"Hush!" Madame Royaume continued, heeding her daughter's interruption no farther than by that word and an impatient movement of the hand. "A stone has fallen and struck one down. They raise him, he is lifeless! No, he moves, he rises. They set other ladders against the wall. They mount now by tens and twenties—and—it is growing dark—dark, child. Dark!" She seemed to try to put away a curtain with her hands.
"Mother!" Anne cried, bending over the bed and taking her mother's hand. "Don't, dear! Don't! You frighten me."
The old woman raised her hand for silence, and continued to gaze before her. Anne's arm was round her; the girl marked with astonishment, almost with awe, how strongly and stiffly she sat up. She marvelled still more when her mother murmured in the same tone, "I can see no more," sighed, and sank gently back. Anne bent over her. "I can—see no more," Madame Royaume repeated; "I can——" She was asleep!
Anne bent over her, and after listening a while to her easy breathing, heaved a deep sigh of relief. Her mother had been talking in her sleep; and she, Anne had alarmed herself for nothing. Nevertheless, as she turned from the bed she looked nervously over her shoulder. The other's wandering or dream, or what it was, had left a vague disquiet in her mind, and presently she took the lamp and, opening the door, passed out, and, with her hands still on the latch, listened.
Suddenly her heart bounded, her startled eyes leapt upward to the ceiling. Close to her, above her, she heard a sound.
It came from a trap-door that led to the tiles; a trap that even as her eyes reached it, lifted itself with a rending sound. Save for the bedridden woman, Anne was alone in the house; and for one instant it was a question whether she held her ground or fled shrieking into the room she had left. For an instant; then the instinct to shield her mother won the day, and with fascinated eyes she watched the legs of a man drop through the aperture, watched a body follow, and—and at last a face!
Claude's face! But changed. Even while she sank gasping against the wall—for the surprise was too much for her—even while he took the lamp from her shaking hand and supported her, and relief and joy began to run like wine through her veins, she knew it. The forceful look, the tightened lips, the eyes gleaming with determination—all were new to her. They gave him an aspect so old, so strange, that when he had kissed her once she put him from her.
"What is it?" she said. "Oh, Claude! What is it? What has happened?"
Letting a smile appear—but such a smile as did not reassure her—he signed to her to go before him downstairs. She complied; but at the foot of the first flight she stopped, unable to bear the suspense longer. She turned to him again. "What is it?" she cried. "Something has happened?"
"Something is happening," he answered. His eyes shone, exultant. "But it is a matter for others! We may be easy!"
"What is it?"
"The Savoyards are in Geneva."
She started incredulously. "In Geneva? Here?" she exclaimed. "The enemy?"
"Here? In Geneva?" she repeated. She could not have heard aright.
But she still looked at him; she could not reconcile his words with his manner. This, the greatest calamity that could happen, this which she had been brought up to fear as the worst and most awful of catastrophes—could he talk of it, could he announce it after this fashion? With a smile, in a tone of pleasantry? He must be playing with her. She passed her hand over her eyes, and tried to be calm. "But all is quiet?" she said.
"All is quiet now," he answered. "After midnight the trouble will begin."
Still she could not understand him. His face said one thing, his voice another. Besides, the town was quiet: no sound of riot or disturbance, no clash of steel, no tramp of feet penetrated the walls. And the house stood on the ramparts where the first alarm must be given. "Do you mean," she asked at last, her eyes fixed steadfastly on him, "that they are going to attack the town after midnight?"
"They are here now," he replied, shrugging his shoulders. "They scaled the wall after the guard had gone round at eleven, and they are lying by tens and twenties along the outer side of the Corraterie, waiting for the hour and the signal."
She passed her hand across her closed eyes, and looked again, perplexedly. "And you," she said, "you? I do not understand. If this be so, what are you doing here?"
"Ay, here! Why have you not given the alarm in the town?"
"Why should I give the alarm?" he retorted coolly. "To save those who hounded you through the streets two days ago? To save those who to-morrow may put you to the torture and burn you like the vilest of creatures? Save them?" with a grim smile. "No, let them save themselves!"
"I would save you! not them! I would save your mother! not them! And it is done. Let the Grand Duke triumph to-night, let Savoy take Geneva, and our good townsfolk will have other matters to occupy their thoughts to-morrow! Ay, and through many and many a morrow to come! Save them?" with a grim note in his voice; "no, I save you. Let them save themselves! It is God's mercy on us, and His judgment on them! Or why happens it to-night? To-night of all nights in the year?"
She was very pale, and for a moment remained silent: whether she felt the temptation to which he had succumbed, or was seeking what she should say to move him, is uncertain. At last, "It is impossible," she murmured, in a low voice. "You have not thought of the women and children, of the fathers and mothers who will suffer."
"And your mother!"
"Is one. God forbid that I should save her at the expense of all! God forbid!" she wailed, as if she feared her own strength, as if the temptation almost overcame her. And then laying her hand on his arm and looking up to him—his face was set so hard—"You will not do this!" she said. "You will not do this! Could we be happy after? Could we be happy with blood on our heads, and on our hands, and on our hearts! Happy, oh no! Claude, dear heart, dear husband, we cannot buy happiness so, or life so, or love so! We cannot save ourselves—so! We cannot play God's part—so!"
"It is not we who do it," he answered stubbornly.
"It is we who may prevent it!" she answered, leaning more heavily on his arm, looking up to him more earnestly; with pleading eyes which it was hard to refuse. "Would you, to save us, have betrayed Geneva?"
He groaned—she had moved him. "God knows!" he answered. "To save you—I think I would!"
"You would not! You would not!" she repeated. "Neither must you do this! Honour, faith, duty, all forbid it!"
"And love?" he cried.
"And love!" she answered. "For who would love dishonoured? Who would love in shame? No; go as you have come, and give the alarm! And do, and help! Go, as you have come! But how"—with a startled look as she thought of the trap-door—"did you come?"
"By the Tertasse Gate," he explained. "There were but two men on guard, and they were asleep. I passed them unseen, climbed the stairs to the leads—I have been up twice before—and crossed the roofs. I knew I could come this way unseen, and if I had come by the door——"
She understood and cut him short. "Then go as you came and rouse the watch in the gate!" she cried feverishly. "Rouse them and all, and Heaven grant you be not too late! Go, Claude, for the love of me, for the love of God, go quickly!" Her hands on his arm shook with eagerness. "So that, if there be treachery here——"
"There is treachery!" he said darkly. "Grio——"
"We at least shall have no part in it! You will go? You will go?" she repeated, clinging to his arm, trembling against him, looking up to him with eyes which he could not resist. Love wrestled here, on the higher, the nobler, the unselfish side, and came the stronger out of the contest. There were tears in his eyes as he answered.
"I will go. You are right, Anne. But you will be alone."
"I run no greater risk than others," she answered. He held her to him, and their lips met once. And in that instant, her heart beating against his, she comprehended to what she was sending him, into what peril of life, into what a dark hell of force and fire and blood; and her arms clung to him as if she could not let him go. Then, "Go, and God keep you!" she murmured in a choked voice. And she thrust him from her.
A moment later he was on the roof, and she was kneeling where he had left her, bowed down, with her face on the bare stairs in an agony of prayer for him. But not for long; she had her part to do. She hurried down to the living-room and made sure that the strong shutters were secured; then up to Basterga's room and to Grio's, and as far as her strength went she piled the furniture against the iron-barred casements that looked on to the ramparts. While she worked her ears listened for the alarm, but, until she had finished and was ascending with the light to her mother's room she heard nothing. Then a distant cry, a faint challenge, the drum-drum of running feet, a second cry—and silence. It might be his death-cry she had heard; and she stood with a white face, shivering, waiting, bearing the woman's burden of suspense. To lie down by her mother was impossible; rapine, murder, fire, all the horrors, all the perils of a city taken by surprise, crowded into her mind. Yet they moved her not so much as the dangers he ran, whom she had sent forth to confront them, whom she had plucked from her own breast that he might face them!
Meanwhile, Claude, after gaining the tiles, paused a moment to consider his next step. Far below him, on the narrow, black triangle of the Corraterie, lay the Savoyards, some three hundred in number, who had scaled the wall. Out of the darkness of the plain, beyond and below them, rose the faint, distant quacking of alarmed ducks, proving that others of the enemy moved there. Even as he listened, the whirr of a wild goose winging its flight over the city came to his ear. On his left, with a dim oil lamp marking, here or there, the meeting of four ways, the town slept unsuspicious, recking nothing of the fate prepared for it.
It was a solemn moment, and Claude on the roof under the night sky, felt it to be so. Restored to his higher self, he breathed a prayer for guidance and for her, and was as eager now as he had before been cold. But not the less for that did he ply the wits that, working freely in this hour of peril, proved him one of those whom battle owns for master. He had gathered enough, lying on his face in the bastion, to feel sure that the forlorn hope which had gained a footing on the wall would not move until the arrival of the main body whom it was its plan to admit by the Porte Neuve. To carry the alarm to the Porte Neuve, therefore, and secure that gate, seemed to be the first and most urgent step; since to secure the Tertasse and the other inner gates would be of little avail, if the main body of the enemy were once in possession of the ramparts. The course that at first sight seemed the most obvious—to enter the town, give the alarm at the town hall, and set the tocsin ringing—he rejected; for while the town was arming, the three hundred who had entered might seize the Porte Neuve, and so secure the entrance of the main body.
These calculations occupied no more than a few seconds: then, his mind made up to the course he must pursue, he crawled as quickly, but also as quietly, as he could along the dark parapets until he gained the leads of the Tertasse. Safe so far, he proceeded, with equal or greater caution, to descend the narrow cork-screw staircase, that led to the guard-room on the ground floor.
He forgot that it is more easy to ascend without noise than to descend. With all his care he stumbled when he was within three steps of the bottom. He tried to save himself, but fell against the half-open door, flung it wide, and, barely keeping his feet, found himself face to face with the two watchmen, who, startled by the noise, had sprung to their feet, thinking the devil was upon them. One, with an oath upon his lips, reached for his half-pike; his fellow, less sober, steadied himself by resting a hand on the table.
