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

An Enemy To The King by Robert Neilson Stephens

Part 6 out of 6

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

perceived how things were between mademoiselle and me.

As I have shown, Montignac stood with mademoiselle at some distance from
La Chatre and myself. I dared not take my eye from the governor, lest he
should step out of reach of my sword; but I could hear Montignac quickly
unsheathe his dagger, and mademoiselle give a sharp ejaculation of pain.
Then I turned my head for a moment's glance, and saw that he had caught
her wrist in a tight grasp, and that he held his dagger ready to plunge
it into her breast.

For a short time we stood thus, while I considered what to do next. It
was certain that Montignac would obey the governor's order, if only out
of hatred for me and in revenge on her for his despised love, though he
might fall by my sword a moment later. Therefore, I did not dare go to
attack him any more than I dared attack La Chatre. The governor, of
course, would not let her be killed unless I made some hostile movement,
for if she were dead nothing could save him from me, unless help came. He
feared to call for help, I suppose, lest rather than be taken I should
risk a rush at Montignac, and have himself for an instant at my mercy,
after all.

I cast another glance at Montignac, and measured the distance from me to
him, to consider whether I might reach him before he could strike
mademoiselle. La Chatre must have divined my thought, for he said:

"Montignac, I will deal with this gentleman. Take mademoiselle into that
chamber and close the door." And he pointed to the door immediately
behind mademoiselle, the one by which I had first seen her enter.

"But, monsieur--" began Montignac.

"I had not quite finished, Montignac," went on La Chatre. "I have my
reason for desiring you and the lady to withdraw. Fear not to leave me
with him. Lame as I am, I am no match for him, it is true, but
mademoiselle shall continue to be a hostage for his good behavior."

"I understand," said Montignac, "but how shall I know--?"

"Should M. de la Tournoire make one step towards me," said the
governor,--here he paused and took up the hunting-horn and looked at it,
but presently dropped it and pointed to the bowl of fruit on the table
near the fireplace,--"I shall strike this bowl, thus." He struck the
bowl with his stick, and it gave forth a loud, metallic ring, like that
previously produced by Montignac's dagger from the tray on the other
table. "The voice is not always to be relied on," continued the governor.
"Sometimes it fails when most needed. But a sound like this," and he
struck the bowl again, "can be made instantly and with certainty. Should
you hear one stroke on the bowl,--one only, not followed quickly by a
second stroke,--let mademoiselle pay for the rashness of her champion!"

"Yes, monsieur," replied Montignac, a kind of diabolical triumph in
his voice.

"It may be," said La Chatre, "that no such violent act will be necessary,
and that I shall merely require your presence here. In that case, I shall
strike twice rapidly, thus. Therefore, when you hear a stroke, wait an
instant lest there be a second stroke. But if there be no second, act as
I have told you."

"After you, mademoiselle," said Montignac, indicating by a motion his
desire that she should precede him backward out of the chamber. He still
clutched her arm and held his dagger aloft, intending thus to back out of
the room after her.

"I will not go!" she answered, trying to resist the force that he was
using on her arm.

This was the first resistance she had offered She had previously stood
motionless beneath his lifted dagger, feeling herself unable to break
from his grasp of iron, and supposing that any effort to do so would
bring down the dagger into her delicate breast. A woman's instinctive
horror of such a blow deterred her from the slightest movement that might
invite it. She had trusted to me for what action might serve to save us
from our enemies. But now her terror of leaving my presence, and her
horror of being alone with Montignac, overcame her fear of the dagger. "I
will not go!" she repeated.

"Go, mademoiselle," said I, gently, taking her glove from my belt, where
I had placed it, and kissing it, to show that I was still her devoted
chevalier. "Go! 'Tis the better way." For I welcomed any step that might
take Montignac from the chamber, and leave La Chatre's wit unaided to
cope with mine.

Her eyes showed submission, and she immediately obeyed the guidance
of Montignac's hand. Facing me still, he went out after her, and
closed the door.

I was alone with La Chatre.

"My secretary stood a little too near the point of your sword," said the
governor, "for the perfect security of my hostage. There was just a
possibility of your being too quick for him. I saw that you were
contemplating that possibility. As it is now, should I give him the
signal,--as I shall if you move either towards me or towards that
chamber,--he could easily put mademoiselle out of the way before you
could open the door. Not that I desire harm to mademoiselle. Her death
would not serve me at all It would, indeed, be something that I should
have to deplore. If I should deplore it, how much more would you! And
since you surely will not be so ungallant as to cause the death of so
charming a lady, I think I have you, let us say, at a slight
disadvantage!" And he sat down beside the table near the fireplace.

"I think not so, monsieur," said I, touching lightly with my sword's
point the tray on the table near the bed; "for should you strike once on
your bowl, I should very quickly strike once on this tray, so that two
strokes would be heard, and the obedient Montignac, mindful of his
orders, would enter this chamber, _not_ having slain mademoiselle."

I ought not to have disclosed this, my advantage. I ought rather to have
summoned Montignac by two strokes on the tray, and been at the door to
receive him. But I had not waited to consider. I spoke of the advantage
as soon as I noticed it, supposing that La Chatre, on seeing it, would
think himself at my mercy and would come to my terms. He was taken back
somewhat, it is true, but not much.

"Pah!" he said "After all, I could shout to him."

"It would be your last shouting. Moreover, your shouted orders would be
cut off unfinished, and the punctilious Montignac would be left in doubt
as to your wishes. Rather than slay mademoiselle on an uncertainty, he
would come hither to assure himself,--in which case God pity him!"

"Thank you for your warning, monsieur," said La Chatre, with mock
courtesy. "There shall be no shouting."

