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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    THE EVE OF THE FEAST.

    It was Tignonville's salvation that the men who crowded the long white-
    walled room, and exchanged vile boasts under the naked flaring lights,
    were of all classes. There were butchers, natives of the surrounding
    quarter whom the scent of blood had drawn from their lairs; and there
    were priests with hatchet faces, who whispered in the butchers' ears.
    There were gentlemen of the robe, and plain mechanics, rich merchants in
    their gowns, and bare-armed ragpickers, sleek choristers, and shabby led-
    captains; but differ as they might in other points, in one thing all were
    alike. From all, gentle or simple, rose the same cry for blood, the same
    aspiration to be first equipped for the fray. In one corner a man of
    rank stood silent and apart, his hand on his sword, the working of his
    face alone betraying the storm that reigned within. In another, a Norman
    horse-dealer talked in low whispers with two thieves. In a third, a gold-
    wire drawer addressed an admiring group from the Sorbonne; and meantime
    the middle of the floor grew into a seething mass of muttering, scowling
    men, through whom the last comers, thrust as they might, had much ado to
    force their way.

    And from all under the low ceiling rose a ceaseless hum, though none
    spoke loud. "Kill! kill! kill!" was the burden; the accompaniment such
    profanities and blasphemies as had long disgraced the Paris pulpits, and
    day by day had fanned the bigotry--already at a white heat--of the
    Parisian populace. Tignonville turned sick as he listened, and would
    fain have closed his ears. But for his life he dared not. And presently
    a cripple in a beggar's garb, a dwarfish, filthy creature with matted
    hair, twitched his sleeve, and offered him a whetstone.

    "Are you sharp, noble sir?" he asked, with a leer. "Are you sharp? It's
    surprising how the edge goes on the bone. A cut and thrust? Well, every
    man to his taste. But give me a broad butcher's knife and I'll ask no
    help, be it man, woman, or child!"

    A bystander, a lean man in rusty black, chuckled as he listened.

    "But the woman or the child for choice, eh, Jehan?" he said. And he
    looked to Tignonville to join in the jest.

    "Ay, give me a white throat for choice!" the cripple answered, with
    horrible zest. "And there'll be delicate necks to prick to-night! Lord,
    I think I hear them squeal! You don't need it, sir?" he continued, again
    proffering the whetstone. "No? Then I'll give my blade another whet, in
    the name of our Lady, the Saints, and good Father Pezelay!"

    "Ay, and give me a turn!" the lean man cried, proffering his weapon. "May
    I die if I do not kill one of the accursed for every finger of my hands!"

    "And toe of my feet!" the cripple answered, not to be outdone. "And toe
    of my feet! A full score!"

    "'Tis according to your sins!" the other, who had something of the air of
    a Churchman, answered. "The more heretics killed, the more sins
    forgiven. Remember that, brother, and spare not if your soul be
    burdened! They blaspheme God and call Him paste! In the paste of their
    own blood," he continued ferociously, "I will knead them and roll them
    out, saith the good Father Pezelay, my master!"

    The cripple crossed himself. "Whom God keep," he said. "He is a good
    man. But you are looking ill, noble sir?" he continued, peering
    curiously at the young Huguenot.

    "'Tis the heat," Tignonville muttered. "The night is stifling, and the
    lights make it worse. I will go nearer the door."

    He hoped to escape them; he had some hope even of escaping from the room
    and giving the alarm. But when he had forced his way to the threshold,
    he found it guarded by two pikemen; and glancing back to see if his
    movements were observed--for he knew that his agitation might have
    awakened suspicion--he found that the taller of the two whom he had left,
    the black-garbed man with the hungry face, was watching him a-tiptoe,
    over the shoulders of the crowd.

