece of womankind!"

"Silence, Blaise!" I said, reprovingly. "How dare you speak with such
liberty of a lady?"

"I thought I was supposed to be masquerading as a gentleman," he growled.
"But it was not of the lady that I spoke. It was the maid."

The lady had the slender figure of a woman of twenty. Over a
tight-fitting gown of blue cloth, she wore a cloak of brown velvet, which
was open at the front. Fine, wavy brown hair was visible beneath her
large brown velvet hat. She wore brown gloves and carried a riding whip.
As for her face, her black mask concealed the upper part, but there were
disclosed a delicate red mouth and a finely cut chin. The throat was
white and full.

The maid was smaller than the mistress. She had a pretty face, rather
bold blue eyes, an impudent little mouth, an expression of
self-confidence and challenge.

La Chatre's men made room for this little cavalcade to pass to the inn.
The maid looked at them disdainfully, but the lady glanced neither to
right nor left. Having ridden up close to the inn, they dismounted and
entered, thus passing out of our sight.

I would fain have again looked down into the kitchen, now that these
attractive guests had arrived to disturb the governor's confidential
talk, but the inn-maid had closed our chamber door tight, and I might
have attracted the governor's attention by opening it. Moreover, I could
not long cherish the idea of watching, unobserved, the movements of a
lady. So, for some time, Blaise and I confined our attention to the
dinner, Blaise frequently casting a glance at the door as if he would
have liked to go down-stairs and make a closer inspection of the pretty
face of the maid.

Several times we heard voices, now that of a lady, now that of the
governor, as if the two were conversing together, but the words spoken
were not distinguishable. It did not please me to think that the lady
might have come hither to join the governor.

At last the noise of La Chatre's men remounting told us that the governor
had rejoined them from the inn. Looking out of the window, we saw him at
their head, a splendid, commanding figure. Montignac, studious-looking,
despite the horse beneath him, was beside the governor. I noticed that
the secretary sat a horse as well as any of the soldiers did. I observed,
too, and with pleasure, that the lady was not with them; therefore, she
was still in the inn. I was glad to infer that her acquaintance with La
Chatre was but casual, and that her meeting with him at the inn had been
by chance.

The governor jerked his rein, and the troop moved off, northward, bound I
knew not whither, the weapons and harness shining in the sunlight. I
turned to Blaise with a smile of triumph.

"And now what of your croakings?" I asked. "As if the safest place in all
France for us was not within sound of M. de la Chatre's voice, where he
would never suppose us to be! It did not even occur to him to ask what
guests were in the upper chamber! What would he have given to know that
La Tour noire sat drinking under the same roof with him! Instead of
coming to disaster, we have heard his plans, and are thus put on our
guard. More of your evil forebodings, my amiable Blaise! They mean good."

But Blaise looked none the less gloomy. "There is yet time for evil to
come of this journey, my captain," he said gravely.

I now made haste to finish my meal, that I might go down into the kitchen
ere the lady in the brown robe should depart.

Presently, Blaise, glancing out of the window, exclaimed, "The devil! We
are not yet rid of our friends! There is one of them, at least!"

I looked out and saw two mounted gentlemen, one of whom was Montignac,
the governor's secretary, who had ridden back. The other, with whom he
was talking in low tones, and with an air of authority, was a man of
my own age, dressed in the shabby remains of rich clothes. His face
showed the marks of dissipation, and had a cynical, daredevil look.
Now and then a sarcastic smile broke suddenly over the handsome and
once noble features.

"I have seen that man, somewhere, before," said I to Blaise.

While I stood searching my memory, and the man sat talking to Montignac,
both having stopped their horses in front of the inn, there tramped up,
from the South, four other travellers, all of a kind very commonly seen
on the highways, in those days of frequent war. They were ragged soldiers
of fortune, out at elbows, red of cheek and nose, all having the same
look of brow-beating defiance, ready to turn, in a moment, into abject
servility. The foremost of these was a big burly fellow with a black
beard, and a fierce scowl.

As he came up towards the gentleman with whom Montignac was talking,
there suddenly came on me a sense of having once, in the dim past, been
in strangely similar circumstances to those in which I was now. Once,
long ago, had I not looked out in danger from a place of concealment upon
a meeting of those two men before an inn?

The burly rascal saluted the mounted gentleman, saying, in a coarse,
strident voice:

"At your service, M. le Vicomte de Berquin."

"Know your place, Barbemouche!" was the quick reply. "I am talking with a
gentleman."

Then I remembered the morning after my flight from Paris, seven years
before. Montignac's reckless-looking companion had been the gay gentleman
going north, at whom I had looked from an inn shed. The other was the man
who had afterwards chased me southward at the behest of the Duke of
Guise. But he no longer wore on his hat the white cross of Lorraine, and
the Vicomte de Berquin's apparel was no longer gay and spotless. The two
had doubtless fallen on hard ways. Both showed the marks of reverses and
hard drinking. Barbemouche's sword was, manifestly, no longer in the pay
of the Duke of Guise, but was ready to serve the first bidder.

Barbemouche shrugged his shoulders at De Berquin's reproof, and led his
three sorry-looking companions to a bench in front of the inn, where they
searched their pockets for coin before venturing to cross the threshold.

Montignac now pointed to the inn, spoke a few last earnest words to
Berquin, handed the latter a few gold pieces, cast at him a threatening
look at parting, and galloped off to rejoin M. de la Chatre, whose
cavalcade was now out of our sight. De Berquin gave him an ironical bow,
kissed the gold pieces before pocketing them, dismounted, and entered the
inn, replying only with a laugh to the supplicating looks of the
moneyless Barbemouche and his hungry-looking comrades on the bench.

"Now I wonder what in the devil's name the governor's secretary was
saying to that man?" growled Blaise Tripault.

For reply, I gave a look which reflected the surmise that I saw in
Blaise's own eyes.

"Well," I said, "if it be that, the Vicomte de Berquin will be a vastly
ingenious gentleman if he can either find our hiding-place, or delude me
away from my men. To think that they should have chosen the first
mercenary wretch they met on their way! Yet doubtless the perspicacious
Montignac knows his man."

"The secretary pointed to this inn as if he were telling him that you
were here," observed Blaise, meditatively.

"But inasmuch as the secretary does not know that I am here," said I,
"his pointing to the inn could not have accompanied that information. He
was doubtless advising his friend to begin his enterprise with a hearty
meal, which was very good advice. And now, as this Vicomte de Berquin
does not know me by sight, let us go down and make his acquaintance.
Remember that you are the master, and make a better pretence of it than
you have usually made."

"I pretend the master no worse than you pretend the servant," muttered
Blaise, while I opened the door of our chamber. A moment later we were
descending the stairs leading to the kitchen.

An unexpected sight met our eyes. M. de Berquin stood with his back to a
rear door, his arms extended, as if to prevent the departure of the lady,
who stood facing him, in the attitude of shrinking back from him. She
still wore her mask. Beside her stood her maid, who darted looks of
indignation at the smiling De Berquin. These three were the only ones in
the kitchen.

"I do not know you, monsieur!" the lady was saying, in a low voice of
great beauty.

"Death of my life! But you shall know me, mademoiselle," replied De
Berquin, who had not noticed the entrance of myself and Blaise; "for I
intend to guard you from harm on the rest of your journey, whether you
will or not!"

Blaise shot at me a glance of interrogation. To keep up our assumed
characters, it was for him, not me, to interfere in behalf of this lady;
yet he dared not act without secret direction from me. But I forgot our
pretence and hastened forward, my hand on my sword-hilt.

"I fear monsieur is annoying mademoiselle," I said, gently, assuming that
De Berquin had been correct in addressing her as mademoiselle.

Startled at the voice of a newcomer, the three turned and looked at me in
surprise. Blaise, at a loss as to what he ought to do, remained in the
background.

"But," I added, "monsieur will not do so again for the present."

De Berquin took me in at a glance, and, deceived by my dress, said
carelessly, "Go to the devil!" Then, turning from me to Blaise, as one
turns from an inferior to an equal, he remarked:

"You have a most impudent servant, monsieur!"

Blaise, embarrassed by the situation, and conscious that the curious eyes
of the lady and the maid were upon him, could only shrug his shoulders in
reply. The maid, whom he had so much admired, turned to her mistress with
a look of astonishment at his seeming indifference. Seeing this, Blaise
became very red in the face.

It was I who answered De Berquin, and with the words:

"And your servant, if you have one, has a most impudent master."

De Berquin turned pale with rage at the insulting allusion to his
somewhat indigent appearance.

"Your master shall answer for your impertinence!" he cried, drawing his
sword and making for Blaise.

In an instant my own sword was out, and I was barring his way.

"Let _us_ argue the matter, monsieur!" said I.

"_Peste_!" he hissed. "I fight not lackeys!"

"You will fight _me_," I said, "or leave the presence of this lady at
once!"

Impelled by uncontrollable wrath, he thrust at me furiously. With a
timely twist, I sent his sword flying from his hand to the door. I
motioned him to follow it.

Completely astonished, he obeyed my gesture, went and picked up his
sword, opened the door, and then turned to Blaise and spoke these words,
in a voice that trembled with rage:

"Monsieur, since you let your menial handle your sword for you, I cannot
hope for satisfaction. But though I am no great prophet, I can predict
that both you and your cur shall yet feel the foot of _my_ lackey on your
necks. And, mademoiselle," he added, removing his look to the lady, "this
is not the end of it with you!"

With which parting threats, he strode out of the inn, closing the door
after him.

Blaise, deprived by his false position of the power of speech, stood
with frowning brow and puffed-out cheeks, nervously clutching at his
sword-hilt. The lady and her maid looked at him with curiosity, as if
a gentleman who would stand idly and speechlessly by, while his
servant resented an insult to a lady, was a strange being, to be
viewed with wonder.

"Mademoiselle," said I, laying my sword on a table, "heaven is kind to me
in having led me where I might have the joy of serving you."

The lady, whose musical voice had the sound of sadness in it, answered
with the graciousness warranted by the occasion:

"My good man, your sword lifts you above your degree, even," and here she
glanced at Blaise, and continued in a tone of irrepressible contempt, "as
the tameness of some gentlemen lowers them beneath theirs."

Blaise, from whose nature tameness was the attribute farthest removed,
looked first at the lady, in helpless bewilderment, then at me, with mute
reproach for having placed him in his ridiculous position, and lastly at
the maid, who regarded him with open derision. To be laughed at by this
piquant creature, to whose charms he had been so speedily susceptible,
was the crowning misery. His expression of woe was such that I could not
easily retain my own serious and respectful countenance.

Having to make some answer to the lady, I said:

"An opportunity to defend so fair a lady would elevate the most ignoble."

The lady, not being accustomed to exchanging compliments with a
man-servant, went to her maid and talked with her in whispers, the two
both gazing at Blaise with expressions of mirth.

Blaise strode to my side with an awkwardness quite new to him. His face
was in a violent perspiration.

"The devil!" he whispered. "How they laugh at me! Won't you explain?"

"Impossible!"

"I object to being taken for a calf," said Blaise, ready to burst with
anger. Then, suddenly reaching the limit of his endurance, he faced the
lady and blurted out:

"Mademoiselle, I would have run your pursuer through quickly enough, but
I dared not rob my master--"

I coughed a warning against his betraying us. He hesitated, then
despairingly added, in a voice of resignation:

"--my master, the King, of a single stroke of this sword, which I have
devoted entirely to his service."

"I do not doubt," said the lady, with cold irony, "that your sword is
active enough when drawn in the service of your King."

"My King," replied Blaise with dignity, "had the goodness to make a
somewhat similar remark when he took Cahors!"

"Cahors?" repeated the lady in a tone of perplexity. "But the King never
took Cahors!"

"The King of France,--no!" cried Blaise; "but the King of Navarre did!"

"Blaise!" I cried, in angry reproof at his imprudence.

The tone in which I spoke had so startled the lady that she dropped her
mask, and I saw the sweetest face that ever gladdened the eyes of a man.
It was the face of a girl naturally of a cheerful nature, but newly made
acquainted with sorrow. Grief had not rendered the nature, or the face,
unresponsive to transient impressions of a pleasant or mirthful kind.
Hers was one of those hearts in which grief does not exclude all
possibility of gaiety. Sorrow might lie at the bottom, never forgotten
and never entirely concealed, but merriment might ripple on the surface.
As for its outlines, the face, in every part, harmonized with the grace
and purity of the chin and mouth. Her eyes were blue and large, with an
eloquence displayed without intent or consciousness.

"What does it mean?" she said, in a charming bewilderment. "The servant
reproves the master. Ah! I see! The servant _is_ the master."

And she smiled with pleasure at her discovery.

"But still _your_ servant, mademoiselle," was all that I could say.

Blaise vented a great breath of relief. "I feel better now," he said,
heartily, and he turned with a beaming countenance to the maid, who
looked at his stalwart form and promptly revised her opinion of him. The
two were soon in conversation together, at the fireplace, and I was left
to complete explanations with the lady, who did not attempt the coquetry
of replacing her mask.

"Our secret is yours, mademoiselle, and our safety is in your hands."

"Your secret is safe, monsieur," she said, modestly averting her eyes
from my frankly admiring look. "And now I understand why it was you who
drew sword."

"A privilege too precious to be resigned," I answered in a low tone,
"even for the sake of my secret and my safety."

My words were spoken so tenderly that she sought relief from her
charming embarrassment by taking up my sword from the table, and saying,
with a smile:

"I have you in my power, monsieur, follower of the King of Navarre! What
if I were minded, on behalf of the governor of this province, to make you
a prisoner?"

"My faith!" I could only reply, "you need no sword to make
prisoners of men."

"You hope to purchase your freedom with a compliment," she said,
continuing the jest; "but you cannot close my eyes with flattery."

"It would be a crime beyond me to close eyes so beautiful!"

She gave a pretty little smile and shrug of helplessness, as if to
say, "I cannot help it, monsieur, if you will overwhelm me with
compliments which are not deserved, I am powerless to prevent you."
But the compliments were all the more deserved because she seemed to
think them not so.

Her modesty weakened my own audacity, and her innocent eyes put me into
a kind of confusion. So I changed the subject.

"It appears to me, mademoiselle," I said, "that I have had the honor of
ridding you of unpleasant company."

Her face quickly clouded, as if my words had brought to her mind a
greater trouble than the mere importunities of an insolent adventurer.

"De Berquin!" she said, and then heaved a deep sigh; "I had forgotten
about him."

"I would not commit his offence of thrusting unwelcome company on you," I
replied; "but I would gladly offer you for a few leagues the sword that
has already put him to flight."

She was for some time silent. Then she answered slowly in a low voice, "I
ride towards Clochonne, monsieur."

Taking this for an acceptance of my offer, I sheathed my sword, and
replied with an animation that betrayed my pleasure:

"And I towards the same place, mademoiselle. When you choose to set out,
I am ready."

"I am ready now, monsieur--," she said, lingering over the word
"monsieur," as if trying to recall whether or not I had told her my name.

It was no time at which to disclose the title under which I was known
throughout the province as one especially proscribed, and yet I was
unwilling to pass under a false name. Therefore, I said:

"I am M. de Launay, once of Anjou, but now of nowhere in particular. The
great have caused my chateau to be scattered over my lands, stone by
stone, and have otherwise encouraged my taste for travel and adventure."

At this moment, glancing towards Blaise, I saw on his face a look of
alarm and disapproval, as if he feared that the lady or her maid might be
aware that De Launay and La Tournoire were one man, but it was manifest
from their faces that he had no cause for such an apprehension.

The lady smiled at my description, and adjusting her gloves, replied:

"And I am Mlle. de Varion, daughter of a gentleman of Fleurier--"

"What!" I interrupted, "the Catholic gentleman who has been imprisoned
for sheltering a Huguenot?"

"Yes," she answered, sorrowfully, and then with a strange trepidation she
went on: "and it is to save myself from imprisonment that I have
determined to flee to the south, in the hope of finding refuge in one of
the provinces controlled by your King of Navarre."

"But," I interposed, "how can you be in danger of imprisonment? It was
not you, but your father, who violated the edict."

"Nevertheless," she answered, in a low and unsteady voice, averting her
glance to the floor, "M. de la Chatre, the governor of the province, has
threatened me with imprisonment if I remain in Berry."

"Doubtless," I said with indignation, "the governor does this in order to
escape the importunities you would make in your father's behalf. He would
save his tender heart from the pain of being touched by your pleadings."

"It may be so," she answered faintly.

I did not tell her that the idea of releasing her father had already
entered my head. In order to bring him safe out of the Chateau of
Fleurier, it would be necessary for me to return to Maury for my company.
The attempt would be a hazardous one, and I might fail, and I did not
wish to raise hopes in her for disappointment. She should not learn of my
intention until after its fulfillment. In the meantime, less because I
thought she would really undergo danger by remaining at Fleurier, than
because I was loth to lose the new-found happiness that her presence gave
me, I would conduct her to Maury, on the pretext of its being the best
place whence to make, at a convenient time, a safe flight to Guienne.

Having summoned the landlord and paid him, I waited for Mlle. de Varion
to precede me out of the door. There was a moment's delay while her maid
sought the riding whip which mademoiselle had laid down on one of the
tables. At this moment, there came to me the idea of a jest which would
furnish me with amusement on the road southward, and afford mademoiselle
an interesting surprise on her arrival at Maury.

"It occurs to me, mademoiselle," said I, "that you will be glad to have
some guidance across the border. Let me recommend to you one, whose
services I think I can assure you, and whom we may fall in with in the
vicinity of Clochonne,--the Sieur de la Tournoire."

Mademoiselle turned white, and stared at me with a look of terror
on her face.

"Decidedly," I thought, "as the mere mention of my name produces such an
effect on her, it is well that I am not going to introduce myself until
she shall have learned that I am not such a terrible cutthroat as the
Catholics in this province think me." And I said aloud:

"Fear not, mademoiselle. He is not as bad as his enemies represent him."

"I shall be glad to have his guidance," she said, still pale.

We left the inn and took horse, being joined, outside, by mademoiselle's
two serving-boys. Resuming his character of gentleman, Blaise rode ahead
with the lady, while I followed at the side of the maid, he casting many
an envious glance at the place I occupied, and I reciprocating his
feelings if not his looks. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently near
mademoiselle to be able to exchange speeches with her. The day was at its
best. The sun shone; a gentle breeze played with the red and yellow
leaves in the roadway, and I was happy.

Looking down a byway as we passed, I saw, at some distance, M. de Berquin
talking to Barbemouche, while the latter's three scurvy-looking
companions stood by, as if awaiting the outcome of the conversation
between the two.

"Oho, M. de Berquin!" I said to myself, with an inward laugh; "I do not
know whether you are bargaining for help to persecute Mlle. de Varion, or
to spy on the Sieur de la Tournoire; but it has come to pass that you can
do both at the same time."




CHAPTER IX.

THE FOUR RASCALS


We rode southward at an easy pace, that mademoiselle might not be made
to suffer from fatigue. Aside from the desirability of our reaching safe
territory, there was no reason for great haste. M. de Varion had not yet
been tried, and the attempt to deliver him from prison need not be made
immediately. Time would be required in which I might form a satisfactory
plan of action in this matter. It would be necessary to employ all my
men in it, and to bring them secretly from Maury by night marches, but I
must not take the first step until the whole design should be complete
in my mind.

I suggested to mademoiselle that we first go to her father's house, in
Fleurier, where she might get such of her belongings as she wished to
take with her. But she desired to take no more along than was already in
the portmanteaus that her boys, Hugo and Pierre, carried with them on
their horses. She had come directly from Bourges with this baggage,
having been visiting an unmarried aunt, in that city, when news of her
father's arrest reached her.

When I questioned her as to her conduct on the reception of that news,
her face clouded, and she showed embarrassment and a wish to avoid the
subject. Nevertheless, she gave me answers, and I finally learned that
her purpose on leaving Bourges had been to seek the governor of the
province, immediately, and petition for her father's release. It was by
accident that she had met M. de la Chatre at the inn, where she had
stopped that her horses might be baited. My persistent, though
deferential, inquiries elicited from her, in a wavering voice, that she
had not previously possessed the governor's acquaintance; that her
entreaties had evoked only the governor's wrathful orders to depart from
the province on pain of sharing her father's fate; and that La Chatre had
refused to allow her even to see her father in his dungeon in the Chateau
of Fleurier.

Her agitation as she disclosed these things to me became so great that I
presently desisted from pursuing the subject, and sought to restore
brightness to the face of one whose tenderness and youth made her
misfortune ineffably touching.

I found that, with a woman's intelligence, she had a child's
ingenuousness. I had no difficulty in leading her to talk about herself.
Artlessly she communicated to me the salient facts of her life. Her
father, the younger son of a noble family, had passed his days in study
on his little portion of land near Fleurier. Like myself, she had when
very young become motherless. As for her education, her unmarried aunt
had taught her those accomplishments which a woman can best impart, while
her father had instructed her concerning the ancients, the arts, and the
sciences. She had been to Paris but once, and knew nothing of the court.

Most of my conversation with mademoiselle was had while we traversed a
deserted stretch of road, where I could, with safety, ride by her side
and allow Blaise to take my place with the maid, Jeannotte. I could infer
how deeply the good fellow had been smitten with the petite damsel by the
means which he took to impress her in return. Far from showing himself as
the wounded, sighing lover, he swelled to large dimensions, assumed his
most martial frown, and carried himself as a most formidable personage.
He boasted sonorously of his achievements in battle.

"And the scar on your forehead," I heard her say, as she inspected his
visage with a coquettish side glance; "at what battle did you get that?"

His reply was uttered in a voice whose rancorous fierceness must have set
the maid trembling.

"In the battle of the Rue Etienne," he said, "which was fought between
myself and a hell-born Papist, on St. Bartholomew's night, in 1572. From
the next house-roof, I had seen Coligny's body thrown, bleeding, from his
own window into his courtyard, for I was one of those who were with him
when his murderers came, and whom he ordered to flee. I ran from roof to
roof, hoping to reach a house where a number of Huguenots were, that I
might lead them back to avenge the admiral's murder. I dropped to the
street and ran around a corner straight into the arms of one of the
butchers employed by the Duke of Guise that night to decorate the streets
of Paris with the best blood in France. Seeing that I did not wear the
white cross on my arm, he was good enough to give me this red mark on my
forehead. But in those days I was quick at repartee, and I gave him a
similar mark on a similar place. Then I was knocked down from behind, and
when I awoke it was the next day. The dogs had thought me dead. As for
the man who gave me this mark, I have not seen him since, but for
thirteen years I have prayed hard to the bountiful Father in Heaven to
bring us together again some day, and the good God in His infinite
kindness will surely do so!"

Now and then mademoiselle turned in her saddle to look behind. It was
when she did this for the ninth or tenth time that she gave a start, and
her lips parted with a half-uttered ejaculation of alarm. I followed her
look and saw five mounted figures far behind us, on the road. It was
most probable that these were De Berquin, Barbemouche, and the latter's
three ragged comrades. But in this sight I found no reason to be
disturbed. If mademoiselle was the object of De Berquin's quest, I felt
that our party was sufficiently strong to protect her. If he had
abandoned the intention of annoying her with further importunities, and
was merely proceeding to Clochonne in order to act as the governor's spy
against me, there could be no immediate danger in his presence, for he
did not suspect that I was the Sieur de la Tournoire.

"Be assured, mademoiselle," I said, "you have nothing whatever to fear
from M. de Berquin."

"I do not fear for myself," she replied, with a pathetic little smile.
"It cannot be possible that, having seen me only once, he should put
himself to so much trouble merely to inflict his attentions on me."

"Then you never saw him before the meeting at the inn to-day?" I asked,
in surprise.

"Never. When he addressed me and introduced himself, I was surprised that
he should already know my name."

I then recalled that the governor's secretary, Montignac, at one time,
during his talk with De Berquin outside our window, had pointed towards
the inn. Was it, then, of Mlle. de Varion that he had been talking?
Montignac, of course, having witnessed the interview between mademoiselle
and the governor, had learned her name. It must have been he who had
communicated it to De Berquin. Had the subtle secretary entrusted the
unscrupulous cavalier with some commission relative to mademoiselle, as
well as with the task of betraying me? It was in vain that I tried to
find satisfactory answers to these questions.

I asked mademoiselle whether she had ever known Montignac before this
day.

"Never," she answered, with a kind of shudder, which seemed to express
both abhorrence and fear. Again she grew reticent; again the shadow and
the look of confusion appeared on her face. I could make nothing of these
signs. To attempt a solution by interrogating her was only to cause her
pain, and rather than do that I preferred to remain mystified.

Once more mademoiselle cast an uneasy look at the riders in the
distance rearward.

"Ah!" said I, with a smile, "you have no fear for yourself, yet you
continue to look back with an expression that very nearly resembles that
of fright."

"I do not fear for myself," she said, quite artlessly; "it is for you
that I fear. M. de Berquin will surely try to revenge himself for the
humiliation you gave him."

A joyous thrill sent the blood to my cheeks. Without disguising my
feelings, I turned and looked at her. Doubtless the gladness that shone
in my eyes told her what was in my heart. Realizing that her frank and
gentle demonstration of solicitude was a confession to be received with
ineffable delight by the man to whom it was tendered, she dropped her
eyes and a deep blush overspread her face. For some time no word passed
between us; enough had been said. I knew that the look in my eyes had
told more, a thousand times, than all the extravagant compliments with
which I had, half banteringly, deluged her at the inn.

We might, by hard riding, have reached Maury on the night of that day,
but mademoiselle's comfort was to be considered, and, moreover, I desired
to throw De Berquin off our track before going to our hiding-place.
Therefore, when Clochonne was yet some leagues before us, we turned into
a by-way, and stopped at an obscure inn at the end of a small village.
This hostelry was a mere hut, consisting of a kitchen and one other
apartment, and was kept by an old couple as stupid and avaricious as any
of their class. The whole place, such as it was, was at our disposal. The
one private room was given over to mademoiselle and Jeannotte for the
night, it being decided that I and Blaise should share the kitchen with
the inn-keeper and his wife, while the two boys should sleep in an outer
shed with the horses.

Roused from sluggishness by the sight of a gold piece, which Blaise
displayed, the old couple succeeded in getting for us a passable supper,
which we had served to us on the end of an old wine-butt outside the inn,
as the kitchen was intolerably smoky.

"A poor place, mademoiselle," said I, ashamed of having conducted so
delicate a creature to this miserable hovel.

"What would you have?" she replied, with a pretty attempt to cover her
dejection by a show of cheerfulness. "One cannot flee, for one's liberty,
through the forest, and live in a chateau at the same time."

As for the others, hunger and fatigue made any fare and shelter welcome.
Blaise, in particular, found the wine acceptable. Conscious of the
glances of Jeannotte, now flashing, now demure, he strove to outdo
himself in one of his happiest accomplishments, that of drinking. The two
boys, Hugo and Pierre, emulated his achievements, and only the presence
of mademoiselle deterred our party from becoming a noisy one.

Blaise became more and more exuberant as he made the wine flow the more
generously. Seeing a way of diverting mademoiselle from her sad thoughts,
I set him to telling of the things he had done in battle when controlled
by the sanguinary spirit of his father. He had a manner of narrating
these deeds of slaughter, which took all the horror out of them, and made
them rather comical than of any other description. He soon had
mademoiselle smiling, the maid laughing, and the two boys looking on him
with open-eyed admiration. Finding Jeannotte and the boys so well
entertained, mademoiselle allowed them to remain with Blaise when she
retired to her room.

I followed her to the inn door, and bade her rest without fear, assuring
her that I would die ere the least harm should befall her.

"Nay," she answered smiling, "I would endure much harm rather than buy
security at such a price."

For an instant her smooth and delicate fingers lay in mine. Then they
were swiftly withdrawn, and she passed in, while I stood outside to muse,
in the gathering dusk, upon the great change that had come over the world
since my first meeting with her, six hours before. The very stars and sky
seemed to smile upon me; the moonlight seemed to shine for me consciously
with a greater softness; the very smell of the earth and grass and trees
had grown sweeter to me. I thought how barren, though I had not known it,
the world had been before this transformation, and how unendurable to me
would be a return of that barrenness.

I rejoined the now somewhat boisterous party at the wine-butt in time to
catch Blaise making an attempt to kiss Jeannotte, who was maintaining a
fair pretence of resistance. She seemed rather displeased at my return,
for as Blaise, unabashedly, continued his efforts, she was compelled, in
order to make her coyness seem real to me, to break from him, and flee
into the inn.

Blaise, in whom the spirit of his father was now manifestly gaming the
ascendancy, consoled himself for the absence of Jeannotte by drinking
more heroically and betaking to song. The boys labored assiduously to
keep him company. Finally the stalwart fellow, Hugo, succumbed to the
effects of the wine, and staggered off to the shed. Pierre followed him a
few minutes later, and Blaise was left alone with the remains of the
wine. The landlord and his wife had retired to rest, on their pallets on
the kitchen floor, some time before. Blaise sat on a log, singing to
himself and cursing imaginary enemies, until all the wine at hand was
exhausted. Then he let me lead him into the kitchen, where he immediately
dropped to the floor, rolled over on his back, and began snoring with the
vigor that characterized all his vocal manifestations.

Making a pillow of my cloak, I lay down beside him, and tried to sleep;
but the stale air of the kitchen, the new thoughts to which my mind clung
with delight, the puzzling questions that sought to displace those
thoughts, and the tremendous snoring of both the landlord and his wife,
as well as of Blaise, made slumber impossible to me. I therefore rose,
and went out of the inn. At a short distance away was a smooth, grassy
knoll, now bathed in moonlight. I decided to make this my couch. I had
proceeded only a few steps from the inn when the silence of the early
night was disturbed by the sound of footsteps on the crisp, fallen leaves
in the woods close at hand.

The smallness of the village and the obscurity of the locality gave
importance to every sound, proceeding from a human source, at this hour.
I, therefore, dropped behind the thick stump of a tree, where I might see
and hear without being observed. Presently a figure emerged from the edge
of the wood and moved cautiously towards the inn. It stopped, made a
gesture towards the wood, and then continued its course. Three more
figures then came out of the wood, one very tall, one exceedingly broad,
and the third extremely thin. They came on with great caution, and
finally joined the first comer near the inn. By this time I had
recognized the leader as my old friend, Barbemouche. The others were his
companions.

I awaited their further proceedings with curiosity. Was it in quest of
us, at the behest of De Berquin, that they had come hither so cautiously
and without their horses? Very probably. Doubtless, from afar, they had
seen us turn into the byway which, as one or more of them perhaps knew,
led to this inn and to no other. It was not likely that, having certainly
made some bargain with De Berquin, and being moneyless, they had quitted
his service so soon. Yet, if they were now carrying out orders of his
against mademoiselle or against me, the supposed lackey who had incurred
his wrath, why was he not with them? I hoped soon to see these questions
answered by the doings of the rascals themselves.

The fat ruffian sank down, with a heavy sigh of relief, on the log where
Blaise had sat. He pulled down with him the thin fellow, who had been
clutching his arm as if for support. The latter had a wavy, yellow beard,
a feminine manner, and a dandified air, as if he might once have been a
fop at the court before descending to the rags which now covered him. The
fat hireling had a face on which both good nature and pugnacity were
depicted. At present he was puffing from his exertions afoot. The most
striking figure of the group was that of the tall rascal. He was gaunt,
angular and erect, throwing out his chest, and wearing a solemn and
meditative mien upon his weather-beaten face. This visage, long enough in
its frame-work, was further extended by a great, pointed beard. There was
something of grandeur about this cadaverous, frowning, Spanish-looking
wreck of a warrior, as he stood thoughtfully leaning upon a huge
two-handed sword, which he had doubtless obtained in the pillage of some
old armory.

"The place seems closed as tight as the gates of Heaven to a heretic,"
growled Barbemouche, scrutinizing the inn.

The tall fellow here awoke from his reverie, and spoke in solemn,
deliberate tones:

"Would it not be well to wake up the landlord and try his wine?"

"Wake up the devil!" cried Barbemouche angrily. "Nobody is to be waked
up. We are simply to find out whether they are here, and then go back to
the Captain. Your unquenchable thirst will take you to hell before your
time, Francois."

"It is astonishing," put in the fat fellow, looking at the tall, lean
Francois, "how so few gallons of body can hold so many gallons of wine."

"Would I had your body to fill with wine, Antoine," said Francois,
longingly; and then, casting an unhappy look at the inn, he added, "and
the wine to fill it with."

"What are you shaking for, Jacques?" asked fat Antoine of his slim
comrade at his side. "One would think you were afraid. Haven't you told
us that love of fighting was the one passion of your life?"

"Death of the devil, so it is!" replied Jacques in a soft voice, and
with a lisp worthy of one of the King's painted minions. "That is what
annoys me, for if this insignificant matter should come to a fight, and I
should accidentally be killed in so obscure an affair, how could I ever
again indulge my passion for fighting?"

Meanwhile, Barbemouche had gone to the door and cautiously opened it, no
one having barred it after my departure from the kitchen. I could hear
the sound of Blaise's superb snoring, mingled with the less resonant
efforts of the old couple. Barbemouche surveyed as much of the kitchen as
the moonlight disclosed to him. Then he quietly shut the door and turned
to his fellows.

