This eBook was prepared by Les Bowler from the 1922 John Murray edition.
COUNT HANNIBAL A ROMANCE OF THE COURT OF FRANCE. by Stanley J. Weyman.
SORORI SUA CAUSSA CARAE PRO ERGA MATREM AMORE ETIAM CARIORI HOC FRATER.
I. CRIMSON FAVOURS II. HANNIBAL DE SAULX, COMTE DE TAVANNES III. THE HOUSE NEXT THE GOLDEN MAID IV. THE EVE OF THE FEAST V. A ROUGH WOOING VI. "WHO TOUCHES TAVANNES?" VII. IN THE AMPHITHEATRE VIII. TWO HENS AND AN EGG IX. UNSTABLE X. MADAME ST. LO XI. A BARGAIN XII. IN THE HALL OF THE LOUVRE XIII. DIPLOMACY XIV. TOO SHORT A SPOON XV. THE BROTHER OF ST. MAGLOIRE XVI. AT CLOSE QUARTERS XVII. THE DUEL XVIII. ANDROMEDA, PERSEUS BEING ABSENT XIX. IN THE ORLEANNAIS XX. ON THE CASTLE HILL XXI. SHE WOULD, AND WOULD NOT XXII. PLAYING WITH FIRE XXIII. A MIND, AND NOT A MIND XXIV. AT THE KING'S INN XXV. THE COMPANY OF THE BLEEDING HEART XXVI. TEMPER XXVII. THE BLACK TOWN XXVIII. IN THE LITTLE CHAPTER-HOUSE XXIX. THE ESCAPE XXX. SACRILEGE! XXXI. THE FLIGHT FROM ANGERS XXXII. THE ORDEAL BY STEEL XXXIII. THE AMBUSH XXXIV. "WHICH WILL YOU, MADAME?" XXXV. AGAINST THE WALL XXXVI. HIS KINGDOM
CHAPTER I. CRIMSON FAVOURS.
M. de Tavannes smiled. Mademoiselle averted her eyes, and shivered; as if the air, even of that close summer night, entering by the door at her elbow, chilled her. And then came a welcome interruption.
Count Hannibal rose slowly. The King had called, and he had no choice but to obey and go. Yet he hung a last moment over his companion, his hateful breath stirring her hair.
"Our pleasure is cut short too soon, Mademoiselle," he said, in the tone, and with the look, she loathed. "But for a few hours only. We shall meet to-morrow. Or, it may be—earlier."
She did not answer, and "Tavannes!" the King repeated with violence. "Tavannes! Mordieu!" his Majesty continued, looking round furiously. "Will no one fetch him? Sacre nom, am I King, or a dog of a—"
"I come, sire!" the Count cried hastily. For Charles, King of France, Ninth of the name, was none of the most patient; and scarce another in the Court would have ventured to keep him waiting so long. "I come, sire; I come!" Tavannes repeated, as he moved from Mademoiselle's side.
He shouldered his way through the circle of courtiers, who barred the road to the presence, and in part hid her from observation. He pushed past the table at which Charles and the Comte de Rochefoucauld had been playing primero, and at which the latter still sat, trifling idly with the cards. Three more paces, and he reached the King, who stood in the ruelle with Rambouillet and the Italian Marshal. It was the latter who, a moment before, had summoned his Majesty from his game.
Mademoiselle, watching him go, saw so much; so much, and the King's roving eyes and haggard face, and the four figures, posed apart in the fuller light of the upper half of the Chamber. Then the circle of courtiers came together before her, and she sat back on her stool. A fluttering, long-drawn sigh escaped her. Now, if she could slip out and make her escape! Now—she looked round. She was not far from the door; to withdraw seemed easy. But a staring, whispering knot of gentlemen and pages blocked the way; and the girl, ignorant of the etiquette of the Court, and with no more than a week's experience of Paris, had not the courage to rise and pass alone through the group.
She had come to the Louvre this Saturday evening under the wing of Madame d'Yverne, her fiance's cousin. By ill-hap Madame had been summoned to the Princess Dowager's closet, and perforce had left her. Still, Mademoiselle had her betrothed, and in his charge had sat herself down to wait, nothing loth, in the great gallery, where all was bustle and gaiety and entertainment. For this, the seventh day of the fetes, held to celebrate the marriage of the King of Navarre and Charles's sister—a marriage which was to reconcile the two factions of the Huguenots and the Catholics, so long at war—saw the Louvre as gay, as full, and as lively as the first of the fete days had found it; and in the humours of the throng, in the ceaseless passage of masks and maids of honour, guards and bishops, Swiss in the black, white, and green of Anjou, and Huguenot nobles in more sombre habits, the country-bred girl had found recreation and to spare. Until gradually the evening had worn away and she had begun to feel nervous; and M. de Tignonville, her betrothed, placing her in the embrasure of a window, had gone to seek Madame.
She had waited for a time without much misgiving; expecting each moment to see him return. He would be back before she could count a hundred; he would be back before she could number the leagues that separated her from her beloved province, and the home by the Biscay Sea, to which even in that brilliant scene her thoughts turned fondly. But the minutes had passed, and passed, and he had not returned. Worse, in his place Tavannes—not the Marshal, but his brother, Count Hannibal—had found her; he, whose odious court, at once a menace and an insult, had subtly enveloped her for a week past. He had sat down beside her, he had taken possession of her, and, profiting by her inexperience, had played on her fears and smiled at her dislike. Finally, whether she would or no, he had swept her with him into the Chamber. The rest had been an obsession, a nightmare, from which only the King's voice summoning Tavannes to his side had relieved her.
Her aim now was to escape before he returned, and before another, seeing her alone, adopted his role and was rude to her. Already the courtiers about her were beginning to stare, the pages to turn and titter and whisper. Direct her gaze as she might, she met some eye watching her, some couple enjoying her confusion. To make matters worse, she presently discovered that she was the only woman in the Chamber; and she conceived the notion that she had no right to be there at that hour. At the thought her cheeks burned, her eyes dropped; the room seemed to buzz with her name, with gross words and jests, and gibes at her expense.
At last, when the situation had grown nearly unbearable, the group before the door parted, and Tignonville appeared. The girl rose with a cry of relief, and he came to her. The courtiers glanced at the two and smiled.
He did not conceal his astonishment at finding her there. "But, Mademoiselle, how is this?" he asked, in a low voice. He was as conscious of the attention they attracted as she was, and as uncertain on the point of her right to be there. "I left you in the gallery. I came back, missed you, and—"
She stopped him by a gesture. "Not here!" she muttered, with suppressed impatience. "I will tell you outside. Take me—take me out, if you please, Monsieur, at once!"
He was as glad to be gone as she was to go. The group by the doorway parted; she passed through it, he followed. In a moment the two stood in the great gallery, above the Salle des Caryatides. The crowd which had paraded here an hour before was gone, and the vast echoing apartment, used at that date as a guard-room, was well-nigh empty. Only at rare intervals, in the embrasure of a window or the recess of a door, a couple talked softly. At the farther end, near the head of the staircase which led to the hall below, and the courtyard, a group of armed Swiss lounged on guard. Mademoiselle shot a keen glance up and down, then she turned to her lover, her face hot with indignation.
"Why did you leave me?" she asked. "Why did you leave me, if you could not come back at once? Do you understand, sir," she continued, "that it was at your instance I came to Paris, that I came to this Court, and that I look to you for protection?"
"Surely," he said. "And—"
"And do you think Carlat and his wife fit guardians for me? Should I have come or thought of coming to this wedding, but for your promise, and Madame your cousin's? If I had not deemed myself almost your wife," she continued warmly, "and secure of your protection, should I have come within a hundred miles of this dreadful city? To which, had I my will, none of our people should have come."
"Dreadful? Pardieu, not so dreadful," he answered, smiling, and striving to give the dispute a playful turn. "You have seen more in a week than you would have seen at Vrillac in a lifetime, Mademoiselle."
"And I choke!" she retorted; "I choke! Do you not see how they look at us, at us Huguenots, in the street? How they, who live here, point at us and curse us? How the very dogs scent us out and snarl at our heels, and the babes cross themselves when we go by? Can you see the Place des Gastines and not think what stood there? Can you pass the Greve at night and not fill the air above the river with screams and wailings and horrible cries—the cries of our people murdered on that spot?" She paused for breath, recovered herself a little, and in a lower tone, "For me," she said, "I think of Philippa de Luns by day and by night! The eaves are a threat to me; the tiles would fall on us had they their will; the houses nod to—to—"
"To what, Mademoiselle?" he asked, shrugging his shoulders and assuming a tone of cynicism.
"To crush us! Yes, Monsieur, to crush us!"
"And all this because I left you for a moment?"
"For an hour—or well-nigh an hour," she answered more soberly.
"But if I could not help it?"
"You should have thought of that—before you brought me to Paris, Monsieur. In these troublous times."
He coloured warmly. "You are unjust, Mademoiselle," he said. "There are things you forget; in a Court one is not always master of one's self."
"I know it," she answered dryly, thinking of that through which she had gone.
"But you do not know what happened!" he returned with impatience. "You do not understand that I am not to blame. Madame d'Yverne, when I reached the Princess Dowager's closet, had left to go to the Queen of Navarre. I hurried after her, and found a score of gentlemen in the King of Navarre's chamber. They were holding a council, and they begged, nay, they compelled me to remain."
"And it was that which detained you so long?"
"To be sure, Mademoiselle."
"And not—Madame St. Lo?"
M. de Tignonville's face turned scarlet. The thrust in tierce was unexpected. This, then, was the key to Mademoiselle's spirt of temper.
"I do not understand you," he stammered.
"How long were you in the King of Navarre's chamber, and how long with Madame St. Lo?" she asked with fine irony. "Or no, I will not tempt you," she went on quickly, seeing him hesitate. "I heard you talking to Madame St. Lo in the gallery while I sat within. And I know how long you were with her."
"I met Madame as I returned," he stammered, his face still hot, "and I asked her where you were. I did not know, Mademoiselle, that I was not to speak to ladies of my acquaintance."
