The LIGHT that LURES
PERCY J. BREBNER.
The English edition of this book was published under the title of "A Gentleman of Virginia"
THE LIGHT THAT LURES
ACROSS THE WATERS OF THE BAY
Seated on a green hummock, his knees drawn up, his elbows resting on his knees and his head supported in his open hands, a boy sat very still and preoccupied, gazing straight into the world before him, yet conscious of little beyond the visions conjured up by his young mind. His were dim visions begot of the strenuous times in which he lived, and which were the staple subject of conversation of all those with whom he came in contact, yet his shadowy dreams had something of the past in them, and more, far more, of that future which to youth must ever be all important. But this young dreamer was not as dreamers often are, with muscle subservient to brain, the physical less highly developed than the mental powers; on the contrary, he was a lad well knit together, his limbs strong and supple, endurance and health unmistakable, a lad who must excel in every manly exercise and game. Perhaps it was this very superiority over his fellows which, for the time being, at any rate, had made him a dreamer. While other boys, reproducing in their games that which was happening about them, fought mimic battles, inflicted and suffered mimic death, experienced terrible siege in some small copse which to their imagination stood for a beleaguered city, or carried some hillock by desperate and impetuous assault, this boy, their master in running, in swimming, in wrestling, in sitting a horse as he galloped freely, was not content with mimicry, but dreamed of real deeds in a real future.
It was a fair scene of which this boy, for the moment, seemed to be the centre. Before him lay the great expanse of Chesapeake Bay scintillating in the light of the afternoon, a sail here and there catching the sunlight and standing out clearly from a background of distant haze. A wide creek ran sinuously into the land, the deep blue of its channel distinct from the shallow waters and the swamps from which a startled crane rose like an arrow shot across the vault of the sky. To the right, surrounded by its gardens and orchards, stood a house, long, low, large and rambling, the more solid successor to the rough wooden edifice which had been among the first to rise when this state of Virginia had become a colony for cavaliers from England. Flowers trailed over the wide porch and shone in patches of brilliant color about the garden, alternating with the long-cast shadows of cedar, cypress, and yellow pine; fruit turned to opulent red and purple ripeness in the orchards; and the song of birds, like subdued music, came from tree and flower-lined border. In close proximity to the house Indian corn was growing, and a wide area of wheat ripened to harvest, while beyond, like a vast green ocean, stretched the great tobacco plantation, with here and there the dark blot of a drying shed like a rude ark resting upon it. In the far distance, bounding the estate, a line of dark woods seemed to shut out the world and wrap it in impenetrable mystery. Over all this great estate the boy sitting on the hummock was known as the young master, but he was not dreaming of a future which should have wealth in it, pleasure, all that the heart of a man can wish for; but of toil and hardship bravely borne, of fighting days and camp fires, of honor such as heroes attain to.
He had been born in stirring times. For more than five years past war had been in the land, the struggle for freedom against a blind and tyrannical government. It had been one thing to make the Declaration of Independence, it had been quite another matter to carry it into effect. Early success had been followed by disasters. Washington had been defeated on Long Island; his heroic endeavor to save Philadelphia by the battle of Brandywine against an enemy far superior in numbers had failed; yet a month later a large British force had been compelled to surrender at Saratoga. These fighters for freedom seemed to know defeat only as a foundation upon which to build victory. England might send fresh armies and fresh fleets, but there were men on land and sea ready to oppose them, ready to die for the freedom they desired and the independence they had proclaimed; and it was only a few months ago that the war had been virtually ended by the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Colonel Barrington had taken an active and honorable part in the conflict, yet in the beginning of the trouble, like many another man of his class, he had been for peace, for arbitration, for arrangement if possible. His fathers had been among the earliest settlers in Virginia, representatives of an English family, whose roots stretched far back into history. They had come to rest on this very spot of earth, had raised their first rough wooden dwelling here, calling it Broadmead, after the name of their home in England. Love for the old country was still alive in Colonel Barrington, and it was only after grave deliberation that he had drawn the sword, convinced that he drew it for the right. Doubtless there were some in this great conflict who were self-seeking, but this was certainly not the case with Henry Barrington. He had much to lose, nothing personal to win which seemed to him of any consequence. Broadmead he loved. He had been born there. In due time he had brought home to it his beautiful young wife, daughter of a French family in Louisiana, and until this upheaval the years had passed happily, almost uneventfully, yet bringing with them increasing prosperity.
The boy, dreaming dreams and stretching out toward an ideal, might well have taken his father for model, but, while reverencing him and knowing him to be a great and good man, his young imagination had been fired by a different type of hero, the man whose restless and adventurous spirit had brought him four years ago to fight as a volunteer in the cause of freedom; who had come again only a year since and had done much to bring about the surrender of Lord Cornwallis; the man who, only the other day, had been publicly thanked by General Washington speaking for the nation he had helped to found; the man who was at this moment his father's guest—the Marquis de Lafayette. There was much of the French spirit in the boy, inherited from his mother, and to every word the Marquis had uttered he had listened eagerly, painting his hero in colors that were too bright and too many, perhaps. An hour ago he had stolen out of the house to this hummock, a favorite spot of his, to dream over all he had heard and of the future.
His eyes were fixed upon a distant white sail, sun touched, which lessened far out across the bay, which presently became a point of light and was then hidden in the haze of the horizon. That was the way of dreams surely, the road which led to the realization of hope. That ship might go on and on through sunlight and storm, through mist and clear weather, and some time, how long a time the boy did not know, it would reach another land, France perchance, surely the best of all lands, since it bred such men as the Marquis de Lafayette.
The grass had deadened the sound of approaching footsteps and the boy rose hastily. His face flushed as he recognized his visitor.
He was a thin man, still young, with an earnest face which at once arrested attention. It was far more that of a visionary than was the boy's, a difficult countenance to read and understand. If, for a moment, the neatness and precision of his dress suggested a man of idle leisure, a courtier and little more, there quickly followed a conviction that such an estimate of his character was a wrong one. Dreamer he might be, in a sense, but he was also a man of action. The spare frame was full of energy, there was determination in the face. This was a man who knew nothing of fear, whom danger would only bring stronger courage; a man who would press forward to his goal undaunted by whatever difficulties stood in the way. He was an idealist rather than a dreamer, one who had set up a standard in his life and, right or wrong, would live his life true to that standard. He was a man to trust, even though he might not inspire love, a leader for a forlorn hope, a personality which brought confidence to all who came in touch with it. His eyes, kindly but penetrating, were fixed upon the lad to whom he was a hero. He was the famous Marquis de Lafayette.
"Yes, sir, I was—I was thinking."
"Great thoughts, I warrant, for so young a mind. Let us sit down. This is a famous seat of yours, a good place to dream in with as fair a slice of the world's beauty to gaze upon as could well be found. Come, tell me your dreams."
The boy sat down beside him, but remained silent.
"Shall I help you?" said the Marquis. "Ah, my lad, I know that it is difficult to tell one's dreams, they are often such sacred things; but your good mother has been telling me something about you. We are of the same blood, she and I, so we talk easily and tell each other secrets, as two members of a large family will. She tells me, Richard, that you have thought a great deal about me."
"Indeed, sir, I have."
"And made something of a hero of me; is that it?"
"Would that anger you, sir?"
"Anger me! Why, my lad, the man who can become a child's hero should be proud of it. There must be something good mixed with his common clay for him to achieve so much. I am glad and proud, as proud as I am of General Washington's thanks the other day; you need not look at me with such disbelief in your eyes, for I only say what is true. So now tell me your dreams."
"They are only half dreams," said the boy slowly, but to-day they seem clearer. They have one end and aim, to be like you, to fight for the oppressed, to fight and to conquer."
"The dreams are worthy, Richard, but set yourself a higher standard. That you think so much of me almost brings a blush to my cheek, lad, for I am a poor hero. Yet, there is this in common between us, I too, have had such dreams—have them still. I am striving to make my dreams come true. So much every man can do. You have, or you will have presently, your duty set straight before you. Duty is like that; it never lies in ambush. Along that path of duty you must march and never turn aside. It is a strange path, for though it is distinct and clear that all may recognize it, yet for each individual it seems to have a different direction. It leads some to mighty deeds which must echo round the world; some it will bring to poverty, obscurity, disgrace perchance, but these are heroes, remember, as the others are, greater heroes I think, since no man knows them or cheers them on. You have not thought of such heroes, Richard?"
"I thought not. That is why I came to talk to you. I cannot tell what your future is to be, I do not know in what way you are destined to travel, but duty may not call upon you to wear the sword or ride in the forefront of a charge. This country has just had a glorious birth, a rebirth to freedom. Your father has helped to fight for it; you may be called upon to work peaceably for it."
"I hope, sir, my duty will mean the sword and the charge."
"Your countrymen are probably glad to have peace," he answered.
"But this is not the only land where men are cruelly treated and would fight for freedom," the boy returned. "You came here to help us against the English. Some day may I not journey to help others?"
"My mother is French, therefore I am partly French. I love my father, but I am more French than English. I should love to fight for France," and the boy looked up eagerly into his companion's face.
"So that is the real secret out at last," said Lafayette, with a light laugh. "You would love to fight for France."
"Yes, sir; and it makes you laugh. I have not told it to any one else; I knew they would laugh."