If they gave the alarm, his plan was gone. The enemy, finding themselves discovered, would seize the Porte Neuve. "One minute!" he cried breathlessly. "Let me explain!"
"You!" the more sober retorted, glaring fiercely at him. "Who the devil are you? And where have you been?"
"Quiet, man, quiet!"
"What is it?"
"Treason!" Claude answered, imploring silence by a gesture. "Treason! That is what it is! But for God's sake, no noise! No noise, man, or our throats are as good as cut! Savoy has the wall!"
The man stared, and no wonder. "You are mad," he said, "or drunk! Savoy——"
"Fool, it is so!" Claude cried, beside himself with impatience.
"They are under the trees on the ramparts within a few yards of us now! Three hundred of them! A word and you will feel their pikes in your breast! Listen to me!"
But with a laugh of derision the drunken man cut him short. "Savoy here—on the wall!" he hiccoughed. "And we on guard!"
"It is so!" Claude urged. "Believe me, it is so! And we must be wary."
"You lie, young man! And I'll—hic—I'll prove it! See here! Savoy on the wall, indeed! Savoy? And we on guard?"
He lurched in two strides to the outer door, seized it, and supported himself by it. Claude leant forward to stop him, but could not reach, being on the other side of the table. He called to the other to do so. "Stop him!" he said. "Stop him!"
The man might have done so, but he did not stir; and "Stop him?" the sot answered, his hand on the door. "Not—two of you—will stop him! Now, then! Savoy, indeed! On the wall? I'll show you!"
He let the door go, and reeled three paces into the darkness outside, waving his hands as if he drove chickens. "Savoy! Savoy!" he cried; but whether in drunken bravado, in derision, or in pure disbelief, God only knows! For the word had barely passed his lips the second time before a gurgling scream followed, freezing the hearts of the two listeners; and, before the second guard could close the door or move from his place on the hearth, four men sprang in out of the darkness, and bore him back. Before he had struck a blow they had pinned him against the wall.
Claude owed his escape to his position behind the door. They did not see him as they sprang in, intent on the one they did see. He knew resistance to be futile, and a bound carried him into the darkness of the cork-screw staircase. Once there, he dared not move. Thence he saw and heard what followed.
The man pinned against the wall, with the point of a knife flickering before his eyes, begged piteously for his life.
"Then silence!" Basterga answered—for the foremost who had entered was he. "A word and you die!"
"Better let me finish him at once!" Grio growled. The prisoner's face was ashen, his eyes were starting from his head. "Dead men give no alarms."
"Mercy! Mercy!" the man gasped.
"Ay, ay, let him live," Basterga said good-naturedly. "But he must be gagged. Turn your face to the wall, my man!"
The poor wretch complied with gratitude. In a twinkling the Paduan's huge fingers closed round his neck, and over his wind-pipe. "Now strike," the big man hissed. "He will make no noise!"
With a sickening thud Grio's knife sank between the shoulders, a moment the body writhed in Basterga's herculean grip, then it sank lifeless to the floor. "Had you struck him, fool," Basterga muttered wrathfully, wiping a little blood from his sleeve, "as you wanted to strike him, he had squealed like a pig! Now 'tis the same, and no noise. Ha! Seize him!"
He spoke too late. Claude had seen his opportunity, and as the treacherous blow was struck had crept forth. At the moment the other saw him he bounded over the threshold. Even as his feet touched the ground a man who stood outside lunged at him with a pike but missed him—a chance, for Claude had not seen the striker. The next moment the young man had launched himself into the darkness and was running for his life across the Corraterie in the direction of the Porte Neuve.
He knew that his foes were lying on every side of him, and the cry of "Seize him! Seize him!" went with him, making every step a separate peril. He could not see a yard, but he was young and fleet and active; and the darkness covering him, the men were confused. Over more than one black object he bounded like a deer. Once a man rising in front of him brought him heavily to the ground, but by good fortune it was his foot struck the man, and on the head, and the fellow lay still and let him rise. A moment later another gripped him, but Claude and he fell together, and the younger man, rolling nimbly sideways, got clear and to his feet again, made for the wall on his right, turned left again, and already thought himself over the threshold of the Porte Neuve. The cry "Aux Armes! Aux Armes!" was already on his lips, he thought he had succeeded, when between his eyes and the faintly lighted gateway a dozen forms rose as by magic and poured in before him—so near to him that, unable to check himself, he jostled the hindmost.
He might have entered with them, so near was he. But he saw that he was too late; he guessed that the outcry behind him had precipitated the attack, and, arresting himself outside the ring of light, but within a few paces of the gateway, he threw himself on the ground and awaited the event. It was not long in declaring itself. For a few seconds a dull roar of shots and shouts and curses filled the gate. Then out again, helter-skelter, with a flash of exploding powder and a whirl of steel and blows, came defenders and assailants in a crowd, the former bent on escaping, the latter on cutting them off from the Porte Tertasse and the town. For an instant after they had poured out the gate seemed quiet, and with his eyes upon it, Claude rose, first to his knees and then to his feet, paused a moment in doubt, then darted in and entered the guard-room.
The firelight—the other lights in the small, dingy chamber had been trampled under foot—showed him two wounded men groaning on the floor, and the body of a third who lay apparently dead. Claude bent over one, found what he wanted—a half-pike—and glided to the door of the stairs that led to the roof. It was in the same position as in the Tertasse. He opened it, passed through it, mounted two steps, and in the darkness came plump against some one who seized him by the throat.
The man had no weapon—at any rate he did not strike; and Claude, taken by surprise, could not level his pike in the narrow stairway. For a moment they wrestled, Claude striving to bring his weapon to bear on his foe, the latter trying to strangle him. But the advantage of the stairs lay with the first comer, who was the uppermost, and gradually he bore Claude back and back. The young man, however, would not let go such hold as he had, and both were on the point of falling out on the floor of the guard-room when the light disclosed Claude's face.
"You are of us!" his opponent panted. And abruptly he released his grip.
"I know you!" The man was one of the guard who, in the alarm, had escaped into the stairway. "I know you! You live in the Corraterie!"
Claude wasted not a second. "Up!" he cried. "We can hold the roof! Up, man, for your life! For your life! It is our only chance!"
With the fear of death upon him, the other needed no second telling. He turned, and groped upwards in haste; and Claude followed, treading on his heels; nor a moment too soon. While they were still within the staircase, which their elbows rubbed on either side, they heard the enemy swarm into the room below. Cries of triumph, of "Savoy! Savoy!" of "Ville gagnee! gagnee!" hummed dully up to them, and proclaimed the narrowness of their escape. Then the night air met their faces, they bent their heads and passed out upon the leads; they had above them the stars, and below them all the world of night, with its tramp of hidden feet, its swaying lights so tiny and distant, and here and there its cry of "Savoy! Savoy!" that showed that the enemy, relying on their capture of the Porte Neuve, were casting off disguise.
Claude heard and saw all, but lost not a moment. He had not made this haste for his life only: before he had risen to his knees or set foot in the gate, he had formed his plan. "The Portcullis!" he cried. "The Portcullis! Where are the chains? On this side?" Less than a week before he had stood and watched the guard as they released it and raised it again for practice.
The soldier, familiar with the tower, should have been able to go to the chains at once. But though he had struggled for his life and was ready to struggle for it again, he had not recovered his nerve, and he shrank from leaving the stairs, in holding which their one chance consisted. He muttered, however, that the winch was on such and such a side, and, with his head in the stairway, indicated the direction with his hand. Claude groped his way to the spot, his breath coming fast; fortunately he laid his hand almost at once on the chains and felt for the spike, which he knew he must draw or knock out. That done, the winch would fly round, and the huge machine fall by its own weight.
On a sudden, "They are coming!" the soldier cried in a terrified whisper. "My God, they are coming! Come back! Come back!" For Claude had their only weapon, and the guard was defenceless. Defenceless by the side of the stairs up which the foe was climbing!
The hair rose on Claude's head, but he set his teeth; though the man died, though he died, the portcullis must fall! More than his own life, more than the lives of both of them, more than lives a hundred or a thousand hung on that bolt; the fate of millions yet unborn, the freedom and the future of a country hung on that bolt which would not give way—though now he had found it and was hammering it. Grinding his teeth, the sweat on his brow, he beat on it with the pike, struck the iron with the strength of despair, stooped to see what was amiss—still with the frenzied prayers of the other in his ears—saw it, and struck again and again—and again!
Whirr! The winch flew round, barely missing his head. With a harsh, grinding sound that rose with incredible swiftness to a scream, piercing the night, the ponderous grating slid down, crashed home and barred all entrance—closed the Porte Neuve. It did more, though Claude did not know it. It cut off the engineer from the outer gate, of which the keys were at the Town Hall, and against which in another minute, another sixty seconds, he had set his petard. That set and exploded, Geneva had lain open to its enemies. As it was, so small was the margin, so fatally accurate the closing, that when the day rose, it disclosed a portent. When the victors came to examine the spot they found beneath the portcullis the mangled form of one of the engineers, and beside him lay his petard.
Claude did not know all that he had done, or the narrow margin of time by which he had succeeded. But he did know that he had saved the gate; that gate on the outer side of which four thousand of the picked troops of Savoy were waiting the word to enter. He knew that he had done it with death at his elbow and with the cries of his panic-stricken comrade in his ears. And in the moment of success he rose above the common level. He felt himself master of fear, lord of death; in the exultation of his triumph he thought nothing too hard or too dangerous for him.
It was well perhaps that he had this feeling, for he had not a moment to waste if he would save himself. As the portcullis struck the ground with a thunderous crash and rebounded, and he turned from the winch to the stairhead, a last warning, cut short in the utterance, reached him, and he saw through the gloom that his companion was already in the grip of a figure which had succeeded in passing out of the staircase. Claude did not hesitate. With a roar of rage he ran like a bull at the enemy, struck him full under the arm with his pike, and drove him doubled up into the stairhead, with such force that the Genevese had much ado to free himself.
