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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 8
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    TWO HENS AND AN EGG.

    M. de Tignonville was shaken by the fall, and in the usual course of
    things he would have lain where he was, and groaned. But when a man has
    once turned his back on death he is apt to fancy it at his shoulder. He
    has small stomach for surprises, and is in haste to set as great a
    distance as possible between the ugly thing and himself. So it was with
    the Huguenot. Shot suddenly into the full publicity of the street, he
    knew that at any instant danger might take him by the nape; and he was on
    his legs and glancing up and down before the clatter of his fall had
    travelled the length of three houses.

    The rabble were still a hundred paces away, piled up and pressed about a
    house where men were being hunted as men hunt rats. He saw that he was
    unnoted, and apprehension gave place to rage. His thoughts turned back
    hissing hot to the thing that had happened, and in a paroxysm of shame he
    shook his fist at the gaping casement and the sneering face of his rival,
    dimly seen in the background. If a look would have killed Tavannes--and
    her--it had not been wanting.

    For it was not only the man M. de Tignonville hated at this moment; he
    hated Mademoiselle also, the unwitting agent of the other's triumph. She
    had thrust him from her; she had refused to be guided by him; she had
    resisted, thwarted, shamed him. Then let her take the consequences. She
    willed to perish: let her perish!

    He did not acknowledge even to himself the real cause of offence, the
    proof to which she had put his courage, and the failure of that courage
    to stand the test. Yet it was this, though he had himself provoked the
    trial, which burned up his chivalry, as the smuggler's fire burns up the
    dwarf heath upon the Landes. It was the discovery that in an heroic hour
    he was no hero that gave force to his passionate gesture, and next moment
    sent him storming down the beetling passage to the Rue du Roule, his
    heart a maelstrom of fierce vows and fiercer menaces.

    He had reached the further end of the alley and was on the point of
    entering the street before he remembered that he had nowhere to go. His
    lodgings were no longer his, since his landlord knew him to be a
    Huguenot, and would doubtless betray him. To approach those of his faith
    whom he had frequented was to expose them to danger; and, beyond the
    religion, he had few acquaintances and those of the newest. Yet the
    streets were impossible. He walked them on the utmost edge of peril; he
    lurked in them under the blade of an impending axe. And, whether he
    walked or lurked, he went at the mercy of the first comers bold enough to
    take his life.

    The sweat stood on his brow as he paused under the low arch of the alley-
    end, tasting the bitter forlornness of the dog banned and set for death
    in that sunlit city. In every window of the gable end which faced his
    hiding-place he fancied an eye watching his movements; in every distant
    step he heard the footfall of doom coming that way to his discovery. And
    while he trembled, he had to reflect, to think, to form some plan.

    In the town was no place for him, and short of the open country no
    safety. And how could he gain the open country? If he succeeded in
    reaching one of the gates--St. Antoine, or St. Denis, in itself a task of
    difficulty--it would only be to find the gate closed, and the guard on
    the alert. At last it flashed on him that he might cross the river; and
    at the notion hope awoke. It was possible that the massacre had not
    extended to the southern suburb; possible, that if it had, the Huguenots
    who lay there--Frontenay, and Montgomery, and Chartres, with the men of
    the North--might be strong enough to check it, and even to turn the
    tables on the Parisians.

    His colour returned. He was no coward, as soldiers go; if it came to
    fighting he had courage enough. He could not hope to cross the river by
    the bridge, for there, where the goldsmiths lived, the mob were like to
    be most busy. But if he could reach the bank he might procure a boat at
    some deserted point, or, at the worst, he might swim across.

    From the Louvre at his back came the sound of gunshots; from every
    quarter the murmur of distant crowds, or the faint lamentable cries of
    victims. But the empty street before him promised an easy passage, and
    he ventured into it and passed quickly through it. He met no one, and no
    one molested him; but as he went he had glimpses of pale faces that from
    behind the casements watched him come and turned to watch him go; and so
    heavy on his nerves was the pressure of this silent ominous attention,
    that he blundered at the end of the street. He should have taken the
    southerly turning; instead he held on, found himself in the Rue
    Ferronerie, and a moment later was all but in the arms of a band of city
    guards, who were making a house-to-house visitation.