"But you expected better things of me. Forgive me, lad, I was not laughing at you; yet you must learn not to mind the laughter of others. Whenever a man is in earnest there will always be some to ridicule what they term his folly. He is something of a hero who can stand being laughed at."
"Sir, did you not say to my father only to-day as you sat at dinner in the hall, that France was groaning under oppression, and there was no knowing what would be the end of it?"
"I did, Richard, I did."
"Then, Monsieur de Lafayette, it might be that some day I might cross the sea to help France."
The Marquis laughed softly and patted the boy's head.
"So that is your dream. I hope freedom may be bought without blood, but—"
"But you do not think so, sir."
"Why should you say that?"
"Partly because of the way you say it, partly because I have been told that you are farseeing. I have listened so eagerly to all the stories told about you."
"If such a fight for freedom came in France, it would be far more terrible than the war here," and the Marquis made the statement rather to himself than to the boy.
"Then it may be my duty to come and help you," said Richard.
"If the opportunity should come, see that your adventurous spirit does not make it your duty whether it be so or not. There are some years to pass before these young limbs of yours are fit for fighting, or this brain of yours has to make a decision. You have a good father and mother, they will guide you. Dream your dreams, and I doubt not, my friend Richard Barrington will become a hero to many. Are you coming back to the house with me? Within an hour I am leaving."
"You are going back to France?"
"It is a wonderful land, isn't it?"
"To a true man his own country is always a wonderful land."
"Yes, and I am mostly French," said the boy.
"No, lad. You are an American, a Virginian. Be proud of it."
"I am proud of it, sir; yet a Virginian gentleman might fight for France."
"And France might be glad to claim his sword. Yes, that is true. Well, lad, come in peace or in war, do not fail to make inquiry in Paris for Lafayette. He shall return you something of the courtesy which has been shown to him in this country and in your father's house."
"Thank you, oh, thank you a thousand times. I can talk about it to my mother now. She shall share my dreams."
As he went toward the house he looked back across the waters of the bay. Yet another sail, with the sun upon it, was fading slowly into the distant haze.
THE MAN BY THE ROADSIDE
A solemn twilight, heavy and oppressive, was closing a dull, slumberous day. It was late in the year for such weather. Not a breath stirred in the trees by the roadside, not a movement in hedge or ditch; some plague might have swept across the land, leaving it stricken and desolate, even the cottages here and there showed no lights and appeared to be deserted. The road ran straight between ill-conditioned and neglected fields, and for an hour or more no traveler had passed this way, yet it was a high road, and at a few miles distance was Paris. Yonder toward the northeast lay the city, the twilight heavy over it too, but it was not silent. The throb of human passion and anger beat in it with quick, hammering strokes, and men and women, looking into one another's eyes, either laughed while they sang and danced madly, or shrank away, afraid of being seen, fearing to ask questions.
The twilight had grown deeper, and the horizon was narrowing quickly with the coming of night, when the sound of horses' hoofs broke the silence and two riders came rapidly round a bend into the long stretch of straight road, traveling in the direction of Paris. They rode side by side as comrades and as men with a purpose, a definite destination which must be reached at all hazards, yet at a casual glance it would appear that they could have little in common. One was an elderly man with grizzled hair, face deeply lined, sharp eyes which were screwed up and half closed as if he were constantly trying to focus things at a distance. He was tall, chiefly accounted for by his length of leg, and as thin as a healthy man well could be. His horsemanship had no easy grace about it, and a casual observer might have thought that he was unused to the saddle. There would have been a similar opinion about anything this man did; he never seemed to be intended for the work he was doing, yet it was always well done. He was a silent man, too, and his thoughts were seldom expressed in his face.
His companion was a young man, twenty-five or twenty-six, although his face might suggest that he was somewhat older. His was a strong face, cleanly cut, intelligent, purposeful, yet there was also a certain reserve, as though he had secrets in his keeping which no man might know. Like his comrade, there was little that escaped his keen observation, but at times there was a far-off look in his eyes, as though the present had less interest for him than the future. He sat his horse as one born to the saddle; his hands were firm, his whole frame full of physical force, energy, and endurance—a man who would act promptly and with decision, probably a good man to have as a friend, most certainly an awkward one to have as an enemy.
"We delayed too long at our last halt, Seth. I doubt whether we shall see Paris to-night," he said presently, but made no effort to check the pace of his horse.
"I've been doubting that for an hour past, Master Richard," was the answer.
The grizzled man was Seth, or sometimes Mr. Seth, to all who knew him. So seldom had he heard himself called Seth Dingwall that he had almost forgotten the name. Born in Louisiana, he believed he had French blood in him, and spoke the language easily. He had gone with his mistress to Virginia when she married Colonel Barrington, and to him Broadmead was home, and he had no relation in the wide world.
"Is it so necessary to reach the city to-night?" he asked after a pause.
"I had planned to do so."
The answer was characteristic of the man. As a boy, when he had made up his mind to do a thing, he did it, even though well-merited punishment might follow, and the boy was father to the man. Save in years and experience, this was the same Richard Barrington who had dreamed as he watched sunlit sails disappear in the haze over Chesapeake Bay.
"I was thinking of the horses," said Seth. "I reckon that we have a long way to travel yet."
"We may get others presently," Barrington answered, and then, after a moment's pause, he went on: "We have seen some strange sights since we landed—ruined homes, small and great, burned and desolated by the peasants; and in the last few hours we have heard queer tales. I do not know how matters stand, but it looks as if we might be useful in Paris. That is why we must push on."
"Master Richard," he said slowly.
"Have you ever considered how useless a man may be?"
"Ay, often, and known such men."
"You do not catch my meaning. I am talking of a man who is full of courage and determination, yet just because he is only one is powerless. A lion might be killed by rats if there were enough rats."
"True, Seth, but there would be fewer rats by the time the lion was dead, and a less number for the next lion to struggle with."
"A good answer," said Seth, "and I'm not saying it isn't a right one, but I'm thinking of that first lion which may be slain."
A smile, full of tenderness, came into Barrington's face which, in the gathering darkness, his companion could hardly have seen had he turned to look at him, which he did not do.
"I know, Seth, I know, but I am not one man alone. I have you. It seems to me that I have always had you, and Heaven knows I should have had far less heart for this journey had you not come with me. In the old days you have been nurse and physician to me. I should have drowned in the pond beyond the orchard had you not been at hand to pull me out; I should have broken my skull when the branch of that tree broke had you not caught me; and I warrant there's a scar on your leg somewhere to show that the bull's horn struck you as you whisked me into a place of safety."
"There was something before all those adventures, Master Richard."
"What was that, Seth?"
"It was a morning I'm not forgetting until I'm past remembering anything. We all knew you were coming, and we were looking every day to hear the news. When we did hear it, it was only part of the story, and the other part was most our concern for a while. The mistress was like to die, they said. I remember there was wailing among the plantation hands, and Gadman the overseer had to use his whip to keep 'em quiet. We others were just dumb and waited. Then came the morning I speak of. The mistress was out before the house again for the first time. I chanced to be by, and she called me. You were lying asleep in her lap. 'Seth,' she said, 'this is the young master; isn't he beautiful? You must do your best to see that he comes to no harm as he grows up.' Well, that's all I've done, and it's what I'm bound to go on doing just as long as ever I can. That was the first time I saw you, Master Richard."
Barrington did not answer. His companion's words had brought a picture to his mind of his home in Virginia, which he had never loved quite so well perhaps as at this moment when he was far away from it, and was conscious that he might never see it again. Only a few months ago, when he had sat on the hummock, falling into much the same position as he had so often done as a boy, he had even wondered whether he wanted to return to it. Broadmead could never be the same place to him again. His father had died five years since, and that had been a terrible and sincere grief to him, but he had his mother, and had to fill his father's place as well as he could. The work on the estate gave him much to do, and if the news from France which found its way to Broadmead set him dreaming afresh at times, he cast such visions away. He had no inclination to leave his mother now she was alone, and he settled down to peaceful, happy days, hardly desiring that anything should be different, perhaps forgetting that some day it must be different. Not a year had passed since the change had come. A few days' illness and his mother was suddenly dead.
He was alone in the world. How could Broadmead ever be the same to him again?
"Seth, did my mother ever say anything more to you about me?" he asked suddenly.
"She thanked me for saving you from the bull, though I wanted no thanks."
"Only once," Seth returned, "and then she said almost the same words as she did when I first saw you lying on her knee. 'See that he comes to no harm, Seth.' She sent for me the night before she died, Master Richard. That's why I'm here. I didn't want to leave Virginia particularly."
Barrington might have expressed some regret for bringing his companion to France had not his horse suddenly demanded his attention. They had traversed the long stretch of straight road, and were passing by a thin wood of young trees. Long grass bordered the road on either side, and Barrington's horse suddenly shied and became restive.
"There's something lying there," said Seth, whose eyes were suddenly focused on the ground, and then he dismounted quickly. "It's a man, Master Richard, and by the Lord! he's had rough treatment."
Barrington quieted his horse with soothing words, and dismounting, tethered him to a gate.
"He's not dead," Seth said, as Barrington bent over him; and as if to endorse his words, the man moved slightly and groaned.