"I was alone, and I was waiting."
"I could not know that—for certain," he answered, making the best of it. "You were not where I left you. I thought, I confess—that you had gone. That you had gone home."
"With whom? With whom?" she repeated pitilessly. "Was it likely? With whom was I to go? And yet it is true, I might have gone home had I pleased—with M. de Tavannes! Yes," she continued, in a tone of keen reproach, and with the blood mounting to her forehead, "it is to that, Monsieur, you expose me! To be pursued, molested, harassed by a man whose look terrifies me, and whose touch I—I detest! To be addressed wherever I go by a man whose every word proves that he thinks me game for the hunter, and you a thing he may neglect. You are a man and you do not know, you cannot know what I suffer! What I have suffered this week past whenever you have left my side!"
Tignonville looked gloomy. "What has he said to you?" he asked, between his teeth.
"Nothing I can tell you," she answered, with a shudder. "It was he who took me into the Chamber."
"Why did you go?"
"Wait until he bids you do something," she answered. "His manner, his smile, his tone, all frighten me. And to-night, in all these there was a something worse, a hundred times worse than when I saw him last—on Thursday! He seemed to—to gloat on me," the girl stammered, with a flush of shame, "as if I were his! Oh, Monsieur, I wish we had not left our Poitou! Shall we ever see Vrillac again, and the fishers' huts about the port, and the sea beating blue against the long brown causeway?"
He had listened darkly, almost sullenly; but at this, seeing the tears gather in her eyes, he forced a laugh.
"Why, you are as bad as M. de Rosny and the Vidame!" he said. "And they are as full of fears as an egg is of meat! Since the Admiral was wounded by that scoundrel on Friday, they think all Paris is in a league against us."
"And why not?" she asked, her cheek grown pale, her eyes reading his eyes.
"Why not? Why, because it is a monstrous thing even to think of!" Tignonville answered, with the confidence of one who did not use the argument for the first time. "Could they insult the King more deeply than by such a suspicion? A Borgia may kill his guests, but it was never a practice of the Kings of France! Pardieu, I have no patience with them! They may lodge where they please, across the river, or without the walls if they choose, the Rue de l'Arbre Sec is good enough for me, and the King's name sufficient surety!"
"I know you are not apt to be fearful," she answered, smiling; and she looked at him with a woman's pride in her lover. "All the same, you will not desert me again, sir, will you?"
He vowed he would not, kissed her hand, looked into her eyes; then melting to her, stammering, blundering, he named Madame St. Lo. She stopped him.
"There is no need," she said, answering his look with kind eyes, and refusing to hear his protestations. "In a fortnight will you not be my husband? How should I distrust you? It was only that while she talked, I waited—I waited; and—and that Madame St. Lo is Count Hannibal's cousin. For a moment I was mad enough to dream that she held you on purpose. You do not think it was so?"
"She!" he cried sharply; and he winced, as if the thought hurt him. "Absurd! The truth is, Mademoiselle," he continued with a little heat, "you are like so many of our people! You think a Catholic capable of the worst."
"We have long thought so at Vrillac," she answered gravely.
"That's over now, if people would only understand. This wedding has put an end to all that. But I'm harking back," he continued awkwardly; and he stopped. "Instead, let me take you home."
"If you please. Carlat and the servants should be below."
He took her left hand in his right after the wont of the day, and with his other hand touching his sword-hilt, he led her down the staircase, that by a single turn reached the courtyard of the palace. Here a mob of armed servants, of lacqueys, and footboys, some bearing torches, and some carrying their masters' cloaks and galoshes, loitered to and fro. Had M. de Tignonville been a little more observant, or a trifle less occupied with his own importance, he might have noted more than one face which looked darkly on him; he might have caught more than one overt sneer at his expense. But in the business of summoning Carlat—Mademoiselle de Vrillac's steward and major-domo—he lost the contemptuous "Christaudins!" that hissed from a footboy's lips, and the "Southern dogs!" that died in the moustachios of a bully in the livery of the King's brother. He was engaged in finding the steward, and in aiding him to cloak his mistress; then with a ruffling air, a new acquirement, which he had picked up since he came to Paris, he made a way for her through the crowd. A moment, and the three, followed by half a dozen armed servants, bearing pikes and torches, detached themselves from the throng, and crossing the courtyard, with its rows of lighted windows, passed out by the gate between the Tennis Courts, and so into the Rue des Fosses de St. Germain.
Before them, against a sky in which the last faint glow of evening still contended with the stars, the spire and pointed arches of the church of St. Germain rose darkly graceful. It was something after nine: the heat of the August day brooded over the crowded city, and dulled the faint distant ring of arms and armour that yet would make itself heard above the hush; a hush which was not silence so much as a subdued hum. As Mademoiselle passed the closed house beside the Cloister of St. Germain, where only the day before Admiral Coligny, the leader of the Huguenots, had been wounded, she pressed her escort's hand, and involuntarily drew nearer to him. But he laughed at her.
"It was a private blow," he said, answering her unspoken thought. "It is like enough the Guises sped it. But they know now what is the King's will, and they have taken the hint and withdrawn themselves. It will not happen again, Mademoiselle. For proof, see the guards"—they were passing the end of the Rue Bethizy, in the corner house of which, abutting on the Rue de l'Arbre Sec, Coligny had his lodgings—"whom the King has placed for his security. Fifty pikes under Cosseins."
"Cosseins?" she repeated. "But I thought Cosseins—"
"Was not wont to love us!" Tignonville answered, with a confident chuckle. "He was not. But the dogs lick where the master wills, Mademoiselle. He was not, but he does. This marriage has altered all."
"I hope it may not prove an unlucky one!" she murmured. She felt impelled to say it.
"Not it!" he answered confidently. "Why should it?"
They stopped, as he spoke, before the last house, at the corner of the Rue St. Honore opposite the Croix du Tiroir; which rose shadowy in the middle of the four ways. He hammered on the door.
"But," she said softly, looking in his face, "the change is sudden, is it not? The King was not wont to be so good to us!"
"The King was not King until now," he answered warmly. "That is what I am trying to persuade our people. Believe me, Mademoiselle, you may sleep without fear; and early in the morning I will be with you. Carlat, have a care of your mistress until morning, and let Madame lie in her chamber. She is nervous to-night. There, sweet, until morning! God keep you, and pleasant dreams!"
He uncovered, and bowing over her hand, kissed it; and the door being open he would have turned away. But she lingered as if unwilling to enter.
"There is—do you hear it—a stir in that quarter?" she said, pointing across the Rue St. Honore. "What lies there?"
"Northward? The markets," he answered. "'Tis nothing. They say, you know, that Paris never sleeps. Good night, sweet, and a fair awakening!"
She shivered as she had shivered under Tavannes' eye. And still she lingered, keeping him.
"Are you going to your lodging at once?" she asked—for the sake, it seemed, of saying something.
"I?" he answered a little hurriedly. "No, I was thinking of paying Rochefoucauld the compliment of seeing him home. He has taken a new lodging to be near the Admiral; a horrid bare place in the Rue Bethizy, without furniture, but he would go into it to-day. And he has a sort of claim on my family, you know."
"Yes," she said simply. "Of course. Then I must not detain you. God keep you safe," she continued, with a faint quiver in her tone; and her lip trembled. "Good night, and fair dreams, Monsieur."
He echoed the words gallantly. "Of you, sweet!" he cried; and turning away with a gesture of farewell, he set off on his return.
He walked briskly, nor did he look back, though she stood awhile gazing after him. She was not aware that she gave thought to this; nor that it hurt her. Yet when bolt and bar had shot behind her, and she had mounted the cold, bare staircase of that day—when she had heard the dull echoing footsteps of her attendants as they withdrew to their lairs and sleeping- places, and still more when she had crossed the threshold of her chamber, and signed to Madame Carlat and her woman to listen—it is certain she felt a lack of something.
Perhaps the chill that possessed her came of that lack, which she neither defined nor acknowledged. Or possibly it came of the night air, August though it was; or of sheer nervousness, or of the remembrance of Count Hannibal's smile. Whatever its origin, she took it to bed with her and long after the house slept round her, long after the crowded quarter of the Halles had begun to heave and the Sorbonne to vomit a black-frocked band, long after the tall houses in the gabled streets, from St. Antoine to Montmartre and from St. Denis on the north to St. Jacques on the south, had burst into rows of twinkling lights—nay, long after the Quarter of the Louvre alone remained dark, girdled by this strange midnight brightness—she lay awake. At length she too slept, and dreamed of home and the wide skies of Poitou, and her castle of Vrillac washed day and night by the Biscay tides.
CHAPTER II. HANNIBAL DE SAULX, COMTE DE TAVANNES.
Tavannes, we know, had been slow to obey the summons. Emerging from the crowd, he found that the King, with Retz and Rambouillet, his Marshal des Logis, had retired to the farther end of the Chamber; apparently Charles had forgotten that he had called. His head a little bent—he was tall and had a natural stoop—the King seemed to be listening to a low but continuous murmur of voices which proceeded from the door of his closet. One voice frequently raised was beyond doubt a woman's; a foreign accent, smooth and silky, marked another; a third, that from time to time broke in, wilful and impetuous, was the voice of Monsieur, the King's brother, Catherine de Medicis' favourite son. Tavannes, waiting respectfully two paces behind the King, could catch little that was said; but Charles, something more, it seemed, for on a sudden he laughed, a violent, mirthless laugh. And he clapped Rambouillet on the shoulder.
"There!" he said, with one of his horrible oaths, "'tis settled! 'Tis settled! Go, man, and take your orders! And you, M. de Retz," he continued, in a tone of savage mockery, "go, my lord, and give them!"
"I, sire?" the Italian Marshal answered, in accents of deprecation. There were times when the young King would show his impatience of the Italian ring, the Retzs and Biragues, the Strozzis and Gondys, with whom his mother surrounded him.