"It is well," he said. "The gentleman himself is snoring his lungs away
just inside the door. There is another room, and it is there that the
women must be. The others are probably in the shed. Let us go quietly, as
it would not be polite to disturb their sleep."

Whereupon Barbemouche led the way back to the woods, followed by fat
Antoine, who toiled puffingly, Jacques, who stepped daintily and seemed
fearful of treading on stones and briars, and last of all Francois, who
moved at a measured pace, with long strides, retaining his air of
profound meditation. The sound of the crushing of leaves beneath their
feet became more distant, and finally died out entirely.

In vain I asked myself the meaning of this strange investigation.
Manifestly the present object of De Berquin was nothing more than to keep
himself informed of our whereabouts. But why had he sent all four of his
henchmen to find out whether we were at this inn, when one would have
sufficed? I abandoned the attempt to deduce what his exact intentions
were. Drowsiness now coming over me, and the night air having grown
colder, I repaired to the shed for the purpose of obtaining there the
repose that had been denied me in the kitchen. I was satisfied in mind
that whatever blow De Berquin intended to strike for the possession of
mademoiselle, or for revenge upon myself, would be attempted at a time
and place more convenient to him. Knowing that my slumbers invariably
yielded to any unusual noise, I allowed myself to fall asleep on a pile
of straw in the shed.

I know not how long I had slept, when I suddenly awoke with a start and
sat upright. What noise had invaded my sleep, I could not, at that
moment, tell. The place was then perfectly quiet, save for the regular
breathing of the two boys, and an occasional movement of one of the
horses. The shed was still entirely dark, excepting where a thin slice of
moonlight entered at a crack. I sat still, listening.

Presently a low sound struck my ear, something between a growl and a
groan. I quickly arose, left the shed, and ran to a clump of bushes at
the side of the inn, whence the sound proceeded. Separating the bushes I
saw, lying prone on the ground among them, the stalwart body of Blaise.

"What is the matter?" I cried. "Speak! Are you wounded?"

The only reply was a kind of muffled roar. Looking closer, I saw that
Blaise's mouth and head were tightly bound by the detached sleeve of a
doublet, and this had deterred him from articulating. I saw, also,
that his legs had been tied together, and his hands fastened behind
him with a rope.

I rapidly released his legs, and he stood up. Then I undid his hands,
and he stretched out his arms with relief. Finally I unbound his mouth
and he spoke:

"Oh, the whelps of hell! To fall on a man when he is sleeping off his
wine, and tie him up like a trussed fowl! I will have the blood of every
cursed knave of them! And the maid! Grandmother of the devil! They have
taken the maid! Come, monsieur, let us cut them into pieces, and save
the maid!"

But I held him back, and cried: "And mademoiselle, what of her? Speak,
you drunken dog! Have you let her be harmed?"

"She is perfectly safe," he answered, in his turn holding me back from
rushing to the inn. "I do not think that she was even awakened. What
use to let her know what has happened? If we rescue the maid and the
maid will hold her tongue, mademoiselle will never know what danger she
has escaped."

"Or what vigilant protectors she has had to guard her sleep," I said,
with bitter self-reproach, no longer daring to blame Blaise for a laxity
of which I had been equally guilty. "You are right," I went on, "she must
know nothing. Now tell me at once exactly what has occurred."

Blaise would rather have looked for his sword, and started off
immediately to the rescue of the maid, but I made him stand with me in
the shadow of the inn and relate.

"From the time when I fell asleep on the kitchen floor," he said, "I knew
nothing until a little while ago, when I awoke, and found myself still
where I had lain down, but tied up as you found me yonder. Four curs of
hell were lifting me to carry me out. I tried to strike, but the deep
sleep, induced by that cursed wine, had allowed them to tie me up as
neatly as if I had been a dead deer. Neither could I speak, though I
tried hard enough to curse, you may be sure. So they brought me out, and
laid me down there by the inn-door. 'Would it not be best to stick a
sword into him?' said one of the rascals, a soft speaking, womanish pup.
A hungry-looking giant put the point of an old two-handed sword at my
breast, as if to carry out the suggestion; but a heavy, black-bearded
scoundrel, whose voice I think I have heard before, pushed the sword away
and said: 'No, the captain has a quarrel to adjust with him in person. We
are to concern ourselves entirely with the lady. Lay him yonder.' So they
carried me over to the bushes. 'And now for the others,' said the giant.
'Why lose time over them?' said the burly fellow, who seemed to be the
leader; 'they are sleeping like pigs in the shed. Come! We can do the
business without waking them up,'

"So they left me lying on the ground and went into the inn again, very
quietly. They must have gone, without waking the landlord or his wife,
into the room of mademoiselle and her maid. Presently they came out
again, carrying the maid. When they had gone about half way to the woods,
they stopped and set her on her feet. So far, I suppose, it was the wine
that kept her asleep; but now she awoke, and I could see her looking
around, very scared, from one to the other of the four rascals. Then she
gave a scream. At that instant, there came rushing from the woods, with
his sword drawn, your friend, the Vicomte de Berquin. 'Stand off,
rascals!' he shouted, as he ran up to them. They drew their weapons, and
made a weak pretense of resisting him; then, when each one had exchanged
a thrust with him, they all turned tail, and made off into the woods.

"M. de Berquin now turned to the maid, who had fallen to her knees in
fright. Taking her hand, he said, 'Mademoiselle, I thank Heaven I arrived
in time to give you the aid your own escort failed to afford. Perhaps now
you will be the less unwilling to accept my protection!'--the maid now
looked up at him, and he got a good view of her face. He started back as
if hell had opened before him, threw her hand from his, turned towards
the woods, and shouted to the four rascals, 'You whelps of the devil, you
have made a mistake and brought the maid!' He was about to follow them,
when it probably occurred to him that if left free the maid would
disclose his little project; for he stood thinking a moment, then grasped
the frightened maid by the wrist, and ran off into the woods, dragging
her after him. All this I saw through an opening in the bushes while I
lay helpless and speechless. By industriously working my jaw, I at last
succeeded in making my mouth sufficiently free to produce the sounds
which brought you to me. Now, monsieur, let us hasten after the maid, for
mademoiselle will be vastly annoyed to lose her precious Jeannotte."

I saw that Blaise knew with what argument I was quickest to be moved.

"Blaise," I said, "do not pretend that it is only for mademoiselle's
sake that you are concerned. In your anxiety about the maid, you forget
the danger in which mademoiselle still lies, and which requires me to
remain here. When the ingenious De Berquin learns, from his four
henchmen, that mademoiselle was not awakened, he will certainly repeat
his attempt. He thinks to win her favor by appearing to be her rescuer
from these four pretended assailants, and, at the same time, to make us
seem unworthy to protect her. He does not know that she has seen the four
rascals in his company. He wishes to work with his own hand his revenge
upon us, and so he has let us live. I see the way to make him so
ridiculous in the eyes of mademoiselle that he will never dare show his
face to her again."

"But the maid!" persisted Blaise.

"They will doubtless secure her somewhere in the woods, and return here
to enact, with mademoiselle herself, the sham rescue which they
mistakenly carried out with the maid. Go and seek your precious
Jeannotte, if you please, but do not let them discover you. Wait until
they leave her before you try to release her."

Blaise was quick to avail himself of this conditional commission. He went
with me into the kitchen, where the old couple were sleeping as noisily
as ever, and found his sword where he had laid it before supper. The
door to mademoiselle's room was ajar. Standing at the threshold, I could
hear her breathing peacefully, unaware of the peril from which, by a
blunder, she had been saved. Through the small window of the room came a
bar of moonlight which lighted up her face. It was a face pale, sad,
innocent,--the face of a girl transformed, in an instant, to womanhood
by a single grief.

Leaving her door as I had found it, I went from the inn to the shed,
still wearing my sword, which I had put on in first leaving the kitchen
after my futile attempt to sleep. Blaise was already making rapidly for
the woods.

I quietly awoke Hugo and Pierre, and bade them put on their weapons and
remain ready to respond to my call. I then posted myself again behind the
tree stump near the inn door and awaited occurrences.

By this time clouds had arisen, and the moonlight was frequently
obscured. I had waited about half an hour, when, again, the sound of
breaking leaves and sticks warned me that living beings were
approaching through the woods. At last I made out the four figures of
De Berquin's hirelings as they cautiously paused at the edge of the
open space. Apparently assured by the silence that their presence was
unsuspected, they came on to the inn. In a moment of moonlight, I
perceived, also, the figure of De Berquin, who stood at the border of
the woods watching the proceedings of his varlets. Even as I looked, he
withdrew into the shadow. At the same time a heavy mass of cloud cast
darkness over the place.

But I could descry the black forms of the four rascals huddled together
at the door of the inn, which the foremost cautiously opened. A moment
later they had all entered the kitchen.

I glided rapidly through the darkness after them, and took my stand just
within the door, where any one attempting to pass out must encounter me.
The four rascals were now at the inner door leading to the room of
mademoiselle.

"Stand off, rascals!" I cried, assuming the tone of De Berquin. In
the same moment, I gently punctured the back of the nearest rascal
with my sword.

Surprised at what they took for the premature advent of their master, the
fellows turned and stood for a moment undecided. But, by thrusting my
sword among them, I enabled them to make up their minds. They could but
blindly obey their instructions, and so they came towards me with a
feeble pretense of attack. In the darkness it was impossible for them to
make out my features. I met their sham assault with much greater vigor
than De Berquin had led them to expect from him. This they might have
been moved to resist, in earnest, but for the fear of losing their pay,
which De Berquin, in order to secure himself against treachery on their
part, would certainly have represented as being, not on his person, but
somewhere awaiting his call. Thus deterred from making a sufficient
defence against my sword-play, and as mademoiselle, awakened by the
noise, had hastened to her door and was looking on, the four adventurers
soon considered that their pretense of battle had lasted long enough. A
howl of pain from Barbemouche, evoked by a wound in the groin, was the
signal for their general flight. As I still stood in the doorway to bar
all exit there, they sought other ways of egress. The slim Jacques ran
past mademoiselle into her room and bolted through the window.
Barbemouche managed to go through the rear window of the kitchen, and the
fat Antoine tried to follow him, but succeeded only as to his head, arms,
and shoulders. Squeezed tightly into the opening, he remained an
irresistible temptation to the point of my sword, and at every thrust he
beat the air with his legs, and shrieked piteously. The tall Francois, in
attempting to reach this window at one stride, had stumbled against the
bodies of the terrified innkeeper and his wife, and he now labored,
vainly, to release his leg from the grasp of the old woman, who clung to
it with the strength of desperation.

I took mademoiselle by the hand and led her out into the air. Here we
were joined by Hugo and Pierre, who had run around from the shed at the
noise. I was just about to answer her look of bewilderment and inquiry,
when there came a loud cry:

"Stand off, rascals!"

And on rushed De Berquin from the woods, making a great flourish with his
sword as he came. In the darkness, seeing mademoiselle standing with
three men, one of whom had led her rapidly from the inn, the inventive
Vicomte had taken us three for his own zealous henchmen.

And so he came, like some giant-slaying chevalier of the old days,
crying again: "Stand off, rascals!" and adding, "You hounds, release
this lady!"

"Fear not for the lady; her friends are here!" I said, motioning Hugo and
Pierre aside and stepping forward with mademoiselle, my drawn sword in my
right hand.

The moon reappeared, and showed De Berquin standing with open mouth, as
if turned to stone. In a moment this astonishment passed.

"Thousand devils!" he cried. "The cursed lackey!"

And he made a wrathful thrust at me, but I disarmed him now as neatly as
at the inn. Thereupon, he picked up his sword and made rapidly off to the
woods. Turning towards the inn, I saw the tall fellow and his fat
comrade leaving it, the former bearing his huge sword on his shoulder.
They avoided us by a detour, and followed De Berquin. The two who had
escaped by windows had, doubtless, already reached the protection of the
trees. I began to explain to mademoiselle, and was asking myself how best
to account for the absence of Jeannotte, when I saw Blaise coming from
the woods, bearing the maid in his arms. To prevent her from returning to
the inn, De Berquin had caused Barbemouche to bind her to a tree. When
her captors had departed to make a second attempt against mademoiselle,
the maid had set up a moaning, and this had guided Blaise to her side.

It was now impossible to conceal any of the night's events from
mademoiselle, but she, far from blaming our lack of vigilance, feigned to
think herself indebted to us for a second rescue from the attentions of
her persecutor. During the rest of that night her slumbers were more
faithfully guarded, although they were not threatened again.




CHAPTER X.

A DISAPPEARANCE


The next morning we resumed our way southward. The weather was clear and
fine, yet Mlle. de Varion seemed more heavy at heart than she had been on
the preceding day. This could not be attributed to any apprehension of
further annoyance from De Berquin, for, as her talk showed, she believed
that he would not again trouble her after his having cut so poor a figure
with his attempt at an intended rescue. But though I did not tell her, I
had good reason to believe that we were not yet done with him. The
failure of his attempt with regard to mademoiselle, whether or not that
attempt had been dictated by Montignac, would not make him abandon the
more important mission concerning the Sieur de la Tournoire. Therefore, I
was likely to encounter him again, and probably nearer Maury, and, as it
was my intention that mademoiselle should remain under my protection
until after my venture in behalf of her father, it was probable that she,
too, would see more of her erstwhile pursuer. I would allow events to
dictate precautions against the discovery of my hiding-place by De
Berquin, against his interference with my intended attempt to deliver M.
de Varion, and against his molesting Mlle. de Varion during my absence
from her on that attempt. I might have killed De Berquin when I disarmed
him on the previous night, but I did not wish to make him, in the least,
an object of mademoiselle's pity, and, moreover, I was curious to see
what means he would adopt towards hunting me down and betraying me.

Not only the dejection of Mlle. de Varion made our ride a melancholy one,
despite the radiance of the autumn morning. Blaise, repentant of his
overindulgence, and still feeling the humiliation of the easy capture
made of him by four scurvy knaves, had taken refuge in one of those moods
of pious reflection which he attributed to maternal influence. Piqued at
this reticence, the maid, Jeannotte, maintained a sulky silence. The two
boys, devoted to their mistress, now faithfully reflected her sad and
uneasy demeanor.

"Look, mademoiselle!" said I, glad of having found objects toward which
to draw her attention, "yonder is the Chateau of Clochonne. Beyond that,
and to the right, are the mountains for which we are bound. It is there
that I shall introduce to you the Sieur de la Tournoire."

Mademoiselle looked at the distant towers and the mountains beyond
with an expression of dread. She gave a heavy sigh and shuddered in
her saddle.

"Nay, mademoiselle," I said; "you have nothing to fear there."

She turned pale, and answered, in a trembling voice:

"Alas, monsieur! Am I not about to put those mountains between myself and
my father?"

I thought of the joy that I should cause and the gratitude that I should
win, should I succeed in bringing her father safe to her on those
mountains, but I kept the thought to myself.

We skirted Clochonne by a wide detour, fording the Creuse at a secluded
place, and ascended the wooded hills in single file. After a long and
toilsome progress through pathless and deeply shaded wilds, we reached,
in the afternoon, the forest inn kept by Godeau and his wife. It had been
my intention to stop and rest here, and to send Blaise ahead to Maury,
that one of the rooms of our ruined chateau might be made fit for
mademoiselle's reception. I had expected to find the inn, as usual,
without guests, but on approaching it we heard the sound of music
proceeding from a stringed instrument. We stopped at the edge of the
small, cleared space before the inn and sent Blaise to reconnoitre. He
boldly entered and presently returned, followed by the decrepit Godeau
and his strapping wife, Marianne. Both gave us glad welcome, the old man
with obsequious bows which doubtless racked his rheumatic joints, the
woman with bustling cordiality.

"Be at ease, monsieur," said Marianne. "We have no one within except two
gypsies, who will make music for you and tell your fortunes. Godeau, look
to the horses."

I dismounted and assisted mademoiselle to descend. Then, on the pretext
of giving an order, I took Marianne and Godeau aside, and bade them to
address me as M. de Launay, not on any account as M. de la Tournoire. The
old man then saw to our horses, and Marianne brought us wine.

"Before sunset," I said to mademoiselle, as I raised my glass, "you shall
meet the Sieur de la Tournoire at his hiding-place."

Mlle. de Varion turned pale, and, as if suddenly too weak to stand, sat
down on a wooden bench before the inn door. Jeannotte ran to support her.

"Before sunset!" she repeated, with a shudder.

"Yes, mademoiselle, unless you are too ill to proceed. I fear the fatigue
of this ride has been too much for you."

She gave a look of relief, and replied:

"I fear that it has. I shall be better able to go on to-morrow,--unless
there is danger in remaining here."

"There is very little danger. People crossing the mountains by way of
Clochonne now use the new road, which is shorter. If, by any chance,
soldiers from the Clochonne garrison should come this way and detain us
as fleeing Huguenots, we could summon help,--for we are so near the
hiding-place of the Sieur de la Tournoire."

Again that shudder! Decidedly, in the accounts that she had received
of me, I must have been represented as a very terrible personage. I
smiled at thinking of the surprise that awaited her in the disclosure
of the truth.

It was thereupon arranged that we should stay at Godeau's inn until the
next morning. Mademoiselle's portmanteaus were carried to the upper
chamber, which was a mere loft, but preferable to the kitchen. Thither,
after eating, she went to rest. Blaise then departed to direct the
desired preparations at Maury, with orders to return to the inn before
nightfall. Jeannotte and the two boys remained in the kitchen to hear the
music of the two gypsies, a man and a girl. Having nothing better to do,
I took my seat on the bench outside the inn and sat musing.

Late in the afternoon, I heard the light step of mademoiselle on the
threshold. On seeing me, she stopped, as if it were I whom she had come
out to seek I rose and offered her the bench. She sat down in silence,
and for a moment her eyes rested on the ground, while on her face was a
look of trouble. Suddenly she lifted her glance to mine and spoke
abruptly, as if forcing herself to broach a subject on which she would
rather have been silent.

"Monsieur," she said, "I suppose that the Sieur de la Tournoire, whom we
are so soon to meet, is a very dear friend of yours!"

"A very close friend," I replied, with an inward smile. "And yet he has
got me into so much trouble that I might fairly consider him my enemy."

"I must confess," said she, "that I have heard little of him but evil."

"It is natural that the Catholics in Berry should find nothing good to
say of him," I replied. "Yet it is true that he is far from perfect,--a
subtle rascal, who dons disguises, and masquerades as other than he is, a
leader of night-birds, and sometimes a turbulent roysterer."

"I have been told," she said, "that he treacherously killed a man in
Paris, and deserted from the French Guards."

"As for the killing," I replied, "there was no treachery or unfairness on
his part; and if he deserted from the King's French Guards, it was when
the King had consented to give him up to the Duke of Guise, whom the weak
King, then as now, hated as much as feared."

She gave a heavy sigh, and went on, "La Tournoire is a brave man,
of course?"

"He is a man," I said, "who expects to meet death as he meets life,
cheerfully, not hoping too much, not fearing anything."

"And this hiding-place of his," she said, in a very low voice, again
dropping her glance to the ground. "Tell me of it."

I gave her a description of the ruined Chateau of Maury.

"But," she said, "is not the place easily accessible to the troops of the
Governor?"

"The troops of the garrison at Clochonne have not yet found the way to
it," I replied. "The chateau was abandoned twenty years ago. Its master
is an adventurer in the new world, if he is not dead. Its very existence
has been forgotten, for the land pertaining to it is of no value. The
soldiers from Clochonne could find it only by scouring this almost
impenetrable wilderness."

"Is there, then, no road leading to it?" she asked.

"This road leads hither from Clochonne, and on southward across the
mountain. There are the remains of a by-road leading from here westward
to the chateau, and ending there. But this by-road, almost entirely
recovered by the forest, is known only to La Tournoire and his friends. A
better way for the Governor's soldiers to find La Tournoire's stronghold,
if they but knew, would be to take the road along the river from
Clochonne to Narjec, and to turn up the hill at the throne-shaped rock
half-way between those towns. At the top of that hill is Maury, hidden by
dense woods and thickets."

Mlle. de Varion, who had heard my last words with a look of keen
attention and also of bitter pain of mind, now rose and walked to and fro
as if meditating. Inwardly I lamented my inability to drive from her face
the clouds which I attributed to her increasing distress, as she found
herself further and further from her father and her home, bound for still
gloomier shades and wilder surroundings.

I asked if she would go in and hear the music of the gypsy, or have him
come out and play for her, but she thanked me with a sorrowful attempt at
a smile, and returned to her own chamber.

When the sun declined, I ordered Marianne to prepare the best supper that
her resources would allow, and then, as it was time that Blaise should
have been back from Maury, I went to a little knoll, which gave a view of
a part of the abandoned byroad, to look and listen for him. Presently, I
heard the sound of a horse's footfalls near the inn, and made haste back
to see who rode there. Just as I reached the cleared space, I saw the
rider disappearing around a bend of the road which led to Clochonne.
Though I saw only his back, I recognized him as mademoiselle's boy,
Pierre, mounted on one of her horses.

On the bench before the inn sat mademoiselle herself, alone. She gave a
start of surprise when I came up to her.

"Mademoiselle," I said, "I have just seen your boy, Pierre, riding
towards Clochonne."

"Yes," she replied, looking off towards the darkest part of the forest.
"I--I was alarmed at your absence. I did not know where you had gone; I
sent him to look for you."

"Then I would better run after and call him back," I said, taking a step
towards the road.

"No, no!" she answered, quickly. "Do not leave me now. He will come back
soon of his own accord. I told him to do so if he did not find you. I
must ask you to bear with me, monsieur. The solitude, the strangeness of
the place, almost appal me. I feel a kind of terror when I do not know
that you are near."

"Mademoiselle," I said, sitting beside her on the bench, "I cannot
describe that which I shall feel, if I am doomed ever to know that you
are not near me. It will be as if the sun had ceased to shine, and the
earth had turned barren."

A blush mounted to her cheeks; she dropped her humid eyes; her breast
heaved. For an instant she seemed to have forgotten her distresses. Then
sorrow resumed its place on her countenance, and she answered, sadly:

"Ah, monsieur, when you shall have truly known me!"

"Have I not known you a whole day?" I asked. "I wonder that life had any
relish for me before yesterday. It seems as if I had known you always,
though the joy that your presence gives me will always be fresh and
novel. Ah, mademoiselle, if you knew what sweetness suddenly filled the
world at my first sight of you!"

I took her hand in mine. She made a weak effort to withdraw it; I
tightened my hold; she let it remain. Then she turned her blue eyes up to
mine with a look of infinite trust and yielding, so that I felt that,
rapid as had been my own yielding to the charm of her beauty and her
gentleness, she had as speedily acknowledged in me the man by whom her
heart might be commanded.

As we sat thus, the gypsy within, who had been for some time aimlessly
strumming his instrument, began to sing. The words of his song came to us
subdued, but distinct:

"The sparkle of my lady's eyes--
   Ah, sight that is the fairest!
The look of love that in them lies--
   Ah, thrill that is the rarest!
Oh, comrades mine, go roam the earth,
  You'll find in all your roving
That all its other joys are worth
  Not half the joys of loving!"

"Ah, mademoiselle," I whispered, "before yesterday those words would have
meant nothing to me!"

She made no answer, but closed her eyes, as if to shut out every thought
but consciousness of that moment.

And now the gypsy, in an air and voice expressive of sadness, as he had
before been expressive of rapture, sang a second stanza:

"But, ah, the price we have to pay
  For joys that have their season!
And, oh, the sadness of the day
  When woman shows her treason!
Her look of love is but a mask
  For plots that she is weaving.
Alas, for those who fondly bask
  In smiles that are deceiving!"

I thought of Mlle. d'Arency, but not for long; for suddenly Mlle. de
Varion started up, as if awakened from a dream, and looked at me with an
expression of unspeakable distress of mind.

"Oh, monsieur!" she cried. "You must leave me! I must never see you
again. Go, go,--or let me go at once!"

"Mademoiselle!" I cried, astonished.

"I beg you, make no objections, ask no questions! Only go! It is a
crime, an infamy, for me to have listened while you spoke as you spoke a
while ago! I ought not to have accepted your protection! Go, monsieur,
and have no more to do with the most miserable woman in France!"

She started to go into the inn, but I caught her by the hand and
detained her.

"Mademoiselle," I said, gently, "the difference in our religions need not
forbid such words between us as I have spoken. I can understand how you
regard it as an insuperable barrier, but it is really a slight one,
easily removed, as it has been in many notable cases."

"Monsieur," she replied, resolutely, shaking her head, "I say again, we
must part. I am not to be urged or persuaded. The greatest kindness you
can do me is to go, or let me go, without more words."

"But, mademoiselle," I interposed, "it will be very difficult for you to
continue your flight across this border without a guide. Not to speak of
the danger from men, there is the chance of losing your way."

"The Sieur de la Tournoire will not refuse me his guidance," she said, in
a voice that seemed forced to an unwonted hardness.

"Then you will discard my protection, and accept his, a stranger's?"

"Yes, because he is a stranger,--thank God!"

What, I asked myself, was to be the end of this? Would she not, on
learning that La Tournoire was myself, all the more decidedly insist on
going her own way? Therefore, before disclosing myself to her, I must
accustom her to the view that a difference in religion ought not to
separate two who love each other. In order to do this, I must have time;
so I said:

"At least, mademoiselle, you will let me show you the way to Maury, and
present to you the Sieur de la Tournoire. That is little to ask."

"I have already accepted too much from you," she replied, hesitating.

"Then cancel the obligation by granting me this one favor."

"Very well, monsieur. But you will then go immediately?"

"From the moment when you first meet La Tournoire, he shall be your only
guide, unless you yourself choose another. In the meantime," I added, for
she had taken another step towards the inn, "grant me at least as much of
your society as you would bestow on an indifferent acquaintance, who
happened to be your fellow-traveler in this lonely place."

She gave a sigh which I took as meaning that the more we should see each
other, the harder the parting would be at last, but she said,
tremulously:

"We shall meet at supper, monsieur, and to-morrow, when you conduct me
on to Maury." Then she entered the inn, but stopped on the threshold,
and, casting on me a strangely wistful look, she added, "Great must be
the friendship between you and La Tournoire, that you can so confidently
assure his protection to those for whom you ask it."

"Oh, I have done much for him, and he cannot refuse me any request that
it is in his power to grant," I said, truly enough.

"Then," she went on, "the tie is one of obligation, rather than of great
friendship?"

"Yes. I have often been in a position to do him great services when no
one else was, and when he most needed them. As for my feeling of
friendship for him, I shall not even weep when he is dead."

"Suppose you should love a woman," she continued, with a strange
eagerness, "and there should come a time when you would have to choose
between your love for her, and your friendship for this man, which
would prevail?"

"I would sacrifice La Tournoire for the woman I loved," I answered,
with truth.

She looked at me steadily, and a hope seemed to dawn in her eyes, but in
a moment they darkened again; she sighed deeply, and she turned to ascend
to her chamber, while I stood there trying to deduce a meaning from her
strange speeches and conduct, which I finally put down to the
capaciousness of woman. I could understand the feeling that she ought to
part from a man who loved her and whom her religion forbade her to love
in return; but why she should seem pleased at the apparent lukewarmness
of my friendship for La Tournoire, whom she was willing to accept as her
guide, I could not guess. Since she intended to part from me, never to
see me again, what mattered it to her whether or not I was the intimate
of a proscribed ruffian? Yet she seemed glad to hear that I was not, but
this might be only seeming. I might not have read her face and tone
aright. Her inquiries might have been due to curiosity alone. So I
thought no more of them, and gave my mind instead to planning how she
might be made to ignore the difference between our religions, and to
revoke the edict banishing me from her side. It would be necessary that
she should be willing to remain at Maury, with a guard composed of some
of my men, while I, giving a pretext for delaying the flight and for the
absence of myself and the most of my company, should attempt the delivery
of her father from the chateau of Fleurier. It was my hope, though I
dared not yet breathe it, that I might bring her father and my company
back to Maury, and that all of us might then proceed to Guienne.

My meditations were interrupted by the return of Blaise from Maury, where
he had found all well and the men there joyous at the prospect of soon
rejoining the army in Guienne. A part of the company was absent on a
foraging raid. Two of the roofed chambers were rapidly being made
habitable for Mlle. de Varion, whom Blaise had announced to the men as a
distinguished refugee.

When supper was ready in the kitchen, I sent Jeannotte to summon her
mistress. Mademoiselle came down from her chamber, her sweet face
betokening a brave attempt to bear up under the many woes that crushed
her,--the condition of her father, her own exile, the peril in which she
stood of the governor's reconsidering his order and sending to make her
prisoner, the seeming necessity of exchanging my guidance for that of a
stranger who had been painted to her in repulsive colors, and the other
unhappy elements of her situation.

"It is strange that the boy, Pierre, has not returned," I said, while we
sat at table.

Mademoiselle reddened. It then occurred to me that, in her abstraction,
she had not even noticed his absence, and that now it came on her as a
new trouble.

"Pardon me for speaking of it in such a way as to frighten you," I said.
"There is no cause for alarm. Not finding me on the road, he may have
turned into the woods to look for me, and so have lost his way. He would
surely be able to find the road again."

"I trust he will not come to any harm," replied mademoiselle, in a low
voice that seemed forced, as if she were concealing the fears that she
really felt.

Jeannotte cast a sympathetic look at her mistress.

"Shall I go and look for him?" asked Hugo, showing in his face his
anxiety for his comrade.

"You would lose yourself, also," I said. "Mademoiselle, I shall go, for I
know all the hillocks and points of vantage from which he may be seen."

"Nay, monsieur, do not give yourself the trouble, I pray you."

But I rose from the table, to show that I was determined, and said:

"Blaise, I leave you as guard. Remember last night."

"I am not likely to forget," he growled, dropping his eyes before the
sharp glance of Jeannotte. "Mademoiselle need have no fears."

"But, monsieur," said mademoiselle. She was about to continue, but her
eye met Jeannotte's, and in the face of the maid was an expression as if
counselling silence. So mademoiselle said no more, but she followed me to
the door, and stood on the threshold.

"Monsieur," she said, "if you do not find him within a few minutes, I
entreat that you will not put yourself to further discomfort. See, it is
already nearly dark. If he be lost in the woods for the night, he can
doubtless find his way hither tomorrow."

"I shall not seek long, mademoiselle, for the reason that I would not be
long away from you."

At that moment, feeling under my foot something different from leaves or
earth, I stooped and found one of mademoiselle's gloves, which she had
dropped, probably, on first entering the inn. Remaining in my kneeling
posture and looking up at her sweet, sad face, I said:

"Whatever may come in the future, mademoiselle, circumstance has made me
your faithful chevalier for a day. Will you not give me some badge of
service that I may wear forever in memory of that sweet, though
sorrowful day?"

"Keep what you have in your hand," she replied, in a low voice, and
pointed to her glove.

I rose, and fastened the glove on my hat, and said: "They shall find
it on me when I am dead, mademoiselle." Then I turned to go in search
of Pierre.

"I shall go to my room now," she said, "and so, good-night, monsieur!"

I turned, and made to take her hand that I might kiss it, but she drew it
away, and then, standing on the threshold, she raised it as one does in
bestowing a _benedicite_, and said:

"God watch you through the night, monsieur!"

"And you forever, mademoiselle!" said I, but she had gone. For a moment
I stood looking up at her chamber window, thinking how it had come over
me again, as in the days of my youth, the longing to be near one woman.

Night was now coming on. In the deeper shades of the forest it was
already dark, but the sky was clear, and soon the moon would rise. Musing
as I went, I walked along the road that Pierre had first taken. The only
sounds that I heard were the ceaseless chirps and whirrs of the insects
of the bushes and trees.

When I had gone some distance, I bethought me of my heedlessness in
coming away from the inn without my sword. I had taken this off before
sitting down to eat, and at my departure my mind had been so taken up
with other matters that I had omitted to put it on. My dagger was with it
at the inn. At first I thought of returning for these weapons, but I
considered that I would not be away long, and that there was no
likelihood of my requiring weapon in these solitudes. So I continued on
my way towards a knoll whence I expected to get a good view of the road,
and thus, should Pierre be returning on that road, spare myself the labor
of plunging into the wood's depths and listening for the footsteps of his
horse or of himself.

I had walked several minutes in the increasing darkness, when there came
to my ears, from the shades at the right, the sound of a human snore.
Had the boy fatigued himself in trying to find the way, and fallen asleep
without knowledge of his nearness to the inn?

"Pierre!" I called. There was no answer.

I called again. Again there was no reply, but the snoring ceased. A third
time I called. My call was unheeded.

I turned into the wilds, and forced my way through dense undergrowth. At
a short distance from the road, I came on traces of the passage of some
one else. Following these, I arrived at last at a small open space,
where the absence of vegetation seemed due to some natural cause.
Sufficient of the day's failing light reached the clearing to show me
the figures of four men on the ground before me, three of them stretched
in slumber, the fourth sitting up. The last held a huge old two-handed
sword over his shoulder, ready to strike. The threatening attitude of
this giant made me take mechanically a step backward, and feel for my
sword. Alas, I was unarmed!

"So, my venturesome lackey, we meet again!" came a sarcastic voice from
the left, and some one darted between me and the four men, facing me with
drawn sword.

It was the Vicomte de Berquin, and a triumphant smile was on his face.