The man was struck helpless—dead for aught that appeared at the moment. But the pike coming in contact with the edge of his corselet had not penetrated, and Claude recovered it quickly, and levelled it in waiting for the next comer. At the same time he adjured his comrade to secure the fallen man's weapon. The guard seized it, and the two waited, with suspended breath, for the sally which they were sure must come.
But the stairs were narrow, the fallen body blocked the outlet, and possibly the assailants had expected no resistance. Finding it, they thought better of it. A moment and they could be heard beating a retreat.
"Pardieu! they are going!" the guard exclaimed; and he began to shake.
"Ay, but they will return!" Claude answered grimly. "Have no fear of that! The portcullis is down, and the only way to raise it, is up these stairs. But it will be hard if, armed as we are now, we cannot baffle them! Has he no pistol?"
Marcadel—that was the soldier's name—felt about the prostrate man, but found none; and bidding him listen and not move for his life—but there was little need of the injunction—Claude passed over to the inner edge of the roof, facing the Corraterie. Here he raised his voice and shouted the alarm with all the force of his lungs, hoping thus to supplement the cries which here and there had been raised by the Savoyards.
"Aux Armes! Armes!" he cried. "The enemy is at the gate! To arms! To arms!"
A man ran out of the gateway at the sound of his shouting, levelled a musket and fired at him. The slugs flew wide, and Claude, lifted above himself, yelled defiance, knowing that the more shots were fired the more quickly and widely would the alarm be spread.
That it was spreading, that it was being taken up, his position on the gateway enabled him to discern, distant as the Porte Neuve lay from the heart of the town. A flare of light at the rear of the Tertasse, and a confused hub-bub in that quarter, seemed to show that, though the Savoyards had seized the gate, they had not penetrated beyond it. Away on his extreme left, where the Porte de la Monnaye, hard by his old bastion, overlooked the Rhone and the island, were lights again, and a sound of a commotion as though there too the enemy held the gate, but found farther progress closed against them. On the Treille to his right, the most westerly of the three inner gates, and the nearest to the Town Hall, the enemy seemed to be preparing an attack, for as he ceased to shout, muskets exploded in that direction; and as far as he could judge the shots were aimed outwards.
With such alarms at three inner points—to say nothing of the noise at the more distant Porte Neuve—it seemed impossible that any part of the city could remain in ignorance of the attack. In truth, as he stood peering down into the dark Corraterie, and listening to the heavy tramp of unseen feet, now here, now there, and the orders that rose from unseen throats—even as he prepared to turn, summoned by a warning cry from Marcadel, the first note of the alarm-bell smote his ear.
One moment and the air hummed with its heavy challenge, and all of Geneva that still slept awoke and stood upright. Men ran half naked from their houses. Boys in their teens snatched arms and sallied forth. White faces looked into the night from barred windows or lofty dormers; and across narrow wynds and under dark Gothic entries men dragged huge chains and hooked them, and hurried on to where the alarm seemed loudest and the risk most pressing. In an instant in pitch-dark alleys lights gleamed and steel jarred on stone; out of the darkness deep voices shouted questions, or answered or gave orders, and from a thousand houses, alike in the wealthy Bourg du Four with its three-storied piles and in the sordid lanes about the water and the bridges, went up one wail of horror and despair. Men who had dreamed of this night for years, and feared it as they feared God's day, awoke to find their dream a fact, and never while they lived forgot that awakening. While women left alone in their homes bolted and barred and fell to prayers; or clasped to their breasts babes who prattled, not understanding the turmoil, or why their mothers looked strangely on them.
Something of this, something of the horror of that sudden awakening, and of the confusion in the narrow streets, where voices cried that the enemy were here or there or in a third place, and the bravest knew not which way to turn, penetrated to Claude on the roof of the tower; and at the thought of Anne and the perils that encircled her—for about the house in the Corraterie the uproar rose loudest—his heart melted. But he had not long to dwell on her peril; not long to dwell on anything. Before the great bell had hurled its warning abroad three times he had to go. Marcadel's voice, urgent, insistent, summoned him to the stairhead.
"They are mustering at the bottom!" the man whispered over his shoulder. He was on his knees, his head in the hood of the staircase. The wounded man, breathing stertorously, still cumbered the upper steps. Marcadel rested one hand on him.
Claude thrust in his head and listened. He could hear, above the thick breathing of the Savoyard, the stir of men muttering and moving in the darkness below; and now the stealthy shuffle of feet, and again the faint clang of a weapon against the wall. Doubtless it had dawned on some one in command below, that here on this tower lay the keys of Geneva: that by themselves three hundred men could not take, nor hold if they took, a town manned by five or six thousand; consequently that if Savoy would succeed in the enterprise so boldly begun, she must by hook or crook raise this portcullis and open this gate. As a fact, Brunaulieu, the captain of the forlorn hope, had passed the word that the tower must be taken at any cost; and had come himself from the Porte Tertasse, where a brisk conflict was beginning, to see the thing done.
Claude did not know this, but had he known it, it would not have reduced his courage.
"Yes, I hear them," he whispered in answer to the soldier's words. "But they have not mounted far yet. And when they come, if two pikes cannot hold this doorway which they can pass but one at a time, there is no truth in Thermopylae!"
"I know naught of that," the other answered, rising nervously to his feet. "I don't favour heights. Give me the lee of a wall and fair odds——"
"Odds?" Claude echoed vain-gloriously—but only the stars attended to him—"I would not have another man!"
Marcadel seized him by the sleeve. His voice rose almost to a scream. "But, by Heaven, there is another man!" he cried. "There!" He pointed with a shaking hand to the outer corner of the leads, in the neighbourhood of the place where the winch of the portcullis stood. "We are betrayed! We are dead men!" he babbled.
Claude made out a dim figure, crouching against the battlement; and the thought, which was also in Marcadel's mind, that the enemy had set a ladder against the wall and outflanked them, rendered him desperate. At any rate there was but one on the roof as yet: and quick as thought the young man lowered his pike and charged the figure.
With a shrill scream the man fell on his knees before him. "Mercy!" cried a voice he knew. "Mercy! Don't kill me! Don't kill me!"
It was Louis Gentilis. Claude halted, looked at him in amazement, spurned him with his foot. "Up, coward, and fight for your life then!" he said. "Or others will kill you. How come you here?"
The lad still grovelled. "I was in the guard-room," he whimpered. "I had come with a message—from the Syndic."
"The Syndic Blondel?"
"Yes! To remind the Captain that he was to go the rounds at eleven exactly. It was late when I got there and they—oh, this dreadful night—they broke in, and I, hid on the stairs."
"Well, you can hide no longer. You have got to fight now!" Claude answered grimly, "There are no more stairs for any of us except to heaven! I advise you to find something, and do your worst. Take the winch-bar if you can find nothing else! And——"
He broke off. Marcadel, who had remained at the stairhead, was calling to him in a voice that could no longer be resisted—a voice of despair. Claude ran to him. He found him with his head in the stairway, but with his pike shortened to strike. "They are coming!" he muttered over his shoulder. "They are more than half-way up now. Be ready and keep your eyes open. Be ready!" he continued after a pause. "They are nearly—here now!" His breath began to come quickly; at last stepping back a pace and bringing his point to the charge. "They are here!" he shouted. "On guard!"
Claude stooped an inch lower, and with gleaming eyes, and feet set warily apart, waited the onset; waited with suspended breath for the charge that must come. He could hear the gasps of the wounded man who lay on the uppermost step; and once close to him he caught a sound of shuffling, moving feet, that sent his heart into his mouth. But seconds passed, and more seconds, and glare as he might into the black mouth of the staircase, from which the hood averted even the light of the stars, he could make out nothing, no movement, no sign of life!
The suspense was growing intolerable. And all the time behind him the alarm-bell was flinging "Doom! Doom!" down on the city, and a thousand sounds of fear and strife clutched at his mind and strove to draw it from the dark gap at which he waited, as a dog waits for a rat at the mouth of its hole. His breath began to come quickly, his knees shook. He heard his companion gasp—human nerves could stand it no longer. And then, just as he felt that, come what might, he must plunge his pike into the darkness, and settle the question, the shuffling sound came anew and steadied him, and he set his teeth and waited—waited still.
But nothing happened, nothing moved. Again the seconds, almost the minutes passed, and the deep note of the alarm-bell swelled louder and heavier, filling all the air, all the night, all the world, with its iron tongue—setting the tower reeling, the head swimming. In spite of himself, in spite of the fact that he knew his life hung on his vigilance, his thoughts wandered; wandered to Anne, alone and defenceless in that hell below him, from which such wild sounds were beginning to rise; to his own fate if he and Marcadel got the worst; to the advantage a light properly shaded would have given them, had they had it. But, alas, they had no light.
And then, while he thought of that, the world was all light. A sheet of flame burst from the hood, dazzled, blinded, scorched him; a crashing report filled his ears; he recoiled. The ball had missed him, had gone between him and Marcadel and struck neither. But for a moment in pure amazement, he stood gaping.
That moment had been his last had the defence lain with him only, or even with him and Marcadel. It was the senseless form that cumbered the uppermost step which saved them. The man who had fired tripped over it as he sprang out. He fell his length on the roof. The next man, less hasty or less brave, sank down on the obstacle, and blocked the way for others.
Before either could rise all was over. Claude brought down his pike on the head of the first to issue, and laid him lifeless on the leads. The guard, who was a better man at a pinch than in the anticipation of it, drove the other back—as he tried to rise—with a wound in the face. Then with a yell, assured that in the narrow stairhead the enemy could not use their weapons, the two charged their pikes into the obscurity, and thrust and thrust, and thrust again, in the cruelty of rage and fear.
What they struck, or where they struck, they could not see; but their ears told them that they did not strike in vain. A shrill scream and the gurgling cry of a dying man proved it, and the wild struggle that ensued on the stairs; where the uppermost, weighed down by the fallen men, turned in a panic on those below and fought with them to force them to descend.
Claude shuddered as he listened, as he waited, his pike still levelled; shuddered at the pitiful groaning that issued from the blackness, shuddered at the blows he had struck, and the scream that still echoed in his ears. He had not trembled when he fought, but he trembled at the thought of it.
"They are beaten," he muttered huskily.
"Ay, they are beaten!" Marcadel—he who had trembled before the fight—answered with exultation. "You were right. We wanted no more men! But it was near. If this rogue had not tripped our throats would have suffered."
"He was a brave man," Claude answered, leaning heavily on his pike. He needed its support.
Marcadel knelt down and felt the man over. "Ay," he said, "he was, to give the devil his due! And that reminds me. We've a skulker here who has escaped so far. He shall play his part now. We must have their arms, but it is dirty work groping in the dark for them; and maybe life enough in one of them to drive a dagger between one's ribs. He shall do it. Where is he?"
Claude was feeling the reaction which ensues upon intense excitement. He did not answer. Nor did he interfere when Marcadel, pouncing on Louis, where he crouched in the darkest corner, forced him forward to the head of the staircase. There the lad fell on his knees weeping futilely, wailing prayers. But the guard kicked him forward.
"In!" he said. "You know what you have to do! In, and strip them! Do you hear? And if you leave as much as a knife——"
"I won't! I daren't!" Louis screamed. And grovelling on his face on the leads he clung to whatever offered itself.
But men who have just passed through a life and death struggle, are hard. "You won't?" Marcadel answered, applying his boot brutally, but without effect. "You will! Or you will feel my pike between your ribs! In! In, my lad!"
A scream answered each repetition of the word, and proved that the threat was no empty one. Claude might have intervened, but he remembered Anne and the humiliations she had suffered in this craven's presence.
"In!" Marcadel repeated a third time. "And if you leave so much as a knife upon them I will throw you off the tower. You understand, do you? Then in, and strip them!"
And driven by sheer torture—for the pike had thrice drawn blood from his writhing body—Louis crept, weeping and quaking, into the staircase; and on one of her tormentors Anne was avenged. But Claude was thinking more of her present peril than of this; he had moved from the stairhead. A swell in the volume of sound which rose from the Corraterie had drawn him to that side of the tower, where shaking off the exhaustion which for a time had overcome him, he was straining his eyes to learn what was passing in the babel below.
The sight was a singular one. The Monnaye Gate far to the left, the Tertasse immediately before him, and the Treille on his right, were the centres of separate conflagrations. In one place a house, fired by the petard employed to force the door, was actually alight. In other places so great was the conflux of torches, the flash and gleam of weapons, and the babel of sounds that it wrought on the mind the impression of a fire blazing up in the night. Behind the Porte Tertasse, in the narrow streets of the Tertasse and the Cite—immediately, therefore, behind the Royaumes' house—the conflict seemed to rage most hotly, the shots to be most frequent, the uproar greatest, even the light strongest; for the reflection of the combat below bathed the Tertasse tower in a lurid glow. Claude could distinguish the roof of the Royaumes' house; and to see so much yet to be cut off as completely as if he stood a hundred miles away, to be so near yet so hopelessly divided, stung him to a new impatience and a greater daring.
He returned to Marcadel. "Are we going to stay on this tower?" he cried. "Shut up here, while this goes forward and we may be of use?"
"I think we have done our part," the other answered soberly. "If any man has saved Geneva, it is you! There, man, I give you the credit," he continued, in a burst of generosity, "and it is no small thing! For it might make my fortune. But I have done some little too!"
"Ay! But cannot we——"
"What would you have us do more?" the man continued, and with reason. "Leave the roof to them? 'Tis all they want! Leave them to raise the old iron grate, and let in—what I hear yonder?" He indicated the darker outer plain below the wall, whence rose the murmur of halted battalions, waiting baffled, and uncertain, the opening of the gate.
"Ay, but if we descend?"
"May we not win the gate from a score?" Marcadel answered, between contempt and admiration. "Is that what you mean? And when we have won it, hold it? No, not if each of us were Gaston of Foix, Bayard, and M. de Crillon rolled into one! But what is this? We are winning or we are losing! Which is it?"
From the Treille Gate had burst a rabble of men; a struggling crowd illumined by the glare of three or four lights. Pikes and halberds flashed in the heart of the mob as it swirled and struggled down the Corraterie in the direction of the gate from which the two men viewed it. Half-way thither, in the open, its progress seemed to be checked; it hung and paused, swaying this way and that; it recoiled. But at length, with a roar of triumph, it rolled on anew over half a dozen prostrate forms, and in a trice burst about the base of the Porte Neuve, swept, as it seemed to those above, into the gateway, and—in a twinkling broke back, repelled by a crashing volley that shook the tower.
"They are our people!" cried Claude.
"And now is our time!" The lad waved his weapon. "A diversion in the rear—and 'tis done!"
"In Heaven's name stop!" cried Marcadel, and he gripped Claude's sleeve. "A diversion, ay!" he continued. "But a moment too soon or a moment too late—and where will we be?"
He spoke in vain. His words were wasted on the air. Claude, not to be restrained, had entered the staircase. Pike in hand he felt his way over the bodies that choked it; by this time he was half-way down the stairs. Marcadel hesitated, waited a moment, listened; then, partly because success begets success, and courage courage, partly because he would not have the triumph taken from him, he too risked all. He snatched from Gentilis' feeble hands a long pistol, part of the spoils of the staircase; and, staying only to assure himself that a portion of the priming still lay in the pan, he hurried after his leader.
By this time Claude was within four stairs of the guard-room. The low door that admitted to it stood open; and towards it a man, hearing the hasty tread of feet, had that moment turned a startled face. There was no room for anything but audacity, and Claude did not flinch. In two bounds, he hurled himself through the door on to the man, missed him with his pike—but was himself missed. In a flash the two were rolling together on the floor.
In their fall they brought down a third man, who, swearing horribly, made repeated stabs at Claude with a dagger. But the only light in the room came from the fire, the three were interlaced, and Claude was young and agile as an eel: he evaded the first thrust, and the second. The third went home in his shoulder, but desperate with pain he seized the hand that held the poniard, and clung to it; and before the man who had been the first to fall could regain his pike, or a third man who was present, but who was wounded, could drag himself, swearing horribly, to the spot, Marcadel fired from the stairs, and killed the wounded man. The next instant with a yell of "Geneva!" he sprang on the others under cover of the smoke that filled the room.
The combat was still but of two to two; and without the guard-room but almost within arm's length, were a dozen Savoyards, headed by Picot the engineer; any one of whom might, by entering, turn the scale. But the pistol-shot had come to the ears of the attacking party: that instant, guessing that they had allies within, they rallied and with loud cries returned to the attack. Even while Marcadel having disposed of one more, stood over the struggling pair on the floor, doubting where to strike, the burghers burst a second time into the gateway—on which the guard-room opened—struck down Picot, and, hacking and hewing, with cries of "Porte Gagnee! Porte Gagnee!" bore the Savoyards back.
For the half of a minute the low-groined archway was a whirl of arms and steel and flame. Half a dozen single combats were in progress at once; amid yells and groans, and the jar and clash of a score of weapons. But the burghers, fighting bareheaded for their wives and hearths, were not to be denied; by-and-by the Savoyards gave back, broke, and saved themselves. One fierce group cut its way out and fled into the darkness of the Corraterie. Of the others four men remained on the ground, while two turned and tried to retreat into the guard-room.
But on the threshold they met Claude, vicious and wounded, his eyes in a flame; and he struck and killed the foremost. The other fell under the blows of the pursuing burghers, and across the two bodies Claude and Marcadel met their allies, the leaders of the assault. Strange to say, the foremost and the midmost of these was a bandy-legged tailor, with a great two-handed sword, red to the hilt; to such a place can valour on such a night raise a man. On his right stood Blandano, Captain of the Guard, bareheaded and black with powder; on his left Baudichon the councillor, panting, breathless, his fat face running with sweat and blood—for he bore an ugly wound—but with unquenchable courage in his eyes. A man may be fat and yet a lion.
It was a moment in the lives of the five men who thus met which none of them ever forgot. "Was it one of you two who lowered the portcullis?" Blandano gasped, as he leaned an instant on his sword.
"He did," Marcadel answered, laying his hand on Claude's shoulder. "And I helped him."
"Then he has saved Geneva, and you have helped him!" Blandano rejoined bluntly. "Your name, young man."
Claude told him.
"Good!" Blandano answered. "If I live to see the morning light, it shall not be forgotten!"
Baudichon leant across the dead, and shook Claude's hand. "For the women and children!" he said, his fat face shaking like a jelly; though no man had fought that night with a more desperate valour. "If I live to see the morning inquire for Baudichon of the council."
Jehan Brosse, the bandy-legged tailor with the huge sword—he was but five feet high and no one up to that night had known him for a hero—squared his shoulders and looked at Claude, as one who takes another under his protection. "Baudichon the councillor, whom all men know in Geneva," he said with an affectionate look at the great man—he was proud of the company to which his prowess had raised him. "You will not forget the name! no fear of that! And now on!"
"Ay, on!" Blandano answered, looking round on his panting followers, of whom some were staunching their wounds and some, with dark faces and gleaming eyeballs, were loading and priming their arms. "But I think the worst is over and we shall win through now. We have this gate safe, and it is the key, as I told you. If all be well elsewhere, and the main guards be held——"
"Ay, but are they?" Baudichon muttered nervously: he reeled a little, for the loss of blood was beginning to tell upon him. "That is the question!"
BASTERGA AT ARGOS.
The fear that Blandano might postpone the night-round, to a time which would involve discovery, haunted Blondel; and late on this eventful evening he despatched Louis, as we have seen, to the Porte Neuve to remind the Captain of his orders. That done—it was all he could do—the Syndic sat down in his great chair, and prepared himself to wait. He knew that he had before him some hours of uncertainty almost intolerable; and a peril, a hundred times more hard to face, because in the pinch of it he must play two parts; he must run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, and, a traitor standing forward for the city he had betrayed, he must have an eye to his reputation as well as his life.
He had no doubt of the success of Savoy, the walls once passed. Moreover, the genius of Basterga had imposed itself upon him as that of a man unlikely to fail. But some resistance there must be, some bloodshed—for the town held many devoted men; one hour at least of butchery, and that followed, he shuddered to think it, by more than one hour of excess, of cruelty, of rapine. From such things the captured cities of that day rarely escaped. In all that happened, the resistance and the peril, he must, he knew, show himself; he must take his part and run his risk if he would not be known for what he was, if he would not leave a name that men would spit on!
Strangely enough it was the moment of discovery and his conduct in that moment—it was the anticipation of this, that weighed most heavily on his guilty mind as he sat in his parlour, his hour of retiring long past, his household in bed. The city slept round him; how long would it sleep? And when it awoke, how long dared he, how long would it be natural for him to ignore the first murmur, the succeeding outcry, the rising alarm? It was not his cue to do overmuch, to precipitate discovery, or to assume at once the truth to be the truth. But on the other hand he must not be too backward.
Try as he would he could not divert his thoughts from this. He saw himself skulking in his house, listening with a white face to the rush of armed men along the street. He heard the tumult rising on all sides, and saw himself stand, guilty and irresolute, between hearth and door, uncertain if the time had come to go forth. Finally, and before he had made up his mind to go out, he fancied himself confronted by an entering face, and in an instant detected. And this it was, this initial difficulty, oddly enough—and not the subsequent hours of horror, confusion and danger, of dying men and wailing women—that rode his mind, dwelt on him and shook his nerves as the crisis approached.
One consolation he had, and one only; but a measureless one. Basterga had kept his word. He was cured. Six hours earlier he had taken the remedium according to the directions, and with every hour that had elapsed since he had felt new life course through his veins. He had had no return of pain, no paroxysm; but a singular lightness of body, eloquent of the change wrought in him and the youth and strength that were to come, had done what could be done to combat the terrors of the soul, natural in his situation. Pale he was, despite the potion; in spite of it he trembled and sweated. But he knew himself changed, and sick at heart as he was, he could only guess at the depths of nervous despair to which he must have fallen had he not taken the wondrous draught.
There was that to the good. That to the good. He would live. And life was the great thing after all; life and health, and strength. If he had sold his soul, his country, his friends, at least he would live—if naught happened to him to-night. If naught—but ah, the thought pierced him to the heart. He who had proved himself in old days no mean soldier in the field, who had won honour in more than one fight, felt his brow grow damp, his knees grow flaccid, knew himself a coward. For the life which he must risk was not the old life, but the new one which he had bought so dearly; the new one for which he had given his soul, his country, and his friends. And he dared not risk that! He dared not let the winds of heaven blow too roughly on that! If aught befel him this night, the irony of it! The mockery of it! The deadly, deadly folly of it!
He sweated at the thought. He cursed, cursed frantically his folly in omitting to give himself out for worse than he was; in omitting to take to his bed early in the day! Then he might have kept it through the night, through the fight; then he might have avoided risks. Now he felt that every ball discharged at a venture must strike him; that if he showed so much as his face at a window death must find its opportunity. He would not have dared to pass through a street on a windy day now—for if a tile fell it must fall on him. And he must fight! He must fight!
His manhood shrivelled within him at the thought. He shuddered. He was still shuddering, when on the shutter which masked the casement came a knock, thrice repeated. A cautious knock of which the mere sound implied an understanding.
The Syndic remained motionless, glaring at the window. Everything on a night like this, and to an uneasy conscience, menaced danger. At length it occurred to him that the applicant might be Louis, whom he had sent with the message to the Porte Neuve: and he took the lamp and went to admit him, albeit reluctantly, for what did the booby mean by returning? It was late, and only to open at this hour might, in the light cast by after events, raise suspicions.
But it was not Louis. The lamp flickering in the draught of the doorway disclosed a huge dusky form, glimmering metallic here and there, that in a trice pushed him back, passed by him, entered. It was Basterga. The Syndic shut the door, and staggered rather than walked after him to the parlour. There the Syndic set down the lamp, and turned to the scholar, his face a picture of guilty terror. "What is it?" he muttered. "What has happened? Is—the thing put off?"
The other's aspect answered his question. A black corselet with shoulder pieces, and a feathered steel cap raised Basterga's huge stature almost to the gigantic. Nor did it need this to render him singular; to draw the eye to him a second time and a third. The man himself in this hour of his success, this moment of conscious daring, of reliance on his star and his strength, towered in the room like a demi-god. "No," he answered, with a ponderous, exultant smile, slow to come, slow to go. "No, Messer Blondel. Far from it. It has not been put off."
"Something has been discovered?"
"No. We are here. That is all."
The Syndic supported himself by a hand pressed hard against the table behind him. "Here?" he gasped. "You are here? You have the town already? It is impossible."
"We have three hundred men in the Corraterie," Basterga answered. "We hold the Tertasse Gate, and the Monnaye. The Porte Neuve is cut off, and at our mercy; it will be taken when we give the signal. Beyond it four thousand men are waiting to enter. We hold Geneva in our grip at last—at last!" And in an accent half tragic, half ironic, he declaimed:—
"Venit summa dies et ineluctabile tempus Dardaniae! Fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium et ingens Gloria Teucrorum! Ferus omnia Jupiter Argos Transtulit!"
And then more lightly, "If you doubt me, how am I here?" he asked. And he extended his huge arms in the pride of his strength. "Exercise your warrant now—if you can, Messer Syndic. Syndic," he continued in a tone of mockery, "where is your warrant now? I have but this moment," he pointed to wet stains on his corselet, "slain one of your guards. Do justice, Syndic! I have seized one of your gates by force. Avenge it, Syndic! Syndic? ha! ha! Here is an end of Syndics."
The Syndic gasped. He was a hard man, not to say an arrogant one, little used to opposition; one who, times and again, had ridden rough-shod over the views of his fellows. To be jeered at, after this fashion, to be scorned and mocked by this man who in the beginning had talked so silkily, moved so humbly, evinced so much respect, played the poor scholar so well, was a bitter pill. He asked himself if it was for this he had betrayed his city; if it was for this he had sold his friends. And then—then he remembered that it was not for this—not for this, but for life, dear life, warm life, that he had done this thing. And, swallowing the rage that was rising within him, he calmed himself.
"It is better to cease to be Syndic than cease to live," he said coldly.
But the other had no mind to return to their former relations. "True, O sage!" he answered contemptuously. "But why not both? Because—shall I tell you?"
"Yes, and I hear too! The city is rising!" Basterga listened a moment. "Presently they will ring the alarm-bell, and——"
"If you stay here some one may find you!"
"And find me with you?" Basterga rejoined. He knew that he ought to go, for his own sake as well as the Syndic's. He knew that nothing was to be made and much might be lost by the disclosure that was on his tongue. But he was intoxicated with the success which he had gained; with the clang of arms, and the glitter of his armed presence. The true spirit of the man, as happens in intoxication of another kind, rose to the surface, cruel, waggish, insolent—of an insolence long restrained, the insolence of the scholar, who always in secret, now in the light, panted to repay the slights he had suffered, the patronage of leaders, the scoffs of power. "Ay," he continued, "they may find me with you! But if you do not mind, I need not. And I was just asking you—why not both? Life and power, my friend?"
"You know," Blondel answered, breathing quickly. How he hated the man! How gladly would he have laid him dead at his feet! For if the fool stayed here prating, if he were found here by those who within a few moments would come with the alarm, he was himself a lost man. All would be known.
That was the fear in Blondel's mind; the alarm was growing louder each moment, and drawing nearer. And then in a twinkling, in two or three sentences, Basterga put that fear into the second place, and set in its seat emotions that brooked no rival.
"Why not both?" he said, jeering. "Live and be Syndic, both? Because you had the scholar's ill, eh, Messer Blondel? Or because your physician said you had it—to whom I paid a good price—for the advice?" The devil seemed to look out of the man's eyes, as he spoke in short sentences, each pointed, each conveying a heart-stab to its hearer.
"To whom—you gave?" Blondel muttered, his eyes dilated.
"A good price—for the advice! A good price to tell you, you had it."
The magistrate's face swelled till it was almost purple, his hands gripped the front of his coat, and pressed hard against his breast. "But—the pains?" he muttered. "Did you—but no," with a frightful grimace, "you lie! you lie!"
"Did I bribe him—to give you those too?" the other answered, with a ruthless laugh. "You have alighted on it, most grave and reverend sage. You have alighted on the exact fact, so clever are you! That was precisely what I did some months back, after I heard that you, being fearful as rich men are, had been to him for some fancied ill. You had two medicines? You remember? The one gave, the other soothed your trouble. And now that you understand, now that your mind is free from care, and you can sleep without fear of the scholar's ill—will you not thank me for your cure, Messer Blondel?"
"Thank you?" the magistrate panted. "Thank you?" He stepped back two paces, groping with his hands, as if he sought to support himself by the table from which he had advanced.
"Ay, thank me!"
"No, but I will pay you!" and with the word Blondel snatched from the table a pistol which he had laid within his reach an hour earlier. Before the giant, confident in his size, discovered his danger, the muzzle was at his breast. It was too late to move then—three paces divided the men; but, in his haste to raise the pistol, Blondel had not shaken from it the handkerchief under which he had hidden it, and the lock fell on a morsel of the stuff. The next moment Basterga's huge hand struck aside the useless weapon, and flung Blondel gasping against the wall.
"Fool!" the scholar cried, towering above the baffled, shrinking man whose attempt had placed him at his mercy. "Think you that Caesar Basterga was born to perish by your hand? That the gods made me what I am, I who carry to-night the fortunes of a nation and the fate of a king, that I might fall by so pitiful a creature as you! Ay, 'tis the alarm-bell, you are right. And by-and-by your friends will be here. It is a wonder," he continued, with a cruel look, "that they are not here already; but perhaps they have enough to fill their hands! And come or stay—if they be like you, poor fool, weak in body as in wit—I care not! I, Caesar Basterga, this night lord of Geneva, and in the time to come, and thanks to you——"
"Curse you!" Blondel gasped.
"That which I dare be sworn you have dreamt of being!"—the scholar continued with a subtle smile. "The Grand Duke's alter ego, Mayor of the Palace, Adviser to his Highness! Yes, I hit you there? I touch you there! Oh, vanity of little men, I thought so! "He broke off and listened, as sharp on one another two gun-shots rang out at no great distance from the house. A third followed as he hearkened: and on it a swelling wave of sound that rose with each second louder and nearer. "Ay, 'tis known now!" Basterga resumed, in a tone more quiet, but not less confident. "And I must go, my dear friend—who thought a minute ago to speed me for ever. Know that it lies not in hands mean as yours to harm Caesar Basterga of Padua! And that to-night, of all nights, I bear a charmed life! I carry, Syndic, a kingdom and its fortunes!"
He seemed to swell with the thought, and in comparison of the sickly man scowling darkly on him from the wall, he did indeed look a king, as he turned to the door, flung it wide and passed into the passage. With only the street door between him and the hub-bub that was beginning to fill the night, he could measure the situation. He had stayed late. The beat of many feet hastening one way—towards the Porte Tertasse—the clatter of weapons as here and there a man trailed his pike on the stones, the roar of rising voices, the rattle of metal as some one hauled a chain across the end of the Bourg du Four and hooked it—sounds such as these might have alarmed an ordinary man who knew himself cut off from his party, and isolated among foes.
But Basterga did not quail. His belief in his star was genuine; he was intoxicated with the success which he fancied lay within his grasp. He carried Caesar and his fortunes! was it in mean men to harm him? Nay, so confident was he, that when he had opened the door he stood an instant on the threshold viewing the strange scene, and quoted with an appreciation as strange—
"At domus interior gemitu miseroque tumultu Miscetur, penitusque cavae plangoribus aedes Femineis ululant; ferit aurea sidera clamor"—
from his favourite poet. After which without hesitation but also without hurry he turned and plunged into the stream of passers that was hurrying towards the Porte Tertasse.
He had been right not to quail. In the medley of light and shadow which filled the Bourg du Four and the streets about the Town Hall, in the confusion, in the rush of all in one direction and with one intent, no one paid heed to him, or supposed him to belong to the enemy. Some cried "To the Treille! They are there! To the Treille!" And these wheeled that way. But more, guided by the sounds of conflict, held on to the point where the short, narrow street of the Tertasse turned left-handed out of the equally narrow Rue de la Cite—the latter leading onwards to the Porte de la Monnaye, and the bridges. Here, at the meeting of the two confined lanes, overhung by timbered houses, and old gables of strange shapes, a desperate conflict was being fought. The Savoyards, masters of the gate, had undertaken to push their way into the town by the Rue Tertasse; not doubting that they would be supported by-and-by, upon the entrance of their main body through the Porte Neuve. They had proceeded no farther, however, than the junction with the Rue de la Cite—a point where darkness was made visible by two dim oil lamps—before, the alarm being given, they found themselves confronted by a dozen half-clad townsfolk, fresh from their beds; of whom five or six were at once laid low. The survivors, however, fought with desperation, giving back, foot by foot; and as the alarm flew abroad and the city rose, every moment brought the defenders a reinforcement—some father just roused from sleep, armed with the chance weapon that came to hand, or some youth panting for his first fight. The assailants, therefore, found themselves stayed; slowly they were driven back into the narrow gullet of the Tertasse. Even there they were put to it to hold their ground against an ever-increasing swarm of citizens, whom despair and the knowledge that they were fighting on their hearths, for their wives, and for their children, brought up in renewed strength.
In the Tertasse, however, where it was not possible to outflank them, and no dark side-alley, vomiting now and again a desperate man, gave one to death, a score could hold out against a hundred. Here then, with the gateway at their backs—whence three or four could fire over their heads—the Savoyards stood stubbornly at bay, awaiting the reinforcements which they were sure would come from the Porte Neuve. They were picked troops not easily discouraged; and they had no fear that aught serious had happened. But they asked impatiently why D'Albigny with the main body did not come; why Brunaulieu with the Monnaye in his hands did not see that the time was opportune. They chafed at the delay. Give the city time to array itself, let it recover from its first surprise, and all their forces might scarcely avail to crush opposition.
It was at this moment, when the burghers had drawn back a little that they might deliver a decisive attack, that Basterga came up. Fabri the Syndic had taken the command, and had shouted to all who had windows looking on the lane to light them. He had arrayed his men in some sort of order and was on the point of giving the word to charge, when he heard the steps of Basterga and some others coming up; he waited to allow them to join him. The instant they arrived he gave the word, and followed by some thirty burghers armed with half-pikes, halberds, anything the men had been able to snatch up, he charged the Savoyards bravely.
In the narrow lane but four or five could fight abreast, and the Grand Duke's men were clad in steel and well armed. Nevertheless Fabri bore back the first line, pressed on them stoutly, and amid a wild melee of struggling men and waving weapons, began to drive the troop, in spite of a fierce resistance, into the gate. If he could do this and enter with them, even though he lost half his men, he might save the city.
But the Savoyards, though they gave back, gave back slowly. Within twenty paces of the gate the advance wavered, stopped, hung an instant. Of that instant Basterga took advantage. He had moved on undetected, with the rearmost burghers: now he saw his opportunity and seized it. He flung to either side the man to right and left of him. He struck down, almost with the same movement, the man in front. He rushed on Fabri, who in the middle of the first line was supporting, though far from young, a single combat with one of the Savoyard leaders. On him Basterga's coward weapon alighted without warning, and laid him low. To strike down another, and turning, range himself in the van of the foreigners with a mighty "Savoy! Savoy!" was Basterga's next action; and it sufficed. The panic-stricken burghers, apprised of treason in their ranks, gave back every way. The Savoyards saw their advantage, rallied, and pressed them. Speedily the Italians regained the ground they had lost, and with the tall form of their champion fighting in the van, began to sweep the towns-folk back into the Rue de la Cite.
But arrived at the meeting of the ways, Basterga's followers paused, hesitating to expose their flank by entering this second street. The Genevese saw this, rallied in their turn, and for a moment seemed to be holding their own. But three or four of their doughtiest fighters lay stark in the kennel, they had no longer a leader, they were poorly armed and hastily collected; and devoted as they were, it needed little to renew the panic and start them in utter rout. Basterga saw this, and when his men still hung back, neglecting the golden opportunity, he rushed forward, almost alone, until he stood conspicuous between the two bands—the one hesitating to come on, the other hesitating to fly.
"Savoy!" he thundered, "Ville gagnee! The city is ours! Cowards, come on!" And waving his halberd above his head, he beckoned to his followers to advance.
Had they done so, had they charged on the instant, they had changed all for him, and perhaps all for Geneva. But they hung a moment, and the next, as in shame they drew themselves together for the charge, their champion stooped forward with a shrill scream. The next instant he received full on his nape a heavy iron pot, that descending with tremendous force from a window above him, rolled from him broken into three pieces.
He went down under the blow as if a sledge-hammer had struck him; and so sudden, so dramatic was the fall—his armour clanging about him—that for an instant the two bands held their hands and stood staring, as indifferent crowds stand and gaze in the street. A dozen on the patriots' side knew the house from which the marmite fell, and marked it; and half as many saw at the small window whence it came the grey locks and stern wrinkled face of an aged woman. The effect on the burghers was magical. As if the act symbolised not only the loved ones for whom they fought, but the dire distress to which they were come, they rushed on the foreign men-at-arms with a spirit and a fury hitherto unknown. With a ringing shout of "Mere Royaume! Mere Royaume!"—raised by those who knew the old woman, and taken up by many who did not—they swept the foe, shaken by the fall of their leader, along the narrow Tertasse, pressed on them, and, still shouting the new war-cry, entered the gateway along with them.
"Mere Royaume! Mere Royaume!" The name rang savagely in the groining of the arch, echoed dully in the obscurity in which the fierce struggle went on. And men struck to its rhythm, and men died to it. And men who heard it thus and lived never forgot it, nor ever went back in their minds to that night without recalling it.
To one man, flurried already, and a coward at heart, the name carried a paralysing assurance of doom. He had seen Basterga fall—by this woman's hand of all hands in the world—and he had been the first to flee. But in the lane he tripped over Fabri, he fell headlong, and only raised himself in time to gain the gateway a few feet in front of the avenging pikes. Still, he might escape, he hoped to escape, through the gate and into the open Corraterie. But the first to reach the gates had taken in hand to shut them, and so to prevent the townsfolk reaching the Corraterie. One of the great doors, half-closed, blocked his way, and instinctively—ignorant how far behind him the pike-points were—he sprang aside into the guard-room.
His one chance now—for he was cut off, and knew it—lay in reaching the staircase and mounting to the roof. A bound carried him to the door, he grasped the handle. But a fugitive who had only a second before saved himself that way, took him for a pursuer, dragged the door close and held it—held it in spite of his efforts and his imprecations.
Five seconds, ten, perhaps, Grio—for he it was—wasted in struggling vainly with the door. The man on the other side clung to it with a despair equal to his own. Five seconds, ten, perhaps; but in that space of time, short as it was, the man paid smartly for the sins of his life. When the time of grace had elapsed, with a pike-point a few inches from his back and the gleaming eyes of an avenging burgher behind it, he fled shrieking round the table. He might even yet have escaped by a chance; for all was confusion, and though there was a glare there was no light. But he stumbled over the body of the man whom he had slain without pity a few hours before. He fell writhing, and died on the floor, under a dozen blows, as beasts die in the shambles.
"Mere Royaume! Mere Royaume!" The cry—the last cry he heard—swelled louder and louder. It swept through the gate, it passed through to the open, and bore far along the Corraterie, far along the ramparts, ay, to the open country, the earnest of victory, the earnest of vengeance.
Geneva was saved. He who would have betrayed it, slain like Pyrrhus the Epirote by a woman's hand, lay dead in the dark lane behind the house in which he had lived.
Anne was but one of some thousands of women who passed through the trial of that night; who heard the vague sounds of disquiet that roused them at midnight grow to sharp alarms, and these again—to the dull, pulsing music of the tocsin—swell to the uproar of a deadly conflict waged by desperate men in narrow streets. She was but one of thousands who that night heard fate knocking at their hearts; who praying, sick with fear, for the return of their men, showed white faces at barred windows, and by every tossing light that passed along the lane viewed long years of loneliness or widowhood.
But Anne had this burden also; that she had of herself sent her man into danger; her man, who, but for her pleading, but for her bidding, might not have gone. And that thought, though she had done her duty, laid a cold grip upon her heart. Her work it was if he lay at this moment stark in some dark alley, the first victim of the assault; or, sorely wounded, cried for water; or waited in pain where none but the stricken heard him. The thought bowed her to the ground, sent her to her prayers, took from her alike all memory of the danger that had menaced her this morning, and all consciousness of that which now threatened her, a helpless woman, if the town were taken.
The house, having its back on the Rue de la Cite, at the point where that street joined the Tertasse, stood in the heart of the conflict; and almost from the moment of the first attack on the Porte Neuve, which Claude was in time to witness, was a centre of fierce and deadly fighting. Anne dared not leave her mother, who, strange to say, slept through the early alarms; and it was bowed on the edge of her mother's bed—that bed beside which she had tasted so much of happiness and so much of grief—that she passed, not knowing what the turning page might show, the first hour of anxiety and suspense.
The report of a shot shook her frame. A scream stabbed her like a knife. Lower and lower she thrust her face amid the bed-clothes, striving to shut out sound and knowledge; or, woman-like, she raised her pale, beseeching face that she might listen, that she might hope. If he fell would they tell her? And how he fell, and where? Or would they hold her strange to him? Would she never hear?
Suddenly her mother opened her eyes, lay a while listening, then slowly sat up and looked at her. Anne saw the awakening alarm in the dear face, that in some mysterious way recalled its youth; and she fancied that to her other troubles, the misery of one of the old paroxysms was going to be added. At such an hour, with such sounds of terror filling the night, with such a glare dancing on the ceiling the first attack had come on, years before. Then the alarm had been fictitious; to-night the calamity which the poor woman had imagined, was happening with every circumstance of peril and alarm.
But Madame Royaume's face, though anxious and serious, retained to an astonishing extent its sanity. Whether the strange dream which she had had earlier in the night had prepared her for the state of things to which she awoke, or the weeks and months which had elapsed since that old alarm of fire dropped in some inexplicable way from her—and as one shock had upset, another restored the balance of her mind—certain it is that Anne, watching her with a painful interest, found her sane. Nor did Madame Royaume's first words dispel the impression.
"They hold out?" she asked, grasping her daughter's hand and pressing it. "They hold out?"
"Yes, yes, they hold out," Anne answered, hoping to soothe her. And she patted the hand that clasped hers. "Have no fear, dear, all will go well."
"If they have faith and hold out," the aged woman replied, listening to the strange medley of sounds that rose to them.
"They will, they will," Anne faltered.
"But there is need of every one!"
"They are gone, dear," the girl answered, repressing a sob with difficulty. "We are alone in the house."
"So it should be," Madame Royaume replied, with sternness. "The man to the wall, the maid to the pall! It was ever so!"
A low cry burst from Anne's lips. "God forbid!" she wailed. "God forbid! God have mercy!"
The next moment she could have bitten out her tongue; she knew that such words and such a cry were of all others the most likely to excite her patient. But after some obscure fashion their positions seemed this night to be reversed. It was the mother who in her turn patted her daughter's hand and sought to soothe her.
"Ay, God forbid," she said softly. "But man must do his part. I mind when——" She paused. Her eyes travelling round the room, fixed their gaze on the fireplace. She seemed to be perplexed by something she saw there, and Anne, still fearing a recurrence of her illness, asked her hurriedly what it was. "What is it; mother?" she said, leaning over her, and following the direction of her eyes. "Is it the great pot you are looking at?"
"Ay," Madame Royaume answered slowly. "How comes it here?"
"There was no one below," Anne explained. "I brought it up this morning. Don't you remember? There is no fire below."
"That is all, mother. You saw me bring it up."
"Ay?" And then after a pause: "Let it down a hook."
"Let it down, child!" And when Anne, to soothe her, had obeyed and let the great pot down until the fire licked its sides, "Is it full?" Madame asked.
"It will do." And for a time the woman in the bed was silent.
Outside there was noise enough. The windows in the room looked into the Corraterie, from which side no more than passing sounds of conflict rose to them; the pounding of running feet, sharp orders, a shot, and then another. But the landing without the bedroom door looked down by a high-set window into the narrow Tertasse; and from this, though the door was shut, rose an inferno of noise, the clash of steel, the cries of the wounded, the shouts of the fighters. The townsfolk, rallying from their first alarm, were driving the enemy out of the Rue de la Cite, penning him into the Tertasse, and preparing to carry that street.
On a sudden there came, not a cessation of the uproar, but a change in its character. It was as if the current of a river were momentarily stayed and pent up; and then with a mighty crashing of timbers and shifting of pebbles, and a din as of the world's end, began to run the other way. Anne's face turned a shade paler; so appalling was the noise, she would fain have stopped her ears. But her mother sat up.
"What is it?" she asked eagerly. "What is it?"
"Dear mother, do not fret! It must be——"
"Go and see, child! Go to the window in the passage, and see!" Madame Royaume persisted.
Anne had no wish to go, no wish to see. She pictured her lover in the melee whence rose those appalling cries; and gladly would she have hidden her head in the bedclothes and poured out her heart in prayer for him. But Madame persisted, and she yielded, went into the passage and opened the small window. With the cold air entered a fresh volume of sound. On the walls and timbered gables opposite her—and so near that she could well-nigh touch them with her extended arm—strange lights played luridly; and here and there, at dormers on a level with her, pale faces showed and vanished by turns.
She looked down. For a moment, in the confusion, in the medley of moving forms, she could discern little or nothing. Then, as her eyes became more accustomed to the sight, she made out that the tide of conflict was running inward into the town, a sign that the invaders were gaining the mastery.
"Well?" Madame Royaume asked, her voice querulous.
Anne strove to say something that would soothe her mother. But a sob choked her, and when she regained her speech she felt herself impelled, she knew not why, to tell the truth. "I fear our people are falling back," she murmured, trembling so violently that she could barely stand.
"How far? Where are they, child?" Her mother's voice was eager. "Where are they?"
"They are almost under the window!" And then withdrawing her head with a shudder, while she clung for support to the frame of the window: "They are fighting underneath me now," she said. "God pity them!"
"And who is—are we still getting the worst of it?"
Forced by a kind of fascination, Anne looked out again. "Yes, there is one man, a big man, leads them on," she said, in the voice of one who, painfully absorbed in a sight, reports it involuntarily. "He is driving our people before him. Ah! he has struck one down this moment. He is almost underneath us now. But his people will not follow him! They are standing. He—he waves them on!"
"He is beneath us?" Madame's voice sounded strangely near, strangely insistent. But Anne, wrapt in what she saw, did not heed it.
"Yes! He is a dozen paces in front of his men. He is underneath us now. He urges them to follow him! He towers above them! He is——"
She broke off; close to her sounded a heavy breathing, that even above the babel of the street caught her ear. She drew in her head, looked, and, overwrought by that which she had been witnessing, she shrieked aloud.
Beside her, bending under the weight of the great steaming pot, stood her mother! Her mother, who had scarcely left her bedroom twice in a twelvemonth, nor crossed it as many times in a week. But it was her mother; endowed at this pass, and for the instant, with supernatural strength. For even as Anne recoiled thunderstruck, the old woman lifted the huge marmite, half-full and steaming as it was, to the ledge of the window, steadied it there an instant, and then, with the gleaming eyes and set pale face of an avenging prophetess, thrust it forth.
A second they gazed at one another with suspended breath. Then from the street below rose a wild shriek, a crash, and lo, the huge pot lay shattered in the kennel beside the man whom, Heaven directed, it had slain. As if the shock of its fall stayed for an instant even the movement of the world, a silence fell on all: then, as the roar of conflict rose again, louder, more vengeful, with a new note in it, she caught her mother in her arms.
"Mother! Mother!" she cried. "Mother!"
The elder woman was white to the lips. "Get me to bed!" she muttered. "Get me to bed!" She had lost the power even to stand. That she had ever borne, even for a yard, the great pot which it taxed Anne's utmost strength to carry upstairs was a miracle. But a miracle were all the circumstances connected with the act.
Anne carried her back and laid her on the bed, greatly fearing for her. And thenceforth for a while the girl's horizon, so wide and stormy an instant before, was narrowed to the bed beside which she stood, narrowed to the dear face on which the lamplight fell, disclosing its death-like pallor. For the time Anne forgot even her lover, was deaf to the struggle outside, was unmindful of the flight of the hours. For her, Geneva might have lain at peace, the night been as other nights, the house below been heavy with the breathing of tired sleepers. She looked neither to the right nor the left, until under her loving hands Madame Royaume revived, opened her eyes and smiled—the smile she had for one face only in the world.
By that time Anne had lost count of the time. It might be hard on morning, it might be a little after midnight. One thing only was clear, the lamp required oil, and to get it she must descend to the ground floor. She opened the door and listened, wondering dully how the conflict had gone. She had lost count of that also.
The small window at the head of the stairs remained open as they had left it; and through it a ceaseless hum, as of a hive of bees swarming, poured in from the night, and told of multitudes astir. The alarm-bell had ceased to ring, the wilder sounds of conflict had died down; in the parts about the Tertasse the combat appeared to be at an end. But this might be either because resistance had ceased, or because the battle had rolled away to other quarters, or—which she scarcely dared to hope—because the foe had been driven out.
As she stood listening, she shivered in the cold air that came from the window. She felt as if she had been beaten, and knew that this came of the shocks she had suffered and the long strain. She feared for her nerves, and hated to go down into the dark parts of the house as if some danger lurked there. She longed for morning, for the light; and thought of Claude and his fate, and wondered why the thought of his danger did not move her to weeping, as it had moved her a few hours earlier.
In truth she was worn out. The effort to revive her mother had cost her the last remains of strength. Her feet as she descended the stairs were of lead, the brazen notes of the alarm-bell hummed in her ears. When she reached the living-room she set the lamp on one of the tables and sat down wearily, with her eyes on the cold, empty hearth and on the settle where she had sat with his arms about her. And now, if ever, she must weep; but she could not.
The lamp burned low, and cast smoky shadows on the ceiling and the walls. The shuttered windows showed their dead faces. The cheerful soul of the room had passed from it with the fire, leaving the shell gloomy, lifeless, repellent. Anne drowsed a moment in sheer exhaustion, and would have slept, if the lamp on the point of expiring had not emitted a sound and roused her. She rose reluctantly, dragged herself to the great cupboard under the stairs, and, having lighted a rushlight at the dying flame, put out the lamp and refilled it.
She was about to re-light it, and had taken the rushlight in her hand for the purpose, when she heard through the shuttered windows and the barred door a growing clamour; the tramp of heavy feet, the hum of many voices, the buzz of a crowd that, almost as soon as she awoke to its near presence, came to a stand before the house. The tumult of voices raised all at once in different keys did not entirely drown the clash of arms; and while she stood, sullenly regarding the door, and resigned to the inevitable, whatever it might be, thin shafts of light pierced the shutters and stabbed the gloom about her.
With that a hail-storm of knocks fell on the door and on the shutters. A dozen voices cried, "Open! Open!" The jangle of a halberd as its bearer let the butt drop heavily on the stone steps added force to the summons.
Anne's first impulse was to retreat upstairs, and leave them to do their worst. Her next—she was in a state of collapse in which resistance seemed useless—was to open. She moved to the door, and with cold hands removed the huge bars and let down the chain. It was only when she had done so much, when it remained only to unlock, that she wavered; that she trembled to think on what the crowd might be bent, and what might be her fate at their hands. She paused then, with her fingers on the key; but not for long. She remembered that, before she descended, she had heard neither shot nor cry. Resistance therefore had ceased, and that of a single house, held by two helpless women, could avail nothing, could but excite to fury and reprisals.
She turned the key and opened. The lights dazzled her. The doorway, as she stood faltering, almost fainting, before it, seemed to be full of grotesque dancing faces, some swathed in bandages, others powder-blackened, some hot with excitement, others pallid with fatigue. They were such faces, piled one above the other, as are seen in bad dreams.
On the intruders' side, those who pressed in first saw a girl strangely quiet, who held the door wide for them. "My mother is ill," she said in a voice that strove for composure; if they were the enemy, her only hope, her only safety, lay in courage. "And she is old," she continued. "Do not harm her."
"We come to do harm neither to you nor to her," a voice replied. And the foremost of the troop, a thick dwarfish man with a huge two-handed sword, stood aside. "Messer Baudichon," he said to one behind him, "this is the daughter."
She knew the fat, sturdy councillor—who in Geneva did not?—and through her stupor she recognised him, although a great bandage swathed half his head, and he was pale. And, beginning to have an inkling that things were well, she began also to tremble. By his side stood Messer Petitot—she knew him, too, he had been Syndic the year before—and a man in hacked and blood-stained armour with his arm in a sling and his face black with powder. These three, and behind them a dozen others—men whom she had seen on high days robed in velvet, but who now wore, one and all, the ugly marks of that night's work—looked on her with a strange benevolence. And Baudichon took her hand.
"We do not come to harm you," he said. "On the contrary we come to thank you and yours. In the name of the city of Geneva, and of all those here with me——"
"Ay! Ay!" shouted Jehan Brosse, the tailor. And he rang his sword on the doorstep. "Ay! Ay!"
"We come to thank you for the blow struck this night from this house! That it rid us of one of our worst foes was a small thing, girl. But that it put heart into our burghers and strength into their arms at a critical moment was another and a greater thing. Which shall not, if Geneva stand—as stand by God's pleasure she shall, the stronger for this night's work—be forgotten! The name of Mere Royaume will at the next meeting of the Greater Council be inscribed among the names of those whom the Free City thanks for their services this night!"
A murmur of stern approval that began with those in the house rolled through the doorway and was echoed by the waiting throng that filled the street.
She was weeping. All it meant, all it might mean, what warranty of powerful friends, what fame beyond the reach of dark stories, or a woman's spite, she could not yet understand, she could not yet appreciate. But something, the city's safety, the city's gratitude, the countenance of these men who came to her door blood-stained, dark with smoke, reeling with fatigue—came that they might thank her mother and do her honour—something of this she did grasp as she wept before them.
She had but one thing to ask, to desire; and in a moment it was given her.
"Nor is that all!" The voice that broke in was harsher and blunter than Baudichon's. "If it be true, as I am told, that a young man of the name of Mercier lives here? He does, does he? Ay, he lives, my girl. He is safe, have no fear. For the matter of that he has nine lives, and"—Captain Blandano continued with an oath—"he has had need of all this night, God forgive me for the word! But, as I said, that is not all. For if there is any one man who has saved Geneva, it is he, the man who let down the portcullis. And if the city does not dower you, my girl——"
"The city shall dower her!" The speaker's voice came from somewhere in the neighbourhood of the doorway, and was something tremulous and uncertain. But what it lacked in strength it made up in haste and eagerness. "The city shall dower her! If not, I will!"
"Good, Messer Blondel, and spoken like you!" Blandano answered heartily. And though one or two of the foremost, on hearing Blondel's voice, looked askance at one another, and here and there a whisper passed of "The Syndic of the guard? How came——" the majority drowned such murmurings under a chorus of applause.
"We are of one mind, I think!" Baudichon said. And with that he turned to the door. "Now, good friends," he continued, "it wants but little of daylight, and some of us were best in our beds. Let us go. That we lie down in peace and honour"—he went on, solemnly raising his hand over the happy weeping girl beside him, as if he blessed her—"that our wives and children lie safe within our walls is due, under God, to this roof. And I call all here to witness that while I live the city of Geneva shall never forget the debt that is due to this house and to the name of Royaume!"
"Ay, ay!" cried the bandy-legged tailor. "I too! The small with the great, the rich with the poor, as we have fought this night!"
Some shook her by the hand, and some called Heaven to bless her, and some with tears running down their faces—for no man there was his common everyday self—did naught but look on her with kindness. And so, each having done after his fashion, they trooped out again into the street. A moment later, as the winter sun began to colour the distant snows, and the second Sunday in December of the year 1602 broke on Geneva, the voices of the multitude rose in the one hundred and twenty-fourth psalm; to the solemn thunder of which, poured from thankful hearts, the assembly accompanied Baudichon to his home a little farther down the Corraterie.
Anne was about to close the door and secure it after them—with feelings how different from those with which she had opened that door!—when it resisted her shaking hands. She did not on the instant understand the reason or what was the matter. She pushed more strongly, still it came back on her, it opened widely and more widely. And then one who had heard all, yet had not shown himself, one who had entered with Baudichon's company, but had held himself hidden in the background, pushed in, uninvited.
Uninvited? The rushlight still burned low and smokily, and she had not relighted the lamp. The corners were dark with shadows, the hearth was cold and empty and ugly, the shutters still blinded the windows. But the coming of this uninvited one—love comes ever unexpected and uninvited—how strangely, how marvellously, how beautifully did it change all for her, light all, fill all.
As she felt his arms about her, as she clung to him, and sobbed on his shoulder, as she strove for words and could not utter them for the happiness of her heart, as she felt his kisses rain on her face in joy and safety, who had not left her in sorrow, no, nor in the shadow of death, nor for any fears of what man could do to him—let it be said that her reward was as her trial.
Madame Royaume lived four years after that famous attack on the Free City of Geneva which is called the Escalade; and during that time she experienced no return of the mysterious malady that came with one shock, and passed from her with another. Nor, so far as can be ascertained at the distant time at which I write, did the suspicions which the night of the Escalade found in the bud survive it. Probably the Corraterie and the neighbouring quarter, ay, and the whole city of Geneva, had for many a week to come matter for gossip and to spare. It is certain, at any rate, that whatever whispers were current in this house or that, no tongue wagged openly against the favourites of the council, who were also the favourites of the crowd. For Mere Royaume's act hit marvellously the public fancy, and, passing from mouth to mouth, and from generation to generation, is still the first, the best loved, and the most picturesque of the legends of Geneva.
And Messer Blondel? Did he evade the penalty of his act? Ask any man in the streets of Geneva, even to-day, and he will tell you the fate of Philibert Blondel, Fourth Syndic. He will tell you how the magistrate triumphed for a time, as he had triumphed in the council before, how he closed the mouths of his accusers, how not once, but twice and thrice, by the sheer force and skill of a man working in a medium which he understood, he won his acquittal from his compeers. But though punishment be slow to overtake, it does overtake at last; nor has the world witnessed many instances more pertinent or more famous than that of Messer Blondel. Strive as he might, tongues would wag within the council, and without. Silence as he might Baudichon and Petitot, smaller men would talk; and their talk persisted and grew, and was vigorous when months and even years had passed. What the great did not know the small knew or guessed, and fixed greedy eyes on the head of the man who had dared to sell Geneva. The end came four years after the Escalade. To conceal the old negotiation he committed a further crime, and being betrayed by the tool he employed was seized and convicted. On the 1st September, 1606, he lost his head on a scaffold erected before his own house in the Bourg du Four.