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    Chapter 27

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    Chapter 27
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    THE BLACK TOWN.

    It was late evening when, riding wearily on jaded horses, they came to
    the outskirts of Angers, and saw before them the term of their journey.
    The glow of sunset had faded, but the sky was still warm with the last
    hues of day; and against its opal light the huge mass of the Angevin
    castle, which even in sunshine rises dark and forbidding above the
    Mayenne, stood up black and sharply defined. Below it, on both banks of
    the river, the towers and spires of the city soared up from a sombre
    huddle of ridge-roofs, broken here by a round-headed gateway, crumbling
    and pigeon-haunted, that dated from St. Louis, and there by the gaunt
    arms of a windmill.

    The city lay dark under a light sky, keeping well its secrets. Thousands
    were out of doors enjoying the evening coolness in alley and court, yet
    it betrayed the life which pulsed in its arteries only by the low murmur
    which rose from it. Nevertheless, the Countess at sight of its roofs
    tasted the first moment of happiness which had been hers that day. She
    might suffer, but she had saved. Those roofs would thank her! In that
    murmur were the voices of women and children she had redeemed! At the
    sight and at the thought a wave of love and tenderness swept all
    bitterness from her breast. A profound humility, a boundless
    thankfulness took possession of her. Her head sank lower above her
    horse's mane; but this time it sank in reverence, not in shame.

    Could she have known what was passing beneath those roofs which night was
    blending in a common gloom--could she have read the thoughts which at
    that moment paled the cheeks of many a stout burgher, whose gabled house
    looked on the great square, she had been still more thankful. For in
    attics and back rooms women were on their knees at that hour, praying
    with feverish eyes; and in the streets men--on whom their fellows, seeing
    the winding-sheet already at the chin, gazed askance--smiled, and showed
    brave looks abroad, while their hearts were sick with fear.

    For darkly, no man knew how, the news had come to Angers. It had been
    known, more or less, for three days. Men had read it in other men's
    eyes. The tongue of a scold, the sneer of an injured woman had spread
    it, the birds of the air had carried it. From garret window to garret
    window across the narrow lanes of the old town it had been whispered at
    dead of night; at convent grilles, and in the timber-yards beside the
    river. Ten thousand, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand, it was
    rumoured, had perished in Paris. In Orleans, all. In Tours this man's
    sister; at Saumur that man's son. Through France the word had gone forth
    that the Huguenots must die; and in the busy town the same roof-tree
    sheltered fear and hate, rage and cupidity. On one side of the party-
    wall murder lurked fierce-eyed; on the other, the victim lay watching the
    latch, and shaking at a step. Strong men tasted the bitterness of death,
    and women clasping their babes to their breasts smiled sickly into
    children's eyes.

    The signal only was lacking. It would come, said some, from Saumur,
    where Montsoreau, the Duke of Anjou's Lieutenant-Governor and a Papist,
    had his quarters. From Paris, said others, directly from the King. It
    might come at any hour now, in the day or in the night; the magistrates,
    it was whispered, were in continuous session, awaiting its coming. No
    wonder that from lofty gable windows, and from dormers set high above the
    tiles, haggard faces looked northward and eastward, and ears sharpened by
    fear imagined above the noises of the city the ring of the iron shoes
    that carried doom.

    Doubtless the majority desired--as the majority in France have always
    desired--peace. But in the purlieus about the cathedral and in the lanes
    where the sacristans lived, in convent parlours and college courts, among
    all whose livelihood the new faith threatened, was a stir as of a hive
    deranged. Here was grumbling against the magistrates--why wait? There,
    stealthy plannings and arrangements; everywhere a grinding of weapons and
    casting of slugs. Old grudges, new rivalries, a scholar's venom, a
    priest's dislike, here was final vent for all. None need leave this
    feast unsated!

    It was a man of this class, sent out for the purpose, who first espied
    Count Hannibal's company approaching. He bore the news into the town,
    and by the time the travellers reached the city gate, the dusky street
    within, on which lights were beginning to twinkle from booths and
    casements, was alive with figures running to meet them and crying the
    news as they ran. The travellers, weary and road-stained, had no sooner
    passed under the arch than they found themselves the core of a great
    crowd which moved with them and pressed about them; now unbonneting, and
    now calling out questions, and now shouting, "Vive le Roi! Vive le Roi!"
    Above the press, windows burst into light; and over all, the quaint
    leaning gables of the old timbered houses looked down on the hurry and
    tumult.

    They passed along a narrow street in which the rabble, hurrying at Count
    Hannibal's bridle, and often looking back to read his face, had much ado
    to escape harm; along this street and before the yawning doors of a great
    church whence a breath heavy with incense and burning wax issued to meet
    them. A portion of the congregation had heard the tumult and struggled
    out, and now stood close-packed on the steps under the double vault of
    the portal. Among them the Countess's eyes, as she rode by, a sturdy man-
    at-arms on either hand, caught and held one face. It was the face of a
    tall, lean man in dusty black; and though she did not know him she seemed
    to have an equal attraction for him; for as their eyes met he seized the
    shoulder of the man next him and pointed her out. And something in the
    energy of the gesture, or in the thin lips and malevolent eyes of the man
    who pointed, chilled the Countess's blood and shook her, she knew not
    why.

    Until then, she had known no fear save of her husband. But at that a
    sense of the force and pressure of the crowd--as well as of the fierce
    passions, straining about her, which a word might unloose--broke upon
    her; and looking to the stern men on either side she fancied that she
    read anxiety in their faces.

    She glanced behind. Boot to boot, the Count's men came on, pressing
    round her women and shielding them from the exuberance of the throng. In
    their faces too she thought that she traced uneasiness. What wonder if
    the scenes through which she had passed in Paris began to recur to her
    mind, and shook nerves already overwrought?

    She began to tremble. "Is there--danger?" she muttered, speaking in a
    low voice to Bigot, who rode on her right hand. "Will they do anything?"

    The Norman snorted. "Not while he is in the saddle," he said, nodding
    towards his master, who rode a pace in front of them, his reins loose.
    "There be some here know him!" Bigot continued, in his drawling tone.
    "And more will know him if they break line. Have no fear, Madame, he
    will bring you safe to the inn. Down with the Huguenots?" he continued,
    turning from her and addressing a rogue who, holding his stirrup, was
    shouting the cry till he was crimson. "Then why not away, and--"

    "The King! The King's word and leave!" the man answered.

    "Ay, tell us!" shrieked another, looking upward, while he waved his cap;
    "have we the King's leave?"

    "You'll bide _his_ leave!" the Norman retorted, indicating the Count with
    his thumb. "Or 'twill be up with you--on the three-legged horse!"

    "But he comes from the King!" the man panted.

    "To be sure. To be sure!"

    "Then--"

    "You'll bide his time! That's all!" Bigot answered, rather it seemed for
    his own satisfaction than the other's enlightenment. "You'll all bide
    it, you dogs!" he continued in his beard, as he cast his eye over the
    weltering crowd. "Ha! so we are here, are we? And not too soon,
    either."

    He fell silent as they entered an open space, overlooked on one side by
    the dark facade of the cathedral, on the other three sides by houses more
    or less illumined. The rabble swept into this open space with them and
    before them, filled much of it in an instant, and for a while eddied and
    swirled this way and that, thrust onward by the worshippers who had
    issued from the church and backwards by those who had been first in the
    square, and had no mind to be hustled out of hearing. A stranger,
    confused by the sea of excited faces, and deafened by the clamour of
    "Vive le Roi!" "Vive Anjou!" mingled with cries against the Huguenots,
    might have fancied that the whole city was arrayed before him. But he
    would have been wide of the mark. The scum, indeed--and a dangerous
    scum--frothed and foamed and spat under Tavannes' bridle-hand; and here
    and there among them, but not of them, the dark-robed figure of a priest
    moved to and fro; or a Benedictine, or some smooth-faced acolyte egged on
    to the work he dared not do. But the decent burghers were not there.
    They lay bolted in their houses; while the magistrates, with little heart
    to do aught except bow to the mob--or other their masters for the time
    being--shook in their council chamber.

    There is not a city of France which has not seen it; which has not known
    the moment when the mass impended, and it lay with one man to start it or
    stay its course. Angers within its houses heard the clamour, and from
    the child, clinging to its mother's skirt, and wondering why she wept, to
    the Provost, trembled, believing that the hour had come. The Countess
    heard it too, and understood it. She caught the savage note in the voice
    of the mob--that note which means danger--and, her heart beating wildly,
    she looked to her husband. Then, fortunately for her, fortunately for
    Angers, it was given to all to see that in Count Hannibal's saddle sat a
    man.

    He raised his hand for silence, and in a minute or two--not at once, for
    the square was dusky--it was obtained. He rose in his stirrups, and
    bared his head.

    "I am from the King!" he cried, throwing his voice to all parts of the
    crowd. "And this is his Majesty's pleasure and good will! That every
    man hold his hand until to-morrow on pain of death, or worse! And at
    noon his further pleasure will be known! Vive le Roi!"

    And he covered his head again.

    "Vive le Roi!" cried a number of the foremost. But their shouts were
    feeble and half-hearted, and were quickly drowned in a rising murmur of
    discontent and ill-humour, which, mingled with cries of "Is that all? Is
    there no more? Down with the Huguenots!" rose from all parts. Presently
    these cries became merged in a persistent call, which had its origin, as
    far as could be discovered, in the darkest corner of the square. A call
    for "Montsoreau! Montsoreau! Give us Montsoreau!"

    With another man, or had Tavannes turned or withdrawn, or betrayed the
    least anxiety, words had become actions, disorder a riot; and that in the
    twinkling of an eye. But Count Hannibal, sitting his horse, with his
    handful of riders behind him, watched the crowd, as little moved by it as
    the Armed Knight of Notre Dame. Only once did he say a word. Then,
    raising his hand as before to gain a hearing--

    "You ask for Montsoreau?" he thundered. "You will have Montfaucon if you
    do not quickly go to your homes!"

    At which, and at the glare of his eye, the more timid took fright.
    Feeling his gaze upon them, seeing that he had no intention of
    withdrawing, they began to sneak away by ones and twos. Soon others
    missed them and took the alarm, and followed. A moment and scores were
    streaming away through lanes and alleys and along the main street. At
    last the bolder and more turbulent found themselves a remnant. They
    glanced uneasily at one another and at Tavannes, took fright in their
    turn, and plunging into the current hastened away, raising now and then
    as they passed through the streets a cry of "Vive Montsoreau!
    Montsoreau!"--which was not without its menace for the morrow.

    Count Hannibal waited motionless until no more than half a dozen groups
    remained in the open. Then he gave the word to dismount; for, so far,
    even the Countess and her women had kept their saddles, lest the movement
    which their retreat into the inn must have caused should be misread by
    the mob. Last of all he dismounted himself, and with lights going before
    him and behind, and preceded by Bigot, bearing his cloak and pistols, he
    escorted the Countess into the house. Not many minutes had elapsed since
    he had called for silence; but long before he reached the chamber looking
    over the square from the first floor, in which supper was being set for
    them, the news had flown through the length and breadth of Angers that
    for this night the danger was past. The hawk had come to Angers, and lo!
    it was a dove.

    Count Hannibal strode to one of the open windows and looked out. In the
    room, which was well lighted, were people of the house, going to and fro,
    setting out the table; to Madame, standing beside the hearth--which held
    its summer dressing of green boughs--while her woman held water for her
    to wash, the scene recalled with painful vividness the meal at which she
    had been present on the morning of the St. Bartholomew--the meal which
    had ushered in her troubles. Naturally her eyes went to her husband, her
    mind to the horror in which she had held him then; and with a kind of
    shock--perhaps because the last few minutes had shown him in a new
    light--she compared her old opinion of him with that which, much as she
    feared him, she now entertained.

    This afternoon, if ever, within the last few hours, if at all, he had
    acted in a way to justify that horror and that opinion. He had treated
    her--brutally; he had insulted and threatened her, had almost struck her.
    And yet--and yet Madame felt that she had moved so far from the point
    which she had once occupied that the old attitude was hard to understand.
    Hardly could she believe that it was on this man, much as she still
    dreaded him, that she had looked with those feelings of repulsion.

    She was still gazing at him with eyes which strove to see two men in one,
    when he turned from the window. Absorbed in thought, she had forgotten
    her occupation, and stood, the towel suspended in her half-dried hands.
    Before she knew what he was doing he was at her side; he bade the woman
    hold the bowl, and he rinsed his hands. Then he turned, and without
    looking at the Countess, he dried his hands on the farther end of the
    towel which she was still using.

    She blushed faintly. A something in the act, more intimate and more
    familiar than had ever marked their intercourse, set her blood running
    strangely. When he turned away and bade Bigot unbuckle his
    spur-leathers, she stepped forward.

    "I will do it!" she murmured, acting on a sudden and unaccountable
    impulse. And as she knelt, she shook her hair about her face to hide its
    colour.

    "Nay, Madame, but you will soil your fingers!" he said coldly.

    "Permit me," she muttered half coherently. And though her fingers shook,
    she pursued and performed her task.

    When she rose he thanked her; and then the devil in the man, or the
    Nemesis he had provoked when he took her by force from another--the
    Nemesis of jealousy, drove him to spoil all.

    "And for whose sake, Madame?" he added, with a jeer; "mine or M. de
    Tignonville's?" And with a glance between jest and earnest, he tried to
    read her thoughts.

    She winced as if he had indeed struck her, and the hot colour fled her
    cheeks.

    "For his sake!" she said, with a shiver of pain. "That his life may be
    spared!" And she stood back humbly, like a beaten dog. Though, indeed,
    it was for the sake of Angers, in thankfulness for the past rather than
    in any desperate hope of propitiating her husband, that she had done it!

    Perhaps he would have withdrawn his words. But before he could answer,
    the host, bowing to the floor, came to announce that all was ready, and
    that the Provost of the City, for whom M. le Comte had sent, was in
    waiting below.

    "Let him come up!" Tavannes answered, grave and frowning. "And see you,
    close the room, sirrah! My people will wait on us. Ah!" as the Provost,
    a burly man, with a face framed for jollity, but now pale and long,
    entered and approached him with many salutations. "How comes it, M. le
    Prevot--you are the Prevot, are you not?"

    "Yes, M. le Comte."

    "How comes it that so great a crowd is permitted to meet in the streets?
    And that at my entrance, though I come unannounced, I find half of the
    city gathered together?"

    The Provost stared. "Respect, M. le Comte," he said, "for His Majesty's
    letters, of which you are the bearer, no doubt induced some to come
    together."

    "Who said I brought letters?"

    "Who--?"

    "Who said I brought letters?" Count Hannibal repeated in a strenuous
    voice. And he ground his chair half about and faced the astonished
    magistrate. "Who said I brought letters?"

    "Why, my lord," the Provost stammered, "it was everywhere yesterday--"

    "Yesterday?"

    "Last night, at latest--that letters were coming from the King."

    "By my hand?"

    "By your lordship's hand--whose name is so well known here," the
    magistrate added, in the hope of clearing the great man's brow.

    Count Hannibal laughed darkly. "My hand will be better known by-and-by,"
    he said. "See you, sirrah, there is some practice here. What is this
    cry of Montsoreau that I hear?"

    "Your lordship knows that he is His Grace's lieutenant-governor in
    Saumur."

    "I know that, man. But is he here?"

    "He was at Saumur yesterday, and 'twas rumoured three days back that he
    was coming here to extirpate the Huguenots. Then word came of your
    lordship and of His Majesty's letters, and 'twas thought that M. de
    Montsoreau would not come, his authority being superseded."

    "I see. And now your rabble think that they would prefer M. Montsoreau.
    That is it, is it?"

    The magistrate shrugged his shoulders and opened his hands.

    "Pigs!" he said. And having spat on the floor, he looked apologetically
    at the lady. "True pigs!"

    "What connections has he here?" Tavannes asked.

    "He is a brother of my lord the Bishop's vicar, who arrived yesterday."

    "With a rout of shaven heads who have been preaching and stirring up the
    town!" Count Hannibal cried, his face growing red. "Speak, man; is it
    so? But I'll be sworn it is!"

    "There has been preaching," the Provost answered reluctantly.

    "Montsoreau may count his brother, then, for one. He is a fool, but with
    a knave behind him, and a knave who has no cause to love us! And the
    Castle? 'Tis held by one of M. de Montsoreau's creatures, I take it?"

    "Yes, my lord."

    "With what force?"

    The magistrate shrugged his shoulders, and looked doubtfully at Badelon,
    who was keeping the door. Tavannes followed the glance with his usual
    impatience. "Mon Dieu, you need not look at him!" he cried. "He has
    sacked St. Peter's and singed the Pope's beard with a holy candle! He
    has been served on the knee by Cardinals; and is Turk or Jew, or monk or
    Huguenot as I please. And Madame"--for the Provost's astonished eyes,
    after resting awhile on the old soldier's iron visage, had passed to
    her--"is Huguenot, so you need have no fear of her! There, speak, man,"
    with impatience, "and cease to think of your own skin!"

    The Provost drew a deep breath, and fixed his small eyes on Count
    Hannibal.

    "If I knew, my lord, what you--why, my own sister's son"--he paused, his
    face began to work, his voice shook--"is a Huguenot! Ay, my lord, a
    Huguenot! And they know it!" he continued, a flush of rage augmenting
    the emotion which his countenance betrayed. "Ay, they know it! And they
    push me on at the Council, and grin behind my back; Lescot, who was
    Provost two years back, and would match his son with my daughter; and
    Thuriot, who prints for the University! They nudge one another, and egg
    me on, till half the city thinks it is I who would kill the Huguenots!
    I!" Again his voice broke. "And my own sister's son a Huguenot! And my
    girl at home white-faced for--for his sake."

    Tavannes scanned the man shrewdly. "Perhaps she is of the same way of
    thinking?" he said.

    The Provost started, and lost one half of his colour. "God forbid!" he
    cried, "saving Madame's presence! Who says so, my lord, lies!"

    "Ay, lies not far from the truth."

    "My lord!"

    "Pish, man, Lescot has said it, and will act on it. And Thuriot, who
    prints for the University! Would you 'scape them? You would? Then
    listen to me. I want but two things. First, how many men has
    Montsoreau's fellow in the Castle? Few, I know, for he is a niggard, and
    if he spends, he spends the Duke's pay."

    "Twelve. But five can hold it."

    "Ay, but twelve dare not leave it! Let them stew in their own broth! And
    now for the other matter. See, man, that before daybreak three gibbets,
    with a ladder and two ropes apiece, are set up in the square. And let
    one be before this door. You understand? Then let it be done! The
    rest," he added with a ferocious smile, "you may leave to me."

    The magistrate nodded rather feebly. "Doubtless," he said, his eye
    wandering here and there, "there are rogues in Angers. And for rogues
    the gibbet! But saving your presence, my lord, it is a question
    whether--"

    But M. de Tavannes' patience was exhausted. "Will you do it?" he roared.
    "That is the question. And the only question."

    The Provost jumped, he was so startled. "Certainly, my lord, certainly!"
    he muttered humbly. "Certainly, I will!" And bowing frequently, but
    saying no more, he backed himself out of the room.

    Count Hannibal laughed grimly after his fashion, and doubtless thought
    that he had seen the last of the magistrate for that night. Great was
    his wrath, therefore, when, less than a minute later--and before Bigot
    had carved for him--the door opened, and the Provost appeared again. He
    slid in, and without giving the courage he had gained on the stairs time
    to cool, plunged into his trouble.

    "It stands this way, M. le Comte," he bleated. "If I put up the gibbets
    and a man is hanged, and you have letters from the King, 'tis a rogue the
    less, and no harm done. But if you have no letters from His Majesty,
    then it is on my shoulders they will put it, and 'twill be odd if they do
    not find a way to hang me to right him."

    Count Hannibal smiled grimly. "And your sister's son?" he sneered. "And
    your girl who is white-faced for his sake, and may burn on the same
    bonfire with him? And--"

    "Mercy! Mercy!" the wretched Provost cried. And he wrung his hands.
    "Lescot and Thuriot--"

    "Perhaps we may hang Lescot and Thuriot--"

    "But I see no way out," the Provost babbled. "No way! No way!"

    "I am going to show you one," Tavannes retorted. "If the gibbets are not
    in place by sunrise, I shall hang you from this window. That is one way
    out; and you'll be wise to take the other! For the rest and for your
    comfort, if I have no letters, it is not always to paper that the King
    commits his inmost heart."

    The magistrate bowed. He quaked, he doubted, but he had no choice.

    "My lord," he said, "I put myself in your hands. It shall be done,
    certainly it shall be done. But, but--" and shaking his head in
    foreboding, he turned to the door. At the last moment, when he was
    within a pace of it, the Countess rose impulsively to her feet. She
    called to him.

    "M. le Prevot, a minute, if you please," she said. "There may be trouble
    to-morrow; your daughter may be in some peril. You will do well to send
    her to me. My lord"--and on the word her voice, uncertain before, grew
    full and steady--"will see that I am safe. And she will be safe with
    me."

    The Provost saw before him only a gracious lady, moved by a
    thoughtfulness unusual in persons of her rank. He was at no pains to
    explain the flame in her cheek, or the soft light which glowed in her
    eyes, as she looked at him across her formidable husband. He was only
    profoundly grateful--moved even to tears. Humbly thanking her, he
    accepted her offer for his child, and withdrew wiping his eyes. When he
    was gone, and the door had closed behind him, Tavannes turned to the
    Countess, who still kept her feet.

    "You are very confident this evening," he sneered. "Gibbets do not
    frighten you, it seems, madame. Perhaps if you knew for whom the one
    before the door is intended?"

    She met his look with a searching gaze, and spoke with a ring of defiance
    in her tone. "I do not believe it!" she said. "I do not believe it! You
    who save Angers will not destroy him!" And then her woman's mood
    changing, with courage and colour ebbing together, "Oh no, you will not!
    You will not!" she wailed. And she dropped on her knees before him, and
    holding up her clasped hands, "God will put it in your heart to spare
    him--and me!"

    He rose with a stifled oath, took two steps from her, and in a tone
    hoarse and constrained, "Go!" he said. "Go, or sit! Do you hear,
    Madame? You try my patience too far!"

    But when she had gone his face was radiant. He had brought her, he had
    brought all, to the point at which he aimed. To-morrow his triumph
    awaited him. To-morrow he who had cast her down would raise her up.

    He did not foresee what a day would bring forth.
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