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    Chapter 29

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    Chapter 29
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    THE ESCAPE.

    In a small back room on the second floor of the inn at Angers, a mean,
    dingy room which looked into a narrow lane, and commanded no prospect
    more informing than a blind wall, two men sat, fretting; or, rather, one
    man sat, his chin resting on his hand, while his companion, less patient
    or more sanguine, strode ceaselessly to and fro. In the first despair of
    capture--for they were prisoners--they had made up their minds to the
    worst, and the slow hours of two days had passed over their heads without
    kindling more than a faint spark of hope in their breasts. But when they
    had been taken out and forced to mount and ride--at first with feet tied
    to the horses' girths--they had let the change, the movement, and the
    open air fan the flame. They had muttered a word to one another, they
    had wondered, they had reasoned. And though the silence of their
    guards--from whose sour vigilance the keenest question drew no
    response--seemed of ill-omen, and, taken with their knowledge of the man
    into whose hands they had fallen, should have quenched the spark, these
    two, having special reasons, the one the buoyancy of youth, the other the
    faith of an enthusiast, cherished the flame. In the breast of one indeed
    it had blazed into a confidence so arrogant that he now took all for
    granted, and was not content.

    "It is easy for you to say 'Patience!'" he cried, as he walked the floor
    in a fever. "You stand to lose no more than your life, and if you escape
    go free at all points! But he has robbed me of more than life! Of my
    love, and my self-respect, curse him! He has worsted me not once, but
    twice and thrice! And if he lets me go now, dismissing me with my life,
    I shall--I shall kill him!" he concluded, through his teeth.

    "You are hard to please!"

    "I shall kill him!"

    "That were to fall still lower!" the minister answered, gravely regarding
    him. "I would, M. de Tignonville, you remembered that you are not yet
    out of jeopardy. Such a frame of mind as yours is no good preparation
    for death, let me tell you!"

    "He will not kill us!" Tignonville cried. "He knows better than most men
    how to avenge himself!"

    "Then he is above most!" La Tribe retorted. "For my part I wish I were
    sure of the fact, and I should sit here more at ease."

    "If we could escape, now, of ourselves!" Tignonville cried. "Then we
    should save not only life, but honour! Man, think of it! If we could
    escape, not by his leave, but against it! Are you sure that this is
    Angers?"

    "As sure as a man can be who has only seen the Black Town once or twice!"
    La Tribe answered, moving to the casement--which was not glazed--and
    peering through the rough wooden lattice. "But if we could escape we are
    strangers here. We know not which way to go, nor where to find shelter.
    And for the matter of that," he continued, turning from the window with a
    shrug of resignation, "'tis no use to talk of it while yonder foot goes
    up and down the passage, and its owner bears the key in his pocket."

    "If we could get out of his power as we came into it!" Tignonville cried.

    "Ay, if! But it is not every floor has a trap!"

    "We could take up a board."

    The minister raised his eyebrows.

    "We could take up a board!" the younger man repeated; and he stepped the
    mean chamber from end to end, his eyes on the floor. "Or--yes, _mon
    Dieu_!" with a change of attitude, "we might break through the roof?"
    And, throwing back his head, he scanned the cobwebbed surface of laths
    which rested on the unceiled joists.

    "Umph!"

    "Well, why not, Monsieur? Why not break through the ceiling?"
    Tignonville repeated, and in a fit of energy he seized his companion's
    shoulder and shook him. "Stand on the bed, and you can reach it."

    "And the floor which rests on it!"

    "_Par Dieu_, there is no floor! 'Tis a cockloft above us! See there!
    And there!" And the young man sprang on the bed, and thrust the rowel of
    a spur through the laths. La Tribe's expression changed. He rose slowly
    to his feet.

    "Try again!" he said.

    Tignonville, his face red, drove the spur again between the laths, and
    worked it to and fro until he could pass his fingers into the hole he had
    made. Then he gripped and bent down a length of one of the laths, and,
    passing his arm as far as the elbow through the hole, moved it this way
    and that. His eyes, as he looked down at his companion through the
    falling rubbish, gleamed with triumph.

    "Where is your floor now?" he asked.

    "You can touch nothing?"