    He owed his safety rather to the condition of the street than to his
    presence of mind. The Rue Ferronerie, narrow in itself, was so choked at
    this date by stalls and bulkheads, that an edict directing the removal of
    those which abutted on the cemetery had been issued a little before.
    Nothing had been done on it, however, and this neck of Paris, this main
    thoroughfare between the east and the west, between the fashionable
    quarter of the Marais and the fashionable quarter of the Louvre, was
    still a devious huddle of sheds and pent-houses. Tignonville slid behind
    one of these, found that it masked the mouth of an alley, and, heedless
    whither the passage led, ran hurriedly along it. Every instant he
    expected to hear the hue and cry behind him, and he did not halt or draw
    breath until he had left the soldiers far in the rear, and found himself
    astray at the junction of four noisome lanes, over two of which the
    projecting gables fairly met. Above the two others a scrap of sky
    appeared, but this was too small to indicate in which direction the river
    lay.

    Tignonville hesitated, but not for long; a burst of voices heralded a new
    danger, and he shrank into a doorway. Along one of the lanes a troop of
    children, the biggest not twelve years old, came dancing and leaping
    round something which they dragged by a string. Now one of the hindmost
    would burl it onward with a kick, now another, amid screams of childish
    laughter, tripped headlong over the cord; now at the crossways they
    stopped to wrangle and question which way they should go, or whose turn
    it was to pull and whose to follow. At last they started afresh with a
    whoop, the leader singing and all plucking the string to the cadence of
    the air. Their plaything leapt and dropped, sprang forward, and lingered
    like a thing of life. But it was no thing of life, as Tignonville saw
    with a shudder when they passed him. The object of their sport was the
    naked body of a child, an infant!

    His gorge rose at the sight. Fear such as he had not before experienced
    chilled his marrow. This was hate indeed, a hate before which the strong
    man quailed; the hate of which Mademoiselle had spoken when she said that
    the babes crossed themselves at her passing, and the houses tottered to
    fall upon her!

    He paused a minute to recover himself, so deeply had the sight moved him;
    and as he stood, he wondered if that hate already had its cold eye fixed
    on him. Instinctively his gaze searched the opposite wall, but save for
    two small double-grated windows it was blind; time-stained and
    stone-built, dark with the ordure of the city lane, it seemed but the
    back of a house, which looked another way. The outer gates of an arched
    doorway were open, and a loaded haycart, touching either side and
    brushing the arch above, blocked the passage. His gaze, leaving the
    windows, dropped to this--he scanned it a moment; and on a sudden he
    stiffened. Between the hay and the arch a hand flickered an instant,
    then vanished.

    Tignonville stared. At first he thought his eyes had tricked him. Then
    the hand appeared again, and this time it conveyed an unmistakable
    invitation. It is not from the unknown or the hidden that the fugitive
    has aught to fear, and Tignonville, after casting a glance down the
    lane--which revealed a single man standing with his face the other
    way--slipped across and pushed between the hay and the wall. He coughed.

    A voice whispered to him to climb up; a friendly hand clutched him in the
    act, and aided him. In a second he was lying on his face, tight squeezed
    between the hay and the roof of the arch. Beside him lay a man whose
    features his eyes, unaccustomed to the gloom, could not discern. But the
    man knew him and whispered his name.

    "You know me?" Tignonville muttered in astonishment.

    "I marked you, M. de Tignonville, at the preaching last Sunday," the
    stranger answered placidly.

    "You were there?"

    "I preached."

    "Then you are M. la Tribe!"

    "I am," the clergyman answered quietly. "They seized me on my threshold,
    but I left my cloak in their hands and fled. One tore my stocking with
    his point, another my doublet, but not a hair of my head was injured.
    They hunted me to the end of the next street, but I lived and still live,
    and shall live to lift up my voice against this wicked city."

