"Mademoiselle," said he, in a quiet voice, "if you will but stand aside there will be some murder done among them first."
But she did not move. Marius clenched his hands, fretted by the delay. The Dowager looked on and smiled and patted her dog's head. To her mademoiselle now turned in appeal.
"Madame," she exclaimed, "you'll not allow it. You'll not let them do this thing. Bid them put up their swords, madame. Bethink you that Monsieur de Garnache is here in the Queen's name."
Too well did madame bethink her of it. Garnache need not plague himself with vexation that his rash temper alone had wrought his ruin now. It had but accelerated it. It was just possible, perhaps, that suavity might have offered him opportunities; but, for the rest, from the moment that he showed himself firm in his resolve to carry mademoiselle to Paris, his doom was sealed. Madame would never willingly have allowed him to leave Condillac alive, for she realized that did she do so he would stir up trouble enough to have them outlawed. He must perish here, and be forgotten. If questions came to be asked later, Condillac would know nothing of him.
"Monsieur de Garnache promised us some fine deeds on his own account," she mocked him. "We but afford him the opportunity to perform them. If these be not enough for his exceeding valour, there are more men without whom we can summon."
A feeling of pity for mademoiselle—perhaps of no more than decency—now overcame Marius. He stepped forward.
"Valerie," he said, "it is not fitting you should remain."
"Aye, take her hence," the Dowager bade him, with a smile. "Her presence is unmanning our fine Parisian."
Eager to do so, over-eager, Marius came forward, past his men-at-arms, until he was but some three paces from the girl and just out of reach of a sudden dart of Garnache's sword.
Softly, very warily, Garnache slipped his right foot a little farther to the right. Suddenly he threw his weight upon it, so that he was clear of the girl. Before they understood what he was about, the thing had taken place. He had leaped forward, caught the young man by the breast of his shimmering doublet, leaped back to shelter beyond mademoiselle, hurled Marius to the ground, and planted his foot, shod as it was in his thickly mudded riding-boot, full upon the boy's long, shapely neck.
"Move so much as a finger, my pretty fellow," he snapped at him, "and I'll crush the life from you as from a toad."
There was a sudden forward movement on the part of the men; but if Garnache was vicious, he was calm. Were he again to lose his temper now, there would indeed be a speedy end to him. That much he knew, and kept repeating to himself, lest he should be tempted to forget it.
"Back!" he bade them in a voice so imperative that they stopped, and looked on with gaping mouths. "Back, or he perishes!" And dropping the point of his sword, he lightly rested it upon the young man's breast.
In dismay they looked to the Dowager for instruction. She craned forward, the smile gone from her lips, a horror in her eyes, her bosom heaving. A moment ago she had smiled upon mademoiselle's outward signs of fear; had mademoiselle been so minded, she might in her turn have smiled now at the terror written large upon the Dowager's own face. But her attention was all absorbed by the swiftly executed act by which Garnache had gained at least a temporary advantage.
She had turned and looked at the strange spectacle of that dauntless man, erect, his foot upon Marius's neck, like some fantastic figure of a contemporary Saint George and a contemporary dragon. She pressed her hands tighter upon her bosom; her eyes sparkled with an odd approval of that brisk deed.
But Garnache's watchful eyes were upon the Dowager. He read the anxious fear that marred the beauty of her face, and he took heart at the sight, for he was dependent upon the extent to which he might work upon her feelings.
"You smiled just now, madame, when it was intended to butcher a man before your eyes. You smile no longer, I observe, at this the first of the fine deeds I promised you."
"Let him go," she said, and her voice was scarce louder than a whisper, horror-laden. "Let him go, monsieur, if you would save your own neck."
"At that price, yes—though, believe me, you are paying too much for so poor a life as this. Still, you value the thing, and I hold it; and so you'll forgive me if I am extortionate."
"Release him, and, in God's name, go your ways. None shall stay you," she promised him.
He smiled. "I'll need some security for that. I do not choose to take your word for it, Madame de Condillac."
"What security can I give you?" she cried, wringing her hands, her eyes on the boy's ashen face ashen from mingling fear and rage—where it showed beyond Garnache's heavy boot.
"Bid one of your knaves summon my servant. I left him awaiting me in the courtyard."
The order was given, and one of the cut-throats departed.
In a tense and anxious silence they awaited his return, though he kept them but an instant.
Rabecque's eyes took on a startled look when he had viewed the situation. Garnache called to him to deprive those present of their weapons.
"And let none refuse, or offer him violence," he added, "or your master's life shall pay the price of it."
The Dowager with a ready anxiety repeated to them his commands. Rabecque, understanding nothing, went from man to man, and received from each his weapons. He placed the armful on the windowseat, at the far end of the apartment, as Garnache bade him. At the other end of the long room, Garnache ordered the disarmed men to range themselves. When that was done, the Parisian removed his foot from his victim's neck.
"Stand up," he commanded, and Marius very readily obeyed him.
Garnache placed himself immediately behind the boy. "Madame," said he, "no harm shall come to your son if he is but wise. Let him disobey me, or let any man in Condillac lift a hand against us, and that shall be the signal for Monsieur de Condillac's death. Mademoiselle, it is your wish to accompany me to Paris?"
"Yes, monsieur," she answered fearlessly, her eyes sparkling now.
"We will be going then. Place yourself alongside of Monsieur de Condillac. Rabecque, follow me. Forward, Monsieur de Condillac. You will be so good as to conduct us to our horses in the courtyard."
They made an odd procession as they marched out of the hall, under the sullen eyes of the baulked cut-throats and their mistress. On the threshold Garnache paused, and looked over his shoulder.
"Are you content, madame? Have you seen fine deeds enough for one day?" he asked her, laughing. But, white to the lips with chagrin, she returned no answer.
Garnache and his party crossed the anteroom, after having taken the precaution to lock the door upon the Marquise and her men, and proceeding down a gloomy passage they gained the courtyard. Here Marius was consoled to find some men of the garrison of Condillac a half-score, or so—all more or less armed, surrounding the horses of Garnache and his lackey. At sight of the odd group that now appeared those ruffians stood at gaze, surprised, and with suspicions aroused by Garnache's naked sword, ready for anything their master might demand of them.
Marius had in that instant a gleam of hope. Thus far, Garnache had been master of the situation. But surely the position would be reversed when Garnache and his man came to mount their horses, particularly considering how hampered they must be by Valerie. This danger Garnache, however, was no less quick to perceive, and with a dismaying promptness did he take his measures.
"Remember," he threatened Monsieur de Condillac, "if any of your men show their teeth it will be the worse for you." They had come to a halt on the threshold of the courtyard. "You will be so good as to bid them retreat through that doorway across the yard yonder."
Marius hesitated. "And if I refuse?" he demanded hardily, but keeping his back to Garnache. The men stirred, and stray words of mingling wonder and anger reached the Parisian.
"You will not," said Garnache, with quiet confidence.
"I think you make too sure," Marius replied, and dissembled his misgivings in a short laugh. Garnache became impatient. His position was not being improved by delay.
"Monsieur de Condillac," said he, speaking quickly and yet with an incisiveness of tone that made his words sound deliberate, "I am a desperate man in a desperate position. Every moment that I tarry here increases my danger and shortens my temper. If you think to temporize in the hope of gaining an opportunity of turning the tables upon me, you must be mad to dream that I shall permit it. Monsieur, you will at once order those men to leave the courtyard by that doorway, or I give you my word of honour that I shall run you through as you stand."
"That would be to destroy yourself," said Marius with an attempted note of confidence.
"I should be no less destroyed by delay," answered Garnache; and added more sharply, "Give the word, monsieur, or I will make an end."
From the movement behind him Marius guessed almost by instinct that Garnache had drawn back for a lunge. At his side Valerie looked over her shoulder, with eyes that were startled but unafraid. For a second Marius considered whether he might not attempt to elude Garnache by a wild and sudden dash towards his men. But the consequences of failure were too fearful.
He shrugged his shoulders, and gave the order. The men hesitated a moment, then shuffled away in the direction indicated. But they went slowly, with much half-whispered, sullen conferring and many a backward glance at Marius and those with him.
"Bid them go faster," snapped Garnache. Marius obeyed him, and the men obeyed Marius, and vanished into the gloom of the archway. After all, thought Monsieur de Condillac, they need go no farther than that doorway; they must have appreciated the situation by now; and he was confident they would have the sense to hold themselves in readiness for a rush in the moment of Garnache's mounting.
But Garnache's next order shattered that last hope.
"Rebecque," said he, without turning his head, "go and lock them in." Before bidding the men go that way, he had satisfied himself that there was a key on the outside of the door. "Monsieur de Condillac," he resumed to Marius, "you will order your men in no way to hinder my servant. I shall act upon any menace of danger to my lackey precisely as I should were I, myself, in danger."
Marius's heart sank within him, as sinks a stone through water. He realized, as his mother had realized a little while before, that in Garnache they had an opponent who took no chances. In a voice thick with the torturing rage of impotence he gave the order upon which the grim Parisian insisted. There followed a silence broken by the fall of Rabecque's heavily shod feet upon the stones of the yard, as he crossed it to do his master's bidding. The door creaked on its hinges; the key grated screaming in its lock, and Rabecque returned to Garnache's side even as Garnache tapped Marius on the shoulder.
"This way, Monsieur de Condillac, if you please," said he, and as Marius turned at last to face him, he stood aside and waved his left hand towards the door through which they had lately emerged. A moment stood the youth facing his stern conqueror; his hands were clenched until the knuckles showed white; his face was a dull crimson. Vainly he sought for words in which to vent some of the malicious chagrin that filled his soul almost to bursting-point. Then, despairing, with a shrug and an inarticulate mutter, he flung past the Parisian, obeying him as the cur obeys, with pendant tail and teeth-revealing snarl.
Garnache closed the door upon him with a bang, and smiled quietly as he turned to Valerie.
"I think we have won through, mademoiselle," said he, with pardonable vanity. "The rest is easy, though you may be subjected to some slight discomfort between this and Grenoble."