"We can't leave him, but—"
"But we shall not reach Paris to-night," Seth returned. "Didn't they tell us we should pass by a village? I have forgotten the name."
"Tremont," said Richard.
"It can't be much farther. There's no seeing to find out his injuries here, but if you could help to get him over the saddle in front of me, Master Richard, I could take him along slowly."
A feeble light glimmered presently along the road, which proved to be the light from a tavern which stood at one end of the village, a rough and not attractive house of entertainment, a fact that the neighbors seemed to appreciate, for no sound came from it.
"Those who attacked him may be there, Master Richard, refreshing themselves after their dastardly work."
"They must be saying silent prayers of repentance, then. Stay in the shadows, Seth; I'll make inquiry."
Leading his horse, Barrington went to the door and called for the landlord. He had to call twice before an old man shuffled along a dark passage from the rear of the house and stood before him.
"Are there lodgings for travelers here?"
"Lodgings, but no travelers. Tremont's deserted except by children and invalids. All in Paris, monsieur. Ay, these be hard times for some of us."
"I'm for Paris, but must rest here to-night."
"You're welcome, monsieur, and we'll do our best, but it's poor fare you'll get and that not cheap."
"Are there no travelers in the house?"
"None; none for these two months."
"No visitor of any kind?"
"None. Only four to-day, and they cursed me and my wine."
"I have a friend with me, and a wounded man. We found him by the roadside."
"We'll do our best," said the landlord, and he turned away and called for his wife.
As Barrington and Seth carried the wounded man in, the landlord looked at him and started.
"You know him?" asked Barrington sharply.
"I saw him only to-day. I'll tell you when you've got him comfortable in his bed."
"Is there a doctor in Tremont?"
"No, monsieur. Over at Lesville there's one, unless he's gone to Paris with the rest, but he couldn't be got here until the morning.".
"I may make shift to patch him up to-night, Master Richard," said Seth. "I helped the doctors a bit before Yorktown, when I was with the Colonel."
Possibly no physician or surgeon would have been impressed with Seth's methods. He was never intended to dress wounds, and yet his touch was gentle.
"He'll do until the doctor comes to-morrow," said Seth, as he presently found Barrington at the frugal meal.
The landlord apologized for the frugality, but it was all he could do.
"May I never face less when I am hungry," said Barrington. "You saw this man to-day, landlord, you say?"
"Yes. I told you that four men cursed me and my wine. They had been here an hour or more, talking of what was going forward in Paris, and of some business which they were engaged upon. I took little note of what they said, for every one is full of important business in these days, monsieur, but the man who lies upstairs presently rode past. I saw him from this window, and my four guests saw him, too. They laughed and settled their score, and five minutes later had brought their horses from the stable behind the inn and were riding in the direction he had taken."
"And attacked him a little later, no doubt."
"It would seem so," said the landlord.
"Should they return, keep it a secret that you have a wounded man in the house. Will that purchase your silence?"
The landlord looked at the coins Barrington dropped into his hand.
"Thank you, monsieur, you may depend upon it that no one shall know."
Seth presently went to see the patient again, and returned in a few moments to say he was conscious.
"I told him where we found him, and he wants to see you, Master Richard."
"Your doctoring must be wonderfully efficacious, Seth."
"Brandy is a good medicine," was the answer; "but the man's in a bad way. He may quiet down after he's seen you."
The man moved slightly as Barrington entered the room, and when he spoke his words came slowly and in a whisper, yet with some eagerness.
"They left me for dead, monsieur; they were disturbed, perhaps."
"Why did they attack you?"
"I was carrying a message."
"A letter—and they stole it?" asked Barrington.
"No, a message. It was not safe to write."
"To whom was the message?"
"To a woman, my mistress, from her lover. He is in the hands of the rabble, and only she can save him. For the love of Heaven, monsieur, take the message to her. I cannot go."
"What is her name?" Barrington asked.
"Mademoiselle St. Clair."
"Certainly, she shall have it. How shall I make her understand?"
"Say Lucien prays her to come to Paris. In my coat yonder, in the lining of the collar, is a little gold star, her gift to him. Say Rouzet gave it to you because he could travel no farther. She will understand. You must go warily, and by an indirect road, or they will follow you as they did me."
"And where shall I find Mademoiselle St. Clair?"
"At the Chateau of Beauvais, hard by Lausanne, across the frontier."
Before the man could give a word of further explanation there was a loud knocking at the door of the inn which the landlord had closed for the night, and when it was not opened immediately, angry curses and a threat to break it down. The patient on the bed did not start, he was too grievously hurt to do that, but his white face grew gray with fear.
"It is nothing, only a late traveler," said Barrington. "And, my good fellow, I cannot go to—"
The man's eyes were closed. The sudden fear seemed to have robbed him of consciousness. It was quite evident to Barrington that he could not be made to understand just now that a journey to Beauvais was impossible. He waited a few minutes to see if the man would rouse again, but he did not, and seeing that an explanation must be put off until later, he went out of the room, closing the door gently behind him. As he descended the stairs the landlord tiptoed up to meet him.
"The men who were here to-day and cursed my wine," he whispered. "Two of them have returned!"
A BINDING OATH
The return of these men, if indeed they were responsible for the condition of the man upstairs, might augur further evil for him. They had perchance returned along the road to make certain that their work was complete, and, finding their victim gone, were now in search of him. Exactly what reliance was to be placed on the word of the wounded man, Barrington had not yet determined. He might be a contemptible spy, his message might contain hidden information to the enemies of his country; he was certainly carrying it to aristocrats who were safe across the frontier, and he might fully deserve all the punishment which had been meted out to him, but for the moment he was unable to raise a hand in his own defense and his helplessness appealed to Barrington. These men should not have their will of him if he could prevent it.
"Keep out of the way of being questioned," he whispered to the landlord, as they went down the stairs. It was characteristic of Richard Barrington that he had formed no plan when he entered the room. He believed that actions must always be controlled by the circumstances of the moment, that it was generally essential to see one's enemy before deciding how to outwit him, a false theory perhaps, but, given a strong personality, one which is often successful.
"Good evening, gentlemen! My friend and I are not the only late travelers to-night."
The two men looked sharply at him. Their attention had been keenly, though furtively, concentrated upon Seth, who sat in a corner, apparently half asleep. In fact, having just noticed them, he had closed his eyes as though he were too weary and worn out to talk.
Both men curtly acknowledged Barrington's greeting, hardly conscious of the curtness maybe. They were of the people, their natural roughness turned to a sort of insolent swagger by reason of the authority which had been thrust upon them. They were armed, blatantly so, and displayed the tri-colored cockade. In some society, at any rate, they were of importance, and this stranger and the manner of his greeting puzzled them. He spoke like an aristocrat, yet there was something unfamiliar about him.
"Did you have to batter at the door before you could gain admittance?" asked one. Of the two, he seemed to have the greater authority.
"No, we arrived before the door was closed."
"Closed doors are suspicious," the man returned with an oath. "This is the day of open doors and freedom for all, citizen."
"Liberty, equality, and fraternity," Barrington answered. "It is a good motto. One that men may well fight for."
"Do you fight for it?" asked the man, truculently.
"Not yet," said Barrington, very quietly and perfectly unmoved, apparently seeing nothing unusual in the man's manner or his question, but quite conscious that Seth had sleepily let his hand slip into his pocket and kept it there.
"Late travelers on the road are also suspicious," said the man, stepping a little nearer to Barrington.
"Indeed! Tell me, of what are you afraid? My friend and I are armed, as I see you are. We may join forces against a common danger. Four resolute men are not easily to be played with."
"Aristocrats find it convenient to travel at night, and tricked out just as you are," he said. "I have taken part in stopping many of them."
"Doubtless an excellent and useful occupation," Barrington returned.
"And I have heard many of them talk like that," said the man, "an attempt to throw dust into eyes far too sharp to be blinded by it. You will tell me where you travel to and where from."
"Do you ask out of courteous curiosity, as meeting travelers may do, or for some other reason?"
"You may think whichever pleases you."
"I am not making for the frontier, if that is what you want to know," laughed Barrington.
"I asked a question which it will be well for you to answer," said the man, and it was evident that his companion was also on the alert.
"Have you authority to question me?" Barrington asked.
"Papers here," said the man, touching his coat, "and this." His hand fell upon a pistol in his belt.
"Leave it there. It is the safest place."
Seth's hands had come from his pocket with a pistol in it. Barrington still laughed.
"My friend seems as suspicious as you are. Let me end it, for truly I expected to be drinking with you before this, instead of trying to find a cause for quarrel. Your eyes must be sharp indeed if you can discover an aristocrat in me. I was for freedom and the people before you had struck a blow for the cause here in France. We are from the coast, before that from America, and we journey to Paris to offer our services to the Marquis de Lafayette."
Perhaps the man believed him, perhaps he did not, but the result of an appeal to force was doubtful, and wine was an attraction. He held out his hand with an air that the welcome of France was in the action. For the present they could pose as friends, whatever might chance in the future.
"Sieur Motier the Marquis is now called, but in America that name would not appeal. We may drown our mistake in wine, the first but maybe not the last time we shall drink together."
The landlord brought in the wine and departed without being questioned.
"Sieur Motier," said Barrington, reflectively. "News has traveled slowly to us in Virginia, and things here have moved quickly. You can tell me much. This meeting is a fortunate one for me."