"Yes, you!" Charles answered. "You and my lady mother! And in God's name answer for it at the day!" he continued vehemently. "You will have it! You will not let me rest till you have it! Then have it, only see to it, it be done thoroughly! There shall not be one left to cast it in the King's teeth and cry, 'Et tu, Carole!' Swim, swim in blood if you will," he continued, with growing wildness. "Oh, 'twill be a merry night! And it's true so far, you may kill fleas all day, but burn the coat, and there's an end. So burn it, burn it, and—" He broke off with a start as he discovered Tavannes at his elbow. "God's death, man!" he cried roughly, "who sent for you?"
"Your Majesty called me," Tavannes answered; while, partly urged by the King's hand, and partly anxious to escape, the others slipped into the closet and left them together.
"I sent for you? I called your brother, the Marshal!"
"He is within, sire," Tavannes answered, indicating the closet. "A moment ago I heard his voice."
Charles passed his shaking hand across his eyes. "Is he?" he muttered. "So he is! I heard it too. And—and a man cannot be in two places at once!" Then, while his haggard gaze, passing by Tavannes, roved round the Chamber, he laid his hand on Count Hannibal's breast. "They give me no peace, Madame and the Guises," he whispered, his face hectic with excitement. "They will have it. They say that Coligny—they say that he beards me in my own palace. And—and, mordieu," with sudden violence, "it's true. It's true enough! It was but to-day he was for making terms with me! With me, the King! Making terms! So it shall be, by God and Devil, it shall! But not six or seven! No, no. All! All! There shall not be one left to say to me, 'You did it!'"
"Softly, sire," Tavannes answered; for Charles had gradually raised his voice. "You will be observed."
For the first time the young King—he was but twenty-two years old, God pity him!—looked at his companion.
"To be sure," he whispered; and his eyes grew cunning. "Besides, and after all, there's another way, if I choose. Oh, I've thought and thought, I'd have you know." And shrugging his shoulders, almost to his ears, he raised and lowered his open hands alternately, while his back hid the movement from the Chamber. "See-saw! See-saw!" he muttered. "And the King between the two, you see. That's Madame's king-craft. She's shown me that a hundred times. But look you, it is as easy to lower the one as the other," with a cunning glance at Tavannes' face, "or to cut off the right as the left. And—and the Admiral's an old man and will pass; and for the matter of that I like to hear him talk. He talks well. While the others, Guise and his kind, are young, and I've thought, oh, yes, I've thought—but there," with a sudden harsh laugh, "my lady mother will have it her own way. And for this time she shall, but, All! All! Even Foucauld, there! Do you mark him. He's sorting the cards. Do you see him—as he will be to-morrow, with the slit in his throat and his teeth showing? Why, God!" his voice rising almost to a scream, "the candles by him are burning blue!" And with a shaking hand, his face convulsed, the young King clutched his companion's arm, and pinched it.
Count Hannibal shrugged his shoulders, but answered nothing.
"D'you think we shall see them afterwards?" Charles resumed, in a sharp, eager whisper. "In our dreams, man? Or when the watchman cries, and we awake, and the monks are singing lauds at St. Germain, and—and the taper is low?"
Tavannes' lip curled. "I don't dream, sire," he answered coldly, "and I seldom wake. For the rest, I fear my enemies neither alive nor dead."
"Don't you? By G-d, I wish I didn't," the young man exclaimed. His brow was wet with sweat. "I wish I didn't. But there, it's settled. They've settled it, and I would it were done! What do you think of—of it, man? What do you think of it, yourself?"
Count Hannibal's face was inscrutable. "I think nothing, sire," he said dryly. "It is for your Majesty and your council to think. It is enough for me that it is the King's will."
"But you'll not flinch?" Charles muttered, with a quick look of suspicion. "But there," with a monstrous oath, "I know you'll not! I believe you'd as soon kill a monk—though, thank God," and he crossed himself devoutly, "there is no question of that—as a man. And sooner than a maiden."
"Much sooner, sire," Tavannes answered grimly. "If you have any orders in the monkish direction—no? Then your Majesty must not talk to me longer. M. de Rochefoucauld is beginning to wonder what is keeping your Majesty from your game. And others are marking you, sire."
"By the Lord!" Charles exclaimed, a ring of wonder mingled with horror in his tone, "if they knew what was in our minds they'd mark us more! Yet, see Nancay there beside the door? He is unmoved. He looks to-day as he looked yesterday. Yet he has charge of the work in the palace—"
For the first time Tavannes allowed a movement of surprise to escape him.
"In the palace?" he muttered. "Is it to be done here, too, sire?"
"Would you let some escape, to return by-and-by and cut our throats?" the King retorted, with a strange spirt of fury; an incapacity to maintain the same attitude of mind for two minutes together was the most fatal weakness of his ill-balanced nature. "No. All! All!" he repeated with vehemence. "Didn't Noah people the earth with eight? But I'll not leave eight! My cousins, for they are blood-royal, shall live if they will recant. And my old nurse, whether or no. And Pare, for no one else understands my complexion. And—"
"And Rochefoucauld, doubtless, sire?"
The King, whose eye had sought his favourite companion, withdrew it. He darted a glance at Tavannes.
"Foucauld? Who said so?" he muttered jealously. "Not I! But we shall see. We shall see! And do you see that you spare no one, M. le Comte, without an order. That is your business."
"I understand, sire," Tavannes answered coolly. And after a moment's silence, seeing that the King had done with him, he bowed low and withdrew; watched by the circle, as all about a King were watched in the days when a King's breath meant life or death, and his smile made the fortunes of men. As he passed Rochefoucauld, the latter looked up and nodded.
"What keeps brother Charles?" he muttered. "He's madder than ever to- night. Is it a masque or a murder he is planning?"
"The vapours," Tavannes answered, with a sneer. "Old tales his old nurse has stuffed him withal. He'll come by-and-by, and 'twill be well if you can divert him."
"I will, if he come," Rochefoucauld answered, shuffling the cards. "If not 'tis Chicot's business, and he should attend to it. I'm tired, and shall to bed."
"He will come," Tavannes answered, and moved, as if to go on. Then he paused for a last word. "He will come," he muttered, stooping and speaking under his breath, his eyes on the other's face. "But play him lightly. He is in an ugly mood. Please him, if you can, and it may serve."
The eyes of the two met an instant, and those of Foucauld—so the King called his Huguenot favourite—betrayed some surprise; for Count Hannibal and he were not intimate. But seeing that the other was in earnest, he raised his brows in acknowledgment. Tavannes nodded carelessly in return, looked an instant at the cards on the table, and passed on, pushed his way through the circle, and reached the door. He was lifting the curtain to go out, when Nancay, the Captain of the Guard, plucked his sleeve.
"What have you been saying to Foucauld, M. de Tavannes?" he muttered.
"Yes," with a jealous glance, "you, M. le Comte."
Count Hannibal looked at him with the sudden ferocity that made the man a proverb at Court.
"What I chose, M. le Capitaine des Suisses!" he hissed. And his hand closed like a vice on the other's wrist. "What I chose, look you! And remember, another time, that I am not a Huguenot, and say what I please."
"But there is great need of care," Nancay protested, stammering and flinching. "And—and I have orders, M. le Comte."
"Your orders are not for me," Tavannes answered, releasing his arm with a contemptuous gesture. "And look you, man, do not cross my path to-night. You know our motto? Who touches my brother, touches Tavannes! Be warned by it."
Nancay scowled. "But the priests say, 'If your hand offend you, cut it off!'" he muttered.
Tavannes laughed, a sinister laugh. "If you offend me I'll cut your throat," he said; and with no ceremony he went out, and dropped the curtain behind him.
Nancay looked after him, his face pale with rage. "Curse him!" he whispered, rubbing his wrist. "If he were any one else I would teach him! But he would as soon run you through in the presence as in the Pre aux Clercs! And his brother, the Marshal, has the King's ear! And Madame Catherine's too, which is worse!"
He was still fuming, when an officer in the colours of Monsieur, the King's brother, entered hurriedly, and keeping his hand on the curtain, looked anxiously round the Chamber. As soon as his eye found Nancay, his face cleared.
"Have you the reckoning?" he muttered.
"There are seventeen Huguenots in the palace besides their Highnesses," Nancay replied, in the same cautious tone. "Not counting two or three who are neither the one thing nor the other. In addition, there are the two Montmorencies; but they are to go safe for fear of their brother, who is not in the trap. He is too like his father, the old Bench-burner, to be lightly wronged! And, besides, there is Pare, who is to go to his Majesty's closet as soon as the gates are shut. If the King decides to save any one else, he will send him to his closet. So 'tis all clear and arranged here. If you are forward outside, it will be well! Who deals with the gentleman with the tooth-pick?"
"The Admiral? Monsieur, Guise, and the Grand Prior; Cosseins and Besme have charge. 'Tis to be done first. Then the Provost will raise the town. He will have a body of stout fellows ready at three or four rendezvous, so that the fire may blaze up everywhere at once. Marcel, the ex-provost, has the same commission south of the river. Orders to light the town as for a frolic have been given, and the Halles will be ready."
Nancay nodded, reflected a moment, and then with an involuntary shudder—
"God!" he exclaimed, "it will shake the world!"
"You think so?"
"Ay, will it not!" His next words showed that he bore Tavannes' warning in mind. "For me, my friend, I go in mail to-night," he said. "There will be many a score paid before morning, besides his Majesty's. And many a left-handed blow will be struck in the melee!"
The other crossed himself. "Grant none light here!" he said devoutly. And with a last look he nodded and went out.
In the doorway he jostled a person who was in the act of entering. It was M. de Tignonville, who, seeing Nancay at his elbow, saluted him, and stood looking round. The young man's face was flushed, his eyes were bright with unwonted excitement.
"M. de Rochefoucauld?" he asked eagerly. "He has not left yet?"
Nancay caught the thrill in his voice, and marked the young man's flushed face and altered bearing. He noted, too, the crumpled paper he carried half-hidden in his hand; and the Captain's countenance grew dark. He drew a step nearer, and his hand reached softly for his dagger. But his voice, when he spoke, was smooth as the surface of the pleasure-loving Court, smooth as the externals of all things in Paris that summer evening.