She smiled back at him, a pale, timid smile, like a gleam of sunshine from a wintry sky. "That matters nothing," she assured him, and strove to make her voice sound brave.
There was need for speed, and compliments were set aside by Garnache, who, at his best, was not felicitous with them. Valerie felt herself caught by the wrist, a trifle roughly she remembered afterwards, and hurried across the cobbles to the tethered horses, with which Rabecque was already busy. She saw Garnache raise his foot to the stirrup and hoist himself to the saddle. Then he held down a hand to her, bade her set her foot on his, and called with an oath to Rabecque to lend her his assistance. A moment later she was perched in front of Garnache, almost on the withers of his horse. The cobbles rattled under its hooves, the timbers of the drawbridge sent up a booming sound, they were across—out of Condillac—and speeding at a gallop down the white road that led to the river; after them pounded Rabecque, bumping horribly in his saddle, and attempting wildly, and with awful objurgations, to find his stirrups.
They crossed the bridge that spans the Isere and took the road to Grenoble at a sharp pace, with scarce a backward glance at the grey towers of Condillac. Valerie experienced an overwhelming inclination to weep and laugh, to cry and sing at one and the same time; but whether this odd emotion sprang from the happenings in which she had had her part, or from the exhilaration of that mad ride, she could not tell. No doubt it sprang from both, owing a part to each. She controlled herself, however. A shy, upward glance at the stern, set face of the man whose arm encircled and held her fast had a curiously sobering effect upon her. Their eyes met, and he smiled a friendly, reassuring smile, such as a father might have bestowed upon a daughter.
"I do not think that they will charge me with blundering this time," he said.
"Charge you with blundering?" she echoed; and the inflection of the pronoun might have flattered him had he not reflected that it was impossible she could have understood his allusion. And now she bethought her that she had not thanked him—and the debt was a heavy one. He had come to her aid in an hour when hope seemed dead. He had come single-handed—save for his man Rabecque; and in a manner that was worthy of being made the subject of an epic, he had carried her out of Condillac, away from the terrible Dowager and her cut-throats. The thought of them sent a shiver through her.
"Do you feel the cold?" he asked concernedly; and that the wind might cut her less, he slackened speed.
"No, no," she cried, her alarm waking again at the thought of the folk of Condillac. "Make haste! Go on, go on! Mon Dieu! if they should overtake us!"
He looked over his shoulder. The road ran straight for over a half-mile behind them, and not a living thing showed upon it.
"You need have no alarm," he smiled. "We are not pursued. They must have realized the futility of attempting to overtake us. Courage, mademoiselle. We shall be in Grenoble presently, and once there, you will have nothing more to fear."
"You are sure of that?" she asked, and there was doubt in her voice.
He smiled reassuringly again. "The Lord Seneschal shall supply us with an escort," he promised confidently.
"Still," she said, "we shall not stay there, I hope, monsieur."
"No longer than may be necessary to procure a coach for you."
"I am glad of that," said she. "I shall know no peace until Grenoble is a good ten leagues behind us. The Marquise and her son are too powerful there."
"Yet their might shall not prevail against the Queen's," he made reply. And as now they rode amain she fell to thanking him, shyly at first, then, as she gathered confidence in her subject, with a greater fervour. But he interrupted her ere she had gone far, "Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye," said he, "you overstate the matter." His tone was chilling almost; and she felt as she had been rebuked. "I am no more than the emissary of Her Majesty—it is to her that your thanks are due."
"Ah, but, monsieur," she returned to the assault, "I owe some thanks to you as well. What other in your place would have done what you have done?"
"I know not that, nor do I greatly care," said he, and laughed, but with a laugh that jarred on her. "That which I did I must have done, no matter whom it was a question of saving. I am but an instrument in this matter, mademoiselle."
His thought was to do no more than belittle the service he had rendered her, to stem her flow of gratitude, since, indeed, he felt, as he said, that it was to the Queen-Regent her thanks were due. All unwitting was it—out of his ignorance of the ways of thought of a sex with which he held the view that it is an ill thing to meddle—that he wounded her by his disclaimer, in which her sensitive maiden fancy imagined a something that was almost contemptuous.
They rode in silence for a little spell, broken at last by Garnache in expression of the thoughts that had come to him as a consequence of what she had said.
"On this same subject of thanks," said he—and as she raised her eyes again she found him smiling almost tenderly—"if any are due between us they are surely due from me to you."
"From you to me?" she asked in wonder.
"Assuredly," said he. "Had you not come between me and the Dowager's assassins there had been an end to me in the hall of Condillac."
Her hazel eyes were very round for a moment, then they narrowed, and little humorous lines formed at the corners of her lips.
"Monsieur de Garnache," said she, with a mock coldness that was a faint echo of his own recent manner, "you overstate the case. That which I did I must have done, no matter whom it was a question of saving. I was but an instrument in this matter, monsieur."
His brows went up. He stared at her a moment, gathering instruction from the shy mockery of her glance. Then he laughed with genuine amusement.
"True," he said. "An instrument you were; but an instrument of Heaven, whereas in me you but behold the instrument of an earthly power. We are not quite quits, you see."
But she felt, at least, that she was quits with him in the matter of his repudiation of her own thanks, and the feeling bridged the unfriendly gap that she had felt was opening out between them; and for no reason in the world that she could think of, she was glad that this was so.
CHAPTER VI. MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE KEEPS HIS TEMPER
Night had fallen and it had begun to rain when Garnache and Valerie reached Grenoble. They entered the town afoot, the Parisian not desiring to attract attention by being seen in the streets with a lady on the withers of his horse.
With thought for her comfort, Monsieur de Garnache had divested himself of his heavy horseman's cloak and insisted upon her assuming it, so setting it about her that her head was covered as by a wimple. Thus was she protected not only from the rain, but from the gaze of the inquisitive.
They made their way in the drizzle, through the greasy, slippery streets ashine with the lights that fell from door and window, Rabecque following closely with the horses. Garnache made straight for his inn—the Auberge du Veau qui Tete—which enjoyed the advantage of facing the Palais Seneschal.
The ostler took charge of the nags, and the landlord conducted them to a room above-stairs, which he placed at mademoiselle's disposal. That done, Garnache left Rabecque on guard, and proceeded to make the necessary arrangements for the journey that lay before them. He began by what he conceived to be the more urgent measure, and stepping across to the Palais Seneschal, he demanded to see Monsieur de Tressan at once.
Ushered into the Lord Seneschal's presence, he startled that obese gentleman by the announcement that he had returned from Condillac with Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye, and that he would require an escort to accompany them to Paris.
"For I am by no means minded to be exposed to such measures as the tigress of Condillac and her cub may take to recover their victim," he explained with a grim smile.
The Seneschal combed his beard and screwed up his pale eyes until they vanished in the cushions of his cheeks. He was lost in amazement. He could only imagine that the Queen's emissary had been duped more successfully this time.
"I am to gather, then," said he, dissembling what was passing through his mind, "that you delivered the lady by force or strategy."
"By both, monsieur," was the short answer.
Tressan continued to comb his beard, and pondered the situation. If things were so, indeed, they could not have fallen out more to his taste. He had had no hand in it, one way or the other. He had run with the hare and hunted with the hounds, and neither party could charge him with any lack of loyalty. His admiration and respect for Monsieur de Garnache grew enormously. When the rash Parisian had left him that afternoon for the purpose of carrying his message himself to Condillac, Tressan had entertained little hope of ever again seeing him alive. Yet there he stood, as calm and composed as ever, announcing that singlehanded he had carried out what another might well have hesitated to attempt with a regiment at his heels.
Tressan's curiosity urged him to beg for the details of this marvel, and Garnache entertained him with a brief recital of what had taken place, whereat, realizing that Garnache had indeed outwitted them, the Seneschal's wonder increased.
"But we are not out of the quagmire yet," cried Garnache; "and that is why I want an escort."
Tressan became uneasy. "How many men shall you require?" he asked, thinking that the Parisian would demand at least the half of a company.
"A half-dozen and a sergeant to command them."
Tressan's uneasiness was dissipated, and he found himself despising Garnache more for his rashness in being content with so small a number than he respected him for the boldness and courage he had so lately displayed. It was not for him to suggest that the force might prove insufficient; rather was it for him to be thankful that Garnache had not asked for more. An escort Tressan dared not refuse him, and yet refuse it him he must have done—or broken with the Condillacs—had he asked for a greater number. But six men! Pooh! they would be of little account. So he very readily consented, inquiring how soon Garnache would require them.
"At once," was the Parisian's answer. "I leave Grenoble to-night. I hope to set out in an hour's time. Meanwhile I'll have the troopers form a guard of honour. I am lodged over the way."
Tressan, but too glad to be quit of him, rose there and then to give the necessary orders, and within ten minutes Garnache was back at the Sucking Calf with six troopers and a sergeant, who had left their horses in the Seneschal's stables until the time for setting out. Meanwhile Garnache placed them on duty in the common-room of the inn.
He called for refreshment for them, and bade them remain there at the orders of his man Rabecque. His reason for this step was that it became necessary that he should absent himself for a while to find a carriage suitable for the journey; for as the Sucking Calf was not a post-house he must seek one elsewhere—at the Auberge de France, in fact, which was situate on the eastern side of the town by the Porte de Savoie—and he was not minded to leave the person of Valerie unguarded during his absence. The half-dozen troopers he considered ample, as indeed they were.
On this errand he departed, wrapped tightly in his cloak, walking briskly through the now heavier rain.
But at the Auberge de France a disappointment awaited him. The host had no horses and no carriage, nor would he have until the following morning. He was sorrow-stricken that the circumstance should discompose Monsieur de Garnache; he was elaborate in his explanations of how it happened that he could place no vehicle at Monsieur de Garnache's disposal—so elaborate that it is surprising Monsieur de Garnache's suspicions should not have been aroused. For the truth of the matter was that the folk of Condillac had been at the Auberge de France before him—as they had been elsewhere in the town wherever a conveyance might be procurable—and by promises of reward for obedience and threats of punishment for disobedience, they had contrived that Garnache should hear this same story on every hand. His mistake had lain in his eagerness to obtain a guard from the Seneschal. Had he begun by making sure of a conveyance, anticipating, as he should have done, this move on the part of the Condillacs—a move which he did not even now suspect—it is possible that he might have been spared much of the trouble that was to follow.