Moved by the thought that mademoiselle's safety depended on me, I was
not ashamed, being unarmed, to turn about for immediate flight. But I had
no sooner shown my back to M. de Berquin, than I found myself face to
face with the scowling Barbemouche, who stood motionless, the point of
his sword not many inches from my breast.




CHAPTER XI.

HOW THE HERO GAVE HIS WORD AND KEPT IT


I stood still and reflected.

"You lack a weapon," said M. de Berquin, humorously. "I shall presently
give you mine, point first."

As I was still facing Barbemouche, I imagined the point of the Vicomte's
sword entering my back, and I will confess that I shivered.

"And I mine," growled Barbemouche. "Though you are a lackey and I a
gentleman, yet, by the grandmother of Beelzebub, I am glad to see you!"

"Indeed!" said I, whose only hope was to gain time for thought. "This is
a heartier welcome than a stranger might expect."

De Berquin laughed. Barbemouche said, "You are no stranger"

"Then you know me?" said I. "Who am I?"

"You are the answer to a prayer," said Barbemouche, with an ugly grin.
"You thought you fooled us finely last night, and that when you had made
a hole in my body you had done with me. But I got a look at you after the
mistake was discovered, and I vowed the virgin a dozen candles in return
for another meeting with you. And now she has sent you to me."

And he looked at me with such jubilant vindictiveness that I turned and
faced De Berquin, saying:

"Monsieur the Vicomte, I have made up my mind that your visage is more
pleasant to look on than that of your friend."

By this time, the other three rascals on the ground had been awakened by
the tall fellow, and the four had taken up their weapons and placed
themselves at the four sides of the open space, so that I could not make
a bolt in any direction. All the circumstances that made my life at that
time doubly precious rushed into my mind. On it depended the safety of
Mlle. de Varion, the rescue of her father, the expeditious return of my
brave company to our Henri's side, and certain valuable interests of our
Henri's cause. I will confess that it was for its use to mademoiselle,
rather than for its use to our Henri, that I most valued, at that moment,
the life which there was every chance of my speedily losing. In De
Berquin, and in Barbemouche as well, vengeance cried for my immediate
death. Moreover, my death would remove the chief obstacle to De Berquin's
having his will concerning Mlle. de Varion. For an instant, I thought he
might let me live that I might tell him her whereabouts, but I perceived
that my presence was indication to him that she was near at hand. He
could now rely on himself to find her. The opportunity of removing me
from his way was not to be risked by delay. It was true that I might
obtain respite by announcing myself as the Sieur de la Tournoire, for he
would wish to present me alive to the governor, if he could do so. The
governor and the Duke of Guise would desire to season their revenge on me
with torture, and to attempt the forcing from me of secrets of our party.
But to make myself known as La Tournoire was but to defer my death. The
life that I might thus prolong could not be of any further service to
mademoiselle or to Henri of Navarre. Still, I might so gain time. I might
escape; my men might rescue me. So, as a last resource, I would save my
life by disclosing myself; but I would defer this disclosure until the
last possible instant. De Berquin and Barbemouche were evidently in for
amusing themselves awhile at my expense. They would prolong matters for
their own pleasure and my own further humiliation. Meanwhile, an
unexpected means of eluding them might arise.

As for their presence there, I have always accounted for it on this
supposition: That, after their defeat on the previous night, they had
reunited in the woods, hidden themselves where they might observe our
departure from the inn in the morning, followed us at a distance into
the mountain forest, lost our track, and finally, knowing neither of
Godeau's inn nor of their nearness to the road, dismounted, and sought
afoot an open space in which to pass the night. Their horses were
probably not far away.

"Ha!" laughed De Berquin, in answer to my words and movement. "So you
don't share Barbemouche's own opinion of his beauty?"

An unctuous guffaw from the fat rascal, and a grim chuckle from gaunt
Francois, indicated that Barbemouche's ugliness was a favorite subject of
mirth with his comrades.

"The opinion of a dead lackey does not amount to much," gutturally
observed Barbemouche. Doubtless I should have felt the point of his
rapier between my shoulders but that he waited on the will of De Berquin.

His tone showed that he really had the high regard for his looks that De
Berquin's words had implied. It afterward became evident to me that the
ugliness of this burly rascal was equalled only by his vanity.

"Nor is a dead lackey half as useful as a living one can be," I said,
looking De Berquin straight in the eyes.

"_Par dieu_! I admit that you have been very useful against me, and that
is why I am going to kill you," replied De Berquin.

"Would it not be more worthy of a man of intellect, like the Vicomte de
Berquin, if I have been useful against him, to make me pay for it by
being useful for him?" I said, quietly, without having yet the least idea
of what service I should propose doing him in return for my life.

"Most interesting of lackeys, how might you be useful to me?" inquired De
Berquin, continuing his mood of sinister jocularity.

How, indeed? I asked myself. Aloud I answered slowly, in order to have
the more time to think:

"In your present enterprise, monsieur."

"The devil! What do you know of my present enterprise?" he asked,
quickly.

I saw that I had at least awakened his interest in the idea that I might
be worth using alive.

"I will tell you," I answered, "if you will first ask this unpleasant
person behind me to step aside."

"Unpleasant person!" repeated Barbemouche, astonished at my audacity.
"You dog, do you speak in such terms of a gentleman?"

So he was under the delusion also that he possessed gentility.

"Stop, Gilles!" commanded De Berquin. "Go yonder, while I listen to this
amusing knave. Let him talk awhile before he dies."

Barbemouche sullenly went over to the side of Francois, and stood there
glowering at me. It was a relief to know that his sword-point was no
longer at my back.

"Now, rascal!" said De Berquin to me. "My present enterprise, and how you
can be useful to me in it?"

"In the first place, monsieur," I began, having no knowledge how I was to
finish, "you and your gallant company are doubtless tired, hungry, and
thirsty--"

An assenting grunt from the tall fellow, and a look of keen interest on
the faces of all, showed that I had not spoken amiss.

"You are quite lost in these woods," I went on. "You do not know how near
you may be to any road or to any habitation, where you might have roof,
food, and drink. Heaven, in giving me the pleasure of meeting you, has
also done you the kindness of sending one who can guide you to these
blessings. That is the first service I can do you."

"Very well, you shall do it. I can kill you as well afterwards."

"But I will not do it unless I have your promise, on your honor as
gentlemen, to give me both my life and my liberty immediately."

"My very modest lackey, you greatly undervalue both your life and your
liberty, if you think you can buy them from me at so small a cost. No;
you offer too little. The pleasure of killing you far exceeds that of
having your guidance. Now that we have happily met you, we know that
there must be shelter, food, and drink somewhere near at hand. We can
find them for ourselves in as short a time, perhaps, as it would require
you to take us there. We shall doubtless have the happiness of meeting
there your very gallant master and the lady whom he protects with your
arm and sword. Having robbed him of his means of guarding his lovely
charge, I shall in fairness relieve him of the charge."

I perceived here the opportunity of learning whether it was under the
governor's orders, received through Montignac, that De Berquin pursued
mademoiselle while he came in quest of the Sieur de la Tournoire, or
whether it was on his own account.

"Your infatuation for this lady must be very great," I said, in a tone
too low for his four followers to distinguish my words, "to lead you to
force your presence on her."

"_My_ infatuation!" he repeated, and then he laughed. "My very knowing
lackey, if you were better informed of my affairs, you would know that an
infatuation for Mlle. de Varion is a luxury that I cannot at present
afford. A man who has lost his estates, his money, his king's favor, and
who has fled from his creditors in Paris to prey on the provinces, thinks
not of love, but of how to refill his pockets."

"Then it is not for love that you pursue Mile, de Varion?" I said. I
now believed, as I had first thought, that the governor had changed his
mind after ordering mademoiselle to leave the province, had decided to
hold her in durance, and had commissioned De Berquin to detain her, as
well as to hunt down me. But I put the question in order to get further
time for thought.

"For love, yes; but not for mine!" was the answer.

This startled me. "For that of M. de la Chatre?" I asked, quickly.

"You seem to be curious on this point," said De Berquin, derisively.

"If I am to die," I replied, "you can lose nothing by gratifying my
curiosity. If I am to live, I may be the better able to serve you if you
gratify it."

"I am not one to refuse the request of a man about to die," he said, with
a self-amused look. "It is not La Chatre, the superb, whose _amour_ I
have come into this cursed wilderness to serve."

"Then who--?" But I stopped at the beginning of the question, as a new
thought came to me. "The secretary!" I said.

"Montignac, the modest and meditative," replied De Berquin.

I might have thought it. What man of his age, however given to deep
study and secret ambition, could have been insensible to her beauty, her
grace, her gentleness? Such a youth as Montignac would pass a thousand
women indifferently, and at last perceive in Mlle. de Varion at first
glance the perfections that distinguished her from others of her sex.
Doubtless, to him, as to me, she embodied an ideal, a dream, of which he
had scarcely dared hope to find the realization. Seeing her at the inn,
he had been warmed by her charms at once. He had resolved to avail
himself of his power and of her helplessness. Her father in prison,
herself an exile without one powerful friend, she would be at his mercy.
Forbidden by his duties to leave the governor's side, he could charge De
Berquin, in giving the latter the governor's orders concerning myself,
with the additional task of securing the person of mademoiselle, that he
might woo her at his leisure and in his own way. The governor, ready
enough to frighten into an unwarranted exile a woman whose entreaties he
feared, would yet not be so ungallant as to give her to his secretary
for the asking. But Montignac might safely hold her prisoner, the
governor would think that she had left the province, there would be none
to rescue her. Such were the acts, designs, and thoughts that I
attributed to the reticent, far-seeing, resolute secretary. All passed
through my mind in a moment.

And now I feared for mademoiselle as I had not feared before. I never
feared a man, or two men at a time, who came with sword in hand; but how
is one to meet or even to perceive the blows aimed by men of thought and
power? Such as Montignac, inscrutable, patient, ingenious, strong enough
to conceal their own passions, which themselves are more intense and far
more lasting than the passions of a mere man of fighting, are not easily
turned aside from the quest of any object on which they have put their
desires. One against whom they have set themselves is never safe from
them while they live. Years do not make them either give up or forget.
Montignac, by reason of his influence over the governor, had vast
resources to employ. He could turn the machinery of government to his own
ends, and the trustful governor not suspect. In that slim youth,
smooth-faced, pale, repressed, grave, not always taking the trouble to
erase from his features the signs of his scorn for ordinary minds, a
scorn mingled with a sense of his own power and with a kind of derisive
mirth,--in this quiet student I beheld an antagonist more formidable than
any against whom I had ever been pitted. In thinking of him, I came at
once to regard De Berquin, who still stood facing me with ready sword,
and on his face the intention of killing me plainly written, as a very
inconsiderable opponent, even when backed by his four ruffians with
their varied collection of weapons.

If I was to save Mlle. de Varion from the designs of the far-reaching
secretary, it was time that I eluded the danger immediately
confronting me.

For a few moments after De Berquin uttered the speech last recorded, I
stood silent, my eyes meeting his.

"Come," he said, presently, impatiently giving several turns of his wrist
so that his sword-point described arcs in the air before my eyes. "We
wander from the subject. What service can you do me? Don't think you can
keep me talking until your party happens to come up. I intend to kill you
when I shall have counted twenty, unless before that time you make it
appear worth my while to let you live. One, two, three--"

His look showed that he had ceased to be amused at my situation. Alive, I
had begun to bore him. It was time to make sure of his vengeance. His men
stood on all sides to prevent my flight. At my least movement, he would
thrust his rapier deep into my body. He went on counting. What could I
offer him to make him stay his hand? Was there anything in the world that
he might desire which it would appear to be in my power to give him?

"Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen," he counted, taking exact note of the
distance between us.

As in a flash the idea came to me.

"Monsieur," I said, loudly, so as to be plainly heard above his own
voice, "let me go and I will deliver to you the Sieur de la Tournoire!"

He had reached nineteen in his count. He stopped there and stared at me.

"The Sieur de la Tournoire," he repeated, as if the idea of his taking
the Sieur de la Tournoire were a new one.

"You speak, monsieur," said I, quietly, "as if you had not come to these
hills for the purpose of catching him."

He looked at me with a kind of surprise, but said nothing in reply to my
remark. "It is natural," thought I, "for him not to disclose his purpose,
even when there is no use for him to conceal it."

"I take La Tournoire?" he said, presently, half to himself. He stood
thinking for a time, during which I supposed that he was considering the
propriety of his personally making the capture, in view of the plan that
I had overheard Montignac suggest to the governor, namely, that the spy
should merely lure La Tournoire into an ambush where the governor's
soldiers should make the seizure. The spy had doubtless received orders
strictly in accordance with this plan, La Tournoire being considered too
great game to be bagged by anything less than a company of soldiers.

"Why not?" said I. "Whoever does so will receive a good price in
addition to the gratitude of M. de la Chatre and that of the Duke of
Guise. Indeed, the feat might even win you back the King's favor, which
you say you have lost."

"But suppose Montignac has other plans for the capture of this highly
valued rebel?" said he.

"If he had," said I, thinking of the arrangement as to the ambush, "they
were made in the belief that La Tournoire was not to be taken by one man
with a few hired knaves. The captor of La Tournoire can afford to earn
Montignac's displeasure by deviating from his orders. Should you take
this Huguenot, you would be in a position to snap your fingers at
Montignac."

"But if it is in your power to give up La Tournoire, why do you not take
him and get the reward? Why have you not done so already?"

"For the very fact which puts it in my power to do so. I am of his party.
I am his trusted counsellor, lackey that I pretend to be."

"I have, from the first, thought you a most exceptional lackey. But if
you are of his party, and in his secrets, you must be a vile traitor to
give him up. That being the case, you would not hesitate to lie to me.
Indeed, even if it were not the case, you would not hesitate to lie to
me, to save yourself or to gain time."

"As to my being a vile traitor, a man will descend to much in order to
save his life. As to my readiness to lie to you, it seems to me that,
in the present situation, you are the one man to whom I cannot now
afford to lie. With your sword at my throat, it is much easier for me
to be a vile traitor to La Tournoire than to lie to you. Besides, I
have my own reasons for disliking him, notwithstanding that my cause
and his are the same."

"And how do you propose to give him up to me?"

"By merely bringing him face to face with you."

"_Par dieu_! A charming proposition! How do I know that you will not, in
pretending to betray him to me, really betray me to him? Suppose you do
bring him face to face with me, and his men are all around?"

"Only one of his men shall be present," I said, thinking of Blaise. "He
will not come without this one man. As for the others of his band, not
one shall be within a league."

"Himself and one man," said De Berquin, musingly. "That is to say, two
very able fighters."

"There are five of you."

"But this Tournoire is doubtless worth three men in a fight, and his man
will probably be worth two more. I don't think your offer sufficiently
attractive. I think I would do better to kill you. Certainly, there are
many reasons why you should die. If you should escape me now, as you are
one of La Tournoire's people, you would immediately go to him and tell
him of my presence here. I do not choose that he shall know as much about
me as you do."

"Can you suggest any amendment to my offer, so that it might be more
attractive?"

"If you could bring La Tournoire unarmed--"

"I will do that," I said.

De Berquin looked at me steadily for some time. At last he shook his
head and said:

"It is a fair bargain, as it now stands, but I see no way of your
carrying out your part without putting me in danger of your betraying
me. To find La Tournoire, you would have to leave us. Once out of our
sight, you would be free to ignore the contract, laugh at me for being
so easily gulled, and set La Tournoire and his men on me, which would
entirely spoil my plans. Every minute I see more and more the necessity
of killing you."

"But I shall find La Tournoire without going out of your sight," I said.

De Berquin again became thoughtful. Then he laughed.

"You mean that you would lead us up to his very den, where we should be
at the mercy of his men," he said.

"I have already said that, with one exception, none of his men shall be
within a league of where you are to meet him."

"I do not see how you are going to bring him so far from his men, if you
do not go for him."

"Leave that to me. I shall take you to a place where he will present
himself unarmed. Excepting the man who will be with him, not one of his
company shall be within a league."

"Where is the place?" asked De Berquin, still smiling ironically.

"Not far from here. It is a place where you can get also wine and food."

"And how am I to know that this place is not a trap into which you wish
to lead me?"

"You shall walk behind me with drawn sword and dagger. At the slightest
suspicious movement or speech that I make, you can easily kill me."

"That is true. Yet I might lose my own life the next moment. Who knows
but that you are merely seeking to sell your life as dearly as possible,
or but that you are aiming to gain time in the hope of some unexpected
occurrence?"

"Monsieur," said I, "we both know that men cannot read the heart. You
cannot be sure whether or not I am lying. You indeed take the risk that I
wish to lead you where you will have to pay for my life with your own,
and that I am trying to gain time; but, at the same time, there is the
chance that I intend to keep my word, that I intend to present the Sieur
de la Tournoire unarmed, and a league away from all his men but one. Is
not that chance worth the risk? Have you not gambled, monsieur?"

From the shrug of De Berquin's shoulders, I knew that he had gambled, and
also that my argument had moved him. But another doubt darkened his face.

"And if you do bring an unarmed person before me, how shall I know that
it is La Tournoire?" said he.

"He shall tell you so himself."

"Excellent proof!"

"What man but La Tournoire would risk his life by declaring himself to be
that proscribed gentleman?"

"One of his followers might do so, if he thought that he might so throw
an enemy off La Tournoire's track."

"Then the possibility of my deceiving you on that point is but an
additional risk you run, in return for the chance of your bagging the
real game. Besides, I give you my word of honor that I will truly perform
all that I promise."

"The word of a lackey!" said De Berquin, derisively.

"Have you not yourself described me as an exceptional lackey?"

"Well, I love to take chances. And as you have given me your word, the
word of an exceptional lackey, I give you my word, the word of a
gentleman, that if you set La Tournoire unarmed before me, with but one
of his men at hand, I will give you your life and freedom. But stay! At
what time am I to have the pleasure of meeting him?"

"When we hear the stroke of eight from the tower of the church in
Clochonne. The wind this evening is from that direction. It is
agreed, then?"

"Agreed!" said De Berquin. "Jacques, give me your dagger. Now, Master
Lackey, lead the way. Follow, you rascals, and be ready to knock down any
person to whom I shall direct your attention."

And I turned and led the way to the road, followed closely by De Berquin,
who held his sword in one hand and the dagger in the other. I heard the
others fall in line, and tramp their way through the brush behind him.
Barbemouche must have been exceedingly surprised at his leader's
proceedings, for the conversation between De Berquin and myself had been
conducted in a tone too low for their ears.

When we reached the road, De Berquin ordered a halt. He then commanded
Barbemouche to walk at my left side, and Francois to walk at my right, De
Berquin retained his place behind me, and the other two rascals followed
him. In this order we proceeded towards the inn.

My object in leading my enemies to the inn was to set them drinking. As
long as the possibility of taking La Tournoire was before De Berquin,
there was little likelihood that he would seek to molest Mlle. de Varion.
In the first place, he could not take her from the vicinity while he
himself remained there awaiting the coming of La Tournoire. Secondly, he
would not court any violence during the time of waiting, lest he might
thereby risk his chance of taking La Tournoire. But it was necessary that
I should prevent his encountering Blaise or Hugo, for either one, on
seeing me conducted by him as I was, might make some demonstration that
would cause De Berquin to kill me immediately. I must contrive to keep my
enemies from entering the inn, and yet to have them plied with drink.
Therefore, I said, as we marched:

"Monsieur, we are approaching a kind of inn where there are to be
obtained the food and drink that I promised. But in the house are some
who are devoted to the Sieur de la Tournoire. They are not any of his
soldiers, nor such as are to be feared in a fight. But if they saw you
and your men, with me as a prisoner, they would certainly convey word to
La Tournoire or his band, and so it would be impossible for me to fulfil
my agreement. It is true that you would then kill me, but you would lose
La Tournoire, and have his followers soon on your heels. So it is best
that we stop at some distance from the inn. You and I can steal up to a
spot where I can quietly summon the hostess. She will do anything I ask.
She will, at my order, secretly bring food and wine to the place of
waiting, and will not betray our presence to those in the inn."

"It seems a good idea," said De Berquin; "but if you attempt to make a
fool of me--"

"You will, of course, instantly make a corpse of me, for you will be at
my side, and will hear every word that I speak to the hostess."

"Very well," he replied.

Having at last reached a little clearing by the roadside quite near the
inn, but hidden from it by trees, I gave the word to stop. De Berquin
ordered his men to remain here, sheathed his sword, clutched me by the
arm, and walked forward with me, his dagger held ready to be plunged into
my heart at the slightest cause.

I led him to the back of the inn, and we stood near the door of the
kitchen, listening.

The gypsy was still playing, and every now and then there came an
exclamation of approval from Biaise. I peered through a corner of the
window. The clutch of De Berquin on my arm tightened as I did so. I saw
the gypsy man playing, Biaise and Hugo sitting with wine mugs before
them, aid Godeau by the fire asleep, the gypsy girl with her head on the
table, she also asleep, and Marianne removing platters from the table.
Jeannotte had doubtless gone up the ladder to her mistress.

Presently Marianne came out with some bones of a fowl, to throw
them away.

"Marianne," I called, softly. "Not a word! Come here and listen"

With some astonishment she obeyed. De Berquin now held his drawn dagger
under his cloak, and his clutch on my arm, though tight, might yet appear
to her that of a friend.

"Marianne," said I, "it is very important that no one within--no one,
remember--shall know that this gentleman is with me. I have a serious
matter to talk over with him at the clearing yonder, where four of his
people now wait. No one is to know of their presence any more than of
his. Bring plenty of wine to us there with what food you can get without
exciting the curiosity of those inside. Do you understand? But not a
word, even to me now."

She nodded her head, and went back into the kitchen. I knew that I could
rely on her. "Come, monsieur," I whispered to De Berquin, and we went
silently back to the clearing.

The four rascals were seated on the ground, conversing in low tones. De
Berquin and I sat down in the midst of the group. The fellows went on
talking, regardless of the presence of their leader, who gave no heed to
their babble, except occasionally by a gesture to caution Barbemouche to
lessen his volume of voice.

"I never knew an enterprise to run smoothly which had anything to do with
women," Barbemouche was saying. "Where men only are concerned, one knows
exactly what to do, and makes no mistakes."

"You have a prejudice against the sex," put in the foppish fellow.

"_Par dieu_! I ought not to have!" answered Barbemouche. "I owe them
too much for the many favors I've had from them. But they are
mystifying creatures. To mistake a maid for her mistress is nothing
remarkable. For that matter, I've known women of the lower orders who
had more airs than great ladies. I remember once, after having just
made an easy conquest of a countess, and become ennuied with her, I
turned my attention to the daughter of a pastry-cook in Paris. She dug
deep holes in my face for merely trying to kiss her. She had velvet
lips, that girl, but what claws!"

The gaunt rascal, whom they called Francois, heaved a pensive sigh, as if
this reminiscence awakened touching memories in him.

"And yet, to show the perversity of the sex," continued Barbemouche,
"that same day I saw another man kiss her, and she gave him back two
kisses for his one."

"Perhaps he was a handsome man," said the fat fellow, sagely.

"Yes," replied Barbemouche, ingenuously, "but no handsomer than I."

"At that time you were probably handsomer even than you are now," dryly
observed the gaunt man.

"You are right," said Barbemouche, "for I was young, and I did not have
this scar," and he thrust back the rim of his hat and laid his hand on
his forehead.

"In what fight with the watch did you get that?" inquired Francois.

"I got it as the Duke of Guise got his, fighting the enemies of the
church, though not in the same battle. I received mine that St.
Bartholomew's night when we made the streets of Paris flow with heretic
blood. A cursed Huguenot gave it me, but I gave him another to match
mine, and left him for the crowd to trample over."

I gave a start, recalling the incident of which I had so recently heard
the account, and which seemed the counterpart of this.

At this moment, Marianne appeared at the bend of the road. She carried
a huge wooden platter, on which were a bowl of mulled wine, some mugs,
and some cheese, bread, and scraps of cold meat. I afterward learned
that she had begun to prepare this wine some time before, thinking
that I and Blaise and the boys would want it after my return from my
search for Pierre. Knowing Blaise's capacity, she had made ready so
great a quantity.

Saying not a word, she set down the platter on the ground before me.

"That is well," I said. "Now go back to the inn and step often to the
door, so that I can easily summon you again without attracting the
attention of the others. And get more wine ready."

The woman nodded, and went back to the inn.

The four ruffians made an immediate onslaught on the platter. De Berquin
and Francois ignored the food, that they might the sooner dip their mugs
into the bowl of wine. The other three speedily disposed of all the
eatables, and then joined in the drinking. De Berquin, in order to grasp
his mug, had let my arm go, but he retained his dagger in his other hand,
and each of his followers used but one hand in eating or drinking,
holding a weapon in the other.

"Look you, rascals!" said De Berquin to his men, presently. "Be careful
to keep your wits about you!"

"Rascals!" repeated the tall fellow, his pride awakened by his second mug
of wine. "By the bones of my ancestors, it goes against me to be so often
called rascal!"

Barbemouche saw an opportunity to retaliate for the fun that had been
made of his pretensions to beauty. "They whom the term fits," he growled,
"ought not to complain, if I endure it, who am a gentleman!"

Instantly the bearded giant was on his feet, with his huge sword poised
in the air.

"Rascal yourself twice over, and no gentleman!" he cried, quivering with
noble wrath.

"What, you lank scarecrow!" said Barbemouche, rising in his turn, and
rushing to meet the other.

Their fat comrade now rose and thrust his sword between the two, for the
purpose of striking up their weapons. The fop ran behind a tree, to be
safe from the fracas.

At the instant when Francois was about to bring his great sword down on
Barbemouche, and the latter was about to puncture him somewhere near the
ribs, there came the sound of the Angelus, borne on the breeze from
Clochonne. The two antagonists stood as if transformed into statues,
their weapons in their respective positions of offence. Each in his way
moved his lips in his accustomed prayer until the sound of the distant
bell ceased.

"Now, then, for your dirty blood!" roared Barbemouche, instantly resuming
animation.

But his fat comrade knocked aside Barbemouche's sword, and at the same
time pushed Francois out of striking distance.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," cried the fat rascal, reproachfully, "would you
spoil this affair and rob me of my share of the pay? God knows we are all
gentlemen, and rascals, too!"

"Very well," said Barbemouche, relieved by his brief explosion of wrath,
"this matter can wait."

"I can wait as well as another man," said Francois, with dignity,
whereupon both men resumed their seats on the turf and their attentions
to the wine. The prudent Jacques returned to the circle, and De Berquin,
who during the squabble had employed himself entirely in holding me from
any attempt at escape, looked relieved.

The effect of the wine on him was to make him merry, so that he soon
invited me to join in the drinking, and I made a pretense of doing so.
When the bowl was empty, he went with me again to summon Marianne, which
we easily did, as she was standing at the door awaiting my reappearance.
She brought us another pot of wine, and left us as she had before done.
De Berquin became more and more gaily disposed. He put no limit to the
quantity imbibed by his men; yet he kept his eyes on me, and his dagger
dangerously near my breast.

When we heard the clock in Clochonne strike seven, he said to his men:

"Straighten up, you dogs! In another hour we shall have work to do."
Turning to me, he added, with a grin, "Either to chain that wild beast,
La Tournoire, or to send the most entertaining of valets to find out
whether all that they say of purgatory and hell is true."

But he soon became so lax under the influence of the wine that he did not
heed when the fat man and the ragged dandy dropped off to sleep and
mingled their snores with the murmurs of the forest insects. He began to
narrate his adventures, amatory, military, bibulous, and other.
Presently, for a jest, he drank the health of Henri of Navarre in return
for my drinking that of the Pope.

By this time Barbemouche and gaunt Francois had added their breathings to
the somnolent choir.

"You are a mighty drinker, monsieur," I said to De Berquin, admiringly,
at the same time refilling my own mug.

"Ask of the cabaret keepers of Paris whether the Vicomte de Berquin can
hold his share of the good red vine-juice!" he replied, jubilantly,
dipping his mug again into the pot.

I took a gulp from my mug and pretended to choke. In one of my
convulsive movements, I threw the contents of my mug into the eyes of De
Berquin. I followed it an instant later with the mug itself, and he fell
back on the grass, half-stunned. In the moment when his grasp of my arm
was relaxed, I slipped away from him, narrowly missing the wild dagger
stroke that he made at me. A second later and I was on my feet. My first
act was to possess the weapons of Barbemouche and Francois, these two
being nearest me. I then ran towards the inn, calling at the top of my
voice, "Blaise! To arms!"

Behind me I heard De Berquin, who had risen, kicking the prostrate bodies
of his men and crying:

"Up, you drunken dogs! We have been fooled! After him!"

Then I heard him running after me on the road, swearing terribly.

From the place where he had left his men, I could hear them confusedly
swearing and questioning one another, all having been rudely awakened
from sleep, two of them being unable to find their weapons, and none
knowing rightly what had occurred or exactly where their leader had gone.

Blaise came running out of the inn, with sword drawn. When he had
joined me, I stopped and turned to face De Berquin. He was before me
ere I had time to explain to Blaise. In his rage, he made a violent
thrust at me, which Blaise turned aside. De Berquin then leaped back,
to put himself on guard.

At that instant, the first stroke of eight came from the distant tower
of Clochonne.

"Filthy cur, you have lied to me!" cried De Berquin.

"Nay, monsieur," I answered, throwing from me the weapons of Barbemouche
and Francois, "I keep my word. I promised you La Tournoire unarmed.
Behold him!"

And I stepped out from beside Blaise and stood with open arms.

"La Tournoire!" repeated De Berquin, taking a backward step and staring
at me with open mouth.

"La Tournoire!" came in a faint, horror-stricken voice from behind me.

I turned and beheld mademoiselle, who had come out from the inn on
hearing my call for Blaise. With her were Hugo and Jeannotte. Behind were
the inn-keepers and the gypsies. On mademoiselle's face, which was
lighted by a torch that Hugo carried, was a death-like pallor, and such a
look of horror, grief, and self-reproach, as I have never seen on any
other human countenance.

"Mademoiselle!" I cried, hastening to her side. "What is the matter?"

"'Tis but--surprise,--M. de la Tournoire!" she answered, weakly, raising
her hand feebly as if to keep me from approaching her, while her eyes,
which were fixed on mine as by a terrible fascination, seemed to be
starting from her head. An instant later, she fell in a swoon, and I was
just in time to save her from striking the ground and to pillow her head
on my arm.

As for De Berquin, he had made a rush at me, but Blaise had repulsed him
with such fury that, seeing no hope of being joined by his men, he soon
turned and fled.

I bore the senseless body of mademoiselle into the inn, vainly asking
myself why she had shown so profound a distress at my disclosure.




CHAPTER XII.

AT THE CHATEAU OF MAURY


Presently mademoiselle recovered from her faintness and went up to her
chamber, supported by Jeannotte. Her eyes met mine as she was about to
go, but she immediately dropped them, and seemed by an effort to repress
some kind of emotion.

With a heart saddened by the sight of mademoiselle's distress, I then
made arrangements for the night. I was to lie at the front door of the
inn, Blaise at the rear door, Hugo and the gypsies in the horse sheds,
Marianne in the chamber with mademoiselle and Jeannotte, old Godeau where
he chose. It happened that he chose a place before the smouldering fire
in the kitchen.

Any further attempt to find Pierre that night was out of the question. I
dared not leave the inn again, lest I should expose mademoiselle to
possible molestation, or myself to an encounter with those from whom I
had just escaped. Had mademoiselle's safety not depended on that of
myself and Blaise, I might have invited such an encounter for myself or
for him or for both, but I would not have her undergo the slightest risk
of losing her protectors.

I had little apprehension of seeing De Berquin or his men again that
night. Not that he would probably remember his promise to give me my life
and liberty in return for my bringing La Tournoire before him. Even that
promise, if still respected by him, did not affect him in regard to
mademoiselle. But he would consider that, though I was not accompanied by
any of my own men except Blaise, mademoiselle's boy, Hugo, would wield a
stout arm on our side. Unless he knew something of Pierre's
disappearance, he would count that active youth also with our forces. He
had doubtless taken in at a glance the group composed of Godeau, the
gypsies, and Marianne; and he would suppose that I could reckon on
assistance of one kind or another from some or all of these. Thus, having
no odds in his favor, and knowing that we would be on the alert, he would
be little likely to make any kind of demonstration against us. Moreover,
two of his men finding themselves without their weapons, and all of them
angry at the manner of their awakening, they would probably receive very
badly the curses that he would heap on them for their failure to come up
to his support. Their attitude would, for the rest of that night, be one
of mutiny. It was likely that he would retreat and meditate a new plan.
He would not feel safe in the immediate vicinity of the inn, for it
would occur to him that I might send one of my allies to my men with
orders to take him. So he would withdraw and either give up the
enterprise entirely or form a new design.

Now that he knew that I was La Tournoire, what would he do? Abandon his
mission, since my knowledge of him would put me on my guard against him,
and forbid his winning my confidence and betraying me in the way which, I
supposed, Montignac had dictated to him? It was not likely that such a
man, having found only one road by which he might regain the good things
he had lost, would be turned aside from that road. He would follow it to
success or death. Such men are too indolent to go about seeking
opportunities. Having found one, they will pursue it wherever it may
lead. Their fortunes are so desperate that they have only their lives to
lose, and they are so brave that they do not fear death. If they can gain
the stakes, so much the better. If not, little the worse. Meanwhile, they
are occupied in a way congenial to a man who loves adventure, who has
inherited the taste for danger, and finds a pleasurable excitement in
risking his life. Therefore I felt that De Berquin was not yet through
with me, but he would have to change his plan, and, until he should have
time to compose new measures, he would not trouble us.

