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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    THE DUEL.

    At the foot of the staircase Tignonville paused. The droning Norman
    voices of the men on guard issued from an open door a few paces before
    him on the left. He caught a jest, the coarse chuckling laughter which
    attended it, and the gurgle of applause which followed; and he knew that
    at any moment one of the men might step out and discover him. Fortunately
    the door of the room with the shattered window was almost within reach of
    his hand on the right side of the passage, and he stepped softly to it.
    He stood an instant hesitating, his hand on the latch; then, alarmed by a
    movement in the guard-room, as if some were rising, he pushed the door in
    a panic, slid into the room, and shut the door behind him. He was safe,
    and he had made no noise; but at the table, at supper, with his back to
    him and his face to the partly closed window, sat Count Hannibal!

    The young man's heart stood still. For a long minute he gazed at the
    Count's back, spellbound and unable to stir. Then, as Tavannes ate on
    without looking round, he began to take courage. Possibly he had entered
    so quietly that he had not been heard, or possibly his entrance was taken
    for that of a servant. In either case, there was a chance that he might
    retire after the same fashion; and he had actually raised the latch, and
    was drawing the door to him with infinite precaution, when Tavannes'
    voice struck him, as it were, in the face.

    "Pray do not admit the draught, M. de Tignonville," he said, without
    looking round. "In your cowl you do not feel it, but it is otherwise
    with me."

    The unfortunate Tignonville stood transfixed, glaring at the back of the
    other's head. For an instant he could not find his voice. At last--

    "Curse you!" he hissed in a transport of rage. "Curse you! You did
    know, then? And she was right."

    "If you mean that I expected you, to be sure, Monsieur," Count Hannibal
    answered. "See, your place is laid. You will not feel the air from
    without there. The very becoming dress which you have adopted secures
    you from cold. But--do you not find it somewhat oppressive this summer
    weather?"

    "Curse you!" the young man cried, trembling.

    Tavannes turned and looked at him with a dark smile. "The curse may
    fall," he said, "but I fancy it will not be in consequence of your
    petitions, Monsieur. And now, were it not better you played the man?"

    "If I were armed," the other cried passionately, "you would not insult
    me!"

    "Sit down, sir, sit down," Count Hannibal answered sternly. "We will
    talk of that presently. In the mean time I have something to say to you.
    Will you not eat?"

    But Tignonville would not.

    "Very well," Count Hannibal answered; and he went on with his supper. "I
    am indifferent whether you eat or not. It is enough for me that you are
    one of the two things I lacked an hour ago; and that I have you, M. de
    Tignonville. And through you I look to obtain the other."

    "What other?" Tignonville cried.

    "A minister," Tavannes answered, smiling. "A minister. There are not
    many left in Paris--of your faith. But you met one this morning, I
    know."

    "I? I met one?"

    "Yes, Monsieur, you! And can lay your hand on him in five minutes, you
    know."

    M. de Tignonville gasped. His face turned a shade paler.

    "You have a spy," he cried. "You have a spy upstairs!"

    Tavannes raised his cup to his lips, and drank. When he had set it down--

    "It may be," he said, and he shrugged his shoulders. "I know, it boots
    not how I know. It is my business to make the most of my knowledge--and
    of yours!"

    M. de Tignonville laughed rudely. "Make the most of your own," he said;
    "you will have none of mine."

    "That remains to be seen," Count Hannibal answered. "Carry your mind
    back two days, M. de Tignonville. Had I gone to Mademoiselle de Vrillac
    last Saturday and said to her 'Marry me, or promise to marry me,' what
    answer would she have given?"

    "She would have called you an insolent!" the young man replied hotly.
    "And I--"

    "No matter what you would have done!" Tavannes said. "Suffice it that
    she would have answered as you suggest. Yet to-day she has given me her
    promise."

    "Yes," the young man retorted, "in circumstances in which no man of
    honour--"

    "Let us say in peculiar circumstances."

    "Well?"

    "Which still exist! Mark me, M. de Tignonville," Count Hannibal
    continued, leaning forward and eyeing the young man with meaning, "_which
    still exist_! And may have the same effect on another's will as on hers!
    Listen! Do you hear?" And rising from his seat with a darkening face,
    he pointed to the partly shuttered window, through which the measured
    tramp of a body of men came heavily to the ear. "Do you hear, Monsieur?
    Do you understand? As it was yesterday it is to-day! They killed the
    President La Place this morning! And they are searching! They are still
    searching! The river is not yet full, nor the gibbet glutted! I have
    but to open that window and denounce you, and your life would hang by no
    stronger thread than the life of a mad dog which they chase through the
    streets!"

    The younger man had risen also. He stood confronting Tavannes, the cowl
    fallen back from his face, his eyes dilated.

    "You think to frighten me!" he cried. "You think that I am craven enough
    to sacrifice her to save myself. You--"

    "You were craven enough to draw back yesterday, when you stood at this
    window and waited for death!" Count Hannibal answered brutally. "You
    flinched then, and may flinch again!"

    "Try me!" Tignonville retorted, trembling with passion. "Try me!" And
    then, as the other stared at him and made no movement, "But you dare
    not!" he cried. "You dare not!"

    "No?"

    "No! For if I die you lose her!" Tignonville replied in a voice of
    triumph. "Ha, ha! I touch you there!" he continued. "You dare not, for
    my safety is part of the price, and is more to you than it is to myself!
    You may threaten, M. de Tavannes, you may bluster, and shout and point to
    the window"--and he mocked, with a disdainful mimicry, the other's
    gesture--"but my safety is more to you than to me! And 'twill end
    there!"

    "You believe that?"

    "I know it!"

    In two strides Count Hannibal was at the window. He seized a great piece
    of the boarding which closed one-half of the opening; he wrenched it
    away. A flood of evening light burst in through the aperture, and fell
    on and heightened the flushed passion of his features, as he turned again
    to his opponent.

    "Then if you know it," he cried vehemently, "in God's name act upon it!"
    And he pointed to the window.

    "Act upon it?"

    "Ay, act upon it!" Tavannes repeated, with a glance of flame. "The road
    is open! If you would save your mistress, behold the way! If you would
    save her from the embrace she abhors, from the eyes under which she
    trembles, from the hand of a master, there lies the way! And it is not
    her glove only you will save, but herself, her soul, her body! So," he
    continued, with a certain wildness, and in a tone wherein contempt and
    bitterness were mingled, "to the lions, brave lover! Will you your life
    for her honour? Will you death that she may live a maid? Will you your
    head to save her finger? Then, leap down! leap down! The lists are
    open, the sand is strewed! Out of your own mouth I have it that if you
    perish she is saved! Then out, Monsieur! Cry 'I am a Huguenot!' And
    God's will be done!"

    Tignonville was livid. "Rather, your will!" he panted. "Your will, you
    devil! Nevertheless--"

    "You will go! Ha! ha! You will go!"

    For an instant it seemed that he would go. Stung by the challenge,
    wrought on by the contempt in which Tavannes held him, he shot a look of
    hate at the tempter; he caught his breath, and laid his hand on the edge
    of the shuttering as if he would leap out.

    But it goes hard with him who has once turned back from the foe. The
    evening light, glancing cold on the burnished pike-points of a group of
    archers who stood near, caught his eye and went chill to his heart.
    Death, not in the arena, not in the sight of shouting thousands, but in
    this darkening street, with an enemy laughing from the window, death with
    no revenge to follow, with no certainty that after all she would be safe,
    such a death could be compassed only by pure love--the love of a child
    for a parent, of a parent for a child, of a man for the one woman in the
    world!

    He recoiled. "You would not spare her!" he cried, his face damp with
    sweat--for he knew now that he would not go. "You want to be rid of me!
    You would fool me, and then--"

    "Out of your own mouth you are convict!" Count Hannibal retorted gravely.
    "It was you who said it! But still I swear it! Shall I swear it to
    you?"

    But Tignonville recoiled another step and was silent.

    "No? O _preux chevalier_, O gallant knight! I knew it! Do you think
    that I did not know with whom I had to deal?" And Count Hannibal burst
    into harsh laughter, turning his back on the other, as if he no longer
    counted. "You will neither die with her nor for her! You were better in
    her petticoats and she in your breeches! Or no, you are best as you are,
    good father! Take my advice, M. de Tignonville, have done with arms; and
    with a string of beads, and soft words, and talk of Holy Mother Church,
    you will fool the women as surely as the best of them! They are not all
    like my cousin, a flouting, gibing, jeering woman--you had poor fortune
    there, I fear?"

    "If I had a sword!" Tignonville hissed, his face livid with rage. "You
    call me coward, because I will not die to please you. But give me a
    sword, and I will show you if I am a coward!"

    Tavannes stood still. "You are there, are you?" he said in an altered
    tone. "I--"

    "Give me a sword," Tignonville repeated, holding out his open trembling
    hands. "A sword! A sword! 'Tis easy taunting an unarmed man, but--"

    "You wish to fight?"

    "I ask no more! No more! Give me a sword," he urged, his voice
    quivering with eagerness. "It is you who are the coward!"

    Count Hannibal stared at him. "And what am I to get by fighting you?" he
    reasoned slowly. "You are in my power. I can do with you as I please. I
    can call from this window and denounce you, or I can summon my men--"

    "Coward! Coward!"

    "Ay? Well, I will tell you what I will do," with a subtle smile. "I
    will give you a sword, M. de Tignonville, and I will meet you foot to
    foot here, in this room, on a condition."

    "What is it? What is it?" the young man cried with incredible eagerness.
    "Name your condition!"

    "That if I get the better of you, you find me a minister."

    "I find you a--"

    "A minister. Yes, that is it. Or tell me where I can find one."

    The young man recoiled. "Never!" he said.

    "You know where to find one."

    "Never! Never!"

    "You can lay your hand on one in five minutes, you know."

    "I will not."

    "Then I shall not fight you!" Count Hannibal answered coolly; and he
    turned from him, and back again. "You will pardon me if I say, M. de
    Tignonville, that you are in as many minds about fighting as about dying!
    I do not think that you would have made your fortune at Court. Moreover,
    there is a thing which I fancy you have not considered. If we fight you
    may kill me, in which case the condition will not help me much. Or
    I--which is more likely--" he added, with a harsh smile, "may kill you,
    and again I am no better placed."

    The young man's pallid features betrayed the conflict in his breast. To
    do him justice, his hand itched for the sword-hilt--he was brave enough
    for that; he hated, and only so could he avenge himself. But the penalty
    if he had the worse! And yet what of it? He was in hell now, in a hell
    of humiliation, shame, defeat, tormented by this fiend! 'Twas only to
    risk a lower hell.

    At last, "I will do it!" he cried hoarsely. "Give me a sword and look to
    yourself."

    "You promise?"

    "Yes, yes, I promise!"

    "Good," Count Hannibal answered suavely, "but we cannot fight so, we must
    have more light."

    And striding to the door he opened it, and calling the Norman bade him
    move the table and bring candles--a dozen candles; for in the narrow
    streets the light was waning, and in the half-shuttered room it was
    growing dusk. Tignonville, listening with a throbbing brain, wondered
    that the attendant expressed no surprise and said no word--until Tavannes
    added to his orders one for a pair of swords.

    Then, "Monsieur's sword is here," Bigot answered in his half-intelligible
    patois. "He left it here yester morning."

    "You are a good fellow, Bigot," Tavannes answered, with a gaiety and good-
    humour which astonished Tignonville. "And one of these days you shall
    marry Suzanne."

    The Norman smiled sourly and went in search of the weapon.

    "You have a poniard?" Count Hannibal continued in the same tone of
    unusual good temper, which had already struck Tignonville. "Excellent!
    Will you strip, then, or--as we are? Very good, Monsieur; in the
    unlikely event of fortune declaring for you, you will be in a better
    condition to take care of yourself. A man running through the streets in
    his shirt is exposed to inconveniences!" And he laughed gaily.

    While he laughed the other listened; and his rage began to give place to
    wonder. A man who regarded as a pastime a sword and dagger conflict
    between four walls, who, having his adversary in his power, was ready to
    discard the advantage, to descend into the lists, and to risk life for a
    whim, a fancy--such a man was outside his experience, though in Poitou in
    those days of war were men reckoned brave. For what, he asked himself as
    he waited, had Tavannes to gain by fighting? The possession of
    Mademoiselle? But Mademoiselle, if his passion for her overwhelmed him,
    was in his power; and if his promise were a barrier--which seemed
    inconceivable in the light of his reputation--he had only to wait, and to-
    morrow, or the next day, or the next, a minister would be found, and
    without risk he could gain that for which he was now risking all.

    Tignonville did not know that it was in the other's nature to find
    pleasure in such utmost ventures. Nevertheless the recklessness to which
    Tavannes' action bore witness had its effect upon him. By the time the
    young man's sword arrived something of his passion for the conflict had
    evaporated; and though the touch of the hilt restored his determination,
    the locked door, the confined space, and the unaccustomed light went a
    certain distance towards substituting despair for courage.

    The use of the dagger in the duels of that day, however, rendered despair
    itself formidable. And Tignonville, when he took his place, appeared
    anything but a mean antagonist. He had removed his robe and cowl, and
    lithe and active as a cat he stood as it were on springs, throwing his
    weight now on this foot and now on that, and was continually in motion.
    The table bearing the candles had been pushed against the window, the
    boarding of which had been replaced by Bigot before he left the room.
    Tignonville had this, and consequently the lights, on his dagger hand;
    and he plumed himself on the advantage, considering his point the more
    difficult to follow.

    Count Hannibal did not seem to notice this, however. "Are you ready?" he
    asked. And then--

    "On guard!" he cried, and he stamped the echo to the word. But, that
    done, instead of bearing the other down with a headlong rush
    characteristic of the man--as Tignonville feared--he held off warily,
    stooping low; and when his slow opening was met by one as cautious, he
    began to taunt his antagonist.

    "Come!" he cried, and feinted half-heartedly. "Come, Monsieur, are we
    going to fight, or play at fighting?"

    "Fight yourself, then!" Tignonville answered, his breath quickened by
    excitement and growing hope. "'Tis not I hold back!" And he lunged, but
    was put aside.

    "Ca! ca!" Tavannes retorted; and he lunged and parried in his turn, but
    loosely and at a distance.

    After which the two moved nearer the door, their eyes glittering as they
    watched one another, their knees bent, the sinews of their backs
    straining for the leap. Suddenly Tavannes thrust, and leapt away, and as
    his antagonist thrust in return the Count swept the blade aside with a
    strong parry, and for a moment seemed to be on the point of falling on
    Tignonville with the poniard. But Tignonville retired his right foot
    nimbly, which brought them front to front again. And the younger man
    laughed.

    "Try again, M. le Comte!" he said. And, with the word, he dashed in
    himself quick as light; for a second the blades ground on one another,
    the daggers hovered, the two suffused faces glared into one another; then
    the pair disengaged again.

    The blood trickled from a scratch on Count Hannibal's neck; half an inch
    to the right and the point had found his throat. And Tignonville,
    elated, laughed anew, and swaying from side to side on his hips, watched
    with growing confidence for a second chance. Lithe as one of the
    leopards Charles kept at the Louvre, he stooped lower and lower, and more
    and more with each moment took the attitude of the assailant, watching
    for an opening; while Count Hannibal, his face dark and his eyes
    vigilant, stood increasingly on the defence. The light was waning a
    little, the wicks of the candles were burning long; but neither noticed
    it or dared to remove his eyes from the other's. Their laboured
    breathing found an echo on the farther side of the door, but this again
    neither observed.

    "Well?" Count Hannibal said at last. "Are you coming?"

    "When I please," Tignonville answered; and he feinted but drew back.

    The other did the same, and again they watched one another, their eyes
    seeming to grow smaller and smaller. Gradually a smile had birth on
    Tignonville's lips. He thrust! It was parried! He thrust
    again--parried! Tavannes, grown still more cautious, gave a yard.
    Tignonville pushed on, but did not allow confidence to master caution. He
    began, indeed, to taunt his adversary; to flout and jeer him. But it was
    with a motive.

    For suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, he repeated the peculiar
    thrust which had been successful before. This time, however, Tavannes
    was ready. He put aside the blade with a quick parade, and instead of
    making a riposte sprang within the other's guard. The two came face to
    face and breast to shoulder, and struck furiously with their daggers.
    Count Hannibal was outside his opponent's sword and had the advantage.
    Tignonville's dagger fell, but glanced off the metalwork of the other's
    hilt; Tavannes' fell swift and hard between the young man's eyes. The
    Huguenot flung up his hands and staggered back, falling his length on the
    floor.

    In an instant Count Hannibal was on his breast, and had knocked away his
    dagger. Then--

    "You own yourself vanquished?" he cried.

    The young man, blinded by the blood which trickled down his face, made a
    sign with his hands. Count Hannibal rose to his feet again, and stood a
    moment looking at his foe without speaking. Presently he seemed to be
    satisfied. He nodded, and going to the table dipped a napkin in water.
    He brought it, and carefully supporting Tignonville's head, laved his
    brow.

    "It is as I thought," he said, when he had stanched the blood. "You are
    not hurt, man. You are stunned. It is no more than a bruise."

    The young man was coming to himself. "But I thought--" he muttered, and
    broke off to pass his hand over his face. Then he got up slowly, reeling
    a little, "I thought it was the point," he muttered.

    "No, it was the pommel," Tavannes answered dryly. "It would not have
    served me to kill you. I could have done that ten times."

    Tignonville groaned, and, sitting down at the table, held the napkin to
    his aching head. One of the candles had been overturned in the struggle
    and lay on the floor, flaring in a little pool of grease. Tavannes set
    his heel upon it; then, striding to the farther end of the room, he
    picked up Tignonville's dagger and placed it beside his sword on the
    table. He looked about to see if aught else remained to do, and, finding
    nothing, he returned to Tignonville's side.

    "Now, Monsieur," he said in a voice hard and constrained, "I must ask you
    to perform your part of the bargain."

    A groan of anguish broke from the unhappy man. And yet he had set his
    life on the cast; what more could he have done?

    "You will not harm him?" he muttered.

    "He shall go safe," Count Hannibal replied gravely.

    "And--" he fought a moment with his pride, then blurted out the words,
    "you will not tell her--that it was through me--you found him?"

    "I will not," Tavannes answered in the same tone. He stooped and picked
    up the other's robe and cowl, which had fallen from a chair--so that as
    he spoke his eyes were averted. "She shall never know through me," he
    said.

    And Tignonville, his face hidden in his hands, told him.
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    Chapter 17
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