    "Nothing. It's open. A little more and I might touch the tiles." And
    he strove to reach higher.

    For answer La Tribe gripped him. "Down! Down, Monsieur," he muttered.
    "They are bringing our dinner."

    Tignonville thrust back the lath as well as he could, and slipped to the
    floor; and hastily the two swept the rubbish from the bed. When Badelon,
    attended by two men, came in with the meal he found La Tribe at the
    window blocking much of the light, and Tignonville laid sullenly on the
    bed. Even a suspicious eye must have failed to detect what had been
    done; the three who looked in suspected nothing and saw nothing. They
    went out, the key was turned again on the prisoners, and the footsteps of
    two of the men were heard descending the stairs.

    "We have an hour, now!" Tignonville cried; and leaping, with flaming
    eyes, on the bed, he fell to hacking and jabbing and tearing at the laths
    amid a rain of dust and rubbish. Fortunately the stuff, falling on the
    bed, made little noise; and in five minutes, working half-choked and in a
    frenzy of impatience, he had made a hole through which he could thrust
    his arms, a hole which extended almost from one joist to its neighbour.
    By this time the air was thick with floating lime; the two could scarcely
    breathe, yet they dared not pause. Mounting on La Tribe's shoulders--who
    took his stand on the bed--the young man thrust his head and arms through
    the hole, and, resting his elbows on the joists, dragged himself up, and
    with a final effort of strength landed nose and knees on the timbers,
    which formed his supports. A moment to take breath, and press his torn
    and bleeding fingers to his lips; then, reaching down, he gave a hand to
    his companion and dragged him to the same place of vantage.

    They found themselves in a long narrow cockloft, not more than six feet
    high at the highest, and insufferably hot. Between the tiles, which
    sloped steeply on either hand, a faint light filtered in, disclosing the
    giant rooftree running the length of the house, and at the farther end of
    the loft the main tie-beam, from which a network of knees and struts rose
    to the rooftree.

    Tignonville, who seemed possessed by unnatural energy, stayed only to put
    off his boots. Then "Courage!" he panted, "all goes well!" and, carrying
    his boots in his hands, he led the way, stepping gingerly from joist to
    joist until he reached the tie-beam. He climbed on it, and, squeezing
    himself between the struts, entered a second loft, similar to the first.
    At the farther end of this a rough wall of bricks in a timber-frame
    lowered his hopes; but as he approached it, joy! Low down in the corner
    where the roof descended, a small door, square, and not more than two
    feet high, disclosed itself.

    The two crept to it on hands and knees and listened. "It will lead to
    the leads, I doubt?" La Tribe whispered. They dared not raise their
    voices.

    "As well that way as another!" Tignonville answered recklessly. He was
    the more eager, for there is a fear which transcends the fear of death.
    His eyes shone through the mask of dust, the sweat ran down to his chin,
    his breath came and went noisily. "Naught matters if we can escape him!"
    he panted. And he pushed the door recklessly. It flew open; the two
    drew back their faces with a cry of alarm.

    They were looking, not into the sunlight, but into a grey dingy garret
    open to the roof, and occupying the upper part of a gable-end somewhat
    higher than the wing in which they had been confined. Filthy truckle-
    beds and ragged pallets covered the floor, and, eked out by old saddles
    and threadbare horserugs, marked the sleeping quarters either of the
    servants or of travellers of the meaner sort. But the dinginess was
    naught to the two who knelt looking into it, afraid to move. Was the
    place empty? That was the point; the question which had first stayed,
    and then set their pulses at the gallop.

    Painfully their eyes searched each huddle of clothing, scanned each
    dubious shape. And slowly, as the silence persisted, their heads came
    forward until the whole floor lay within the field of sight. And still
    no sound! At last Tignonville stirred, crept through the doorway, and
    rose up, peering round him. He nodded, and, satisfied that all was safe,
    the minister followed him.

    They found themselves a pace or so from the head of a narrow staircase,
    leading downwards. Without moving, they could see the door which closed
    it below. Tignonville signed to La Tribe to wait, and himself crept down
    the stairs. He reached the door, and, stooping, set his eye to the hole
    through which the string of the latch passed. A moment he looked, and
    then, turning on tiptoe, he stole up again, his face fallen.

    "You may throw the handle after the hatchet!" he muttered. "The man on
    guard is within four yards of the door." And in the rage of
    disappointment he struck the air with his hand.

    "Is he looking this way?"

    "No. He is looking down the passage towards our room. But it is
    impossible to pass him."

    La Tribe nodded, and moved softly to one of the lattices which lighted
    the room. It might be possible to escape that way, by the parapet and
    the tiles. But he found that the casement was set high in the roof,
    which sloped steeply from its sill to the eaves. He passed to the other
    window, in which a little wicket in the lattice stood open. He looked
    through it. In the giddy void white pigeons were wheeling in the
    dazzling sunshine, and, gazing down, he saw far below him, in the hot
    square, a row of booths, and troops of people moving to and fro like
    pigmies; and--and a strange thing, in the middle of all! Involuntarily,
    as if the persons below could have seen his face at the tiny dormer, he
    drew back.

    He beckoned to M. Tignonville to come to him; and when the young man
    complied, he bade him in a whisper look down. "See!" he muttered.
    "There!"

    The younger man saw and drew in his breath. Even under the coating of
    dust his face turned a shade greyer.

    "You had no need to fear that he would let us go!" the minister muttered,
    with half-conscious irony.

    "No."

    "Nor I! There are two ropes." And La Tribe breathed a few words of
    prayer. The object which had fixed his gaze was a gibbet: the only one
    of the three which could be seen from their eyrie.

    Tignonville, on the other hand, turned sharply away, and with haggard
    eyes stared about the room. "We might defend the staircase," he
    muttered. "Two men might hold it for a time."

    "We have no food."

    "No." Suddenly he gripped La Tribe's arm. "I have it!" he cried. "And
    it may do! It must do!" he continued, his face working. "See!" And
    lifting from the floor one of the ragged pallets, from which the straw
    protruded in a dozen places, he set it flat on his head.

    It drooped at each corner--it had seen much wear--and, while it almost
    hid his face, it revealed his grimy chin and mortar-stained shoulders. He
    turned to his companion.

    La Tribe's face glowed as he looked. "It may do!" he cried. "It's a
    chance! But you are right! It may do!"

    Tignonville dropped the ragged mattress, and tore off his coat; then he
    rent his breeches at the knee, so that they hung loose about his calves.

    "Do you the same!" he cried. "And quick, man, quick! Leave your boots!
    Once outside we must pass through the streets under these"--he took up
    his burden again and set it on his head--"until we reach a quiet part,
    and there we--"

    "Can hide! Or swim the river!" the minister said. He had followed his
    companion's example, and now stood under a similar burden. With breeches
    rent and whitened, and his upper garments in no better case, he looked a
    sorry figure.

    Tignonville eyed him with satisfaction, and turned to the staircase.

    "Come," he cried, "there is not a moment to be lost. At any minute they
    may enter our room and find it empty! You are ready? Then, not too
    softly, or it may rouse suspicion! And mumble something at the door."

    He began himself to scold, and, muttering incoherently, stumbled down the
    staircase, the pallet on his head rustling against the wall on each side.
    Arrived at the door, he fumbled clumsily with the latch, and, when the
    door gave way, plumped out with an oath--as if the awkward burden he bore
    were the only thing on his mind. Badelon--he was on duty--stared at the
    apparition; but the next moment he sniffed the pallet, which was none of
    the freshest, and, turning up his nose, he retreated a pace. He had no
    suspicion; the men did not come from the part of the house where the
    prisoners lay, and he stood aside to let them pass. In a moment,
    staggering, and going a little unsteadily, as if they scarcely saw their
    way, they had passed by him, and were descending the staircase.

    So far well! Unfortunately, when they reached the foot of that flight
    they came on the main passage of the first-floor. It ran right and left,
    and Tignonville did not know which way he must turn to reach the lower
    staircase. Yet he dared not hesitate; in the passage, waiting about the
    doors, were four or five servants, and in the distance he caught sight of
    three men belonging to Tavannes' company. At any moment, too, an upper
    servant might meet them, ask what they were doing, and detect the fraud.
    He turned at random, therefore--to the left as it chanced--and marched
    along bravely, until the very thing happened which he had feared. A man
    came from a room plump upon them, saw them, and held up his hands in
    horror.

    "What are you doing?" he cried in a rage and with an oath. "Who set you
    on this?"

    Tignonville's tongue clave to the roof of his mouth. La Tribe from
    behind muttered something about the stable.

    "And time too!" the man said. "Faugh! But how come you this way? Are
    you drunk? Here!" He opened the door of a musty closet beside him,
    "Pitch them in here, do you hear? And take them down when it is dark.
    Faugh. I wonder you did not carry the things though her ladyship's room
    at once! If my lord had been in and met you! Now then, do as I tell
    you! Are you drunk?"

    With a sullen air Tignonville threw in his mattress. La Tribe did the
    same. Fortunately the passage was ill-lighted, and there were many
    helpers and strange servants in the inn. The butler only thought them
    ill-looking fellows who knew no better.

    "Now be off!" he continued irascibly. "This is no place for your sort.
    Be off!" And, as they moved, "Coming! Coming!" he cried in answer to a
    distant summons; and he hurried away on the errand which their appearance
    had interrupted.

    Tignonville would have gone to work to recover the pallets, for the man
    had left the key in the door. But as he went to do so the butler looked
    back, and the two were obliged to make a pretence of following him. A
    moment, however, and he was gone; and Tignonville turned anew to regain
    them. A second time fortune was adverse; a door within a pace of him
    opened, a woman came out. She recoiled from the strange figure; her eyes
    met his. Unluckily the light from the room behind her fell on his face,
    and with a shrill cry she named him.

    One second and all had been lost, for the crowd of idlers at the other
    end of the passage had caught her cry, and were looking that way. With
    presence of mind Tignonville clapped his hand on her mouth, and, huddling
    her by force into the room, followed her, with La Tribe at his heels.

    It was a large room, in which seven or eight people, who had been at
    prayers when the cry startled them, were rising from their knees. The
    first thing they saw was Javette on the threshold, struggling in the
    grasp of a wild man, ragged and begrimed; they deemed the city risen and
    the massacre upon them. Carlat threw himself before his mistress, the
    Countess in her turn sheltered a young girl, who stood beside her and
    from whose face the last trace of colour had fled. Madame Carlat and a
    waiting-woman ran shrieking to the window; another instant and the alarm
    would have gone abroad.

    Tignonville's voice stopped it. "Don't you know me?" he cried, "Madame!
    you at least! Carlat! Are you all mad?"

    The words stayed them where they stood in an astonishment scarce less
    than their alarm. The Countess tried twice to speak; the third time--

    "Have you escaped?" she muttered.

    Tignonville nodded, his eyes bright with triumph. "So far," he said.
    "But they may be on our heels at any moment! Where can we hide?"

    The Countess, her hand pressed to her side, looked at Javette.

    "The door, girl!" she whispered. "Lock it!"

    "Ay, lock it! And they can go by the back-stairs," Madame Carlat
    answered, awaking suddenly to the situation. "Through my closet! Once
    in the yard they may pass out through the stables."

    "Which way?" Tignonville asked impatiently. "Don't stand looking at me,
    but--"

    "Through this door!" Madame Carlat answered, hurrying to it.

    He was following when the Countess stepped forward and interposed between
    him and the door.

    "Stay!" she cried; and there was not one who did not notice a new
    decision in her voice, a new dignity in her bearing. "Stay, Monsieur, we
    may be going too fast. To go out now and in that guise--may it not be to
    incur greater peril than you incur here? I feel sure that you are in no
    danger of your life at present. Therefore, why run the risk--"

    "In no danger, Madame!" he cried, interrupting her in astonishment. "Have
    you seen the gibbet in the Square? Do you call that no danger?"

    "It is not erected for you."

    "No?"

    "No, Monsieur," she answered firmly, "I swear it is not. And I know of
    reasons, urgent reasons, why you should not go. M. de Tavannes"--she
    named her husband nervously, as conscious of the weak spot--"before he
    rode abroad laid strict orders on all to keep within, since the smallest
    matter might kindle the city. Therefore, M. de Tignonville, I request,
    nay I entreat," she continued with greater urgency, as she saw his
    gesture of denial, "you to stay here until he returns."

    "And you, Madame, will answer for my life?"

    She faltered. For a moment, a moment only, her colour ebbed. What if
    she deceived herself? What if she surrendered her old lover to death?
    What if--but the doubt was of a moment only. Her duty was plain.

    "I will answer for it," she said, with pale lips, "if you remain here.
    And I beg, I implore you--by the love you once had for me, M. de
    Tignonville," she added desperately, seeing that he was about to refuse,
    "to remain here."

    "Once!" he retorted, lashing himself into ignoble rage. "By the love I
    once had! Say, rather, the love I have, Madame--for I am no
    woman-weathercock to wed the winner, and hold or not hold, stay or go, as
    he commands! You, it seems," he continued with a sneer, "have learned
    the wife's lesson well! You would practise on me now, as you practised
    on me the other night when you stood between him and me! I yielded then,
    I spared him. And what did I get by it? Bonds and a prison! And what
    shall I get now? The same! No, Madame," he continued bitterly,
    addressing himself as much to the Carlats and the others as to his old
    mistress. "I do not change! I loved! I love! I was going and I go! If
    death lay beyond that door"--and he pointed to it--"and life at his will
    were certain here, I would pass the threshold rather than take my life of
    him!" And, dragging La Tribe with him, with a passionate gesture he
    rushed by her, opened the door, and disappeared in the next room.

    The Countess took one pace forward, as if she would have followed him, as
    if she would have tried further persuasion. But as she moved a cry
    rooted her to the spot. A rush of feet and the babel of many voices
    filled the passage with a tide of sound, which drew rapidly nearer. The
    escape was known! Would the fugitives have time to slip out below?

    Some one knocked at the door, tried it, pushed and beat on it. But the
    Countess and all in the room had run to the windows and were looking out.

    If the two had not yet made their escape they must be taken. Yet no; as
    the Countess leaned from the window, first one dusty figure and then a
    second darted from a door below, and made for the nearest turning, out of
    the Place Ste.-Croix. Before they gained it, four men, of whom, Badelon,
    his grey locks flying, was first, dashed out in pursuit, and the street
    rang with cries of "Stop him! Seize him! Seize him!" Some one--one of
    the pursuers or another--to add to the alarm let off a musket, and in a
    moment, as if the report had been a signal, the Place was in a hubbub,
    people flocked into it with mysterious quickness, and from a neighbouring
    roof--whence, precisely, it was impossible to say--the crackling fire of
    a dozen arquebuses alarmed the city far and wide.

    Unfortunately, the fugitives had been baulked at the first turning.
    Making for a second, they found it choked, and, swerving, darted across
    the Place towards St.-Maurice, seeking to lose themselves in the
    gathering crowd. But the pursuers clung desperately to their skirts,
    overturning here a man and there a child; and then in a twinkling,
    Tignonville, as he ran round a booth, tripped over a peg and fell, and La
    Tribe stumbled over him and fell also. The four riders flung themselves
    fiercely on their prey, secured them, and began to drag them with oaths
    and curses towards the door of the inn.

    The Countess had seen all from her window; had held her breath while they
    ran, had drawn it sharply when they fell. Now, "They have them!" she
    muttered, a sob choking her, "they have them!" And she clasped her
    hands. If he had followed her advice! If he had only followed her
    advice!

    But the issue proved less certain than she deemed it. The crowd, which
    grew each moment, knew nothing of pursuers or pursued. On the contrary,
    a cry went up that the riders were Huguenots, and that the Huguenots were
    rising and slaying the Catholics; and as no story was too improbable for
    those days, and this was one constantly set about, first one stone flew,
    and then another, and another. A man with a staff darted forward and
    struck Badelon on the shoulder, two or three others pressed in and
    jostled the riders; and if three of Tavannes' following had not run out
    on the instant and faced the mob with their pikes, and for a moment
    forced them to give back, the prisoners would have been rescued at the
    very door of the inn. As it was they were dragged in, and the gates were
    flung to and barred in the nick of time. Another moment, almost another
    second, and the mob had seized them. As it was, a hail of stones poured
    on the front of the inn, and amid the rising yells of the rabble there
    presently floated heavy and slow over the city the tolling of the great
    bell of St.-Maurice.
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