As I lay in the silence, my thoughts turned from De Berquin to Mlle. de
Varion. Her demonstration on learning that I was La Tournoire was in
harmony with the manner in which she had previously questioned me
concerning my friendship for the bearer of that name. Grieved at the
thought that I was his friend, relieved at my assertion that I did not so
highly esteem him, she had shown the utmost horror on learning that I was
the man himself. Could this be due entirely to the impression conveyed by
a name to which the Catholics in Berry had attached so much dread? It was
natural that one should regard with some terror a man whose deeds had
been so exaggerated by vulgar report; but this fact did not explain the
intensity of mademoiselle's emotion at the moment of my disclosure. Yet
she had attributed that emotion entirely to surprise. Perhaps the
extraordinary manifestation of that surprise was due to her fatigued and
dejected condition. Or it might be, and I felt a delicious thrill at the
thought, that it was her concern for me, her fear that my life might be
the more imperilled by my relations with this proscribed man, that had
caused the distress accompanying her first inquiries. If this was true,
the discovery that I was no other than the man proscribed, and all the
more in danger, would naturally have profoundly affected her.

In the morning she came down from her loft, pale and showing a calmness
that seemed forced. To my greeting and my announcement that Pierre had
not returned, she replied, quietly:

"He is a faithful and honest boy, and I have prayed that no harm might
befall him. His disappearance must not be allowed to alter your plans, M.
de la Tournoire."

"I shall leave orders with Marianne and Godeau to conduct him to Maury,
should he return to this place, as he very probably will. If you do not
wish otherwise, we shall ride on to Maury this morning."

"I do not wish otherwise," she replied. After a moment's pause, she
added, "Alas, monsieur, your friend, M. de Launay, when be promised me
your guidance across the border, engaged you to a more tedious task than
you might have wished to undertake. I fear that I must ask for a delay at
Maury. You see what trouble your friend has brought you into,--waiting
until a poor woman, who has been overcome by fatigue, recovers her
energies."

"Ah, mademoiselle," I said, with delight, "you will then hold me to the
promise made for me by my friend?"

"What else can a helpless woman do?" she asked, with a pretty smile,
although there was a tremor in the voice.

I was overjoyed to be assured that she had accepted the situation. I had
promised that, on her becoming acquainted with La Tournoire, she should
have no other protector. This had meant to her, at the time when it was
spoken, that I should go from her. To me it had meant, of course, that I
should continue with her. I had feared that, on learning the truth, she
would banish me. She had said that we must part. But now, despite the
fact that the same barrier existed between me and her, whether I was La
Tournoire or De Launay, despite her horror on learning that I was the
former, she had abandoned her intention of parting from me. What had
caused this change of mind? Had she, now that I was known to her as La
Tournoire, ceased to entertain for me those feelings which she had, on
account of our difference in religion, sought by an immediate separation
to destroy? This was unlikely. La Tournoire or De Launay, I was the same
man. I chose a happier explanation,--none other than that, considering by
night, she had come to the conclusion that a religious difference was not
too great a barrier to be removed, and that La Tournoire was not a person
to be regarded with any horror. Though modesty might plead against her
continuing in the company of a man with whom she exchanged such feelings
as had so rapidly grown up between us, yet circumstance, most imperative
of all dictators, showed her no other course than to remain under my
guidance and protection. So I accounted for the decision which was to
keep us together for a few more days.

I was not sorry that she had asked for a delay at Maury. It relieved me
of the necessity of making a pretext for retarding her flight while I
should attempt the rescue of her father. The reason to be given for the
absence of myself and a party of my men need not be a strong one when
there was no apparent haste to continue the flight. I was still
determined to keep the attempt in her father's behalf a secret from her
if it should fail, and as a surprise for her if successful.

Inwardly jubilant with the hope inspired by her change of mind, I
hastened to give the innocent reasons for the concealment of my identity
from her. She listened with a changeless smile, keeping her eyes on mine.
Before she could answer, Marianne announced that breakfast was ready. No
further allusion was made to the matter, nor to her now abandoned
determination that we should part.

After breakfast, our party of five mounted our horses, and, led by
Blaise, forced our way through the high bushes that marked the beginning
of the hardly perceptible road to Maury. The two gypsies followed afoot,
for, knowing that I could rely on their fidelity and secrecy, I had bade
them come, that their music and tricks might amuse mademoiselle during
her stay at Maury.

It was a beautiful morning, and I considered that I had many reasons for
joy. Mademoiselle, too, seemed affected by the sweetness and jocundity of
the early day. She had evidently nerved herself, too, against her griefs.
She seemed to have summoned a large stock of resolution to the task of
facing her troubles without a tear. It appeared that she had banished
dejection by an effort of the will. All the time it was evident that her
manner was the result of a vigilant determination. I was, nevertheless,
glad to see a smile, a steadiness of look, a set lip, though they were
attained with premeditation. There was in her conversation, as we rode on
our slow and difficult way, something of the woman of the world. As we
had to go in single file, and so to speak loudly in order to be heard by
one another, our talk could not take on the themes and tones of
tenderness that I would have gladly given to it.

Presently from a bush at the side of the path a man sprang up, saluted,
and stood respectfully while we passed him. It was one of my men,
Maugert, on duty as sentry, for I kept men watching every approach to our
hiding-place night and day. They lay secreted among the brushwood, and
would observe an intruder long before the intruder could be aware of
their presence. A few minutes later we passed another of these faithful
sentinels, who rose out of his concealment to give me a look of welcome,
and soon afterward we rode through the ruined gate into the old
courtyard itself.

"Welcome to Maury!" said I to mademoiselle.

She looked up at the broken facade of the chateau, around at the trees
that environed the walls and in some places pushed their branches through
openings, then at some of my men, who had been mending their clothes or
tinkering at their weapons.

"I shall feel safe at Maury, monsieur," she said, quietly.

Thus Mlle. de Varion became my guest in that wilderness fastness. I gave
her the two chambers in best preservation, one of them being immediately
over the chief entrance and overlooking the courtyard. My own abode was
in the northern turret, looking down the steep wooded declivity that fell
to the road from Clochonne to Narjec. Hugo was to sleep outside her door.
My own men made their beds in the great hall and in certain sheltered
portions of the wings and outbuildings. They usually ate in this hall,
receiving their food on platters from the cook (happily the kitchen had
remained fit for use), and bearing it thither. It was arranged that Hugo
should carry the meals of mademoiselle and Jeannotte to mademoiselle's
apartments.

It was more after our arrival than during our ride to Maury that
mademoiselle showed the fatigue of which she had spoken. It was evident
that she had reached a resting-place none too soon. Weakness was
manifest in all her movements as well as in the pallor of her cheeks.
Yet, though she languished thus, she did not keep all the time to her
chamber. Each morning she came down to walk about the courtyard, saying
that the air and sunshine--as much as found its way through the
overspreading branches of the trees--strengthened her. There was in one
corner of the yard an old stone bench, which, in good weather, was for a
great part of the afternoon half in sun and half in shade. Here she would
sit by the hour, changing her position as sunlight or shade became
preferable for the moment.

Morning or afternoon, I was never far from her. For I had had to defer
from day to day the first steps towards the projected deliverance of M.
de Varion. On our arrival I had found that some of the men on whose aid I
would most depend were away on a foraging expedition. Each hour I looked
for their return, but in vain. Their absence had now become so prolonged
as to be a cause of alarm. My anxiety about them, and my concern over
other matters, took up so much of my mind that little was left in which
to devise a plan for the rescue of the prisoner, and I would not make the
first move until the whole design should be complete.

As days passed, and mademoiselle's missing boy, Pierre, did not come, I
ceased to hope that we should ever see him again. Had he found his way
to the inn where he had left us, Marianne or Godeau would have brought
him to Maury immediately. It was useless to speculate as to what might
have become of him. He might have perished in the forest, or found his
way to Clochonne, or fallen in with De Berquin and suffered for having
been of our party. When his disappearance was mentioned, Jeannotte would
look at mademoiselle, and mademoiselle would say:

"Poor boy! I pray that no evil may have befallen him. He was fidelity
itself. He would die for me!"

But she did not give herself up to poignant sorrow on his account, or,
indeed, since the night at Godeau's inn, on account of anything. She
seemed to have set herself to bear her troubles in Spartan manner, and to
find in herself, perhaps with surprise, the strength to do so.

So the days passed, and still my plans in regard to her father remained
unformed, the men on whom I relied did not appear, and mademoiselle did
not speak of resuming her flight southward. There came no further sign of
the existence of De Berquin. From or of the outside world we heard
nothing, save occasionally, when the wind was in the right direction, the
faint sound of the bell of Clochonne. We seemed to dwell apart, in a
region of our own, an enchanted forest which none other might enter, a
place where we were forever safe from the strife of humanity, the touch
of war, the reach of the King's edicts, the power of provincial
governors, the vengeance of the great. The gypsies remained with us, and
sweetened the time with their songs and the music of their instruments.
My men treated mademoiselle with the utmost respect. I had caused them to
know that she was a refugee, a lady most precious in my esteem, one for
whose safety and happiness any other consideration must, should occasion
arise, be sacrificed. The weather was dry, sunny, and, for the time of
year, mild. It was like a sweet dream, and I, for one, had no premonition
of the awakening that was to come.

Often during that time I spoke of my love for her. I told her that, to
me, at least, religion was not so much as to drive me from the woman whom
I had so long sought in vain among the beauties of our Henri's court,
whom I had so long worshipped in the ideal, whom I had instantly
recognized as being the embodiment of that ideal, of whose presence I
could not endure to be deprived even in thought.

She would sit looking in my eyes while I told her these things. Sometimes
she would seem to yield to a kind of bliss in hearing them, to forget all
else than ourselves and my words. Then suddenly a look of anguish would
come on her features, she would rise and press her hands to her eyes, as
if to blot out the memory of my look, and say:

"Monsieur, you must not! You must not! You do not know! Oh, if you knew!"

And she would quickly glide away into the chateau, keeping her face
turned from me until she had disappeared.

I began to think that there might be another obstacle than that of our
difference in religion. Perhaps a promise to another or some vow! But I
swore to myself that, whatever the obstacle might be, I would remove
it. The only matter for present disposition was to get her consent to
my doing so.

She would soon return, composed and smiling, with no sign of wishing to
elude me. For the life of me, I could not long refrain from the subject
that had before so strangely put her to flight.

Sometimes when I talked in the strain of love, joy and pain would succeed
each other on her face, sometimes they would seem to be present at the
same moment. From the look of complete abandonment to happiness that
sometimes, though never for long, shone on her features, I felt that she
loved me, and that eventually her love would gain the victory. I
continually tried to elicit an expression of her feelings in words. Sweet
to me as was the frequent confession of her looks, I sought a confession
in speech also.

One afternoon, as we stood on a little spur that rose from the declivity
below the chateau, and whence through a small opening between trees could
be seen the river, the smiling plain, and afar the high-perched chateau
of Clochonne, I asked her:

"Why is it that when I speak of what most occupies my heart you become
silent or sorrowful, or go suddenly from me?"

With assumed lightness she replied:

"Can a woman explain her capricious doings any more than a man can
understand them? It is well known that we do unaccountable things."

Not heeding this evasion, I went on:

"I sometimes fear that you imagine some other barrier between us than the
one of religion. Is it that some other gentleman--?"

"Oh, no, monsieur!" she answered, quickly and earnestly, before I had
time to finish the question.

"Is there, then, some vow or girlish resolution?"

She shook her head negatively in reply, but would not give me any more
satisfaction.

At last I said, abruptly, "Do you, then, wish me not to love you?"

She looked at me first as if she would answer yes, and then as if she
would answer no, and finally, after a sigh, she said:

"Can we cause things by wishing?"

Finally, as a last means of trying her, I said:

"Mademoiselle, I have been thinking that it might be better if I were to
go on alone to Guienne, and leave Blaise and my men to conduct you when
you are able to follow."

She regarded me strangely, first as if the suggestion were a welcome one,
then,--while her brow darkened, and a kind of mental anguish forced
itself into her expression,--as if the plan were not at all acceptable.

"But you will not do that, monsieur?" was all that she said.

I could but sigh in puzzlement, and abandon my attempt to make her tell
her feelings.

Sometimes I would suddenly turn my eyes towards her, and catch her
looking at me with mingled tenderness and pity, as a man condemned to die
might be looked on by the woman who loved him. At those times I thought
that she had some fear or foreboding that I might yet fall a victim to
the vengeance of those whom I had offended. Sometimes her look quite
startled me, for it contained, besides a world of grief and pity,
something of self-reproach. I then supposed that she blamed herself for
allowing her fatigue to delay me in my departure from the province.

But these demonstrations did not often escape her. She oftenest showed
the forced cheerfulness that I have already mentioned. The moments when
any kind of distress showed itself were exceptional, and many of them
were caused by the persistence with which I sought a response in words to
my declarations of love.

There came at last the afternoon--how well I remember it!--when we sat
together on the stone bench in the sunlit part of the old courtyard.
Through the interstices of the overspreading branches we could see a
perfectly clear blue sky. The slightest movement of air made the leaves
rustle sleepily, dreamily. Save the chirping of the birds, no other sound
emanated from the forest. The murmur of the river at the foot of the
wooded steep came up to us. In a corner of the yard the two gypsies lay
asleep. Some of my men were off on various employments. A few had gone
for game; others to fish. One of them, Frojac, was in Clochonne disguised
as a peasant, to keep a watch on the garrison there. The party of
foragers had not returned. Of the men at the chateau, those who were not
on guard were with Blaise Tripault in the great hall, where they had just
finished eating and drinking, Hugo had gone to the stables to feed
mademoiselle's horses. Jeannotte was asleep in her chamber. Mademoiselle
and I sat in silence, in the midst of a solitude, a remote tranquillity,
a dreamy repose that it was difficult to imagine as ever to be broken.

She seemed to yield to the benign influence of this enchanted place. She
leaned back restfully, closed her eyes, and smiled.

Suddenly there came from within the chateau the sound of my men singing.
Their rude, strong voices were low at first, but they rose in pitch and
volume as their song progressed. Mademoiselle ceased to smile, opened her
eyes, again took on the look of dark foreboding. The song had an ominous
ring. It was one of the Huguenot war hymns sung in the army of our Henri:

  "With pricking of steel
    Our foe we have sped,
  We've peppered his heel
    With pellets of lead,
And the battles we win are the gifts of the Lord,
Who pointeth our cannon and guideth our sword.
We fire and we charge and there's nothing can bar
When we fight in the track of the King of Navarre.
  Then down, down, down with the Duke of Guise!
  Death, death, death to our enemies!
  And glory, we sing, to God and our King,
  And death to the foes of Navarre!"

The melody was grim and stirring. The men's voices vibrated with war-like
wrath. They were impatient for battles, charges, the kind of fighting
that is done between great armies on the open field, when there is the
roar and smoke of cannon, the rattle of small firearms, the clash of
steel, the cries of captains, the shrieks and groans of wounded, the
plenteous spilling of blood. They were hungry for carnage.

"There is no cause to shudder, mademoiselle," said I, perceiving the
effect that the song had on her; "we are far away from fighting. There is
no danger here."

"There may be dangers of which you do not guess," she answered.

As if to verify her words, a sudden, sharp cry broke the stillness. It
came from the forest path by which we had arrived at the chateau. It was
the voice of one of my sentinels challenging a newcomer.

"It is I," came the reply. "I have important news for the captain."

"Oh, it is you, Marianne?" replied the man on guard. "I didn't know you
for an instant, you appeared so suddenly, without any noise."

I hastened to the gate and called, "Come, Marianne, what is it?"

She came up puffing and perspiring. So breathless was she that she had to
sit down on a bench in the courtyard before she could answer me.

"Oh, monsieur!" she said, when she had recovered some breath. "Look to
yourself! The governor of the province is at Clochonne!"

"The devil!" I said, and turned to see the effect of this news on
mademoiselle.

She was standing, trembling, as white as death, her one hand on the back
of the bench for support.

"Be not alarmed, mademoiselle," I said, "Clochonne is not Maury! They do
not know our hiding-place. How did you learn, Marianne, and what else do
you know?"

Mademoiselle stood perfectly still and fixed her eyes on Marianne,
awaiting the latter's answers with apparently as much interest as I
myself felt.

"Godeau went to Clochonne this morning with some eggs to sell, and
learned that the governor arrived last night and occupies the chateau,"
said Marianne.

"With how many men?" I asked.

"Godeau said that the courtyard of the chateau and the market-place of
the town were full of men-at-arms, but he did not wait to find out how
many there were. He knew what he would catch from me if he did not
immediately bring me the news, that I might let you know. So he came home
at once, and as soon as I had heard it I started for this place."

"I thank you, Marianne. You are the best of women. Yet it may not be on
our account that M. de la Chatre honors Clochonne with a visit."

It was, indeed, true that the governor would naturally visit his border
towns at a time when war might be expected soon to enter his province.
Yet I could not help thinking that his coming at this particular time had
something to do with his plan to capture me. I remembered what course
Montignac had advised him to take: to wait until his spy should have
located me and sent him word of my hiding-place, then to come to
Clochonne, whither the spy, on learning of his presence, should send him
the information that would enable him to lay an ambuscade for me. This
was a good plan, for a premature arrival of the governor at Clochonne
might give me time to flee before my whereabouts should be known to the
spy; but, knowing my exact whereabouts, La Chatre could first take
measures for cutting off my flight, and then risk nothing by coming to
Clochonne. Moreover, should the spy fail as to the ambush, the governor's
acquaintance with my whereabouts would serve him in a chase that he might
make with his soldiers. The ambush was but a device more likely to
succeed than an open search and attack. It was, if at all possible,
easier, and would cost the governor no lives.

Now, if the plan suggested by Montignac was being carried out, the
governor's arrival at Clochonne meant that his spy had sent him word of
my hiding-place. But could De Berquin have done so? He had previously
shown some skill in secret pursuit. Had he eluded the vigilance of my
sentinels, learned that we were at Maury, and sent one of his men to the
governor with the information? It was improbable, yet nothing occurs more
often than the improbable. So I asked Marianne:

"Have you seen anything of the five men who drank with me the night you
carried wine to us from the inn?"

"Not since that night, monsieur."

"And you have no more news than you have told me?"

"Nothing more, monsieur; so, if you please, I will hurry back, for
my old man is sure to have fallen asleep, and it would be a pity if
the governor's men should come by the forest road without being
seen. Be sure, if they come after I reach home, you shall know of it
in good time."

I bade her go, and turned to mademoiselle.

She was as pale as a white lily. As soon as my eye met hers, she said, in
a faint voice:

"I am going in, monsieur. I am tired. No, I can go alone. Do not be
concerned about me. I shall soon feel better."

And she went rapidly into the chateau, giving me no time in which to
assure her that there was no reason for immediate alarm.

I wished to consider Marianne's news before communicating it to any of my
men. I had to inquire of myself whether it called for any immediate
action on my part. So that my meditations might not be interrupted, I
left the chateau and walked into the forest.

For hours I considered the possible relations of the governor's arrival
to mademoiselle's safety and my own, to that of my men and our cause, and
to my intention of delivering M. de Varion from prison. But I could
arrive at no conclusion, for I knew neither the governor's intentions,
nor what information he had concerning me. There were so many
probabilities and so many possible combinations of them, that at last I
threw the whole matter from my mind, determining to await events. On the
way back to the chateau I reproached myself for having wasted so much
time in making useless guesses, for when I found myself at the gate it
was night, and the moon had risen.

I stopped at the entrance and stood still to listen to the voice of
Blaise, which rose in the courtyard in the words of a psalm. He sang it
with a gentleness the very reverse of the feeling his voice had expressed
in the war hymn a few hours earlier. From a sound that came between the
words now and then, I knew that he was engaged in one of his favorite
occupations, that of polishing his weapons.

Pleased to hear him singing in the moonlight, I stood at the gate, lest
by entering I might interrupt the psalm.

Presently, at the end of the stanza, I heard another voice from the
doorway of the chateau.

"Ah, Blaise," said Jeannotte, "it is the spirit of your mother that
controls you now."

He made no answer, nor did he resume his singing. Then I recalled that
for the past few days he had not shown his former susceptibility to the
maid's charms; he had, indeed, exhibited towards her a kind of
disapproving shyness. I had not attached any importance to this.

"Why do you not go on singing your psalm?" Jeannotte asked, coming
nearer to him.

His answer was a strange one. It was spoken with a kind of contemptuous
irony and searching interrogation. The words were:

"Mademoiselle's boy Pierre has not yet come back to us."

"What has that to do with your singing?" said Jeannotte. "We all know it
very well. Poor Pierre! To think that he may have been taken by Monsieur
de Berquin!"

"It is well that he did not know the place of our destination when he
went away," said Blaise, in the same insignificant tone, "else M. de
Berquin might torture the secret out of him, and carry it to the governor
of the province, for M. de Berquin knows now that my master is La
Tournoire. It would not be well for the boy, or any one else, to be the
means of the governor's learning La Tournoire's hiding-place!"

After which words, spoken with a kind of ominous menace, Blaise abruptly
left the girl, and strode around the corner of the chateau. The maid
stood still a few moments, then went into the chateau.

Completely mystified, I crossed the courtyard and called Blaise.

"M. de la Chatre is at Clochonne," I said, abruptly, as soon as he was
before me.

He stood still, returning my gaze. Presently he said:

"Do you think that he has learned where you are?"

"Through M. de Berquin?" I said, as if completing his question.

"Or any one else?" he said, in a low voice. "There was the boy who
disappeared, for instance."

"But he did not know our hiding-place when he left. He did not know how
near we then were to it. He did not then know that I was La Tournoire."

"But there was much talk of La Tournoire on the journey. Did you at any
time drop any hint of this place, and how it might be reached?"

"None that could have reached his ears. I told only Mlle. de Varion, and
we were quite alone when I did so."

Blaise looked at the ground in silence. After some time he gave a heavy
sigh, and, raising his eyes, said:

"Monsieur, I have been thinking of many things of late. Certain matters
have had a strange appearance. But,--well, perhaps my thoughts have been
absurd, and, in short, I have nothing to say about them except this,
monsieur, it is well to be on one's guard always against every one!"

I was about to ask him whether he meant that the boy Pierre had been
guilty of eavesdropping and treachery, and to reprove him for that
unworthy suspicion, when there was a noise at the gate. Looking thither,
I saw two of my men, Sabray and Roquelin, conducting into the courtyard
three starved-looking persons, who leaned wearily on one another's
shoulders, and seemed ready to drop with fatigue.

"We found these wretches in the woods," explained Sabray. "They are
Catholics, although that one tried to hide his cross and shouted, 'Down
with the mass!' when we told them to surrender in the name of the Sieur
de la Tournoire."

"It is true that I was a Catholic," whined the bedraggled fop who had
belonged to De Berquin's band of four; "but I was just about to abjure
when these men came up."

"I will abjure twice over, if it pleases monsieur," put in the tall
Spanish-looking ruffian. "Nothing would delight me more than to be a
Huguenot. By the windpipe of the Pope, for a flagon of wine I would
be a Jew!"

"And I a damned infidel Turk," wearily added their fat comrade, "for a
roast fowl, and a place to lay my miserable body!"

At this moment the fop's eyes fell on Blaise.

"Saint Marie!" he cried, falling to his knees. "We are dead men. It is
the big fellow we trussed up at the inn!"

"Belly of Beelzebub, so it is!" bellowed Blaise, pulling out his sword.
Turning to Jeannotte, who had just reappeared in the courtyard, he
roared: "It is now my father's spirit that controls me!"

Whereupon he fell to belaboring the three poor, weary, hungry, thirsty
rascals with the flat of his sword, till all of them yelled in concert.
They were too limp to resist or even to run, and he had his way with them
until Sabray and Roquelin howled with laughter. At last I ordered him to
stop, and to confine the men in a chamber, where they should be fed and
questioned. So they limped away moaning, driven like cattle by Blaise,
who promised them as they went that they should not be put to the trouble
of tying up honest people in the dark for some time to come. Jeannotte
followed, out of curiosity, as did Sabray and Roquelin.

Left alone in the courtyard, I sat on the stone bench, which was now in
part yellow with moonlight, and began to ponder. I could doubtless learn
from the three captives whether De Berquin had had any hand in the coming
of La Chatre to Clochonne. Anxious as I was to inform myself, I was yet
in no mood to question the men at that moment, preferring to wait and
hear the result of Blaise's interrogations.

While I was thinking, my arms folded and my eyes turned to the ground at
my feet, I suddenly heard a deep sigh very near me.

I looked up and saw Mademoiselle de Varion standing before me in the
moonlight. My gaze met hers, and in the delicious glow that her presence
sent through me I forgot all in the world but her.




CHAPTER XIII.

HOW DE BERQUIN INVITED DEATH


"Mademoiselle!" I whispered, starting up and taking her hand.

She trembled slightly, and averted her look. But she did not draw
away her hand.

"You are still disturbed by Marianne's news," I said. "But you have
little more reason to fear when M. de la Chatre is at Clochonne than if
he were at the other end of the province."

"Yet I do fear, monsieur," she said, in a low tone, "for your sake."

"Then if you will fear," said I, "I take great happiness in knowing that
it is for me. But this is no place or time for fear. Look and listen. The
moonlight, the sounds of the forest, the song of the nightingale, all
speak of peace."

"The song of the nightingale may give place to the clash of swords and
the cries of combat," she replied. "And because you have delayed here
with me, you now risk the peril you are in."

"Peril is familiar company to me, mademoiselle," I said, gaily. "It
comes and it goes. It is a very welcome guest when it brings with it the
sweetest lady in the world."

Talking thus, I led her around the side of the chateau to the old garden
appertaining to it, a place now wild with all kinds of forest growth, its
former use indicated by a broken statue, a crumbling grotto, and in its
centre an old sun-dial overgrown with creepers. The path to the sun-dial
was again passable, thanks to my frequent visits to the spot since my
first arrival at Maury. It was up this path that we now went.

The moonlight and the presence of mademoiselle made the place a very
paradise to me. We two were alone in the garden. The moon spread beauty
over the broken walls of the chateau on one side, and the green
vegetation around us leaving some places in mysterious shade. The
sun-dial was all in light, and so was mademoiselle standing beside it. I
breathed sweet wild odors from the garden. From some part of the chateau
came the soft twang of the strings responding to the fingers of the
gypsy, I held the soft hand of mademoiselle. I raised it to my lips.

"I love you, I love you!" I whispered.

She made no answer, only looked at me with a kind of mingled grief and
joy, bliss embittered by despair.

"It cannot be," I went on, "that Heaven would permit so great a love to
find no response. Will you not answer me, mademoiselle?"

"What answer would you have?" she asked, in a perturbed voice.

"I would have love for love."

Her answer was arrested by the sound of the gypsy's voice, which at that
instant rose in an old song, that one in which a woman's love is likened
to a light or a fire. These are the first words:

"Bright as the sun, more quick to fade;
  Fickle as marsh-lights prove;
Where brightest, casting deepest shade--
  False flame of woman's love."

"Heed the song, monsieur," said mademoiselle, in the tone of one who
warns vaguely of a danger which dare not be disclosed openly.

"It is an old, old song," I answered. "The raving of some misanthrope of
bygone time."

"It has truth in it," she said.

"Nay, he judged all women from some bitter experience of his own. His
song ought to have died with him, ought to be shut up in the grave
wherein he lies, with his sins and his sorrows."

"Though the man is dead, the truth he sang is not. Heed it, monsieur, as
a warning from the dead to the living, a warning to all brave men who
unwarily trust in women!"

"I needed no song to warn me, mademoiselle," I said, thinking of Mile.
d'Arency and M. de Noyard. "I have in my own time seen something of the
treachery of which some women are capable."

"You have loved other women?" she said, quickly.

"Once I thought I loved one, until I learned what she was."

"What was she?" she asked, slowly, as if divining the answer, and
dreading to hear it.

"She was a tool of Catherine de Medici's," said I, speaking with all the
more contempt when I compared the guileful court beauty, Mile. d'Arency,
with the pure, sweet woman before me; "one of those creatures whom
Catherine called her Flying Squadron, and she betrayed a very honest
gentleman to his death."

"Betrayed him!" she repeated.

"Yes, by a pretended love tryst."

Mademoiselle trembled, and held out her hand to the dial for support.

Something in her attitude, something in the pose of her slender figure,
something in her white face, her deep, wide-open eyes, so appealed to my
love, to my impulse to protect her, that I clasped her in my arms, and
drew her close to me. She made no attempt to repulse me, and into her
eyes came the look of surrender and yielding.

"Ah, mademoiselle, Julie," I murmured, for she had told me her name,
"you do not shrink from me, your hand clings to mine, the look in
your eyes tells what your lips have refused to utter. The truth is
out, you love me!"

She closed her eyes, and let me cover her face with kisses.

Presently, still holding her hand in mine, I stepped to the other side
of the sun-dial, so that we stood with it between us, our hands
clasped over it.

"There needs no oath between us now," said I, "yet here let us vow by the
moonlight and the sunlight that mark the time on this old dial. I pledge
you here, on the symbol of time, to fidelity forever!"

"False flame of woman's love!"

came the song of the gypsy, before mademoiselle could answer.

The look of unresisting acquiescence faded from her face. She started
backward, drew her hand quickly from mine, and with the words, "Oh,
monsieur, monsieur!" glided swiftly from the garden and around the
chateau. In perplexity, I followed. When I reached the courtyard she was
not there. She had gone in, and to her chamber.

But I was happy. I felt that now she was mine. Her face, her attitude,
had spoken, if not her lips. As for her breaking away, I thought that due
to a last recurrence of her old scruples concerning the barrier between
us. I did not attribute it to the effect of the sudden intrusion of the
gypsy's song. It was by mere accident, I told myself, that her scruples
had returned at the moment of that intrusion. What was there in her love
that I need fear? She had told me to heed the song as a warning. I
considered this a mere device on her part to check the current of my
wooing. Her old scruples or her maidenly impulses might cause her to use
for that purpose any device that might occur. But, how long she might
postpone the final confession of surrender, it must come at last, for the
surrender itself was already made. Her heart was mine. What mattered it
now though the governor had come to Clochonne solely in quest of me? What
though he knew my hiding-place, discovered by the persistent De Berquin,
and its location by him communicated through Barbemouche? For, I said to
myself, if De Berquin had sent word to the governor, Barbemouche must
have been the messenger, for the three rascals now held at Maury could
not have been relied on, and they had the appearance of having wandered
in the forest several days.

I was just about to summon Blaise, that I might learn the result of his
interrogations, when I heard the voice of Maugert, who was lying in watch
by the forest path, call out:

"Who goes there?"

"We are friends," came the answer, quickly.

This voice also I knew, as well as Maugert's. It was that of De Berquin.

I ran to the gate and heard him tell Maugert, who covered him with an
arquebus, match lighted, that he was seeking the abode of the Sieur de la
Tournoire, for whom he had important news.

"Let him come, Maugert!" I called from the gate.

I stepped back into the courtyard. At that moment Blaise came out of the
chateau. Very soon De Berquin strode in through the gateway, followed by
the burly Barbemouche. Both looked wayworn and fatigued.

"Monsieur de la Tournoire," said De Berquin, saluting me with fine grace
and a pleasant air,--he never lost the ways of a gallant gentleman,--"I
have come here to do you a service."

So! thought I, does he really intend to seek my confidence and try to
betray me, after all? Admirable self-assurance!

I was about to answer, when Barbemouche put in;

"So you, whom it was in my power to kill a hundred times over that night,
are the very Tournoire whom I chased from one end of France to the other
eight years ago?" And he looked me over with a frank curiosity.

"Yes," I said, with a smile, "after you had destroyed the home of my
fathers. And at last you have found me."

"I was but the servant of the Duke of Guise then," said Barbemouche.

At this point Blaise, who, in all our experiences with De Berquin and his
henchmen, had not while sober come within hearing of Barbemouche's voice,
or within close sight of him, stepped up and said, coolly:

"Let me see the face that goes with that voice."

And he threw up the front of Barbemouche's hat with one hand, at the same
time raising the front of his own with the other. The two men regarded
each other for a moment.

"Praise to the God of Israel, we meet again!" cried Blaise, in a loud
voice, catching the other by the throat.

"Who are you?" demanded Barbemouche.

"The man on whom you left this mark,"--and Blaise pointed to his own
forehead,--"in Paris on St. Bartholomew's night thirteen years ago."

"Then I did not kill you?" muttered Barbemouche, glaring fiercely
at Blaise.

"God had further use for me," said Blaise.

De Berquin and I both stepped aside, perceiving that here was a matter in
which neither of us was concerned. But we looked on with some interest,
deferring until its adjustment our own conversation.

"Then it was you who spoiled my appearance for the rest of my days!"
cried Barbemouche. "May you writhe in the flames of hell!"