An hour or so later, after having vainly ransacked the town for the thing he needed, he returned wet and annoyed to the Veau qui Tote. In a corner of the spacious common-room—a corner by the door leading to the interior of the inn—he saw the six troopers at table, waxing a trifle noisy over cards. Their sergeant sat a little apart, in conversation with the landlord's wife, eyes upturned adoringly, oblivious of the increasing scowl that gathered about her watchful husband's brow.
At another table sat four gentlemen—seemingly travellers, by their air and garb—in a conversation that was hushed at Garnache's entrance. But he paid no heed to them as he stalked with ringing step across the rushstrewn floor, nor observed how covertly and watchfully their glances followed him as returning, in passing the sergeant's prompt salute he vanished through the doorway leading to the stairs.
He reappeared again a moment later, to call the host, and give him orders for the preparing of his own and Rabecque's supper.
On the landing above he found Rabecque awaiting him.
"Is all well?" he asked, and received from his lackey a reassuring answer.
Mademoiselle welcomed him gladly. His long absence, it appeared, had been giving her concern. He told her on what errand he had been, and alarm overspread her face upon hearing its result.
"But, monsieur," she cried, "you are not proposing that I should remain a night in Grenoble."
"What alternative have we?" he asked, and his brows met, impatient at what he accounted no more than feminine whimsey.
"It is not safe," she exclaimed, her fears increasing. "You do not know how powerful are the Condillacs."
He strode to the fire, and the logs hissed under the pressure of his wet boot. He set his back to the blaze, and smiled down upon her.
"Nor do you know how powerful are we," he answered easily. "I have below six troopers and a sergeant of the Seneschal's regiment; with myself and Rabecque we are nine men in all. That should be a sufficient guard, mademoiselle. Nor do I think that with all their power the Condillacs will venture here to claim you at the sword point."
"And yet," she answered, for all that she was plainly reassured, at least in part, "I would rather you had got me a horse, that we might have ridden to Saint Marcellin, where no doubt a carriage might be obtained."
"I did not see the need to put you to so much discomfort," he returned. "It is raining heavily."
"Oh, what of that?" she flung back impatiently.
"Besides," he added, "it seems there are no horses at the post-house. A benighted place this Dauphiny of yours, mademoiselle."
But she never heeded the gibe at her native province. "No horses?" she echoed, and her hazel eyes looked up sharply, the alarm returning to her face. She rose, and approached him. "Surely that is impossible."
"I assure you that it is as I say—neither at the post-house nor at any of the inns I visited could I find me a spare horse."
"Monsieur," she cried, "I see the hand of Condillac in this."
"As how?" he inquired, and his tone again was quickened by impatience.
"They have anticipated you. They seek to keep you here—to keep us in Grenoble."
"But to what end?" he asked, his impatience growing. "The Auberge de France has promised me a carriage in the morning. What shall it avail them at Condillac to keep us here to-night?"
"They may have some project. Oh, monsieur! I am full of fears."
"Dismiss them," he answered lightly; and to reassure her he added, smiling: "Rest assured we shall keep good watch over you, Rabecque and I and the troopers. A guard shall remain in the passage throughout the night. Rabecque and I will take turn about at sentry-go. Will that give you peace?"
"You are very good," she said, her voice quivering with feeling and real gratitude, and as he was departing she called after him. "You will be careful of yourself," she said.
He paused under the lintel, and turned, surprised. "It is a habit of mine," said he, with a glint of humour in his eye.
But there was no answering smile from her. Her face was all anxiety.
"Beware of pitfalls," she bade him. "Go warily; they are cruelly cunning, those folk of Condillac. And if evil should befall you..."
"There would still remain Rabecque and the troopers," he concluded.
She shrugged her shoulders. "I implore you to be careful," she insisted.
"You may depend upon me," he said, and closed the door.
Outside he called Rabecque, and together they went below. But mindful of her fears, he dispatched one of the troopers to stand sentry outside her door whilst he and his lackey supped. That done, he called the host, and set himself at table, Rabecque at his elbow in attendance to hand him the dishes and pour his wine.
Across the low-ceilinged room the four travellers still sat in talk, and as Garnache seated himself, one of them shouted for the host and asked in an impatient tone to know if his supper was soon to come.
"In a moment, sir," answered the landlord respectfully, and he turned again to the Parisian. He went out to bring the latter's meal, and whilst he was gone Rabecque heard from his master the reason of their remaining that night in Grenoble. The inference drawn by the astute lackey—and freely expressed by him—from the lack of horses or carriages in Grenoble that night, coincided oddly with Valerie's. He too gave it as his opinion that his master had been forestalled by the Dowager's people, and without presuming to advise Garnache to go warily—a piece of advice that Garnache would have resented, to the extent perhaps of boxing the fellow's ears—he determined, there and then, to keep a close watch upon his master, and under no circumstances, if possible, permit him to leave the Sucking Calf that night.
The host returned, bearing a platter on which there steamed a ragout that gave out an appetizing odour; his wife followed with other dishes and a bottle of Armagnac under her arm. Rabecque busied himself at once, and his hungry master disposed himself to satisfy the healthiest appetite in France, when suddenly a shadow fell across the table. A man had come to stand beside it, his body screening the light of one of the lamps that hung from a rafter of the ceiling.
"At last!" he exclaimed, and his voice was harsh with ill-humour.
Garnache looked up, pausing in the very act of helping himself to that ragout. Rabecque looked up from behind his master, and his lips tightened. The host looked up from the act of drawing the cork of the flagon he had taken from his wife, and his eyes grew big as in his mind he prepared a judicious blend of apology and remonstrance wherewith to soothe this very impatient gentleman. But before he could speak, Garnache's voice cut sharply into the silence. An interruption at such a moment vexed him sorely.
"Monsieur says?" quoth he.
"To you, sir—nothing," answered the fellow impudently, and looked him straight between the eyes.
With a flush mounting to his cheeks, and his brows drawn together in perplexity, Garnache surveyed him. He was that same traveller who had lately clamoured to know when he might sup, a man of rather more than middle height, lithe and active of frame, yet with a breadth of shoulder and depth of chest that argued strength and endurance as well. He had fair, wavy hair, which he wore rather longer than was the mode, brown eyes, and a face which, without being handsome, was yet more than ordinarily engaging by virtue of its strength and frank ingenuousness. His dress was his worst feature. It was flamboyant and showy; cheap, and tawdrily pretentious. Yet he bore himself with the easy dignity of a man who counts more inferiors than superiors.
Despite the arrogant manner of his address, Garnache felt prepossessed in the newcomer's favour. But before he could answer him, the host was speaking.
"Monsieur mistakes..." he began.
"Mistakes?" thundered the other in an accent slightly foreign. "It is you who mistake if you propose to tell me that this is not my supper. Am I to wait all night, while every jackanapes who follows me into your pigsty is to be served before me?"
"Jackanapes?" said Garnache thoughtfully, and looked the man in the face again. Behind the stranger pressed his three companions now, whilst the troopers across the room forgot their card-play to watch the altercation that seemed to impend.
The foreigner—for such, indeed, his French proclaimed him—turned half-contemptuously to the host, ignoring Garnache with an air that was studiously offensive.
"Jackanapes?" murmured Garnache again, and he, too, turned to the host. "Tell me, Monsieur l'Hote," said he, "where do the jackanapes bury their dead in Grenoble? I may need the information."
Before the distressed landlord could utter a word, the stranger had wheeled about again to face Garnache. "What shall that mean?" he asked sharply, a great fierceness in his glance.
"That Grenoble may be witnessing the funeral of a foreign bully by to-morrow, Monsieur l'Etranger," said Garnache, showing his teeth in a pleasant smile. He became conscious in that moment of a pressure on his shoulder blade, but paid no heed to it, intent on watching the other's countenance. It expressed surprise a moment, then grew dark with anger.
"Do you mean that for me, sir?" he growled.
Garnache spread his hands. "If monsieur feels that the cap fits him, I shall not stay him in the act of donning it."
The stranger set one hand upon the table, and leaned forward towards Garnache. "May I ask monsieur to be a little more definite?" he begged.
Garnache sat back in his chair and surveyed the man, smiling. Quick though his temper usually might be, it was checked at present by amusement. He had seen in his time many quarrels spring from the flimsiest of motives, but surely never had he seen one quite so self-begotten. It was almost as if the fellow had come there of set purpose to pick it with him.
A suspicion flashed across his mind. He remembered the warning mademoiselle had given him. And he wondered. Was this a trick to lure him to some guet-apens? He surveyed his man more closely; but the inspection lent no colour to his suspicions. The stranger looked so frank and honest; then again his accent was foreign. It might very well be that he was some Savoyard lordling unused to being kept waiting, and that his hunger made him irritable and impatient. If that were so, assuredly the fellow deserved a lesson that should show him he was now in France, where different manners obtained to those that he displayed; yet, lest he should be something else, Garnache determined to pursue a policy of conciliation. It would be a madness to embroil himself just then, whether this fellow were of Condillac or not.
"I have asked you, monsieur," the stranger insisted, "to be a little more definite."
Garnache's smile broadened and grew more friendly. "Frankly," said he, "I experience difficulty. My remark was vague. I meant it so to be."
"But it offended me, monsieur," the other answered sharply.
The Parisian raised his eyebrows, and pursed his lips. "Then I deplore it," said he. And now he had to endure the hardest trial of all. The stranger's expression changed to one of wondering scorn.
"Do I understand that monsieur apologizes?"
Garnache felt himself crimsoning; his self-control was slipping from him; the pressure against his shoulder blade was renewed, and in time he became aware of it and knew it for a warning from Rabecque.
"I cannot conceive, sir, that I have offended," said he at length, keeping a tight hand upon his every instinct—which was to knock this impertinent stranger down. "But if I have, I beg that you will believe that I have done so unwittingly. I had no such intent."
The stranger removed his hand from the table and drew himself erect.
"So much for that, then," said he, provokingly contemptuous. "If you will be as amiable in the matter of the supper I shall be glad to terminate an acquaintance which I can see no honour to myself in pursuing."
This, Garnache felt, was more than he could endure. A spasm of passion crossed his face, another instant and despite Rabecque's frantic proddings he might have flung the ragout in the gentleman's face; when suddenly came the landlord unexpectedly to the rescue.
"Monsieur, here comes your supper now," he announced, as his wife reentered from the kitchen with a laden tray.
For a moment the stranger seemed out of countenance. Then he looked with cold insolence from the dishes set before Garnache to those which were being set for himself.
"Ah," said he, and his tone was an insult unsurpassable, "perhaps it is to be preferred. This ragout grows cold, I think."
He sniffed, and turning on his heel, without word or sign of salutation to Garnache, he passed to the next table, and sat down with his companions. The Parisian's eyes followed him, and they blazed with suppressed wrath. Never in all his life had he exercised such self-control as he was exercising then—which was the reason why he had failed to achieve greatness—and he was exercising it for the sake of that child above-stairs, and because he kept ever-present in his mind the thought that she must come to grievous harm if ill befell himself. But he controlled his passion at the cost of his appetite. He could not eat, so enraged was he. And so he pushed the platter from him, and rose.
He turned to Rabecque, and the sight of his face sent the lackey back a pace or two in very fear. He waved his hand to the table.
"Sup, Rabecque," said he. "Then come to me above."
And followed, as before, by the eyes of the stranger and his companions, Garnache strode out of the room, and mounting the stairs went to find solace in talk with Valerie. But however impossible he might find it to digest the affront he had swallowed, no word of the matter did he utter to the girl, lest it should cause her fears to reawaken.
CHAPTER VII. THE OPENING OF THE TRAP
Garnache spent a sleepless night at Grenoble, on guard throughout the greater part of it since nothing short of that would appease the fears of Valerie. Yet it passed without any bellicose manifestation on the part of the Condillacs such as Valerie feared and such as Garnache was satisfied would not—could not, indeed—take place.
Betimes next morning he dispatched Rabecque to the Auberge de France for the promised carriage, and broke his fast in the common-room what time he awaited his man's return. The chamber was again occupied by the stranger of yesternight, who sat apart, however, and seemed no longer disposed to interfere with the Parisian. Garnache wondered idly, might this be due to the circumstance that that same stranger was supported now by one single companion, and was therefore less valorous than when he had been in the company of three.
At another table were two gentlemen, sprung he knew not whence, quiet in dress and orderly in manner, to whom he paid little heed until one of them a slender, swarthy, hawk-faced fellow—looking up suddenly, started slightly at sight of the Parisian and addressed him instantly by name. Garnache paused in the act of rising from table, half-turned, and sharply scrutinized the swarthy gentleman, but failed to recognize him. He advanced towards him.
"I have the honour to be known to you, monsieur?" he half-stated, half-inquired.
"Parbleu, Monsieur de Garnache!" exclaimed the other with a ready smile, the more winning since it lighted up a face that at rest was very sombre. "Lives there a Parisian to whom you are not known? I have seen you often at the Hotel de Bourgogne."
Garnache acknowledged the courtesy by a slight inclination of the head.
"And once," continued the other, "I had the honour to be presented to you by Monsieur le Duc himself. My name is Gaubert—Fabre Gaubert." And as he introduced himself he rose out of respect for Garnache, who had remained standing. Garnache knew him not at all, yet never doubted that his tale was true; the fellow had a very courtly, winning air; moreover, Garnache was beginning to feel lonely in the wilds of Dauphiny, so that it rejoiced him to come into the company of one whom he might regard as something of a fellow-creature. He held out his hand.
"I am honoured in that you should have borne me in your memory, monsieur," said he. He was about to add that he would be overjoyed if it should happen that Monsieur Gaubert was travelling to Paris, since he might give himself the pleasure of his company on that tedious journey; but he checked himself betimes. He had no reason to suspect this gentleman; and yet, all things considered, he bethought him suddenly that he would do well to observe the greatest circumspection. So with a pleasant but meaningless civility touching Monsieur Gaubert's presence in those parts, Garnache passed on and gained the door. He paused in the porch, above which the rebus-like sign of the Sucking Calf creaked and grated in each gust of the chill wind that was blowing from the Alps. The rain had ceased, but the sky was dark and heavy with great banks of scudding clouds. In the street the men of his escort sat their horses, having mounted at his bidding in readiness for the journey. A word or two he exchanged with the sergeant, and then with a great rumble the clumsy carriage from the Auberge de France heralded its approach. It rolled up the street, a vast machine of wood and leather, drawn by three horses, and drew up at the door of the inn. Out sprang Rabecque, to be immediately sent by his master to summon mademoiselle. They would set out upon the instant.
Rabecque turned to obey; but in that same moment he was thrust rudely aside by a man with the air of a servant, who issued from he inn carrying a valise; after him, following close upon his heels, with head held high and eyes that looked straight before him and took no heed of Garnache, came the foreigner of yesternight.
Rabecque, his shoulders touching the timbers of the porch, against which he had been thrust, remained at gaze, following with resentful eye the fellow who had so rudely used him. Garnache, on the other side, watched with some wonder the advent of the ingenuous-looking stranger, but as yet with no suspicion of his intent.
Not until the servant had thrown open the door of the coach and deposited within the valise he carried, did Garnache stir. Not, indeed, until the foreigner's foot was on the step preparatory to mounting did Garnache speak.
"Hi! monsieur," he called to him, "what is your pleasure with my carriage?"
The stranger turned, and stared at Garnache with a look of wonder that artfully changed to one of disdainful recognition.
"Ah?" said he, and his eyebrows went up. "The apologetic gentleman! You said?"
Garnache approached him, followed a step not only by Rabecque, but also by Monsieur Gaubert, who had sauntered out a second earlier. Behind them, in the porch, lounged now the foreigner's friend, and behind him again was to be seen the great face and staring, somewhat startled eyes of the landlord.
"I asked you, monsieur," said Garnache, already at grips with that quick temper of his, "what might be your pleasure with my coach?"
"With your coach?" echoed the other, his superciliousness waxing more and more offensive. "Voyons! on! my apologetic friend, do all things in Grenoble belong to you?" He turned to the post-boy, who looked on stolidly. "You are from the Auberge de France, are you not?" quoth he.
"I am, monsieur," replied the man. "This carriage was ordered last night by a gentleman lodging at the Veau qui Tete?"
"Perfectly," replied the stranger, in a tone of finality. "It was ordered by me." And he was about to turn away, when Garnache approached him by yet another step.
"I will ask you to observe, monsieur," said he and for all that his tone and words were civil, that they were forcedly so was obvious from their quiver—"I will ask you to observe that the carriage was fetched by my own man there, who rode hither in it."
The stranger looked him up and down with a curling lip.
"It seems, sir," said he, with a broad sneer, "that you are one of those impertinent fellows who will be for ever thrusting themselves upon gentlemen with an eye to such profit as they can make." He produced a purse and opened it. "Last night it was my supper you usurped. I suffered that. Now you would do the same by my coach, and that I shall not suffer. But there is for your pains, and to be quit of your company." And he tossed a silver coin at the Parisian.
There was an exclamation of horror in the background, and Monsieur de Gaubert thrust himself forward.
"Sir, sir," he exclaimed in an agitated voice, "you cannot know whom you are addressing. This is Monsieur Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache, Mestre-de-Champ in the army of the King."
"Of all those names the one I should opine might fit him best, but for his ugliness, is that of Marie," answered the foreigner, leering, and with a contemptuous shrug he turned again to mount the carriage.
At that all Garnache's self-control deserted him, and he did a thing deplorable. In one of his blind accesses of fury, heedless of the faithful and watchful Rabecque's arresting tug at his sleeve, he stepped forward, and brought a heavy hand down upon the supercilious gentleman's shoulder. He took him in the instant in which, with one foot off the ground and the other on the step of the carriage, the foreigner was easily thrown' off his balance; he dragged him violently backward, span him round and dropped him floundering in the mire of the street-kennel.
That done, there fell a pause—a hush that was ominous of things impending. A little crowd of idlers that had gathered was quickly augmenting now, and from some there came a cry of "Shame!" at Garnache's act of violence.
This is no moment at which to pause to moralize. And yet, how often is it not so? How often does not public sympathy go out to the man who has been assaulted without thought of the extent to which that man may have provoked and goaded his assailant.
That cry of "Shame!" did no more than increase the anger that was mastering Garnache. His mission in Grenoble was forgotten; mademoiselle above-stairs was forgotten; the need for caution and the fear of the Condillacs were forgotten; everything was thrust from his mind but the situation of the moment.
Amid the hush that followed, the stranger picked himself slowly up, and sought to wipe the filth from his face and garments. His servant and his friend flew to his aid, but he waved them aside, and advanced towards Garnache, eyes blazing, lips sneering.
"Perhaps," said he, in that soft, foreign tone of his, laden now with fierce mock-politeness, "perhaps monsieur proposes to apologize again."
"Sir, you are mad," interposed Gaubert. "You are a foreigner, I perceive, else you would—"
But Garnache thrust him quietly aside. "You are very kind, Monsieur Gaubert," said he, and his manner now was one of frozen calm—a manner that betrayed none of the frenzy of seething passion underneath. "I think, sir," said he to the stranger, adopting something of that gentleman's sardonic manner, "that it will be a more peaceful world without you. It is that consideration restrains me from apologizing. And yet, if monsieur will express regret for having sought, and with such lack of manners, to appropriate my carriage—"
"Enough!" broke in the other. "We are wasting time, and I have a long journey before me. Courthon," said he, addressing his friend, "will you bring me the length of this gentleman's sword? My name, sir," he added to Garnache, "is Sanguinetti."
"Faith," said Garnache, "it sorts well with your bloody spirit."
"And will sort well, no doubt, with his condition presently," put in hawk-faced Gaubert. "Monsieur de Garnache, if you have no friend at hand to act for you, I shall esteem myself honoured." And he bowed.
"Why, thanks, sir. You are most opportunely met. You should be a gentleman since you frequent the Hotel de Bourgogne. My thanks."
Gaubert went aside to confer with Monsieur Courthon. Sanguinetti stood apart, his manner haughty and impressive, his eye roaming scornfully through the ranks of what had by now become a crowd. Windows were opening in the street, and heads appearing, and across the way Garnache might have beheld the flabby face of Monsieur de Tressan among the spectators of that little scene.
Rabecque drew near his master.
"Have a care, monsieur," he implored him. "If this should be a trap."
Garnache started. The remark sobered him, and brought to his mind his own suspicions of yesternight, which his present anger had for the moment lulled. Still, he conceived that he had gone too far to extricate himself. But he could at least see to it that he was not drawn away from the place that sheltered mademoiselle. And so he stepped forward, joining Courthon and Gaubert, to insist that the combat should take place in the inn—either in the common room or in the yard. But the landlord, overhearing this, protested loudly that he could not consent to it. He had his house to think of. He swore that they should not fight on his premises, and implored them in the same breath not to attempt it.
At that Garnache, now thoroughly on his guard! was for putting off the encounter.
"Monsieur Courthon," said he—and he felt a flush of shame mounting to his brow, and realized that it may need more courage to avoid an encounter than to engage in one—"there is something that in the heat of passion I forgot; something that renders it difficult for me to meet your friend at present."
Courthon looked at him as he might look at an impertinent lackey.
"And what may that be?" he inquired, mightily contemptuous. There was a snigger from some in the crowd that pressed about them, and even Monsieur Gaubert looked askance.
"Surely, sir," he began, "if I did not know you for Monsieur de Garnache—"
But Garnache did not let him finish.
"Give me air," he cried, and cuffed out to right and left of him at the grinning spectators, who fell back and grinned less broadly. "My reason, Monsieur de Courthon," said he, "is that I do not belong to my self at present. I am in Grenoble on business of the State, as the emissary of the Queen-Regent, and so it would hardly become me to engage in private quarrels."
Courthon raised his brows.
"You should have thought of that before you rolled Monsieur Sanguinetti in the mud," he answered coldly.
"I will tender him my apologies for that," Garnache promised, swallowing hard, "and if he still insists upon a meeting he shall have it in, say, a month's time."
"I cannot permit—" began Courthon, very fiercely.
"You will be so good as to inform your friend of what I have said," Garnache insisted, interrupting him.
Cowed, Courthon shrugged and went apart to confer with his friend.
"Ah!" came Sanguinetti's soft voice, yet loud enough to be heard by all present. "He shall have a caning then for his impertinence." And he called loudly to the post-boy for his whip. But at that insult Garnache's brain seemed to take fire, and his cautious resolutions were reduced to ashes by the conflagration. He stepped forward, and, virulent of tone and terrific of mien, he announced that since Monsieur Sanguinetti took that tone with him, he would cut his throat for him at once and wherever they should please.
At last it was arranged that they should proceed there and then to the Champs aux Capuchins, a half-mile away behind the Franciscan convent.
Accordingly they set out, Sanguinetti and Courthon going first, and Garnache following with Gaubert; the rear being brought up by a regiment of rabble, idlers and citizens, that must have represented a very considerable proportion of the population of Grenoble. This audience heartened Garnache, to whom some measure of reflection had again returned. Before such numbers it was unthinkable that these gentlemen—assuming them to be acting on behalf of Condillac—should dare to attempt foul measures with him. For the rest he had taken the precaution of leaving Rabecque at the Sucking Calf, and he had given the sergeant strict injunctions that he was not to allow any of his men to leave their posts during his absence, and that the troopers were to hold themselves entirely at the orders of Rabecque. Comparatively easy therefore in his mind, and but little exercised by any thought of the coming encounter, Garnache walked briskly along.
They came at last to the Champs aux Capuchins—a pleasant stretch of verdure covering perhaps half an acre and set about by a belt of beech-trees.
The crowd disposed itself on the fringe of the sward, and the duellists went forward, and set about the preparations. Principals and seconds threw off cloak and doublet, and Sanguinetti, Courthon, and Gaubert removed their heavy boots, whilst Garnache did no more than detach the spurs from his.
Sanguinetti, observing this, drew the attention of the others to it, and an altercation arose. It was Gaubert who came to beg Garnache that he should follow the example they had set him in that respect. But Garnache shook his head.
"The turf is sodden."
"But it is precisely on that account, sir," protested Gaubert very earnestly. "In your boots you will be unable to stand firm; you will run the risk of slipping every time that you break ground."
"I venture to think, sir, that that is my affair," said Garnache stiffly.
"But it is not," the other cried. "If you fight in your boots, we must all do the same, and for myself—well, I have not come here to commit suicide."
"Look you, Monsieur Gaubert," said Garnache quietly, "your opponent will be Monsieur Courthon, and since he is in his stockinged feet, there is no reason why you yourself should not remain so too. As for me, I retain my boots, and Monsieur Sanguinetti may have all the advantage that may give him. Since I am content, in Heaven's name let the fight go forward. I am in haste."
Gaubert bowed in submission; but Sanguinetti, who had overheard, turned with an oath.
"By God, no!" said he. "I need no such advantage, sir. Courthon, be so good as to help me on with my boots again." And there was a fresh delay whilst he resumed them.
At last, however, the four men came together, and proceeded to the measurement of swords. It was found that Sanguinetti's was two inches longer than any of the other three.
"It is the usual length in Italy," said Sanguinetti with a shrug.
"If monsieur had realized that he was no longer in Italy, we might perhaps have been spared this very foolish business," answered Garnache testily.
"But what are we to do?" cried the perplexed Gaubert.
"Fight," said Garnache impatiently. "Is there never to be an end to these preliminaries?"
"But I cannot permit you to oppose yourself to a sword two inches longer than your own," cried Gaubert, almost in a temper.
"Why not, if I am satisfied?" asked Garnache. "Mine is the longer reach; thus matters will stand equal."
"Equal?" roared Gaubert. "Your longer reach is an advantage that you had from God, his longer sword is one he had from an armourer. Is that equality?"
"He may have my sword, and I'll take his," cut in the Italian, also showing impatience. "I too am in haste."
"In haste to die, then," snapped Gaubert.
"Monsieur, this is not seemly," Courthon reproved him.
"You shall teach me manners when we engage," snapped the hawk-faced gentleman.
"Sirs, sirs," Garnache implored them, "are we to waste the day in words? Monsieur Gaubert, there are several gentlemen yonder wearing swords; I make no doubt that you will find one whose blade is of the same length as your own, sufficiently obliging to lend it to Monsieur Sanguinetti."
"That is an office that my friend can do for me," interposed Sanguinetti, and thereupon Courthon departed, to return presently with a borrowed weapon of the proper length.
At last it seemed that they might proceed with the business upon which they were come; but Garnache was wrong in so supposing. A discussion now arose between Gaubert and Courthon as to the choice of spot. The turf was drenched and slippery, and for all that they moved from place to place testing the ground, their principals following, nowhere could they find the conditions sufficiently improved to decide upon engaging. To Garnache the utility of this was apparent from the first. If these gentlemen had thought to avoid slippery ground, they should have elected to appoint the meeting elsewhere. But having chosen the Champs aux Capuchins, it was idle to expect that one stretch of turf would prove firmer than another.
Wearied at last by this delay, he gave expression to his thoughts.
"You are quite right, monsieur," said Courthon. "But your second is over-fastidious. It would simplify matters so much if you would remove your boots."
"Look you, sirs," said Garnache, taking a firm stand, "I will engage in my boots and on this very spot or not at all. I have told you that I am in haste. As for the slipperiness of the ground, my opponent will run no greater risks than I. I am not the only impatient one. The spectators are beginning to jeer at us. We shall have every scullion in Grenoble presently saying that we are afraid of one another. Besides which, sirs, I think I am taking cold."
"I am quite of monsieur's mind, myself," drawled Sanguinetti.
"You hear, sir," exclaimed Courthon, turning to Gaubert. "You can scarce persist in finding objections now."
"Why, since all are satisfied, so be it," said Gaubert, with a shrug. "I sought to do the best for my principal. As it is, I wash my hands of all responsibility, and by all means let us engage, sirs."
They disposed themselves accordingly, Gaubert engaging Courthon, on Garnache's right hand, and Garnache himself falling on guard to receive the attack of Sanguinetti. The jeers and murmurs that had been rising from the ever-growing crowd that swarmed about the outskirts of the place fell silent as the clatter of meeting swords rang out at last. And then, scarce were they engaged when a voice arose, calling angrily:
"Hold, Sanguinetti! Wait!"
A big, broad-shouldered man, in a suit of homespun and a featherless hat, thrust his way rudely trough the crowd and broke into the space within the belt of trees. The combatants had fallen apart at this commanding cry, and the newcomer now dashed forward, flushed and out of breath as if with running.
"Vertudieu! Sanguinetti," he swore, and his manner was half-angry, half-bantering; "do you call this friendship?"
"My dear Francois" returned the foreigner, "you arrive most inopportunely."
"And is that all the greeting you have for me?"
Looking more closely, Garnache thought that he recognized in him one of Sanguinetti's companions of yesternight.
"But do you not see that I am engaged?"
"Ay; and that is my grievance that you should be engaged upon such an affair, and that I should have no share in it. It is to treat me like a lackey, and have the right to feel offended. Enfin! It seems I an not come too late."
Garnache cut in. He saw the drift of the fellow's intentions, and he was not minded to submit to fresh delays; already more than half an hour was sped since he had left the Sucking Calf. He put it plainly to them that more than enough delay had there been already and he begged the newcomer to stand aside and allow them to terminate the business on which they were met. But Monsieur Francois—as Sanguinetti had called him—would not hear of it. He proved, indeed, a very testy fellow, and he had, moreover, the support of the others, including even Monsieur Gaubert.
"Let me implore you not to spoil sport, sir," the latter begged Garnache. "I have a friend at the inn who would never forgive me if I permitted him to miss such a morning's diversion as this gentleman is willing to afford him. Suffer me to go for him."
"Look you, sir," answered Garnache sharply, "however you may view this meeting, it is not with me an affair of jest or sport. I am in a quarrel that has been forced upon me, and—"
"Surely not, sir," Courthon interrupted sweetly. "You forget that you rolled Monsieur Sanguinetti in the mud. That is hardly to have a quarrel forced upon you."
Garnache bit his lip to the blood in his vexation.
"However the quarrel may have originated," said Francois, with a great laugh, "I swear that it goes not forward until I am accommodated, too."
"You had better accede, monsieur," murmured Gaubert. "I shall not be gone five minutes, and it will save time in the end."
"Oh, very well," cried poor Garnache in his despair. "Anything to save time; anything! In God's name fetch your friend, and I hope you and he and every man here will get his fill of fighting for once."
Gaubert departed on his errand, and there were fresh murmurs in the mob until the reason of his going was understood. Five minutes sped; ten minutes, and yet he returned not. Grouped together were Sanguinetti and his two friends, in easy, whispered talk. At a little distance from them, Garnache paced up and down to keep himself warm. He had thrown his cloak over his shoulders again, and with sword tucked under arm and head thrust forward, he stamped backwards and forwards, the very picture of ill-humour. Fifteen minutes passed; twelve o'clock boomed from the Church of Saint Francois d'Assisi and still Monsieur Gaubert returned not. Garnache stood still a moment, in angry thought. This must not go on. There must be an end, and at once. The tastes and inclinations of brawlers were no concern of his. He had business of State—however unworthy—to dispatch. He turned, intending to demand of Monsieur Sanguinetti that they should engage at once and be done, when suddenly a fellow roughly dressed, with dirty face and a shock head of fair hair, pushed his way through the throng and advanced towards Monsieur Sanguinetti and his friends. Garnache checked in his movement to look at the fellow, for he recognized in him the ostler of the Auberge de France: He spoke at that moment, and Garnache overheard the words he uttered.
"Monsieur Sanguinetti," said he, addressing that gentleman, "my master sends to inquire if you shall want the carriage you ordered for to-day. It has been standing for an hour at the door of the Auberge de France, awaiting you, and if you don't want it—"
"Standing where?" asked Sanguinetti harshly.
"At the door of the Auberge de France."
"Peste, fool!" cried the foreigner, "why is it there, when I bade it be sent to the Sucking Calf?"
"I don't know, sir. I know no more than Monsieur l'Hote told me."
"Now, a plague on Monsieur l'Hote," swore Sanguinetti, and in that moment his eye fell upon Garnache, standing there, attentive. At sight of the Parisian he seemed lost in confusion. He dropped his glance and appeared on the point of turning aside. Then to the ostler: "I shall want the carriage, and I shall come for it anon. Carry that message to your master." And with that he turned and advanced to Garnache. His whilom arrogance was all fallen from him; he wore instead an air of extreme contrition.
"Monsieur, what shall I say to you?" he asked in a voice that was rather small. "It seems there has been an error. I am deeply grieved, believe me—"
"Say no more, I beg," cried Garnache, immensely relieved that at last there should be a conclusion to an affair which had threatened to be interminable. "Let me but express my regrets for the treatment you received at my hands."
"I accept your expressions, and I admire their generosity," returned the other as courteous now as subservient, indeed, in his courtesy—as he had been erstwhile fierce and intractable. "As for the treatment I received, I confess that my mistake and my opinionativeness deserved it me. I deplore to deprive these gentlemen of the entertainment to which they were looking forward, but unless you should prove of an excessive amiability I am afraid they must suffer with me the consequences of my error."
Garnache assured him very briefly, and none too politely that he did not intend to prove of any excessive amiability. He spoke whilst struggling into his doublet. He felt that he could cheerfully have caned the fellow for the inconvenience he had caused him, and yet he realized that he had other more pressing matters to attend to. He sheathed his sword, took up his cloak and hat, made those gentlemen the compliments that became the occasion, in terms a trifle more brief, perhaps, than were usual, and, still wondering why Monsieur de Gaubert had not yet returned, he stalked briskly away. Followed by the booings of the disappointed crowd, he set out for the Sucking Calf at a sharp pace, taking the shorter way behind the Church and across the graveyard of Saint Francois.
CHAPTER VIII. THE CLOSING OF THE TRAP
Upon leaving the Champs aux Capuchins, hawk-faced Monsieur Gaubert had run every foot of the way to the Sucking Calf, and he had arrived there within some five minutes, out of breath and wearing every appearance of distress—of a distress rather greater than his haste to find his friend should warrant.
At the door of the inn he found the carriage still waiting; the post-boy, however, was in the porch, leaning in talk with one of the drawers. The troopers sat their horses in stolid patience, keeping guard, and awaiting, as they had been bidden, the return of Monsieur de Garnache. Rabecque, very watchful, lounged in the doorway, betraying in his air none of the anxiety and impatience with which he looked for his master.
At sight of Monsieur Gaubert, running so breathlessly, he started forward, wondering and uneasy. Across the street, from the Palais Seneschal, came at that same moment Monsieur de Tressan with rolling gait. He reached the door of the inn together with Monsieur Gaubert.
Full of evil forebodings, Rabecque hailed the runner.
"What has happened?" he cried. "Where is Monsieur de Garnache?"
Gaubert came to a staggering halt; he groaned and wrung his hands.
"Killed!" he panted, rocking himself in a passion of distress. "He has been butchered! Oh! it was horrible!"
Rabecque gripped him by the shoulder, and steadied him with a hand that hurt. "What do you say?" he gasped, his face white to the lips.
Tressan halted, too, and turned upon Gaubert, a look of incredulity in his fat countenance. "Who has been killed?" he asked. "Not Monsieur de Garnache?"
"Helas! yes," groaned the other. "It was a snare, a guet-apens to which they led us. Four of them set upon us in the Champs aux Capuchins. As long as he lived, I stood beside him. But seeing him fallen, I come for help."
"My God!" sobbed Rabecque, and loosed his grasp of Monsieur Gaubert's shoulder.
"Who did it?" inquired Tressan, and his voice rumbled fiercely.
"I know not who they were. The man who picked the quarrel with Monsieur de Garnache called himself Sanguinetti. There is a riot down there at present. There was a crowd to witness the combat, and they have fallen to fighting among themselves. Would to Heaven they had stirred in time to save that poor gentleman from being murdered."
"A riot, did you say?" cried Tressan, the official seeming to awaken in him.
"Aye," answered the other indifferently; "they are cutting one another's throats."
"But... But... Are you sure that he is dead, monsieur?" inquired Rabecque; and his tone was one that implored contradiction.
Gaubert looked and paused, seeming to give the matter a second's thought. "I saw him fall," said he. "It may be that he was no more than wounded."
"And you left him there?" roared the servant. "You left him there?"
Gaubert shrugged his shoulders. "What could I do against four? Besides, the crowd was interfering already, and it seemed best to me to come for help. These soldiers, now—"
"Aye," cut in Tressan, and he turned about and called the sergeant. "This becomes my affair." And he announced his quality to Monsieur Gaubert. "I am the Lord Seneschal of Dauphiny."
"I am fortunate in finding you," returned Gaubert, and bowed. "I could place the matter in no better hand."
But Tressan, without heeding him, was already ordering the sergeant to ride hard with his troopers for the Champs aux Capuchins. Rabecque, however, thrust himself suddenly forward.
"Not so, Monsieur le Seneschal," he interposed in fresh alarm, and mindful of his charge. "These men are here to guard Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. Let them remain. I will go to Monsieur de Garnache."
The Seneschal stared at him with contemptuously pouting underlip. "You will go?" said he. "And what can you do alone? Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Monsieur de Garnache's servant."
"A lackey? Ah!" And Tressan turned aside and resumed his orders as if Rabecque did not exist or had never spoken. "To the Champs aux Capuchins!" said he. "At the gallop, Pommier! I will send others after you."
The sergeant rose in his stirrups and growled an order. The troopers wheeled about; another order, and they were off, their cantering hoofs thundering down the narrow street.
Rabecque clutched at the Lord Seneschal's arm.
"Stop them, monsieur!" he almost screamed in his excitement. "Stop them! There is some snare, some trick in this."
"Stop them?" quoth the Seneschal. "Are you mad?" He shook off Rabecque's detaining hand, and left him, to cross the street again with ponderous and sluggish haste, no doubt to carry out his purpose of sending more troopers to the scene of the disturbance.
Rabecque swore angrily and bitterly, and his vexation had two entirely separate sources. On the one hand his anxiety and affection for his master urged him to run at once to his assistance, whilst Tressan's removal of the troopers rendered it impossible for him to leave Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye unguarded—though what he should do with her if Garnache came not back at all, he did not at this stage pause to consider. On the other hand, an instinctive and growing suspicion of this Monsieur Gaubert—who was now entering the inn—inspired him with the opinion that the fat Seneschal had been duped by a wild tale to send the troopers from the spot where they might presently become very necessary.
Full of fears, anxiety, and mistrust, it was a very dispirited Rabecque that now slowly followed Monsieur Gaubert into the inn. But as he set his foot across the threshold of the common-room, a sight met his eyes that brought him to a momentary standstill, and turned to certainty all his rising suspicions. He found it tenanted by a half-dozen fellows of very rude aspect, all armed and bearing an odd resemblance in air and accoutrements to the braves he had seen at Condillac the day before. As to how they came there, he could only surmise that they had entered through the stable-yard, as otherwise he must have observed their approach. They were grouped now at the other end of the long, low chamber, by the door leading to the interior of the inn. A few paces distant the landlord watched them with uneasy eyes.