Whereupon he struck the bowl with his stick. Taken by surprise, I could
only strike my tray with my sword, so that two strokes might surely be
heard, although at the same time he gave a second stroke, showing that
his intention was merely to summon Montignac. In my momentary fear for
mademoiselle's life, and with my thoughts instantly concentrated on
striking the tray, I did not have the wit to leap to the door and receive
Montignac on my sword's point, as I would have done had I myself summoned
him, or had I expected La Chatre's signal.

So there I stood, far from the door, when it opened, and the secretary
advanced his foot across the threshold. Even then I made a movement as if
to rush on him, but he brought forward his left hand and I saw that it
still clutched the white wrist of mademoiselle. Only her arm was visible
in the doorway. Montignac still held his dagger raised. One step
backward and one thrust, and he could lay her dead at his feet. Had I
been ready at the door for him, I could have killed him before he could
have made these two movements; but from where I stood, I could not have
done so. So I listened in some chagrin to the governor's words.

"I change the signal, Montignac. At one stroke, do not harm the lady, but
come hither; but should you hear two strokes, or three, or any number
more, she is to be sacrificed."

"My dagger is ready, monsieur!"

Again the door closed; again I was alone with La Chatre.

I had lost my former advantage. For now, should I strike my tray
once, for the purpose of summoning Montignac, so that I might be at
the door to slay him at first sight, the governor could strike his
bowl, and Montignac would hear two strokes or more--signal for
mademoiselle's death.

"And now, monsieur," said the governor, making himself comfortable in his
chair between table and fireplace, "let us talk. You see, if you approach
me or that door, or if you start to leave this chamber, I can easily
strike the bowl twice before you take three steps."

I could see that he was not as easy in his mind as he pretended to be. It
was true that, as matters now were, his life was secure through my regard
for mademoiselle's; but were he to attempt leaving the room or calling
help, or, indeed, if help were to come uncalled, and I should find my own
life or liberty threatened, I might risk anything, even mademoiselle's
life, for the sake of revenge on him. He would not dare save himself by
letting me go free out of his own château. To do that would bring down
the wrath of the Duke of Guise, would mean ruin. That I knew well. If I
should go to leave the chamber, he would give the signal for Montignac to
kill mademoiselle. As for me. I did not wish to go without her or until I
should have accomplished a certain design I had conceived. Thus I was La
Chatre's prisoner, and he was mine. Each could only hope, by thought or
talk, to arrive at some means of getting the better of the other.

La Chatre's back was towards the door by which I had entered. By mere
chance, it seemed, I turned my head towards that door. At that instant,
my man, Frojac, appeared in the doorway. He had approached with the
silence of a ghost. He carried the arquebus that had belonged to the
guardsman, and his match was burning. Risking all on the possible effect
of a sudden surprise on the governor, I cried, sharply:

"Fire on that man, Frojac, if he moves."

La Chatre, completely startled, rose from his chair and turned about,
forgetful of the stick and bowl. When his glance reached Frojac, my good
man had his arquebus on a line with the governor's head, the match
dangerously near the breech.

"I have looked after the guards, monsieur," said Frojac, cheerily,
"both of them."

"Stand where you are," said I to him, "and if that gentleman attempts to
strike that bowl, see that he does not live to strike it more than once."

"He shall not strike it even once, monsieur!"

"You see, M. de la Chatre," said I, "the contents of an arquebus travel
faster than a man can."

"This is unfair!" were the first words of the governor, after his season
of dumb astonishment.

"Pardon me," said I. "It is but having you, let us say, at a slight
disadvantage; and now I think I may move."

I walked over to the governor's table and took up the bowl. La Chatre
watched me in helpless chagrin, informing himself by a side glance that
Frojac's weapon still covered him.

"You look somewhat irritated and disgusted, monsieur," said I. "Pray
sit down!"

As I held my sword across the table, the point in close proximity to his
chest, he obeyed, uttering a heavy sigh at his powerlessness. I then
threw the bowl into the bed, taking careful aim so that it might make no
sound. At that moment I saw La Chatre look towards the chamber in which
were Montignac and mademoiselle, and there came on his face the sign of
a half-formed project.

"See also, Frojac," said I, "that he does not open his mouth to shout."

"He shall be as silent as if born dumb, monsieur."

"Oh, he may speak, but not so loud as to be heard in the next chamber.
Look to it, Frojac."

"Very well, monsieur."

For I did not wish, as yet, that Montignac should know what was going on.
Through the closed door and the thick tapestried walls, only a loud cry,
or some such sound as a stroke on the resonant bowl or tray, could have
reached him. We had spoken in careful tones, La Chatre not daring to
raise his voice. Thus the closing of the door, intended by the governor
to make Montignac safer from a sudden rush on my part, now served my own
purpose. It is true that, since Frojac had appeared, and the governor
could not make his signal, I might have summoned Montignac by a single
stroke, and despatched him in the doorway. But now that my own position
was easier, I saw that such a manoeuvre, first contemplated when only a
desperate stroke seemed possible, was full of danger to mademoiselle. I
might bungle it, whereupon Montignac would certainly attempt one blow
against her, though it were his last. I must, therefore, use the governor
to release her from her perilous situation; but first I must use him for
another purpose, which the presence of the keen-witted Montignac might
defeat. Hence, the secretary was not yet to be made aware of the turn
things had taken.

There were three quills on the table. I took up one of them and dipped it
in the horn of ink.

"Shall I tell you of what you are thinking, monsieur," said I, observing
on the governor's face a new expression, that of one who listens and
makes some mental calculation.

"Amuse yourself as you please, monsieur," he answered.