And, being without sword or other weapon, he aimed a blow of the fist at
Blaise's head. Blaise, disdaining to use steel against an unarmed
antagonist, contented himself with dodging the blow and dragging
Barbemouche to a place where an opening in the courtyard wall overlooked
a steep, rocky descent which was for some distance without vegetation.
Here the two men grappled. There was some hard squeezing, some quick
bending either way, a final powerful forcing forward of the arms on the
part of Blaise, a last violent propulsion of the same arms, and
Barbemouche was thrown backward down the precipice. Blaise stood for a
time looking oven. We heard a series of dull concussions, a sound of the
flight of detached small stones, and then nothing.

"God giveth the battle to the strong!" said Blaise, and he came away from
the precipice.

De Berquin shrugged his shoulders, and turned again to me.

"As I said, monsieur," he began, "I have come here to do you a service."

"Indeed!" said I, coldly, choosing to assume indifference and ignorance.
"I knew not that I was in need of any."

"Your need of it is all the greater for that," said De Berquin, quietly.
"Monsieur, I would hinder some one from doing you a foul deed, though to
do so I must rob that person of your esteem."

"Speak clearly, M. de Berquin," said I, thinking that he was taking the
wrong way to get my confidence. "It is impossible that any one having my
esteem should need hindrance from a foul deed."

De Berquin stood perfectly still and looked me straight in the
face, saying:

"Is it a foul deed to betray a man into the hands of his enemies?"

"Yes," said I, thoughtfully, wondering that he should try to begin that
very act by accusing some one else of intending it.

"Then, monsieur," he went on, "look to yourself."

But I looked at him instead, with some amazement at the assurance with
which he continued to face me.

"And what man of my following would you accuse of intending to betray
me?" I asked.

"No man, monsieur," he said, still meeting my gaze steadily, and not
changing his attitude.

"No man?" I repeated, for a moment puzzled. "Oh, ho! The boy, Pierre,
perhaps, who left us while we were at the inn by the forest road! Well,
monsieur, you speak falsely. I would stake my arm on his loyalty."

"It is not to tell you of any boy that I have sought you these many days
in this wilderness," said De Berquin, all the time standing as motionless
as a statue, and speaking in a very low voice. "It is not a boy that has
come from M. de la Chatre, the governor of the province, to betray you."

"Not man nor boy," I said, curious now to learn what he was aiming at.
"What, then? Mademoiselle's maid, honest Jeannotte? You must take the
trouble to invent something else, M. de Berquin. You become amusing."

"Not the maid, monsieur," he replied, very quietly, putting a stress on
the word "maid," and facing me as boldly as ever.

Slowly it dawned on me what he meant. Slowly a tremendous indignation
grew in me against the man who dared to stand before me and make that
accusation. Yet I controlled myself, and merely answered in a tone as low
as his, but slowly drawing my sword:

"By God, you mean _her_!"

"Mlle. de Varion," he answered, never quailing.

Filled with a, great wrath, my powers of thought for the time paralyzed,
my mind capable of no perception, but that of mademoiselle's sweetness
and purity opposed to this horrible charge of black treason, I could
answer only:

"Then the devil is no more the king of liars, unless you are the devil!
Come, Monsieur de Berquin, I will show you what I think of the service
you would do me!"

With drawn sword in hand, I walked across the courtyard and pointed to
the way leading around the side of the chateau to an open space in one
part of the garden. I knew that there we should not be interrupted.

As I waited for De Berquin to precede me, I chanced to look at
Blaise. A strange, thoughtful expression was on his face. He, too,
stood quite still.

De Berquin looked at my face for a moment longer, then seemed to realize
the hopelessness of his attempt to make me credit his accusation,
shrugged his shoulders and said, courteously:

"As you will, monsieur!"

And he walked before me around the side of the chateau to the bare
space in the garden. Blaise, having received no orders, did not presume
to follow.

We took off our doublets and other encumbrances, De Berquin raising his
sheathed sword and very gracefully unsheathing by throwing the scabbard
off into the air, so that it fell some distance away in the garden.

Twice before that night it had been shown that I was the more skilful
swordsman, yet now he stood without the least sign of fear. If he had
formerly retreated, on being disarmed, it was from situations in which he
had figured ridiculously, and could not endure to remain before
Mademoiselle de Varion. Also, he had sought to preserve his life, so that
he might have revenge. But now that events had taken their turn, he
showed himself not afraid to face death.

"It is a pity," I said, "that a brave man should be so great a liar."

"Rather," he said, "that so brave a man"--and his look showed that he
alluded to me--"should be so easily fooled; and that so fair a woman
should be so vile a traitor."

And, seeing that I was ready, he put himself into a posture of defence.

The cup of my resentment having been already filled to overflowing, it
was impossible for me to be further angered by this. But there came on
me a desire to let him know that I was not as ill-informed as he had
thought me; that perhaps he was the greater fool. So, holding my sword
lowered, I said:

"You should know, monsieur, that I am aware who undertook the task of
betraying me to La Chatre."

"And yet you say that I lie," he replied.

"I know even how the matter was to be conducted," I went on. "The spy
was first to learn my place of refuge and send the information to La
Chatre. The governor was then to come to Clochonne. The governor is
already at Clochonne. The spy, doubtless, learned where I hid, and sent
word to La Chatre."

"Doubtless," he replied, impassively, "inasmuch as you speak of one of
mademoiselle's boys having left you. He was probably the messenger."

"Monsieur," I said, "you desire to leave a slander of mademoiselle that
may afflict me or her after your death; but your quickness to perceive
circumstances that seemingly fit your lie will not avail you. A thousand
facts might seem to bear out your falsehood, yet I would not heed them. I
would know them to be accidental. For every lie there are many
circumstances that may be turned to its support. So do not, in dying,
felicitate yourself on leaving behind you a lie that will live to injure
her or me. Your lie shall die with you."

"You tire me with reiterations, monsieur," he replied, calmly. "Since you
will maintain that I have lied, do so. It is you who will suffer for your
blindness, not I. I told you the truth, not really because I wished to do
you a kindness, but because there was a chance of its serving my own
purpose. The woman came here to find your hiding-place, and betray you to
the governor. La Chatre engaged her to do so. His secretary, Montignac,
took it into his head that he would like to become sole possessor of
mademoiselle's time and attractions. But he could not undo the governor's
plans, nor could he hope for the woman's cooperation, as she seems to
have taken a dislike to him. It had been agreed that, when she had turned
you over to the governor's soldiers, she should go to Fleurier to receive
her reward. She had made this condition so that she might keep out of the
way of Montignac. Now he dared not interfere to prevent her from doing
the governor's errand, but he hoped to see more of her after that should
be completed. Such, as it was necessary for him to tell me, was the state
of his mind when I came along--I, ordered from court, hounded from Paris
by creditors, ragged and ready for what might turn up. Near Fleurier
Montignac turned up, in La Chatre's cavalcade. He wanted me to become the
woman's escort to Clochonne, keep my eyes on her, know when she had
settled your business, and, when she was about to start for Fleurier,
keep her as his guest in a house that I was to hire in Clochonne. But why
do I grow chilly telling you all this, when you do not intend to believe
me? Shall we not begin, monsieur?"

"Doubtless you are vain of your skill at fabrication, monsieur," I said,
wishing to deprive him of the satisfaction of thinking me deceived by
his story, "but you have no reason to be. That a woman should be sent to
betray an outlaw, and then a man sent to keep her in view and finally
hold her,--it is complicated, to say the least. Why should you not have
been sent to take me?" I thought that I had touched him here.

"That is what I asked Montignac," he replied. "But he told me that she
had already been commissioned to hunt you down, before he had made up his
mind to possess her by force. Moreover, it would not do to disturb the
governor's plan, on which the governor was mightily set, though Montignac
himself had suggested it. 'And,' said Montignac, 'you have not a woman's
wit to find his hiding-place, or a woman's means of luring him from his
men.' And yet, you will remember that when I thought you were a lackey,
and you offered to deliver La Tournoire to me, I grasped at the chance,
for I knew that, however set the governor might be on having the lady
take you, he would be glad enough to have you taken by any one, and if I
took you and got the reward I could afford to bear Montignac's
displeasure. I think Montignac's desire to have the lady take you was due
to his having suggested the plan. He wanted both the credit of having
devised your capture and the pleasure of mademoiselle's society. Yes,
when you held out to me the possibility, I was willing to risk
Montignac's resentment and take La Tournoire myself. Before that, I had
confined myself to the task of following mademoiselle. At first you and
your supposed master were in my way. I had hoped to get her from you, and
to obtain her esteem by the mock rescue, but this was spoiled first by my
men and then by you. After that failure, I could merely follow and hope
that chance would enable me to do Montignac's will."

"You cleverly mix truth and fiction, monsieur," I said. "You interest
me. Go on."

It is true that he did interest me, so ingenious did I think his recital.

"I have no wish to prolong the life of one of us by this talk," he
replied, "but a tale once begun should be finished. You know how you
promised to deliver up La Tournoire to me. I grant that you kept the
promise to the letter. During the rest of that night I lay quiet with my
men. We heard your departure the next morning, and when the way was clear
we followed in your track. We could do so quietly, for we were afoot; we
had left our horses in another part of this wilderness the day before. We
heard you greeted by your sentinel, and guessed that you were near your
burrow. We came no further, but looked around and found a projecting
rock, under which to lie hidden, and a tree from whose top this place
could be seen. So we have lodged under the rock, one of us keeping watch
night and day from the tree. I hoped thus to be able to know when you
should be taken, so that I might then look to the lady. But no soldiers
came for you, neither you nor the lady departed from the place, no sign
came to indicate an attack or a flight. You can imagine, monsieur, how a
gentleman accustomed to court pleasures and Parisian fare enjoyed the
kind of life that we have been leading for these several days. Now and
then one of us would crawl forth to a stream for water, or forage for
nuts and berries, and we snared a few birds, which we had to eat raw, not
daring to make a fire. This existence became tiresome. This afternoon
three of my knaves deserted. What was I to do? It was useless to go back
to Montignac without having done his work. To stay there awaiting your
capture or the lady's departure was perhaps to starve. To go any distance
from this place was to lose sight of the woman, who might leave at any
time, and we could not know what direction she might take. The enterprise
had been at best a scurvy one, fit only for a man at the end of his
resources. In fine, monsieur, when the last of my men threatened to
follow his comrades, I crawled out of my hole, stretched my aching bones,
and resolved to let Montignac's business go to the devil. There was no
chance for me in the service of the French King, therefore I came to
offer myself as a member of your company. In the Huguenot cause I might
earn back some of the good things of life. It no longer matters on which
side I fight. 'Twas the same with Barbemouche. And, inasmuch as I had
decided to cast in my fortunes with yours, I naturally wished you well.
Thus it was my own interest I sought to serve, as well as yours, when I
told you that this woman came here to betray you to La Chatre."

"You told me that," said I, calmly, "for one or both of two
purposes,--the first, to make me withdraw my protection from the lady, in
order that she might be at your disposal; the second, to get my
confidence, in order that you yourself might betray me to La Chatre."

De Berquin laughed. "Am I, then, such a fool as to think that the wary
Tournoire could be put off his guard by a man? No, no. The governor or
Montignac was wise in choosing a woman for that delicate task. It is only
by a Delilah that a Samson can be caught!"

"Monsieur," I said, with ironical admiration, "you are indeed as artful
in your lies as you are bold. You have constructed a story that every
circumstance seems to bear out. Yet one circumstance you have forgotten,
or you are not aware of it. It destroys your whole edifice. The father of
Mlle. de Varion is now a prisoner, held by the governor's order, on a
charge of treason for having harbored Huguenots. Would his daughter
undertake to do the work of a spy and a traitor for that governor against
a Huguenot? Now for your ingenuity, monsieur!"

"Such things have been known," he answered, not at all discomfited. "His
daughter may not have her father's weakness for Huguenots, and if she
bears resentment against the governor on her father's account, her desire
of the reward may outweigh that resentment. Covetousness is strong in
women. You would not expect great filial devotion in a hired spy and
traitress. Moreover, for all I know, this woman may not be Mile, de
Varion, although Montignac so named her to me. She may have assumed that
character at his suggestion, in order to get your confidence and
sympathy, not daring to pretend to be a Huguenot, lest some habitual act
might betray the deception."

"Enough, M. de Berquin," I said. "I do your wit the credit of admitting
that so well-wrought a lie was never before told. Only two things prevent
its being believed. It is to me that you tell it, and it is of Mile, de
Varion! You complained a while ago of being chilly. Let us now warm
ourselves!"

And so we went at it. I had no reason now to repeat the trick by which I
had before disarmed him. Indeed, I wished him to keep sword in hand that
I might have no scruples about killing him. I never could bring myself to
give the death thrust to an unarmed man. Yet I was determined that the
brain whence had sprung so horrible a story against my beloved should
invent no more, that the lips which had uttered the accusation should not
speak again. Yet he gave me a hard fight. It was for his life that he now
wielded sword, and he was not now taken by surprise as he had been in our
former meetings, or unsteadied by a desire of making a great flourish
before a lady. He now brought to his use all his training as a fencer. He
had a strong wrist and a good eye, despite the dissolute life that he had
led. For some minutes our swords clashed, our boots beat the ground, and
our lungs panted as we fought in the moonlight. I was anxious to have the
thing over quickly, lest the noise we made might reach the ears of
mademoiselle, and perhaps bring her to the scene. I knew that Blaise
would keep the men away, but he would not presume to restrain
mademoiselle. I wished, too, to have the thrust made before my antagonist
should begin to show weakness of body or uncertainty of eye. But he
maintained a good guard, and also required me to give much time and
attention to my own defence. Indeed, his point once passed through my
shirt under my left shoulder, my left arm being then raised. But at last
I caught him between two ribs as he was coming forward, and it was
almost as though he had fallen on my sword. I missed his own sword only
by quickly turning sidewise so that his weapon ran along the front of my
breast without touching me.

He uttered one shriek, I drew my sword out of his body, and he fell in a
limp heap. With a convulsive motion he straightened out and was still. I
turned his body so that his face was towards the sky, and I went back to
the courtyard, leaving him alone in the moonlight.




CHAPTER XIV.

"GOD GRANT I DO NOT FIND YOU FALSE!"


In the courtyard was mademoiselle, very pale and agitated, standing by
Blaise and grasping his arm as if for support. She still had on the gown
of pale green that she had worn earlier in the evening. Her head was
uncovered, her hair in some disorder, and this, with the pallor of her
face and the fright in her wide-open eyes, gave her some wildness of
appearance. It was De Berquin's piercing death-cry that had blanched her
cheek and made her clutch Blaise's arm.

"You have killed him!" she said, in a voice little above a whisper.

"You ought not to be here, mademoiselle," I replied.

"From my chamber window I saw you talking with M. de Berquin. What he
said I know not, but you drew your sword and went away with him. I
waited for a long time in anxiety until I heard the sound of swords. I
came down, and would have gone to beg you to stop, but when I heard
that awful shriek I could not go any further. Oh, monsieur, you have
killed him!"

"He brought it on himself, mademoiselle," was all that I could say.

And here Blaise did what I thought a strange and presumptuous thing.
He approached mademoiselle, and, looking her keenly in the eyes,
said, gravely:

"He said that you came from the governor of the province to betray M. de
la Tournoire!"

"Blaise!" I cried, in great astonishment and anger. "How dare you even
utter the calumny he spoke? Go you and look to the disposal of his body."
And I motioned him away with a wrathful gesture.

He looked frowningly at mademoiselle and then at me, and went off, with a
shrug of his shoulders, to the place where De Berquin lay.

I turned to mademoiselle; she stood like a statue, her eyes fixed on the
empty air before her. Yet she seemed to know when my look fell on her,
for at that instant a slight tremor passed through her.

"Tremble not for M. de Berquin, mademoiselle," said I, thinking of that
divine gentleness in a woman which makes her pity even those who have
persecuted her. "Indeed, he must have wished to die. He well knew that a
certain way to death was to tempt my sword with a black lie of the truest
lady in France."

"You killed him," she murmured, in a low, pitying voice, "because he
said--I came from the governor--to betray you!"

"Why else, mademoiselle? What is the matter? Why do you look so?"

For all life and consciousness seemed to be about to leave her
countenance.

"_Mon dieu_!" she said, weakly, "I cannot tell--I--"

I hastened to put my arms about her, that she might not fall.

"You pity him," I said, "but there could be nothing of good in one who
could so slander you. Indeed, mademoiselle, you are ill. Let me lead you
in. Believe me, mademoiselle, he well deserved his death."

Thus endeavoring to calm and restore her mind, I led her slowly into the
chateau and up the steps to the door of her chamber. She followed as one
without will and with little strength. Hugo and Jeannotte, who had been
sitting on the landing outside her door, had risen as we came up the
stairs. When I took my arms from about mademoiselle, she leaned on the
maid's shoulder, and so passed into her chamber, giving me neither look
nor word. Leaving Hugo to keep his vigil outside her door, I went down to
the great hall of the chateau.

Several of the men lay on the floor, most of them asleep. I asked one of
them where Blaise had bestowed the three rascals who had become our
prisoners, and he rose and led the way to a dark chamber at the rear of
the hall. He took a torch that was stuck in the wall and followed me into
this chamber. It was my desire to learn from these men whether or not
Barbemouche, or one of them, had borne to M. de la Chatre an account of
my hiding-place; for there had been time for one to have done so and
returned. It might be that the original plan suggested to the governor by
Montignac had been altered and that some other step had been adopted for
my capture. The very visit of De Berquin, the very story he had told me,
might have been connected with this other step. One of his purposes, in
trying to make me think myself betrayed, may have been to induce me to
leave a place so inaccessible to attack. If a new plan had been put in
operation, these men might know something of it. I would question them
and then consult with Blaise, comparing the answers they should give me
with those they had given Blaise.

They lay snoring, their hands fastened behind their backs, their ankles
so tied that they could not stretch out their legs. The man with me said
that Blaise, after belaboring them and interrogating them to his heart's
content, had relented, and brought some cold meat and wine for them. I
suppose that the gentle spirit of his mother had obtained the
ascendency. They had devoured the food with the avidity of starving
dogs, and had lain down, full of gratitude, to sleep. Blaise had then
bound them up as a precaution against a too unceremonious departure. I
woke them one after another, with gentle kicks, and they stared up at
me, blinking in the torchlight. Submissively and readily, though
drowsily, they answered my questions. They swore that neither
Barbemouche nor any one of them, nor De Berquin himself, had borne any
message to the governor; that the five had remained together from the
first, living under the rock and keeping watch from the tree-top, as De
Berquin had narrated, until the previous afternoon, when the three had
deserted, only to fall into the hands of our sentinel. In every detail
their account agreed with that of their late master. When I accused them
of telling a prearranged lie, and threatened them with the torture, the
foppish fellow said:

"What more can a man tell than the truth? But if you're not satisfied
with it, monsieur, and let me know what you wish me to say, I'll say it
with all my heart, and swear to it on whatever you name."

From the faces of the others, I knew that they, too, were willing to tell
anything, true or false, to avoid torture, and so I could not but believe
their story. Therefore, said I to myself, Montignac's plan not adhered
to. De Berquin sent no one to the governor with information concerning
my hiding-place. La Chatre had come to Clochonne without having awaited
such information. De Berquin had been too slow. Perhaps, indeed, the plan
had been altered so as to omit the sending of this preliminary word to
the governor. A fixed time might have been set for the coming of the
governor to Clochonne. De Berquin had probably retained his men that he
might have one to use as messenger to the governor, in notifying La
Chatre where to place his ambuscade, and that he might have others to
waylay mademoiselle. His lie was doubtless a bold device to put
mademoiselle into his power, and to get entrance to my company. It was a
last resource, it was just as likely to bring death as to bring success,
but he had taken a gambler's chances. They had gone against him, and he
had uncomplainingly accepted his defeat.

So the governor's presence at Clochonne was not to be taken as reason for
great alarm, inasmuch as there seemed now no probability that he knew my
hiding-place. We were still safe at Maury. We should have only to
maintain greater vigilance. Failing to hear from his agent, who now lay
dead in the garden at Maury, and could never work us harm, the governor
would eventually take new measures for my capture, or, if I kept quiet
and my men left no traces, he would presently suppose that I had gone
from his province. As for mademoiselle, neither La Chatre nor Montignac
knew where she was. We might, therefore, have more of those delightful,
peaceful days at Maury. Moreover, what better time to surprise the
commandant of the Chateau of Fleurier than while La Chatre was at
Clochonne? My heart beat gaily at thought of how bright was the prospect.
I passed out by a back way to the garden, where Blaise had been looking
to the body of De Berquin.

My late antagonist lay in peace and order, Blaise having replaced his
doublet on him and put his sword by his side.

"A handsome gentleman," said Blaise, quietly, looking down at the body.

"But a fool as well as a liar," said I. "How could he think that such a
story was to be swallowed? To have thrown him into confusion, I should
have told him that I had overheard the plan for my capture, that I knew
of an attempt to be made to get me from my men, that mademoiselle has
never made any such attempt either by tryst or summons or on any pretext
whatever."

"Neither has De Berquin," answered Blaise, sullenly, "and yet you think
he was the spy whom the governor sent."

"He had no opportunity," I replied, rather sharply, annoyed at Blaise's
manner. "He did not dare come here until he had formed a desperate plan
on which to hazard everything."

"As for mademoiselle's having had the opportunity and yet not having
done so," Blaise went on, with a kind of doggedness, "the spy was not to
plan the ambush until the governor should arrive at Clochonne."

"By God!" I cried. "Do you dare hint that you credit this villain's lie
for a moment?" In my exasperation I half drew my sword.

"I credit nothing and discredit nothing," he said, in a low but stubborn
tone, "but I place no one above doubt, except God and you. I have had my
thoughts, monsieur, and have them still. It is enough, as yet, to keep
all eyes open and turned in many directions."

"You cur! You dare to suspect--" Without finishing the sentence, I struck
him across the face with the back of my hand.

He drew a deep breath, but made no movement.

"I shall not trouble myself to suspect," he went on, with no change of
tone, "until we know that M. de la Chatre is at Clochonne,--"

"We know that already," I broke in, hotly. "Marianne brought the news
this afternoon."

"Until we know that mademoiselle knows it," he went on.

"We know that, too," I said. "She heard Marianne tell me."

"Until her other servant happens to be missing, and some occasion arises
through her for your going somewhere without your men. For example, if
she should go for a walk in the forest with her maid, and presently the
maid should return with word that mademoiselle lay mortally hurt
somewhere--"

"I would go to her at once!" I cried, involuntarily.

"So mademoiselle would suppose. You would not wait for your men to arm
and accompany you. You would hasten to the place, without precaution,
never thinking that mademoiselle's servant might have carried word to La
Chatre, a day before, to have men waiting for you. Kill me if you like,
monsieur! I cannot avoid my thoughts. They are at your service as my hand
and sword are. I may be all wrong, but one cannot fathom women. You used
to speak of a lady of Catherine de Medici's--"

Ah, considered I, it is the thought of Mlle. d'Arency's deed that has
awakened these foolish suspicions in Blaise's mind! I had given him some
account of how that lady had, by a love tryst, drawn poor De Noyard to
his death. He was incapable of discriminating between women. He could not
see that Mlle. de Varion was of a kind of woman as unlike the court
intriguer as if the two belonged to different species of beings. Ought
one to expect delicacy of perception from a common soldier? His
suspiciousness arose partly from his devotion to me. So, much as I
adored mademoiselle and held her sacred and above the slightest breath of
accusation, I regretted the blow I had given him, and which he had
received so meekly.

"I see, Blaise, what is in your head," I said, "but there are matters of
which you cannot judge. No more of this talk, therefore. And I require of
you the greatest respect and devotion to mademoiselle."

"Very well, monsieur," he said, "Let me say but this: You remember my
forebodings the last time we rode through the province. Because we came
back alive, you thought there was nothing in them. Perhaps there was
nothing. Only I have been thinking that out of that last journey may yet
come our destruction. My premonition may have been right, after all."

I smiled and walked back to the courtyard and sat down on the bench, no
longer angry at either De Berquin or Blaise, and calm in the thought that
there seemed no immediate danger. If I could but communicate my sense of
security to mademoiselle! If I might see a smile on her face, if the look
of yielding would but come back there and remain! Surely her scruples
would pass when I should bring her father to her. What imaginary barrier
could stand before the combined forces of love and gratitude? The rescue
of her father must not be longer deferred. I must form my plan
immediately. Yet I continued to waste time thinking of the future, of
the day when she should acknowledge herself mine. I took off my hat and
removed from it the glove that she had given me. It was like a part of
her; it was fashioned by use to the very form of her hand. I pressed it
to my lips and then looked up at the window of her chamber.

"Ah, Mlle. Julie," I said, "I know that you love me. You will be
mine; something in the moonlight, in the murmurs of the trees, in the
song of the nightingale, tells me so. How beautiful is the world! I
am too happy!"

I heard rapid footsteps from outside the gate, and presently one of my
men ran into the courtyard from the forest. It was Frojac, who had been
all day in Clochonne in search of information. Seeing me, he stopped and
stood still, out of breath from his run.

At the same moment Blaise came from the garden and stood beside the
bench, curious to hear Frojac's news.

"Ah, Frojac!" said I. "From Clochonne? I know your news already. M. de la
Chatre is there."

And I motioned to him to speak quietly, lest his news, which might
be alarming, should reach the ears of mademoiselle through her
chamber window.

"I had a talk with one of his men," said Frojac, "an old comrade of mine,
who did not guess that I was of your troop. I told him that I had given
up righting and settled down as a poacher. He says that it is well known
to the governor's soldiers that the governor has come south to catch you.
He declares that the governor knows the exact location of your
hiding-place."

"Soldiers' gabble," said I.

"But my old comrade is no fool," went on Frojac. "I pretended to laugh at
him for thinking that any one could find out the burrow of La Tournoire,
and as we were drinking he got angry and swore that he spoke truly. He
said that the governor had got word of your hiding-place from a boy. If
you knew my comrade, monsieur, you would know that what he says is to be
heeded. He is one who talks little, but keeps his ears and eyes open."

"Word from a boy?" I repeated, rather to myself. "Could De Berquin have
found some peasant boy and despatched him to the governor?"

"My comrade says that the boy was sent by a woman," said Frojac.

"A woman!" I cried. "If it be true, then, malediction on her! Some
covetous, spying wife of a farmer has found us out, perchance!"

"Perchance, monsieur! But, all the same, I and Maugert, who was on guard
yonder by the path, took the liberty just now of stopping the boy of
mademoiselle, your guest, as he was riding off. In advance of him rode a
woman. I had just come up the path and had stopped for a word with
Maugert. Suddenly the woman dashed by and was gone in an instant. Neither
of us had time to make up our minds whether to stop her or not, for she
came from this place, not towards it. By the time when we had decided
that we ought to have detained her, she was out of hearing. But then came
a second horse, and that we stopped. The rider was the boy Hugo."

"An unknown woman departing from our very camp!" I said, rising. "The
gypsy girl!" But at that instant the gypsy girl, Giralda, came in through
the gateway with an armful of herbs that she had been gathering just
outside the walls. She often plucked herbs after dark, as there are some
whose potency is believed to be the greater for their being uprooted at
night. "Ah, no, no, no!" I cried, repenting my unjust suspicion. "A woman
hidden at Maury! She shall be followed and caught and treated like any
cur of a papegot spy, man or woman!" I was wild with rage to think that
our hiding-place might really have been discovered, my guards eluded, the
presence of mademoiselle perhaps reported to Montignac, her safety and
ours put in immediate peril, by some one who had contrived to find
concealment under our very eyes! "And the boy Hugo riding off by night!"
I added. "Had this woman corrupted him, I wonder? Was it through him
that she obtained entrance and concealment? Where is he?"

I could at that moment have believed the most incredible things, even
that a woman had hidden herself in one of the ruined outbuildings; for
what could have been more incredible than Frojac's account of an unknown
woman riding from the chateau at the utmost speed?

"Maugert is bringing him to you," said Frojac. "I ran ahead to apprise
you of what had occurred."

"These are astounding things," I said, turning to Blaise. "Who can tell
now how much the governor knows or what he may intend? We may be attacked
at any time. And half our men away! Perhaps the governor knows that, too.
If not, this woman may tell him. We shall have to flee at once across the
mountains. Mademoiselle is now well enough to endure the journey. I must
tell her to make ready for flight."

I looked up at mademoiselle's window, and took a step towards it; but at
that moment Maugert came into the courtyard, leading Hugo, whom he held
by the arm with a grip of iron. The horse had been left outside.

"My boy, what is this?" I cried, not hiding my anger. "You would ride
away secretly, and without permission of your mistress?"

"It was my duty, when I followed to protect her," the boy said. "Mlle.
de Varion was mad, I think, to go alone at this hour."

"Mademoiselle?" I echoed, in great mystification. "Alone? Whither?"

"To Clochonne, to M. de la Chatre," was the reply.

It took away from me for a moment the very power of speech. I stared at
the boy in dumb amazement.

"Clochonne! La Chatre! Mademoiselle!" I murmured, questioningly, my
faculty of comprehension being for the instant dazed. "How do you
know, boy?"

"She said so when she left this courtyard to take horse," the boy
replied. "When I asked her whither she was bound, she said to Clochonne
to see M. de la Chatre, and she spoke of some mission, but I could not
hear the words exactly, for she was in great excitement. She then made
off, declaring she would go alone, but it was my duty, nevertheless, to
follow and guard her."

"Mademoiselle gone to Clochonne, to La Chatre," I repeated, as one
in a dream.

At that instant there came again from somewhere in the chateau the voice
of the gypsy in the song.

"False flame of woman's love!"

"The devil!" muttered Blaise. "Was De Berquin right?" And he ran into
the chateau.

"The woman who told our hiding-place!" said Frojac.

Could it be? Was she another Mademoiselle d'Arency? Had she thought that,
after De Berquin's accusation, any attempt on her part to draw me from my
men would convict her in my eyes; that indeed I might come at any moment
to believe in the treachery of which he had warned me? Had this thought
driven her to Clochonne, where she might be safe from my avenging wrath,
where also she might advise the governor to attack me at once? She had
spoken to the boy of a mission. There had, then, been a mission, and it
had to do with herself and the governor! As this horrible idea filled my
mind, I felt a kind of sinking, and as if the very earth trembled beneath
me. But then I thought of mademoiselle's sweet face, and I hurled the
dark thought from me, amazed that I could have held it for an instant.

"It is not true!" I cried, loudly. "By God, it is not true! I'll not
believe it! She has not gone! She is in her chamber yonder!" And I went
and stood beneath her window. "Mademoiselle! Come to the window! Tell us
that the boy lies or is deluded! Mademoiselle, I say!"

But no face appeared at the window--that window up to which I had looked
a few moments before while I sat on the bench, thinking that my love was
behind it.

And now Blaise came running out of the chateau. He stopped on the steps.

"She is not there," he said. "I found only the maid, wailing out prayers
to a Catholic saint!"

So she was really gone--gone! She must have left while I was
interrogating De Berquin's three henchmen in their cell or while I had
stood with Blaise in the garden, reproving him for his suspicions of her.

"And because he assailed her loyalty I killed that man!" I said aloud,
forgetful, for the time, of the presence of Blaise and Frojac, Maugert,
Hugo, and the gypsy girl. All these stood in silence, not knowing what to
do or say, awaiting some order or sign from me.

"She is a woman, monsieur!" said Blaise, gently, as if he thought to
please me by offering some excuse for her conduct, or for my having been
so deceived in her.

And then again I saw her pure, pale face, her full, moist eyes, her
slender, girlish figure. Let the evidence be what it might, it was
impossible for me to see her in my mind and conceive her to be
treacherous. There must be some other thing accounting for all these
strange circumstances. She could not be a spy, a hired traitress! A
glad thought came to me. She might have thought that her presence added
to my danger, that I would refuse to leave Maury while she continued
weak, that I might thus through her be caught, that her departure
would leave me no reason for further delay. It was a wild thought, but
it was within possibility, so I took it in and clung to it. At such a
time how does a man welcome the least surmise that agrees with his
wishes or checks his fears!

"She is a woman, monsieur!" Blaise had said, even while this thought
burst upon me.

"So much the worse for any man that dare accuse her!" I cried. "She is
the victim of some devilish seeming! My armor, Maugert! Frojac, to horse!
You and I ride at once! Blaise, marshal the men, and follow when you can,
by the forest path!"

"Ah!" cried Blaise, overjoyed. "To Guienne, to join Henri of Navarre?"

"No!" I answered. "To Clochonne, to join mademoiselle!"

Maugert obediently and hastily brought me my breast-piece, and began to
adjust it to my body. I already had my sword. Frojac had started for the
stables, but at my answer to Blaise he stopped and looked at me in
astonishment.

It was thus with me: Mademoiselle had gone. The presence that had made
Maury a paradise to me was no longer there. The place was now
intolerable. I could not exist away from mademoiselle. Where she was
not, life to me was torture. Guilty or innocent, she gave the world all
the charm it had for me. Traitress or true, she drew me to her. If she
were innocent, she imperilled herself. In any event, if she went to
Clochonne she put herself in the power of Montignac. The thought of
that was maddening to me. I must find her, whatever the risk. Perhaps I
could catch her before she reached Clochonne. If I ran into danger, I
should presently have Blaise and the men to help me out; but I could
not wait for them to arm. Every minute of delay was galling. Into what
might she fall? Whatever she be, good or bad, angel or fiend, I must
see her--see her!

