Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "As men, we are all equal in the presence of death."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 5

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    ROUGH WOOING.

    The young man had caught the delirium that was abroad that night. The
    rage of the trapped beast was in his heart, his hand held a sword. To
    strike blindly, to strike without question the first who withstood him
    was the wild-beast instinct; and if Count Hannibal had not spoken on the
    instant, the Marshal's brother had said his last word in the world.

    Yet as he stood there, a head above the crowd, he seemed unconscious
    alike of Tignonville and the point that all but pricked his breast. Swart
    and grim-visaged, his harsh features distorted by the glare which shone
    upon him, he looked beyond the Huguenot to the sea of tossing arms and
    raging faces that surged about the saddles of the horsemen. It was to
    these he spoke.

    "Begone, dogs!" he cried, in a voice that startled the nearest, "or I
    will whip you away with my stirrup-leathers! Do you hear? Begone! This
    house is not for you! Burn, kill, plunder where you will, but go hence!"

    "But 'tis on the list!" one of the wretches yelled. "'Tis on the list!"
    And he pushed forward until he stood at Tignonville's elbow.

    "And has no cross!" shrieked another, thrusting himself forward in his
    turn. "See you, let us by, whoever you are! In the King's name, kill!
    It has no cross!"

    "Then," Tavannes thundered, "will I nail you for a cross to the front of
    it! No cross, say you? I will make one of you, foul crow!"

    And as he spoke, his arm shot out; the man recoiled, his fellow likewise.
    But one of the mounted archers took up the matter.

    "Nay, but, my lord," he said--he knew Tavannes--"it is the King's will
    there be no favour shown to-night to any, small or great. And this house
    is registered, and is full of heretics."

    "And has no cross!" the rabble urged in chorus. And they leapt up and
    down in their impatience, and to see the better. "And has no cross!"
    they persisted. They could understand that. Of what use crosses, if
    they were not to kill where there was no cross? Daylight was not
    plainer. Tavannes' face grew dark, and he shook his finger at the archer
    who had spoken.

    "Rogue," he cried, "does the King's will run here only? Are there no
    other houses to sack or men to kill, that you must beard me? And favour?
    You will have little of mine, if you do not budge and take your vile tail
    with you! Off! Or must I cry 'Tavannes!' and bid my people sweep you
    from the streets?"

    The foremost rank hesitated, awed by his manner and his name; while the
    rearmost, attracted by the prospect of easier pillage, had gone off
    already. The rest wavered; and another and another broke away. The
    archer who had put himself forward saw which way the wind was blowing,
    and he shrugged his shoulders.

    "Well, my lord, as you will," he said sullenly. "All the same I would
    advise you to close the door and bolt and bar. We shall not be the last
    to call to-day." And he turned his horse in ill-humour, and forced it,
    snorting and plunging, through the crowd.

    "Bolt and bar?" Tavannes cried after him in fury. "See you my answer to
    that!" And turning on the threshold, "Within there!" he cried. "Open
    the shutters and set lights, and the table! Light, I say; light! And
    lay on quickly, if you value your lives! And throw open, for I sup with
    your mistress to-night, if it rain blood without! Do you hear me,
    rogues? Set on!"

    He flung the last word at the quaking servants; then he turned again to
    the street. He saw that the crowd was melting, and, looking in
    Tignonville's face, he laughed aloud.

    "Does Monsieur sup with us?" he said. "To complete the party? Or will
    he choose to sup with our friends yonder? It is for him to say. I
    confess, for my part," with an awful smile, "their hospitality seems a
    trifle crude, and boisterous."

    Tignonville looked behind him and shuddered. The same horde which had so
    lately pressed about the door had found a victim lower down the street,
    and, as Tavannes spoke, came driving back along the roadway, a mass of
    tossing lights and leaping, running figures, from the heart of which rose
    the screams of a creature in torture. So terrible were the sounds that
    Tignonville leant half swooning against the door-post; and even the iron
    heart of Tavannes seemed moved for a moment.