"You are thinking, first, that as I am in your château, and not alone, I
have, doubtless, deprived you of all the soldiers left to guard your
château; secondly, that at a certain time, a few hours ago, your troops
set out for my residence; that they have probably now learned that I am
not there; that they have consequently started to return. You are asking
yourself what will happen if I am here when they arrive. Will I kill you
before I allow myself to be taken? Probably, you say. Men like me value
themselves highly, and sell themselves dearly. You would rather that I
leave before they come. Then you can send them on my track. Very well;
write, monsieur!" And I handed him the pen.

He looked at me with mingled vindictiveness and wonder, as if it were
remarkable that I had uttered the thoughts that any one in his position
must have had. Mechanically he took the pen.

"What shall I write?" he muttered.

"Write thus: To M. de Brissard, governor of Fleurier. Release M. de
Varion immediately. Let him accompany the man who bears this and who
brings a horse for him."

With many baitings, many side glances at Frojac's arquebus and my
sword-point, many glum looks and black frowns, he wrote, while I watched
from across the table. Then he threw the document towards me.

"Sign and seal," I said, tossing it back to him.

With intended slovenliness he affixed the signature and seal, then threw
the pen to the floor. I took the order, scanned it, and handed him
another pen.

"Excellent!" said I. "And now again!"

He made a momentary show of haughty, indignant refusal, but a movement of
my sword quelled the brief revolt in him.

"The bearer of this," I dictated, "M. de Varion, is to pass free in the
province, and to cross the border where he will."

This time he signed and affixed the seal without additional request. He
threw the second pen after the first, and looked up at me with a scowl.

"A bold, brave signature, monsieur! There is one pen left!" and I handed
him the third quill.

He took it with a look of wrath, after which he gave a sigh of forced
patience, and sat ready to write.

"The bearer of this, Ernanton de Launay--"

"Ernanton de Launay?" he repeated, looking up inquiringly.

"Ernanton de Launay, Sieur de la Tournoire,--" I went on.

He stared at me aghast, as if my presumption really passed all bounds,
but a glint of light on my sword caught his eye, he carried his eye along
to the point, which was under his nose, and he wrote:

"--is to pass free in the province, and from it, with all his company."

"No, no, no! I will never write that!"

Without an instant's hesitation, I drew back my sword as if to add weight
to an intended thrust. He gasped, and then finished the pass, signed it,
and attached the seal.

"Be assured," I said, as I took up the last order, "these will be used
before you shall have time to countermand them." He gritted his teeth at
this. "I thank you heartily, monsieur, and shall ask you to do no more
writing. But one favor will I claim,--the loan of a few gold pieces for
M. de Varion. Come, monsieur, your purse has ever been well fed!"

With a look of inward groaning, he negligently handed me some pieces, not
counting them.

"_Parbleu!_" he said. "You will ask me for my château next."

"All in good time. It is a good jest, monsieur, that while you visit me
at Maury by proxy, I return the visit at Clochonne in person and find
your château unguarded. To complete the jest, I need only take
possession. But I am for elsewhere. Frojac, come here."

While Frojac approached, I held my sword ready for any movement on
the part of my unhappy adversary, for I saw him cast a furtive look
at the tray on the other table, and I read on his face the birth of
some new design.

Rapidly I gave Frojac my commands, with the gold and the two orders
first written.

"Take this order immediately, with my horse and your own, to the château
of Fleurier. Secure M. de Varion's release, and fly with him at once from
the province, leaving by the western border, so that you cannot possibly
be forestalled by any troops or counter-orders that this gentleman may
send from here. Make your way speedily to Guienne."

"And in Guienne, monsieur?"

"You will doubtless find me at the camp of Henri of Navarre. As soon as
you see M. de Varion, assure him of the safety of his daughter. And now
to horse!"

"I am already on my way, monsieur!" And the good fellow ran from the
chamber and down the stairs. In a few moments I heard the horses
clattering out of the courtyard and over the bridge. Pleased at his zeal
and swiftness, I stepped to the window to wave him a godspeed. I thus
turned my back towards La Chatre.

Frojac saw me and waved in response, as he dashed down the moonlit way
towards the road to Fleurier.

I heard a stealthy noise behind me, and, turning, saw what made me
fiercely repent my momentary forgetfulness and my reliance on the
governor's lameness. The sight revealed plainly enough what new idea had
come into La Chatre's mind,--simply that, if he should give the signal
for mademoiselle's death, I would probably not stay to attack him, but
would instantly rush into the next chamber in the hope of saving her. He
could then fasten the door, and so hold me prisoner in that chamber until
the return of his troops. Well for us that he had not thought of this
before the arrival of Frojac!

He was already near the table on which was the tray, when I turned and
saw him. He raised his stick to strike the tray. I rushed after him.

He brought down his stick. The tray sounded, loud and bell-like. He heard
me coming, and raised his stick again. The second clang would be the
death-knell of my beloved!

But my sword was in time, my arm served. The blade met the descending
stick and knocked it from the governor's grasp. The same rush that took
me between La Chatre and the table carried me across the chamber to a
spot at one side of the door which Montignac at that moment threw open.

"You struck once, did you not, monsieur?" said Montignac, not seeing me,
for he naturally looked towards the centre of the chamber.

He held mademoiselle's wrist in his left hand, his dagger in his right. I
was at his right side. I was too near him to use my sword with effect, so
I contented myself with stepping quickly behind him and bringing my fist
down on his left arm above the elbow. This unexpected blow made him
involuntarily release mademoiselle's wrist, and informed him of my
whereabouts. The impulse of self-preservation caused him to rush forward
and turn. I then stepped in front of mademoiselle and faced him. All
this, from my turning from the window, was done in a moment.

"And now, M. de la Chatre," said I, "you may strike the bowl as often as
you please."

"M. de la Chatre," said Montignac, in a quick, resolute voice, "give me
leave to finish this!"