Blaise stood looking at me with open mouth.

"She will prove her honesty, my life upon it!" I said.

"You are mad!" cried Blaise. "She will reach the chateau of Clochonne
long before you do!"

"Then I shall enter the chateau!" I answered, helping Maugert buckle
on my armor.

"And meet the governor and garrison!" said Blaise.

"They will rejoice to see me!"

"'Tis rushing into the lion's den, monsieur!" put in Frojac.

"Let the lion look to himself," said I, standing forth at last, all armed
and ready.

Frojac ran to get the horses.

"They would not let you see her!" cried Blaise, stubbornly standing in
my way. "You would go straight to death for nothing! My captain, you
shall not!"

And, as I started towards the stables to mount, he lay hands on me to
hold me back, and Maugert, too, caught me by one of the arms.

"Out of my way, rebels!" I cried, vehemently, struggling to free myself
from them. "I shall see her to-night though I have to beat down every
sword in France and force the very gates of hell!"

I threw them both from me so violently that neither dared touch me again.
As I stepped forward I saw on the ground at my feet the glove that
mademoiselle had given me, and which I had been caressing while sitting
alone in the courtyard. I must have dropped it on hearing Frojac's news.
I now stopped and picked it up. 'Twas all that was left with me of
mademoiselle. She had worn it, it had the form of her hand. I held it in
my fingers and looked at it. Again came the song of the gypsy:

"False flame of woman's love!"

I pressed the glove again and again to my lips, tears gushed from
my eyes, and I murmured: "Ah, mademoiselle, God grant I do not find
you false!"

Five minutes later, Frojac and I were speeding our horses over the forest
path towards Clochonne.




CHAPTER XV.

TO CLOCHONNE, AFTER MADEMOISELLE


On through the forest, on over the narrow path, the horse seeming to feel
my own impatience, his hoofs crushing the fallen twigs and the vegetation
that lay in the way, the branches of the trees striking me in forehead
and eyes, my heart on fire, my mind a turmoil, on to learn the truth, on
to see her! The moon was now overhead, and here and there it lighted up
the path. Close behind me came Frojac. I heard the footfalls and the
breathing of his horse.

Would we come up to her before she reached Clochonne? This depended on
the length of start she had. She would lose some time, perhaps, through
being less familiar with the road than we were, yet wherever the road lay
straight before her she would force her horse to its utmost, guessing
that her departure would be discovered and herself pursued.

My mind inclined this way and that as I rode. Now I saw how strong was
the evidence against her, yet I refused to be convinced by it before I
should hear what she might have to say. Now I conjured up her image
before me, and then all the evidence was naught. It was impossible that
this face, of all faces in the world, could have been a mask to conceal
falsehood and treachery, that this voice could have lied in its sweet and
sorrowful tones, that her appearance of grief could have been but a
pretence, that her seemingly unconscious signs of love could have been
simulation!

Yet had not the gypsy sung of the false flame of woman's love? It is
true, she had bade me heed these words. Would she have done so had her
own appearance of love been false? Perhaps it was this very thought, the
very improbability of a false woman's warning a man against woman's
treachery, that had made her do so, that I might the less readily on
occasion believe her false. Who can tell the resources and devices of a
subtle woman?

What? Was I doubting her? Was I believing the story? Was I, with my
closer knowledge of her, with my experience of the freaks of
circumstance, with my perception of her heart, to accept the first
apparent deduction from the few facts at hand, as blind, unthinking,
undiscriminating soldiers, Blaise and Frojac, had done? Did I not know of
what kind of woman she was? She was no Mlle. d'Arency.

Yet, who knows but that poor De Noyard had believed Mlle. d'Arency true?
Might he not, with the eyes of love, have seen in her as pure and
spotless a creature as I had seen in Mile, de Varion? Do the eyes of
love, then, deceive? Is the confidence of lovers never to be relied on?

But I must have read her heart aright. Surely her heart had spoken to
mine. Surely its voice was that of truth. Surely I knew her. Were not her
eyes to be believed. Were not truth, goodness, gentleness, love, written
on her face?

Yet, how went the gypsy's song,--the one we had heard him sing at
Godeau's inn, by the forest road?

"But, ah, the sadness of the day
When woman shows her treason!
And, oh, the price we have to pay
For joys that have their season!
Her look of love is but a mask
For plots that she is weaving.
Alas, for those who fondly bask
In smiles that are deceiving!"

Might this, then, be true of any woman? So many men had found it out. The
eyes of so many had been opened at last. Was I still a fool, had I
learned so little of women, had my experience with Mile. d'Arency taught
me only to beware of women outwardly like her, did I need a separate
lesson for each different woman on whom I might set my heart? Was it my
peculiar lot to be twice deceived in the same way?

And yet, how her eyes had moistened in dwelling on mine, how they had
dropped before my look, how she had yielded to my embrace, how she had
stood still and unresisting in my arms! No, no, they were wrong! De
Berquin had lied, Blaise and Frojac were stolid fools, capable of making
only the most obvious inference, and I was a contemptible wretch to
falter in my faith in her for an instant! She was the victim of a set of
circumstances. She had reason for her hasty departure, she would make all
clear in a few words. On, on, my horse, that I may hear those words, that
my heart may rejoice! How soon shall we come up to her? How far ahead is
she? How near to Clochonne? On! She is true, I know it. On! It may be
even for my sake that she is endangering herself. On, that I may be at
her side to shield her! On, for of late I have passed all the hours of
the day with her, all the nights near her, her presence has been the
breath of life to me, it is a new and unwonted and intolerable thing to
be away from her, and I madly thirst and hunger for the sight of her! On,
good horse!

Yet, torturing thought, how the story explained all that had seemed
strange! How it fitted so many facts! At the inn at Fleurier we had
overheard the plan suggested by Montignac for my capture, the employment
of a spy who was to find my hiding place, send word of it, then plan an
ambush for me. Then the lady had come to the inn. Perhaps she was one
who had already some kind of relations with the governor and had now come
purposely to meet him. What had passed between her and the governor we
had not overheard. It might easily have been the proposal by him, and the
acceptance by her, of the mission against me. Such a task might better be
entrusted to a woman. Catherine herself had employed women to entrap men
who would have been on their guard against men. Certain Huguenot
gentlemen had been especially susceptible to the charms of her
accomplished decoys. Then the governor and his secretary had gone, and
the latter had reappeared with De Berquin. It might really be that this
woman, whether she were Mlle. de Varion, or whether she merely took that
name in order to get my confidence without having to make the risky
pretence of being a Protestant, was desired by Montignac and yet disliked
him, and that De Berquin had been hired indeed to hold her forcibly for
the secretary after she had accomplished her mission. But her ingenuous
signs of a tender feeling for me? A device to blind me and win my trust,
and so, through me, get the confidence of my supposed friend, La
Tournoire. Her grief on the journey? Mere pretence, in order to bear out
her story and enlist my sympathy. Her periods of silence and meditation?
She was thinking out the details of her plot. Her questions about La
Tournoire? A means of learning what manner of man she would have to deal
with, and of finding out his hiding-place at a time when it would be
easiest to despatch her boy with a description of it to the governor. Her
desire to know how great was my friendship for La Tournoire? This arose
perhaps from a thought that I might be won over to her purpose, perhaps
from a fear that I might some day avenge his betrayal. The barrier that,
she said, lay between us? A pretext to get rid of me as soon as I might
be, not only useless to her, but also in the way of her designs against
La Tournoire. Her strange agitation? A mask to cover the real excitement
that one in her position must have felt. Her aspect of horror at the
disclosure that I was La Tournoire? This may have been real, coming from
a fear that she might have betrayed herself by the curiosity she had
shown about me, that the eyes of La Tournoire must be keener than those
of the light-hearted man she had taken me to be, that I had dissembled to
her as well as to De Berquin, that I had been playing with her from the
first. After she knew me to be La Tournoire, and was assured that I did
not suspect her, she no more spoke of my going from her. What was her
weakness of body at Maury but a pretext for delay, that the governor
might have time to come to Clochonne and the project of the ambush be
carried out? She had forged chains of love to hold me where she was. Her
coyness but kept those chains the stronger, her postponement of the
surrender made it the more impossible for me to leave her side. Who can
go from the woman he loves while his fate is uncertain? If she had made
no show of love, I could have left her. If she had confessed her love in
words, and promised to be my own, I could have endured to leave her for a
time. How well she knew men! How well she had maintained just that
appearance which kept my thoughts on her night and day, which made me
unwilling to lose sight of her, and which would have made me instantly
responsive to any summons that she might have sent me from any part of
the forest!

So, then, there were two sides, two appearances, to this woman. The one,
the good side, that which I had seen, that which had been the joy of my
life, was not real, was but a seeming, had no existence but in pretence.
The other, the wicked side, was the real one, was the actual woman. I had
never known her. What I had known was but an assumption; it had no being.
Was this credible? Could a bad woman so delude one with an angelic
pretence, so conceal her wicked self? If so, to what depths of vileness
might she not be capable of descending? Was it, then, not that I had lost
my beloved, but that she had never existed? At thought of it, I felt a
sickness within, a weakness, a choking, a giving way. And then her image
came before me again, as she had stood in the moonlit garden, and my
beloved was born again. The woman I had known was the real one. I had
done her incredible wrong to have thought otherwise. But whether good or
bad, whether or not my betrayer, I loved her; I longed for her; I would
see her face; I would clasp her in my arms; I would claim her as my own;
I would hold her against her own will and the world's. On, my horse, on!
Where is she now, what has befallen her, how soon shall my heart bound at
sight of her before me in the night? On! Whether she lead me to heaven or
to hell, I must be with her; I cannot wait!

Presently we came to the abode of Godeau and Marianne, where the forest
path runs into the old road across the mountains. We had to check our
speed here, on account of the thick growth of vegetation that served to
mask the forest path from travellers on the road. We emerged from this,
and turned the heads of our horses towards Clochonne.

The door of the inn opened, and Marianne came forth. She had been
watching.

"Monsieur," she said, "I did not know whether to come to you or
not. I have been keeping my eyes and ears open for any of the
governor's troops."

"But you have seen or heard none," I answered, impatiently.

"None, monsieur. But some one has ridden by, towards
Clochonne--the lady!"

I knew from her tone that she saw in Mademoiselle's flight alone
sufficient reason for suspicion of mademoiselle and for alarm on my own
part. She, too, thought mademoiselle guilty, myself duped. I first
thought to pretend that mademoiselle's departure was a thing agreed on by
her and me, but it was no time to value the opinion of a peasant.

"On, Frojac!" I said, and on we went. We could make better speed now, for
the road, though little used and in bad condition, was continuous and,
unlike the forest path, comparatively free of intrusive vegetation. It
was hard, too, for the weather had been dry for a long time. The loud
clatter of the horses' hoofs was some relief to my eager heart.

There is a place where this road passes near the verge of a precipice,
which, like that at Maury, falls sheer to the road along the River Creuse
from Clochonne to Narjec. But, unlike that at Maury, this declivity is
bare of trees.

We were galloping steadily on and were approaching this place in the
road. Frojac was now riding at my side, as there was room for two
horsemen to go abreast.

"Hark!" said Frojac, suddenly. "Do you hear something?"

I heard the sounds made by our riding, but no other.

"Horsemen," he went on. "And men afoot, on the march!"

"Where?" I asked. We continued to gallop forward.

"Ahead," he answered. "Don't you hear, monsieur?"

I listened. Yes, there was the far-off sound of many shod feet striking
hard earth.

"It is ahead," said I.

"A body of troops," said Frojac.

"Then we may catch up with them."

"Or meet them. Perhaps they are coming this way."

"Troops on a night march!" said I.

Frojac looked at me. I saw written on his face the same thought that he
saw on mine.

"Whose else could they be?" he said. "And for what other purpose?"

Had Monsieur de la Chatre, then, chosen this night for a surprise and
attack on me at Maury? If he knew my hiding-place, why should he not have
done so? The idea of the ambush, then, had been abandoned? Perhaps,
indeed, the plan that I had overheard Montignac outline to La Chatre had
been greatly modified. Had mademoiselle, if she were in truth the
governor's agent, known of this night attack, if it were in truth a night
attack against me? Had she fled in order to avoid the shame or the danger
of being present at my capture? These and many other questions rushed
through my mind.

"What shall we do?" asked Frojac, after a time.

"Go on," said I.

"But if we meet them, and they are La Chatre's men, I fear that our
chances of catching up with the lady will be small."

"But, after all, we do not know who they are. If they are coming this
way, they must have met her by this time. Perhaps they have stopped her?
Who knows? I must follow her."

"But now it seems that the sound comes more from the north. They are
certainly coming nearer. They may be on the river road. We can see by
going to the edge of the precipice and looking down."

"We should lose time."

"'Tis but a little way out of the road. This is where the road is nearest
to the edge."

It might, indeed, be to my advantage to learn at once whether the troops
were in the road in front of us or in the road at the foot of the
mountain. So I fought down my impatience, and we turned from the road
towards the precipice. There was little underbrush here to hinder us,
and in a very short time we reined in our horses and looked down on the
vast stretch of moonlit country below.

At the very foot of the steep was the road that runs from Clochonne to
Narjec. And there, moving from the former towards the latter, went a
troop of horsemen, followed by a foot company of arquebusiers. They
trailed along, like a huge dark worm on the yellow way, following the
turns of the road. Seen from above, their figures were shortened and
looked squat.

I looked among the horsemen.

"I cannot see La Chatre," said I.

"But some of these are his men," said Frojac, "for I see my old comrade.
He knew nothing today of this march. I see most of the men of the
Clochonne garrison. I wonder what use they expect to make of their horses
if they intend to approach Maury from the river road."

I recalled now the exact words in which I had indicated to mademoiselle
the location of my hiding-place. I had said that it might be reached by
turning up the wooded hill from the river road, at the rock shaped like a
throne. Was it, indeed, in accordance with directions communicated to La
Chatre by her that they were now proceeding?

"If they are bound for Maury," said I, "they have hit on a good time.
Blaise and the men will have left there long before they arrive. Come,
Frojac, we lose precious minutes!"

"One thing is good, monsieur," said Frojac, as our horses resumed their
gallop towards Clochonne. "If we do have to follow the lady all the way
to Clochonne, we shall not find many soldiers there when we arrive.
Nearly all of La Chatre's men and the garrison troops are down there on
the river road, marching further from Clochonne every minute."

Alas, it was not then of troops to be encountered that I thought! It was
of what disclosure might be awaiting me concerning mademoiselle. Would
she admit her guilt or demonstrate her innocence? Would she prove to be
that other woman, or the one I had known? Would she laugh or weep, be
brazen or overwhelmed? How would she face me? That was my only thought.
Let me dare death a thousand times over, only to know the truth,--nay,
only to see her again!

So we sped forward on the road, which, by its length and its windings,
makes a gradual descent of the northern slope of the wooded ridge. At
last we came to the foot of the steep, emerged from the forest, turned
northward, and then saw before us, a little to the right, the sleeping
town of Clochonne. At the further end of that, on an eminence commanding
the river, stood the chateau, looking inaccessible and impregnable.

I thought of the day when I had first seen the chateau, the day when we
had come over the mountains from the south, and Frojac had pointed out to
me where it stood in the distance. That was before I had met mademoiselle
or knew that she was in the world. Little had I thought that ever I
should be hastening madly towards that chateau in the night on such an
errand or in such turmoil of heart!

We came to the point where the road by which we had come converges with
two others. One of these, joining from the right, also comes from the
south, and is, in fact, the new road across the mountains. The other,
joining from the left, is the road from Narjec, the one which runs along
the river and the base of the hills. It is this one which passes the
throne-shaped rock beneath Maury, and on which we had seen the troops.
Had we, coming from the mountains, reached this spot before the troops
coming from Clochonne reached it, we should have met them; but they had
passed this spot long before we had seen them from the height.

Blaise and the men, whom I had ordered to follow me, would nave left
Maury soon after I had. Certainly they would not be there when the
governor's troops should arrive. Coming by the road that I had used,
Blaise would not meet the governor's men on their way to Maury. But the
road by the river was much the shorter. The governor's men, on
discovering Maury deserted, might return immediately to Clochonne. They
might reach this spot before Blaise's men did, or about the same time.
Then there would be fighting.

These thoughts came into my mind at sight of the converging roads, not as
matters of concern to me, but as mere casual observations. There was
matter of greater moment to claim my anxiety. As to what might be the end
of this night, as to what might occur after my meeting with mademoiselle,
as to what might befall Blaise and my men, I had no thought.

And now, turning slightly northeastward, the road lay straight before us,
between the town wall and the river, up an incline, to the gate of the
chateau. This gate opens directly from the courtyard of the chateau to
the road outside the town wall. The chateau has a gate elsewhere, which
opens to the town, within the town wall.

The road ascended straight before us, I say, and on that road, making for
the chateau gate, was a horse, and on the horse a woman. She leaned
forward, urging the horse on. Over her shoulders was a mantle, a small
cap was on her head. Her hair streamed out behind her as she rode. My
heart gave a great bound.

"Look, Frojac! It is she!"

"We cannot catch her. She is too near the chateau."

"She will be detained at the gate."

"If she is the governor's agent, she will know what word to give the
guards. They will have orders to admit her, day or night. One who goes on
such business may be expected at any hour."

The manner of her reception at the gate, then, would disclose the truth.
If she were admitted without parley, it would be evident that she was in
the governor's service. My heart sank. Those who ride so fast towards
closed gates, at such an hour, expect the gates to let them in.

"Mademoiselle!" I called.

But my voice was hoarse. I had no command over it. I could not give it
volume. She made no sign. It was evident that she had not heard it. She
did not seem to know that she was pursued. She did not look back. Was she
so absorbed in her own thoughts, in her desire to reach her destination,
that she was conscious of nothing else?

Frojac was right. She was already too near the chateau for us to overtake
her before she arrived at the gate. We could but force our panting horses
to their best, and keep our eyes on her. The moon was now in the west,
and there was no object on the western side of the road to make a shadow.
So we did not once lose sight of her. She approached the chateau gate
without diminution of speed; it looked as if she heeded it not, or
expected the horse to leap it.

"Even if they do admit her promptly," said I, "it will take a little time
to lower the bridge over the ditch. We may then come up to her."

"Can you not see?" said Frojac. "The bridge is already down."

So it was. The troops had, doubtless, departed by this gate; the bridge,
let down for their departure, was still down, doubtless for their return.
The guards left at the chateau were, certainly, on the alert for this
return. In the event of any hostile force appearing in the meantime, they
could raise the bridge; but such an event was most unlikely. The only
hostile force in the vicinity was my own company. It is thus that I
accounted for the fact that the bridge was down.

Right up to the gate she rode, the horse coming to a quick stop on the
bridge at the moment when it looked as if he were about to dash his head
against the gate.

With straining ears I listened, as I rode on towards her.

She called out. I could hear her voice, but could not make out her
words. For some time she sat on her horse waiting, watching the gate
before her. I was surprised that she did not hear the clatter of our
horses and look around. Then she called again. I heard an answer from
the other side of the gate, and then the way was opened. She rode at
once into the courtyard.

We pressed on, Frojac and I, myself knowing not what was to come, he
content to follow me and face whatever might arise. The immediate thing
was to reach the chateau, as mademoiselle had done. Some means must be
found for getting entrance, for now that mademoiselle was inside, I
looked to see the gate fall into place at once.

But we beheld the unexpected. The gate remained open. No guard appeared
in the opening. We galloped up the hill, over the bridge, into the
courtyard. Nothing hindered us. What did it mean?

We stopped our horses and dismounted. There in the courtyard stood
mademoiselle's horse, trembling and panting, but mademoiselle herself had
disappeared. Before us was an open door, doubtless the principal entrance
to the chateau. Mademoiselle had probably gone that way.

"Come, Frojac!" said I, and started for this door.

But at that instant we heard rough exclamations and hasty steps behind
us. We turned and drew sword. From the guard-house by the gate, where
they must have been gambling or drinking or sleeping, or otherwise
neglecting their duty, came four men, who seemed utterly astonished at
sight of us.

"Name of the Virgin!" cried one. "The gate open! Where is Lavigue? He has
left his post! Who are you?"

"Enemies! Down with La Chatre!" I answered, seeing in a flash that an
attempt to fool them might be vain and would take time. A quick fight was
the thing to serve me best, for these men had been taken by surprise, and
two of them had only halberds, one had a sword, the fourth had an
arquebus but his match was out.

It was the man with the sword who had spoken. He it was who now
spoke again:

"Enemies? Prisoners, then! Yield!"

And he rushed up to us, accompanied by the halberdiers, while the
arquebusier ran to light his match at a torch in the guard-house.

Never was anything so expeditiously done. The leader knew nothing of fine
sword work. I had my point through his lungs before the halberdiers came
up. While I was pulling it out, one of the halberdiers aimed a blow at
me, and the other threatened Frojac. My follower dodged the thrust meant
for him, and at the same instant laid low, with a wound in the side, the
fellow who was aiming at me. Thus one of the halberdiers followed the
swordsman to earth instantly. The second halberdier recovered himself,
and made to attack Frojac again, but I caught his weapon in my left hand,
and so held it, while Frojac ran towards the arquebusier, who was now
coming from the guard-house with lighted match. The halberdier, whose
weapon I now grasped in one hand, while I held my sword in the other,
took fright, let his weapon go, and ran from the courtyard through the
open gateway. The arquebusier tried to bring his weapon to bear on
Frojac, but Frojac dropped on his knees and, thrusting from below, ran
his sword into the man's belly. The man fell with a groan, dropping his
weapon and his match.

I looked around. The courtyard was empty. Were these four, then, the only
soldiers that had been left to guard the chateau? No, for these four had
been surprised to find the gate open. Some one else must have opened the
gate for mademoiselle. Moreover, the swordsman had spoken of a Lavigue.
"Take the arquebus and the match, Frojac," said I, "and come. There is
nothing to be done here at present."

He obeyed me, and we returned to the door of the chateau. Just as we were
about to enter, I heard steps as of one coming down a staircase within.
Then a man came out. He was a common soldier and he carried a halberd. At
sight of us he stopped, and stood in the greatest astonishment. Then he
looked towards the gate. His expression became one of the utmost
consternation.

A thought came to me. I recalled what the swordsman said.

"You are Lavigue?" said I to the soldier.

"Yes," he said, bewildered.

"You were on duty at that gate, but you left your post."

"Yes, but--"

"But you first opened the gate for a lady."

"It was not I, monsieur," he answered, as if anxious to exonerate
himself, although he knew not to whom he was talking. "It was my comrade.
He said he knew the woman, and that the governor would wish her instantly
admitted, and he opened the gate. When she came in, I would have had her
wait at the gate till M. de la Chatre had been informed, but she ran into
the chateau, and my comrade with her. There must be something wrong, I
thought, if my comrade would leave his post to go in with the lady. So I
ran after them to get her to come back. It was my thought of my duty that
made me forget the gate. Indeed it was so, monsieur."

He evidently thought that we were friends of the governor's who had
happened to arrive at the chateau at this hour.

So he, at least, had not received orders to admit mademoiselle. Joyful
hope! Perhaps there had been no understanding between her and the
governor, after all! But his comrade had let her in, had said that the
governor would wish the gate opened to her at once. Then there was an
understanding.

"Where is your comrade?" I asked.

"I left him with the lady, in the chamber at the head of the staircase.
Ah, I hear him coming down the stairs!"

"Look to this man, Frojac," said I, and then hastened into the chateau.
The moonlight through the open door showed a large vestibule, from which
the staircase ascended towards the right. The man coming down this
staircase was at the bottom step when I entered the vestibule. He stopped
there, taken by surprise. I saw that he was of short stature and slight
figure. I caught him by the back of the neck with my left hand, and
brought him to his knees before me.

"Where is the lady who but now entered the chateau?" I said. "Why are you
silent, knave?"

He trembled in my grasp, and I turned his face up towards mine. It was
the face of mademoiselle's boy, Pierre, who had left us in the forest!

"You here?" I cried. "It was you, then, who opened the gate to her! How
came you here? Speak, if ever you would see the blue sky again!"

I pressed my fingers into his throat, until he choked and the fear of
death showed in his starting eyes; then I released my clasp, that he
might speak.

"Oh, monsieur, have mercy!" he gasped. "Do not kill me!"

I saw that he was thoroughly frightened for his life. He was but a
boy, and to a boy the imminent prospect of closing one's eyes forever
is not pleasant.

"Speak, then! Tell the truth!" I said, still holding him by the neck,
ready to tighten my clasp at any moment.

"I will, I will!" he said. "I went from Mlle. de Varion to M. de la
Chatre, with a message, and he kept me in his service."

"What message? The truth, boy! I shall see in your eyes whether or not it
be truth you tell me, and if you lie your eyes shall never look on the
world again. Quick, what message?"

"That I came from Mlle. de Varion to the governor," he answered, huskily,
"and that at the top of the hill that rises from the throne-shaped rock
by the river road to Narjec is the burrow of the Huguenot fox!"

The last doubt, the last hope, was gone!

"My God!" I cried, and cast the boy away from me. What now to me was he
or anything that he might do or say? He cowered for a moment on the
ground, looking up at me, and then, seeing that I no longer heeded him,
ran out to the courtyard.

For a moment I stood alone in the vestibule, crushed by the terrible
certainty. All women, then, were as bad as Mlle. d'Arency. The sweet and
tender girl who had filled my heart was as the worst of them. To be
betrayed was deplorable, but to be betrayed by her! To find her a
traitress was terrible, but that I should be her dupe! And that I should
still love her, love her, love her!

What, she was in the chateau, under this roof, and I tarried here
deploring her treason when I might be at her side, clasping her, looking
into her eyes! "In the chamber at the head of the staircase," the guard
had said. I forgot Frojac, the guard, Pierre. But one thought, one
desire, one impulse, possessed me. With my dripping sword in my hand, I
bounded up the stairs. They led me to a narrow gallery, which had windows
on the side next the courtyard. There were doors on the other side. A
single light burned. No one was in the gallery. The door nearest the
staircase landing was slightly open. I ran to it and into the chamber to
which it gave entrance.

As in the gallery, so in the chamber, I found no one. I stood just within
the threshold and looked around. The walls of the apartment were hung
with tapestry. At the right was first a window, then a chimney-place,
beside which stood a sword, then a _prieu-dieu._ Before the fireplace was
a table, on which were a lamp burning, paper, ink, pens, and a large bowl
of fruit. At the left of the chamber was a large bed, its curtains drawn
aside. Beside this was another table, on which was an empty tray. There
was a door, slightly ajar, in that side of the room, and another in the
side that faced me. On the back of a chair near the fireplace was slung a
hunting-horn. On a stool near the door by which I had entered lay a belt
with a dagger in sheath. The bed looked as if some one had recently lain
on it. The presence of the fruit, writing materials, and other things
seemed to indicate that this was the chamber of M. de la Chatre. But why
was he not in his bed? Probably he could not sleep while he awaited the
result of this midnight enterprise of his troops. Certainly the servants
in the chateau were asleep. It was apparent that the six guards, four of
whom we had disposed of, were the only soldiers left at the chateau, for,
if there had been any others in the guard-house, they would have been
awakened by the fight in the courtyard. How many troops were left in the
town, I could not know, but they would not come to the chateau during the
night unless brought by an alarm. So there would not be many to interpose
themselves between mademoiselle and me. But where was she? Whither
should I first turn to seek her.

I had well-nigh chosen to try the room at the left, when the door
opposite me opened without noise, and a figure glided into the chamber,
swiftly and silently. The movement was that of a person who rapidly
traverses a place in search of some one.

"Mademoiselle!"

She heard me, saw me, stopped, and stood with parted lips, astounded
face, and terror-stricken eyes.

So we stood, the width of the room between us, regarding each other.




CHAPTER XVI.

BEHIND THE CURTAINS


So we stood. Irresistible as had been my impulse to follow her, I now
found myself held back, as if by the look in her eyes, from approaching
nearer. So, while she gazed at me in wonder and terror, I regarded her
with inexpressible scorn and love, horror and adoration.

Presently she spoke, in a terrified whisper:

"Why are you here?"

I answered in a low voice:

"Because you are here. Like a poisonous flower you lure me. A flower you
are in outward beauty! Never was poison more sweetly concealed than is
treachery in you!"

"You were mad to follow me!" she said, and then she cast a quick,
apprehensive glance around the chamber, a glance that took in the
different doors one after another.

I thought she meant that, as we were in the stronghold of my enemies and
her friends, it would be madness in me to attempt to punish her
treachery. So I replied:

"Seek not to fright me from vengeance, for I intend none! I did not come
to punish. I do not know why it is, but where you are not I cannot rest.
I am drawn to you as by some power of magic. I would be with you even in
hell! Spy, traitress that you are, I love you! Your dupe that I am, I
love you!" I went to where, with downcast eyes, she stood, and I caught
her hand and pressed it to my lips. "I make myself a jest, a thing for
laughter, do I not, kissing the hand that would slay me?"

She raised her eyes, and held out her hand towards the fire-place,
saying:

"The hand that I would thrust into the flame to save you from the
lightest harm!"

What? Now that I was here, now that my capture seemed certain, would she
pretend that she had not acted for La Chatre against me? She did not know
that I had met Pierre, and what he had confessed to me.

"Mock me as you will, mademoiselle!" said I.

"Mistrust me as _you_ will, monsieur! I tell you, I would not have you
undergo the smallest harm!"

"You well sustain the jest!"

"Before God," she answered, "I do not jest!"

There was in her voice a ring of earnestness that seemed impossible to be
counterfeit. Puzzled, I looked at her, trying to read her countenance.

"Yet," I said, presently, "you were a spy upon me!"

"I was, God pity me! Scourge me with rough words as you will; I merit
every blow!"

"And you came here to see La Chatre," I went on, "perhaps because you
feared discovery, perhaps because you thought your work of betrayal was
done" (for I thought that she may have known of the midnight march of the
governor's troops), "perhaps to finish that work!"

"Now you wrong me at last!" she cried. "Thank God, I am not as bad as you
can think me!"

"Then you did not come here to see La Chatre?"

"I came to see him, I admit! I was seeking him when I met you here. But
it was not because I feared discovery that I left you, nor because I
thought my miserable work was done, nor to finish it."

I saw now that she was in great agitation. She tottered forward to the
table and put her hand on it, and leaned on it for support.

It seemed as if she were speaking the truth, as if there might be some
explanation of all, but that her inward excitement was too great, her
ideas too confused, for her to assemble the facts and present them in
proper order. It seemed that she could answer my accusations only as they
came, that she acknowledged herself guilty in part towards me, and yet
did not wish me harm.

"Mademoiselle," I said, dropping my harshness and irony, "to believe you
true would make me as happy as I now am wretched. But why is your boy
here, in the governor's service? Why did he carry from you the secret of
my hiding-place?"

Mademoiselle shuddered and gave a gesture of despair, as if there were
indeed no defence for her.

"Why are the troops away, if not in quest of me?" I asked. "We saw them
going towards Maury by the river road."

"I did not know that the troops had gone, or were going," she said. "I
swear to you, monsieur, if troops have gone to Maury this night, I had
nothing to do with their going!"

"But they knew what road to take, and how to find my hiding-place. La
Chatre knew that."

"Alas, it is true!" she moaned, while tears ran down her face. "I sent
him word!"

"You sent him word! You learned how to reach La Tournoire's hiding-place
from the man you thought his friend, and you sent the secret to the
governor, whom you knew to be his enemy? And yet you are not as bad as I
can think you!"

"I sent him word of your hiding-place; but he was not to seize you till I
had arranged a meeting with you alone and informed him of it!"

"You confess this! Oh, mademoiselle!"

"Consider! Did I arrange that meeting?"

"You had not time. It was but this afternoon you learned La Chatre was at
Clochonne."

"Yet, instead of coming here to-night I might have done it, monsieur. I
ran no risk of discovery in staying at Maury. You would still have had
faith in me had I remained there. And it was easy to do; it was all
planned. You know the old tower by the spring, to which we walked the
other day. I was to send Hugo at midnight to M. de la Chatre, with word
to have his men hidden there to-morrow at sunset. To-morrow I was to go
off into the forest with Jeannotte, and at sunset she was to come to you,
saying that I was at the tower grievously injured. You would have gone,
monsieur, without waiting to call any of your men; you would have come at
my summons on the instant, to the end of the world--"

"You knew that? Truly, the heart of man is an open page to women!"

"It was easily to be done, monsieur. Hugo could have shown the troops the
way. The place was well chosen. Neither your sentinels nor the inn people
would have seen the troops. They would have hidden there in wait for you.
So we had planned it, I and Jeannotte; but I abandoned it. I gave no
orders to Hugo. I came to Clochonne."

"Yes, knowing, perchance, that I would come after you. You thought to
make of Clochonne a trap into which to lead me! You were careful to let
it be known where you were coming, that I might find out and follow!"

"I told only my maid and Hugo, in a moment of excitement, when I scarce
knew what I said. I no more desired you to follow than I desired myself
to stay at Maury to call you to the ambush!"

"The ambush!" I echoed. "You forget one thing, mademoiselle, when you
take credit for renouncing the ambush. The troops have gone already to
Maury. Had they found me there, they would have made your ambush
unnecessary or impossible."

"But I knew nothing of their going to Maury," she said, helplessly. "It
was not to have been so. You were to have been taken by an ambush, I say!
If the governor sent troops to attack you to-night, he must have changed
the plan."

Now, I could indeed believe this, for I had overheard the plan suggested
by Montignac, and her very talk about the ambush seemed to show that his
plan had been adopted without change. In that case, she might not have
known of the movement of the troops. La Chatre might have decided, at
any time, to change his plan. Perhaps he had done this, and, for lack of
means or for some other reason, had not tried to inform her, or had
tried in vain.

She stood like an accused woman before her judges, incapable of
formulating her defence, expressing her distress by an occasional low,
convulsive sob. What did her conduct mean? Was her demeanor genuine or
assumed? Why did she confess one thing and deny another? Why did she seem
guilty and not guilty?

"I am puzzled more and more," I said. "I thought that, when I saw you, I
should at least learn the truth. I should at least know whether to love
you as an angel, who had been wronged alike by circumstances and by
report, or as a beautiful demon, who would betray me to my death; but I
am not even to know what you are. You betrayed my hiding-place. So far,
at least, you are guilty; but you did not arrange the ambush that you
were to have arranged. For so much you claim credit. Whatever are your
wishes in regard to me, they shall be fulfilled. I am yours, to be sent
to my death, if that is your will. What would you have me do?"

"Save yourself!" she whispered, eagerly, her eyes suddenly aflame with a
kind of hope, as if the possibility had just occurred to her.

Was this pretence? Did she know that I could not escape, and did she yet
wish, for shame's or vanity's sake, to appear well in my eyes?

"I shall not leave you," I said, quietly.

"Hark!" she whispered. "Some one comes!"

She looked towards the door near the head of the bed, the door that was
slightly ajar. She looked aghast, as one does at the apprehension of a
great and imminent danger. "Go while there is time! Do you not hear? It
is the voice of La Chatre! I recognize it! And the other,--his secretary,
Montignac! Go, go, I pray you on my knees, flee while there is yet time!"

She did indeed fall to her knees, clutching my arm with one hand, and
with the other trying to push me from the room, all the while showing a
very anguish of solicitude on her white face. Her eyes plead with me for
my own deliverance. The voices, which I too recognized, came nearer and
nearer, but slowly, as if the speakers were impeded in their progress
through the adjoining chamber. "Save yourself, save yourself!" she
continued to whisper.

"Come what may," I whispered in reply, my hand tightening on my sword, "I
will not leave you!"

"Then," she whispered, rapidly, seeing that I was not to be moved, "if
you will court death, at least know me first as I am,--no better, no
worse! Hide somewhere,--there behind the bed-curtains,--and hear what I
shall say to La Chatre! After that, if death find you, he shall find me
with you! I implore you, conceal yourself."

There was no pretence now, I was sure. Mystified, yet not doubting, I
whispered: "I yield, mademoiselle! God knows I would believe you
innocent!" and went behind the curtains, at the foot of the bed. It was
easy to stand behind these without disturbing the natural folds in which
they fell to the floor. The curtains at the sides also served to shield
me from view, so that I could not have been seen except from within the
bed itself.

I had no sooner found this concealment, and mademoiselle had no sooner
taken her place, standing with as much composure as she could assume, a
short distance from the foot of the bed, than M. de la Chatre and his
secretary entered the chamber. Peering between the curtains, I saw that
La Chatre was lame, and that he walked with the aid of a stick on one
side and Montignac's shoulder on the other.

"To think," he was saying as he came in, "that the misstep of a horse
should have made a helpless cripple of me, when I might have led this
hunt myself!"

I assumed that the "hunt" was the expedition to Maury, and smiled to
think how far was the game from the place of hunting.

The undisturbed mien of La Chatre showed that he had not heard of the
arrival of mademoiselle or of myself, or of the brief fight in the
courtyard. He would not have worn that look of security had he known
that, of six guards at the chateau, three now lay dead in the courtyard,
one had fled, and two were being looked after by my man Frojac.

He wore a rich chamber-robe and was bareheaded. Montignac was attired
rather like a soldier than like a scribe, having on a buff jerkin and
wearing both sword and dagger. His breeches and hose were of dull hue,
so that the only brightness of color on him was the red of his hair and
lips. It was, doubtless, from an excess of precaution that he went so
well armed in the chateau at so late an hour. Yet I smiled to see
weapons on this slight and fragile-looking youth, whose strength lay in
his brain rather than in his wrist. With great interest I watched him
now, knowing that he had devised the plan for my capture, had caused
Mlle. de Varion to be sent on her mission against me, and had sent De
Berquin on his mission against her. This march of the troops to Maury,
also, was probably his doing, even though it did imply a change from the
plan overheard by me, and confessed by mademoiselle. He had, too, if De
Berquin had told the truth, resolved to possess mademoiselle. He was
thus my worst foe, this subtle youth who had never seen me, and whom I
had never injured. He still had that look of mock humility, repressed
scorn, half-concealed derision, hidden ambition, vast inner resource,
mental activity, all under a calm and thoughtful countenance, over which
he had control.

It was not until they had passed the bed that they saw mademoiselle.
Both stopped and looked astonished. Montignac recognized her at once,
and first frowned, as if annoyed; then looked elated, as if her
presence suited his projects. But La Chatre did not immediately know
her. He lost color, as if it were a spirit that he saw, and, indeed,
mademoiselle, motionless and pale, looked not unlike some beautiful
being of another world.

"Who are you?" asked La Chatre, in a startled tone.

"It is I--Mlle. de Varion."

La Chatre promptly came to himself; but he looked somewhat confused,
abashed, and irritated.

"Mlle. de Varion, indeed!" he said. "And why comes Mlle. de Varion here?"

And now Montignac spoke, fixing his eyes on La Chatre, and using a quiet
but resolute tone:

"She comes too late. La Tournoire will be taken without her aid."

"Be silent, Montignac!" said La Chatre, assuming the authoritative for
the sake of appearance. "It is true, mademoiselle; you are too late in
fulfilling your part of the agreement."

He spoke with some embarrassment, and I began to see why. Inasmuch as he
had been at Clochonne but little more than one day, no more time had
passed than would have been necessary for the arrangement of the ambush.
Therefore it could not be honestly held that she had been tardy in
fulfilling her mission; that is to say, when he told her that she was too
late, he lied. Hence his embarrassment, for he was a gentleman. Now why
did he put forth this false pretext of tardiness on her part?

"Too late in fulfilling your part of the agreement," said the governor.

"I came, monsieur," said mademoiselle, heedless of the lie and the
apparent attempt to put her at fault, "to be released from my agreement."

Montignac looked surprised, then displeased. La Chatre appeared relieved,
but astonished.

"Released, mademoiselle?" he exclaimed, assuming too late a kind of
virtuous displeasure to cover his real satisfaction.

"Released, monsieur!" said mademoiselle. "I shall no further help you
take M. de la Tournoire. It was to tell you that, and for nothing else in
the world, that I came to Clochonne this night!"

She was close to the bed-curtains behind which I stood. I felt that her
words were meant for my ears as well as for the governor's.

"I shall not need your help, mademoiselle," replied the governor, with a
side smile at Montignac. "Yet this is strange. You do not, then, wish
your father's freedom?"

"Not on the terms agreed on, monsieur! Not to have my father set free
from prison, not even to save him from torture, not even from death. I
take back my promise, and give you back your own. I gave you word of La
Tournoire's hiding-place, and so far resigned my honor. I abandon my
hateful task unfinished, and so far I get my honor back. And, now, do as
you will!"

I could have shouted for joy!

This, then, explained it all. She had undertaken to betray me, but it
was to save her father! I remembered now. They had wanted a spy "who
would have all to lose by failure." Such were Montignac's words at the
inn at Fleurier. A spy, too, who might gain a wary man's confidence, and
with whom a rebel captain might desire or consent to a meeting away from
his men. Hardly had their need been uttered when there came mademoiselle
to beg a pardon for her father. A woman, beautiful and guileless, whom
any man might adore and trust, of whom any man might beg a tryst; a
woman, whose father was already in prison, his fate at the governor's
will; a woman, inexperienced and credulous, easily made to believe that
her father's crime was of the gravest; a woman, dutiful and
affectionate, willing to purchase her father's life and freedom at any
cost. What better instrument could have come to their hands? Her anxiety
to save her father would give her the powers of dissimulation necessary
to do the work. Her purity and innocence were a rare equipment for the
task of a Delilah. Who would suspect her of guile and intrigue any more
than I had done?

And now, having gone as far as she had in the task, she had abandoned it.
Even to save her father, she would no more play the traitress against me!
Against _me_! She loved me, then! Her task had become intolerable. She
must relieve herself of it. Yet as long as La Chatre still supposed that
she was carrying it out, she would feel bound by her obligation to him.
She must free herself of that obligation. She had made a compact with
him, she had given him her word. Though she resolved not to betray me,
she would not betray him either. He must no longer rely on her for the
performance of a deed that she had cast from her. She must not play false
even with him. All must hereafter be open and honest with her. The first
step towards regaining her self-respect was to see the governor and
renounce the commission. Then, but not till then, would she dare confess
all to me. I saw all this in an instant, as she had felt it, for people
do not arrive at such resolutions slowly and by reason, but instantly and
by feeling.

And all that she had done and suffered had been to save her father! Had I
but told her at once of my intention to deliver him, if possible, all
this, and my own hours of torment, might have been avoided. From what
little things do events take their course!

I rejoiced, I say, behind the curtains, on learning the truth. What
matter if we met death together in the enemy's stronghold, now that she
was pure and loved me? And yet, if we could but find a way out of this,
and save her father as well, what joy life would have!

La Chatre cast another jubilant smile at Montignac. The governor was
plainly delighted that mademoiselle herself had given up the task, now
that he had changed his plans and had no further use for her in them. It
relieved him of the disagreeable necessity of making her an explanation
composed of lies. He was really a gallant and amiable gentleman, and
subterfuge, especially when employed against a lady, was obnoxious to
him. As for Montignac, he stood frowning meditatively. He surely guessed
that mademoiselle's act was inspired by love for me, and the thought was
not pleasant to him.

Suddenly the governor turned quite pale, and asked quickly, in
some alarm:

"Did you speak the truth when you sent word of his hiding-place?"

It would, indeed, have been exasperating if he had sent his troops on a
false scent.

Mademoiselle hesitated a moment, then turned her eyes towards the
bed-curtains, and said:

"Yes, monsieur."

Her look, as I saw it, expressed that my position was not so bad, after
all, as long as the troops were away, and La Chatre supposed that I was
at Maury being captured by them.

La Chatre, reassured by her tone, which of course had the ring of truth,
again breathed freely.

"Then I release you from your agreement, mademoiselle," he said, and
added slowly and with a curious look at Montignac, "and your father may
languish in the chateau of Fleurier. But note this, mademoiselle: you
withdraw your aid from our purpose of capturing this traitor. Therefore,
you wish him freedom. For you, in the circumstances, not to oppose him is
to aid him. That is treason. I must treat you accordingly, mademoiselle."

"I have said, do with me as you will," she answered. For a time, relieved
of the burden that had weighed so heavily on her, she seemed resigned to
any fate. It was not yet that her mind rose to activity, and she began to
see possibilities of recovering something from the ruins.

And now the demeanor of La Chatre became peculiar. He spoke to
mademoiselle, while he looked at Montignac, as if he were taking an
unexpected opportunity to carry out something prearranged between him
and the secretary; as if he were dissembling to her, and sought
Montignac's attention and approval. His look seemed to say to the
secretary, "You see how well I am doing it?" Montignac stood with folded
arms and downcast eyes, attending carefully to La Chatre's words, but
having too much tact to betray his interest.

"And yet," said La Chatre, "you have been of some service to me in this
matter, and I would in some measure reward you. You sent me information
of La Tournoire's whereabouts, and for so much you deserve to be paid.
But you leave unfinished the service agreed on, and of course you cannot
claim your father's release."

"Yet, if I have at all served you in this, as unhappily I have, there is
no other payment that you possibly can make me," said mademoiselle.

"The question as to whether you ought to be rewarded for what you have
done, or held guilty of treasonable conduct in withdrawing at so late a
stage," said La Chatre, "is a difficult matter for me to deal with. There
may be a way in which it can be settled with satisfaction to yourself. It
is your part, not mine, to find such a way and propose it. You may take
counsel of some one--of my secretary, M. Montignac. He is one who, unlike
yourself, is entitled to my favor and the King's, and who may, on
occasion, demand some deviation from the strict procedure of justice.
Were he to ask, as a favor to himself, special lenience for your father,
or even a pardon and release, his request would have to be seriously
considered. Advise her, Montignac. I shall give you a few minutes to talk
with her."

And La Chatre, aided by his stick, made his way to the window, where he
stood with his back towards the other two.

I was not too dull to see that all this was but a clumsy way of
throwing mademoiselle's fate and her father's into the hands of
Montignac. The governor's manner, as I have indicated, showed that he
had previously agreed to do this on fit occasion, and that he now
perceived that occasion.

A new thought occurred to me. Had Montignac, coming more and more to
desire mademoiselle, and doubting the ability of his hastily found
instrument, De Berquin, sought and obtained the governor's sanction to
his wishes? Had he advised this midnight march to Maury in order that I
might be caught ere mademoiselle could fulfil her mission; in order,
that is to say, to prevent her from earning her father's freedom by the
means first proposed; in order that La Chatre might name a new price for
that freedom; in order, in fine, that herself should be the price, and
Montignac the recipient? Montignac could persuade the governor to
anything, why not to this? It was a design worthy alike of the
secretary's ingenuity and villainy. Circumstance soon showed that I was
right, that the governor had indeed consented to this perfidy.
Mademoiselle's unexpected arrival at Clochonne had given excellent
occasion for the project to be carried out. The governor himself had
recognized the fitness of the time. No wonder that he had at first
falsely charged her with tardiness, pretended that her delay had caused
the alteration of his plans. He had needed a pretext for having sent his
troops to capture me so that he might cheat her of her reward. I burned
with indignation. That two men of power and authority should so trick a
helpless girl, so use her love for her father to serve their own
purposes, so employ that father's very life as coin with which to buy
her compliance, so cozen her of the reward of what service she had done,
so plot to make of her a slave and worse, so threaten and use and cheat
her! No man ever felt greater wrath than I felt as I stood behind the
curtains and saw Montignac lift his eyes to mademoiselle's in obedience
to the governor's command. Yet, by what power I know not, I held myself
calm, ready to act at the suitable moment. I had taken a resolution, and
would carry it out if sword and wit should serve me. But meanwhile I
waited unseen.

Mademoiselle drew back almost imperceptibly, and on her face came the
slightest look of repugnance. From her manner of regarding him, it was
evident that this was not the first time she had been conscious of his
admiration and felt repelled by it. The meeting in the inn at Fleurier
had left with her a vastly different impression from that which it had
left with him.

Without smiling, he now bowed very courteously, and placed a chair for
her near where she stood.

"Mademoiselle," he said, with great tenderness, yet most respectfully, "a
harder heart than mine would be moved by your gentleness and beauty."

And here my own heart beat very rapidly at sound of another man speaking
so adoringly to my beloved.

She looked at him questioningly, as if his tone and manner showed that
she had misjudged him. His bearing was so gentle and sympathetic that she
could not but be deceived by it. She ceased to show repugnance, and sat
in the chair that he had brought.

"Monsieur," she said, "in my first opinion I may have wronged you. If
your heart is truly moved, you can demonstrate your goodness by asking
for my father's freedom. M. de la Chatre will grant it to you. You have a
claim on his favor, as he says, while I have none. Free my father, then,
and make me happy!"

Poor Julie! She thought not of herself. She knew that it would be
useless to ask anything for me. Yet there was one thing that might be had
from the situation--her father's freedom. So she summoned her energies,
and devoted them to striving for that, though she was in terror of my
being at any moment discovered.

"I would make you the happiest of women," said Montignac, in a low,
impassioned tone, falling on one knee and taking her hand, "if you would
make me the happiest of men."

Apprehension came into her eyes. She rose and moved towards the
bed-curtains, and, in the vain hope of turning him from his purpose by
pretending not to perceive it, said, with a sad little smile:

"Alas! it is out of my poor power to confer happiness!"

She half-turned her head towards where I stood behind the curtains,
partly at thought of the happiness that it seemed impossible for her to
confer on me, partly in fear lest Montignac's words might bring me forth.

"It is easily in your power to confer more than happiness," said
Montignac.

"How, monsieur?" she faltered, trembling under two fears, that of
Montignac's ardor and that of my disclosing myself. "I am puzzled to
know."

"By conferring your hand, mademoiselle," said Montignac, following her
and grasping her wrist. "Your father will be glad to give his consent for
his liberty, if he knows that you have given yours. But we can arrange to
proceed without his consent. Do not draw back, mademoiselle. It is
marriage that I offer, when I might make other terms. My family is a good
one; my prospects are the best, and I have to lay at your feet a love
that has never been offered to another, a love as deep as it is fresh--"

I clutched the curtain to give vent to my rage. Mademoiselle was looking
towards me, and saw the curtain move.

"Say no more!" she cried, fearful lest his continuance might be too much
for my restraint. "I cannot hear you?"

"I love you, mademoiselle," he went on, losing his self-control, so that
his face quivered with passion. "I can save you and your father!"

He thrust his face so close to hers that she drew back with an expression
of disgust.

"A fine love, indeed?" she cried, scornfully, "that would buy the love it
dare not hope to elicit free!" And she turned to La Chatre as if for
protection. But the governor shook his head, and remained motionless at
the window.

"A love you shall not despise, mademoiselle!" hissed Montignac, stung by
her scorn. He was standing by the table near the bed, and, in his
anger, he made to strike the table with his dagger, but he struck
instead the tray on the table, and so produced a loud, ringing sound
that startled the ear.

"Your fate is in my hands," he went on; "so is your father's. As for this
Tournoire, concerning whom you have suddenly become scrupulous, he is,
doubtless, by this time in the hands of the troops who have gone for him,
and very well it is that we decided not to wait for you to lead him to
us. So he had best be dismissed from your mind, as he presently will be
from this life. Accept me, and your father goes free! Spurn me, and he
dies in the chateau of Fleurier, and you shall still belong to me! Why
not give me what I have the power and the intention to take?"

"If you take it," cried mademoiselle, "that is your act. Were I to give,
that would be mine. It is by our own acts that we stand or fall in our
own eyes and God's!" She spoke loudly, in a resolute voice, as if to show
me that she could look to herself, so that I need not come out to her
defence,--for well she guessed my mind, and knew that, though she had
consented a thousand times to betray me, I would not stand passive while
a man pressed his unwelcome love on her. And now, as if to force a change
of theme by sheer vehemence of manner, she turned her back towards
Montignac and addressed La Chatre with a fire that she had not
previously shown.

"You have heard the proposal of this buyer of love! You hear me reject
it! M. de la Chatre, I hold you to your word. I have been of some service
to you in the matter of La Tournoire, and you would, in some measure,
reward me! You have said it! Very well! You expect to capture him
to-night at his hiding-place. Through me you learned that hiding-place,
therefore, through me you will have taken him. There is but one possible
way in which you can reward me: Keep your word! What if I did refuse to
plan the ambush? You yourself had already decided to dispense with that.
In the circumstances, all that I could have done for you I have done.
Would I could undo it! But I cannot! Therefore, give me now, at once, an
order that I may take to Fleurier for my father's release!"

La Chatre was plainly annoyed, for he loved to keep the letter of his
word. He could not deceive this woman, as he had at first felicitated
himself on doing, with a false appearance of fair dealing. She saw
through that appearance. It was indeed irritating to so honest a
gentleman. To gain time for a plausible answer, he moved slowly from the
window to the centre of the chamber. At the same time, mademoiselle, to
be further from Montignac, went towards the door by which she had entered
the room on my arrival. The secretary, with wolf-like eyes, followed
her, and both turned so as still to face the governor.

"I shall devise some proper reward for you," said La Chatre, slowly. "I
adhere always to the strict letter of my word; but I am not bound to free
your father. The strict letter of my word, remember! Recall my words to
you at the inn. I recall them exactly, and so does Montignac, who this
very evening reminded me of--ahem, that is to say, I recall them exactly.
I was to send the order to the governor of Fleurier for your father's
immediate release the instant I should stand face to face with the Sieur
de la Tournoire in the chateau of Clochonne."

I threw aside the bed-curtain, stepped forth, and said:

"That time has come, monsieur!"




CHAPTER XVII.

SWORD AND DAGGER


M. de la Chatre could not have been more surprised if a spirit had risen
from the floor at his feet. He stared at me with startled eyes. I had
sheathed my sword while behind the curtains, and now I stood motionless,
with folded arms, before him. Mademoiselle uttered a slight cry.
Montignac, who stood beside her, was as much taken aback as La Chatre
was, but was quicker to comprehend the situation. Without moving from his
attitude of surprise, he regarded me with intense curiosity and hate.
This was his first sight of me, hence his curiosity. He had already
inferred that mademoiselle loved me, therefore his hate.

"Who are you?" said La Chatre, at last, in a tone of mingled alarm and
resentment, as one might address a supernatural intruder.

"The Sieur de la Tournoire," said I, "standing face to face with you in
the chateau of Clochonne! You shall give mademoiselle that order for her
father's release, or you shall never break your word again."

And I drew my sword, and held it with its point towards his breast.

The fear of death blanched his cheeks and spurred his dull wits.

"Montignac," he cried, keeping his eyes fixed on mine, "if this man makes
a move, kill the woman!"

In his situation of peril, his mind had become agile. He had suddenly
perceived how things were between mademoiselle and me.

As I have shown, Montignac stood with mademoiselle at some distance from
La Chatre and myself. I dared not take my eye from the governor, lest he
should step out of reach of my sword; but I could hear Montignac quickly
unsheathe his dagger, and mademoiselle give a sharp ejaculation of pain.
Then I turned my head for a moment's glance, and saw that he had caught
her wrist in a tight grasp, and that he held his dagger ready to plunge
it into her breast.

For a short time we stood thus, while I considered what to do next. It
was certain that Montignac would obey the governor's order, if only out
of hatred for me and in revenge on her for his despised love, though he
might fall by my sword a moment later. Therefore, I did not dare go to
attack him any more than I dared attack La Chatre. The governor, of
course, would not let her be killed unless I made some hostile movement,
for if she were dead nothing could save him from me, unless help came. He
feared to call for help, I suppose, lest rather than be taken I should
risk a rush at Montignac, and have himself for an instant at my mercy,
after all.

I cast another glance at Montignac, and measured the distance from me to
him, to consider whether I might reach him before he could strike
mademoiselle. La Chatre must have divined my thought, for he said:

"Montignac, I will deal with this gentleman. Take mademoiselle into that
chamber and close the door." And he pointed to the door immediately
behind mademoiselle, the one by which I had first seen her enter.

"But, monsieur--" began Montignac.

"I had not quite finished, Montignac," went on La Chatre. "I have my
reason for desiring you and the lady to withdraw. Fear not to leave me
with him. Lame as I am, I am no match for him, it is true, but
mademoiselle shall continue to be a hostage for his good behavior."

"I understand," said Montignac, "but how shall I know--?"

"Should M. de la Tournoire make one step towards me," said the
governor,--here he paused and took up the hunting-horn and looked at it,
but presently dropped it and pointed to the bowl of fruit on the table
near the fireplace,--"I shall strike this bowl, thus." He struck the
bowl with his stick, and it gave forth a loud, metallic ring, like that
previously produced by Montignac's dagger from the tray on the other
table. "The voice is not always to be relied on," continued the governor.
"Sometimes it fails when most needed. But a sound like this," and he
struck the bowl again, "can be made instantly and with certainty. Should
you hear one stroke on the bowl,--one only, not followed quickly by a
second stroke,--let mademoiselle pay for the rashness of her champion!"

"Yes, monsieur," replied Montignac, a kind of diabolical triumph in
his voice.

"It may be," said La Chatre, "that no such violent act will be necessary,
and that I shall merely require your presence here. In that case, I shall
strike twice rapidly, thus. Therefore, when you hear a stroke, wait an
instant lest there be a second stroke. But if there be no second, act as
I have told you."

"After you, mademoiselle," said Montignac, indicating by a motion his
desire that she should precede him backward out of the chamber. He still
clutched her arm and held his dagger aloft, intending thus to back out of
the room after her.

"I will not go!" she answered, trying to resist the force that he was
using on her arm.

This was the first resistance she had offered She had previously stood
motionless beneath his lifted dagger, feeling herself unable to break
from his grasp of iron, and supposing that any effort to do so would
bring down the dagger into her delicate breast. A woman's instinctive
horror of such a blow deterred her from the slightest movement that might
invite it. She had trusted to me for what action might serve to save us
from our enemies. But now her terror of leaving my presence, and her
horror of being alone with Montignac, overcame her fear of the dagger. "I
will not go!" she repeated.

"Go, mademoiselle," said I, gently, taking her glove from my belt, where
I had placed it, and kissing it, to show that I was still her devoted
chevalier. "Go! 'Tis the better way." For I welcomed any step that might
take Montignac from the chamber, and leave La Chatre's wit unaided to
cope with mine.

Her eyes showed submission, and she immediately obeyed the guidance
of Montignac's hand. Facing me still, he went out after her, and
closed the door.

I was alone with La Chatre.

"My secretary stood a little too near the point of your sword," said the
governor, "for the perfect security of my hostage. There was just a
possibility of your being too quick for him. I saw that you were
contemplating that possibility. As it is now, should I give him the
signal,--as I shall if you move either towards me or towards that
chamber,--he could easily put mademoiselle out of the way before you
could open the door. Not that I desire harm to mademoiselle. Her death
would not serve me at all It would, indeed, be something that I should
have to deplore. If I should deplore it, how much more would you! And
since you surely will not be so ungallant as to cause the death of so
charming a lady, I think I have you, let us say, at a slight
disadvantage!" And he sat down beside the table near the fireplace.

"I think not so, monsieur," said I, touching lightly with my sword's
point the tray on the table near the bed; "for should you strike once on
your bowl, I should very quickly strike once on this tray, so that two
strokes would be heard, and the obedient Montignac, mindful of his
orders, would enter this chamber, _not_ having slain mademoiselle."

I ought not to have disclosed this, my advantage. I ought rather to have
summoned Montignac by two strokes on the tray, and been at the door to
receive him. But I had not waited to consider. I spoke of the advantage
as soon as I noticed it, supposing that La Chatre, on seeing it, would
think himself at my mercy and would come to my terms. He was taken back
somewhat, it is true, but not much.

"Pah!" he said "After all, I could shout to him."

"It would be your last shouting. Moreover, your shouted orders would be
cut off unfinished, and the punctilious Montignac would be left in doubt
as to your wishes. Rather than slay mademoiselle on an uncertainty, he
would come hither to assure himself,--in which case God pity him!"

"Thank you for your warning, monsieur," said La Chatre, with mock
courtesy. "There shall be no shouting."

Whereupon he struck the bowl with his stick. Taken by surprise, I could
only strike my tray with my sword, so that two strokes might surely be
heard, although at the same time he gave a second stroke, showing that
his intention was merely to summon Montignac. In my momentary fear for
mademoiselle's life, and with my thoughts instantly concentrated on
striking the tray, I did not have the wit to leap to the door and receive
Montignac on my sword's point, as I would have done had I myself summoned
him, or had I expected La Chatre's signal.

So there I stood, far from the door, when it opened, and the secretary
advanced his foot across the threshold. Even then I made a movement as if
to rush on him, but he brought forward his left hand and I saw that it
still clutched the white wrist of mademoiselle. Only her arm was visible
in the doorway. Montignac still held his dagger raised. One step
backward and one thrust, and he could lay her dead at his feet. Had I
been ready at the door for him, I could have killed him before he could
have made these two movements; but from where I stood, I could not have
done so. So I listened in some chagrin to the governor's words.

"I change the signal, Montignac. At one stroke, do not harm the lady, but
come hither; but should you hear two strokes, or three, or any number
more, she is to be sacrificed."

"My dagger is ready, monsieur!"

Again the door closed; again I was alone with La Chatre.

I had lost my former advantage. For now, should I strike my tray
once, for the purpose of summoning Montignac, so that I might be at
the door to slay him at first sight, the governor could strike his
bowl, and Montignac would hear two strokes or more--signal for
mademoiselle's death.

"And now, monsieur," said the governor, making himself comfortable in his
chair between table and fireplace, "let us talk. You see, if you approach
me or that door, or if you start to leave this chamber, I can easily
strike the bowl twice before you take three steps."

I could see that he was not as easy in his mind as he pretended to be. It
was true that, as matters now were, his life was secure through my regard
for mademoiselle's; but were he to attempt leaving the room or calling
help, or, indeed, if help were to come uncalled, and I should find my own
life or liberty threatened, I might risk anything, even mademoiselle's
life, for the sake of revenge on him. He would not dare save himself by
letting me go free out of his own chateau. To do that would bring down
the wrath of the Duke of Guise, would mean ruin. That I knew well. If I
should go to leave the chamber, he would give the signal for Montignac to
kill mademoiselle. As for me. I did not wish to go without her or until I
should have accomplished a certain design I had conceived. Thus I was La
Chatre's prisoner, and he was mine. Each could only hope, by thought or
talk, to arrive at some means of getting the better of the other.

La Chatre's back was towards the door by which I had entered. By mere
chance, it seemed, I turned my head towards that door. At that instant,
my man, Frojac, appeared in the doorway. He had approached with the
silence of a ghost. He carried the arquebus that had belonged to the
guardsman, and his match was burning. Risking all on the possible effect
of a sudden surprise on the governor, I cried, sharply:

"Fire on that man, Frojac, if he moves."

La Chatre, completely startled, rose from his chair and turned about,
forgetful of the stick and bowl. When his glance reached Frojac, my good
man had his arquebus on a line with the governor's head, the match
dangerously near the breech.

"I have looked after the guards, monsieur," said Frojac, cheerily,
"both of them."

"Stand where you are," said I to him, "and if that gentleman attempts to
strike that bowl, see that he does not live to strike it more than once."

"He shall not strike it even once, monsieur!"

"You see, M. de la Chatre," said I, "the contents of an arquebus travel
faster than a man can."

"This is unfair!" were the first words of the governor, after his season
of dumb astonishment.

"Pardon me," said I. "It is but having you, let us say, at a slight
disadvantage; and now I think I may move."

I walked over to the governor's table and took up the bowl. La Chatre
watched me in helpless chagrin, informing himself by a side glance that
Frojac's weapon still covered him.

"You look somewhat irritated and disgusted, monsieur," said I. "Pray
sit down!"

As I held my sword across the table, the point in close proximity to his
chest, he obeyed, uttering a heavy sigh at his powerlessness. I then
threw the bowl into the bed, taking careful aim so that it might make no
sound. At that moment I saw La Chatre look towards the chamber in which
were Montignac and mademoiselle, and there came on his face the sign of
a half-formed project.

"See also, Frojac," said I, "that he does not open his mouth to shout."

"He shall be as silent as if born dumb, monsieur."

"Oh, he may speak, but not so loud as to be heard in the next chamber.
Look to it, Frojac."

"Very well, monsieur."

For I did not wish, as yet, that Montignac should know what was going on.
Through the closed door and the thick tapestried walls, only a loud cry,
or some such sound as a stroke on the resonant bowl or tray, could have
reached him. We had spoken in careful tones, La Chatre not daring to
raise his voice. Thus the closing of the door, intended by the governor
to make Montignac safer from a sudden rush on my part, now served my own
purpose. It is true that, since Frojac had appeared, and the governor
could not make his signal, I might have summoned Montignac by a single
stroke, and despatched him in the doorway. But now that my own position
was easier, I saw that such a manoeuvre, first contemplated when only a
desperate stroke seemed possible, was full of danger to mademoiselle. I
might bungle it, whereupon Montignac would certainly attempt one blow
against her, though it were his last. I must, therefore, use the governor
to release her from her perilous situation; but first I must use him for
another purpose, which the presence of the keen-witted Montignac might
defeat. Hence, the secretary was not yet to be made aware of the turn
things had taken.

There were three quills on the table. I took up one of them and dipped it
in the horn of ink.

"Shall I tell you of what you are thinking, monsieur," said I, observing
on the governor's face a new expression, that of one who listens and
makes some mental calculation.

"Amuse yourself as you please, monsieur," he answered.

"You are thinking, first, that as I am in your chateau, and not alone, I
have, doubtless, deprived you of all the soldiers left to guard your
chateau; secondly, that at a certain time, a few hours ago, your troops
set out for my residence; that they have probably now learned that I am
not there; that they have consequently started to return. You are asking
yourself what will happen if I am here when they arrive. Will I kill you
before I allow myself to be taken? Probably, you say. Men like me value
themselves highly, and sell themselves dearly. You would rather that I
leave before they come. Then you can send them on my track. Very well;
write, monsieur!" And I handed him the pen.

He looked at me with mingled vindictiveness and wonder, as if it were
remarkable that I had uttered the thoughts that any one in his position
must have had. Mechanically he took the pen.

"What shall I write?" he muttered.