    The sympathy between the Huguenot by faith and the Huguenot by politics
    was imperfect. Tignonville, like most men of rank of the younger
    generation, was a Huguenot by politics; and he was in a bitter humour. He
    felt, perhaps, that it was men such as this who had driven the other side
    to excesses such as these; and he hardly repressed a sneer.

    "I wish I felt as sure!" he muttered bluntly. "You know that all our
    people are dead?"

    "He can save by few or by many," the preacher answered devoutly. "We are
    of the few, blessed be God, and shall see Israel victorious, and our
    people as a flock of sheep!"

    "I see small chance of it," Tignonville answered contemptuously.

    "I know it as certainly as I knew before you came, M. de Tignonville,
    that you would come!"

    "That _I_ should come?"

    "That some one would come," La Tribe answered, correcting himself. "I
    knew not who it would be until you appeared and placed yourself in the
    doorway over against me, even as Obadiah in the Holy Book passed before
    the hiding-place of Elijah."

    The two lay on their faces side by side, the rafters of the archway low
    on their heads. Tignonville lifted himself a little, and peered anew at
    the other. He fancied that La Tribe's mind, shaken by the horrors of the
    morning and his narrow escape, had given way.

    "You rave, man," he said. "This is no time for visions."

    "I said naught of visions," the other answered.

    "Then why so sure that we shall escape?"

    "I am certified of it," La Tribe replied. "And more than that, I know
    that we shall lie here some days. The time has not been revealed to me,
    but it will be days and a day. Then we shall leave this place unharmed,
    as we entered it, and, whatever betide others, we shall live."

    Tignonville shrugged his shoulders. "I tell you, you rave, M. la Tribe,"
    he said petulantly. "At any moment we may be discovered. Even now I
    hear footsteps."

    "They tracked me well-nigh to this place," the minister answered
    placidly.

    "The deuce they did!" Tignonville muttered, with irritation. He dared
    not raise his voice. "I would you had told me that before I joined you,
    Monsieur, and I had found some safer hiding-place! When we are
    discovered--"

    "Then," the other continued calmly, "you will see."

    "In any case we shall be better farther back," Tignonville retorted.
    "Here, we are within an ace of being seen from the lane." And he began
    to wriggle himself backwards.

    The minister laid his hand on him. "Have a care!" he muttered. "And do
    not move, but listen. And you will understand. When I reached this
    place--it would be about five o'clock this morning--breathless, and
    expecting each minute to be dragged forth to make my confession before
    men, I despaired as you despair now. Like Elijah under the juniper tree,
    I said, 'It is enough, O Lord! Take my soul also, for I am no better
    than my fellows!' All the sky was black before my eyes, and my ears were
    filled with the wailings of the little ones and the lamentations of
    women. 'O Lord, it is enough,' I prayed. 'Take my soul, or, if it be
    Thy will, then, as the angel was sent to take the cakes to Elijah, give
    me also a sign that I shall live.'"

    For a moment he paused, struggling with overpowering emotion. Even his
    impatient listener, hitherto incredulous, caught the infection, and in a
    tone of awe murmured--

    "Yes? And then, M. la Tribe!"

    "The sign was given me. The words were scarcely out of my mouth when a
    hen flew up, and, scratching a nest in the hay at my feet, presently laid
    an egg."

    Tignonville stared. "It was timely, I admit," he said. "But it is no
    uncommon thing. Probably it has its nest here and lays daily."

    "Young man, this is new-mown hay," the minister answered solemnly. "This
    cart was brought here no further back than yesterday. It smells of the
    meadow, and the flowers hold their colour. No, the fowl was sent. To-
    morrow it will return, and the next, and the next, until the plague be
    stayed and I go hence. But that is not all. A while later a second hen
    appeared, and I thought it would lay in the same nest. But it made a new
    one, on the side on which you lie and not far from your foot. Then I
    knew that I was to have a companion, and that God had laid also for him a
    table in the wilderness."

    "It did lay, then?"

    "It is still on the nest, beside your foot."

    Tignonville was about to reply when the preacher grasped his arm and by a
    sign enjoined silence. He did so not a moment too soon. Preoccupied by
    the story, narrator and listener had paid no heed to what was passing in
    the lane, and the voices of men speaking close at hand took them by
    surprise. From the first words which reached them, it was clear that the
    speakers were the same who had chased La Tribe as far as the meeting of
    the four ways, and, losing him there, had spent the morning in other
    business. Now they had returned to hunt him down; and but for a wrangle
    which arose among them and detained them, they had stolen on their quarry
    before their coming was suspected.

    "'Twas this way he ran!" "No, 'twas the other!" they contended; and
    their words, winged with vile threats and oaths, grew noisy and hot. The
    two listeners dared scarcely to breathe. The danger was so near, it was
    so certain that if the men came three paces farther, they would observe
    and search the haycart, that Tignonville fancied the steel already at his
    throat. He felt the hay rustle under his slightest movement, and gripped
    one hand with the other to restrain the tremor of overpowering
    excitement. Yet when he glanced at the minister he found him unmoved, a
    smile on his face. And M. de Tignonville could have cursed him for his
    folly.

    For the men were coming on! An instant, and they perceived the cart, and
    the ruffian who had advised this route pounced on it in triumph.

    "There! Did I not say so?" he cried. "He is curled up in that hay, for
    the Satan's grub he is! That is where he is, see you!"

    "Maybe," another answered grudgingly, as they gathered before it. "And
    maybe not, Simon!"

    "To hell with your maybe not!" the first replied. And he drove his pike
    deep into the hay and turned it viciously.

    The two on the top controlled themselves. Tignonville's face was livid;
    of himself he would have slid down amongst them and taken his chance,
    preferring to die fighting, to die in the open, rather than to perish
    like a rat in a stack. But La Tribe had gripped his arm and held him
    fast.

    The man whom the others called Simon thrust again, but too low and
    without result. He was for trying a third time, when one of his comrades
    who had gone to the other side of the lane announced that the men were on
    the top of the hay.

    "Can you see them?"

    "No, but there's room and to spare."

    "Oh, a curse on your room!" Simon retorted. "Well, you can look."

    "If that's all, I'll soon look!" was the answer. And the rogue, forcing
    himself between the hay and the side of the gateway, found the wheel of
    the cart, and began to raise himself on it.

    Tignonville, who lay on that hand, heard, though he could not see his
    movements. He knew what they meant, he knew that in a twinkling he must
    be discovered; and with a last prayer he gathered himself for a spring.

    It seemed an age before the intruder's head appeared on a level with the
    hay; and then the alarm came from another quarter. The hen which had
    made its nest at Tignonville's feet, disturbed by the movement or by the
    newcomer's hand, flew out with a rush and flutter as of a great firework.
    Upsetting the startled Simon, who slipped swearing to the ground, it
    swooped scolding and clucking over the heads of the other men, and
    reaching the street in safety, scuttled off at speed, its outspread wings
    sweeping the earth in its rage.

    They laughed uproariously as Simon emerged, rubbing his elbow.

    "There's for you! There's your preacher!" his opponent jeered.

    "D---n her! she gives tongue as fast as any of them!" gibed a second.
    "Will you try again, Simon? You may find another love-letter there!"

    "Have done!" a third cried impatiently. "He'll not be where the hen is!
    Let's back! Let's back! I said before that it wasn't this way he
    turned! He's made for the river."

    "The plague in his vitals!" Simon replied furiously. "Wherever he is,
    I'll find him!" And, reluctant to confess himself wrong, he lingered,
    casting vengeful glances at the hay.

    But one of the other men cursed him for a fool; and presently, forced to
    accept his defeat or be left alone, he rejoined his fellows. Slowly the
    footsteps and voices receded along the lane; slowly, until silence
    swallowed them, and on the quivering strained senses of the two who
    remained behind, descended the gentle influence of twilight and the sweet
    scent of the new-mown hay on which they lay.

    La Tribe turned to his companion, his eyes shining. "Our soul is
    escaped," he murmured, "even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler.
    The snare is broken and we are delivered!" His voice shook as he
    whispered the ancient words of triumph.

    But when they came to look in the nest at Tignonville's feet there was no
    egg!
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