"As you will, Montignac!" replied the governor, moving towards the
window. His movement betrayed his thought. If his troops should return in
the next few minutes, I would be too busy with Montignac to attack
himself. There were two hopes for him. One was that, by some miracle,
Montignac might kill or wound me. The other was that the troops might
return before I should have finished with Montignac. La Chatre had
doubtless inferred that I had brought with me none of my men but Frojac;
therefore I alone was to be feared.

Montignac, keeping his eyes fixed on me, transferred his dagger to his
left hand, and drew his sword with his right. I, with my sword already in
my right hand, drew my dagger with my left.

"Monsieur," said I to Montignac, "I see with pleasure that you are not
a coward."

"You shall see what you shall see, monsieur!" he answered, in the voice
of a man who fears nothing and never loses his wits.

It was, indeed, a wonder that this man of thought could become so
admirable a man of action. There was nothing fragile in this pale
student. His eyes took on the hardness of steel. Never did more
self-reliant and resolute an antagonist meet me. The hate that was
manifest in his countenance did not rob him of self-possession. It only
strengthened and steadied him. At first I thought him foolhardy to face
so boldly an antagonist who wore a breastplate, but later I found that,
beneath his jerkin, he was similarly protected. I suppose that he had
intended to accompany the troops to Maury, had so prepared himself for
battle, and had not found opportunity, after the change of intention, to
divest himself.

Conscious of mademoiselle's presence behind me, I stood for a moment
awaiting the secretary's attack. In that moment did I hear, or but seem
to hear, the sound of many horses' footfalls on the distant road? I did
not wait to assure myself. Knowing that, if the governor's troops had
indeed found Maury abandoned, and had returned, quick work was
necessary, I attacked at the same instant as my adversary did. As I
would no more than disable an antagonist less protected than myself, I
made to touch him lightly in his right side; but my point, tearing away
a part of his jerkin, gave the sound and feel of metal, and thus I
learned that he too wore body armor. I was pleased at this; for now we
were less unequal than I had thought, and I might use full force. He had
tried to turn with his dagger this my first thrust, but was not quick
enough, whereas my own dagger caught neatly the sword-thrust that he
made simultaneously with mine.

"Oh, M. de Launay!" cried mademoiselle, behind me, in a voice of terror,
at the first swift clash of our weapons.

"Fear not for me, mademoiselle!" I cried, catching Montignac's blade
again with my dagger, and giving a thrust which he avoided by
leaping backward.

"Good, Montignac!" cried La Chatre, looking on from the window. "He
cannot reach you! If you cannot kill him, you may keep him engaged till
the troops come back!"

"I shall kill him!" was Montignac's reply, while he faced me with set
teeth and relentless eyes.

"Listen, monsieur!" cried mademoiselle. "If you die, I shall die with
you!" And she ran from behind me to the centre of the chamber, where I
could see her.

"And if I live?" I shouted, narrowly stopping a terrible thrust, and
stepping back between the table and the bed.

"If we live, I am yours forever! Ernanton, I love you!"

At last she had confessed it with her lips! For the first time, she had
called me by my Christian name! My head swam with joy.

"You kill me with happiness, Julie!" I cried, overturning the table
towards Montignac to gain a moment's breath.

"I shall kill you with my sword!" Montignac hurled the words through
clenched teeth. "For, by God, you shall have no happiness with her!"

His white face had an expression of demoniac hate, yet his thrusts became
the more adroit and swift, his guard the more impenetrable and firm. His
body was as sinuous as a wild beast's, his eye as steady. The longer he
fought, the more formidable he became as an adversary. He was worth a
score of Vicomtes de Berquin.

"Ernanton," cried mademoiselle, "you know all my treachery!"

"I know that you would have saved your father," I answered, leaping
backward upon the bed, to avoid the secretary's impetuous rush; "and
that I have saved him, and that, God willing, we shall soon meet him
in Guienne!"

"If he meets you, it will be in hell!" With this, Montignac jumped upon
the bed after me, and there was some close dagger play while I turned to
back out between the posts at the foot.

At this moment La Chatre gave a loud, jubilant cry, and mademoiselle,
looking out of the window, uttered a scream of consternation.

"The troops at last!" shouted La Chatre. "Hold out but another minute,
Montignac!"

So then I had heard aright. Alas, I thought, that the river road to Maury
should be so much shorter than the forest road; alas, that the governor's
troops should have had time to return ere Blaise had reached the junction
of the roads!

"My God, the soldiers have us in a trap!" cried mademoiselle, while I
caught Montignac's dagger-point with a bed-curtain, and stepped backward
from the bed to the floor.

"And mademoiselle shall be mine!"

As he uttered these words with a fiendish kind of elation, Montignac
leaped from the bed after me, releasing his dagger by pulling the curtain
from its fastening, while at the same time his sword-point, directed at
my neck, rang on my breast-plate.

"You shall not live to see the end of this, monsieur!" I replied,
infuriated at his premature glee.

And, having given ground a little, I made so quick an onslaught that, in
saving himself, he fell back against a chair, which overturned and took
him to the floor with it.

"Help, monsieur!" he cried to La Chatre, raising his dagger just in time
to ward off my sword.

The governor now perceived the sword that stood by the fireplace, took it
up, and thrust at me. Mademoiselle, who, in her distress at the sight of
the troops, had run to the _prie-dieu_ and fallen on her knees, saw La
Chatre's movement, and, rushing forward, caught the sword with both hands
as he thrust. I expected to see her fingers torn by the blade, but it
happened that the sword was still in its sheath, a fact which in our
excitement none of us had observed; so that when La Chatre tried to pull
the weapon from her grasp he merely drew it from the sheath, which
remained in her hands. By this time I was ready for the governor.

"Come on!" I cried. "It is a better match, two against me!"

And I sent La Chatre's sword flying from his hand, just in time to guard
against a dagger stroke from Montignac, who had now risen. Julie snatched
up the sword and held the governor at bay with it.