"He is here still," he said. "Have you news, M. de Tignonville?"
"For M. de Rochefoucauld?"
Tignonville laughed. "No," he said. "I am here to see him to his lodging, that is all. News, Captain? What made you think so?"
"That which you have in your hand," Nancay answered, his fears relieved.
The young man blushed to the roots of his hair. "It is not for him," he said.
"I can see that, Monsieur," Nancay answered politely. "He has his successes, but all the billets-doux do not go one way."
The young man laughed, a conscious, flattered laugh. He was handsome, with such a face as women love, but there was a lack of ease in the way he wore his Court suit. It was a trifle finer, too, than accorded with Huguenot taste; or it looked the finer for the way he wore it, even as Teligny's and Foucauld's velvet capes and stiff brocades lost their richness and became but the adjuncts, fitting and graceful, of the men. Odder still, as Tignonville laughed, half hiding and half revealing the dainty scented paper in his hand, his clothes seemed smarter and he more awkward than usual.
"It is from a lady," he admitted. "But a bit of badinage, I assure you, nothing more!"
"Understood!" M. de Nancay murmured politely. "I congratulate you."
"I say I congratulate you!"
"But it is nothing."
"Oh, I understand. And see, the King is about to rise. Go forward, Monsieur," he continued benevolently. "A young man should show himself. Besides, his Majesty likes you well," he added, with a leer. He had an unpleasant sense of humour, had his Majesty's Captain of the Guard; and this evening somewhat more than ordinary on which to exercise it.
Tignonville held too good an opinion of himself to suspect the other of badinage; and thus encouraged, he pushed his way to the front of the circle. During his absence with his betrothed, the crowd in the Chamber had grown thin, the candles had burned an inch shorter in the sconces. But though many who had been there had left, the more select remained, and the King's return to his seat had given the company a fillip. An air of feverish gaiety, common in the unhealthy life of the Court, prevailed. At a table abreast of the King, Montpensier and Marshal Cosse were dicing and disputing, with now a yell of glee, and now an oath, that betrayed which way fortune inclined. At the back of the King's chair, Chicot, his gentleman-jester, hung over Charles's shoulder, now scanning his cards, and now making hideous faces that threw the on-lookers into fits of laughter. Farther up the Chamber, at the end of the alcove, Marshal Tavannes—our Hannibal's brother—occupied a low stool, which was set opposite the open door of the closet. Through this doorway a slender foot, silk-clad, shot now and again into sight; it came, it vanished, it came again, the gallant Marshal striving at each appearance to rob it of its slipper, a dainty jewelled thing of crimson velvet. He failed thrice, a peal of laughter greeting each failure. At the fourth essay, he upset his stool and fell to the floor, but held the slipper. And not the slipper only, but the foot. Amid a flutter of silken skirts and dainty laces—while the hidden beauty shrilly protested—he dragged first the ankle, and then a shapely leg into sight. The circle applauded; the lady, feeling herself still drawn on, screamed loudly and more loudly. All save the King and his opponent turned to look. And then the sport came to a sudden end. A sinewy hand appeared, interposed, released; for an instant the dark, handsome face of Guise looked through the doorway. It was gone as soon as seen; it was there a second only. But more than one recognised it, and wondered. For was not the young Duke in evil odour with the King by reason of the attack on the Admiral? And had he not been chased from Paris only that morning and forbidden to return?
They were still wondering, still gazing, when abruptly—as he did all things—Charles thrust back his chair.
"Foucauld, you owe me ten pieces!" he cried with glee, and he slapped the table. "Pay, my friend; pay!"
"To-morrow, little master; to-morrow!" Rochefoucauld answered in the same tone. And he rose to his feet.
"To-morrow!" Charles repeated. "To-morrow?" And on the word his jaw fell. He looked wildly round. His face was ghastly.
"Well, sire, and why not?" Rochefoucauld answered in astonishment. And in his turn he looked round, wondering; and a chill fell on him. "Why not?" he repeated.
For a moment no one answered him: the silence in the Chamber was intense. Where he looked, wherever he looked, he met solemn, wondering eyes, such eyes as gaze on men in their coffins.
"What has come to you all?" he cried, with an effort. "What is the jest, for faith, sire, I don't see it?"
The King seemed incapable of speech, and it was Chicot who filled the gap.
"It is pretty apparent," he said, with a rude laugh. "The cock will lay and Foucauld will pay—to-morrow!"
The young nobleman's colour rose; between him and the Gascon gentleman was no love lost.
"There are some debts I pay to-day," he cried haughtily. "For the rest, farewell my little master! When one does not understand the jest it is time to be gone."
He was halfway to the door, watched by all, when the King spoke.
"Foucauld!" he cried, in an odd, strangled voice. "Foucauld!" And the Huguenot favourite turned back, wondering. "One minute!" the King continued, in the same forced voice. "Stay till morning—in my closet. It is late now. We'll play away the rest of the night!"
"Your Majesty must excuse me," Rochefoucauld answered frankly. "I am dead asleep."
"You can sleep in the Garde-Robe," the King persisted.
"Thank you for nothing, sire!" was the gay answer. "I know that bed! I shall sleep longer and better in my own."
The King shuddered, but strove to hide the movement under a shrug of his shoulders. He turned away.
"It is God's will!" he muttered. He was white to the lips.
Rochefoucauld did not catch the words. "Good night, sire," he cried. "Farewell, little master." And with a nod here and there, he passed to the door, followed by Mergey and Chamont, two gentlemen of his suite.
Nancay raised the curtain with an obsequious gesture. "Pardon me, M. le Comte," he said, "do you go to his Highness's?"
"For a few minutes, Nancay."
"Permit me to go with you. The guards may be set."
"Do so, my friend," Rochefoucauld answered. "Ah, Tignonville, is it you?"
"I am come to attend you to your lodging," the young man said. And he ranged up beside the other, as, the curtain fallen behind them, they walked along the gallery.
Rochefoucauld stopped and laid his hand on Tignonville's sleeve.
"Thanks, dear lad," he said, "but I am going to the Princess Dowager's. Afterwards to his Highness's. I may be detained an hour or more. You will not like to wait so long."
M. de Tignonville's face fell ludicrously. "Well, no," he said. "I—I don't think I could wait so long—to-night."
"Then come to-morrow night," Rochefoucauld answered, with good nature.
"With pleasure," the other cried heartily, his relief evident. "Certainly. With pleasure." And, nodding good night, they parted.
While Rochefoucauld, with Nancay at his side and his gentlemen attending him, passed along the echoing and now empty gallery, the younger man bounded down the stairs to the great hall of the Caryatides, his face radiant. He for one was not sleepy.
CHAPTER III. THE HOUSE NEXT THE GOLDEN MAID.
We have it on record that before the Comte de la Rochefoucauld left the Louvre that night he received the strongest hints of the peril which threatened him; and at least one written warning was handed to him by a stranger in black, and by him in turn was communicated to the King of Navarre. We are told further that when he took his final leave, about the hour of eleven, he found the courtyard brilliantly lighted, and the three companies of guards—Swiss, Scotch, and French—drawn up in ranked array from the door of the great hall to the gate which opened on the street. But, the chronicler adds, neither this precaution, sinister as it appeared to some of his suite, nor the grave farewell which Rambouillet, from his post at the gate, took of one of his gentlemen, shook that chivalrous soul or sapped its generous confidence.
M. de Tignonville was young and less versed in danger than the Governor of Rochelle; with him, had he seen so much, it might have been different. But he left the Louvre an hour earlier—at a time when the precincts of the palace, gloomy-seeming to us in the light cast by coming events, wore their wonted aspect. His thoughts, moreover, as he crossed the courtyard, were otherwise employed. So much so, indeed, that though he signed to his two servants to follow him, he seemed barely conscious what he was doing; nor did he shake off his reverie until he reached the corner of the Rue Baillet. Here the voices of the Swiss who stood on guard opposite Coligny's lodgings, at the end of the Rue Bethizy, could be plainly heard. They had kindled a fire in an iron basket set in the middle of the road, and knots of them were visible in the distance, moving to and fro about their piled arms.
Tignonville paused before he came within the radius of the firelight, and, turning, bade his servants take their way home. "I shall follow, but I have business first," he added curtly.
The elder of the two demurred. "The streets are not too safe," he said. "In two hours or less, my lord, it will be midnight. And then—"
"Go, booby; do you think I am a child?" his master retorted angrily. "I've my sword and can use it. I shall not be long. And do you hear, men, keep a still tongue, will you?"
The men, country fellows, obeyed reluctantly, and with a full intention of sneaking after him the moment he had turned his back. But he suspected them of this, and stood where he was until they had passed the fire, and could no longer detect his movements. Then he plunged quickly into the Rue Baillet, gained through it the Rue du Roule, and traversing that also, turned to the right into the Rue Ferronerie, the main thoroughfare, east and west, of Paris. Here he halted in front of the long, dark outer wall of the Cemetery of the Innocents, in which, across the tombstones and among the sepulchres of dead Paris, the living Paris of that day, bought and sold, walked, gossiped, and made love.
About him things were to be seen that would have seemed stranger to him had he been less strange to the city. From the quarter of the markets north of him, a quarter which fenced in the cemetery on two sides, the same dull murmur proceeded, which Mademoiselle de Vrillac had remarked an hour earlier. The sky above the cemetery glowed with reflected light, the cause of which was not far to seek, for every window of the tall houses that overlooked it, and the huddle of booths about it, contributed a share of the illumination. At an hour late even for Paris, an hour when honest men should have been sunk in slumber, this strange brilliance did for a moment perplex him; but the past week had been so full of fetes, of masques and frolics, often devised on the moment and dependent on the King's whim, that he set this also down to such a cause, and wondered no more.
The lights in the houses did not serve the purpose he had in his mind, but beside the closed gate of the cemetery, and between two stalls, was a votive lamp burning before an image of the Mother and Child. He crossed to this, and assuring himself by a glance to right and left that he stood in no danger from prowlers, he drew a note from his breast. It had been slipped into his hand in the gallery before he saw Mademoiselle to her lodging; it had been in his possession barely an hour. But brief as its contents were, and easily committed to memory, he had perused it thrice already.
"At the house next the Golden Maid, Rue Cinq Diamants, an hour before midnight, you may find the door open should you desire to talk farther with C. St. L."
As he read it for the fourth time the light of the lamp fell athwart his face; and even as his fine clothes had never seemed to fit him worse than when he faintly denied the imputations of gallantry launched at him by Nancay, so his features had never looked less handsome than they did now. The glow of vanity which warmed his cheek as he read the message, the smile of conceit which wreathed his lips, bespoke a nature not of the most noble; or the lamp did him less than justice. Presently he kissed the note, and hid it. He waited until the clock of St. Jacques struck the hour before midnight; and then moving forward, he turned to the right by way of the narrow neck leading to the Rue Lombard. He walked in the kennel here, his sword in his hand and his eyes looking to right and left; for the place was notorious for robberies. But though he saw more than one figure lurking in a doorway or under the arch that led to a passage, it vanished on his nearer approach. In less than a minute he reached the southern end of the street that bore the odd title of the Five Diamonds.
Situate in the crowded quarter of the butchers, and almost in the shadow of their famous church, this street—which farther north was continued in the Rue Quimcampoix—presented in those days a not uncommon mingling of poverty and wealth. On one side of the street a row of lofty gabled houses, built under Francis the First, sheltered persons of good condition; on the other, divided from these by the width of the road and a reeking kennel, a row of peat-houses, the hovels of cobblers and sausage-makers, leaned against shapeless timber houses which tottered upwards in a medley of sagging roofs and bulging gutters. Tignonville was strange to the place, and nine nights out of ten he would have been at a disadvantage. But, thanks to the tapers that to-night shone in many windows, he made out enough to see that he need search only the one side; and with a beating heart he passed along the row of newer houses, looking eagerly for the sign of the Golden Maid.
He found it at last; and then for a moment he stood puzzled. The note said, next door to the Golden Maid, but it did not say on which side. He scrutinised the nearer house, but he saw nothing to determine him; and he was proceeding to the farther, when he caught sight of two men, who, ambushed behind a horse-block on the opposite side of the roadway, seemed to be watching his movements. Their presence flurried him; but much to his relief his next glance at the houses showed him that the door of the farther one was unlatched. It stood slightly ajar, permitting a beam of light to escape into the street.
He stepped quickly to it—the sooner he was within the house the better—pushed the door open and entered. As soon as he was inside he tried to close the entrance behind him, but he found he could not; the door would not shut. After a brief trial he abandoned the attempt and passed quickly on, through a bare lighted passage which led to the foot of a staircase, equally bare. He stood at this point an instant and listened, in the hope that Madame's maid would come to him. At first he heard nothing save his own breathing; then a gruff voice from above startled him.
"This way, Monsieur," it said. "You are early, but not too soon!"
So Madame trusted her footman! M. de Tignonville shrugged his shoulders; but after all, it was no affair of his, and he went up. Halfway to the top, however, he stood, an oath on his lips. Two men had entered by the open door below—even as he had entered! And as quietly!
The imprudence of it! The imprudence of leaving the door so that it could not be closed! He turned, and descended to meet them, his teeth set, his hand on his sword, one conjecture after another whirling in his brain. Was he beset? Was it a trap? Was it a rival? Was it chance? Two steps he descended; and then the voice he had heard before cried again, but more imperatively—
"No, Monsieur, this way! Did you not hear me? This way, and be quick, if you please. By-and-by there will be a crowd, and then the more we have dealt with the better!"
He knew now that he had made a mistake, that he had entered the wrong house; and naturally his impulse was to continue his descent and secure his retreat. But the pause had brought the two men who had entered face to face with him, and they showed no signs of giving way. On the contrary.
"The room is above, Monsieur," the foremost said, in a matter-of-fact tone, and with a slight salutation. "After you, if you please," and he signed to him to return.
He was a burly man, grim and truculent in appearance, and his follower was like him. Tignonville hesitated, then turned and ascended. But as soon as he had reached the landing where they could pass him, he turned again.
"I have made a mistake, I think," he said. "I have entered the wrong house."
"Are you for the house next the Golden Maid, Monsieur?"
"Rue Cinq Diamants, Quarter of the Boucherie?"
"No mistake, then," the stout man replied firmly. "You are early, that is all. You have arms, I see. Maillard!"—to the person whose voice Tignonville had heard at the head of the stairs—"A white sleeve, and a cross for Monsieur's hat, and his name on the register. Come, make a beginning! Make a beginning, man."
"To be sure, Monsieur. All is ready."
"Then lose no time, I say. Here are others, also early in the good cause. Gentlemen, welcome! Welcome all who are for the true faith! Death to the heretics! 'Kill, and no quarter!' is the word to-night!"
"Death to the heretics!" the last comers cried in chorus. "Kill and no quarter! At what hour, M. le Prevot?"
"At daybreak," the Provost answered importantly. "But have no fear, the tocsin will sound. The King and our good man M. de Guise have all in hand. A white sleeve, a white cross, and a sharp knife shall rid Paris of the vermin! Gentlemen of the quarter, the word of the night is 'Kill, and no quarter! Death to the Huguenots!'"
"Death! Death to the Huguenots! Kill, and no quarter!" A dozen—the room was beginning to fill—waved their weapons and echoed the cry.
Tignonville had been fortunate enough to apprehend the position—and the peril in which he stood—before Maillard advanced to him bearing a white linen sleeve. In the instant of discovery his heart had stood a moment, the blood had left his cheeks; but with some faults, he was no coward, and he managed to hide his emotion. He held out his left arm, and suffered the beadle to pass the sleeve over it and to secure the white linen above the elbow. Then at a gesture he gave up his velvet cap, and saw it decorated with a white cross of the same material.
"Now the register, Monsieur," Maillard continued briskly; and waving him in the direction of a clerk, who sat at the end of the long table, having a book and a ink-horn before him, he turned to the next comer.
Tignonville would fain have avoided the ordeal of the register, but the clerk's eye was on him. He had been fortunate so far, but he knew that the least breath of suspicion would destroy him, and summoning his wits together he gave his name in a steady voice. "Anne Desmartins." It was his mother's maiden name, and the first that came into his mind.
"Recently; by birth, of the Limousin."
"Good, Monsieur," the clerk answered, writing in the name. And he turned to the next. "And you, my friend?"
CHAPTER IV. THE EVE OF THE FEAST.
It was Tignonville's salvation that the men who crowded the long white- walled room, and exchanged vile boasts under the naked flaring lights, were of all classes. There were butchers, natives of the surrounding quarter whom the scent of blood had drawn from their lairs; and there were priests with hatchet faces, who whispered in the butchers' ears. There were gentlemen of the robe, and plain mechanics, rich merchants in their gowns, and bare-armed ragpickers, sleek choristers, and shabby led- captains; but differ as they might in other points, in one thing all were alike. From all, gentle or simple, rose the same cry for blood, the same aspiration to be first equipped for the fray. In one corner a man of rank stood silent and apart, his hand on his sword, the working of his face alone betraying the storm that reigned within. In another, a Norman horse-dealer talked in low whispers with two thieves. In a third, a gold- wire drawer addressed an admiring group from the Sorbonne; and meantime the middle of the floor grew into a seething mass of muttering, scowling men, through whom the last comers, thrust as they might, had much ado to force their way.
And from all under the low ceiling rose a ceaseless hum, though none spoke loud. "Kill! kill! kill!" was the burden; the accompaniment such profanities and blasphemies as had long disgraced the Paris pulpits, and day by day had fanned the bigotry—already at a white heat—of the Parisian populace. Tignonville turned sick as he listened, and would fain have closed his ears. But for his life he dared not. And presently a cripple in a beggar's garb, a dwarfish, filthy creature with matted hair, twitched his sleeve, and offered him a whetstone.
"Are you sharp, noble sir?" he asked, with a leer. "Are you sharp? It's surprising how the edge goes on the bone. A cut and thrust? Well, every man to his taste. But give me a broad butcher's knife and I'll ask no help, be it man, woman, or child!"
A bystander, a lean man in rusty black, chuckled as he listened.
"But the woman or the child for choice, eh, Jehan?" he said. And he looked to Tignonville to join in the jest.
"Ay, give me a white throat for choice!" the cripple answered, with horrible zest. "And there'll be delicate necks to prick to-night! Lord, I think I hear them squeal! You don't need it, sir?" he continued, again proffering the whetstone. "No? Then I'll give my blade another whet, in the name of our Lady, the Saints, and good Father Pezelay!"
"Ay, and give me a turn!" the lean man cried, proffering his weapon. "May I die if I do not kill one of the accursed for every finger of my hands!"
"And toe of my feet!" the cripple answered, not to be outdone. "And toe of my feet! A full score!"
"'Tis according to your sins!" the other, who had something of the air of a Churchman, answered. "The more heretics killed, the more sins forgiven. Remember that, brother, and spare not if your soul be burdened! They blaspheme God and call Him paste! In the paste of their own blood," he continued ferociously, "I will knead them and roll them out, saith the good Father Pezelay, my master!"
The cripple crossed himself. "Whom God keep," he said. "He is a good man. But you are looking ill, noble sir?" he continued, peering curiously at the young Huguenot.
"'Tis the heat," Tignonville muttered. "The night is stifling, and the lights make it worse. I will go nearer the door."
He hoped to escape them; he had some hope even of escaping from the room and giving the alarm. But when he had forced his way to the threshold, he found it guarded by two pikemen; and glancing back to see if his movements were observed—for he knew that his agitation might have awakened suspicion—he found that the taller of the two whom he had left, the black-garbed man with the hungry face, was watching him a-tiptoe, over the shoulders of the crowd.
With that, and the sense of his impotence, the lights began to swim before his eyes. The catastrophe that overhung his party, the fate so treacherously prepared for all whom he loved and all with whom his fortunes were bound up, confused his brain almost to delirium. He strove to think, to calculate chances, to imagine some way in which he might escape from the room, or from a window might cry the alarm. But he could not bring his mind to a point. Instead, in lightning flashes he foresaw what must happen: his betrothed in the hands of the murderers; the fair face that had smiled on him frozen with terror; brave men, the fighters of Montauban, the defenders of Angely, strewn dead through the dark lanes of the city. And now a gust of passion, and now a shudder of fear, seized him; and in any other assembly his agitation must have led to detection. But in that room were many twitching faces and trembling hands. Murder, cruel, midnight, and most foul, wrung even from the murderers her toll of horror. While some, to hide the nervousness they felt, babbled of what they would do, others betrayed by the intentness with which they awaited the signal, the dreadful anticipations that possessed their souls.
Before he had formed any plan, a movement took place near the door. The stairs shook beneath the sudden trampling of feet, a voice cried "De par le Roi! De par le Roi!" and the babel of the room died down. The throng swayed and fell back on either hand, and Marshal Tavannes entered, wearing half armour, with a white sash; he was followed by six or eight gentlemen in like guise. Amid cries of "Jarnac! Jarnac!"—for to him the credit of that famous fight, nominally won by the King's brother, was popularly given—he advanced up the room, met the Provost of the merchants, and began to confer with him. Apparently he asked the latter to select some men who could be trusted on a special mission, for the Provost looked round and beckoned to his side one or two of higher rank than the herd, and then one or two of the most truculent aspect.
Tignonville trembled lest he should be singled out. He had hidden himself as well as he could at the rear of the crowd by the door; but his dress, so much above the common, rendered him conspicuous. He fancied that the Provost's eye ranged the crowd for him; and to avoid it and efface himself he moved a pace to his left.
The step was fatal. It saved him from the Provost, but it brought him face to face and eye to eye with Count Hannibal, who stood in the first rank at his brother's elbow. Tavannes stared an instant as if he doubted his eyesight. Then, as doubt gave slow place to certainty, and surprise to amazement, he smiled. And after a moment he looked another way.
Tignonville's heart gave a great bump and seemed to stand still. The lights whirled before his eyes, there was a roaring in his ears. He waited for the word that should denounce him. It did not come. And still it did not come; and Marshal Tavannes was turning. Yes, turning, and going; the Provost, bowing low, was attending him to the door; his suite were opening on either side to let him pass. And Count Hannibal? Count Hannibal was following also, as if nothing had occurred. As if he had seen nothing!
The young man caught his breath. Was it possible that he had imagined the start of recognition, the steady scrutiny, the sinister smile? No; for as Tavannes followed the others, he hung an instant on his heel, their eyes met again, and once more he smiled. In the next breath he was gone through the doorway, his spurs rang on the stairs; and the babel of the crowd, checked by the great man's presence, broke out anew, and louder.
Tignonville shuddered. He was saved as by a miracle; saved, he did not know how. But the respite, though its strangeness diverted his thoughts for a while, brought short relief. The horrors which impended over others surged afresh into his mind, and filled him with a maddening sense of impotence. To be one hour, only one short half-hour without! To run through the sleeping streets, and scream in the dull ears which a King's flatteries had stopped as with wool! To go up and down and shake into life the guests whose royal lodgings daybreak would turn to a shambles reeking with their blood! They slept, the gentle Teligny, the brave Pardaillan, the gallant Rochefoucauld, Piles the hero of St. Jean, while the cruel city stirred rustling about them, and doom crept whispering to the door. They slept, they and a thousand others, gentle and simple, young and old; while the half-mad Valois shifted between two opinions, and the Italian woman, accursed daughter of an accursed race, cried, "Hark!" at her window, and looked eastwards for the dawn.
And the women? The woman he was to marry? And the others? In an access of passion he thrust aside those who stood between, he pushed his way, disregarding complaints, disregarding opposition, to the door. But the pikes lay across it, and he could not utter a syllable to save his life. He would have flung himself on the doorkeepers, for he was losing control of himself; but as he drew back for the spring, a hand clutched his sleeve, and a voice he loathed hummed in his ear.
"No, fair play, noble sir; fair play!" the cripple Jehan muttered, forcibly drawing him aside. "All start together, and it's no man's loss. But if there is any little business," he continued, lowering his tone and peering with a cunning look into the other's face, "of your own, noble sir, or your friends', anything or anybody you want despatched, count on me. It were better, perhaps, you didn't appear in it yourself, and a man you can trust—"
"What do you mean?" the young man cried, recoiling from him.
"No need to look surprised, noble sir," the lean man, who had joined them, answered in a soothing tone. "Who kills to-night does God service, and who serves God much may serve himself a little. 'Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn,' says good Father Pezelay."
"Hear, hear!" the cripple chimed in eagerly, his impatience such that he danced on his toes. "He preaches as well as the good father his master! So frankly, noble sir, what is it? What is it? A woman grown ugly? A rich man grown old, with perchance a will in his chest? Or a young heir that stands in my lord's way? Whichever it be, or whatever it be, trust me and our friend here, and my butcher's gully shall cut the knot."
Tignonville shook his head.
"But something there is," the lean man persisted obstinately; and he cast a suspicious glance at Tignonville's clothes. It was evident that the two had discussed him, and the motives of his presence there. "Have the dice proved fickle, my lord, and are you for the jewellers' shops on the bridge to fill your purse again? If so, take my word, it were better to go three than one, and we'll enlist."
"Ay, we know shops on the bridge where you can plunge your arm elbow-deep in gold," the cripple muttered, his eyes sparkling greedily. "There's Baillet's, noble sir! There's a shop for you! And there's the man's shop who works for the King. He's lame like me. And I know the way to all. Oh, it will be a merry night if they ring before the dawn. It must be near daybreak now. And what's that?"
Ay, what was it? A score of voices called for silence; a breathless hush fell on the crowd. A moment the fiercest listened, with parted lips and starting eyes. Then, "It was the bell!" cried one, "let us out!" "It was not!" cried another. "It was a pistol shot!" "Anyhow let us out!" the crowd roared in chorus; "let us out!" And they pressed in a furious mass towards the door, as if they would force it, signal or no signal.
But the pikemen stood fast, and the throng, checked in their first rush, turned on one another, and broke into wrangling and disputing; boasting, and calling Heaven and the saints to witness how thoroughly, how pitilessly, how remorselessly they would purge Paris of this leprosy when the signal did sound. Until again above the babel a man cried "Silence!" and again they listened. And this time, dulled by walls and distance, but unmistakable by the ears of fear or hate, the heavy note of a bell came to them on the hot night air. It was the boom, sullen and menacing, of the death signal.
The doorkeepers lowered their pikes, and with a wild rush, as of wolves swarming on their prey, the band stormed the door, and thrust and struggled and battled a way down the narrow staircase, and along the narrow passage. "A bas les Huguenots! Mort aux Huguenots!" they shouted; and shrieking, sweating, spurning with vile hands, viler faces, they poured pell-mell into the street, and added their clamour to the boom of the tocsin that, as by magic and in a moment, turned the streets of Paris into a hell of blood and cruelty. For as it was here, so it was in a dozen other quarters.
Quickly as they streamed out—and to have issued more quickly would have been impossible—fiercely as they pushed and fought and clove their way, Tignonville was of the foremost. And for a moment, seeing the street clear before him and almost empty, the Huguenot thought that he might do something. He might outstrip the stream of rapine, he might carry the alarm; at worst he might reach his betrothed before harm befell her. But when he had sped fifty yards, his heart sank. True, none passed him; but under the spell of the alarm-bell the stones themselves seemed to turn to men. Houses, courts, alleys, the very churches vomited men. In a twinkling the street was alive with men, roared with them as with a rushing tide, gleamed with their lights and weapons, thundered with the volume of their thousand voices. He was no longer ahead, men were running before him, behind him, on his right hand and on his left. In every side-street, every passage, men were running; and not men only, but women, children, furious creatures without age or sex. And all the time the bell tolled overhead, tolled faster and faster, and louder and louder; and shots and screams, and the clash of arms, and the fall of strong doors began to swell the maelstrom of sound.
He was in the Rue St. Honore now, and speeding westward. But the flood still rose with him, and roared abreast of him. Nay, it outstripped him. When he came, panting, within sight of his goal, and lacked but a hundred paces of it, he found his passage barred by a dense mass of people moving slowly to meet him. In the heart of the press the light of a dozen torches shone on half as many riders mailed and armed; whose eyes, as they moved on, and the furious gleaming eyes of the rabble about them, never left the gabled roofs on their right. On these from time to time a white-clad figure showed itself, and passed from chimney-stack to chimney- stack, or, stooping low, ran along the parapet. Every time that this happened, the men on horseback pointed upwards and the mob foamed with rage.
Tignonville groaned, but he could not help. Unable to go forward, he turned, and with others hurrying, shouting, and brandishing weapons, he pressed into the Rue du Roule, passed through it, and gained the Bethizy. But here, as he might have foreseen, all passage was barred at the Hotel Ponthieu by a horde of savages, who danced and yelled and sang songs round the Admiral's body, which lay in the middle of the way; while to right and left men were bursting into houses and forcing new victims into the street. The worst had happened there, and he turned panting, regained the Rue St. Honore, and, crossing it and turning left-handed, darted through side streets until he came again into the main thoroughfare a little beyond the Croix du Tiroir, that marked the corner of Mademoiselle's house.
Here his last hope left him. The street swarmed with bands of men hurrying to and fro as in a sacked city. The scum of the Halles, the rabble of the quarter poured this way and that, here at random, there swayed and directed by a few knots of men-at-arms, whose corselets reflected the glare of a hundred torches. At one time and within sight, three or four houses were being stormed. On every side rose heart-rending cries, mingled with brutal laughter, with savage jests, with cries of "To the river!" The most cruel of cities had burst its bounds and was not to be stayed; nor would be stayed until the Seine ran red to the sea, and leagues below, in pleasant Normandy hamlets, men, for fear of the pestilence, pushed the corpses from the bridges with poles and boat-hooks.
All this Tignonville saw, though his eyes, leaping the turmoil, looked only to the door at which he had left Mademoiselle a few hours earlier. There a crowd of men pressed and struggled; but from the spot where he stood he could see no more. That was enough, however. Rage nerved him, and despair; his world was dying round him. If he could not save her he would avenge her. Recklessly he plunged into the tumult; blade in hand, with vigorous blows he thrust his way through, his white sleeve and the white cross in his hat gaining him passage until he reached the fringe of the band who beset the door. Here his first attempt to pass failed; and he might have remained hampered by the crowd, if a squad of archers had not ridden up. As they spurred to the spot, heedless over whom they rode, he clutched a stirrup, and was borne with them into the heart of the crowd. In a twinkling he stood on the threshold of the house, face to face and foot to foot with Count Hannibal, who stood also on the threshold, but with his back to the door, which, unbarred and unbolted, gaped open behind him.
CHAPTER V. ROUGH WOOING.
The young man had caught the delirium that was abroad that night. The rage of the trapped beast was in his heart, his hand held a sword. To strike blindly, to strike without question the first who withstood him was the wild-beast instinct; and if Count Hannibal had not spoken on the instant, the Marshal's brother had said his last word in the world.
Yet as he stood there, a head above the crowd, he seemed unconscious alike of Tignonville and the point that all but pricked his breast. Swart and grim-visaged, his harsh features distorted by the glare which shone upon him, he looked beyond the Huguenot to the sea of tossing arms and raging faces that surged about the saddles of the horsemen. It was to these he spoke.
"Begone, dogs!" he cried, in a voice that startled the nearest, "or I will whip you away with my stirrup-leathers! Do you hear? Begone! This house is not for you! Burn, kill, plunder where you will, but go hence!"
"But 'tis on the list!" one of the wretches yelled. "'Tis on the list!" And he pushed forward until he stood at Tignonville's elbow.
"And has no cross!" shrieked another, thrusting himself forward in his turn. "See you, let us by, whoever you are! In the King's name, kill! It has no cross!"
"Then," Tavannes thundered, "will I nail you for a cross to the front of it! No cross, say you? I will make one of you, foul crow!"
And as he spoke, his arm shot out; the man recoiled, his fellow likewise. But one of the mounted archers took up the matter.
"Nay, but, my lord," he said—he knew Tavannes—"it is the King's will there be no favour shown to-night to any, small or great. And this house is registered, and is full of heretics."
"And has no cross!" the rabble urged in chorus. And they leapt up and down in their impatience, and to see the better. "And has no cross!" they persisted. They could understand that. Of what use crosses, if they were not to kill where there was no cross? Daylight was not plainer. Tavannes' face grew dark, and he shook his finger at the archer who had spoken.
"Rogue," he cried, "does the King's will run here only? Are there no other houses to sack or men to kill, that you must beard me? And favour? You will have little of mine, if you do not budge and take your vile tail with you! Off! Or must I cry 'Tavannes!' and bid my people sweep you from the streets?"
The foremost rank hesitated, awed by his manner and his name; while the rearmost, attracted by the prospect of easier pillage, had gone off already. The rest wavered; and another and another broke away. The archer who had put himself forward saw which way the wind was blowing, and he shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, my lord, as you will," he said sullenly. "All the same I would advise you to close the door and bolt and bar. We shall not be the last to call to-day." And he turned his horse in ill-humour, and forced it, snorting and plunging, through the crowd.
"Bolt and bar?" Tavannes cried after him in fury. "See you my answer to that!" And turning on the threshold, "Within there!" he cried. "Open the shutters and set lights, and the table! Light, I say; light! And lay on quickly, if you value your lives! And throw open, for I sup with your mistress to-night, if it rain blood without! Do you hear me, rogues? Set on!"
He flung the last word at the quaking servants; then he turned again to the street. He saw that the crowd was melting, and, looking in Tignonville's face, he laughed aloud.
"Does Monsieur sup with us?" he said. "To complete the party? Or will he choose to sup with our friends yonder? It is for him to say. I confess, for my part," with an awful smile, "their hospitality seems a trifle crude, and boisterous."
Tignonville looked behind him and shuddered. The same horde which had so lately pressed about the door had found a victim lower down the street, and, as Tavannes spoke, came driving back along the roadway, a mass of tossing lights and leaping, running figures, from the heart of which rose the screams of a creature in torture. So terrible were the sounds that Tignonville leant half swooning against the door-post; and even the iron heart of Tavannes seemed moved for a moment.
For a moment only: then he looked at his companion, and his lip curled.
"You'll join us, I think?" he said, with an undisguised sneer. "Then, after you, Monsieur. They are opening the shutters. Doubtless the table is laid, and Mademoiselle is expecting us. After you, Monsieur, if you please. A few hours ago I should have gone first, for you, in this house"—with a sinister smile—"were at home! Now, we have changed places."
Whatever he meant by the gibe—and some smack of an evil jest lurked in his tone—he played the host so far as to urge his bewildered companion along the passage and into the living-chamber on the left, where he had seen from without that his orders to light and lay were being executed. A dozen candles shone on the board, and lit up the apartment. What the house contained of food and wine had been got together and set on the table; from the low, wide window, beetle-browed and diamond-paned, which extended the whole length of the room and looked on the street at the height of a man's head above the roadway, the shutters had been removed—doubtless by trembling and reluctant fingers. To such eyes of passers-by as looked in, from the inferno of driving crowds and gleaming weapons which prevailed outside—and not outside only, but throughout Paris—the brilliant room and the laid table must have seemed strange indeed!
To Tignonville, all that had happened, all that was happening, seemed a dream: a dream his entrance under the gentle impulsion of this man who dominated him; a dream Mademoiselle standing behind the table with blanched face and stony eyes; a dream the cowering servants huddled in a corner beyond her; a dream his silence, her silence, the moment of waiting before Count Hannibal spoke.
When he did speak it was to count the servants. "One, two, three, four, five," he said. "And two of them women. Mademoiselle is but poorly attended. Are there not"—and he turned to her—"some lacking?"
The girl opened her lips twice, but no sound issued. The third time—
"Two went out," she muttered in a hoarse, strangled voice, "and have not returned."
"And have not returned?" he answered, raising his eyebrows. "Then I fear we must not wait for them. We might wait long!" And turning sharply to the panic-stricken servants, "Go you to your places! Do you not see that Mademoiselle waits to be served?"
The girl shuddered and spoke.
"Do you wish me," she muttered, in the same strangled tone, "to play this farce—to the end?"
"The end may be better, Mademoiselle, than you think," he answered, bowing. And then to the miserable servants, who hung back afraid to leave the shelter of their mistress's skirts, "To your places!" he cried. "Set Mademoiselle's chair. Are you so remiss on other days? If so," with a look of terrible meaning, "you will be the less loss! Now, Mademoiselle, may I have the honour? And when we are at table we can talk."
He extended his hand, and, obedient to his gesture, she moved to the place at the head of the table, but without letting her fingers come into contact with his. He gave no sign that he noticed this, but he strode to the place on her right, and signed to Tignonville to take that on her left.
"Will you not be seated?" he continued. For she kept her feet.
She turned her head stiffly, until for the first time her eyes looked into his. A shudder more violent than the last shook her.
"Had you not better—kill us at once?" she whispered. The blood had forsaken even her lips. Her face was the face of a statue—white, beautiful, lifeless.
"I think not," he said gravely. "Be seated, and let us hope for the best. And you, sir," he continued, turning to Carlat, "serve your mistress with wine. She needs it."
The steward filled for her, and then for each of the men, his shaking hand spilling as much as it poured. Nor was this strange. Above the din and uproar of the street, above the crash of distant doors, above the tocsin that still rang from the reeling steeple of St. Germain's, the great bell of the Palais on the island had just begun to hurl its note of doom upon the town. A woman crouching at the end of the chamber burst into hysterical weeping, but, at a glance from Tavannes' terrible eye, was mute again.
Tignonville found voice at last. "Have they—killed the Admiral?" he muttered, his eyes on the table.
"M. Coligny? An hour ago."
"M. de Rochefoucauld?"
"They are dealing with M. le Comte now, I believe," Tavannes answered. "He had his chance and cast it away." And he began to eat.
The man at the table shuddered. The woman continued to look before her, but her lips moved as if she prayed. Suddenly a rush of feet, a roar of voices surged past the window; for a moment the glare of the torches, which danced ruddily on the walls of the room, showed a severed head borne above the multitude on a pike. Mademoiselle, with a low cry, made an effort to rise, but Count Hannibal grasped her wrist, and she sank back half fainting. Then the nearer clamour sank a little, and the bells, unchallenged, flung their iron tongues above the maddened city. In the east the dawn was growing; soon its grey light would fall on cold hearths, on battered doors and shattered weapons, on hordes of wretches drunk with greed and hate.
When he could be heard, "What are you going to do with us?" the man asked hoarsely.
"That depends," Count Hannibal replied, after a moment's thought.
"On Mademoiselle de Vrillac."
The other's eyes gleamed with passion. He leaned forward.
"What has she to do with it?" he cried. And he stood up and sat down again in a breath.
Tavannes raised his eyebrows with a blandness that seemed at odds with his harsh visage.
"I will answer that question by another question," he replied. "How many are there in the house, my friend?"
"You can count."
Tavannes counted again. "Seven?" he said. Tignonville nodded impatiently.
"Well, Monsieur, you know the King's will?"
"I can guess it," the other replied furiously. And he cursed the King, and the King's mother, calling her Jezebel.
"You can guess it?" Tavannes answered; and then with sudden heat, as if that which he had to say could not be said even by him in cold blood, "Nay, you know it! You heard it from the archer at the door. You heard him say, 'No favour, no quarter for man, for woman, or for child. So says the King.' You heard it, but you fence with me. Foucauld, with whom his Majesty played to-night, hand to hand and face to face—Foucauld is dead! And you think to live? You?" he continued, lashing himself into passion. "I know not by what chance you came where I saw you an hour gone, nor by what chance you came by that and that"—pointing with accusing finger to the badges the Huguenot wore. "But this I know! I have but to cry your name from yonder casement, nay, Monsieur, I have but to stand aside when the mob go their rounds from house to house, as they will go presently, and you will perish as certainly as you have hitherto escaped!"
For the second time Mademoiselle turned and looked at him.
"Then," she whispered, with white lips, "to what end this—mockery?"
"To the end that seven lives may be saved, Mademoiselle," he answered, bowing.
"At a price?" she muttered.
"At a price," he answered. "A price which women do not find it hard to pay—at Court. 'Tis paid every day for pleasure or a whim, for rank or the entree, for robes and gewgaws. Few, Mademoiselle, are privileged to buy a life; still fewer, seven!"
She began to tremble. "I would rather die—seven times!" she cried, her voice quivering. And she tried to rise, but sat down again.
"And these?" he said, indicating the servants.
"Far, far rather!" she repeated passionately.
"And Monsieur? And Monsieur?" he urged with stern persistence, while his eyes passed lightly from her to Tignonville and back to her again, their depths inscrutable. "If you love Monsieur, Mademoiselle, and I believe you do—"
"I can die with him!" she cried.
"And he with you?"
She writhed in her chair.
"And he with you?" Count Hannibal repeated, with emphasis; and he thrust forward his head. "For that is the question. Think, think, Mademoiselle. It is in my power to save from death him whom you love; to save you; to save this canaille, if it so please you. It is in my power to save him, to save you, to save all; and I will save all—at a price! If, on the other hand, you deny me that price, I will as certainly leave all to perish, as perish they will, before the sun that is now rising sets to-night!"
Mademoiselle looked straight before her, the flicker of a dreadful prescience in her eyes.
"And the price?" she muttered. "The price?"
"Yes, you! Nay, why fence with me?" he continued gently. "You knew it, you have said it. You have read it in my eyes these seven days."
She did not speak, or move, or seem to breathe. As he said, she had foreseen, she had known the answer. But Tignonville, it seemed, had not. He sprang to his feet.
"M. de Tavannes," he cried, "you are a villain!"
"You are a villain! But you shall pay for this!" the young man continued vehemently. "You shall not leave this room alive! You shall pay for this insult!"
"Insult?" Tavannes answered in apparent surprise; and then, as if comprehension broke upon him, "Ah! Monsieur mistakes me," he said, with a broad sweep of the hand. "And Mademoiselle also, perhaps? Oh! be content, she shall have bell, book, and candle; she shall be tied as tight as Holy Church can tie her! Or, if she please, and one survive, she shall have a priest of her own church—you call it a church? She shall have whichever of the two will serve her better. 'Tis one to me! But for paying me, Monsieur," he continued, with irony in voice and manner; "when, I pray you? In Eternity? For if you refuse my offer, you have done with time. Now? I have but to sound this whistle"—he touched a silver whistle which hung at his breast—"and there are those within hearing will do your business before you make two passes. Dismiss the notion, sir, and understand. You are in my power. Paris runs with blood, as noble as yours, as innocent as hers. If you would not perish with the rest, decide! And quickly! For what you have seen are but the forerunners, what you have heard are but the gentle whispers that predict the gale. Do not parley too long; so long that even I may no longer save you."
"I would rather die!" Mademoiselle moaned, her face covered. "I would rather die!"
"And see him die?" he answered quietly. "And see these die? Think, think, child!"
"You will not do it!" she gasped. She shook from head to foot.
"I shall do nothing," he answered firmly. "I shall but leave you to your fate, and these to theirs. In the King's teeth I dare save my wife and her people; but no others. You must choose—and quickly."
One of the frightened women—it was Mademoiselle's tiring-maid, a girl called Javette—made a movement, as if to throw herself at her mistress's feet. Tignonville drove her to her place with a word. He turned to Count Hannibal.
"But, M. le Comte," he said, "you must be mad! Mad, to wish to marry her in this way! You do not love her. You do not want her. What is she to you more than other women?"
"What is she to you more than other women?" Tavannes retorted, in a tone so sharp and incisive that Tignonville started, and a faint touch of colour crept into the wan cheek of the girl, who sat between them, the prize of the contest. "What is she more to you than other women? Is she more? And yet—you want her!"
"She is more to me," Tignonville answered.
"Is she?" the other retorted, with a ring of keen meaning. "Is she? But we bandy words and the storm is rising, as I warned you it would rise. Enough for you that I do want her. Enough for you that I will have her. She shall be the wife, the willing wife, of Hannibal de Tavannes—or I leave her to her fate, and you to yours!"
"Ah, God!" she moaned. "The willing wife!"
"Ay, Mademoiselle, the willing wife," he answered sternly. "Or no man's wife!"
CHAPTER VI. WHO TOUCHES TAVANNES?
In saying that the storm was rising Count Hannibal had said no more than the truth. A new mob had a minute before burst from the eastward into the Rue St. Honore; and the roar of its thousand voices swelled louder than the importunate clangour of the bells. Behind its moving masses the dawn of a new day—Sunday, the 24th of August, the feast of St. Bartholomew—was breaking over the Bastille, as if to aid the crowd in its cruel work. The gabled streets, the lanes, and gothic courts, the stifling wynds, where the work awaited the workers, still lay in twilight; still the gleam of the torches, falling on the house-fronts, heralded the coming of the crowd. But the dawn was growing, the sun was about to rise. Soon the day would be here, giving up the lurking fugitive whom darkness, more pitiful, had spared, and stamping with legality the horrors that night had striven to hide.
And with day, with the full light, killing would grow more easy, escape more hard. Already they were killing on the bridge where the rich goldsmiths lived, on the wharves, on the river. They were killing at the Louvre, in the courtyard under the King's eyes, and below the windows of the Medicis. They were killing in St. Martin and St. Denis and St. Antoine; wherever hate, or bigotry, or private malice impelled the hand. From the whole city went up a din of lamentation, and wrath, and foreboding. From the Cour des Miracles, from the markets, from the Boucherie, from every haunt of crime and misery, hordes of wretched creatures poured forth; some to rob on their own account, and where they listed, none gainsaying; more to join themselves to one of the armed bands whose business it was to go from street to street, and house to house, quelling resistance, and executing through Paris the high justice of the King.
It was one of these swollen bands which had entered the street while Tavannes spoke; nor could he have called to his aid a more powerful advocate. As the deep "A bas! A bas!" rolled like thunder along the fronts of the houses, as the more strident "Tuez! Tuez!" drew nearer and nearer, and the lights of the oncoming multitude began to flicker on the shuttered gables, the fortitude of the servants gave way. Madame Carlat, shivering in every limb, burst into moaning; the tiring-maid, Javette, flung herself in terror at Mademoiselle's knees, and, writhing herself about them, shrieked to her to save her, only to save her! One of the men moved forward on impulse, as if he would close the shutters; and only old Carlat remained silent, praying mutely with moving lips and a stern, set face.
And Count Hannibal? As the glare of the links in the street grew brighter, and ousted the sickly daylight, his form seemed to dilate. He stilled the shrieking woman by a glance.
"Choose! Mademoiselle, and quickly!" he said. "For I can only save my wife and her people! Quick, for the pinch is coming, and 'twill be no boy's play."
A shot, a scream from the street, a rush of racing feet before the window seconded his words.
"Quick, Mademoiselle!" he cried. And his breath came a little faster. "Quick, before it be too late! Will you save life, or will you kill?"
She looked at her lover with eyes of agony, dumbly questioning him. But he made no sign, and only Tavannes marked the look.
"Monsieur has done what he can to save himself," he said, with a sneer. "He has donned the livery of the King's servants; he has said, 'Whoever perishes, I will live!' But—"
"Curse you!" the young man cried, and, stung to madness, he tore the cross from his cap and flung it on the ground. He seized his white sleeve and ripped it from shoulder to elbow. Then, when it hung by the string only, he held his hand.
"Curse you!" he cried furiously. "I will not at your bidding! I may save her yet! I will save her!"
"Fool!" Tavannes answered—but his words were barely audible above the deafening uproar. "Can you fight a thousand? Look! Look!" and seizing the other's wrist he pointed to the window.
The street glowed like a furnace in the red light of torches, raised on poles above a sea of heads; an endless sea of heads, and gaping faces, and tossing arms which swept on and on, and on and by. For a while it seemed that the torrent would flow past them and would leave them safe. Then came a check, a confused outcry, a surging this way and that; the torches reeled to and fro, and finally, with a dull roar of "Open! Open!" the mob faced about to the house and the lighted window.
For a second it seemed that even Count Hannibal's iron nerves shook a little. He stood between the sullen group that surrounded the disordered table and the maddened rabble, that gloated on the victims before they tore them to pieces. "Open! Open!" the mob howled: and a man dashed in the window with his pike.
In that crisis Mademoiselle's eyes met Tavannes' for the fraction of a second. She did not speak; nor, had she retained the power to frame the words, would they have been audible. But something she must have looked, and something of import, though no other than he marked or understood it. For in a flash he was at the window and his hand was raised for silence.
"Back!" he thundered. "Back, knaves!" And he whistled shrilly. "Do what you will," he went on in the same tone, "but not here! Pass on! Pass on!—do you hear?"
But the crowd were not to be lightly diverted. With a persistence brutal and unquestioning they continued to howl, "Open! Open!" while the man who had broken the window the moment before, Jehan, the cripple with the hideous face, seized the lead-work, and tore away a great piece of it. Then, laying hold of a bar, he tried to drag it out, setting one foot against the wall below. Tavannes saw what he did, and his frame seemed to dilate with the fury and violence of his character.
"Dogs!" he shouted, "must I call out my riders and scatter you? Must I flog you through the streets with stirrup-leathers? I am Tavannes; beware of me! I have claws and teeth and I bite!" he continued, the scorn in his words exceeding even the rage of the crowd, at which he flung them. "Kill where you please, rob where you please, but not where I am! Or I will hang you by the heels on Montfaucon, man by man! I will flay your backs. Go! Go! I am Tavannes!"