But what dismayed Garnache's servant most of all was to see the man who called himself Gaubert standing in talk with a slender, handsome youth, magnificently arrayed, in whom he recognized Marius de Condillac.
Rabecque checked in his advance, and caught in that moment from Marius the words: "Let her be told that it is Monsieur de Garnache wishes her to descend."
At that Rabecque stepped towards them, very purposeful of mien. Gaubert turned at his approach, and smiled. Marius looked up quickly; then made a sign to the men. Instantly two of them went out by the door they guarded, and ere it swung back again Rabecque saw that they were making for the stairs. The remaining four ranged themselves shoulder to shoulder across the doorway, plainly with intent to bar the way. Gaubert, followed immediately by Marius, stepped aside and approached the landlord with arms akimbo and a truculent smile on his pale hawk face. What he and Marius said, Rabecque could not make out, but he distinctly heard the landlord's answer delivered with a respectful bow to Marius:
"Bien, Monsieur de Condillac. I would not interfere in your concerns—not for the world. I will be blind and deaf."
Marius acknowledged the servile protestation by a sneer, and Rabecque, stirring at last, went forward boldly towards the doorway and its ugly, human barrier.
"By your leave, sirs," said he—and he made to thrust one of them aside.
"You cannot pass this way, sir," he was answered, respectfully but firmly.
Rabecque stood still, clenching and unclenching his hands and quivering with anger. It was in that moment that he most fervently cursed Tressan and his stupid meddling. Had the troopers still been there, they could have made short work of these tatter-demalions. As it was, and with Monsieur de Garnache dead, or at least absent, everything seemed at an end. He might have contended that, his master being slain, it was no great matter what he did, for in the end the Condillacs must surely have their way with Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye. But he never paused to think of that just then. His sense of trust was strong; his duty to his master plain. He stepped back, and drew his sword.
"Let me pass!" he roared. But at the same instant there came the soft slither of another weapon drawn, and Rabecque was forced to turn to meet the onslaught of Monsieur Gaubert.
"You dirty traitor," cried the angry lackey, and that was all they left him breath to say. Strong arms gripped him from behind. The sword was wrenched from his hand. He was flung down heavily, and pinned prone in a corner by one of those bullies who knelt on his spine. And then the door opened again, and poor Rabecque groaned in impotent anguish to behold Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye pause white-faced and wide-eyed on, the threshold at sight of Monsieur de Condillac bowing low before her.
She stood there a moment between the two ruffians who had been sent to fetch her, and her eyes travelling round that room discovered Rabecque in his undignified and half; strangled condition.
"Where... Where is Monsieur de Garnache?" she faltered.
"He is where all those who cross the will of Condillac must sooner or later find themselves," said Marius airily. "He is... disposed of."
"Do you mean that he is dead?" she cried.
"I think it very probable by now," he smiled. "So you see, mademoiselle, since the guardian the Queen appointed you has... deserted you, you would do well to return to my mother's roof. Let me assure you that we shall very gladly welcome your return. We blame none but Garnache for your departure, and he has paid for the brutality of his abduction of you."
She turned in despair from that mocking gentleman, and attempted to make appeal to the landlord, as though he could help her who could not help himself.
"Monsieur l'Hote—" she began, but Marius cut in sharply.
"Take her out that way," he said, and pointed back down the passage by the stairs. "To the coach. Make haste."
She sought to resist them now; but they dragged her back, and there was a rush of the others following through the doorway, the rear being brought up by Gaubert.
"Follow presently," was his parting command to the man who still knelt upon Rabecque, and with that he vanished too.
Their steps died away in the passage; a door banged in the distance. There followed a silence, disturbed only by the sound of Rabecque's laboured breathing; then came a stir outside the door of the inn; some one shouted an order. There was a movement of hoofs, a creak and crunch of wheels, and presently the rumble of a heavy carriage being driven rapidly away. But too well did Rabecque surmise what had taken place.
The ruffian released him at last, and, leaping to his feet, was gone before Rabecque could rise. Once up, however, the lackey darted to the door. In the distance he saw his late assailant running hard; the coach had disappeared. He turned, and his smouldering eye fell upon the landlord.
"O pig!" he apostrophized him, snarling at him to vent some of his pent-up rage. "O cowardly pig."
"What would you?" expostulated the frightened taverner. "They had cut my throat if I resisted them."
Rabecque poured abuse upon him, until for very lack of words he was forced to cease, then, with a final bark of contempt, he went to recover his sword, which had been flung into a corner of the room. He was stooping in the act, when a quick step rang behind him on the threshold, an angry voice harsh and metallic pronounced his name:
The sword clattered from Rabecque's hand suddenly gone nerveless—nerveless with sheer joy, all else forgotten in the perception that there, safe and sound, stood his beloved master.
"Monsieur!" he cried, and the tears welled up to the rough servant's eyes. "Monsieur!" he cried again, and then with the tears streaming down his cheeks, sallow and wrinkled as parchment, "Oh, thank God!" he blubbered. "Thank God!"
"For what?" asked Garnache, coming forward, a scowl like a thunder-cloud upon his brow. "Where is the coach, where the troopers? Where is mademoiselle? Answer me!"
He caught Rabecque's wrist in a grip that threatened to snap it. His face was livid, his eyes aflame.
"They—they—" stammered Rabecque. He had not the courage to tell the thing that had happened. He feared Garnache would strike him dead.
And then out of his terror he gathered an odd daring. He spoke to Garnache as never he had dreamt to speak to him, and it may well be that by his tone and by what he said he saved his life just then.
"You fool," he cried to him. "I told you to be on your guard. I warned you to go warily. But you would not heed me. You know better than Rabecque. You would have your way. You must go a-brawling. And they duped you, they fooled you to the very top of their bent, monsieur."
Garnache dropped the servant's hand and stood back a pace. That counter-blast of passion and that plain speaking from a quarter so unexpected served, in part at least, to sober him. He understood the thing that had happened, the thing that already he suspected must have happened; but he understood too that he alone was to blame for it—he and his cursed temper.
"Who—who fooled me?" he stammered.
"Gaubert—the fellow that calls himself Gaubert. He and his friends. They fooled you away. Then Gaubert returned with a tale that you had been killed and that there was a disturbance in the Champs aux Capuchins. Monsieur de Tressan was here, as ill-luck would have it, and Gaubert implored him to send soldiers thither to quell the riot. He dispatched the escort. I sought in vain to stay them. He would not listen to me. The troopers went, and then Monsieur Gaubert entered the inn, to join Monsieur de Condillac and six of his braves who were waiting there. They overpowered me, and carried mademoiselle off in the coach. I did what I could, but—"
"How long have they been gone?" Garnache interrupted him to inquire.
"But few minutes before you came."
"It would be, then, the coach that passed me near the Porte de Savoie. We must go after them, Rabecque. I made a short cut across the graveyard of Saint Francis, or I must have met the escort. Oh, perdition!" he cried, smiting his clenched right hand into his open left. "To have so much good work undone by a moment's unguardedness." Then abruptly he turned on his heels. "I am going to Monsieur de Tressan," said he over his shoulder, and went out.
As he reached the threshold of the porch, the escort rode up the street, returned at last. At sight of him the sergeant broke into a cry of surprise.
"At least you are safe, monsieur," he said. "We had heard that you were dead, and I feared it must be so, for all that the rest of the story that was told us was clearly part of a very foolish jest."
"Jest? It was no jest, Vertudieu!" said Garnache grimly. "You had best return to the Palais Seneschal. I have no further need of an escort," he added bitterly. "I shall require a larger force."
And he stepped out into the rain, which had begun again a few minutes earlier, and was now falling in a steady downpour.
CHAPTER IX. THE SENESCHAL'S ADVICE
Straight across the Palais Seneschal went Garnache. And sorely though his temper might already have been tried that day, tempestuously though it had been vented, there were fresh trials in store for him, fresh storms for Tressan.
"May I ask, Monsieur le Seneschal," he demanded arrogantly, "to what end it was that you permitted yourself to order from its post the escort you had placed under my command?"
"To what end?" returned the Seneschal, between sorrow and indignation. "Why, to the end that it might succour you if still in time. I had heard that if not dead already, you were in danger of your life."
The answer was one that disarmed Garnache, in spite of his mistrust of Tressan, and followed as it now was by the Seneschal's profuse expressions of joy at seeing Garnache safe and well, it left him clearly unable to pursue the subject of his grievance in this particular connection. Instead, he passed on to entertain Tressan with the recital of the thing that had been done; and in reciting it his anger revived again, nor did the outward signs of sympathetic perturbation which the Seneschal thought it judicious to display do aught to mollify his feelings.
"And now, monsieur," he concluded, "there remains but one course to be pursued—to return in force, and compel them at the sword-point to surrender me mademoiselle. That accomplished, I shall arrest the Dowager and her son and every jackanapes within that castle. Her men can lie in Grenoble gaol to be dealt with by yourself for supporting her in an attempt to resist the Queen's authority. Madame and her son shall go with me to Paris to answer there for their offence."
The Seneschal looked grave. He thoughtfully combed his beard with his forefinger, and his little eyes peered a shade fearfully at Garnache through his horn-rimmed spectacles—Garnache had found him at his never-failing pretence of work.
"Why, yes," he agreed, speaking slowly, "that way lies your duty."
"I rejoice, monsieur, to hear you say so. For I shall need your aid."
"My aid?" The Seneschal's face assumed a startled look.
"I shall require of you the necessary force to reduce that garrison."
The Seneschal blew out his cheeks almost to bursting point, then wagged his head and smiled wistfully.
"And where," he asked, "am I to find such a force?"
"You have upwards of ten score men in quarters at Grenoble."
"If I had those men—which I have not—what, think you, could they do against a fortress such as Condillac? Monsieur deludes himself. If they resist, you'll need ten times that number to bring them to their senses. They are well victualled; they have an excellent water-supply. My friend, they would just draw up the bridge, and laugh at you and your soldiers from the ramparts."