For some moments the distant clatter of galloping horses had been rapidly
increasing.

"Quick!" shouted La Chatre through the window to the approaching troops.
"To the rescue!"

And he stood wildly beckoning them on, but keeping his head turned
towards Montignac and me, who both fought with the greatest fury. For I
saw that I had found at last an antagonist requiring all my strength and
skill, one with whom the outcome was not at all certain.

The tumult of hoofs grew louder and nearer.

"Ernanton, fly while we can! The soldiers are coming!"

Mademoiselle threw La Chatre's sword to a far corner, ran to the door
leading from the stairway landing, closed it, and pushed home the bolt.

"They are at the gate! They are entering!" cried the governor, joyously.
"Another minute, Montignac!"

There was the rushing clank of hoofs on the drawbridge, then from the
courtyard rose a confused turbulence of horses, men, and arms.

Again my weapons clashed with Montignac's. Julie looked swiftly around.
Her eye alighted on the dagger that lay on one of the chairs. She drew it
from its sheath.

"If we die, it is together!" she cried, holding it aloft.

There came a deadened, thumping sound, growing swiftly to great volume.
It was that of men rushing up the stairs.

"To the rescue!" cried La Chatre. "But one more parry, Montignac!"

There was now a thunder of tramping in the hall outside the door.

"Ay, one more--the last!" It was I who spoke, and the speech was truth. I
leaped upon my enemy, between his dagger and his sword, and buried my
dagger in his neck. When I drew it out, he whirled around, clutched
wildly at the air, caught the curtain at the window, and fell, with the
quick, sharp cry:

"God have mercy on me!"

"Amen to that!" said I, wiping the blood from my dagger.

A terrible pounding shook the door, and from without came cries of
"Open." Mademoiselle ran to my side, her dagger ready for her breast. I
put my left arm around her.

"And now, God have mercy on _you_!" shouted La Chatre, triumphantly; for
the door flew from its place, and armed men surged into the chamber,
crowding the open doorway.

"Are we in time, my captain?" roared their leader, looking from the
governor to me.

And La Chatre tottered back to the fireplace, dumbfounded, for the leader
was Blaise and the men were my own.

Julie gave a glad little cry, and, dropping her dagger, sank to her knees
exhausted.

"Good-night, monsieur!" I said to La Chatre. "We thank you for your
hospitality!"

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE RIDE TOWARDS GUIENNE

I ordered the men to return to the courtyard, and, supporting Julie, I
followed them from the chamber, leaving M. de la Chatre alone with his
chagrin and the dead body of his secretary.

In the hall outside the governor's chamber, we found Jeannotte and Hugo,
for Blaise had brought them with him, believing that we would not return
to Maury. The gypsies had accompanied him as far as Godeau's inn, where
we had first met them. He had even brought as much baggage and provisions
as could be hastily packed on the horses behind the men. The only human
beings left by him at Maury were the three rascals who had so
blunderingly served De Berquin, but he had considerately unlocked the
door of their cell before his departure.

I begged mademoiselle to rest a while in one of the chambers contiguous
to the hall, and, when she and Jeannotte had left us, I told Blaise as
much of the truth as it needed to show mademoiselle as she was. I then
explained why he had found the draw-bridge down, the gate open, the
château undefended. He grinned at the trick that fate had played on our
enemies, but looked rather downcast at the lost opportunity of meeting
them at Maury.

"But," said he, looking cheerful again, "they will come back to
the château and find us here, and we may yet have some lively work
with them."

"Perchance," I said, "for I fear that mademoiselle cannot endure another
ride to-night. If she could, I would start immediately for Guienne. Our
work in Berry is finished."

"Then you shall start immediately," said a gentle but resolute voice
behind me. Mademoiselle, after a few minutes' repose, had risen and come
to demand that no consideration for her comfort should further imperil
our safety.

"But--" I started to object.

"Better another ride," she said, with a smile, "than another risking of
your life. I swear that I will not rest till you are out of danger. It is
not I who most need rest."

She looked, indeed, fresh and vigorous, as one will, despite bodily
fatigue, when one has cast off a heavy burden and found promise of new
happiness. When a whole lifetime of joy was to be won, it was no time to
tarry for the sake of weary limbs.

So it was decided that we should start at once southward, not resting
until we should be half-way across the mountains. As for my belated
foragers, we should have to let them take their chances of rejoining
us; and some weeks later they did indeed arrive at the camp in
Guienne with rich spoil, having found Maury given over to the owls
and bats as of yore.

The men cheered for joy at the announcement that we were at last to
rejoin our Henri's flying camp. In the guard-house we found Pierre and
the other guardsman, both securely bound by Frojac. We released Pierre
and sent him to his mistress. I put Blaise at the head of my company, and
we set forth, half of the troop going first, then mademoiselle and I,
then Jeannotte and the two boys, and lastly the other half of my force.
Looking back, I saw the lighted window of the governor's chamber, that
window whence I had looked out at Frojac and whence La Chatre had
mistakenly taken my men for his own. Doubtless he still sat in his
chamber, dazed and incapable of action, for after leaving him alone there
I neither saw nor heard him. Nor did we see any more troops or any
servants about the château. Some hasty scampering in distant apartments,
after the entrance of my men, was the only indication of inhabitants that
we had received. If there were other troops in the château than the six
we had disposed of, they followed the example of the servants and lay
close. As for the soldiers at the town guard-house, they must have heard
my men ride to the château, but they had wisely refrained from appearing
before a force greater than their own. I shall never cease to marvel that
the very night that took me and my men to Clochonne by one road took La
Chatre's guards and the town garrison to Maury by another.