    For a moment only: then he looked at his companion, and his lip curled.

    "You'll join us, I think?" he said, with an undisguised sneer. "Then,
    after you, Monsieur. They are opening the shutters. Doubtless the table
    is laid, and Mademoiselle is expecting us. After you, Monsieur, if you
    please. A few hours ago I should have gone first, for you, in this
    house"--with a sinister smile--"were at home! Now, we have changed
    places."

    Whatever he meant by the gibe--and some smack of an evil jest lurked in
    his tone--he played the host so far as to urge his bewildered companion
    along the passage and into the living-chamber on the left, where he had
    seen from without that his orders to light and lay were being executed. A
    dozen candles shone on the board, and lit up the apartment. What the
    house contained of food and wine had been got together and set on the
    table; from the low, wide window, beetle-browed and diamond-paned, which
    extended the whole length of the room and looked on the street at the
    height of a man's head above the roadway, the shutters had been
    removed--doubtless by trembling and reluctant fingers. To such eyes of
    passers-by as looked in, from the inferno of driving crowds and gleaming
    weapons which prevailed outside--and not outside only, but throughout
    Paris--the brilliant room and the laid table must have seemed strange
    indeed!

    To Tignonville, all that had happened, all that was happening, seemed a
    dream: a dream his entrance under the gentle impulsion of this man who
    dominated him; a dream Mademoiselle standing behind the table with
    blanched face and stony eyes; a dream the cowering servants huddled in a
    corner beyond her; a dream his silence, her silence, the moment of
    waiting before Count Hannibal spoke.

    When he did speak it was to count the servants. "One, two, three, four,
    five," he said. "And two of them women. Mademoiselle is but poorly
    attended. Are there not"--and he turned to her--"some lacking?"

    The girl opened her lips twice, but no sound issued. The third time--

    "Two went out," she muttered in a hoarse, strangled voice, "and have not
    returned."

    "And have not returned?" he answered, raising his eyebrows. "Then I fear
    we must not wait for them. We might wait long!" And turning sharply to
    the panic-stricken servants, "Go you to your places! Do you not see that
    Mademoiselle waits to be served?"

    The girl shuddered and spoke.

    "Do you wish me," she muttered, in the same strangled tone, "to play this
    farce--to the end?"

    "The end may be better, Mademoiselle, than you think," he answered,
    bowing. And then to the miserable servants, who hung back afraid to
    leave the shelter of their mistress's skirts, "To your places!" he cried.
    "Set Mademoiselle's chair. Are you so remiss on other days? If so,"
    with a look of terrible meaning, "you will be the less loss! Now,
    Mademoiselle, may I have the honour? And when we are at table we can
    talk."

    He extended his hand, and, obedient to his gesture, she moved to the
    place at the head of the table, but without letting her fingers come into
    contact with his. He gave no sign that he noticed this, but he strode to
    the place on her right, and signed to Tignonville to take that on her
    left.

    "Will you not be seated?" he continued. For she kept her feet.

    She turned her head stiffly, until for the first time her eyes looked
    into his. A shudder more violent than the last shook her.

    "Had you not better--kill us at once?" she whispered. The blood had
    forsaken even her lips. Her face was the face of a statue--white,
    beautiful, lifeless.

    "I think not," he said gravely. "Be seated, and let us hope for the
    best. And you, sir," he continued, turning to Carlat, "serve your
    mistress with wine. She needs it."

    The steward filled for her, and then for each of the men, his shaking
    hand spilling as much as it poured. Nor was this strange. Above the din
    and uproar of the street, above the crash of distant doors, above the
    tocsin that still rang from the reeling steeple of St. Germain's, the
    great bell of the Palais on the island had just begun to hurl its note of
    doom upon the town. A woman crouching at the end of the chamber burst
    into hysterical weeping, but, at a glance from Tavannes' terrible eye,
    was mute again.

    Tignonville found voice at last. "Have they--killed the Admiral?" he
    muttered, his eyes on the table.

    "M. Coligny? An hour ago."

    "And Teligny?"

    "Him also."

    "M. de Rochefoucauld?"

    "They are dealing with M. le Comte now, I believe," Tavannes answered.
    "He had his chance and cast it away." And he began to eat.

    The man at the table shuddered. The woman continued to look before her,
    but her lips moved as if she prayed. Suddenly a rush of feet, a roar of
    voices surged past the window; for a moment the glare of the torches,
    which danced ruddily on the walls of the room, showed a severed head
    borne above the multitude on a pike. Mademoiselle, with a low cry, made
    an effort to rise, but Count Hannibal grasped her wrist, and she sank
    back half fainting. Then the nearer clamour sank a little, and the
    bells, unchallenged, flung their iron tongues above the maddened city. In
    the east the dawn was growing; soon its grey light would fall on cold
    hearths, on battered doors and shattered weapons, on hordes of wretches
    drunk with greed and hate.

    When he could be heard, "What are you going to do with us?" the man asked
    hoarsely.

    "That depends," Count Hannibal replied, after a moment's thought.

    "On what?"

    "On Mademoiselle de Vrillac."

    The other's eyes gleamed with passion. He leaned forward.

    "What has she to do with it?" he cried. And he stood up and sat down
    again in a breath.

    Tavannes raised his eyebrows with a blandness that seemed at odds with
    his harsh visage.

    "I will answer that question by another question," he replied. "How many
    are there in the house, my friend?"

    "You can count."

    Tavannes counted again. "Seven?" he said. Tignonville nodded
    impatiently.

    "Seven lives?"

    "Well?"

    "Well, Monsieur, you know the King's will?"

    "I can guess it," the other replied furiously. And he cursed the King,
    and the King's mother, calling her Jezebel.

    "You can guess it?" Tavannes answered; and then with sudden heat, as if
    that which he had to say could not be said even by him in cold blood,
    "Nay, you know it! You heard it from the archer at the door. You heard
    him say, 'No favour, no quarter for man, for woman, or for child. So
    says the King.' You heard it, but you fence with me. Foucauld, with
    whom his Majesty played to-night, hand to hand and face to face--Foucauld
    is dead! And you think to live? You?" he continued, lashing himself
    into passion. "I know not by what chance you came where I saw you an
    hour gone, nor by what chance you came by that and that"--pointing with
    accusing finger to the badges the Huguenot wore. "But this I know! I
    have but to cry your name from yonder casement, nay, Monsieur, I have but
    to stand aside when the mob go their rounds from house to house, as they
    will go presently, and you will perish as certainly as you have hitherto
    escaped!"

    For the second time Mademoiselle turned and looked at him.

    "Then," she whispered, with white lips, "to what end this--mockery?"

    "To the end that seven lives may be saved, Mademoiselle," he answered,
    bowing.

    "At a price?" she muttered.

    "At a price," he answered. "A price which women do not find it hard to
    pay--at Court. 'Tis paid every day for pleasure or a whim, for rank or
    the _entree_, for robes and gewgaws. Few, Mademoiselle, are privileged
    to buy a life; still fewer, seven!"

    She began to tremble. "I would rather die--seven times!" she cried, her
    voice quivering. And she tried to rise, but sat down again.

    "And these?" he said, indicating the servants.

    "Far, far rather!" she repeated passionately.

    "And Monsieur? And Monsieur?" he urged with stern persistence, while his
    eyes passed lightly from her to Tignonville and back to her again, their
    depths inscrutable. "If you love Monsieur, Mademoiselle, and I believe
    you do--"

    "I can die with him!" she cried.

    "And he with you?"

    She writhed in her chair.

    "And he with you?" Count Hannibal repeated, with emphasis; and he thrust
    forward his head. "For that is the question. Think, think,
    Mademoiselle. It is in my power to save from death him whom you love; to
    save you; to save this _canaille_, if it so please you. It is in my
    power to save him, to save you, to save all; and I will save all--at a
    price! If, on the other hand, you deny me that price, I will as
    certainly leave all to perish, as perish they will, before the sun that
    is now rising sets to-night!"

    Mademoiselle looked straight before her, the flicker of a dreadful
    prescience in her eyes.

    "And the price?" she muttered. "The price?"

    "You, Mademoiselle."

    "I?"

    "Yes, you! Nay, why fence with me?" he continued gently. "You knew it,
    you have said it. You have read it in my eyes these seven days."

    She did not speak, or move, or seem to breathe. As he said, she had
    foreseen, she had known the answer. But Tignonville, it seemed, had not.
    He sprang to his feet.

    "M. de Tavannes," he cried, "you are a villain!"

    "Monsieur?"

    "You are a villain! But you shall pay for this!" the young man continued
    vehemently. "You shall not leave this room alive! You shall pay for
    this insult!"

    "Insult?" Tavannes answered in apparent surprise; and then, as if
    comprehension broke upon him, "Ah! Monsieur mistakes me," he said, with a
    broad sweep of the hand. "And Mademoiselle also, perhaps? Oh! be
    content, she shall have bell, book, and candle; she shall be tied as
    tight as Holy Church can tie her! Or, if she please, and one survive,
    she shall have a priest of her own church--you call it a church? She
    shall have whichever of the two will serve her better. 'Tis one to me!
    But for paying me, Monsieur," he continued, with irony in voice and
    manner; "when, I pray you? In Eternity? For if you refuse my offer, you
    have done with time. Now? I have but to sound this whistle"--he touched
    a silver whistle which hung at his breast--"and there are those within
    hearing will do your business before you make two passes. Dismiss the
    notion, sir, and understand. You are in my power. Paris runs with
    blood, as noble as yours, as innocent as hers. If you would not perish
    with the rest, decide! And quickly! For what you have seen are but the
    forerunners, what you have heard are but the gentle whispers that predict
    the gale. Do not parley too long; so long that even I may no longer save
    you."

    "I would rather die!" Mademoiselle moaned, her face covered. "I would
    rather die!"

    "And see him die?" he answered quietly. "And see these die? Think,
    think, child!"

    "You will not do it!" she gasped. She shook from head to foot.

    "I shall do nothing," he answered firmly. "I shall but leave you to your
    fate, and these to theirs. In the King's teeth I dare save my wife and
    her people; but no others. You must choose--and quickly."

    One of the frightened women--it was Mademoiselle's tiring-maid, a girl
    called Javette--made a movement, as if to throw herself at her mistress's
    feet. Tignonville drove her to her place with a word. He turned to
    Count Hannibal.

    "But, M. le Comte," he said, "you must be mad! Mad, to wish to marry her
    in this way! You do not love her. You do not want her. What is she to
    you more than other women?"

    "What is she to you more than other women?" Tavannes retorted, in a tone
    so sharp and incisive that Tignonville started, and a faint touch of
    colour crept into the wan cheek of the girl, who sat between them, the
    prize of the contest. "What is she more to you than other women? Is she
    more? And yet--you want her!"

    "She is more to me," Tignonville answered.

    "Is she?" the other retorted, with a ring of keen meaning. "Is she? But
    we bandy words and the storm is rising, as I warned you it would rise.
    Enough for you that I _do_ want her. Enough for you that I _will_ have
    her. She shall be the wife, the willing wife, of Hannibal de Tavannes--or
    I leave her to her fate, and you to yours!"

    "Ah, God!" she moaned. "The willing wife!"

    "Ay, Mademoiselle, the willing wife," he answered sternly. "Or no man's
    wife!"
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Stanley J Weyman essay and need some advice, post your Stanley J Weyman essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?