"Write thus: To M. de Brissard, governor of Fleurier. Release M. de
Varion immediately. Let him accompany the man who bears this and who
brings a horse for him."

With many baitings, many side glances at Frojac's arquebus and my
sword-point, many glum looks and black frowns, he wrote, while I watched
from across the table. Then he threw the document towards me.

"Sign and seal," I said, tossing it back to him.

With intended slovenliness he affixed the signature and seal, then threw
the pen to the floor. I took the order, scanned it, and handed him
another pen.

"Excellent!" said I. "And now again!"

He made a momentary show of haughty, indignant refusal, but a movement of
my sword quelled the brief revolt in him.

"The bearer of this," I dictated, "M. de Varion, is to pass free in the
province, and to cross the border where he will."

This time he signed and affixed the seal without additional request. He
threw the second pen after the first, and looked up at me with a scowl.

"A bold, brave signature, monsieur! There is one pen left!" and I handed
him the third quill.

He took it with a look of wrath, after which he gave a sigh of forced
patience, and sat ready to write.

"The bearer of this, Ernanton de Launay--"

"Ernanton de Launay?" he repeated, looking up inquiringly.

"Ernanton de Launay, Sieur de la Tournoire,--" I went on.

He stared at me aghast, as if my presumption really passed all bounds,
but a glint of light on my sword caught his eye, he carried his eye along
to the point, which was under his nose, and he wrote:

"--is to pass free in the province, and from it, with all his company."

"No, no, no! I will never write that!"

Without an instant's hesitation, I drew back my sword as if to add weight
to an intended thrust. He gasped, and then finished the pass, signed it,
and attached the seal.

"Be assured," I said, as I took up the last order, "these will be used
before you shall have time to countermand them." He gritted his teeth at
this. "I thank you heartily, monsieur, and shall ask you to do no more
writing. But one favor will I claim,--the loan of a few gold pieces for
M. de Varion. Come, monsieur, your purse has ever been well fed!"

With a look of inward groaning, he negligently handed me some pieces, not
counting them.

"_Parbleu!_" he said. "You will ask me for my chateau next."

"All in good time. It is a good jest, monsieur, that while you visit me
at Maury by proxy, I return the visit at Clochonne in person and find
your chateau unguarded. To complete the jest, I need only take
possession. But I am for elsewhere. Frojac, come here."

While Frojac approached, I held my sword ready for any movement on
the part of my unhappy adversary, for I saw him cast a furtive look
at the tray on the other table, and I read on his face the birth of
some new design.

Rapidly I gave Frojac my commands, with the gold and the two orders
first written.

"Take this order immediately, with my horse and your own, to the chateau
of Fleurier. Secure M. de Varion's release, and fly with him at once from
the province, leaving by the western border, so that you cannot possibly
be forestalled by any troops or counter-orders that this gentleman may
send from here. Make your way speedily to Guienne."

"And in Guienne, monsieur?"

"You will doubtless find me at the camp of Henri of Navarre. As soon as
you see M. de Varion, assure him of the safety of his daughter. And now
to horse!"

"I am already on my way, monsieur!" And the good fellow ran from the
chamber and down the stairs. In a few moments I heard the horses
clattering out of the courtyard and over the bridge. Pleased at his zeal
and swiftness, I stepped to the window to wave him a godspeed. I thus
turned my back towards La Chatre.

Frojac saw me and waved in response, as he dashed down the moonlit way
towards the road to Fleurier.

I heard a stealthy noise behind me, and, turning, saw what made me
fiercely repent my momentary forgetfulness and my reliance on the
governor's lameness. The sight revealed plainly enough what new idea had
come into La Chatre's mind,--simply that, if he should give the signal
for mademoiselle's death, I would probably not stay to attack him, but
would instantly rush into the next chamber in the hope of saving her. He
could then fasten the door, and so hold me prisoner in that chamber until
the return of his troops. Well for us that he had not thought of this
before the arrival of Frojac!

He was already near the table on which was the tray, when I turned and
saw him. He raised his stick to strike the tray. I rushed after him.

He brought down his stick. The tray sounded, loud and bell-like. He heard
me coming, and raised his stick again. The second clang would be the
death-knell of my beloved!

But my sword was in time, my arm served. The blade met the descending
stick and knocked it from the governor's grasp. The same rush that took
me between La Chatre and the table carried me across the chamber to a
spot at one side of the door which Montignac at that moment threw open.

"You struck once, did you not, monsieur?" said Montignac, not seeing me,
for he naturally looked towards the centre of the chamber.

He held mademoiselle's wrist in his left hand, his dagger in his right. I
was at his right side. I was too near him to use my sword with effect, so
I contented myself with stepping quickly behind him and bringing my fist
down on his left arm above the elbow. This unexpected blow made him
involuntarily release mademoiselle's wrist, and informed him of my
whereabouts. The impulse of self-preservation caused him to rush forward
and turn. I then stepped in front of mademoiselle and faced him. All
this, from my turning from the window, was done in a moment.

"And now, M. de la Chatre," said I, "you may strike the bowl as often as
you please."

"M. de la Chatre," said Montignac, in a quick, resolute voice, "give me
leave to finish this!"

"As you will, Montignac!" replied the governor, moving towards the
window. His movement betrayed his thought. If his troops should return in
the next few minutes, I would be too busy with Montignac to attack
himself. There were two hopes for him. One was that, by some miracle,
Montignac might kill or wound me. The other was that the troops might
return before I should have finished with Montignac. La Chatre had
doubtless inferred that I had brought with me none of my men but Frojac;
therefore I alone was to be feared.

Montignac, keeping his eyes fixed on me, transferred his dagger to his
left hand, and drew his sword with his right. I, with my sword already in
my right hand, drew my dagger with my left.

"Monsieur," said I to Montignac, "I see with pleasure that you are not
a coward."

"You shall see what you shall see, monsieur!" he answered, in the voice
of a man who fears nothing and never loses his wits.

It was, indeed, a wonder that this man of thought could become so
admirable a man of action. There was nothing fragile in this pale
student. His eyes took on the hardness of steel. Never did more
self-reliant and resolute an antagonist meet me. The hate that was
manifest in his countenance did not rob him of self-possession. It only
strengthened and steadied him. At first I thought him foolhardy to face
so boldly an antagonist who wore a breastplate, but later I found that,
beneath his jerkin, he was similarly protected. I suppose that he had
intended to accompany the troops to Maury, had so prepared himself for
battle, and had not found opportunity, after the change of intention, to
divest himself.

Conscious of mademoiselle's presence behind me, I stood for a moment
awaiting the secretary's attack. In that moment did I hear, or but seem
to hear, the sound of many horses' footfalls on the distant road? I did
not wait to assure myself. Knowing that, if the governor's troops had
indeed found Maury abandoned, and had returned, quick work was
necessary, I attacked at the same instant as my adversary did. As I
would no more than disable an antagonist less protected than myself, I
made to touch him lightly in his right side; but my point, tearing away
a part of his jerkin, gave the sound and feel of metal, and thus I
learned that he too wore body armor. I was pleased at this; for now we
were less unequal than I had thought, and I might use full force. He had
tried to turn with his dagger this my first thrust, but was not quick
enough, whereas my own dagger caught neatly the sword-thrust that he
made simultaneously with mine.

"Oh, M. de Launay!" cried mademoiselle, behind me, in a voice of terror,
at the first swift clash of our weapons.

"Fear not for me, mademoiselle!" I cried, catching Montignac's blade
again with my dagger, and giving a thrust which he avoided by
leaping backward.

"Good, Montignac!" cried La Chatre, looking on from the window. "He
cannot reach you! If you cannot kill him, you may keep him engaged till
the troops come back!"

"I shall kill him!" was Montignac's reply, while he faced me with set
teeth and relentless eyes.

"Listen, monsieur!" cried mademoiselle. "If you die, I shall die with
you!" And she ran from behind me to the centre of the chamber, where I
could see her.

"And if I live?" I shouted, narrowly stopping a terrible thrust, and
stepping back between the table and the bed.

"If we live, I am yours forever! Ernanton, I love you!"

At last she had confessed it with her lips! For the first time, she had
called me by my Christian name! My head swam with joy.

"You kill me with happiness, Julie!" I cried, overturning the table
towards Montignac to gain a moment's breath.

"I shall kill you with my sword!" Montignac hurled the words through
clenched teeth. "For, by God, you shall have no happiness with her!"

His white face had an expression of demoniac hate, yet his thrusts became
the more adroit and swift, his guard the more impenetrable and firm. His
body was as sinuous as a wild beast's, his eye as steady. The longer he
fought, the more formidable he became as an adversary. He was worth a
score of Vicomtes de Berquin.

"Ernanton," cried mademoiselle, "you know all my treachery!"

"I know that you would have saved your father," I answered, leaping
backward upon the bed, to avoid the secretary's impetuous rush; "and
that I have saved him, and that, God willing, we shall soon meet him
in Guienne!"

"If he meets you, it will be in hell!" With this, Montignac jumped upon
the bed after me, and there was some close dagger play while I turned to
back out between the posts at the foot.

At this moment La Chatre gave a loud, jubilant cry, and mademoiselle,
looking out of the window, uttered a scream of consternation.

"The troops at last!" shouted La Chatre. "Hold out but another minute,
Montignac!"

So then I had heard aright. Alas, I thought, that the river road to Maury
should be so much shorter than the forest road; alas, that the governor's
troops should have had time to return ere Blaise had reached the junction
of the roads!

"My God, the soldiers have us in a trap!" cried mademoiselle, while I
caught Montignac's dagger-point with a bed-curtain, and stepped backward
from the bed to the floor.

"And mademoiselle shall be mine!"

As he uttered these words with a fiendish kind of elation, Montignac
leaped from the bed after me, releasing his dagger by pulling the curtain
from its fastening, while at the same time his sword-point, directed at
my neck, rang on my breast-plate.

"You shall not live to see the end of this, monsieur!" I replied,
infuriated at his premature glee.

And, having given ground a little, I made so quick an onslaught that, in
saving himself, he fell back against a chair, which overturned and took
him to the floor with it.

"Help, monsieur!" he cried to La Chatre, raising his dagger just in time
to ward off my sword.

The governor now perceived the sword that stood by the fireplace, took it
up, and thrust at me. Mademoiselle, who, in her distress at the sight of
the troops, had run to the _prie-dieu_ and fallen on her knees, saw La
Chatre's movement, and, rushing forward, caught the sword with both hands
as he thrust. I expected to see her fingers torn by the blade, but it
happened that the sword was still in its sheath, a fact which in our
excitement none of us had observed; so that when La Chatre tried to pull
the weapon from her grasp he merely drew it from the sheath, which
remained in her hands. By this time I was ready for the governor.

"Come on!" I cried. "It is a better match, two against me!"

And I sent La Chatre's sword flying from his hand, just in time to guard
against a dagger stroke from Montignac, who had now risen. Julie snatched
up the sword and held the governor at bay with it.

For some moments the distant clatter of galloping horses had been rapidly
increasing.

"Quick!" shouted La Chatre through the window to the approaching troops.
"To the rescue!"

And he stood wildly beckoning them on, but keeping his head turned
towards Montignac and me, who both fought with the greatest fury. For I
saw that I had found at last an antagonist requiring all my strength and
skill, one with whom the outcome was not at all certain.

The tumult of hoofs grew louder and nearer.

"Ernanton, fly while we can! The soldiers are coming!"

Mademoiselle threw La Chatre's sword to a far corner, ran to the door
leading from the stairway landing, closed it, and pushed home the bolt.

"They are at the gate! They are entering!" cried the governor, joyously.
"Another minute, Montignac!"

There was the rushing clank of hoofs on the drawbridge, then from the
courtyard rose a confused turbulence of horses, men, and arms.

Again my weapons clashed with Montignac's. Julie looked swiftly around.
Her eye alighted on the dagger that lay on one of the chairs. She drew it
from its sheath.

"If we die, it is together!" she cried, holding it aloft.

There came a deadened, thumping sound, growing swiftly to great volume.
It was that of men rushing up the stairs.

"To the rescue!" cried La Chatre. "But one more parry, Montignac!"

There was now a thunder of tramping in the hall outside the door.

"Ay, one more--the last!" It was I who spoke, and the speech was truth. I
leaped upon my enemy, between his dagger and his sword, and buried my
dagger in his neck. When I drew it out, he whirled around, clutched
wildly at the air, caught the curtain at the window, and fell, with the
quick, sharp cry:

"God have mercy on me!"

"Amen to that!" said I, wiping the blood from my dagger.

A terrible pounding shook the door, and from without came cries of
"Open." Mademoiselle ran to my side, her dagger ready for her breast. I
put my left arm around her.

"And now, God have mercy on _you_!" shouted La Chatre, triumphantly; for
the door flew from its place, and armed men surged into the chamber,
crowding the open doorway.

"Are we in time, my captain?" roared their leader, looking from the
governor to me.

And La Chatre tottered back to the fireplace, dumbfounded, for the leader
was Blaise and the men were my own.

Julie gave a glad little cry, and, dropping her dagger, sank to her knees
exhausted.

"Good-night, monsieur!" I said to La Chatre. "We thank you for your
hospitality!"




CHAPTER XVIII.

THE RIDE TOWARDS GUIENNE


I ordered the men to return to the courtyard, and, supporting Julie, I
followed them from the chamber, leaving M. de la Chatre alone with his
chagrin and the dead body of his secretary.

In the hall outside the governor's chamber, we found Jeannotte and Hugo,
for Blaise had brought them with him, believing that we would not return
to Maury. The gypsies had accompanied him as far as Godeau's inn, where
we had first met them. He had even brought as much baggage and provisions
as could be hastily packed on the horses behind the men. The only human
beings left by him at Maury were the three rascals who had so
blunderingly served De Berquin, but he had considerately unlocked the
door of their cell before his departure.

I begged mademoiselle to rest a while in one of the chambers contiguous
to the hall, and, when she and Jeannotte had left us, I told Blaise as
much of the truth as it needed to show mademoiselle as she was. I then
explained why he had found the draw-bridge down, the gate open, the
chateau undefended. He grinned at the trick that fate had played on our
enemies, but looked rather downcast at the lost opportunity of meeting
them at Maury.

"But," said he, looking cheerful again, "they will come back to
the chateau and find us here, and we may yet have some lively work
with them."

"Perchance," I said, "for I fear that mademoiselle cannot endure another
ride to-night. If she could, I would start immediately for Guienne. Our
work in Berry is finished."

"Then you shall start immediately," said a gentle but resolute voice
behind me. Mademoiselle, after a few minutes' repose, had risen and come
to demand that no consideration for her comfort should further imperil
our safety.

"But--" I started to object.

"Better another ride," she said, with a smile, "than another risking of
your life. I swear that I will not rest till you are out of danger. It is
not I who most need rest."

She looked, indeed, fresh and vigorous, as one will, despite bodily
fatigue, when one has cast off a heavy burden and found promise of new
happiness. When a whole lifetime of joy was to be won, it was no time to
tarry for the sake of weary limbs.

So it was decided that we should start at once southward, not resting
until we should be half-way across the mountains. As for my belated
foragers, we should have to let them take their chances of rejoining
us; and some weeks later they did indeed arrive at the camp in
Guienne with rich spoil, having found Maury given over to the owls
and bats as of yore.

The men cheered for joy at the announcement that we were at last to
rejoin our Henri's flying camp. In the guard-house we found Pierre and
the other guardsman, both securely bound by Frojac. We released Pierre
and sent him to his mistress. I put Blaise at the head of my company, and
we set forth, half of the troop going first, then mademoiselle and I,
then Jeannotte and the two boys, and lastly the other half of my force.
Looking back, I saw the lighted window of the governor's chamber, that
window whence I had looked out at Frojac and whence La Chatre had
mistakenly taken my men for his own. Doubtless he still sat in his
chamber, dazed and incapable of action, for after leaving him alone there
I neither saw nor heard him. Nor did we see any more troops or any
servants about the chateau. Some hasty scampering in distant apartments,
after the entrance of my men, was the only indication of inhabitants that
we had received. If there were other troops in the chateau than the six
we had disposed of, they followed the example of the servants and lay
close. As for the soldiers at the town guard-house, they must have heard
my men ride to the chateau, but they had wisely refrained from appearing
before a force greater than their own. I shall never cease to marvel that
the very night that took me and my men to Clochonne by one road took La
Chatre's guards and the town garrison to Maury by another.

When I sent Blaise to the head of the troops, I told him to set a good
pace, for the governor's men had indeed had time sufficient to have gone
to Maury, discovered their mistake, and come back, so much shorter is the
river road than the forest way. There was a likelihood, therefore, of
their reaching the point of junction, on their return, at any minute, and
I wished to be past that point and well up the mountain-side before they
should do so.

Julie rode very close to me, and as soon as we were out of the gate she
began in a low tone to speak of a thing that required no more explanation
to me; yet I let her speak on, for the relief of her heart. So, in a few
minutes, as we rode with the soldiers in the night, she eased her mind
forever of the matter.

"When I received word in Bourges," she said, "that my father was in
prison, I thought that I would die of grief and horror. They would not
let me see him, told me that his crime of harboring a Huguenot was a
grave one, that he had violated the King's edict, and might be charged
even with treason. The thought of how he must suffer in a dungeon was
more than I could endure. Only M. de la Chatre, they told me, could order
his release. La Chatre had left Fleurier to go northward. I started after
him, not waiting even to refresh my horses. When we reached the inn at
the end of the town, I had become sufficiently calm to listen to Hugo's
advice that it would be best to bait the horses before going further. I
began to perceive, too, that myself and Jeannotte needed some nourishment
in order to be able to go on a journey. Thus it happened that I stopped
at the inn where La Chatre himself was. He had not gone immediately north
from Fleurier, but had been visiting an estate in the vicinity, and it
was on regaining the main road that he had tarried at the inn, without
reentering the town. I had never seen him, but the girl at the inn told
me who he was.

"When I fell on my knees, and told him how incapable my father was of
harm or disloyalty, he at first showed annoyance, and said that my
pleading would be useless. My father must be treated as an example, he
said. To succor traitors was treason, to shield heretics was heresy, and
there was no doubt that the judges would condemn him to death, to furnish
others a lesson. He was then going to leave me, but his secretary came
forward and said that I had come at an opportune moment, an instrument
sent by Heaven. Was I not, he asked the governor, some one who had much
to gain or much to lose? Then La Chatre became joyful, and said that
there was a way--one only--by which I might free my father. Eagerly I
begged to know that way, but with horror I refused it when I learned that
it was to--to hunt down a certain Huguenot captain, to make him trust me,
and to betray him. For a time I would not hear his persuasions. Then he
swore that, if I did not undertake this detestable mission, my father
should surely die; and he told me that you were a deserter, a traitor, an
enemy to the church and to the King, I had heard your name but once or
twice, and I remembered it only as one who had worked with daring and
secrecy in the interests of the Huguenots. He described my father
tortured and killed, his body hanging at the gates of Fleurier, blown by
the wind, and attacked by the birds. Oh, it was terrible! All this could
be avoided, my father's liberty regained, by my merely serving the King
and the church. He gave his word that, if I betrayed you, my father
should be released without even a trial. You can understand, can you not?
You were then a stranger to me, and my father the most gentle and kindly
of men, the most tender and devoted of fathers."

"I understood already when I stood behind the curtain,
sweetheart," said I.

"When you came," she went on, "and asked whither I was bound, I made my
first attempt at lying. I wonder that you did not perceive my
embarrassment and shame when I said that the governor had threatened to
imprison me if I did not leave the province. It was the best pretext I
could give for leaving Fleurier while my father remained there in prison,
though they would not let me see him. It occurred to me that you must
think me a heartless daughter to go so far from him, even if it were,
indeed, to save my life."

"I thought only that you were an unhappy child, of whose inexperience and
fears the governor had availed himself; and that, after all, was the
truth. From the first moment when I knew that you were the daughter of M.
de Varion, I was resolved to attempt his rescue; but I kept my intention
from you, lest I might fail."

"Oh, to think that all the while I was planning your betrayal, you were
intending to save my father! Oh, the deception of which I was guilty!
What constant torture, what continual shame I felt! Often I thought I had
betrayed myself. Did you not observe my agitation when you first
mentioned the name of La Tournoire, and said that you would take me to
him. I wonder that you did not hear my heart say, 'That is the man I am
to betray!' And how bitter, yet sweet, it was to hear you commiserate my
dejection, which was due in part to the shame of the treacherous task I
had undertaken. It seemed to me that you ought to guess its cause, yet
you attributed it all to other sources. What a weight was on me while we
rode towards Clochonne, the knowledge that I was to betray the man whom I
then thought your friend,--the friend of the gentleman who protected me
and was so solicitous for my happiness! How glad I was when you told me
the man was no great friend of yours, that you would sacrifice him for
the sake of the woman you loved! After all, I thought you might not
loathe me when you should learn that I had betrayed him! Yet, to perform
my task in your presence, to make him love me--for I was to do that, if
needs be and it could be done--while you were with me, seemed impossible.
This was the barrier between us, the fact that I had engaged to betray
your friend, and you can understand now why I begged that you would leave
me. How could I play the Delilah in your sight? It had been hard enough
to question you about La Tournoire's hiding-place. And when I learned
that you were La Tournoire himself, whom I had already half betrayed in
sending Pierre to La Chatre with an account of your hiding-place; that
you whom I already loved--why should I not confess it?--were the man
whom I was to pretend to love; that you who already loved me were the man
whom I was to betray by making him love me,--oh, what a moment that was,
a moment when all hope died and despair overwhelmed me! Had I known from
the first that you were he, I might have guarded against loving you--"

"And well it is," said I, interrupting, "that for a jest and a surprise I
had kept that knowledge from you! Else you might indeed have--"

"Oh, do not think of it!" And she shuddered. "But you are right. Love
alone has saved us. But at first even the knowledge that you were La
Tournoire, and that none the less I loved you, did not make me turn back.
If my duty to my father had before required that I should sacrifice you,
did my duty not still require it? Did it make any change in my duty that
I loved you? What right had I, when devoted to a task like mine, to love
any one? If I had violated my duty by loving you, ought I not to
disregard my love, stifle it, act as if it did not exist? I had to forget
that I was a woman who loved, remember only that I was a daughter. My
filial duty was no less, my proper choice between my father and another
was not altered by my having fallen in love. I must carry my horrible
task to the end. What a night of struggle was that at the inn, after I
had learned that the appointed victim was you! And now it was necessary
that you should not leave me; therefore I spoke no more of the barrier
between us. I fortified myself to hide my feelings and maintain my
pretence. Surely you noticed the change in me, the forced composure and
cheerfulness. How I tried to harden myself!

"And after that the words of love you so often spoke to me, what bliss
and what anguish they caused me! I was to have made you love me, but you
loved me already. I ought to have rejoiced at this, for the success that
it promised my purpose. Yet, it was on that account that I shuddered at
it; and if it did give me moments of joy it was because it was pleasant
to have your love. My heart rose at the thought that I was loved by you,
and fell at the thought that your love was to cause your death. Often,
for your own sake, I wished that I might fail, that you would not love
me; yet for my father's sake I had to wish that I should succeed, had to
be glad that you loved me. To make you fall the more easily into the
hands of your enemies, I had to show love for you. How easy it was to
show what I felt; yet what anguish I underwent in showing it, when by
doing so I led you to death! The more I appeared to love you, the more
truly I disclosed my heart, yet the greater I felt was my treason! I do
not think any woman's heart was ever so torn by opposing motives!"

"My beloved, all that is past forever!"

"In my dreams at Maury, we would be strolling together among roses, under
cloudless skies, nothing to darken my joy. Then I would see you wounded,
the soldiers of the governor gathered around you and laughing at my
horror and grief. I would awake and vow not to betray you, and then I
would see my father's face, pale and haggard, and my dead mother's wet
with tears for his misery and supplicating me to save him!"

"My poor Julie!"

"And to-night,--yes, it was only to-night, it seems so long ago,--when
you held my hand on the dial, and plighted fidelity, what happiness I
should have had then, but for the knowledge of my horrible task, of the
death that awaited you, of the treason I was so soon to commit! For I and
Jeannotte had already arranged it, Hugo was soon to be sent to La Chatre.
And then came De Berquin. For telling only the truth of me, you killed
him as a traducer. So much faith you had in me, who deserved so little! I
could endure it no longer! Never would I look on your face again with
that weight of shame on me. God must send other means of saving my
father. They demanded too much of me. I would, as far as I could, make
myself worthy of your faith, though I never saw you again. Yet I could
not betray La Chatre. He had entrusted me with his design, and,
detestable as it was, I could not play him false in it. But I could at
least resign the mission. And I went, to undo the compact and claim back
my honor! I little guessed that he would make use, without my knowledge,
of the information I had sent him of your hiding-place. It seemed that,
even though La Chatre did know your hiding-place, God would not let you
be taken through me if I refused to be your betrayer."

"And so it has turned out," I said, blithely, "and now I no longer regret
having kept from you my intention of attempting your father's release.
For had I told you of it, and events taken another course, that attempt
might have failed, and it would perhaps have cost many lives, whereas the
order that I got from La Chatre this night is both sure and inexpensive.
But for matters having gone as they have, I should not have been enabled
to get that order. Ha! What is this!"

For Blaise had suddenly called a halt, and was riding back to me as if
for orders.

"Look, monsieur!" and he pointed to where the rive, road appeared from
behind a little spur at the base of the mountains. A body of horsemen was
coming into view. At one glance I recognized the foremost riders as
belonging to the troop I had seen four hours before.

"The devil!" said I. "La Chatre's soldiers coming back from Maury!"

We had ridden down the descent leading from the chateau along the town
wall, and had left the town some distance behind, so that the mountains
now loomed large before us. But we had not yet passed the place where the
roads converged.

"If we can only get into the mountain road before they reach this one, we
shall not meet them," I went on. "Forward, men!"

"But," said Blaise, astonished and frowning, but riding on beside
me, "they will reach this road before we pass the junction. Do you
wish them to take us in the flank? See, they have seen us and are
pressing forward!"

"If we reach our road in time, we shall lead them a chase. Go to the head
and set the pace at a gallop!"

"And have them overtake us and fall on our rear?"

"You mutinous rascal, don't you see that they are three times our number?
We stand better chance in flight than in fight! But, no, you are right!
They are too near the junction. We must face them. I shall go to the
head. Julie, my betrothed, I must leave you for a time. Roquelin and
Sabray shall fall behind with you, Jeannotte, and the two boys."

"I shall not leave your side!" she said, resolutely.

"Oh, mademoiselle!" cried Jeannotte, in a great fright.

"You may fall back, if you like," said Julie to her. "I shall not."

All this time we were going forward and the governor's troops were
rapidly nearing the junction. We could now plainly hear the noise they
made, which, because of that made by ourselves, we had not heard sooner.
They were looking at us with curiosity, and were evidently determined to
intercept us.

"Julie, consider! There may be great danger."

"If you are endangered, why should not I be? This is not the night,
Ernanton, on which you should ask me to leave you."

"Then I shall at least remain here," said I. "Go to the head, Blaise. But
if there is a challenge, I shall answer it. Perhaps they will not know us
and we can make them think we are friends."

He rode forward with sparkling eyes, although not before casting one
glance of solicitude at Jeannotte, who did not leave her mistress.

The men eagerly looked to their arms as they rode, and they exchanged
conjectures in low, quick tones, casting many a curious look at the
approaching force. Julie and I kept silence, I wondering what would be
the outcome of this encounter.

Suddenly, when the head of their long, somewhat straggling line had just
reached the junction, and Blaise was but a short distance from it, came
from their leader--La Chatre's equerry, I think--the order to halt, and
then the clear, sharp cry:

"Who goes there?"

Before I could answer, a familiar voice near their leader cried out:

"It is his company,--La Tournoire's,--I swear it! I know the big fellow
at the head."

The voice was that of the foppish, cowardly rascal of De Berquin's band.
I now saw that the three fellows left by Blaise at Maury were held as
prisoners by the governor's troops. Poor Jacques, doubtless, thought to
get his freedom or some reward for crying out our identity.

"I shall wring your neck yet, lap-dog!" roared Blaise.

All chance of passing under false colors was now gone. A battle with
thrice our force seemed imminent. What would befall Julie if they should
be too much for us? The thought made me sick with horror. At that instant
I remembered something.

"Halt!" I cried to the men. "I shall return in a moment, sweetheart.
Monsieur, the captain," and I rode forward towards the leader of the
governor's troops, "your informant speaks truly. Permit me to introduce
myself. I am the Sieur de la Tournoire, the person named in that order."
With which I politely handed him the pass that I had forced from La
Chatre, which I had for a time forgotten.

It was about three hours after midnight, and the moon was not yet very
low. The captain, taken by surprise in several respects, mechanically
grasped the document and read it.

"It is a--a pass," he said, presently, staring at it and at me in a
bewildered manner.

"As you see, for myself and all my company," said I; "signed by M. de
la Chatre."

"Yes, it is his signature."

"His seal, also, you will observe."

"I do. Yet, it is strange. Certain orders that I have received,--in fact,
orders to which I have just been attending,--make this very surprising. I
cannot understand--"

"It is very simple. While you were attending to your orders, I was making
a treaty with M. de la Chatre. In accordance with it, he wrote the pass.
He will, doubtless, relate the purport of our interview as soon as you
return to the chateau. I know that he is impatient for your coming.
Therefore, since you have seen the pass, I shall not detain you longer."

"But--I do not know--it is, indeed, the writing of M. de la Chatre--it
seems quite right, yet monsieur, since all is right, you will not
object to returning with me to the chateau that M. de la Chatre may
verify his pass?"

"Since all is right, there is no use in my doing so; and it would be most
annoying to M. de la Chatre to be asked to verify his own writing,
especially as the very object of this pass was to avoid my being delayed
on my march this night."

The captain, a young and handsome gentleman, with a frank look and a
courteous manner, hesitated.

"Monsieur will understand," I went on, "that every minute we stand here
opposes the purpose for which that pass was given."

"I begin to see," he said, with a look of pleasurable discovery. "You
have changed sides, monsieur? You have repented of your errors and have
put your great skill and courage at the service of M. de la Chatre?"

"It is for M. de la Chatre to say what passed between us this evening,"
said I, with a discreet air. "Then _an revoir_, captain! I trust we shall
meet again."

And I took back the pass, and ordered my men forward, as if the young
captain had already given me permission to go on. Then I saluted him, and
returned to Julie. The captain gazed at us in a kind of abstraction as we
passed. His men were as dumbfounded as my own. His foremost horsemen had
heard the short conversation concerning the pass, and were, doubtless, as
much at a loss as their leader was. When we were well in the mountain
road, I heard him give the order to march, and, looking back, I saw them
turn wearily up the road to the chateau. We continued to put distance
between ourselves and Clochonne.

On the northern slope of the mountains, we made but one stop. That was at
Godeau's, where we had a short rest and some wine. I gave the good
Marianne a last gold piece, received her Godspeed, and took up our march,
this time ignoring the forest path to Maury, following the old road
southward instead. It would be time to set up our camp when we should be
out of the province of Berry.

It was while we were yet ascending the northern slope of the mountains,
and the moon still shone now and then from the west through the trees,
that we talked, Julie and I, of the time that lay before us. It mattered
not to me under which form our marriage should be. One creed was to me
only a little the better of the two, in that it involved less of
subjection, but if the outward profession of the other would facilitate
our union, I would make that profession, reserving always my sword and my
true sympathies for the side that my fathers had taken. But when I
proposed this, Julie said that I ought not even to assume the appearance
of having changed my colors, and that it was for her, the woman, to
adopt mine, therefore she would abjure and we should be married as
Protestants. She could answer for the consent of her father, who could
not refuse his preserver and hers. It pleased me that she made no mention
of her lack of dowry, for their little estate would certainly be
confiscated after her father's flight. Judging my love by her own, she
knew that I valued herself alone above all the fortunes in the world. We
would, then, be united as soon as her father, guided by Frojac, should
join us in Guienne. She and her father should then go to Nerac, there to
await my return from the war that was now imminent; for I was to continue
advancing my fortunes by following those of our Henri on the field. Some
day our leader would overcome his enemies and mount the throne that the
fated Henri III.--ailing survivor of three short-lived brothers--would
soon leave vacant. Then our King would restore us our estates, I should
rebuild La Tournoire, and there we should pass our days in the peace that
our Henri's accession would bring his kingdom. Blaise should marry
Jeannotte and be our steward.

So we gave word to our intentions and hopes, those that I have here
written and many others. Some have been realized, and some have not, but
all that I have here written have been.

Once, years after that night, having gone up to Paris to give our two
eldest children a glimpse of the court, we were walking through the
gallery built by our great Henri IV., to connect the Louvre with the
Tuileries, when my son asked me who was the painted fat old lady that was
staring so hard at him as if she had seen him before. In turn I asked the
Abbe Brantome, who happened to be passing.

"It is the Marquise de Pirillaume," he said. "She was a gallant lady in
the reign of Henri III. She was Mlle. d'Arency and very beautiful."

I turned my eyes from her to Julie at my side,--to Julie, as fair and
slender and beautiful still as on that night when we rode together with
my soldiers towards Guienne, in the moonlight.

THE END.






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 2500  2000 December
 3000  2001 November
 4000  2001 October/November
 6000  2002 December*
 9000  2003 November*
10000  2004 January*


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