When I sent Blaise to the head of the troops, I told him to set a good
pace, for the governor's men had indeed had time sufficient to have gone
to Maury, discovered their mistake, and come back, so much shorter is the
river road than the forest way. There was a likelihood, therefore, of
their reaching the point of junction, on their return, at any minute, and
I wished to be past that point and well up the mountain-side before they
should do so.

Julie rode very close to me, and as soon as we were out of the gate she
began in a low tone to speak of a thing that required no more explanation
to me; yet I let her speak on, for the relief of her heart. So, in a few
minutes, as we rode with the soldiers in the night, she eased her mind
forever of the matter.

"When I received word in Bourges," she said, "that my father was in
prison, I thought that I would die of grief and horror. They would not
let me see him, told me that his crime of harboring a Huguenot was a
grave one, that he had violated the King's edict, and might be charged
even with treason. The thought of how he must suffer in a dungeon was
more than I could endure. Only M. de la Chatre, they told me, could order
his release. La Chatre had left Fleurier to go northward. I started after
him, not waiting even to refresh my horses. When we reached the inn at
the end of the town, I had become sufficiently calm to listen to Hugo's
advice that it would be best to bait the horses before going further. I
began to perceive, too, that myself and Jeannotte needed some nourishment
in order to be able to go on a journey. Thus it happened that I stopped
at the inn where La Chatre himself was. He had not gone immediately north
from Fleurier, but had been visiting an estate in the vicinity, and it
was on regaining the main road that he had tarried at the inn, without
reentering the town. I had never seen him, but the girl at the inn told
me who he was.

"When I fell on my knees, and told him how incapable my father was of
harm or disloyalty, he at first showed annoyance, and said that my
pleading would be useless. My father must be treated as an example, he
said. To succor traitors was treason, to shield heretics was heresy, and
there was no doubt that the judges would condemn him to death, to furnish
others a lesson. He was then going to leave me, but his secretary came
forward and said that I had come at an opportune moment, an instrument
sent by Heaven. Was I not, he asked the governor, some one who had much
to gain or much to lose? Then La Chatre became joyful, and said that
there was a way--one only--by which I might free my father. Eagerly I
begged to know that way, but with horror I refused it when I learned that
it was to--to hunt down a certain Huguenot captain, to make him trust me,
and to betray him. For a time I would not hear his persuasions. Then he
swore that, if I did not undertake this detestable mission, my father
should surely die; and he told me that you were a deserter, a traitor, an
enemy to the church and to the King, I had heard your name but once or
twice, and I remembered it only as one who had worked with daring and
secrecy in the interests of the Huguenots. He described my father
tortured and killed, his body hanging at the gates of Fleurier, blown by
the wind, and attacked by the birds. Oh, it was terrible! All this could
be avoided, my father's liberty regained, by my merely serving the King
and the church. He gave his word that, if I betrayed you, my father
should be released without even a trial. You can understand, can you not?
You were then a stranger to me, and my father the most gentle and kindly
of men, the most tender and devoted of fathers."

"I understood already when I stood behind the curtain,
sweetheart," said I.

"When you came," she went on, "and asked whither I was bound, I made my
first attempt at lying. I wonder that you did not perceive my
embarrassment and shame when I said that the governor had threatened to
imprison me if I did not leave the province. It was the best pretext I
could give for leaving Fleurier while my father remained there in prison,
though they would not let me see him. It occurred to me that you must
think me a heartless daughter to go so far from him, even if it were,
indeed, to save my life."

"I thought only that you were an unhappy child, of whose inexperience and
fears the governor had availed himself; and that, after all, was the
truth. From the first moment when I knew that you were the daughter of M.
de Varion, I was resolved to attempt his rescue; but I kept my intention
from you, lest I might fail."

"Oh, to think that all the while I was planning your betrayal, you were
intending to save my father! Oh, the deception of which I was guilty!
What constant torture, what continual shame I felt! Often I thought I had
betrayed myself. Did you not observe my agitation when you first
mentioned the name of La Tournoire, and said that you would take me to
him. I wonder that you did not hear my heart say, 'That is the man I am
to betray!' And how bitter, yet sweet, it was to hear you commiserate my
dejection, which was due in part to the shame of the treacherous task I
had undertaken. It seemed to me that you ought to guess its cause, yet
you attributed it all to other sources. What a weight was on me while we
rode towards Clochonne, the knowledge that I was to betray the man whom I
then thought your friend,--the friend of the gentleman who protected me
and was so solicitous for my happiness! How glad I was when you told me
the man was no great friend of yours, that you would sacrifice him for
the sake of the woman you loved! After all, I thought you might not
loathe me when you should learn that I had betrayed him! Yet, to perform
my task in your presence, to make him love me--for I was to do that, if
needs be and it could be done--while you were with me, seemed impossible.
This was the barrier between us, the fact that I had engaged to betray
your friend, and you can understand now why I begged that you would leave
me. How could I play the Delilah in your sight? It had been hard enough
to question you about La Tournoire's hiding-place. And when I learned
that you were La Tournoire himself, whom I had already half betrayed in
sending Pierre to La Chatre with an account of your hiding-place; that
you whom I already loved--why should I not confess it?--were the man
whom I was to pretend to love; that you who already loved me were the man
whom I was to betray by making him love me,--oh, what a moment that was,
a moment when all hope died and despair overwhelmed me! Had I known from
the first that you were he, I might have guarded against loving you--"

"And well it is," said I, interrupting, "that for a jest and a surprise I
had kept that knowledge from you! Else you might indeed have--"

"Oh, do not think of it!" And she shuddered. "But you are right. Love
alone has saved us. But at first even the knowledge that you were La
Tournoire, and that none the less I loved you, did not make me turn back.
If my duty to my father had before required that I should sacrifice you,
did my duty not still require it? Did it make any change in my duty that
I loved you? What right had I, when devoted to a task like mine, to love
any one? If I had violated my duty by loving you, ought I not to
disregard my love, stifle it, act as if it did not exist? I had to forget
that I was a woman who loved, remember only that I was a daughter. My
filial duty was no less, my proper choice between my father and another
was not altered by my having fallen in love. I must carry my horrible
task to the end. What a night of struggle was that at the inn, after I
had learned that the appointed victim was you! And now it was necessary
that you should not leave me; therefore I spoke no more of the barrier
between us. I fortified myself to hide my feelings and maintain my
pretence. Surely you noticed the change in me, the forced composure and
cheerfulness. How I tried to harden myself!