    With that, and the sense of his impotence, the lights began to swim
    before his eyes. The catastrophe that overhung his party, the fate so
    treacherously prepared for all whom he loved and all with whom his
    fortunes were bound up, confused his brain almost to delirium. He strove
    to think, to calculate chances, to imagine some way in which he might
    escape from the room, or from a window might cry the alarm. But he could
    not bring his mind to a point. Instead, in lightning flashes he foresaw
    what must happen: his betrothed in the hands of the murderers; the fair
    face that had smiled on him frozen with terror; brave men, the fighters
    of Montauban, the defenders of Angely, strewn dead through the dark lanes
    of the city. And now a gust of passion, and now a shudder of fear,
    seized him; and in any other assembly his agitation must have led to
    detection. But in that room were many twitching faces and trembling
    hands. Murder, cruel, midnight, and most foul, wrung even from the
    murderers her toll of horror. While some, to hide the nervousness they
    felt, babbled of what they would do, others betrayed by the intentness
    with which they awaited the signal, the dreadful anticipations that
    possessed their souls.

    Before he had formed any plan, a movement took place near the door. The
    stairs shook beneath the sudden trampling of feet, a voice cried "De par
    le Roi! De par le Roi!" and the babel of the room died down. The throng
    swayed and fell back on either hand, and Marshal Tavannes entered,
    wearing half armour, with a white sash; he was followed by six or eight
    gentlemen in like guise. Amid cries of "Jarnac! Jarnac!"--for to him
    the credit of that famous fight, nominally won by the King's brother, was
    popularly given--he advanced up the room, met the Provost of the
    merchants, and began to confer with him. Apparently he asked the latter
    to select some men who could be trusted on a special mission, for the
    Provost looked round and beckoned to his side one or two of higher rank
    than the herd, and then one or two of the most truculent aspect.

    Tignonville trembled lest he should be singled out. He had hidden
    himself as well as he could at the rear of the crowd by the door; but his
    dress, so much above the common, rendered him conspicuous. He fancied
    that the Provost's eye ranged the crowd for him; and to avoid it and
    efface himself he moved a pace to his left.

    The step was fatal. It saved him from the Provost, but it brought him
    face to face and eye to eye with Count Hannibal, who stood in the first
    rank at his brother's elbow. Tavannes stared an instant as if he doubted
    his eyesight. Then, as doubt gave slow place to certainty, and surprise
    to amazement, he smiled. And after a moment he looked another way.

    Tignonville's heart gave a great bump and seemed to stand still. The
    lights whirled before his eyes, there was a roaring in his ears. He
    waited for the word that should denounce him. It did not come. And
    still it did not come; and Marshal Tavannes was turning. Yes, turning,
    and going; the Provost, bowing low, was attending him to the door; his
    suite were opening on either side to let him pass. And Count Hannibal?
    Count Hannibal was following also, as if nothing had occurred. As if he
    had seen nothing!

    The young man caught his breath. Was it possible that he had imagined
    the start of recognition, the steady scrutiny, the sinister smile? No;
    for as Tavannes followed the others, he hung an instant on his heel,
    their eyes met again, and once more he smiled. In the next breath he was
    gone through the doorway, his spurs rang on the stairs; and the babel of
    the crowd, checked by the great man's presence, broke out anew, and
    louder.

    Tignonville shuddered. He was saved as by a miracle; saved, he did not
    know how. But the respite, though its strangeness diverted his thoughts
    for a while, brought short relief. The horrors which impended over
    others surged afresh into his mind, and filled him with a maddening sense
    of impotence. To be one hour, only one short half-hour without! To run
    through the sleeping streets, and scream in the dull ears which a King's
    flatteries had stopped as with wool! To go up and down and shake into
    life the guests whose royal lodgings daybreak would turn to a shambles
    reeking with their blood! They slept, the gentle Teligny, the brave
    Pardaillan, the gallant Rochefoucauld, Piles the hero of St. Jean, while
    the cruel city stirred rustling about them, and doom crept whispering to
    the door. They slept, they and a thousand others, gentle and simple,
    young and old; while the half-mad Valois shifted between two opinions,
    and the Italian woman, accursed daughter of an accursed race, cried,
    "Hark!" at her window, and looked eastwards for the dawn.

    And the women? The woman he was to marry? And the others? In an access
    of passion he thrust aside those who stood between, he pushed his way,
    disregarding complaints, disregarding opposition, to the door. But the
    pikes lay across it, and he could not utter a syllable to save his life.
    He would have flung himself on the doorkeepers, for he was losing control
    of himself; but as he drew back for the spring, a hand clutched his
    sleeve, and a voice he loathed hummed in his ear.

    "No, fair play, noble sir; fair play!" the cripple Jehan muttered,
    forcibly drawing him aside. "All start together, and it's no man's loss.
    But if there is any little business," he continued, lowering his tone and
    peering with a cunning look into the other's face, "of your own, noble
    sir, or your friends', anything or anybody you want despatched, count on
    me. It were better, perhaps, you didn't appear in it yourself, and a man
    you can trust--"

    "What do you mean?" the young man cried, recoiling from him.

    "No need to look surprised, noble sir," the lean man, who had joined
    them, answered in a soothing tone. "Who kills to-night does God service,
    and who serves God much may serve himself a little. 'Thou shalt not
    muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn,' says good Father Pezelay."

    "Hear, hear!" the cripple chimed in eagerly, his impatience such that he
    danced on his toes. "He preaches as well as the good father his master!
    So frankly, noble sir, what is it? What is it? A woman grown ugly? A
    rich man grown old, with perchance a will in his chest? Or a young heir
    that stands in my lord's way? Whichever it be, or whatever it be, trust
    me and our friend here, and my butcher's gully shall cut the knot."

    Tignonville shook his head.

    "But something there is," the lean man persisted obstinately; and he cast
    a suspicious glance at Tignonville's clothes. It was evident that the
    two had discussed him, and the motives of his presence there. "Have the
    dice proved fickle, my lord, and are you for the jewellers' shops on the
    bridge to fill your purse again? If so, take my word, it were better to
    go three than one, and we'll enlist."

    "Ay, we know shops on the bridge where you can plunge your arm elbow-deep
    in gold," the cripple muttered, his eyes sparkling greedily. "There's
    Baillet's, noble sir! There's a shop for you! And there's the man's
    shop who works for the King. He's lame like me. And I know the way to
    all. Oh, it will be a merry night if they ring before the dawn. It must
    be near daybreak now. And what's that?"

    Ay, what was it? A score of voices called for silence; a breathless hush
    fell on the crowd. A moment the fiercest listened, with parted lips and
    starting eyes. Then, "It was the bell!" cried one, "let us out!" "It
    was not!" cried another. "It was a pistol shot!" "Anyhow let us out!"
    the crowd roared in chorus; "let us out!" And they pressed in a furious
    mass towards the door, as if they would force it, signal or no signal.

    But the pikemen stood fast, and the throng, checked in their first rush,
    turned on one another, and broke into wrangling and disputing; boasting,
    and calling Heaven and the saints to witness how thoroughly, how
    pitilessly, how remorselessly they would purge Paris of this leprosy when
    the signal did sound. Until again above the babel a man cried "Silence!"
    and again they listened. And this time, dulled by walls and distance,
    but unmistakable by the ears of fear or hate, the heavy note of a bell
    came to them on the hot night air. It was the boom, sullen and menacing,
    of the death signal.

    The doorkeepers lowered their pikes, and with a wild rush, as of wolves
    swarming on their prey, the band stormed the door, and thrust and
    struggled and battled a way down the narrow staircase, and along the
    narrow passage. "A bas les Huguenots! Mort aux Huguenots!" they
    shouted; and shrieking, sweating, spurning with vile hands, viler faces,
    they poured pell-mell into the street, and added their clamour to the
    boom of the tocsin that, as by magic and in a moment, turned the streets
    of Paris into a hell of blood and cruelty. For as it was here, so it was
    in a dozen other quarters.

    Quickly as they streamed out--and to have issued more quickly would have
    been impossible--fiercely as they pushed and fought and clove their way,
    Tignonville was of the foremost. And for a moment, seeing the street
    clear before him and almost empty, the Huguenot thought that he might do
    something. He might outstrip the stream of rapine, he might carry the
    alarm; at worst he might reach his betrothed before harm befell her. But
    when he had sped fifty yards, his heart sank. True, none passed him; but
    under the spell of the alarm-bell the stones themselves seemed to turn to
    men. Houses, courts, alleys, the very churches vomited men. In a
    twinkling the street was alive with men, roared with them as with a
    rushing tide, gleamed with their lights and weapons, thundered with the
    volume of their thousand voices. He was no longer ahead, men were
    running before him, behind him, on his right hand and on his left. In
    every side-street, every passage, men were running; and not men only, but
    women, children, furious creatures without age or sex. And all the time
    the bell tolled overhead, tolled faster and faster, and louder and
    louder; and shots and screams, and the clash of arms, and the fall of
    strong doors began to swell the maelstrom of sound.

    He was in the Rue St. Honore now, and speeding westward. But the flood
    still rose with him, and roared abreast of him. Nay, it outstripped him.
    When he came, panting, within sight of his goal, and lacked but a hundred
    paces of it, he found his passage barred by a dense mass of people moving
    slowly to meet him. In the heart of the press the light of a dozen
    torches shone on half as many riders mailed and armed; whose eyes, as
    they moved on, and the furious gleaming eyes of the rabble about them,
    never left the gabled roofs on their right. On these from time to time a
    white-clad figure showed itself, and passed from chimney-stack to chimney-
    stack, or, stooping low, ran along the parapet. Every time that this
    happened, the men on horseback pointed upwards and the mob foamed with
    rage.

    Tignonville groaned, but he could not help. Unable to go forward, he
    turned, and with others hurrying, shouting, and brandishing weapons, he
    pressed into the Rue du Roule, passed through it, and gained the Bethizy.
    But here, as he might have foreseen, all passage was barred at the Hotel
    Ponthieu by a horde of savages, who danced and yelled and sang songs
    round the Admiral's body, which lay in the middle of the way; while to
    right and left men were bursting into houses and forcing new victims into
    the street. The worst had happened there, and he turned panting,
    regained the Rue St. Honore, and, crossing it and turning left-handed,
    darted through side streets until he came again into the main
    thoroughfare a little beyond the Croix du Tiroir, that marked the corner
    of Mademoiselle's house.

    Here his last hope left him. The street swarmed with bands of men
    hurrying to and fro as in a sacked city. The scum of the Halles, the
    rabble of the quarter poured this way and that, here at random, there
    swayed and directed by a few knots of men-at-arms, whose corselets
    reflected the glare of a hundred torches. At one time and within sight,
    three or four houses were being stormed. On every side rose
    heart-rending cries, mingled with brutal laughter, with savage jests,
    with cries of "To the river!" The most cruel of cities had burst its
    bounds and was not to be stayed; nor would be stayed until the Seine ran
    red to the sea, and leagues below, in pleasant Normandy hamlets, men, for
    fear of the pestilence, pushed the corpses from the bridges with poles
    and boat-hooks.

    All this Tignonville saw, though his eyes, leaping the turmoil, looked
    only to the door at which he had left Mademoiselle a few hours earlier.
    There a crowd of men pressed and struggled; but from the spot where he
    stood he could see no more. That was enough, however. Rage nerved him,
    and despair; his world was dying round him. If he could not save her he
    would avenge her. Recklessly he plunged into the tumult; blade in hand,
    with vigorous blows he thrust his way through, his white sleeve and the
    white cross in his hat gaining him passage until he reached the fringe of
    the band who beset the door. Here his first attempt to pass failed; and
    he might have remained hampered by the crowd, if a squad of archers had
    not ridden up. As they spurred to the spot, heedless over whom they
    rode, he clutched a stirrup, and was borne with them into the heart of
    the crowd. In a twinkling he stood on the threshold of the house, face
    to face and foot to foot with Count Hannibal, who stood also on the
    threshold, but with his back to the door, which, unbarred and unbolted,
    gaped open behind him.
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