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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    The movements of the women had overturned two of the candles; a third had
    guttered out. The three which still burned, contending pallidly with the
    daylight that each moment grew stronger, imparted to the scene the air of
    a debauch too long sustained. The disordered board, the wan faces of the
    servants cowering in their corner, Mademoiselle's frozen look of misery,
    all increased the likeness; which a common exhaustion so far strengthened
    that when Tavannes turned from the window, and, flushed with his triumph,
    met the others' eyes, his seemed the only vigour, and he the only man in
    the company. True, beneath the exhaustion, beneath the collapse of his
    victims, there burned passions, hatreds, repulsions, as fierce as the
    hidden fires of the volcano; but for the time they smouldered ash-choked
    and inert.

    He flung the discharged pistols on the table. "If yonder raven speak
    truth," he said, "I am like to pay dearly for my wife, and have short
    time to call her wife. The more need, Mademoiselle, for speed,
    therefore. You know the old saying, 'Short signing, long seisin'? Shall
    it be my priest, or your minister?"

    M. de Tignonville started forward. "She promised nothing!" he cried. And
    he struck his hand on the table.

    Count Hannibal smiled, his lip curling. "That," he replied, "is for
    Mademoiselle to say."

    "But if she says it? If she says it, Monsieur? What then?"

    Tavannes drew forth a comfit-box, such as it was the fashion of the day
    to carry, as men of a later time carried a snuff-box. He slowly chose a

    "If she says it?" he answered. "Then M. de Tignonville has regained his
    sweetheart. And M. de Tavannes has lost his bride."

    "You say so?"

    "Yes. But--"

    "But what?"

    "But she will not say it," Tavannes replied coolly.

    "Why not?"

    "Why not?"

    "Yes, Monsieur, why not?" the younger man repeated, trembling.

    "Because, M. de Tignonville, it is not true."

    "But she did not speak!" Tignonville retorted, with passion--the futile
    passion of the bird which beats its wings against a cage. "She did not
    speak. She could not promise, therefore."

    Tavannes ate the prune slowly, seemed to give a little thought to its
    flavour, approved it a true Agen plum, and at last spoke.

    "It is not for you to say whether she promised," he returned dryly, "nor
    for me. It is for Mademoiselle."

    "You leave it to her?"

    "I leave it to her to say whether she promised."

    "Then she must say No!" Tignonville cried in a tone of triumph and
    relief. "For she did not speak. Mademoiselle, listen!" he continued,
    turning with outstretched hands and appealing to her with passion. "Do
    you hear? Do you understand? You have but to speak to be free! You
    have but to say the word, and Monsieur lets you go! In God's name,
    speak! Speak then, Clotilde! Oh!" with a gesture of despair, as she did
    not answer, but continued to sit stony and hopeless, looking straight
    before her, her hands picking convulsively at the fringe of her girdle.
    "She does not understand! Fright has stunned her! Be merciful,
    Monsieur. Give her time to recover, to know what she does. Fright has
    turned her brain."

    Count Hannibal smiled. "I knew her father and her uncle," he said, "and
    in their time the Vrillacs were not wont to be cowards. Monsieur
    forgets, too," he continued with fine irony, "that he speaks of my

    "It is a lie!"

    Tavannes raised his eyebrows. "You are in my power," he said. "For the
    rest, if it be a lie, Mademoiselle has but to say so."

    "You hear him?" Tignonville cried. "Then speak, Mademoiselle! Clotilde,
    speak! Say you never spoke, you never promised him!"

    The young man's voice quivered with indignation, with rage, with pain;
    but most, if the truth be told, with shame--the shame of a position
    strange and unparalleled. For in proportion as the fear of death instant
    and violent was lifted from him, reflection awoke, and the situation in
    which he stood took uglier shape. It was not so much love that cried to
    her, love that suffered, anguished by the prospect of love lost; as in
    the highest natures it might have been. Rather it was the man's pride
    which suffered: the pride of a high spirit which found itself helpless
    between the hammer and the anvil, in a position so false that hereafter
    men might say of the unfortunate that he had bartered his mistress for
    his life. He had not! But he had perforce to stand by; he had to be
    passive under stress of circumstances, and by the sacrifice, if she
    consummated it, he would in fact be saved.

    There was the pinch. No wonder that he cried to her in a voice which
    roused even the servants from their lethargy of fear.

    "Say it!" he cried. "Say it, before it be too late. Say, you did not

    Slowly she turned her face to him. "I cannot," she whispered; "I cannot.
    Go," she continued, a spasm distorting her features. "Go, Monsieur.
    Leave me. It is over."

    "What?" he exclaimed. "You promised him?"

    She bowed her head.

    "Then," the young man cried, in a transport of resentment, "I will be no
    part of the price. See! There! And there!" He tore the white sleeve
    wholly from his arm, and, rending it in twain, flung it on the floor and
    trampled on it. "It shall never be said that I stood by and let you buy
    my life! I go into the street and I take my chance." And he turned to
    the door.

    But Tavannes was before him. "No!" he said; "you will stay here, M. de
    Tignonville!" And he set his back against the door.

    The young man looked at him, his face convulsed with passion.

    "I shall stay here?" he cried. "And why, Monsieur? What is it to you if
    I choose to perish?"

    "Only this," Tavannes retorted. "I am answerable to Mademoiselle now, in
    an hour I shall be answerable to my wife--for your life. Live, then,
    Monsieur; you have no choice. In a month you will thank me--and her."

    "I am your prisoner?"


    "And I must stay here--to be tortured?" Tignonville cried.

    Count Hannibal's eyes sparkled. Sudden stormy changes, from indifference
    to ferocity, from irony to invective, were characteristic of the man.

    "Tortured!" he repeated grimly. "You talk of torture while Piles and
    Pardaillan, Teligny and Rochefoucauld lie dead in the street! While your
    cause sinks withered in a night, like a gourd! While your servants fall
    butchered, and France rises round you in a tide of blood! Bah!"--with a
    gesture of disdain--"you make me also talk, and I have no love for talk,
    and small time. Mademoiselle, you at least act and do not talk. By your
    leave I return in an hour, and I bring with me--shall it be my priest, or
    your minister?"

    She looked at him with the face of one who awakes slowly to the full
    horror, the full dread, of her position. For a moment she did not
    answer. Then--

    "A minister," she muttered, her voice scarcely audible.

    He nodded. "A minister," he said lightly. "Very well, if I can find
    one." And walking to the shattered, gaping casement--through which the
    cool morning air blew into the room and gently stirred the hair of the
    unhappy girl--he said some words to the man on guard outside. Then he
    turned to the door, but on the threshold he paused, looked with a strange
    expression at the pair, and signed to Carlat and the servants to go out
    before him.

    "Up, and lie close above!" he growled. "Open a window or look out, and
    you will pay dearly for it! Do you hear? Up! Up! You, too, old crop-
    ears. What! would you?"--with a sudden glare as Carlat hesitated--"that
    is better! Mademoiselle, until my return."

    He saw them all out, followed them, and closed the door on the two; who,
    left together, alone with the gaping window and the disordered feast,
    maintained a strange silence. The girl, gripping one hand in the other
    as if to quell her rising horror, sat looking before her, and seemed
    barely to breathe. The man, leaning against the wall at a little
    distance, bent his eyes, not on her, but on the floor, his face gloomy
    and distorted.

    His first thought should have been of her and for her; his first impulse
    to console, if he could not save her. His it should have been to soften,
    were that possible, the fate before her; to prove to her by words of
    farewell, the purest and most sacred, that the sacrifice she was making,
    not to save her own life but the lives of others, was appreciated by him
    who paid with her the price.

    And all these things, and more, may have been in M. de Tignonville's
    mind; they may even have been uppermost in it, but they found no
    expression. The man remained sunk in a sombre reverie. He had the
    appearance of thinking of himself, not of her; of his own position, not
    of hers. Otherwise he must have looked at her, he must have turned to
    her; he must have owned the subtle attraction of her unspoken appeal when
    she drew a deep breath and slowly turned her eyes on him, mute, asking,
    waiting what he should offer.

    Surely he should have! Yet it was long before he responded. He sat
    buried in thought of himself, and his position, the vile, the unworthy
    position in which her act had placed him. At length the constraint of
    her gaze wrought on him, or his thoughts became unbearable; and he looked
    up and met her eyes, and with an oath he sprang to his feet.

    "It shall not be!" he cried, in a tone low, but full of fury. "You shall
    not do it! I will kill him first! I will kill him with this hand! Or--"
    a step took him to the window, a step brought him back--ay, brought him
    back exultant, and with a changed face. "Or better, we will thwart him
    yet. See, Mademoiselle, do you see? Heaven is merciful! For a moment
    the cage is open!" His eye shone with excitement, the sweat of sudden
    hope stood on his brow as he pointed to the unguarded casement. "Come!
    it is our one chance!" And he caught her by her arm and strove to draw
    her to the window.

    But she hung back, staring at him. "Oh no, no!" she cried.

    "Yes, yes! I say!" he responded. "You do not understand. The way is
    open! We can escape, Clotilde, we can escape!"

    "I cannot! I cannot!" she wailed, still resisting him.

    "You are afraid?"

    "Afraid?" she repeated the word in a tone of wonder. "No, but I cannot.
    I promised him. I cannot. And, O God!" she continued, in a sudden
    outburst of grief, as the sense of general loss, of the great common
    tragedy broke on her and whelmed for the moment her private misery. "Why
    should we think of ourselves? They are dead, they are dying, who were
    ours, whom we loved! Why should we think to live? What does it matter
    how it fares with us? We cannot be happy. Happy?" she continued wildly.
    "Are any happy now? Or is the world all changed in a night? No, we
    could not be happy. And at least you will live, Tignonville. I have
    that to console me."

    "Live!" he responded vehemently. "I live? I would rather die a thousand
    times. A thousand times rather than live shamed! Than see you
    sacrificed to that devil! Than go out with a brand on my brow, for every
    man to point at me! I would rather die a thousand times!"

    "And do you think that I would not?" she answered, shivering. "Better,
    far better die than--than live with him!"

    "Then why not die?"

    She stared at him, wide-eyed, and a sudden stillness possessed her.
    "How?" she whispered. "What do you mean?"

    "That!" he said. As he spoke, he raised his hand and signed to her to
    listen. A sullen murmur, distant as yet, but borne to the ear on the
    fresh morning air, foretold the rising of another storm. The sound grew
    in intensity, even while she listened; and yet for a moment she
    misunderstood him. "O God!" she cried, out of the agony of nerves
    overwrought, "will that bell never stop? Will it never stop? Will no
    one stop it?"

    "'Tis not the bell!" he cried, seizing her hand as if to focus her
    attention. "It is the mob you hear. They are returning. We have but to
    stand a moment at this open window, we have but to show ourselves to
    them, and we need live no longer! Mademoiselle! Clotilde!--if you mean
    what you say, if you are in earnest, the way is open!"

    "And we shall die--together!"

    "Yes, together. But have you the courage?"

    "The courage?" she cried, a brave smile lighting the whiteness of her
    face. "The courage were needed to live. The courage were needed to do
    that. I am ready, quite ready. It can be no sin! To live with that in
    front of me were the sin! Come!" For the moment she had forgotten her
    people, her promise, all! It seemed to her that death would absolve her
    from all. "Come!"

    He moved with her under the impulse of her hand until they stood at the
    gaping window. The murmur, which he had heard indistinctly a moment
    before, had grown to a roar of voices. The mob, on its return eastward
    along the Rue St. Honore, was nearing the house. He stood, his arm
    supporting her, and they waited, a little within the window. Suddenly he
    stooped, his face hardly less white than hers: their eyes met; he would
    have kissed her.

    She did not withdraw from his arm, but she drew back her face, her eyes
    half shut.

    "No!" she murmured. "No! While I live I am his. But we die together,
    Tignonville! We die together. It will not last long, will it? And

    She did not finish the sentence, but her lips moved in prayer, and over
    her features came a far-away look; such a look as that which on the face
    of another Huguenot lady, Philippa de Luns--vilely done to death in the
    Place Maubert fourteen years before--silenced the ribald jests of the
    lowest rabble in the world. An hour or two earlier, awed by the
    abruptness of the outburst, Mademoiselle had shrunk from her fate; she
    had known fear. Now that she stood out voluntarily to meet it, she, like
    many a woman before and since, feared no longer. She was lifted out of
    and above herself.

    But death was long in coming. Some cause beyond their knowledge stayed
    the onrush of the mob along the street. The din, indeed, persisted,
    deafened, shook them; but the crowd seemed to be at a stand a few doors
    down the Rue St. Honore. For a half-minute, a long half-minute, which
    appeared an age, it drew no nearer. Would it draw nearer? Would it come
    on? Or would it turn again?

    The doubt, so much worse than despair, began to sap that courage of the
    man which is always better fitted to do than to suffer. The sweat rose
    on Tignonville's brow as he stood listening, his arm round the girl--as
    he stood listening and waiting. It is possible that when he had said a
    minute or two earlier that he would rather die a thousand times than live
    thus shamed, he had spoken beyond the mark. Or it is possible that he
    had meant his words to the full. But in this case he had not pictured
    what was to come, he had not gauged correctly his power of passive
    endurance. He was as brave as the ordinary man, as the ordinary soldier;
    but martyrdom, the apotheosis of resignation, comes more naturally to
    women than to men, more hardly to men than to women. Yet had the crisis
    come quickly he might have met it. But he had to wait, and to wait with
    that howling of wild beasts in his ears; and for this he was not
    prepared. A woman might be content to die after this fashion; but a man?
    His colour went and came, his eyes began to rove hither and thither. Was
    it even now too late to escape? Too late to avoid the consequences of
    the girl's silly persistence? Too late to--? Her eyes were closed, she
    hung half lifeless on his arm. She would not know, she need not know
    until afterwards. And afterwards she would thank him!
    Afterwards--meantime the window was open, the street was empty, and still
    the crowd hung back and did not come.

    He remembered that two doors away was a narrow passage, which leaving the
    Rue St. Honore turned at right angles under a beetling archway, to emerge
    in the Rue du Roule. If he could gain that passage unseen by the mob! He
    _would_ gain it. With a swift movement, his mind made up, he took a step
    forward. He tightened his grasp of the girl's waist, and, seizing with
    his left hand the end of the bar which the assailants had torn from its
    setting in the window jamb, he turned to lower himself. One long step
    would land him in the street.

    At that moment she awoke from the stupor of exaltation. She opened her
    eyes with a startled movement; and her eyes met his.

    He was in the act of stepping backwards and downwards, dragging her after
    him. But it was not this betrayed him. It was his face, which in an
    instant told her all, and that he sought not death, but life! She
    struggled upright and strove to free herself. But he had the purchase of
    the bar, and by this time he was furious as well as determined. Whether
    she would or no, he would save her, he would drag her out. Then, as
    consciousness fully returned, she, too, took fire.

    "No!" she cried, "I will not!" and she struggled more violently.

    "You shall!" he retorted between his teeth. "You shall not perish here."

    But she had her hands free, and as he spoke she thrust him from her
    passionately, desperately, with all her strength. He had his one foot in
    the air at the moment, and in a flash it was done. With a cry of rage he
    lost his balance, and, still holding the bar, reeled backwards through
    the window; while Mademoiselle, panting and half fainting,
    recoiled--recoiled into the arms of Hannibal de Tavannes, who, unseen by
    either, had entered the room a long minute before. From the threshold,
    and with a smile, all his own, he had watched the contest and the result.
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