Into weeks and months had been crowded the ordinary work of a long period of time. After nearly three years of strenuous effort, the Constituent Assembly had come to an end. With Mirabeau as its master spirit, it had done much, some evil, but a great deal that was good. It had suppressed torture, done away with secret letters, and lightened the burden of many grievous taxes. Now, the one man who was able to deal with the crisis if any man was, the aristocrat who had become the darling of the rabble, the "little mother" of the fisher-wives, the hope of even the King himself, was silent. Mirabeau was dead. In fear the King had fled from Paris only to be stopped at Varennes and brought back ignominiously to the capital. The Legislative Assembly took the place of the Constituent Assembly, three parties in it struggling fiercely for the mastery, one party, that high-seated crowd called the Mountain, red republicans whose cry was ever "No King," growing stronger day by day. Nations in arms were gathering on the frontiers of France, and the savagery of the populace was let loose. The Tuileries had been stormed, the Swiss Guard butchered, the royal family imprisoned in the Temple. Quickly the Legislative Assembly had given way to a National Convention, and the country was ripe for any and every atrocity the mind of man could conceive.
The patriot, sitting opposite to Barrington and drinking wine at intervals, told his tale with enthusiasm and with many comments of his own. He was full of the tenets of the Jacobin and Cordelian Clubs. For him the world, set spinning on a mad career when the Bastille fell, was moving too slowly again. There had been a good beginning, truly something had been done since, but why not make a good end of it? Mirabeau, yes, he had done something, but the work had grown too large for him. He had died in good time before the people had become tired of him. France was for the people, and there must be death for all who stood in the people's way, and a quick death, too.
"Blood must run more freely, there will be no good end without that," he said; "the blood of all aristocrats, no matter what they promise, what they pretend. From the beginning they were liars. France has no use for them save to make carrion of."
"And whose power is sufficient for all this?" Barrington asked.
"To-day, no one's. To-morrow;—who shall say? Things go forward quickly at times. A sudden wave might even raise me to power."
"Then the good ending," said Barrington.
The man caught no irony, he only heard the flattery.
"Then the blood flowing," he laughed; "so, as full in color and as freely spilt," and he jerked the remains of the wine in his glass across the room, staining the opposite wall.
"And if not at your word, perhaps at that of Monsieur de Lafayette, Sieur Motier," Barrington suggested. He wanted the man to talk about the Marquis.
"He is an aristocrat with sympathies which make no appeal to me. The people have grown tired of him, too. I am honest, and fear no man, and I say that Motier has long been at the crossroads. He is, or was, an honest man, I hardly know which he is now, and even honest men must suffer for the cause. You say you are his friend, whisper that warning in his ear, if you see him; say you had it from Jacques Sabatier, he will have heard of me."
"Certainly, I will tell him," said Barrington, wondering if such a man as Lafayette could have heard of such a truculent scoundrel as this. "Is he in Paris?"
"I know nothing of him. He was with the army in the North, but he may have been recalled. He must obey like the rest of us. Do you ride with us to Paris to-night?"
"No. Our horses need rest, but we shall meet there, I hope."
"A true patriot must needs meet Sabatier in Paris," and the man swaggered out of the room, followed by his companion.
Barrington and Seth stood at the tavern door to watch their departure. It was not advisable that they should be alone with the landlord and have an opportunity of asking him questions.
The two men rode sharply through the village, but on the outskirts drew rein.
"Had you sharp enough eyes to discover anything?" Sabatier asked, turning to his companion.
"Nothing, except that one of them was too much like an aristocrat to please me."
"He comes to Paris, and may be dealt with there. What of Bruslart's messenger?"
"I saw no sign of him."
"Yet they journey from the coast and must have passed him on the road. He was beyond moving of his own accord."
"Do you mean they helped him?"
"Some one has. We were fools to allow ourselves to be disturbed before completing our work."
"Why did you not question the landlord or the men themselves?"
"Time enough for that," Sabatier answered. "Two men against two gives no odds to depend upon. Ride on toward Paris and send me back a dozen patriots, no matter where you find them. There are some in the neighborhood who have tasted blood in burning a chateau, whisper that there are aristocrats in Tremont. They shall find me by that farm yonder, snatching an hour's sleep in the straw maybe. Then get you to Villefort, where Mercier and Dubois are waiting. Bid them watch that road. Possibly the messenger was not so helpless as we imagined."
Jacques Sabatier did not move until the sound of his comrade's horse had died into silence, then he went toward the farm, tethered his horse, and threw himself down on the straw in a dilapidated barn. Sleep must be taken when it could be got. The days and nights were too full for settled times of rest. In his little sphere he was a man of consequence, not of such importance as he imagined, but, nevertheless, before his fellows. He had been at the storming of the Bastille, that gave him prestige; he had a truculent swagger which counted in these days, especially if there had been no opportunity of being proved a coward. Perchance Sabatier had never been put to the test. In a rabble it is easy to shout loudly, yet be where the danger is least, and this wide-mouthed patriot had much to say about himself.
His sleep was sound enough for the proverbial just man, sound and dreamless, aided perhaps by a liberal allowance of wine. At daybreak he was still slumbering, and the little crowd of men who presently found him in the barn had some trouble in rousing him. He struggled to his feet, his mind a blank for a moment.
"What is it? What do you want?" and for an instant there was a look in his eyes strangely like fear.
"You sent for us," said one.
"Ah! I remember." Sabatier was himself again. "There's work for us in the village yonder. Rats in a hole, comrades. We go to smoke them out."
A fierce undertone of approval was the answer.
So in the early morning there was once more a heavy battering at the closed door of the tavern, and shouting to the landlord to open quickly. He came shuffling down the stairs.
"It's over early for guests," he said sleepily, "but you're good men, I see. Come in."
Then he caught sight of Sabatier and trembled a little. He was an old man, and had been oppressed so long that he had become used to it. He understood very little of what was going forward in the country.
"Where are the aristocrats?" hissed a dozen raucous voices.
"Those guests of yours," said Sabatier.
"They have gone—went soon after you left last night. It was a surprise, but I had no power to stop them."
There was an angry movement toward the landlord.
"Wait," said Sabatier. "He is probably a liar. We shall see."
The men searched the house, some watching the doors lest the aristocrats should make a dash for freedom. Certainly there was a guest here still, but he made no effort to escape. At the top of the stairs was a door—locked.
"The key," Sabatier demanded.
"I will fetch it," was the timid answer.
The locked door was suspicious. Two men ran hastily to watch the window and prevent escape that way. And why delay for the key? Not a very strong lock this, a blow from a man's heel could break it, did break it, and the door crashed open, splitting itself from one of its hinges.
On the bed lay a man, half-dressed, his eyes wide open, fixed upon the ceiling, his head bound with a cloth, blood-stained. Very sunken was the head in the pillows, very thin looked the form stretched under the coarse blanket. Sabatier touched him and then looked swiftly round the room. A coat was thrown across a chair. He took this up, and there was a cut in the lining of it, high up near the collar.
"Who did this?" he asked.
The landlord did not know.
"Who did it, I say!" and he struck him in the face with the back of his hand, a heavy enough blow to send the old man to the wall.
"I do not know, sir, it's true I do not know," whined the landlord. "They brought him here half dead; had found him on the road, they said. He seemed to get better when one of them bound him up. When they came to look at him after you had gone he was dead. I left them alone with him, and in a few minutes they called me and said they must leave for Paris at once."
Sabatier flung the coat aside with an oath.
"This is Citizen Latour's business," he said to his companions.
"And he's been helping aristocrats," said one man, pointing to the landlord still leaning by the wall.
"What else?" said Sabatier, shortly, as he strode out of the room and down the stairs.
A cry followed him, but he did not stop.
"Mercy! I know nothing."
A wilder cry, half drowned by savage curses and the sound of blows. Still Sabatier paid no heed. He went into the room below, knocked the neck off a wine bottle and poured the contents into a mug and drank, smacking his lips.
A woman, half dressed, rushed down the stairs and into the street.
"Let her go," Sabatier cried, as a man was starting after her. "Maybe she's not too old to find another husband."
Laughing, and cursing, the men came tumbling down the stairs, ripe for deviltry; but for the moment here was wine to be had for the taking, everything else could wait.
When later they left, a woman came rushing toward them.
"Let me in! Let me in!" she cried. "He's not dead."
"Out of it," said one, pushing her roughly aside so that she stumbled and fell upon the road. "He's dead, or will be soon enough. Our work is thorough, and this might be a chateau instead of a wine shop by the way we've treated it. You watch a while. You'll understand," and he laughed as he closed the door.
The poor soul may have understood his meaning, or she may not, as she rocked herself to and fro in the roadway. The ribald songs of these patriots, these apostles of freedom, had not died as they marched and danced out of Tremont when there was a smell of burning in the air, and first smoke, then flame burst from the tavern, quickly reducing it to a heap of ashes. It was a strange grave for the charred remains of two men who yesterday had been full of life. This was a time when things moved apace and there was no prophesying from day to day.
Long since out of range of the smoke cloud rising in the morning sky, Richard Barrington and Seth urged their horses along the road.
"Is this a wise journey?" Seth asked suddenly.
"I cannot tell."
"Paris might be safer."
"I promised to carry a message to a woman," Barrington answered. "The man is dead; there remains my oath. Somewhere before us lies the Chateau of Beauvais, and that is the way we go."
There are few fairer spots in this world than Beauvais. He who has dreamed of an earthly paradise and sought it out, might well rest here contented, satisfied. It lies at the top of a long, ascending valley which twists its way upward from the Swiss frontier into the hills, a rough and weary road to travel, yet with a new vista of beauty at every turn. Here are wooded slopes where a dryad might have her dwelling; yonder some ragged giant towers toward heaven, his scarred rocky shoulders capped with snow. Below, deep down from the road cut in the hillside, undulate green pastures, the cattle so small at this distance that they might be toys set there after a child's fancy; while a torrent leaping joyously from ledge to ledge might be a babbling brook but for the sound of its full music which comes upward on the still air, telling of impetuous force and power. Here eternity seems to have an habitation, and time to be a thing of naught. The changing seasons may come and go, storm and tempest may spend their rage, and summer heat and winter frost work their will, yet that rocky height shall still climb into cloudland, and those green pastures shall flourish. Centuries ago, eyes long blinded by the dust of death looked upon this fair scene and understood something of its everlasting nature; centuries hence, other eyes shall behold its beauty and still dream of a distant future. We are but children of a day, brilliant ephemera flashing in a noontide sun; these silent, watching hills have known generations of others like us, as brilliant and as short-lived; shall know generations more, unborn as yet, unthought of.
At the head of this valley, rising suddenly from a stretch of level land, is a long hill lying like a wedge, its thin edge resting on the plain. The sides, as they get higher, become more precipitous, but from the thin edge there ascends a road about which houses cluster, irregular and pointed roofs rising one above the other in strange confusion until they are crowned at the summit by the chateau standing like their protector to face and defy the world. To the right, dominating the whole of this region, is the great double peak, snow-clad and often cloud-bound, which seems to stand sentinel for the surrounding mountains as the castle does to the valley; God's work and the work of man. He who first built his castle there knew well that in might lay right, and chose his place accordingly. Now houses stretch down to the level of the plain, but it was not always so. Halfway through the village the road passes through a gateway of solid stone, flanked by towers pierced for defense, and the wall through which this gate gives entrance remains, broken in places, lichen-covered, yet still eloquent of its former strength and purpose. Within the gate the village widens into an open square rising toward the chateau, and this square is surrounded by old houses picturesque and with histories. Many a time Beauvais has stood siege, its lord holding it against some neighbor stirred by pride or love tragedy to deadly feud. In these ancient houses his retainers lived, his only so long as he was strong enough to make himself feared, fierce men gathered from all points of the compass, soldiers of fortune holding their own lives and the lives of others cheaply. From such men, brilliant in arms, have sprung descendants who have made their mark in a politer epoch, men and women who have become courtiers, companions of kings, leaders of men, pioneers of learning. Carved into these ancient houses in Beauvais are crests and mottoes which are the pride of these descendants now scattered over Europe. Such is the village of Beauvais, asleep for many years, the home of peasants chiefly, mountaineers and tenders of cattle, still with the fighting spirit in them, but dormant, lacking the necessity. A fair place, but to the exile, only through a veil does the fairest land reveal its beauty. Its sunlit hills, its green pastures, the silver sheen of its streams, the blue of its sky, he will see through a mist of regret, through tears perchance. No beauty can do away with the fact that it is only a land of exile, to be endured and made the best of for a while, never to be really loved. There is coming an hour in which he may return home, and he is forever looking forward, counting the days. The present must be lived, but reality lies in the future.
The Marquise de Rovere, brilliant, witty, proud as any woman in France, daughter of ancestors famous during the time of the fourteenth and fifteenth Louis, had in the long past a forbear who was lord of this chateau of Beauvais. Since then there had been other lords with whom she had nothing to do, but her grandfather having grown rich, unscrupulously, it was said, bought Beauvais, restored it, added to it and tried to forget that it had ever passed out of the hands of his ancestors. In due time his granddaughter inherited it, and after that terrible day at Versailles when the mob had stormed the palace, when many of the nobility foresaw disaster and made haste to flee from it into voluntary exile, what better place could the Marquise choose than this chateau of Beauvais? Hither she had come with her niece Jeanne St. Clair, and others had followed. In Paris the Marquise had been the center of a brilliant coterie, she would still be a center in Beauvais and the chateau should be open to every emigre of distinction.
So it came to pass that sleepy Beauvais had suddenly stretched itself and aroused from slumber. The Marquise was rich, her niece a wealthy heiress, much of both their fortunes not dependent upon French finance, and a golden harvest fell upon the simple mountaineers and cattle tenders. Every available room was at the disposal of master or lackey, and the sleepy square was alive with men and women who had intrigued and danced at Versailles, who had played pastoral games with Marie Antoinette at the Trianon, whose names were famous. Idlers were many in Beauvais, exiles awaiting the hour for return, for revenge upon the rabble, yet doing nothing to forward the hour; but there were many others, men who came and went full of news and endeavor. Beauvais was a meeting place. There one might hear the latest rumors from Paris, learn what help might be expected from Austria, from Prussia; and while news was gathered and given there was brilliant entertainment at the chateau.
"We may make even exile bearable," the Marquise had said, and she did her utmost to do so.
It was into this wideawake village of Beauvais that Richard Barrington and Seth, weary and travel-stained, rode late one afternoon, and came to a halt before the inn. They passed almost unnoticed, for strangers were a common sight, often quaintly disguised to escape their enemies.
There was no room in the inn, nor did the good landlady, who still seemed flurried with so much business to attend to, know where they would get a lodging.
"Every house is a hotel these days, and I think every house is full," she said. "All the world has come to Beauvais for the masked ball at the chateau."
"There are still holes to be found," said a man lounging by the door. "My friend and I were in the same predicament, but we have found a corner. I believe there is room of sorts still to be had in the house, and if Monsieur permits, I shall have pleasure in taking him there."
"You are very good," said Barrington.
The stranger led the way across the square to an old house set back between its neighbors, as though it were modest and shrinking from observation, or desirous of keeping a secret. Its door was narrow and down a step from the roadway; its windows small, like half-closed eyes.
"Monsieur must expect little and even then get less than he expects, and pay dearly for it; but it is such a hole as this or a night in the open."
"I am weary enough not to mind much where I sleep," said Barrington.
"Add it all to the account which the canaille must some day pay," answered the man.
A stuffy little loft of a room, adjoining another loft occupied by their guide and his friend, was all the space available, but it was better than nothing, and Barrington quickly came to terms with the owner of the house.
Monsieur le Comte, for so the proprietor addressed the man who had guided them to the house, departed, hoping for their further acquaintance presently, and offering them any help which it might be in his power to afford.
"We find ourselves in a strange place, Master Richard," said Seth, surveying the room.
"We may come to stranger ones before we see Virginia again," was the answer.
"Ay, that's true; and there's not a certainty that we shall ever see Virginia again," said Seth. "I took the precaution to say farewell to all the old corners of Broadmead before I left."
"It's a fool's game to step too far into the future. A wise man never buys his own coffin," laughed Barrington. "We are in luck."
"I'm glad you think so, Master Richard. I see plenty of danger, but little luck. It was to help the people we came, and here we are at Beauvais to serve an aristocrat. Our friends the people are not likely to forgive us easily."
"There is a woman to help, Seth."
"I wonder how many excellent schemes a woman has brought to nothing."
"And that is why I say we are in luck," said Barrington, taking no notice of the comment. "How are we to get audience with this woman? The question has puzzled me upon the journey. We are met with the news that there is to be a masked ball at the chateau. Could we have arrived at a more opportune time?"
"You will go to the chateau?"
"Of course. I shall find some excuse and get a disguise that best fits it. Every one in Beauvais must be able to give me some description by which I may know Mademoiselle St. Clair. The rest will be easy."
"This faith of youth is very wonderful," said Seth.
"Not more remarkable than your forebodings," Barrington returned. "You have not always been so quick to talk of danger."
"Maybe it's the different air. I prefer the breeze that comes off Chesapeake Bay to that of these hills, and there's a devil of depression in this cockloft, it seems to me."
"Come out of it, then. Hunger and thirst are at the bottom of your croaking. We will go eat and drink and gather news."
"And at this ball, Master Richard, see that you think more of the readiness of your arms than your grace in a dance."
Barrington laughed as he descended the narrow stairs, but he was not heedless of his companion's warnings. He was fully alive to the danger he was in, and if the truth must be told, was not particularly pleased to find himself in Beauvais. He would far rather have been in Paris. The romantic element in this unexpected adventure did not greatly appeal to him. He had crossed the ocean to help an oppressed people; he was full of enthusiasm for a cause, so much an enthusiast that the two braggart representatives of the people with whom he had come in contact at Tremont had in no way disillusioned him. Refuse must needs be cast on the wave crests of a revolution; but there was also Lafayette. He was the people's true representative, and Barrington longed to be at his side to help him. He had promised to deliver a message, believing that he was undertaking a comparatively small matter, and just when he learned that a journey into Switzerland was involved, interruption had come and the man had lost consciousness. Barrington had fully intended to explain to the wounded man that such a journey was impossible. After Sabatier and his companion had left the inn, he had gone upstairs for this purpose, only to find the man dead. He had made a promise to a dying man, and at all hazards that promise must be fulfilled. The sooner it was done, the sooner he could journey to Paris; and their arrival in Beauvais at the time of this masked ball was fortunate: there need be little delay.
A little later Monsieur le Comte found them.
"We must needs celebrate your escape," he said. "This is my friend, like myself an exile from Paris. You are also from Paris?"
"From outside Paris," Barrington answered. For the nonce he must pose as an aristocrat, and wondered by what name he might best deceive them. Seth, too, was a grave difficulty. He could show few marks of an aristocrat.
The Frenchman's next words saved him all trouble, however.
"We do not ask too many questions in Beauvais, Monsieur. That we are here proves that we do not uphold the people, and we need not too closely inquire who our neighbor may be. We shall not all wish to maintain the friendships made in exile when we return to France. Here's to your safe arrival, Monsieur, and to our speedy return. The sentiment is of the best vintage, though the wine may be inferior. I warrant the cellars of the chateau will do better for us to-morrow night. You go to the ball, Monsieur?"
"I am ill-provided for such an entertainment."
"As are many others," was the laughing answer, "since they were obliged to leave so hurriedly that there was short time for packing. That need not deter you, Monsieur, and if you have no opportunity of apprising the Marquise of your arrival, I believe there are some so poor in their exile that they would sell their invitation. We do things in Beauvais that would shame us elsewhere."
"I must confess to not being personally acquainted with the Marquise," said Barrington.
"Say no more, Monsieur; you shall have an invitation in the morning. A few louis will purchase it."
"You overwhelm me with courtesy," said Barrington.
"No, no; it is nothing. To-morrow evening I may have the opportunity of presenting you to the Marquise."
"And to her niece?"
"Mademoiselle St. Clair? That is as Monsieur wills," he laughed.
"I do not understand your merriment."
"Pardon, Monsieur, but there are not many who crave presentation to Mademoiselle. You have not heard of her?"
"Nothing but her name."
"Think, Monsieur, of a large woman with black hair and complexion more swart than beautiful, with large hands that could clasp mine and hide them, and feet flat and heavy; a figure that is no figure, all its lines pressed from within out of place and which shakes as she walks; a voice whose whisper is raucous. Then, Monsieur, conceive this woman unaware of her defects, who simpers and attempts to use her dull eyes in fascination. That is Mademoiselle St. Clair."
"Surely you exaggerate?"
"No, it is a fair picture," said the friend, "and yet she has admirers. Her fortune is as large as her person."
Barrington laughed. There could be small romance in the love story which fate had called him to assist, and certainly he would have small difficulty in finding Mademoiselle St. Clair.
"I will not trespass on your courtesy for an introduction to her, Monsieur," he said, "and since the wine is finished, you will pardon us if we retire. We have traveled far and are weary."
Monsieur le Comte looked at his companion when they had gone, and smiled.
"A new experience for Beauvais," he said; "a man who has not the honor of knowing Madame la Marquise and has not heard of the charms of Mademoiselle her niece."
"The picture you drew was a little too repulsive, I think."
"She will be masked," was the laughing answer. "He must have his invitation as promised. It will cost a few louis, and we are none too rich. We are dealers in this matter, and must have some profit for our labor."
"Monsieur le Comte, you are a genius," laughed his companion.
An hour later, Monsieur le Comte knocked softly at the door of Barrington's room.
There was no answer.
He knocked louder.
"Monsieur, I have the invitation."
Still there was no answer.
"Parbleu, they sleep like the dead," he murmured, and went back to his companion.
Seth lay like a log—in deep, dreamless sleep. It would take far more than a mere knocking at the door to wake him. Barrington, deaf to the knocking, deeply asleep too, was restless, turning and tossing with dreams—nightmares. He was falling over one of the precipices which they had passed on their way to Beauvais. He was imprisoned, almost suffocated, in a little room; the walls seemed to gradually close in upon him and then suddenly to open; he was ill, surely, for men were about him, looking into his face and muttering together. Again, he was in a crowd, a dancing, noisy crowd, searching for a great woman who shook as she walked. It was madness to seek her here, they were all pigmies, and he turned away; another moment they were all big, all the women had raven hair, large hands and feet; he would never be able to find the woman he sought. Then this scene faded and there came others, some horrible, all fantastic; and always there came, sooner or later, a woman, ugly, repulsive, masterful. She fascinated him. He was conscious of struggling to free himself. He could not. Something, some irresistible power, forced him to speak to her, to love her, to love while he tried to hate, and her great dull eyes looked at him, rewarding him. He knew her, forever hereafter must be possessed by her. This horrible woman, this Jeanne St. Clair, was his fate. Nightmare was his long after the day had broken and men and women were abroad in Beauvais.
MADEMOISELLE ST. CLAIR
Sharp hammering at the door, long continued, finally brought an end to Barrington's nightmare hours and Seth's deep slumbers. The sun was streaming in through the little window, revealing the dust and the dilapidation of this lodging. Seth went to the door.
"Ma foi, I thought you had started on your last long journey," said the proprietor of the house. "My knuckles are sore with knocking. Monsieur le Comte bid me give you this card. You would understand and pay, he said."
"Six louis. It was arranged, he said, and I gave him the money before he went this morning."
"He has gone?" called Barrington from his bed.
"Madame la Marquise heard of his arrival, Monsieur, and sent to fetch him to lodgings in the castle. You will doubtless meet him in Beauvais during the day."
"Six louis for this card?" questioned Seth. "It is a long price."
"If you were not a stranger in Beauvais you would know that it was very cheap," answered the proprietor.
"Pay it," said Barrington.
Seth did so with a grumble, and wondered how much the proprietor was making out of the deal.
"We have fallen among thieves, Master Richard," he said as he shut the door. "I shouldn't wonder if any one could slip into this ball without payment of any sort. We've made a long night of it."
"Weariness and wine," answered Barrington. "The wine was strong, or this mountain air added to the potency of its effects upon us."
"Maybe. I never slept so soundly since I was a youngster."
"And I never had such horrible dreams," said Barrington.
"I've been thinking, Master Richard, that there may be worse than thieves in Beauvais," said Seth, after a pause. "We're rather like men at sea without the knowledge of how to handle ropes and set sail—an extra puff of wind, and we risk being overturned. There's something to learn about the methods of these Frenchmen, especially when every man sees a possible enemy in his neighbor. The gentlemen at Tremont did not much please me, nor was I greatly taken with Monsieur le Comte."
"We shall have plenty of time to learn their methods, Seth."
"But in the meanwhile the puff of wind may come, Master Richard. I don't like this masked ball."
"You may trust me to be careful."
"Your idea of precaution and mine may differ a little," Seth answered. "You don't see danger so far ahead as I do."
"That may be in my favor," laughed Richard. "Be at ease, Seth; I shall do nothing rash. Neither our blatant friend Sabatier, nor our courteous acquaintance of last night, shall catch me sleeping. I do not trust men very easily, nor women either, for that matter."
"Ay, Master Richard, it's a weight off my mind to know that this Mademoiselle St. Clair has so little attraction about her. I've been young myself and know the power of women. You've not been through that fire yet."
"A strange thing at my age, Seth. I have thought that no woman is likely to plague me much."
"Get well into your grave before you think that," was the answer. "I'm no hater of women, far from it, and I know a man's never safe. Why, a chit of twenty may make a fool of a veteran, and set his tired old heart trying to beat like that of a lad just out of his school days. Only last year there was a girl in Virginia sent me panting along this road of folly, and I'm not sure it wasn't Providence which sent me with you to France."
Beauvais presented a lively scene that day, but it was in vain that Barrington kept a sharp lookout for Monsieur le Comte and his friend. Many people came and went from the chateau, but they were not among them. Barrington did not particularly want to meet them, but he realized that circumstances might arise which would make them useful, and he would have liked to find out what position they held among the other exiles in Beauvais. A prominent one, surely, since the Marquise had fetched them to lodgings in the chateau, and therefore it was possible that Barrington's arrival had puzzled them. They might reasonably doubt whether he had any right to pose as an aristocrat and an exile, suspicion would certainly follow, and sharp eyes might be upon him at the ball to-night. Even as a go-between in a love affair there might be some danger for him, but was his mission only that?
When he left his lodgings that evening he had disguised himself as much as possible. He wore a cloak which his acquaintances of last night had not seen, he had procured a mask which hid as much of his face as possible. He went armed, and fastened in the lining of his coat was the little gold star he had taken from the dead man's coat. He fingered it through the cloth to make sure that it was safe as he crossed the, square and went toward the chateau. Seth may have been right, and the six louis thrown away, for no one took any notice of Barrington as he passed into the castle. Although he gave up his card of invitation, he was convinced that with a little diplomacy and a bold front he could have got in without one.
Exteriorly the castle retained much of its mediaeval appearance, and within the new had been cleverly and lovingly grafted onto the old. There were still dungeons enclosed in these massive walls, chambers wherein misery and pain had cried aloud to no effect. There were narrow passages down which tortured men must once have been carried, or at the end of which some oubliette opened to sudden destruction. Many horrible things must be in the knowledge of this massive masonry. The great hall, where men at arms, after a foray or raid upon some neighboring stronghold, must have caroused times without number, making the roof ring with their rude rejoicing, was alive to-night with men and women, exiles forgetting their exile for a while or exchanging news which might mean a speedy return to their homeland. All were masked, although it was apparent that many had no difficulty in recognizing their neighbors under the disguise, but although there were a few brilliant costumes and occasional flashes of jewels, the general impression of dress was sombre and makeshift. How could it be otherwise when the flight from Paris, or from the provinces, had been so sudden, no preparation possible?
At one side of the hall, the center of a little group, stood a white-haired woman of commanding presence. Jewels flashed in her dress, and there was laughter about her. Evidently this was the Marquise de Rovere, and she was busy welcoming her guests. With some it was more than a passing word of greeting, there was news to be imparted by one lately in communication with Austria or Prussia, or perchance with England; there was the latest news from Paris to be had from one who had just escaped from his enemies; there was news, too, of friends who had not been so fortunate, or who had willingly stayed to face the storm; there were rumors which had been gathered from all sources to be whispered. This chateau of Beauvais was a meeting place, a center for much scheming; and for a while the hours must be made to pass as pleasantly as possible.
These men and women were different from those he had come in contact with, of a different world altogether; yet his youth responded to the music and verve of it all. Because it was different, new and unfamiliar to him, that was no proof that what he had known was right, and this was wrong. His blood was pulsating, the atmosphere was exhilarating. Pleasure flung him her gauge, why should he not pick it up? A woman was beside him, dark eyes flashing through her mask, red lips wreathed into a smile. The next moment reserve had broken down and he was dancing with her, acquitting himself with sufficient grace to pass muster, and almost as ready with his compliment as she was to receive it.
"We shall dance again, monsieur," she said presently, when another partner carried her away.
"Until then I shall count the moments," Barrington answered, and it was perhaps this suggestion of the future which brought to his mind the real reason for his presence there.
A large woman, with raven hair, and of such a figure that it shook when she walked; among the dancers there were many who might pass for large women, the hair of one or two might be considered raven, but there was not one who completed the full description he had had of Mademoiselle St. Clair. Certainly she was not among those who stood near the Marquise, and Barrington went from vantage point to vantage point in search of her. Neither could he discover Monsieur le Comte or his friend. Lodged in the chateau, they had possibly obtained richer garments, and would be difficult to identify. The fulfillment of his mission was not to be so easy as he had imagined.
He had been watching from a corner near the entrance to the ballroom, partially concealed by a little knot of people who were standing before him. He could have overheard their conversation, but he was not listening. He was wondering how he could find mademoiselle. There was surely some other apartment where guests were, for his eyes were keen, and he had certainly not seen her yet.
"Monsieur does not dance?"
Barrington turned quickly. The little crowd which had stood in front of him had gone, and near him was a woman. It was difficult to know whether her words were a statement of fact, question or invitation.
"I have danced, mademoiselle."
"And are now waiting for some one?"
"No. If mademoiselle will honor me I—"
"I also have danced many times, monsieur, and am inclined to rest a little."
Barrington looked at her, and a pair of violet eyes met his glance through her mask, deep, almost unfathomable eyes, difficult to read and filled with the light that lures men on to strange and wonderful things. Her auburn hair had brown and darker shadows in it, the color one may see in a distant wood in late autumn when the sun touches it; her transparent skin was delicately tinted, such a tint as may be seen in rare china. Her small, well-shaped mouth seemed made for smiles, yet there was a line of firmness in it suggestive of determination. There was a cadence in her voice, a musical rise and fall which held an appeal. The lines of her figure were graceful, there was youth and vigor in every movement, and without being above the medium height, the pose of her head on her shapely shoulders gave her a certain air of stateliness, natural and becoming to her it seemed. She was a woman designed for happiness and laughter, Barrington thought, and he felt she was not happy. He wondered if there were not tears in those violet eyes, and he had a sudden longing to behold her without a mask. It would have been easy for her to make him again forget his mission, and why he was in the chateau of Beauvais. Youth recognized youth, and that indefinite longing which is a part of youth seemed to enfold them for an instant. Perhaps the woman felt it as much as he did, for she broke the silence rather abruptly.
"I have noticed that monsieur has not entered much into the gayety."
Barrington was on his guard in a moment. He could not afford to be questioned too closely.
"I am greatly honored by mademoiselle's notice."
"That is nothing," she returned as though the implied compliment displeased her. "It seemed to me you were a stranger in Beauvais, and strangers here may have sad memories behind them."
"They do their best to forget, mademoiselle," he answered. The laughter of a woman as she passed, dancing, gave point to the assertion. "It is wonderful. I cannot understand it."
"Better laugh and live than die weeping," she said. "Those who live shall live to repay."
"And perchance some good shall come out of the evil."
She looked at him quickly.
"In Beauvais it is somewhat dangerous to be a philosopher, monsieur. We cling to one idea which by brutal force has been driven into our souls—revenge. It is not safe to preach anything short of that, we have suffered too much."
"There was not such a deep meaning in my words," he said.
"Still, the warning may not be out of place," and she turned to leave him.
"Before I go, mademoiselle, you may help me. Can you tell me where I shall find Mademoiselle St. Clair?"
"You know her?"
"Only by the description I have had of her."
"I wonder almost it was not sufficient to help you," and a smile played at the corners of her mouth.
"Indeed, mademoiselle, I marvel at it, too, for I assure you the description was most complete," laughed Barrington.
"From whom did you have it?"
"Pardon me if I am reticent on that point. It was given in confidence."
"You pique my curiosity."
"But you know her, mademoiselle?"
"Cannot you guess how a man might describe her, with a desire perhaps to be a little witty at her expense, and inclined to exaggerate?"
"Indeed, I cannot. Have you some message for her which I may deliver?"
"Again pardon, but I must speak to the lady myself."
"So far I can help you. If you will follow me, not too closely lest we cause comment, I will bring you to her. I am supposing that you wish to see her alone, that what you have to tell her is a secret."
"It is a secret, mademoiselle."
"Follow me, then. And monsieur will do well to note if any one shows interest in our movements. We did not leave all intrigue and scandal behind us."
It was easy to follow her. She was a woman apart from all the other women about him, Barrington thought. Although he had only seen her masked he would know her again, he believed, no matter in how crowded a world of women he might meet her, no matter how long a time should pass before such a meeting. Obeying her, he glanced swiftly to right and left as he went. Eyes certainly turned to look after the woman, once or twice indeed she stopped to speak a few words to some friend, but Barrington could not discover that any one took the slightest notice of him.
A few paces separating them they crossed the great hall, and she leisurely passed into the corridor without. When Barrington stepped slowly into the corridor, he found that she had quickened her pace, and at the end of it she had paused a moment that he might see which way she turned. He followed more quickly, and found her in a small vestibule, part of the old chateau. A lamp was hanging from the corner of a wall, and on an oak settle were two or three lanterns with candles in them, such as a servant carries to guide his master or mistress on a dark night.
"Will monsieur light one from the lamp," she said hurriedly.
"I am to wait here while you fetch mademoiselle?" he asked. "Truly this is a secret place for delivering a message."
"Not too secret," she answered. "I am Mademoiselle St. Clair."
The exclamation was a whispered one. A confusion of thoughts was in his brain. Already almost unconsciously he had laid the foundations of a dream fabric, and these were destroyed suddenly, burying him for a moment in the collapse.
"May I see monsieur unmasked?" she said.
Mechanically he removed the mask, and she looked into his face earnestly. She gave no sign whether she expected to recognize him, but it would seem that his face satisfied her, for she undid her mask and stood before him. She was a woman, and beauty must ever be the keenest weapon in woman's armory; there was a little glad triumph in her heart as she realized that this man bowed before her beauty. Barrington was startled that a mask could hide so much.
"Monsieur has been somewhat misled, it would seem, by his friend who was witty at my expense and inclined to exaggerate."
"I have been deceived, and I shall punish him for the lie," Barrington answered.
"I am at a loss to understand the deceit," she answered. "You have a message for me. I may find some explanation in it."
"Upon the roadside as I—" Barrington began, and then stopped. "Mademoiselle, forgive me, but such deceit makes a man suspicious. I was told to seek Mademoiselle St. Clair in a fat, ugly, simpering woman, and I find her in—in you. How can I be certain that you are Mademoiselle St. Clair?"
"I see your difficulty. Your doubt does not anger me. Let me think. Will it help you if I speak the name Lucien?"
"It seems convincing. Heaven grant, mademoiselle, that you are as honorable as you are beautiful. I must needs believe so and trust you. To you I can prove that I am an honest messenger," and Barrington tore from the lining of his coat a tiny packet of tissue paper. "I have to give you this little golden star, your gift to Lucien."
She took the packet with quick, trembling fingers, turned to the table, and by the light of the lantern unfolded the paper. With a little clink the star fell upon the table.
"This? This?" she said, starting back and pointing at it.
Barrington made a step forward at her sudden question, and then stood still, staring at the token.
It was no star of gold which lay in the circle of the lantern light, but a common thing of iron, roughly made, rusted and worthless.
THE WOOD END
Richard Barrington knew that he had fallen into some trap, the exact nature of it and the danger he could not know. After a pause, a long pause it seemed to Jeanne St. Clair, long enough for a villain to fashion a lying tale, he turned to her.
"It seems, mademoiselle, that I have been robbed as well as deceived."
"In spite of that," she said, pointing to the iron token, "I am inclined to listen to the message."
"Mademoiselle, I regret that I ever undertook to carry it. I had other business in hand, but an oath to a dead man was binding."
"A dead man? Lucien?"
"I know nothing of Lucien. For all I know he may already be making merry at my discomfiture. The dead man was one Rouzet, or so he told me, and he called himself your servant."
"He was Lucien's servant, a faithful one," she answered.
"At least he was faithful in some one's service since he died in it, and I can honor him for that even though he deceived me."
"You have told me so much you must tell me more," she said, a persuasive tone in her voice.
She must hear the story. Whether this man were honest or not she must make him speak. Whatever plot was on foot she must know it. To some one surely Lucien had given the gold star. Much must depend on her receiving the message he had sent with it.
"You must tell me," she repeated.
"And knowing far more than I do you may laugh at me for a simple gentleman easily fooled. Still, he is something of a hero who can stand being laughed at. Many years ago I had that from a countryman of yours, the Marquis de Lafayette. I was on my way to visit him in Paris, when this mission was thrust upon me."
Concisely but in every detail Barrington told her what had happened at Tremont, and explained how he had become acquainted with Monsieur le Comte at Beauvais. He made no attempt to conceal the fact that he had come to France to place himself at the disposal of Monsieur de Lafayette. If there were any risk in telling this woman so, he was rather relieved to have real danger to face instead of lying and intrigue; the one he might meet successfully, but he was no adept in battling with the other.
"You took the star from Rouzet's coat after he was dead you say, are you sure it was a gold star you took?"
"I made certain by looking at it."
"And you can thoroughly trust your servant?"
"As myself, mademoiselle."
"You have not told me your name," she said.
"Richard Barrington," he answered, and then he laughed a little. "Why I trust you, I do not know. I may be putting it into your power to do me a great deal of harm."
"If I have the power, I shall not use it," she answered.
There was a moment coming when she would have to decide whether these words constituted a promise given without reservation, or whether the promise were contingent on his being honest, as now she believed him to be.
"For that I thank you," he returned.
"And you have my thanks for coming to Beauvais. That you have been robbed only makes it clearer how bitter Lucien's enemies are. Have you any plan, Monsieur Barrington, by which I could reach Paris in safety?"
The question set his thoughts rushing into a new channel. He felt suddenly responsible for her, knew that to prevent her going even into the shadow of harm he was prepared to face any danger. It was not her beauty which influenced him, a moment ago he had been ready to despise it if she were a deceitful woman; something more subtle than her beauty appealed to him, herself, the revelation of herself which was in her question.
"It is impossible for you to go to Paris, mademoiselle. The crowd of refugees in this chateau is proof enough that the danger is too great. How any man, no matter what his need may be, could ask you to put yourself in such jeopardy, I cannot understand."
"Yet you undertook to bring the message to Beauvais. Was it in your mind to advise that no notice should be taken of it?"
"Indeed, mademoiselle, I thought of little beyond fulfilling the oath I had taken, and to go my way again as quickly as possible."
"The answer to the message must rest with me, Monsieur Barrington," she said, quietly. "It was not by my own will that I left Paris. I am not afraid to return. Will you help me?"
"Please, Monsieur Barrington. It means life or death, perchance, to the man I love."
"Curse him for asking you to face such a danger."
"Hush, you cannot understand," she said, putting her hand upon his arm. "I know Lucien. From Beauvais you will journey to Paris. Will you let me go with you?"
"No. I will not help you to your destruction. I will carry whatever message you will to this man, but I will not do more."
"Then take this message: Jeanne St. Clair is on her way to Paris; she asked my escort, but since I would not give it she has found another. Tell him that, Monsieur Barrington."
"Have you no fear, mademoiselle?"
"Very well, I will try and see you safely into Paris. You will go most easily as a woman of the people, one who has some aristocrat enemy on whom she wishes to be avenged. Do you think you can play such a part?"
"I will do as you bid me."
"Hide your hair, mademoiselle; wear some hideous cloak which may do something to spoil your beauty. If you will go, I may be a safer escort than any other. I claim friendship with Monsieur de Lafayette, so I am for the people. Even if we cause suspicion they will hardly prevent our going to Paris. Your return——"
"We need not arrange for that now, monsieur. When will you start?"
"As soon as possible."
"To-morrow at dawn," she answered. "At the foot of the road leading up to Beauvais, you will see to your left a wood which ends abruptly as it approaches the valley down which we must go to the frontier. I have papers that shall help me to pass. I have always known that I should have to return to Paris. Amongst the trees at the end of the wood I will come to you to-morrow—at dawn."
"I and my servant will await you there, mademoiselle. At least two men shall do their utmost to protect you."
He picked up her mask which had fallen to the floor.
"Will you fasten it for me?" she said.
It was rather clumsily done. His fingers trembled a little as they touched her hair. He was very close to her; her personality, the faint perfume about her, took fast hold of him. What manner of man could this Lucien be who had won the love of such a woman as this?
He put on his own mask, and then taking up the lantern followed her back along the narrow stone passage. As she came to the corridor she stopped.
"Let me go alone," she said. "To-night we will not meet again. To-morrow at dawn."
Barrington did not return to the ballroom, but after lingering in the great hall for a few minutes with a view of deceiving any one who might be watching his movements, he left the chateau. So far he had fulfilled his oath, but he had discharged it only to accept a much greater responsibility. To-morrow he would be riding towards Paris, the cavalier of a beautiful aristocrat. The position must be full of danger for him; truly it was thrust upon him against his will, yet there was an elasticity in his step as he went back to his lodgings which suggested compensations in the position. By a strange chain of circumstances, Jeanne St. Clair had come into his life; there was something added to the mere fact of living, whether of joy or pain he could not determine, but he was very sure that his outlook upon life could never be quite the same again. For good or ill this woman must influence him to some extent, she could never pass out of his life again, leaving him as he was before. There was a fresh wind blowing across the square of Beauvais, yet it was powerless to disperse the subtle perfume which lingered about him, which was an enfolding atmosphere, which must remain with him always. He told his tale to Seth in a short, direct manner, emphasizing no single point in it. The star had been stolen, when or how he did not attempt to guess. Monsieur le Comte had grossly deceived them, his purpose time would show. The woman was as far removed from his description as pole is from pole. He had delivered his message, but circumstances decreed that they could not return alone.
Seth listened to his young master, and made no comment until the tale was ended.
"She is a beautiful woman, then."
"Yes, I think that would be the world's opinion. It is not her beauty which has influenced me."
"Still, the future might have had less difficulty in it if a man had quarrelled with you to-night instead of a woman pleaded," Seth answered.
"True enough, but one cannot choose the difficulties he will face. We must take them as they come, and console ourselves with the reflection that there is a good purpose somewhere behind them."
"For all that, Master Richard, there are some who overburden themselves with difficulties which do not concern them. It will be pleasant traveling with a pretty woman, but I fancy trouble is likely to ride in our company, too. They mostly go together, women and trouble; and the prettier the women are, the greater the trouble, that's my experience. There's just one question in my mind: on which side are we ranged—with the people or with the aristocrats?"
"With the people. Once this woman is in Paris, I——"
Seth looked at him, waiting for the completion of the sentence. It remained unfinished.
"A wise pause, Master Richard. Who can tell what may happen in Paris? Indeed, we may never reach Paris. At dawn, you said. That gives little time for rest. In these hills the sun gets up early."
Dim twilight was on all the plain, darkness in the wood, when Richard Barrington and Seth tied their horses to a tree and awaited the coming of Jeanne St. Clair at the wood end. Ever the first to catch the fire from the upcoming day, the summits of the great double mountain which dominated the country blushed a faint rose color which each instant glowed brighter and clearer, and then peak after peak was caught by the same rose flush, and light, like a gracious benediction, fell slowly into valley and gorge, while myriad shades of color pulsated into new life in earth and sky. The two men watched this magic beauty of the dawn in silence. So wondrous was it, so majestic, so far beyond the schemes and thoughts of insignificant man, that it was almost impossible not to see in it some portent, something of promise or warning. Even Seth, practical and farseeing as he was, forgot the actualities of life for a little space, while Richard's dreams took flight into that upper world of rosy flame and forgot the deep valleys, dark with difficulty and danger. This new day which was being born was perfect, with a beauty his eyes had never seen before; the woman he waited for was perfect, too, a revelation. She and the dawn filled his soul. They were more real than anything past, present, or to come, and his being sang a Te Deum of thanksgiving.
"She should be here," he said, turning to Seth and speaking in a hushed voice without knowing that he did so.
Seth laid his hand sharply upon his arm, and pointed through the trees to the road which came down to the plain from Beauvais. Four men were approaching, walking quickly and talking together. They came straight towards the end of the wood as men having a purpose.
"Quick! The horses!" said Barrington. "Draw back farther into the wood and let them pass."
Holding their horses, and hidden among the trees, they watched the men come to the spot where they had been a moment or two before. Here they stopped, looked round on every side and listened.
"They are looking for us," Seth whispered. "It may be the lady cannot come and has sent them to tell us so."