Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

An Enemy To The King by Robert Neilson Stephens

Part 3 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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 château, 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 château of Clochonne," said Frojac.

"Who occupies the château?"

"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 Château 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 château 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 château 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 château of Fleurier until the judges, whom I will instruct, shall
find him guilty of treason. Then his body shall hang at the château 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 château 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 Château 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 Château
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 château 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, François."

"It is astonishing," put in the fat fellow, looking at the tall, lean
François, "how so few gallons of body can hold so many gallons of wine."

"Would I had your body to fill with wine, Antoine," said François,
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 François, 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 François, 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 Château 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 détour, 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 château 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 Château 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 château 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 château, 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!"

Book of the day: