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An Enemy To The King by Robert Neilson Stephens

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Mademoiselle de Varion. Also, he had sought to preserve his life, so that
he might have revenge. But now that events had taken their turn, he
showed himself not afraid to face death.

"It is a pity," I said, "that a brave man should be so great a liar."

"Rather," he said, "that so brave a man"--and his look showed that he
alluded to me--"should be so easily fooled; and that so fair a woman
should be so vile a traitor."

And, seeing that I was ready, he put himself into a posture of defence.

The cup of my resentment having been already filled to overflowing, it
was impossible for me to be further angered by this. But there came on
me a desire to let him know that I was not as ill-informed as he had
thought me; that perhaps he was the greater fool. So, holding my sword
lowered, I said:

"You should know, monsieur, that I am aware who undertook the task of
betraying me to La Chatre."

"And yet you say that I lie," he replied.

"I know even how the matter was to be conducted," I went on. "The spy
was first to learn my place of refuge and send the information to La
Chatre. The governor was then to come to Clochonne. The governor is
already at Clochonne. The spy, doubtless, learned where I hid, and sent
word to La Chatre."

"Doubtless," he replied, impassively, "inasmuch as you speak of one of
mademoiselle's boys having left you. He was probably the messenger."

"Monsieur," I said, "you desire to leave a slander of mademoiselle that
may afflict me or her after your death; but your quickness to perceive
circumstances that seemingly fit your lie will not avail you. A thousand
facts might seem to bear out your falsehood, yet I would not heed them. I
would know them to be accidental. For every lie there are many
circumstances that may be turned to its support. So do not, in dying,
felicitate yourself on leaving behind you a lie that will live to injure
her or me. Your lie shall die with you."

"You tire me with reiterations, monsieur," he replied, calmly. "Since you
will maintain that I have lied, do so. It is you who will suffer for your
blindness, not I. I told you the truth, not really because I wished to do
you a kindness, but because there was a chance of its serving my own
purpose. The woman came here to find your hiding-place, and betray you to
the governor. La Chatre engaged her to do so. His secretary, Montignac,
took it into his head that he would like to become sole possessor of
mademoiselle's time and attractions. But he could not undo the governor's
plans, nor could he hope for the woman's cooperation, as she seems to
have taken a dislike to him. It had been agreed that, when she had turned
you over to the governor's soldiers, she should go to Fleurier to receive
her reward. She had made this condition so that she might keep out of the
way of Montignac. Now he dared not interfere to prevent her from doing
the governor's errand, but he hoped to see more of her after that should
be completed. Such, as it was necessary for him to tell me, was the state
of his mind when I came along--I, ordered from court, hounded from Paris
by creditors, ragged and ready for what might turn up. Near Fleurier
Montignac turned up, in La Chatre's cavalcade. He wanted me to become the
woman's escort to Clochonne, keep my eyes on her, know when she had
settled your business, and, when she was about to start for Fleurier,
keep her as his guest in a house that I was to hire in Clochonne. But why
do I grow chilly telling you all this, when you do not intend to believe
me? Shall we not begin, monsieur?"

"Doubtless you are vain of your skill at fabrication, monsieur," I said,
wishing to deprive him of the satisfaction of thinking me deceived by
his story, "but you have no reason to be. That a woman should be sent to
betray an outlaw, and then a man sent to keep her in view and finally
hold her,--it is complicated, to say the least. Why should you not have
been sent to take me?" I thought that I had touched him here.

"That is what I asked Montignac," he replied. "But he told me that she
had already been commissioned to hunt you down, before he had made up his
mind to possess her by force. Moreover, it would not do to disturb the
governor's plan, on which the governor was mightily set, though Montignac
himself had suggested it. 'And,' said Montignac, 'you have not a woman's
wit to find his hiding-place, or a woman's means of luring him from his
men.' And yet, you will remember that when I thought you were a lackey,
and you offered to deliver La Tournoire to me, I grasped at the chance,
for I knew that, however set the governor might be on having the lady
take you, he would be glad enough to have you taken by any one, and if I
took you and got the reward I could afford to bear Montignac's
displeasure. I think Montignac's desire to have the lady take you was due
to his having suggested the plan. He wanted both the credit of having
devised your capture and the pleasure of mademoiselle's society. Yes,
when you held out to me the possibility, I was willing to risk
Montignac's resentment and take La Tournoire myself. Before that, I had
confined myself to the task of following mademoiselle. At first you and
your supposed master were in my way. I had hoped to get her from you, and
to obtain her esteem by the mock rescue, but this was spoiled first by my
men and then by you. After that failure, I could merely follow and hope
that chance would enable me to do Montignac's will."

"You cleverly mix truth and fiction, monsieur," I said. "You interest
me. Go on."

It is true that he did interest me, so ingenious did I think his recital.

"I have no wish to prolong the life of one of us by this talk," he
replied, "but a tale once begun should be finished. You know how you
promised to deliver up La Tournoire to me. I grant that you kept the
promise to the letter. During the rest of that night I lay quiet with my
men. We heard your departure the next morning, and when the way was clear
we followed in your track. We could do so quietly, for we were afoot; we
had left our horses in another part of this wilderness the day before. We
heard you greeted by your sentinel, and guessed that you were near your
burrow. We came no further, but looked around and found a projecting
rock, under which to lie hidden, and a tree from whose top this place
could be seen. So we have lodged under the rock, one of us keeping watch
night and day from the tree. I hoped thus to be able to know when you
should be taken, so that I might then look to the lady. But no soldiers
came for you, neither you nor the lady departed from the place, no sign
came to indicate an attack or a flight. You can imagine, monsieur, how a
gentleman accustomed to court pleasures and Parisian fare enjoyed the
kind of life that we have been leading for these several days. Now and
then one of us would crawl forth to a stream for water, or forage for
nuts and berries, and we snared a few birds, which we had to eat raw, not
daring to make a fire. This existence became tiresome. This afternoon
three of my knaves deserted. What was I to do? It was useless to go back
to Montignac without having done his work. To stay there awaiting your
capture or the lady's departure was perhaps to starve. To go any distance
from this place was to lose sight of the woman, who might leave at any
time, and we could not know what direction she might take. The enterprise
had been at best a scurvy one, fit only for a man at the end of his
resources. In fine, monsieur, when the last of my men threatened to
follow his comrades, I crawled out of my hole, stretched my aching bones,
and resolved to let Montignac's business go to the devil. There was no
chance for me in the service of the French King, therefore I came to
offer myself as a member of your company. In the Huguenot cause I might
earn back some of the good things of life. It no longer matters on which
side I fight. 'Twas the same with Barbemouche. And, inasmuch as I had
decided to cast in my fortunes with yours, I naturally wished you well.
Thus it was my own interest I sought to serve, as well as yours, when I
told you that this woman came here to betray you to La Chatre."

"You told me that," said I, calmly, "for one or both of two
purposes,--the first, to make me withdraw my protection from the lady, in
order that she might be at your disposal; the second, to get my
confidence, in order that you yourself might betray me to La Chatre."

De Berquin laughed. "Am I, then, such a fool as to think that the wary
Tournoire could be put off his guard by a man? No, no. The governor or
Montignac was wise in choosing a woman for that delicate task. It is only
by a Delilah that a Samson can be caught!"

"Monsieur," I said, with ironical admiration, "you are indeed as artful
in your lies as you are bold. You have constructed a story that every
circumstance seems to bear out. Yet one circumstance you have forgotten,
or you are not aware of it. It destroys your whole edifice. The father of
Mlle. de Varion is now a prisoner, held by the governor's order, on a
charge of treason for having harbored Huguenots. Would his daughter
undertake to do the work of a spy and a traitor for that governor against
a Huguenot? Now for your ingenuity, monsieur!"

"Such things have been known," he answered, not at all discomfited. "His
daughter may not have her father's weakness for Huguenots, and if she
bears resentment against the governor on her father's account, her desire
of the reward may outweigh that resentment. Covetousness is strong in
women. You would not expect great filial devotion in a hired spy and
traitress. Moreover, for all I know, this woman may not be Mile, de
Varion, although Montignac so named her to me. She may have assumed that
character at his suggestion, in order to get your confidence and
sympathy, not daring to pretend to be a Huguenot, lest some habitual act
might betray the deception."

"Enough, M. de Berquin," I said. "I do your wit the credit of admitting
that so well-wrought a lie was never before told. Only two things prevent
its being believed. It is to me that you tell it, and it is of Mile, de
Varion! You complained a while ago of being chilly. Let us now warm
ourselves!"

And so we went at it. I had no reason now to repeat the trick by which I
had before disarmed him. Indeed, I wished him to keep sword in hand that
I might have no scruples about killing him. I never could bring myself to
give the death thrust to an unarmed man. Yet I was determined that the
brain whence had sprung so horrible a story against my beloved should
invent no more, that the lips which had uttered the accusation should not
speak again. Yet he gave me a hard fight. It was for his life that he now
wielded sword, and he was not now taken by surprise as he had been in our
former meetings, or unsteadied by a desire of making a great flourish
before a lady. He now brought to his use all his training as a fencer. He
had a strong wrist and a good eye, despite the dissolute life that he had
led. For some minutes our swords clashed, our boots beat the ground, and
our lungs panted as we fought in the moonlight. I was anxious to have the
thing over quickly, lest the noise we made might reach the ears of
mademoiselle, and perhaps bring her to the scene. I knew that Blaise
would keep the men away, but he would not presume to restrain
mademoiselle. I wished, too, to have the thrust made before my antagonist
should begin to show weakness of body or uncertainty of eye. But he
maintained a good guard, and also required me to give much time and
attention to my own defence. Indeed, his point once passed through my
shirt under my left shoulder, my left arm being then raised. But at last
I caught him between two ribs as he was coming forward, and it was
almost as though he had fallen on my sword. I missed his own sword only
by quickly turning sidewise so that his weapon ran along the front of my
breast without touching me.

He uttered one shriek, I drew my sword out of his body, and he fell in a
limp heap. With a convulsive motion he straightened out and was still. I
turned his body so that his face was towards the sky, and I went back to
the courtyard, leaving him alone in the moonlight.

CHAPTER XIV.

"GOD GRANT I DO NOT FIND YOU FALSE!"

In the courtyard was mademoiselle, very pale and agitated, standing by
Blaise and grasping his arm as if for support. She still had on the gown
of pale green that she had worn earlier in the evening. Her head was
uncovered, her hair in some disorder, and this, with the pallor of her
face and the fright in her wide-open eyes, gave her some wildness of
appearance. It was De Berquin's piercing death-cry that had blanched her
cheek and made her clutch Blaise's arm.

"You have killed him!" she said, in a voice little above a whisper.

"You ought not to be here, mademoiselle," I replied.

"From my chamber window I saw you talking with M. de Berquin. What he
said I know not, but you drew your sword and went away with him. I
waited for a long time in anxiety until I heard the sound of swords. I
came down, and would have gone to beg you to stop, but when I heard
that awful shriek I could not go any further. Oh, monsieur, you have
killed him!"

"He brought it on himself, mademoiselle," was all that I could say.

And here Blaise did what I thought a strange and presumptuous thing.
He approached mademoiselle, and, looking her keenly in the eyes,
said, gravely:

"He said that you came from the governor of the province to betray M. de
la Tournoire!"

"Blaise!" I cried, in great astonishment and anger. "How dare you even
utter the calumny he spoke? Go you and look to the disposal of his body."
And I motioned him away with a wrathful gesture.

He looked frowningly at mademoiselle and then at me, and went off, with a
shrug of his shoulders, to the place where De Berquin lay.

I turned to mademoiselle; she stood like a statue, her eyes fixed on the
empty air before her. Yet she seemed to know when my look fell on her,
for at that instant a slight tremor passed through her.

"Tremble not for M. de Berquin, mademoiselle," said I, thinking of that
divine gentleness in a woman which makes her pity even those who have
persecuted her. "Indeed, he must have wished to die. He well knew that a
certain way to death was to tempt my sword with a black lie of the truest
lady in France."

"You killed him," she murmured, in a low, pitying voice, "because he
said--I came from the governor--to betray you!"

"Why else, mademoiselle? What is the matter? Why do you look so?"

For all life and consciousness seemed to be about to leave her
countenance.

"_Mon dieu_!" she said, weakly, "I cannot tell--I--"

I hastened to put my arms about her, that she might not fall.

"You pity him," I said, "but there could be nothing of good in one who
could so slander you. Indeed, mademoiselle, you are ill. Let me lead you
in. Believe me, mademoiselle, he well deserved his death."

Thus endeavoring to calm and restore her mind, I led her slowly into the
château and up the steps to the door of her chamber. She followed as one
without will and with little strength. Hugo and Jeannotte, who had been
sitting on the landing outside her door, had risen as we came up the
stairs. When I took my arms from about mademoiselle, she leaned on the
maid's shoulder, and so passed into her chamber, giving me neither look
nor word. Leaving Hugo to keep his vigil outside her door, I went down to
the great hall of the château.

Several of the men lay on the floor, most of them asleep. I asked one of
them where Blaise had bestowed the three rascals who had become our
prisoners, and he rose and led the way to a dark chamber at the rear of
the hall. He took a torch that was stuck in the wall and followed me into
this chamber. It was my desire to learn from these men whether or not
Barbemouche, or one of them, had borne to M. de la Chatre an account of
my hiding-place; for there had been time for one to have done so and
returned. It might be that the original plan suggested to the governor by
Montignac had been altered and that some other step had been adopted for
my capture. The very visit of De Berquin, the very story he had told me,
might have been connected with this other step. One of his purposes, in
trying to make me think myself betrayed, may have been to induce me to
leave a place so inaccessible to attack. If a new plan had been put in
operation, these men might know something of it. I would question them
and then consult with Blaise, comparing the answers they should give me
with those they had given Blaise.

They lay snoring, their hands fastened behind their backs, their ankles
so tied that they could not stretch out their legs. The man with me said
that Blaise, after belaboring them and interrogating them to his heart's
content, had relented, and brought some cold meat and wine for them. I
suppose that the gentle spirit of his mother had obtained the
ascendency. They had devoured the food with the avidity of starving
dogs, and had lain down, full of gratitude, to sleep. Blaise had then
bound them up as a precaution against a too unceremonious departure. I
woke them one after another, with gentle kicks, and they stared up at
me, blinking in the torchlight. Submissively and readily, though
drowsily, they answered my questions. They swore that neither
Barbemouche nor any one of them, nor De Berquin himself, had borne any
message to the governor; that the five had remained together from the
first, living under the rock and keeping watch from the tree-top, as De
Berquin had narrated, until the previous afternoon, when the three had
deserted, only to fall into the hands of our sentinel. In every detail
their account agreed with that of their late master. When I accused them
of telling a prearranged lie, and threatened them with the torture, the
foppish fellow said:

"What more can a man tell than the truth? But if you're not satisfied
with it, monsieur, and let me know what you wish me to say, I'll say it
with all my heart, and swear to it on whatever you name."

From the faces of the others, I knew that they, too, were willing to tell
anything, true or false, to avoid torture, and so I could not but believe
their story. Therefore, said I to myself, Montignac's plan not adhered
to. De Berquin sent no one to the governor with information concerning
my hiding-place. La Chatre had come to Clochonne without having awaited
such information. De Berquin had been too slow. Perhaps, indeed, the plan
had been altered so as to omit the sending of this preliminary word to
the governor. A fixed time might have been set for the coming of the
governor to Clochonne. De Berquin had probably retained his men that he
might have one to use as messenger to the governor, in notifying La
Chatre where to place his ambuscade, and that he might have others to
waylay mademoiselle. His lie was doubtless a bold device to put
mademoiselle into his power, and to get entrance to my company. It was a
last resource, it was just as likely to bring death as to bring success,
but he had taken a gambler's chances. They had gone against him, and he
had uncomplainingly accepted his defeat.

So the governor's presence at Clochonne was not to be taken as reason for
great alarm, inasmuch as there seemed now no probability that he knew my
hiding-place. We were still safe at Maury. We should have only to
maintain greater vigilance. Failing to hear from his agent, who now lay
dead in the garden at Maury, and could never work us harm, the governor
would eventually take new measures for my capture, or, if I kept quiet
and my men left no traces, he would presently suppose that I had gone
from his province. As for mademoiselle, neither La Chatre nor Montignac
knew where she was. We might, therefore, have more of those delightful,
peaceful days at Maury. Moreover, what better time to surprise the
commandant of the Château of Fleurier than while La Chatre was at
Clochonne? My heart beat gaily at thought of how bright was the prospect.
I passed out by a back way to the garden, where Blaise had been looking
to the body of De Berquin.

My late antagonist lay in peace and order, Blaise having replaced his
doublet on him and put his sword by his side.

"A handsome gentleman," said Blaise, quietly, looking down at the body.

"But a fool as well as a liar," said I. "How could he think that such a
story was to be swallowed? To have thrown him into confusion, I should
have told him that I had overheard the plan for my capture, that I knew
of an attempt to be made to get me from my men, that mademoiselle has
never made any such attempt either by tryst or summons or on any pretext
whatever."

"Neither has De Berquin," answered Blaise, sullenly, "and yet you think
he was the spy whom the governor sent."

"He had no opportunity," I replied, rather sharply, annoyed at Blaise's
manner. "He did not dare come here until he had formed a desperate plan
on which to hazard everything."

"As for mademoiselle's having had the opportunity and yet not having
done so," Blaise went on, with a kind of doggedness, "the spy was not to
plan the ambush until the governor should arrive at Clochonne."

"By God!" I cried. "Do you dare hint that you credit this villain's lie
for a moment?" In my exasperation I half drew my sword.

"I credit nothing and discredit nothing," he said, in a low but stubborn
tone, "but I place no one above doubt, except God and you. I have had my
thoughts, monsieur, and have them still. It is enough, as yet, to keep
all eyes open and turned in many directions."

"You cur! You dare to suspect--" Without finishing the sentence, I struck
him across the face with the back of my hand.

He drew a deep breath, but made no movement.

"I shall not trouble myself to suspect," he went on, with no change of
tone, "until we know that M. de la Chatre is at Clochonne,--"

"We know that already," I broke in, hotly. "Marianne brought the news
this afternoon."

"Until we know that mademoiselle knows it," he went on.

"We know that, too," I said. "She heard Marianne tell me."

"Until her other servant happens to be missing, and some occasion arises
through her for your going somewhere without your men. For example, if
she should go for a walk in the forest with her maid, and presently the
maid should return with word that mademoiselle lay mortally hurt
somewhere--"

"I would go to her at once!" I cried, involuntarily.

"So mademoiselle would suppose. You would not wait for your men to arm
and accompany you. You would hasten to the place, without precaution,
never thinking that mademoiselle's servant might have carried word to La
Chatre, a day before, to have men waiting for you. Kill me if you like,
monsieur! I cannot avoid my thoughts. They are at your service as my hand
and sword are. I may be all wrong, but one cannot fathom women. You used
to speak of a lady of Catherine de Medici's--"

Ah, considered I, it is the thought of Mlle. d'Arency's deed that has
awakened these foolish suspicions in Blaise's mind! I had given him some
account of how that lady had, by a love tryst, drawn poor De Noyard to
his death. He was incapable of discriminating between women. He could not
see that Mlle. de Varion was of a kind of woman as unlike the court
intriguer as if the two belonged to different species of beings. Ought
one to expect delicacy of perception from a common soldier? His
suspiciousness arose partly from his devotion to me. So, much as I
adored mademoiselle and held her sacred and above the slightest breath of
accusation, I regretted the blow I had given him, and which he had
received so meekly.

"I see, Blaise, what is in your head," I said, "but there are matters of
which you cannot judge. No more of this talk, therefore. And I require of
you the greatest respect and devotion to mademoiselle."

"Very well, monsieur," he said, "Let me say but this: You remember my
forebodings the last time we rode through the province. Because we came
back alive, you thought there was nothing in them. Perhaps there was
nothing. Only I have been thinking that out of that last journey may yet
come our destruction. My premonition may have been right, after all."

I smiled and walked back to the courtyard and sat down on the bench, no
longer angry at either De Berquin or Blaise, and calm in the thought that
there seemed no immediate danger. If I could but communicate my sense of
security to mademoiselle! If I might see a smile on her face, if the look
of yielding would but come back there and remain! Surely her scruples
would pass when I should bring her father to her. What imaginary barrier
could stand before the combined forces of love and gratitude? The rescue
of her father must not be longer deferred. I must form my plan
immediately. Yet I continued to waste time thinking of the future, of
the day when she should acknowledge herself mine. I took off my hat and
removed from it the glove that she had given me. It was like a part of
her; it was fashioned by use to the very form of her hand. I pressed it
to my lips and then looked up at the window of her chamber.

"Ah, Mlle. Julie," I said, "I know that you love me. You will be
mine; something in the moonlight, in the murmurs of the trees, in the
song of the nightingale, tells me so. How beautiful is the world! I
am too happy!"

I heard rapid footsteps from outside the gate, and presently one of my
men ran into the courtyard from the forest. It was Frojac, who had been
all day in Clochonne in search of information. Seeing me, he stopped and
stood still, out of breath from his run.

At the same moment Blaise came from the garden and stood beside the
bench, curious to hear Frojac's news.

"Ah, Frojac!" said I. "From Clochonne? I know your news already. M. de la
Chatre is there."

And I motioned to him to speak quietly, lest his news, which might
be alarming, should reach the ears of mademoiselle through her
chamber window.

"I had a talk with one of his men," said Frojac, "an old comrade of mine,
who did not guess that I was of your troop. I told him that I had given
up righting and settled down as a poacher. He says that it is well known
to the governor's soldiers that the governor has come south to catch you.
He declares that the governor knows the exact location of your
hiding-place."

"Soldiers' gabble," said I.

"But my old comrade is no fool," went on Frojac. "I pretended to laugh at
him for thinking that any one could find out the burrow of La Tournoire,
and as we were drinking he got angry and swore that he spoke truly. He
said that the governor had got word of your hiding-place from a boy. If
you knew my comrade, monsieur, you would know that what he says is to be
heeded. He is one who talks little, but keeps his ears and eyes open."

"Word from a boy?" I repeated, rather to myself. "Could De Berquin have
found some peasant boy and despatched him to the governor?"

"My comrade says that the boy was sent by a woman," said Frojac.

"A woman!" I cried. "If it be true, then, malediction on her! Some
covetous, spying wife of a farmer has found us out, perchance!"

"Perchance, monsieur! But, all the same, I and Maugert, who was on guard
yonder by the path, took the liberty just now of stopping the boy of
mademoiselle, your guest, as he was riding off. In advance of him rode a
woman. I had just come up the path and had stopped for a word with
Maugert. Suddenly the woman dashed by and was gone in an instant. Neither
of us had time to make up our minds whether to stop her or not, for she
came from this place, not towards it. By the time when we had decided
that we ought to have detained her, she was out of hearing. But then came
a second horse, and that we stopped. The rider was the boy Hugo."

"An unknown woman departing from our very camp!" I said, rising. "The
gypsy girl!" But at that instant the gypsy girl, Giralda, came in through
the gateway with an armful of herbs that she had been gathering just
outside the walls. She often plucked herbs after dark, as there are some
whose potency is believed to be the greater for their being uprooted at
night. "Ah, no, no, no!" I cried, repenting my unjust suspicion. "A woman
hidden at Maury! She shall be followed and caught and treated like any
cur of a papegot spy, man or woman!" I was wild with rage to think that
our hiding-place might really have been discovered, my guards eluded, the
presence of mademoiselle perhaps reported to Montignac, her safety and
ours put in immediate peril, by some one who had contrived to find
concealment under our very eyes! "And the boy Hugo riding off by night!"
I added. "Had this woman corrupted him, I wonder? Was it through him
that she obtained entrance and concealment? Where is he?"

I could at that moment have believed the most incredible things, even
that a woman had hidden herself in one of the ruined outbuildings; for
what could have been more incredible than Frojac's account of an unknown
woman riding from the château at the utmost speed?

"Maugert is bringing him to you," said Frojac. "I ran ahead to apprise
you of what had occurred."

"These are astounding things," I said, turning to Blaise. "Who can tell
now how much the governor knows or what he may intend? We may be attacked
at any time. And half our men away! Perhaps the governor knows that, too.
If not, this woman may tell him. We shall have to flee at once across the
mountains. Mademoiselle is now well enough to endure the journey. I must
tell her to make ready for flight."

I looked up at mademoiselle's window, and took a step towards it; but at
that moment Maugert came into the courtyard, leading Hugo, whom he held
by the arm with a grip of iron. The horse had been left outside.

"My boy, what is this?" I cried, not hiding my anger. "You would ride
away secretly, and without permission of your mistress?"

"It was my duty, when I followed to protect her," the boy said. "Mlle.
de Varion was mad, I think, to go alone at this hour."

"Mademoiselle?" I echoed, in great mystification. "Alone? Whither?"

"To Clochonne, to M. de la Chatre," was the reply.

It took away from me for a moment the very power of speech. I stared at
the boy in dumb amazement.

"Clochonne! La Chatre! Mademoiselle!" I murmured, questioningly, my
faculty of comprehension being for the instant dazed. "How do you
know, boy?"

"She said so when she left this courtyard to take horse," the boy
replied. "When I asked her whither she was bound, she said to Clochonne
to see M. de la Chatre, and she spoke of some mission, but I could not
hear the words exactly, for she was in great excitement. She then made
off, declaring she would go alone, but it was my duty, nevertheless, to
follow and guard her."

"Mademoiselle gone to Clochonne, to La Chatre," I repeated, as one
in a dream.

At that instant there came again from somewhere in the château the voice
of the gypsy in the song.

"False flame of woman's love!"

"The devil!" muttered Blaise. "Was De Berquin right?" And he ran into
the château.

"The woman who told our hiding-place!" said Frojac.

Could it be? Was she another Mademoiselle d'Arency? Had she thought that,
after De Berquin's accusation, any attempt on her part to draw me from my
men would convict her in my eyes; that indeed I might come at any moment
to believe in the treachery of which he had warned me? Had this thought
driven her to Clochonne, where she might be safe from my avenging wrath,
where also she might advise the governor to attack me at once? She had
spoken to the boy of a mission. There had, then, been a mission, and it
had to do with herself and the governor! As this horrible idea filled my
mind, I felt a kind of sinking, and as if the very earth trembled beneath
me. But then I thought of mademoiselle's sweet face, and I hurled the
dark thought from me, amazed that I could have held it for an instant.

"It is not true!" I cried, loudly. "By God, it is not true! I'll not
believe it! She has not gone! She is in her chamber yonder!" And I went
and stood beneath her window. "Mademoiselle! Come to the window! Tell us
that the boy lies or is deluded! Mademoiselle, I say!"

But no face appeared at the window--that window up to which I had looked
a few moments before while I sat on the bench, thinking that my love was
behind it.

And now Blaise came running out of the château. He stopped on the steps.

"She is not there," he said. "I found only the maid, wailing out prayers
to a Catholic saint!"

So she was really gone--gone! She must have left while I was
interrogating De Berquin's three henchmen in their cell or while I had
stood with Blaise in the garden, reproving him for his suspicions of her.

"And because he assailed her loyalty I killed that man!" I said aloud,
forgetful, for the time, of the presence of Blaise and Frojac, Maugert,
Hugo, and the gypsy girl. All these stood in silence, not knowing what to
do or say, awaiting some order or sign from me.

"She is a woman, monsieur!" said Blaise, gently, as if he thought to
please me by offering some excuse for her conduct, or for my having been
so deceived in her.

And then again I saw her pure, pale face, her full, moist eyes, her
slender, girlish figure. Let the evidence be what it might, it was
impossible for me to see her in my mind and conceive her to be
treacherous. There must be some other thing accounting for all these
strange circumstances. She could not be a spy, a hired traitress! A
glad thought came to me. She might have thought that her presence added
to my danger, that I would refuse to leave Maury while she continued
weak, that I might thus through her be caught, that her departure
would leave me no reason for further delay. It was a wild thought, but
it was within possibility, so I took it in and clung to it. At such a
time how does a man welcome the least surmise that agrees with his
wishes or checks his fears!

"She is a woman, monsieur!" Blaise had said, even while this thought
burst upon me.

"So much the worse for any man that dare accuse her!" I cried. "She is
the victim of some devilish seeming! My armor, Maugert! Frojac, to horse!
You and I ride at once! Blaise, marshal the men, and follow when you can,
by the forest path!"

"Ah!" cried Blaise, overjoyed. "To Guienne, to join Henri of Navarre?"

"No!" I answered. "To Clochonne, to join mademoiselle!"

Maugert obediently and hastily brought me my breast-piece, and began to
adjust it to my body. I already had my sword. Frojac had started for the
stables, but at my answer to Blaise he stopped and looked at me in
astonishment.

It was thus with me: Mademoiselle had gone. The presence that had made
Maury a paradise to me was no longer there. The place was now
intolerable. I could not exist away from mademoiselle. Where she was
not, life to me was torture. Guilty or innocent, she gave the world all
the charm it had for me. Traitress or true, she drew me to her. If she
were innocent, she imperilled herself. In any event, if she went to
Clochonne she put herself in the power of Montignac. The thought of
that was maddening to me. I must find her, whatever the risk. Perhaps I
could catch her before she reached Clochonne. If I ran into danger, I
should presently have Blaise and the men to help me out; but I could
not wait for them to arm. Every minute of delay was galling. Into what
might she fall? Whatever she be, good or bad, angel or fiend, I must
see her--see her!

Blaise stood looking at me with open mouth.

"She will prove her honesty, my life upon it!" I said.

"You are mad!" cried Blaise. "She will reach the château of Clochonne
long before you do!"

"Then I shall enter the château!" I answered, helping Maugert buckle
on my armor.

"And meet the governor and garrison!" said Blaise.

"They will rejoice to see me!"

"'Tis rushing into the lion's den, monsieur!" put in Frojac.

"Let the lion look to himself," said I, standing forth at last, all armed
and ready.

Frojac ran to get the horses.

"They would not let you see her!" cried Blaise, stubbornly standing in
my way. "You would go straight to death for nothing! My captain, you
shall not!"

And, as I started towards the stables to mount, he lay hands on me to
hold me back, and Maugert, too, caught me by one of the arms.

"Out of my way, rebels!" I cried, vehemently, struggling to free myself
from them. "I shall see her to-night though I have to beat down every
sword in France and force the very gates of hell!"

I threw them both from me so violently that neither dared touch me again.
As I stepped forward I saw on the ground at my feet the glove that
mademoiselle had given me, and which I had been caressing while sitting
alone in the courtyard. I must have dropped it on hearing Frojac's news.
I now stopped and picked it up. 'Twas all that was left with me of
mademoiselle. She had worn it, it had the form of her hand. I held it in
my fingers and looked at it. Again came the song of the gypsy:

"False flame of woman's love!"

I pressed the glove again and again to my lips, tears gushed from
my eyes, and I murmured: "Ah, mademoiselle, God grant I do not find
you false!"

Five minutes later, Frojac and I were speeding our horses over the forest
path towards Clochonne.

CHAPTER XV.

TO CLOCHONNE, AFTER MADEMOISELLE

On through the forest, on over the narrow path, the horse seeming to feel
my own impatience, his hoofs crushing the fallen twigs and the vegetation
that lay in the way, the branches of the trees striking me in forehead
and eyes, my heart on fire, my mind a turmoil, on to learn the truth, on
to see her! The moon was now overhead, and here and there it lighted up
the path. Close behind me came Frojac. I heard the footfalls and the
breathing of his horse.

Would we come up to her before she reached Clochonne? This depended on
the length of start she had. She would lose some time, perhaps, through
being less familiar with the road than we were, yet wherever the road lay
straight before her she would force her horse to its utmost, guessing
that her departure would be discovered and herself pursued.

My mind inclined this way and that as I rode. Now I saw how strong was
the evidence against her, yet I refused to be convinced by it before I
should hear what she might have to say. Now I conjured up her image
before me, and then all the evidence was naught. It was impossible that
this face, of all faces in the world, could have been a mask to conceal
falsehood and treachery, that this voice could have lied in its sweet and
sorrowful tones, that her appearance of grief could have been but a
pretence, that her seemingly unconscious signs of love could have been
simulation!

Yet had not the gypsy sung of the false flame of woman's love? It is
true, she had bade me heed these words. Would she have done so had her
own appearance of love been false? Perhaps it was this very thought, the
very improbability of a false woman's warning a man against woman's
treachery, that had made her do so, that I might the less readily on
occasion believe her false. Who can tell the resources and devices of a
subtle woman?

What? Was I doubting her? Was I believing the story? Was I, with my
closer knowledge of her, with my experience of the freaks of
circumstance, with my perception of her heart, to accept the first
apparent deduction from the few facts at hand, as blind, unthinking,
undiscriminating soldiers, Blaise and Frojac, had done? Did I not know of
what kind of woman she was? She was no Mlle. d'Arency.

Yet, who knows but that poor De Noyard had believed Mlle. d'Arency true?
Might he not, with the eyes of love, have seen in her as pure and
spotless a creature as I had seen in Mile, de Varion? Do the eyes of
love, then, deceive? Is the confidence of lovers never to be relied on?

But I must have read her heart aright. Surely her heart had spoken to
mine. Surely its voice was that of truth. Surely I knew her. Were not her
eyes to be believed. Were not truth, goodness, gentleness, love, written
on her face?

Yet, how went the gypsy's song,--the one we had heard him sing at
Godeau's inn, by the forest road?

"But, ah, the sadness of the day
When woman shows her treason!
And, oh, the price we have to pay
For joys that have their season!
Her look of love is but a mask
For plots that she is weaving.
Alas, for those who fondly bask
In smiles that are deceiving!"

Might this, then, be true of any woman? So many men had found it out. The
eyes of so many had been opened at last. Was I still a fool, had I
learned so little of women, had my experience with Mile. d'Arency taught
me only to beware of women outwardly like her, did I need a separate
lesson for each different woman on whom I might set my heart? Was it my
peculiar lot to be twice deceived in the same way?

And yet, how her eyes had moistened in dwelling on mine, how they had
dropped before my look, how she had yielded to my embrace, how she had
stood still and unresisting in my arms! No, no, they were wrong! De
Berquin had lied, Blaise and Frojac were stolid fools, capable of making
only the most obvious inference, and I was a contemptible wretch to
falter in my faith in her for an instant! She was the victim of a set of
circumstances. She had reason for her hasty departure, she would make all
clear in a few words. On, on, my horse, that I may hear those words, that
my heart may rejoice! How soon shall we come up to her? How far ahead is
she? How near to Clochonne? On! She is true, I know it. On! It may be
even for my sake that she is endangering herself. On, that I may be at
her side to shield her! On, for of late I have passed all the hours of
the day with her, all the nights near her, her presence has been the
breath of life to me, it is a new and unwonted and intolerable thing to
be away from her, and I madly thirst and hunger for the sight of her! On,
good horse!

Yet, torturing thought, how the story explained all that had seemed
strange! How it fitted so many facts! At the inn at Fleurier we had
overheard the plan suggested by Montignac for my capture, the employment
of a spy who was to find my hiding place, send word of it, then plan an
ambush for me. Then the lady had come to the inn. Perhaps she was one
who had already some kind of relations with the governor and had now come
purposely to meet him. What had passed between her and the governor we
had not overheard. It might easily have been the proposal by him, and the
acceptance by her, of the mission against me. Such a task might better be
entrusted to a woman. Catherine herself had employed women to entrap men
who would have been on their guard against men. Certain Huguenot
gentlemen had been especially susceptible to the charms of her
accomplished decoys. Then the governor and his secretary had gone, and
the latter had reappeared with De Berquin. It might really be that this
woman, whether she were Mlle. de Varion, or whether she merely took that
name in order to get my confidence without having to make the risky
pretence of being a Protestant, was desired by Montignac and yet disliked
him, and that De Berquin had been hired indeed to hold her forcibly for
the secretary after she had accomplished her mission. But her ingenuous
signs of a tender feeling for me? A device to blind me and win my trust,
and so, through me, get the confidence of my supposed friend, La
Tournoire. Her grief on the journey? Mere pretence, in order to bear out
her story and enlist my sympathy. Her periods of silence and meditation?
She was thinking out the details of her plot. Her questions about La
Tournoire? A means of learning what manner of man she would have to deal
with, and of finding out his hiding-place at a time when it would be
easiest to despatch her boy with a description of it to the governor. Her
desire to know how great was my friendship for La Tournoire? This arose
perhaps from a thought that I might be won over to her purpose, perhaps
from a fear that I might some day avenge his betrayal. The barrier that,
she said, lay between us? A pretext to get rid of me as soon as I might
be, not only useless to her, but also in the way of her designs against
La Tournoire. Her strange agitation? A mask to cover the real excitement
that one in her position must have felt. Her aspect of horror at the
disclosure that I was La Tournoire? This may have been real, coming from
a fear that she might have betrayed herself by the curiosity she had
shown about me, that the eyes of La Tournoire must be keener than those
of the light-hearted man she had taken me to be, that I had dissembled to
her as well as to De Berquin, that I had been playing with her from the
first. After she knew me to be La Tournoire, and was assured that I did
not suspect her, she no more spoke of my going from her. What was her
weakness of body at Maury but a pretext for delay, that the governor
might have time to come to Clochonne and the project of the ambush be
carried out? She had forged chains of love to hold me where she was. Her
coyness but kept those chains the stronger, her postponement of the
surrender made it the more impossible for me to leave her side. Who can
go from the woman he loves while his fate is uncertain? If she had made
no show of love, I could have left her. If she had confessed her love in
words, and promised to be my own, I could have endured to leave her for a
time. How well she knew men! How well she had maintained just that
appearance which kept my thoughts on her night and day, which made me
unwilling to lose sight of her, and which would have made me instantly
responsive to any summons that she might have sent me from any part of
the forest!

So, then, there were two sides, two appearances, to this woman. The one,
the good side, that which I had seen, that which had been the joy of my
life, was not real, was but a seeming, had no existence but in pretence.
The other, the wicked side, was the real one, was the actual woman. I had
never known her. What I had known was but an assumption; it had no being.
Was this credible? Could a bad woman so delude one with an angelic
pretence, so conceal her wicked self? If so, to what depths of vileness
might she not be capable of descending? Was it, then, not that I had lost
my beloved, but that she had never existed? At thought of it, I felt a
sickness within, a weakness, a choking, a giving way. And then her image
came before me again, as she had stood in the moonlit garden, and my
beloved was born again. The woman I had known was the real one. I had
done her incredible wrong to have thought otherwise. But whether good or
bad, whether or not my betrayer, I loved her; I longed for her; I would
see her face; I would clasp her in my arms; I would claim her as my own;
I would hold her against her own will and the world's. On, my horse, on!
Where is she now, what has befallen her, how soon shall my heart bound at
sight of her before me in the night? On! Whether she lead me to heaven or
to hell, I must be with her; I cannot wait!

Presently we came to the abode of Godeau and Marianne, where the forest
path runs into the old road across the mountains. We had to check our
speed here, on account of the thick growth of vegetation that served to
mask the forest path from travellers on the road. We emerged from this,
and turned the heads of our horses towards Clochonne.

The door of the inn opened, and Marianne came forth. She had been
watching.

"Monsieur," she said, "I did not know whether to come to you or
not. I have been keeping my eyes and ears open for any of the
governor's troops."

"But you have seen or heard none," I answered, impatiently.

"None, monsieur. But some one has ridden by, towards
Clochonne--the lady!"

I knew from her tone that she saw in Mademoiselle's flight alone
sufficient reason for suspicion of mademoiselle and for alarm on my own
part. She, too, thought mademoiselle guilty, myself duped. I first
thought to pretend that mademoiselle's departure was a thing agreed on by
her and me, but it was no time to value the opinion of a peasant.

"On, Frojac!" I said, and on we went. We could make better speed now, for
the road, though little used and in bad condition, was continuous and,
unlike the forest path, comparatively free of intrusive vegetation. It
was hard, too, for the weather had been dry for a long time. The loud
clatter of the horses' hoofs was some relief to my eager heart.

There is a place where this road passes near the verge of a precipice,
which, like that at Maury, falls sheer to the road along the River Creuse
from Clochonne to Narjec. But, unlike that at Maury, this declivity is
bare of trees.

We were galloping steadily on and were approaching this place in the
road. Frojac was now riding at my side, as there was room for two
horsemen to go abreast.

"Hark!" said Frojac, suddenly. "Do you hear something?"

I heard the sounds made by our riding, but no other.

"Horsemen," he went on. "And men afoot, on the march!"

"Where?" I asked. We continued to gallop forward.

"Ahead," he answered. "Don't you hear, monsieur?"

I listened. Yes, there was the far-off sound of many shod feet striking
hard earth.

"It is ahead," said I.

"A body of troops," said Frojac.

"Then we may catch up with them."

"Or meet them. Perhaps they are coming this way."

"Troops on a night march!" said I.

Frojac looked at me. I saw written on his face the same thought that he
saw on mine.

"Whose else could they be?" he said. "And for what other purpose?"

Had Monsieur de la Chatre, then, chosen this night for a surprise and
attack on me at Maury? If he knew my hiding-place, why should he not have
done so? The idea of the ambush, then, had been abandoned? Perhaps,
indeed, the plan that I had overheard Montignac outline to La Chatre had
been greatly modified. Had mademoiselle, if she were in truth the
governor's agent, known of this night attack, if it were in truth a night
attack against me? Had she fled in order to avoid the shame or the danger
of being present at my capture? These and many other questions rushed
through my mind.

"What shall we do?" asked Frojac, after a time.

"Go on," said I.

"But if we meet them, and they are La Chatre's men, I fear that our
chances of catching up with the lady will be small."

"But, after all, we do not know who they are. If they are coming this
way, they must have met her by this time. Perhaps they have stopped her?
Who knows? I must follow her."

"But now it seems that the sound comes more from the north. They are
certainly coming nearer. They may be on the river road. We can see by
going to the edge of the precipice and looking down."

"We should lose time."

"'Tis but a little way out of the road. This is where the road is nearest
to the edge."

It might, indeed, be to my advantage to learn at once whether the troops
were in the road in front of us or in the road at the foot of the
mountain. So I fought down my impatience, and we turned from the road
towards the precipice. There was little underbrush here to hinder us,
and in a very short time we reined in our horses and looked down on the
vast stretch of moonlit country below.

At the very foot of the steep was the road that runs from Clochonne to
Narjec. And there, moving from the former towards the latter, went a
troop of horsemen, followed by a foot company of arquebusiers. They
trailed along, like a huge dark worm on the yellow way, following the
turns of the road. Seen from above, their figures were shortened and
looked squat.

I looked among the horsemen.

"I cannot see La Chatre," said I.

"But some of these are his men," said Frojac, "for I see my old comrade.
He knew nothing today of this march. I see most of the men of the
Clochonne garrison. I wonder what use they expect to make of their horses
if they intend to approach Maury from the river road."

I recalled now the exact words in which I had indicated to mademoiselle
the location of my hiding-place. I had said that it might be reached by
turning up the wooded hill from the river road, at the rock shaped like a
throne. Was it, indeed, in accordance with directions communicated to La
Chatre by her that they were now proceeding?

"If they are bound for Maury," said I, "they have hit on a good time.
Blaise and the men will have left there long before they arrive. Come,
Frojac, we lose precious minutes!"

"One thing is good, monsieur," said Frojac, as our horses resumed their
gallop towards Clochonne. "If we do have to follow the lady all the way
to Clochonne, we shall not find many soldiers there when we arrive.
Nearly all of La Chatre's men and the garrison troops are down there on
the river road, marching further from Clochonne every minute."

Alas, it was not then of troops to be encountered that I thought! It was
of what disclosure might be awaiting me concerning mademoiselle. Would
she admit her guilt or demonstrate her innocence? Would she prove to be
that other woman, or the one I had known? Would she laugh or weep, be
brazen or overwhelmed? How would she face me? That was my only thought.
Let me dare death a thousand times over, only to know the truth,--nay,
only to see her again!

So we sped forward on the road, which, by its length and its windings,
makes a gradual descent of the northern slope of the wooded ridge. At
last we came to the foot of the steep, emerged from the forest, turned
northward, and then saw before us, a little to the right, the sleeping
town of Clochonne. At the further end of that, on an eminence commanding
the river, stood the château, looking inaccessible and impregnable.

I thought of the day when I had first seen the château, the day when we
had come over the mountains from the south, and Frojac had pointed out to
me where it stood in the distance. That was before I had met mademoiselle
or knew that she was in the world. Little had I thought that ever I
should be hastening madly towards that château in the night on such an
errand or in such turmoil of heart!

We came to the point where the road by which we had come converges with
two others. One of these, joining from the right, also comes from the
south, and is, in fact, the new road across the mountains. The other,
joining from the left, is the road from Narjec, the one which runs along
the river and the base of the hills. It is this one which passes the
throne-shaped rock beneath Maury, and on which we had seen the troops.
Had we, coming from the mountains, reached this spot before the troops
coming from Clochonne reached it, we should have met them; but they had
passed this spot long before we had seen them from the height.

Blaise and the men, whom I had ordered to follow me, would nave left
Maury soon after I had. Certainly they would not be there when the
governor's troops should arrive. Coming by the road that I had used,
Blaise would not meet the governor's men on their way to Maury. But the
road by the river was much the shorter. The governor's men, on
discovering Maury deserted, might return immediately to Clochonne. They
might reach this spot before Blaise's men did, or about the same time.
Then there would be fighting.

These thoughts came into my mind at sight of the converging roads, not as
matters of concern to me, but as mere casual observations. There was
matter of greater moment to claim my anxiety. As to what might be the end
of this night, as to what might occur after my meeting with mademoiselle,
as to what might befall Blaise and my men, I had no thought.

And now, turning slightly northeastward, the road lay straight before us,
between the town wall and the river, up an incline, to the gate of the
château. This gate opens directly from the courtyard of the château to
the road outside the town wall. The château has a gate elsewhere, which
opens to the town, within the town wall.

The road ascended straight before us, I say, and on that road, making for
the château gate, was a horse, and on the horse a woman. She leaned
forward, urging the horse on. Over her shoulders was a mantle, a small
cap was on her head. Her hair streamed out behind her as she rode. My
heart gave a great bound.

"Look, Frojac! It is she!"

"We cannot catch her. She is too near the château."

"She will be detained at the gate."

"If she is the governor's agent, she will know what word to give the
guards. They will have orders to admit her, day or night. One who goes on
such business may be expected at any hour."

The manner of her reception at the gate, then, would disclose the truth.
If she were admitted without parley, it would be evident that she was in
the governor's service. My heart sank. Those who ride so fast towards
closed gates, at such an hour, expect the gates to let them in.

"Mademoiselle!" I called.

But my voice was hoarse. I had no command over it. I could not give it
volume. She made no sign. It was evident that she had not heard it. She
did not seem to know that she was pursued. She did not look back. Was she
so absorbed in her own thoughts, in her desire to reach her destination,
that she was conscious of nothing else?

Frojac was right. She was already too near the château for us to overtake
her before she arrived at the gate. We could but force our panting horses
to their best, and keep our eyes on her. The moon was now in the west,
and there was no object on the western side of the road to make a shadow.
So we did not once lose sight of her. She approached the château gate
without diminution of speed; it looked as if she heeded it not, or
expected the horse to leap it.

"Even if they do admit her promptly," said I, "it will take a little time
to lower the bridge over the ditch. We may then come up to her."

"Can you not see?" said Frojac. "The bridge is already down."

So it was. The troops had, doubtless, departed by this gate; the bridge,
let down for their departure, was still down, doubtless for their return.
The guards left at the château were, certainly, on the alert for this
return. In the event of any hostile force appearing in the meantime, they
could raise the bridge; but such an event was most unlikely. The only
hostile force in the vicinity was my own company. It is thus that I
accounted for the fact that the bridge was down.

Right up to the gate she rode, the horse coming to a quick stop on the
bridge at the moment when it looked as if he were about to dash his head
against the gate.

With straining ears I listened, as I rode on towards her.

She called out. I could hear her voice, but could not make out her
words. For some time she sat on her horse waiting, watching the gate
before her. I was surprised that she did not hear the clatter of our
horses and look around. Then she called again. I heard an answer from
the other side of the gate, and then the way was opened. She rode at
once into the courtyard.

We pressed on, Frojac and I, myself knowing not what was to come, he
content to follow me and face whatever might arise. The immediate thing
was to reach the château, as mademoiselle had done. Some means must be
found for getting entrance, for now that mademoiselle was inside, I
looked to see the gate fall into place at once.

But we beheld the unexpected. The gate remained open. No guard appeared
in the opening. We galloped up the hill, over the bridge, into the
courtyard. Nothing hindered us. What did it mean?

We stopped our horses and dismounted. There in the courtyard stood
mademoiselle's horse, trembling and panting, but mademoiselle herself had
disappeared. Before us was an open door, doubtless the principal entrance
to the château. Mademoiselle had probably gone that way.

"Come, Frojac!" said I, and started for this door.

But at that instant we heard rough exclamations and hasty steps behind
us. We turned and drew sword. From the guard-house by the gate, where
they must have been gambling or drinking or sleeping, or otherwise
neglecting their duty, came four men, who seemed utterly astonished at
sight of us.

"Name of the Virgin!" cried one. "The gate open! Where is Lavigue? He has
left his post! Who are you?"

"Enemies! Down with La Chatre!" I answered, seeing in a flash that an
attempt to fool them might be vain and would take time. A quick fight was
the thing to serve me best, for these men had been taken by surprise, and
two of them had only halberds, one had a sword, the fourth had an
arquebus but his match was out.

It was the man with the sword who had spoken. He it was who now
spoke again:

"Enemies? Prisoners, then! Yield!"

And he rushed up to us, accompanied by the halberdiers, while the
arquebusier ran to light his match at a torch in the guard-house.

Never was anything so expeditiously done. The leader knew nothing of fine
sword work. I had my point through his lungs before the halberdiers came
up. While I was pulling it out, one of the halberdiers aimed a blow at
me, and the other threatened Frojac. My follower dodged the thrust meant
for him, and at the same instant laid low, with a wound in the side, the
fellow who was aiming at me. Thus one of the halberdiers followed the
swordsman to earth instantly. The second halberdier recovered himself,
and made to attack Frojac again, but I caught his weapon in my left hand,
and so held it, while Frojac ran towards the arquebusier, who was now
coming from the guard-house with lighted match. The halberdier, whose
weapon I now grasped in one hand, while I held my sword in the other,
took fright, let his weapon go, and ran from the courtyard through the
open gateway. The arquebusier tried to bring his weapon to bear on
Frojac, but Frojac dropped on his knees and, thrusting from below, ran
his sword into the man's belly. The man fell with a groan, dropping his
weapon and his match.

I looked around. The courtyard was empty. Were these four, then, the only
soldiers that had been left to guard the château? No, for these four had
been surprised to find the gate open. Some one else must have opened the
gate for mademoiselle. Moreover, the swordsman had spoken of a Lavigue.
"Take the arquebus and the match, Frojac," said I, "and come. There is
nothing to be done here at present."

He obeyed me, and we returned to the door of the château. Just as we were
about to enter, I heard steps as of one coming down a staircase within.
Then a man came out. He was a common soldier and he carried a halberd. At
sight of us he stopped, and stood in the greatest astonishment. Then he
looked towards the gate. His expression became one of the utmost
consternation.

A thought came to me. I recalled what the swordsman said.

"You are Lavigue?" said I to the soldier.

"Yes," he said, bewildered.

"You were on duty at that gate, but you left your post."

"Yes, but--"

"But you first opened the gate for a lady."

"It was not I, monsieur," he answered, as if anxious to exonerate
himself, although he knew not to whom he was talking. "It was my comrade.
He said he knew the woman, and that the governor would wish her instantly
admitted, and he opened the gate. When she came in, I would have had her
wait at the gate till M. de la Chatre had been informed, but she ran into
the château, and my comrade with her. There must be something wrong, I
thought, if my comrade would leave his post to go in with the lady. So I
ran after them to get her to come back. It was my thought of my duty that
made me forget the gate. Indeed it was so, monsieur."

He evidently thought that we were friends of the governor's who had
happened to arrive at the château at this hour.

So he, at least, had not received orders to admit mademoiselle. Joyful
hope! Perhaps there had been no understanding between her and the
governor, after all! But his comrade had let her in, had said that the
governor would wish the gate opened to her at once. Then there was an
understanding.

"Where is your comrade?" I asked.

"I left him with the lady, in the chamber at the head of the staircase.
Ah, I hear him coming down the stairs!"

"Look to this man, Frojac," said I, and then hastened into the château.
The moonlight through the open door showed a large vestibule, from which
the staircase ascended towards the right. The man coming down this
staircase was at the bottom step when I entered the vestibule. He stopped
there, taken by surprise. I saw that he was of short stature and slight
figure. I caught him by the back of the neck with my left hand, and
brought him to his knees before me.

"Where is the lady who but now entered the château?" I said. "Why are you
silent, knave?"

He trembled in my grasp, and I turned his face up towards mine. It was
the face of mademoiselle's boy, Pierre, who had left us in the forest!

"You here?" I cried. "It was you, then, who opened the gate to her! How
came you here? Speak, if ever you would see the blue sky again!"

I pressed my fingers into his throat, until he choked and the fear of
death showed in his starting eyes; then I released my clasp, that he
might speak.

"Oh, monsieur, have mercy!" he gasped. "Do not kill me!"

I saw that he was thoroughly frightened for his life. He was but a
boy, and to a boy the imminent prospect of closing one's eyes forever
is not pleasant.

"Speak, then! Tell the truth!" I said, still holding him by the neck,
ready to tighten my clasp at any moment.

"I will, I will!" he said. "I went from Mlle. de Varion to M. de la
Chatre, with a message, and he kept me in his service."

"What message? The truth, boy! I shall see in your eyes whether or not it
be truth you tell me, and if you lie your eyes shall never look on the
world again. Quick, what message?"

"That I came from Mlle. de Varion to the governor," he answered, huskily,
"and that at the top of the hill that rises from the throne-shaped rock
by the river road to Narjec is the burrow of the Huguenot fox!"

The last doubt, the last hope, was gone!

"My God!" I cried, and cast the boy away from me. What now to me was he
or anything that he might do or say? He cowered for a moment on the
ground, looking up at me, and then, seeing that I no longer heeded him,
ran out to the courtyard.

For a moment I stood alone in the vestibule, crushed by the terrible
certainty. All women, then, were as bad as Mlle. d'Arency. The sweet and
tender girl who had filled my heart was as the worst of them. To be
betrayed was deplorable, but to be betrayed by her! To find her a
traitress was terrible, but that I should be her dupe! And that I should
still love her, love her, love her!

What, she was in the château, under this roof, and I tarried here
deploring her treason when I might be at her side, clasping her, looking
into her eyes! "In the chamber at the head of the staircase," the guard
had said. I forgot Frojac, the guard, Pierre. But one thought, one
desire, one impulse, possessed me. With my dripping sword in my hand, I
bounded up the stairs. They led me to a narrow gallery, which had windows
on the side next the courtyard. There were doors on the other side. A
single light burned. No one was in the gallery. The door nearest the
staircase landing was slightly open. I ran to it and into the chamber to
which it gave entrance.

As in the gallery, so in the chamber, I found no one. I stood just within
the threshold and looked around. The walls of the apartment were hung
with tapestry. At the right was first a window, then a chimney-place,
beside which stood a sword, then a _prieu-dieu._ Before the fireplace was
a table, on which were a lamp burning, paper, ink, pens, and a large bowl
of fruit. At the left of the chamber was a large bed, its curtains drawn
aside. Beside this was another table, on which was an empty tray. There
was a door, slightly ajar, in that side of the room, and another in the
side that faced me. On the back of a chair near the fireplace was slung a
hunting-horn. On a stool near the door by which I had entered lay a belt
with a dagger in sheath. The bed looked as if some one had recently lain
on it. The presence of the fruit, writing materials, and other things
seemed to indicate that this was the chamber of M. de la Chatre. But why
was he not in his bed? Probably he could not sleep while he awaited the
result of this midnight enterprise of his troops. Certainly the servants
in the château were asleep. It was apparent that the six guards, four of
whom we had disposed of, were the only soldiers left at the château, for,
if there had been any others in the guard-house, they would have been
awakened by the fight in the courtyard. How many troops were left in the
town, I could not know, but they would not come to the château during the
night unless brought by an alarm. So there would not be many to interpose
themselves between mademoiselle and me. But where was she? Whither
should I first turn to seek her.

I had well-nigh chosen to try the room at the left, when the door
opposite me opened without noise, and a figure glided into the chamber,
swiftly and silently. The movement was that of a person who rapidly
traverses a place in search of some one.

"Mademoiselle!"

She heard me, saw me, stopped, and stood with parted lips, astounded
face, and terror-stricken eyes.

So we stood, the width of the room between us, regarding each other.

CHAPTER XVI.

BEHIND THE CURTAINS

So we stood. Irresistible as had been my impulse to follow her, I now
found myself held back, as if by the look in her eyes, from approaching
nearer. So, while she gazed at me in wonder and terror, I regarded her
with inexpressible scorn and love, horror and adoration.

Presently she spoke, in a terrified whisper:

"Why are you here?"

I answered in a low voice:

"Because you are here. Like a poisonous flower you lure me. A flower you
are in outward beauty! Never was poison more sweetly concealed than is
treachery in you!"

"You were mad to follow me!" she said, and then she cast a quick,
apprehensive glance around the chamber, a glance that took in the
different doors one after another.

I thought she meant that, as we were in the stronghold of my enemies and
her friends, it would be madness in me to attempt to punish her
treachery. So I replied:

"Seek not to fright me from vengeance, for I intend none! I did not come
to punish. I do not know why it is, but where you are not I cannot rest.
I am drawn to you as by some power of magic. I would be with you even in
hell! Spy, traitress that you are, I love you! Your dupe that I am, I
love you!" I went to where, with downcast eyes, she stood, and I caught
her hand and pressed it to my lips. "I make myself a jest, a thing for
laughter, do I not, kissing the hand that would slay me?"

She raised her eyes, and held out her hand towards the fire-place,
saying:

"The hand that I would thrust into the flame to save you from the
lightest harm!"

What? Now that I was here, now that my capture seemed certain, would she
pretend that she had not acted for La Chatre against me? She did not know
that I had met Pierre, and what he had confessed to me.

"Mock me as you will, mademoiselle!" said I.

"Mistrust me as _you_ will, monsieur! I tell you, I would not have you
undergo the smallest harm!"

"You well sustain the jest!"

"Before God," she answered, "I do not jest!"

There was in her voice a ring of earnestness that seemed impossible to be
counterfeit. Puzzled, I looked at her, trying to read her countenance.

"Yet," I said, presently, "you were a spy upon me!"

"I was, God pity me! Scourge me with rough words as you will; I merit
every blow!"

"And you came here to see La Chatre," I went on, "perhaps because you
feared discovery, perhaps because you thought your work of betrayal was
done" (for I thought that she may have known of the midnight march of the
governor's troops), "perhaps to finish that work!"

"Now you wrong me at last!" she cried. "Thank God, I am not as bad as you
can think me!"

"Then you did not come here to see La Chatre?"

"I came to see him, I admit! I was seeking him when I met you here. But
it was not because I feared discovery that I left you, nor because I
thought my miserable work was done, nor to finish it."

I saw now that she was in great agitation. She tottered forward to the
table and put her hand on it, and leaned on it for support.

It seemed as if she were speaking the truth, as if there might be some
explanation of all, but that her inward excitement was too great, her
ideas too confused, for her to assemble the facts and present them in
proper order. It seemed that she could answer my accusations only as they
came, that she acknowledged herself guilty in part towards me, and yet
did not wish me harm.

"Mademoiselle," I said, dropping my harshness and irony, "to believe you
true would make me as happy as I now am wretched. But why is your boy
here, in the governor's service? Why did he carry from you the secret of
my hiding-place?"

Mademoiselle shuddered and gave a gesture of despair, as if there were
indeed no defence for her.

"Why are the troops away, if not in quest of me?" I asked. "We saw them
going towards Maury by the river road."

"I did not know that the troops had gone, or were going," she said. "I
swear to you, monsieur, if troops have gone to Maury this night, I had
nothing to do with their going!"

"But they knew what road to take, and how to find my hiding-place. La
Chatre knew that."

"Alas, it is true!" she moaned, while tears ran down her face. "I sent
him word!"

"You sent him word! You learned how to reach La Tournoire's hiding-place
from the man you thought his friend, and you sent the secret to the
governor, whom you knew to be his enemy? And yet you are not as bad as I
can think you!"

"I sent him word of your hiding-place; but he was not to seize you till I
had arranged a meeting with you alone and informed him of it!"

"You confess this! Oh, mademoiselle!"

"Consider! Did I arrange that meeting?"

"You had not time. It was but this afternoon you learned La Chatre was at
Clochonne."

"Yet, instead of coming here to-night I might have done it, monsieur. I
ran no risk of discovery in staying at Maury. You would still have had
faith in me had I remained there. And it was easy to do; it was all
planned. You know the old tower by the spring, to which we walked the
other day. I was to send Hugo at midnight to M. de la Chatre, with word
to have his men hidden there to-morrow at sunset. To-morrow I was to go
off into the forest with Jeannotte, and at sunset she was to come to you,
saying that I was at the tower grievously injured. You would have gone,
monsieur, without waiting to call any of your men; you would have come at
my summons on the instant, to the end of the world--"

"You knew that? Truly, the heart of man is an open page to women!"

"It was easily to be done, monsieur. Hugo could have shown the troops the
way. The place was well chosen. Neither your sentinels nor the inn people
would have seen the troops. They would have hidden there in wait for you.
So we had planned it, I and Jeannotte; but I abandoned it. I gave no
orders to Hugo. I came to Clochonne."

"Yes, knowing, perchance, that I would come after you. You thought to
make of Clochonne a trap into which to lead me! You were careful to let
it be known where you were coming, that I might find out and follow!"

"I told only my maid and Hugo, in a moment of excitement, when I scarce
knew what I said. I no more desired you to follow than I desired myself
to stay at Maury to call you to the ambush!"

"The ambush!" I echoed. "You forget one thing, mademoiselle, when you
take credit for renouncing the ambush. The troops have gone already to
Maury. Had they found me there, they would have made your ambush
unnecessary or impossible."

"But I knew nothing of their going to Maury," she said, helplessly. "It
was not to have been so. You were to have been taken by an ambush, I say!
If the governor sent troops to attack you to-night, he must have changed
the plan."

Now, I could indeed believe this, for I had overheard the plan suggested
by Montignac, and her very talk about the ambush seemed to show that his
plan had been adopted without change. In that case, she might not have
known of the movement of the troops. La Chatre might have decided, at
any time, to change his plan. Perhaps he had done this, and, for lack of
means or for some other reason, had not tried to inform her, or had
tried in vain.

She stood like an accused woman before her judges, incapable of
formulating her defence, expressing her distress by an occasional low,
convulsive sob. What did her conduct mean? Was her demeanor genuine or
assumed? Why did she confess one thing and deny another? Why did she seem
guilty and not guilty?

"I am puzzled more and more," I said. "I thought that, when I saw you, I
should at least learn the truth. I should at least know whether to love
you as an angel, who had been wronged alike by circumstances and by
report, or as a beautiful demon, who would betray me to my death; but I
am not even to know what you are. You betrayed my hiding-place. So far,
at least, you are guilty; but you did not arrange the ambush that you
were to have arranged. For so much you claim credit. Whatever are your
wishes in regard to me, they shall be fulfilled. I am yours, to be sent
to my death, if that is your will. What would you have me do?"

"Save yourself!" she whispered, eagerly, her eyes suddenly aflame with a
kind of hope, as if the possibility had just occurred to her.

Was this pretence? Did she know that I could not escape, and did she yet
wish, for shame's or vanity's sake, to appear well in my eyes?

"I shall not leave you," I said, quietly.

"Hark!" she whispered. "Some one comes!"

She looked towards the door near the head of the bed, the door that was
slightly ajar. She looked aghast, as one does at the apprehension of a
great and imminent danger. "Go while there is time! Do you not hear? It
is the voice of La Chatre! I recognize it! And the other,--his secretary,
Montignac! Go, go, I pray you on my knees, flee while there is yet time!"

She did indeed fall to her knees, clutching my arm with one hand, and
with the other trying to push me from the room, all the while showing a
very anguish of solicitude on her white face. Her eyes plead with me for
my own deliverance. The voices, which I too recognized, came nearer and
nearer, but slowly, as if the speakers were impeded in their progress
through the adjoining chamber. "Save yourself, save yourself!" she
continued to whisper.

"Come what may," I whispered in reply, my hand tightening on my sword, "I
will not leave you!"

"Then," she whispered, rapidly, seeing that I was not to be moved, "if
you will court death, at least know me first as I am,--no better, no
worse! Hide somewhere,--there behind the bed-curtains,--and hear what I
shall say to La Chatre! After that, if death find you, he shall find me
with you! I implore you, conceal yourself."

There was no pretence now, I was sure. Mystified, yet not doubting, I
whispered: "I yield, mademoiselle! God knows I would believe you
innocent!" and went behind the curtains, at the foot of the bed. It was
easy to stand behind these without disturbing the natural folds in which
they fell to the floor. The curtains at the sides also served to shield
me from view, so that I could not have been seen except from within the
bed itself.

I had no sooner found this concealment, and mademoiselle had no sooner
taken her place, standing with as much composure as she could assume, a
short distance from the foot of the bed, than M. de la Chatre and his
secretary entered the chamber. Peering between the curtains, I saw that
La Chatre was lame, and that he walked with the aid of a stick on one
side and Montignac's shoulder on the other.

"To think," he was saying as he came in, "that the misstep of a horse
should have made a helpless cripple of me, when I might have led this
hunt myself!"

I assumed that the "hunt" was the expedition to Maury, and smiled to
think how far was the game from the place of hunting.

The undisturbed mien of La Chatre showed that he had not heard of the
arrival of mademoiselle or of myself, or of the brief fight in the
courtyard. He would not have worn that look of security had he known
that, of six guards at the château, three now lay dead in the courtyard,
one had fled, and two were being looked after by my man Frojac.

He wore a rich chamber-robe and was bareheaded. Montignac was attired
rather like a soldier than like a scribe, having on a buff jerkin and
wearing both sword and dagger. His breeches and hose were of dull hue,
so that the only brightness of color on him was the red of his hair and
lips. It was, doubtless, from an excess of precaution that he went so
well armed in the château at so late an hour. Yet I smiled to see
weapons on this slight and fragile-looking youth, whose strength lay in
his brain rather than in his wrist. With great interest I watched him
now, knowing that he had devised the plan for my capture, had caused
Mlle. de Varion to be sent on her mission against me, and had sent De
Berquin on his mission against her. This march of the troops to Maury,
also, was probably his doing, even though it did imply a change from the
plan overheard by me, and confessed by mademoiselle. He had, too, if De
Berquin had told the truth, resolved to possess mademoiselle. He was
thus my worst foe, this subtle youth who had never seen me, and whom I
had never injured. He still had that look of mock humility, repressed
scorn, half-concealed derision, hidden ambition, vast inner resource,
mental activity, all under a calm and thoughtful countenance, over which
he had control.

It was not until they had passed the bed that they saw mademoiselle.
Both stopped and looked astonished. Montignac recognized her at once,
and first frowned, as if annoyed; then looked elated, as if her
presence suited his projects. But La Chatre did not immediately know
her. He lost color, as if it were a spirit that he saw, and, indeed,
mademoiselle, motionless and pale, looked not unlike some beautiful
being of another world.

"Who are you?" asked La Chatre, in a startled tone.

"It is I--Mlle. de Varion."

La Chatre promptly came to himself; but he looked somewhat confused,
abashed, and irritated.

"Mlle. de Varion, indeed!" he said. "And why comes Mlle. de Varion here?"

And now Montignac spoke, fixing his eyes on La Chatre, and using a quiet
but resolute tone:

"She comes too late. La Tournoire will be taken without her aid."

"Be silent, Montignac!" said La Chatre, assuming the authoritative for
the sake of appearance. "It is true, mademoiselle; you are too late in
fulfilling your part of the agreement."

He spoke with some embarrassment, and I began to see why. Inasmuch as he
had been at Clochonne but little more than one day, no more time had
passed than would have been necessary for the arrangement of the ambush.
Therefore it could not be honestly held that she had been tardy in
fulfilling her mission; that is to say, when he told her that she was too
late, he lied. Hence his embarrassment, for he was a gentleman. Now why
did he put forth this false pretext of tardiness on her part?

"Too late in fulfilling your part of the agreement," said the governor.

"I came, monsieur," said mademoiselle, heedless of the lie and the
apparent attempt to put her at fault, "to be released from my agreement."

Montignac looked surprised, then displeased. La Chatre appeared relieved,
but astonished.

"Released, mademoiselle?" he exclaimed, assuming too late a kind of
virtuous displeasure to cover his real satisfaction.

"Released, monsieur!" said mademoiselle. "I shall no further help you
take M. de la Tournoire. It was to tell you that, and for nothing else in
the world, that I came to Clochonne this night!"

She was close to the bed-curtains behind which I stood. I felt that her
words were meant for my ears as well as for the governor's.

"I shall not need your help, mademoiselle," replied the governor, with a
side smile at Montignac. "Yet this is strange. You do not, then, wish
your father's freedom?"

"Not on the terms agreed on, monsieur! Not to have my father set free
from prison, not even to save him from torture, not even from death. I
take back my promise, and give you back your own. I gave you word of La
Tournoire's hiding-place, and so far resigned my honor. I abandon my
hateful task unfinished, and so far I get my honor back. And, now, do as
you will!"

I could have shouted for joy!

This, then, explained it all. She had undertaken to betray me, but it
was to save her father! I remembered now. They had wanted a spy "who
would have all to lose by failure." Such were Montignac's words at the
inn at Fleurier. A spy, too, who might gain a wary man's confidence, and
with whom a rebel captain might desire or consent to a meeting away from
his men. Hardly had their need been uttered when there came mademoiselle
to beg a pardon for her father. A woman, beautiful and guileless, whom
any man might adore and trust, of whom any man might beg a tryst; a
woman, whose father was already in prison, his fate at the governor's
will; a woman, inexperienced and credulous, easily made to believe that
her father's crime was of the gravest; a woman, dutiful and
affectionate, willing to purchase her father's life and freedom at any
cost. What better instrument could have come to their hands? Her anxiety
to save her father would give her the powers of dissimulation necessary
to do the work. Her purity and innocence were a rare equipment for the
task of a Delilah. Who would suspect her of guile and intrigue any more
than I had done?

And now, having gone as far as she had in the task, she had abandoned it.
Even to save her father, she would no more play the traitress against me!
Against _me_! She loved me, then! Her task had become intolerable. She
must relieve herself of it. Yet as long as La Chatre still supposed that
she was carrying it out, she would feel bound by her obligation to him.
She must free herself of that obligation. She had made a compact with
him, she had given him her word. Though she resolved not to betray me,
she would not betray him either. He must no longer rely on her for the
performance of a deed that she had cast from her. She must not play false
even with him. All must hereafter be open and honest with her. The first
step towards regaining her self-respect was to see the governor and
renounce the commission. Then, but not till then, would she dare confess
all to me. I saw all this in an instant, as she had felt it, for people
do not arrive at such resolutions slowly and by reason, but instantly and
by feeling.

And all that she had done and suffered had been to save her father! Had I
but told her at once of my intention to deliver him, if possible, all
this, and my own hours of torment, might have been avoided. From what
little things do events take their course!

I rejoiced, I say, behind the curtains, on learning the truth. What
matter if we met death together in the enemy's stronghold, now that she
was pure and loved me? And yet, if we could but find a way out of this,
and save her father as well, what joy life would have!

La Chatre cast another jubilant smile at Montignac. The governor was
plainly delighted that mademoiselle herself had given up the task, now
that he had changed his plans and had no further use for her in them. It
relieved him of the disagreeable necessity of making her an explanation
composed of lies. He was really a gallant and amiable gentleman, and
subterfuge, especially when employed against a lady, was obnoxious to
him. As for Montignac, he stood frowning meditatively. He surely guessed
that mademoiselle's act was inspired by love for me, and the thought was
not pleasant to him.

Suddenly the governor turned quite pale, and asked quickly, in
some alarm:

"Did you speak the truth when you sent word of his hiding-place?"

It would, indeed, have been exasperating if he had sent his troops on a
false scent.

Mademoiselle hesitated a moment, then turned her eyes towards the
bed-curtains, and said:

"Yes, monsieur."

Her look, as I saw it, expressed that my position was not so bad, after
all, as long as the troops were away, and La Chatre supposed that I was
at Maury being captured by them.

La Chatre, reassured by her tone, which of course had the ring of truth,
again breathed freely.

"Then I release you from your agreement, mademoiselle," he said, and
added slowly and with a curious look at Montignac, "and your father may
languish in the château of Fleurier. But note this, mademoiselle: you
withdraw your aid from our purpose of capturing this traitor. Therefore,
you wish him freedom. For you, in the circumstances, not to oppose him is
to aid him. That is treason. I must treat you accordingly, mademoiselle."

"I have said, do with me as you will," she answered. For a time, relieved
of the burden that had weighed so heavily on her, she seemed resigned to
any fate. It was not yet that her mind rose to activity, and she began to
see possibilities of recovering something from the ruins.

And now the demeanor of La Chatre became peculiar. He spoke to
mademoiselle, while he looked at Montignac, as if he were taking an
unexpected opportunity to carry out something prearranged between him
and the secretary; as if he were dissembling to her, and sought
Montignac's attention and approval. His look seemed to say to the
secretary, "You see how well I am doing it?" Montignac stood with folded
arms and downcast eyes, attending carefully to La Chatre's words, but
having too much tact to betray his interest.

"And yet," said La Chatre, "you have been of some service to me in this
matter, and I would in some measure reward you. You sent me information
of La Tournoire's whereabouts, and for so much you deserve to be paid.
But you leave unfinished the service agreed on, and of course you cannot
claim your father's release."

"Yet, if I have at all served you in this, as unhappily I have, there is
no other payment that you possibly can make me," said mademoiselle.

"The question as to whether you ought to be rewarded for what you have
done, or held guilty of treasonable conduct in withdrawing at so late a
stage," said La Chatre, "is a difficult matter for me to deal with. There
may be a way in which it can be settled with satisfaction to yourself. It
is your part, not mine, to find such a way and propose it. You may take
counsel of some one--of my secretary, M. Montignac. He is one who, unlike
yourself, is entitled to my favor and the King's, and who may, on
occasion, demand some deviation from the strict procedure of justice.
Were he to ask, as a favor to himself, special lenience for your father,
or even a pardon and release, his request would have to be seriously
considered. Advise her, Montignac. I shall give you a few minutes to talk
with her."

And La Chatre, aided by his stick, made his way to the window, where he
stood with his back towards the other two.

I was not too dull to see that all this was but a clumsy way of
throwing mademoiselle's fate and her father's into the hands of
Montignac. The governor's manner, as I have indicated, showed that he
had previously agreed to do this on fit occasion, and that he now
perceived that occasion.

A new thought occurred to me. Had Montignac, coming more and more to
desire mademoiselle, and doubting the ability of his hastily found
instrument, De Berquin, sought and obtained the governor's sanction to
his wishes? Had he advised this midnight march to Maury in order that I
might be caught ere mademoiselle could fulfil her mission; in order,
that is to say, to prevent her from earning her father's freedom by the
means first proposed; in order that La Chatre might name a new price for
that freedom; in order, in fine, that herself should be the price, and
Montignac the recipient? Montignac could persuade the governor to
anything, why not to this? It was a design worthy alike of the
secretary's ingenuity and villainy. Circumstance soon showed that I was
right, that the governor had indeed consented to this perfidy.
Mademoiselle's unexpected arrival at Clochonne had given excellent
occasion for the project to be carried out. The governor himself had
recognized the fitness of the time. No wonder that he had at first
falsely charged her with tardiness, pretended that her delay had caused
the alteration of his plans. He had needed a pretext for having sent his
troops to capture me so that he might cheat her of her reward. I burned
with indignation. That two men of power and authority should so trick a
helpless girl, so use her love for her father to serve their own
purposes, so employ that father's very life as coin with which to buy
her compliance, so cozen her of the reward of what service she had done,
so plot to make of her a slave and worse, so threaten and use and cheat
her! No man ever felt greater wrath than I felt as I stood behind the
curtains and saw Montignac lift his eyes to mademoiselle's in obedience
to the governor's command. Yet, by what power I know not, I held myself
calm, ready to act at the suitable moment. I had taken a resolution, and
would carry it out if sword and wit should serve me. But meanwhile I
waited unseen.

Mademoiselle drew back almost imperceptibly, and on her face came the
slightest look of repugnance. From her manner of regarding him, it was
evident that this was not the first time she had been conscious of his
admiration and felt repelled by it. The meeting in the inn at Fleurier
had left with her a vastly different impression from that which it had
left with him.

Without smiling, he now bowed very courteously, and placed a chair for
her near where she stood.

"Mademoiselle," he said, with great tenderness, yet most respectfully, "a
harder heart than mine would be moved by your gentleness and beauty."

And here my own heart beat very rapidly at sound of another man speaking
so adoringly to my beloved.

She looked at him questioningly, as if his tone and manner showed that
she had misjudged him. His bearing was so gentle and sympathetic that she
could not but be deceived by it. She ceased to show repugnance, and sat
in the chair that he had brought.

"Monsieur," she said, "in my first opinion I may have wronged you. If
your heart is truly moved, you can demonstrate your goodness by asking
for my father's freedom. M. de la Chatre will grant it to you. You have a
claim on his favor, as he says, while I have none. Free my father, then,
and make me happy!"

Poor Julie! She thought not of herself. She knew that it would be
useless to ask anything for me. Yet there was one thing that might be had
from the situation--her father's freedom. So she summoned her energies,
and devoted them to striving for that, though she was in terror of my
being at any moment discovered.

"I would make you the happiest of women," said Montignac, in a low,
impassioned tone, falling on one knee and taking her hand, "if you would
make me the happiest of men."

Apprehension came into her eyes. She rose and moved towards the
bed-curtains, and, in the vain hope of turning him from his purpose by
pretending not to perceive it, said, with a sad little smile:

"Alas! it is out of my poor power to confer happiness!"

She half-turned her head towards where I stood behind the curtains,
partly at thought of the happiness that it seemed impossible for her to
confer on me, partly in fear lest Montignac's words might bring me forth.

"It is easily in your power to confer more than happiness," said
Montignac.

"How, monsieur?" she faltered, trembling under two fears, that of
Montignac's ardor and that of my disclosing myself. "I am puzzled to
know."

"By conferring your hand, mademoiselle," said Montignac, following her
and grasping her wrist. "Your father will be glad to give his consent for
his liberty, if he knows that you have given yours. But we can arrange to
proceed without his consent. Do not draw back, mademoiselle. It is
marriage that I offer, when I might make other terms. My family is a good
one; my prospects are the best, and I have to lay at your feet a love
that has never been offered to another, a love as deep as it is fresh--"

I clutched the curtain to give vent to my rage. Mademoiselle was looking
towards me, and saw the curtain move.

"Say no more!" she cried, fearful lest his continuance might be too much
for my restraint. "I cannot hear you?"

"I love you, mademoiselle," he went on, losing his self-control, so that
his face quivered with passion. "I can save you and your father!"

He thrust his face so close to hers that she drew back with an expression
of disgust.

"A fine love, indeed?" she cried, scornfully, "that would buy the love it
dare not hope to elicit free!" And she turned to La Chatre as if for
protection. But the governor shook his head, and remained motionless at
the window.

"A love you shall not despise, mademoiselle!" hissed Montignac, stung by
her scorn. He was standing by the table near the bed, and, in his
anger, he made to strike the table with his dagger, but he struck
instead the tray on the table, and so produced a loud, ringing sound
that startled the ear.

"Your fate is in my hands," he went on; "so is your father's. As for this
Tournoire, concerning whom you have suddenly become scrupulous, he is,
doubtless, by this time in the hands of the troops who have gone for him,
and very well it is that we decided not to wait for you to lead him to
us. So he had best be dismissed from your mind, as he presently will be
from this life. Accept me, and your father goes free! Spurn me, and he
dies in the château of Fleurier, and you shall still belong to me! Why
not give me what I have the power and the intention to take?"

"If you take it," cried mademoiselle, "that is your act. Were I to give,
that would be mine. It is by our own acts that we stand or fall in our
own eyes and God's!" She spoke loudly, in a resolute voice, as if to show
me that she could look to herself, so that I need not come out to her
defence,--for well she guessed my mind, and knew that, though she had
consented a thousand times to betray me, I would not stand passive while
a man pressed his unwelcome love on her. And now, as if to force a change
of theme by sheer vehemence of manner, she turned her back towards
Montignac and addressed La Chatre with a fire that she had not
previously shown.

"You have heard the proposal of this buyer of love! You hear me reject
it! M. de la Chatre, I hold you to your word. I have been of some service
to you in the matter of La Tournoire, and you would, in some measure,
reward me! You have said it! Very well! You expect to capture him
to-night at his hiding-place. Through me you learned that hiding-place,
therefore, through me you will have taken him. There is but one possible
way in which you can reward me: Keep your word! What if I did refuse to
plan the ambush? You yourself had already decided to dispense with that.
In the circumstances, all that I could have done for you I have done.
Would I could undo it! But I cannot! Therefore, give me now, at once, an
order that I may take to Fleurier for my father's release!"

La Chatre was plainly annoyed, for he loved to keep the letter of his
word. He could not deceive this woman, as he had at first felicitated
himself on doing, with a false appearance of fair dealing. She saw
through that appearance. It was indeed irritating to so honest a
gentleman. To gain time for a plausible answer, he moved slowly from the
window to the centre of the chamber. At the same time, mademoiselle, to
be further from Montignac, went towards the door by which she had entered
the room on my arrival. The secretary, with wolf-like eyes, followed
her, and both turned so as still to face the governor.

"I shall devise some proper reward for you," said La Chatre, slowly. "I
adhere always to the strict letter of my word; but I am not bound to free
your father. The strict letter of my word, remember! Recall my words to
you at the inn. I recall them exactly, and so does Montignac, who this
very evening reminded me of--ahem, that is to say, I recall them exactly.
I was to send the order to the governor of Fleurier for your father's
immediate release the instant I should stand face to face with the Sieur
de la Tournoire in the château of Clochonne."

I threw aside the bed-curtain, stepped forth, and said:

"That time has come, monsieur!"

CHAPTER XVII.

SWORD AND DAGGER

M. de la Chatre could not have been more surprised if a spirit had risen
from the floor at his feet. He stared at me with startled eyes. I had
sheathed my sword while behind the curtains, and now I stood motionless,
with folded arms, before him. Mademoiselle uttered a slight cry.
Montignac, who stood beside her, was as much taken aback as La Chatre
was, but was quicker to comprehend the situation. Without moving from his
attitude of surprise, he regarded me with intense curiosity and hate.
This was his first sight of me, hence his curiosity. He had already
inferred that mademoiselle loved me, therefore his hate.

"Who are you?" said La Chatre, at last, in a tone of mingled alarm and
resentment, as one might address a supernatural intruder.

"The Sieur de la Tournoire," said I, "standing face to face with you in
the château of Clochonne! You shall give mademoiselle that order for her
father's release, or you shall never break your word again."

And I drew my sword, and held it with its point towards his breast.

The fear of death blanched his cheeks and spurred his dull wits.

"Montignac," he cried, keeping his eyes fixed on mine, "if this man makes
a move, kill the woman!"

In his situation of peril, his mind had become agile. He had suddenly

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