"And after that the words of love you so often spoke to me, what bliss
and what anguish they caused me! I was to have made you love me, but you
loved me already. I ought to have rejoiced at this, for the success that
it promised my purpose. Yet, it was on that account that I shuddered at
it; and if it did give me moments of joy it was because it was pleasant
to have your love. My heart rose at the thought that I was loved by you,
and fell at the thought that your love was to cause your death. Often,
for your own sake, I wished that I might fail, that you would not love
me; yet for my father's sake I had to wish that I should succeed, had to
be glad that you loved me. To make you fall the more easily into the
hands of your enemies, I had to show love for you. How easy it was to
show what I felt; yet what anguish I underwent in showing it, when by
doing so I led you to death! The more I appeared to love you, the more
truly I disclosed my heart, yet the greater I felt was my treason! I do
not think any woman's heart was ever so torn by opposing motives!"

"My beloved, all that is past forever!"

"In my dreams at Maury, we would be strolling together among roses, under
cloudless skies, nothing to darken my joy. Then I would see you wounded,
the soldiers of the governor gathered around you and laughing at my
horror and grief. I would awake and vow not to betray you, and then I
would see my father's face, pale and haggard, and my dead mother's wet
with tears for his misery and supplicating me to save him!"

"My poor Julie!"

"And to-night,--yes, it was only to-night, it seems so long ago,--when
you held my hand on the dial, and plighted fidelity, what happiness I
should have had then, but for the knowledge of my horrible task, of the
death that awaited you, of the treason I was so soon to commit! For I and
Jeannotte had already arranged it, Hugo was soon to be sent to La Chatre.
And then came De Berquin. For telling only the truth of me, you killed
him as a traducer. So much faith you had in me, who deserved so little! I
could endure it no longer! Never would I look on your face again with
that weight of shame on me. God must send other means of saving my
father. They demanded too much of me. I would, as far as I could, make
myself worthy of your faith, though I never saw you again. Yet I could
not betray La Chatre. He had entrusted me with his design, and,
detestable as it was, I could not play him false in it. But I could at
least resign the mission. And I went, to undo the compact and claim back
my honor! I little guessed that he would make use, without my knowledge,
of the information I had sent him of your hiding-place. It seemed that,
even though La Chatre did know your hiding-place, God would not let you
be taken through me if I refused to be your betrayer."

"And so it has turned out," I said, blithely, "and now I no longer regret
having kept from you my intention of attempting your father's release.
For had I told you of it, and events taken another course, that attempt
might have failed, and it would perhaps have cost many lives, whereas the
order that I got from La Chatre this night is both sure and inexpensive.
But for matters having gone as they have, I should not have been enabled
to get that order. Ha! What is this!"

For Blaise had suddenly called a halt, and was riding back to me as if
for orders.

"Look, monsieur!" and he pointed to where the rive, road appeared from
behind a little spur at the base of the mountains. A body of horsemen was
coming into view. At one glance I recognized the foremost riders as
belonging to the troop I had seen four hours before.

"The devil!" said I. "La Chatre's soldiers coming back from Maury!"

We had ridden down the descent leading from the château along the town
wall, and had left the town some distance behind, so that the mountains
now loomed large before us. But we had not yet passed the place where the
roads converged.

"If we can only get into the mountain road before they reach this one, we
shall not meet them," I went on. "Forward, men!"

"But," said Blaise, astonished and frowning, but riding on beside
me, "they will reach this road before we pass the junction. Do you
wish them to take us in the flank? See, they have seen us and are
pressing forward!"

"If we reach our road in time, we shall lead them a chase. Go to the head
and set the pace at a gallop!"

"And have them overtake us and fall on our rear?"

"You mutinous rascal, don't you see that they are three times our number?
We stand better chance in flight than in fight! But, no, you are right!
They are too near the junction. We must face them. I shall go to the
head. Julie, my betrothed, I must leave you for a time. Roquelin and
Sabray shall fall behind with you, Jeannotte, and the two boys."

"I shall not leave your side!" she said, resolutely.

"Oh, mademoiselle!" cried Jeannotte, in a great fright.

"You may fall back, if you like," said Julie to her. "I shall not."

All this time we were going forward and the governor's troops were
rapidly nearing the junction. We could now plainly hear the noise they
made, which, because of that made by ourselves, we had not heard sooner.
They were looking at us with curiosity, and were evidently determined to
intercept us.

"Julie, consider! There may be great danger."

"If you are endangered, why should not I be? This is not the night,
Ernanton, on which you should ask me to leave you."

"Then I shall at least remain here," said I. "Go to the head, Blaise. But
if there is a challenge, I shall answer it. Perhaps they will not know us
and we can make them think we are friends."

He rode forward with sparkling eyes, although not before casting one
glance of solicitude at Jeannotte, who did not leave her mistress.

The men eagerly looked to their arms as they rode, and they exchanged
conjectures in low, quick tones, casting many a curious look at the
approaching force. Julie and I kept silence, I wondering what would be
the outcome of this encounter.

Suddenly, when the head of their long, somewhat straggling line had just
reached the junction, and Blaise was but a short distance from it, came
from their leader--La Chatre's equerry, I think--the order to halt, and
then the clear, sharp cry:

"Who goes there?"

