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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 18
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    ANDROMEDA, PERSEUS BEING ABSENT.

    Little by little--while they fought below--the gloom had thickened, and
    night had fallen in the room above. But Mademoiselle would not have
    candles brought. Seated in the darkness, on the uppermost step of the
    stairs, her hands clasped about her knees, she listened and listened, as
    if by that action she could avert misfortune; or as if, by going so far
    forward to meet it, she could turn aside the worst. The women shivering
    in the darkness about her would fain have struck a light and drawn her
    back into the room, for they felt safer there. But she was not to be
    moved. The laughter and chatter of the men in the guard-room, the coming
    and going of Bigot as he passed, below but out of sight, had no terrors
    for her; nay, she breathed more freely on the bare open landing of the
    staircase than in the close confines of a room which her fears made
    hateful to her. Here at least she could listen, her face unseen; and
    listening she bore the suspense more easily.

    A turn in the staircase, with the noise which proceeded from the guard-
    room, rendered it difficult to hear what happened in the closed room
    below. But she thought that if an alarm were raised there she must hear
    it; and as the moments passed and nothing happened, she began to feel
    confident that her lover had made good his escape by the window.

    Presently she got a fright. Three or four men came from the guard-room
    and went, as it seemed to her, to the door of the room with the shattered
    casement. She told herself that she had rejoiced too soon, and her heart
    stood still. She waited for a rush of feet, a cry, a struggle. But
    except an uncertain muffled sound which lasted for some minutes, and was
    followed by a dull shock, she heard nothing more. And presently the men
    went back whispering, the noise in the guard-room which had been
    partially hushed broke forth anew, and perplexed but relieved she
    breathed again. Surely he had escaped by this time. Surely by this time
    he was far away, in the Arsenal, or in some place of refuge! And she
    might take courage, and feel that for this day the peril was overpast.

    "Mademoiselle will have the lights now?" one of the women ventured.

    "No! no!" she answered feverishly, and she continued to crouch where she
    was on the stairs, bathing herself and her burning face in the darkness
    and coolness of the stairway. The air entered freely through a window at
    her elbow, and the place was fresher, were that all, than the room she
    had left. Javette began to whimper, but she paid no heed to her; a man
    came and went along the passage below, and she heard the outer door
    unbarred, and the jarring tread of three or four men who passed through
    it. But all without disturbance; and afterwards the house was quiet
    again. And as on this Monday evening the prime virulence of the massacre
    had begun to abate--though it held after a fashion to the end of the
    week--Paris without was quiet also. The sounds which had chilled her
    heart at intervals during two days were no longer heard. A feeling
    almost of peace, almost of comfort--a drowsy feeling, that was three
    parts a reaction from excitement--took possession of her. In the
    darkness her head sank lower and lower on her knees. And half an hour
    passed, while Javette whimpered, and Madame Carlat slumbered, her broad
    back propped against the wall.

    Suddenly Mademoiselle opened her eyes, and saw, three steps below her, a
    strange man whose upward way she barred. Behind him came Carlat, and
    behind him Bigot, lighting both; and in the confusion of her thoughts as
    she rose to her feet the three, all staring at her in a common amazement,
    seemed a company. The air entering through the open window beside her
    blew the flame of the candle this way and that, and added to the
    nightmare character of the scene; for by the shifting light the men
    seemed to laugh one moment and scowl the next, and their shadows were now
    high and now low on the wall. In truth, they were as much amazed at
    coming on her in that place as she at their appearance; but they were
    awake, and she newly roused from sleep; and the advantage was with them.

    "What is it?" she cried in a panic. "What is it?"

    "If Mademoiselle will return to her room?" one of the men said
    courteously.

    "But--what is it?" She was frightened.

    "If Mademoiselle--"

    Then she turned without more and went back into the room, and the three
    followed, and her woman and Madame Carlat. She stood resting one hand on
    the table while Javette with shaking fingers lighted the candles. Then--

    "Now, Monsieur," she said in a hard voice, "if you will tell me your
    business?"

    "You do not know me?" The stranger's eyes dwelt kindly and pitifully on
    her.

    She looked at him steadily, crushing down the fears which knocked at her
    heart.

    "No," she said. "And yet I think I have seen you."

    "You saw me a week last Sunday," the stranger answered sorrowfully. "My
    name is La Tribe. I preached that day, Mademoiselle, before the King of
    Navarre. I believe that you were there."

    For a moment she stared at him in silence, her lips parted. Then she
    laughed, a laugh which set the teeth on edge.

    "Oh, he is clever!" she cried. "He has the wit of the priests! Or the
    devil! But you come too late, Monsieur! You come too late! The bird
    has flown."

    "Mademoiselle--"

    "I tell you the bird has flown!" she repeated vehemently. And her laugh
    of joyless triumph rang through the room. "He is clever, but I have
    outwitted him! I have--"

    She paused and stared about her wildly, struck by the silence; struck too
    by something solemn, something pitiful in the faces that were turned on
    her. And her lip began to quiver.

    "What?" she muttered. "Why do you look at me so? He has not"--she
    turned from one to another--"he has not been taken?"

    "M. Tignonville?"

    She nodded.

    "He is below."

    "Ah!" she said.

    They expected to see her break down, perhaps to see her fall. But she
    only groped blindly for a chair and sat. And for a moment there was
    silence in the room. It was the Huguenot minister who broke it in a tone
    formal and solemn.

    "Listen, all present!" he said slowly. "The ways of God are past finding
    out. For two days in the midst of great perils I have been preserved by
    His hand and fed by His bounty, and I am told that I shall live if, in
    this matter, I do the will of those who hold me in their power. But be
    assured--and hearken all," he continued, lowering his voice to a sterner
    note. "Rather than marry this woman to this man against her will--if
    indeed in His sight such marriage can be--rather than save my life by
    such base compliance, I will die not once but ten times! See. I am
    ready! I will make no defence!" And he opened his arms as if to welcome
    the stroke. "If there be trickery here, if there has been practising
    below, where they told me this and that, it shall not avail! Until I
    hear from Mademoiselle's own lips that she is willing, I will not say
    over her so much as Yea, yea, or Nay, nay!"

    "She is willing!"

    La Tribe turned sharply, and beheld the speaker. It was Count Hannibal,
    who had entered a few seconds earlier, and had taken his stand within the
    door.

    "She is willing!" Tavannes repeated quietly. And if, in this moment of
    the fruition of his schemes, he felt his triumph, he masked it under a
    face of sombre purpose. "Do you doubt me, man?"

    "From her own lips!" the other replied, undaunted--and few could say as
    much--by that harsh presence. "From no other's!"

    "Sirrah, you--"

    "I can die. And you can no more, my lord!" the minister answered
    bravely. "You have no threat can move me."

    "I am not sure of that," Tavannes answered, more blandly. "But had you
    listened to me and been less anxious to be brave, M. La Tribe, where no
    danger is, you had learned that here is no call for heroics! Mademoiselle
    is willing, and will tell you so."

    "With her own lips?"

    Count Hannibal raised his eyebrows. "With her own lips, if you will," he
    said. And then, advancing a step and addressing her, with unusual
    gravity, "Mademoiselle de Vrillac," he said, "you hear what this
    gentleman requires. Will you be pleased to confirm what I have said?"

    She did not answer, and in the intense silence which held the room in its
    freezing grasp a woman choked, another broke into weeping. The colour
    ebbed from the cheeks of more than one; the men fidgeted on their feet.

    Count Hannibal looked round, his head high. "There is no call for
    tears," he said; and whether he spoke in irony or in a strange obtuseness
    was known only to himself. "Mademoiselle is in no hurry--and rightly--to
    answer a question so momentous. Under the pressure of utmost peril, she
    passed her word; the more reason that, now the time has come to redeem
    it, she should do so at leisure and after thought. Since she gave her
    promise, Monsieur, she has had more than one opportunity of evading its
    fulfilment. But she is a Vrillac, and I know that nothing is farther
    from her thoughts."

    He was silent a moment; and then, "Mademoiselle," he said, "I would not
    hurry you."

    Her eyes were closed, but at that her lips moved. "I am--willing," she
    whispered. And a fluttering sigh, of relief, of pity, of God knows what,
    filled the room.

    "You are satisfied, M. La Tribe?"

    "I do not--"

    "Man!" With a growl as of a tiger, Count Hannibal dropped the mask. In
    two strides he was at the minister's side, his hand gripped his shoulder;
    his face, flushed with passion, glared into his. "Will you play with
    lives?" he hissed. "If you do not value your own, have you no thought of
    others? Of these? Look and count! Have you no bowels? If she will
    save them, will not you?"

    "My own I do not value."

    "Curse your own!" Tavannes cried in furious scorn. And he shook the
    other to and fro. "Who thought of your life? Will you doom these? Will
    you give them to the butcher?"

    "My lord," La Tribe answered, shaken in spite of himself, "if she be
    willing--"

    "She is willing."

    "I have nought to say. But I caught her words indistinctly. And without
    her consent--"

    "She shall speak more plainly. Mademoiselle--"

    She anticipated him. She had risen, and stood looking straight before
    her, seeing nothing.

    "I am willing," she muttered with a strange gesture, "if it must be."

    He did not answer.

    "If it must be," she repeated slowly, and with a heavy sigh. And her
    chin dropped on her breast. Then, abruptly, suddenly--it was a strange
    thing to see--she looked up. A change as complete as the change which
    had come over Count Hannibal a minute before came over her. She sprang
    to his side; she clutched his arm and devoured his face with her eyes.
    "You are not deceiving me?" she cried. "You have Tignonville below?
    You--oh, no, no!" And she fell back from him, her eyes distended, her
    voice grown suddenly shrill and defiant, "You have not! You are
    deceiving me! He has escaped, and you have lied to me!"

    "I?"

    "Yes, you have lied to me!" It was the last fierce flicker of hope when
    hope seemed dead: the last clutch of the drowning at the straw that
    floated before the eyes.

    He laughed harshly. "You will be my wife in five minutes," he said, "and
    you give me the lie? A week, and you will know me better! A month,
    and--but we will talk of that another time. For the present," he
    continued, turning to La Tribe, "do you, sir, tell her that the gentleman
    is below. Perhaps she will believe you. For you know him."

    La Tribe looked at her sorrowfully; his heart bled for her. "I have seen
    M. de Tignonville," he said. "And M. le Comte says truly. He is in the
    same case with ourselves, a prisoner."

    "You have seen him?" she wailed.

    "I left him in the room below, when I mounted the stairs."

    Count Hannibal laughed, the grim mocking laugh which seemed to revel in
    the pain it inflicted.

    "Will you have him for a witness?" he cried. "There could not be a
    better, for he will not forget. Shall I fetch him?"

    She bowed her head, shivering. "Spare me that," she said. And she
    pressed her hands to her eyes while an uncontrollable shudder passed over
    her frame. Then she stepped forward: "I am ready," she whispered. "Do
    with me as you will!"

    * * * * *

    When they had all gone out and closed the door behind them, and the two
    whom the minister had joined were left together, Count Hannibal continued
    for a time to pace the room, his hands clasped at his back, and his head
    sunk somewhat on his chest. His thoughts appeared to run in a new
    channel, and one, strange to say, widely diverted from his bride and from
    that which he had just done. For he did not look her way, or, for a
    time, speak to her. He stood once to snuff a candle, doing it with an
    absent face: and once to look, but still absently, and as if he read no
    word of it, at the marriage writing which lay, the ink still wet, upon
    the table. After each of these interruptions he resumed his steady
    pacing to and fro, to and fro, nor did his eye wander once in the
    direction of her chair.

    And she waited. The conflict of emotions, the strife between hope and
    fear, the final defeat had stunned her; had left her exhausted, almost
    apathetic. Yet not quite, nor wholly. For when in his walk he came a
    little nearer to her, a chill perspiration broke out on her brow, and
    shudderings crept over her; and when he passed farther from her--and then
    only, it seemed--she breathed again. But the change lay beneath the
    surface, and cheated the eye. Into her attitude, as she sat, her hands
    clasped on her lap, her eyes fixed, came no apparent change or shadow of
    movement.

    Suddenly, with a dull shock, she became aware that he was speaking.

    "There was need of haste," he said, his tone strangely low and free from
    emotion, "for I am under bond to leave Paris to-morrow for Angers,
    whither I bear letters from the King. And as matters stood, there was no
    one with whom I could leave you. I trust Bigot; he is faithful, and you
    may trust him, Madame, fair or foul! But he is not quick-witted.
    Badelon, also, you may trust. Bear it in mind. Your woman Javette is
    not faithful; but as her life is guaranteed she must stay with us until
    she can be securely placed. Indeed, I must take all with me--with one
    exception--for the priests and monks rule Paris, and they do not love me,
    nor would spare aught at my word."

    He was silent a few moments. Then he resumed in the same tone, "You
    ought to know how we, Tavannes, stand. It is by Monsieur and the Queen-
    Mother; and _contra_ the Guises. We have all been in this matter; but
    the latter push and we are pushed, and the old crack will reopen. As it
    is, I cannot answer for much beyond the reach of my arm. Therefore, we
    take all with us except M. de Tignonville, who desires to be conducted to
    the Arsenal."

    She had begun to listen with averted eyes. But as he continued to speak
    surprise awoke in her, and something stronger than surprise--amazement,
    stupefaction. Slowly her eyes came to him, and when he ceased to speak--

    "Why do you tell me these things?" she muttered, her dry lips framing the
    words with difficulty.

    "Because it behoves you to know them," he answered, thoughtfully tapping
    the table. "I have no one, save my brother, whom I can trust."

    She would not ask him why he trusted her, nor why he thought he could
    trust her. For a moment or two she watched him, while he, with his eyes
    lowered, stood in deep thought. At last he looked up and his eyes met
    hers.

    "Come!" he said abruptly, and in a different tone, "we must end this! Is
    it to be a kiss or a blow between us?"

    She rose, though her knees shook under her; and they stood face to face,
    her face white as paper.

    "What--do you mean?" she whispered.

    "Is it to be a kiss or a blow?" he repeated. "A husband must be a lover,
    Madame, or a master, or both! I am content to be the one or the other,
    or both, as it shall please you. But the one I will be."

    "Then, a thousand times, a blow," she cried, her eyes flaming, "from
    you!"

    He wondered at her courage, but he hid his wonder. "So be it!" he
    answered. And before she knew what he would be at, he struck her sharply
    across the cheek with the glove which he held in his hand. She recoiled
    with a low cry, and her cheek blazed scarlet where he had struck it.

    "So be it!" he continued sombrely. "The choice shall be yours, but you
    will come to me daily for the one or the other. If I cannot be lover,
    Madame, I will be master. And by this sign I will have you know it,
    daily, and daily remember it."

    She stared at him, her bosom rising and falling, in an astonishment too
    deep for words. But he did not heed her. He did not look at her again.
    He had already turned to the door, and while she looked he passed through
    it, he closed it behind him. And she was alone.
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    Chapter 18
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