Garnache looked at him from under lowering brows. But for all his mistrust of the man—a mistrust most excellently founded—he was forced to confess that there was wisdom in what Tressan said.
"I'll sit down and besiege them if need be," he announced.
Again the Seneschal wagged his head. "You would have to be prepared to spend your winter there in that case, and it can be cold in the valley of Isere. Their garrison is small—some twenty men at most; but it is sufficient for their defence, and not too many mouths to feed. No, no, monsieur, if you would win your way by force you must count upon more than ten score men."
And now a flash of inspiration helped Tressan. It was his aim, as we know, to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Break with Madame de Condillac his foolish hopeful heart would not permit him. Break with this man, who personified authority and the King, he dared not. He had sought—and it had given him much to do—to steer a middle course, serving the Dowager and appearing not to withstand the Parisian. Now it almost seemed to him as if he were come to an impasse beyond which he could no longer pursue that course, but must halt and declare his side. But the notion that now occurred to him helped him to win through this difficulty. For Madame de Condillac's schemes he cared not a jot; whether they came safe to harbour or suffered shipwreck on the way was all one to him; whether Valerie de La Vauvraye married Marius de Condillac or the meanest cobbler in Grenoble was, similarly, a matter that never disturbed his mind. He would not even be concerned if he, himself, were to help the Dowager's schemes to frustration, so long as she were to remain in ignorance of his defection, so long as outwardly he were to appear faithful to her interests.
"Monsieur," said he gravely, "the only course that promises you success is to return to Paris, and, raising sufficient men, with guns and other modern siege appliances such as we possess not here, come back and batter down the walls of Condillac."
There the Seneschal spoke good sense. Garnache realized it, so much so that he almost began to doubt whether he had not done the man an injustice in believing him allied to the other party. But, however fully he might perceive the wisdom of the advice, such a step was one that must wound his pride, must be an acknowledgment that his own resources, upon which the Queen had relied when she sent him single-handed to deal with this situation, had proved insufficient.
He took a turn in the apartment without answering, tugging at his mustachios and pondering the situation what time the Seneschal furtively watched him in the candle-light. At last he came abruptly to a standstill by the Seneschal's writing-table, immediately opposite Tressan. His hand fell to his side, his eyes took on a look of determination.
"As a last resource your good advice may guide me, Monsieur le Seneschal," said he. "But first I'll see what can be done with such men as you have here."
"But I have no men," answered Tressan, dismayed to see the failure of his effort.
Garnache stared at him in an unbelief that was fast growing to suspicion. "No men?" he echoed dully. "No men?"
"I might muster a score—no more than that."
"But, monsieur, it is within my knowledge that you have at least two hundred. I saw at least some fifty drawn up in the courtyard below here yesterday morning."
"I had them, monsieur," the Seneschal made haste to cry, his hands upheld, his body leaning forward over his table. "I had them. But, unfortunately, certain disturbances in the neighbourhood of Montelimar have forced me to part with them. They were on the point of setting out when you saw them."
Garnache looked at him a moment without speaking. Then, sharply:
"They must be recalled, monsieur," said he.
And now the Seneschal took refuge in a fine pretence of indignation.
"Recalled?" he cried, and besides indignation there was some horror in his voice. "Recalled? And for what? That they may assist you in obtaining charge of a wretched girl who is so headstrong as to wish to marry other than her guardians have determined. A pretty affair that, as God's my life! And for the adjustment of such a family dispute as this, a whole province is to go to ruin, a conflagration of rebellion is to spread unquenched? On my soul, sir, I begin to think that this mission of yours has served to turn your head. You begin to see it out of all proportion to its size."
"Monsieur, it may have turned my head, or it may not; but I shall not be amazed if in the end it be the means of losing you yours. Tell me now: What is the disturbance you speak of in Montelimar?" That was a question all Tressan's ingenuity could not answer.
"What affair is it of yours?" he demanded. "Are you Seneschal of Dauphiny, or am I? If I tell you that there is a disturbance, let that suffice. In quelling it I do but attend to my own business. Do you attend to yours—which seems to be that of meddling in women's matters."
This was too much. There was such odious truth in it that the iron sank deep into Garnache's soul. The very reflection that such a business should indeed be his, was of itself enough to put him in a rage, without having it cast in his teeth as Tressan had none too delicately done.
He stormed and raged; he waved his arms and thumped the table, and talked of cutting men to ribbons—among which men no doubt he counted my Lord the Seneschal of Dauphiny. But from the storm of fierce invective, of threats and promises with which he filled the air, the Seneschal gathered with satisfaction the one clear statement that he would take his advice.
"I'll do as you say," Garnache had ended. "I'll get me back to Paris as fast as horse can carry me. When I return woe betide Condillac! And I shall send my emissaries into the district of Montelimar to inquire into these disturbances you tell of. Woe betide you if they find the country quiet. You shall pay a heavy price for having dispatched your soldiers thither to the end that they might not be here to further the Queen's business."
With that he caught up his rain-sodden hat, flung it on his head, and stalked out of the room, and, so, out of the Palace.
He left Grenoble next morning, and it was a very tame and crestfallen Garnache who quitted the Auberge du Veau qui Tete and rode out of the town to take the road to Paris. How they would laugh at him at the Luxembourg! Not even an affair of this kind was he fit to carry through; not even as a meddler in women's matters as Tressan had called him—could he achieve success. Rabecque, reflecting his master's mood—as becomes a good lackey—rode silent and gloomy a pace or two in the rear.
By noon they had reached Voiron, and here, at a quiet hostelry, they descended to pause awhile for rest and refreshment. It was a chill, blustering day, and although the rain held off, the heavens were black with the promise of more to come. There was a fire burning in the general-room of the hostelry, and Garnache went to warm him at its cheerful blaze. Moodily he stood there, one hand on the high mantel shelf, one foot upon an andiron, his eyes upon the flames.
He was disconsolately considering his position; considering how utterly, how irrevocably he had failed; pondering the gibes he would have to stomach on his return to Paris, the ridicule it would incumb him to live down. It had been a fine thing to breathe fire and blood and vengeance to Tressan yesterday, to tell him of the great deeds he would perform on his return. It was odds he never would return. They would send another in his place, if indeed they sent at all. For, after all, before he could reach Paris and the force required be in Dauphiny, a fortnight must elapse, let them travel never so quickly. By that time they must be singularly sluggish at Condillac if they did not so contrive that no aid that came should come in time for mademoiselle, now that they were warned that the Queen was stirring in the matter.
Oh! he had blundered it all most cursedly. Had he but kept his temper yesterday at Grenoble; had he but had the wit to thwart their plans, by preserving an unruffled front to insult, he might have won through and carried mademoiselle out of their hands. As it was—! he let his arms fall to his sides in his miserable despair.
"Your wine, monsieur," said Rabecque at his elbow. He turned, and took the cup of mulled drink from his servant. The beverage warmed him in body; but it would need a butt of it to thaw the misery from his soul.
"Rabecque," he said with a pathetic grimness, "I think I am the most cursed blunderer that ever was entrusted with an errand."
The thing so obsessed his mind that he must speak of it, if it be only to his lackey. Rabecque's sharp face assumed a chastened look. He sighed most dutifully. He sought for words of consolation. At last:
"At least, monsieur has made them fear him up there at Condillac," said he.
"Fear me?" laughed Garnache. "Pish! Deride me, you would say."
"Fear you, I repeat, monsieur. Else why are they at such pains to strengthen the garrison?"
"Eh?" he questioned. But his tone was not greatly interested. "Are they doing that? Are they strengthening it? How know you?"
"I had it from the ostler at the Veau qui Tete that a certain Captain Fortunio—an Italian soldier of fortune who commands the men at Condillac—was at the Auberge de France last night, offering wine to whomsoever would drink with him, and paying for it out of Madame la Marquise's purse. To such as accepted his hospitality he talked of the glory of a military career, particularly a free-lance's; and to those who showed interest in what he said he offered a pike in his company."
"Enrolled he many, did you learn?"
"Not one, monsieur, the ostler told me; and it seems he spent the evening watching him weave his spider's web. But the flies were over-wary. They knew whence he came; they knew the business for which he desired to enrol them—for a rumour had gone round that Condillac was in rebellion against the Queen's commands—and there were none so desperate at the Auberge de France as to risk their necks by enlisting, no matter what the wage he offered."
Garnache shrugged his shoulders. "No matter," said he. "Get me another cup of wine." But as Rabecque turned away to obey him there came a sudden gleam into the eye of Monsieur de Garnache which lightened the depression of his countenance.
CHAPTER X. THE RECRUIT
In the great hall of the Chateau de Condillac sat the Dowager, her son, and the Lord Seneschal, in conference.
It was early in the afternoon of the last Thursday in October, exactly a week since Monsieur de Garnache all but broken-hearted at the failure of his mission—had departed from Grenoble. They had dined, and the table was still strewn with vessels and the fragments of their meal, for the cloth had not yet been raised. But the three of them had left the board—the Seneschal with all that reluctance with which he was wont to part company with the table, no matter how perturbed in spirit he might to—and they had come to group themselves about the great open fireplace.
A shaft of pale October sunshine entering through the gules of an escutcheon on the mullioned windows struck a scarlet light into silver aid glass upon the forsaken board.
Madame was speaking. She was repeating words that she had uttered at least twenty times a day during the past week.
"It was a madness to let that fellow go. Had we but put him and his servant out of the way, we should be able now to sleep tranquil in our beds. I know their ways at Court. They might have marvelled a little at first that he should tarry so long upon his errand, that he should send them no word of its progress; but presently, seeing him no more, he would little by little have been forgotten, and with him the affair in which the Queen has been so cursedly ready to meddle.
"As it is, the fellow will go back hot with the outrage put upon him; there will be some fine talk of it in Paris; it will be spoken of as treason, as defiance of the King's Majesty, as rebellion. The Parliament may be moved to make outlaws of us, and the end of it all—who shall foresee?"