Before I could answer, a familiar voice near their leader cried out:

"It is his company,--La Tournoire's,--I swear it! I know the big fellow
at the head."

The voice was that of the foppish, cowardly rascal of De Berquin's band.
I now saw that the three fellows left by Blaise at Maury were held as
prisoners by the governor's troops. Poor Jacques, doubtless, thought to
get his freedom or some reward for crying out our identity.

"I shall wring your neck yet, lap-dog!" roared Blaise.

All chance of passing under false colors was now gone. A battle with
thrice our force seemed imminent. What would befall Julie if they should
be too much for us? The thought made me sick with horror. At that instant
I remembered something.

"Halt!" I cried to the men. "I shall return in a moment, sweetheart.
Monsieur, the captain," and I rode forward towards the leader of the
governor's troops, "your informant speaks truly. Permit me to introduce
myself. I am the Sieur de la Tournoire, the person named in that order."
With which I politely handed him the pass that I had forced from La
Chatre, which I had for a time forgotten.

It was about three hours after midnight, and the moon was not yet very
low. The captain, taken by surprise in several respects, mechanically
grasped the document and read it.

"It is a--a pass," he said, presently, staring at it and at me in a
bewildered manner.

"As you see, for myself and all my company," said I; "signed by M. de
la Chatre."

"Yes, it is his signature."

"His seal, also, you will observe."

"I do. Yet, it is strange. Certain orders that I have received,--in fact,
orders to which I have just been attending,--make this very surprising. I
cannot understand--"

"It is very simple. While you were attending to your orders, I was making
a treaty with M. de la Chatre. In accordance with it, he wrote the pass.
He will, doubtless, relate the purport of our interview as soon as you
return to the château. I know that he is impatient for your coming.
Therefore, since you have seen the pass, I shall not detain you longer."

"But--I do not know--it is, indeed, the writing of M. de la Chatre--it
seems quite right, yet monsieur, since all is right, you will not
object to returning with me to the château that M. de la Chatre may
verify his pass?"

"Since all is right, there is no use in my doing so; and it would be most
annoying to M. de la Chatre to be asked to verify his own writing,
especially as the very object of this pass was to avoid my being delayed
on my march this night."

The captain, a young and handsome gentleman, with a frank look and a
courteous manner, hesitated.

"Monsieur will understand," I went on, "that every minute we stand here
opposes the purpose for which that pass was given."

"I begin to see," he said, with a look of pleasurable discovery. "You
have changed sides, monsieur? You have repented of your errors and have
put your great skill and courage at the service of M. de la Chatre?"

"It is for M. de la Chatre to say what passed between us this evening,"
said I, with a discreet air. "Then _an revoir_, captain! I trust we shall
meet again."

And I took back the pass, and ordered my men forward, as if the young
captain had already given me permission to go on. Then I saluted him, and
returned to Julie. The captain gazed at us in a kind of abstraction as we
passed. His men were as dumbfounded as my own. His foremost horsemen had
heard the short conversation concerning the pass, and were, doubtless, as
much at a loss as their leader was. When we were well in the mountain
road, I heard him give the order to march, and, looking back, I saw them
turn wearily up the road to the château. We continued to put distance
between ourselves and Clochonne.

On the northern slope of the mountains, we made but one stop. That was at
Godeau's, where we had a short rest and some wine. I gave the good
Marianne a last gold piece, received her Godspeed, and took up our march,
this time ignoring the forest path to Maury, following the old road
southward instead. It would be time to set up our camp when we should be
out of the province of Berry.

It was while we were yet ascending the northern slope of the mountains,
and the moon still shone now and then from the west through the trees,
that we talked, Julie and I, of the time that lay before us. It mattered
not to me under which form our marriage should be. One creed was to me
only a little the better of the two, in that it involved less of
subjection, but if the outward profession of the other would facilitate
our union, I would make that profession, reserving always my sword and my
true sympathies for the side that my fathers had taken. But when I
proposed this, Julie said that I ought not even to assume the appearance
of having changed my colors, and that it was for her, the woman, to
adopt mine, therefore she would abjure and we should be married as
Protestants. She could answer for the consent of her father, who could
not refuse his preserver and hers. It pleased me that she made no mention
of her lack of dowry, for their little estate would certainly be
confiscated after her father's flight. Judging my love by her own, she
knew that I valued herself alone above all the fortunes in the world. We
would, then, be united as soon as her father, guided by Frojac, should
join us in Guienne. She and her father should then go to Nerac, there to
await my return from the war that was now imminent; for I was to continue
advancing my fortunes by following those of our Henri on the field. Some
day our leader would overcome his enemies and mount the throne that the
fated Henri III.--ailing survivor of three short-lived brothers--would
soon leave vacant. Then our King would restore us our estates, I should
rebuild La Tournoire, and there we should pass our days in the peace that
our Henri's accession would bring his kingdom. Blaise should marry
Jeannotte and be our steward.

So we gave word to our intentions and hopes, those that I have here
written and many others. Some have been realized, and some have not, but
all that I have here written have been.

Once, years after that night, having gone up to Paris to give our two
eldest children a glimpse of the court, we were walking through the
gallery built by our great Henri IV., to connect the Louvre with the
Tuileries, when my son asked me who was the painted fat old lady that was
staring so hard at him as if she had seen him before. In turn I asked the
Abbé Brantome, who happened to be passing.

"It is the Marquise de Pirillaume," he said. "She was a gallant lady in
the reign of Henri III. She was Mlle. d'Arency and very beautiful."

I turned my eyes from her to Julie at my side,--to Julie, as fair and
slender and beautiful still as on that night when we rode together with
my soldiers towards Guienne, in the moonlight.

THE END.

Book of the day: