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    Chapter 35

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    Chapter 35
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    AGAINST THE WALL.

    In a room beside the gateway, into which, as the nearest and most
    convenient place, Count Hannibal had been carried from his saddle, a man
    sat sideways in the narrow embrasure of a loophole, to which his eyes
    seemed glued. The room, which formed part of the oldest block of the
    chateau, and was ordinarily the quarters of the Carlats, possessed two
    other windows, deep-set indeed, yet superior to that through which
    Bigot--for he it was--peered so persistently. But the larger windows
    looked southwards, across the bay--at this moment the noon-high sun was
    pouring his radiance through them; while the object which held Bigot's
    gaze and fixed him to his irksome seat, lay elsewhere. The loophole
    commanded the causeway leading shorewards; through it the Norman could
    see who came and went, and even the cross-beam of the ugly object which
    rose where the causeway touched the land.

    On a flat truckle-bed behind the door lay Count Hannibal, his injured leg
    protected from the coverlid by a kind of cage. His eyes were bright with
    fever, and his untended beard and straggling hair heightened the wildness
    of his aspect. But he was in possession of his senses; and as his gaze
    passed from Bigot at the window to the old Free Companion, who sat on a
    stool beside him, engaged in shaping a piece of wood into a splint, an
    expression almost soft crept into his harsh face.

    "Old fool!" he said. And his voice, though changed, had not lost all its
    strength and harshness. "Did the Constable need a splint when you laid
    him under the tower at Gaeta?"

    The old man lifted his eyes from his task, and glanced through the
    nearest window.

    "It is long from noon to night," he said quietly, "and far from cup to
    lip, my lord!"

    "It would be if I had two legs," Tavannes answered, with a grimace, half-
    snarl, half-smile. "As it is--where is that dagger? It leaves me every
    minute."

    It had slipped from the coverlid to the ground. Badelon took it up, and
    set it on the bed within reach of his master's hand.

    Bigot swore fiercely. "It would be farther still," he growled, "if you
    would be guided by me, my lord. Give me leave to bar the door, and
    'twill be long before these fisher clowns force it. Badelon and I--"

    "Being in your full strength," Count Hannibal murmured cynically.

    "Could hold it. We have strength enough for that," the Norman boasted,
    though his livid face and his bandages gave the lie to his words. He
    could not move without pain; and for Badelon, his knee was as big as two
    with plaisters of his own placing.

    Count Hannibal stared at the ceiling. "You could not strike two blows!"
    he said. "Don't lie to me! And Badelon cannot walk two yards! Fine
    fighters!" he continued with bitterness, not all bitter. "Fine bars
    'twixt a man and death! No, it is time to turn the face to the wall.
    And, since go I must, it shall not be said Count Hannibal dared not go
    alone! Besides--"

    Bigot stopped him with an oath that was in part a cry of pain.

    "D---n her!" he exclaimed in fury, "'tis she is that _besides_! I know
    it. 'Tis she has been our ruin from the day we saw her first, ay, to
    this day! 'Tis she has bewitched you until your blood, my lord, has
    turned to water. Or you would never, to save the hand that betrayed us,
    never to save a man--"

    "Silence!" Count Hannibal cried, in a terrible voice. And rising on his
    elbow, he poised the dagger as if he would hurl it. "Silence, or I will
    spit you like the vermin you are! Silence, and listen! And you, old ban-
    dog, listen too, for I know you obstinate! It is not to save him. It is
    because I will die as I have lived, fearing nothing and asking nothing!
    It were easy to bar the door as you would have me, and die in the corner
    here like a wolf at bay, biting to the last. That were easy, old wolf-
    hound! Pleasant and good sport!"

    "Ay! That were a death!" the veteran cried, his eyes brightening. "So I
    would fain die!"

    "And I!" Count Hannibal returned, showing his teeth in a grim smile. "I
    too! Yet I will not! I will not! Because so to die were to die
    unwillingly, and give them triumph. Be dragged to death? No, old dog,
    if die we must, we will go to death! We will die grandly, highly, as
    becomes Tavannes! That when we are gone they may say, 'There died a
    man!'"

    "_She_ may say!" Bigot muttered, scowling.

    Count Hannibal heard and glared at him, but presently thought better of
    it, and after a pause--

    "Ay, she too!" he said. "Why not? As we have played the game--for
    her--so, though we lose, we will play it to the end; nor because we lose
    throw down the cards! Besides, man, die in the corner, die biting, and
    he dies too!"

    "And why not?" Bigot asked, rising in a fury. "Why not? Whose work is
    it we lie here, snared by these clowns of fisherfolk? Who led us wrong
    and betrayed us? He die? Would the devil had taken him a year ago!
    Would he were within my reach now! I would kill him with my bare
    fingers! He die? And why not?"

    "Why, because, fool, his death would not save me!" Count Hannibal
    answered coolly. "If it would, he would die! But it will not; and we
    must even do again as we have done. I have spared him--he's a
    white-livered hound!--both once and twice, and we must go to the end with
    it since no better can be! I have thought it out, and it must be. Only
    see you, old dog, that I have the dagger hid in the splint where I can
    reach it. And then, when the exchange has been made, and my lady has her
    silk glove again--to put in her bosom!"--with a grimace and a sudden
    reddening of his harsh features--"if master priest come within reach of
    my arm, I'll send him before me, where I go."

    "Ay, ay!" said Badelon. "And if you fail of your stroke I will not fail
    of mine! I shall be there, and I will see to it he goes! I shall be
    there!"

    "You?"

    "Ay, why not?" the old man answered quietly. "I may halt on this leg for
    aught I know, and come to starve on crutches like old Claude Boiteux who
    was at the taking of Milan and now begs in the passage under the
    Chatelet."

    "Bah, man, you will get a new lord!"

    Badelon nodded. "Ay, a new lord with new ways!" he answered slowly and
    thoughtfully. "And I am tired. They are of another sort, lords now,
    than they were when I was young. It was a word and a blow then. Now I
    am old, with most it is--'Old hog, your distance! You scent my lady!'
    Then they rode, and hunted, and tilted year in and year out, and summer
    or winter heard the lark sing. Now they are curled, and paint
    themselves, and lie in silk and toy with ladies--who shamed to be seen at
    Court or board when I was a boy--and love better to hear the mouse squeak
    than the lark sing."

    "Still, if I give you my gold chain," Count Hannibal answered quietly,
    "'twill keep you from that."

    "Give it to Bigot," the old man answered. The splint he was fashioning
    had fallen on his knees, and his eyes were fixed on the distance of his
    youth. "For me, my lord, I am tired, and I go with you. I go with you.
    It is a good death to die biting before the strength be quite gone. Have
    the dagger too, if you please, and I'll fit it within the splint right
    neatly. But I shall be there--"

    "And you'll strike home?" Tavannes cried eagerly. He raised himself on
    his elbow, a gleam of joy in his gloomy eyes.

    "Have no fear, my lord. See, does it tremble?" He held out his hand.
    "And when you are sped, I will try the Spanish stroke--upwards with a
    turn ere you withdraw, that I learned from Ruiz--on the shaven pate. I
    see them about me now!" the old man continued, his face flushing, his
    form dilating. "It will be odd if I cannot snatch a sword and hew down
    three to go with Tavannes! And Bigot, he will see my lord the Marshal by-
    and-by; and as I do to the priest, the Marshal will do to Montsoreau. Ho!
    ho! He will teach him the _coup de Jarnac_, never fear!" And the old
    man's moustaches curled up ferociously.

    Count Hannibal's eyes sparkled with joy. "Old dog!" he cried--and he
    held his hand to the veteran, who brushed it reverently with his lips--"we
    will go together then! Who touches my brother, touches Tavannes!"

    "Touches Tavannes!" Badelon cried, the glow of battle lighting his
    bloodshot eyes. He rose to his feet. "Touches Tavannes! You mind at
    Jarnac--"

    "Ah! At Jarnac!"

    "When we charged their horse, was my boot a foot from yours, my lord?"

    "Not a foot!"

    "And at Dreux," the old man continued with a proud, elated gesture, "when
    we rode down the German pikemen--they were grass before us, leaves on the
    wind, thistledown--was it not I who covered your bridle hand, and swerved
    not in the _melee_?"

    "It was! It was!"

    "And at St. Quentin, when we fled before the Spaniard--it was his day,
    you remember, and cost us dear--"

    "Ay, I was young then," Tavannes cried in turn, his eyes glistening. "St.
    Quentin! It was the tenth of August. And you were new with me, and
    seized my rein--"

    "And we rode off together, my lord--of the last, of the last, as God sees
    me! And striking as we went, so that they left us for easier game."

    "It was so, good sword! I remember it as if it had been yesterday!"

    "And at Cerisoles, the Battle of the Plain, in the old Spanish wars, that
    was most like a joust of all the pitched fields I ever saw--at Cerisoles,
    where I caught your horse? You mind me? It was in the shock when we
    broke Guasto's line--"

    "At Cerisoles?" Count Hannibal muttered slowly. "Why, man, I--"

    "I caught your horse, and mounted you afresh? You remember, my lord? And
    at Landriano, where Leyva turned the tables on us again."

    Count Hannibal stared. "Landriano?" he muttered bluntly. "'Twas in '29,
    forty years ago and more! My father, indeed--"

    "And at Rome--at Rome, my lord? _Mon Dieu_! in the old days at Rome!
    When the Spanish company scaled the wall--Ruiz was first, I next--was it
    not my foot you held? And was it not I who dragged you up, while the
    devils of Swiss pressed us hard? Ah, those were days, my lord! I was
    young then, and you, my lord, young too, and handsome as the morning--"

    "You rave!" Tavannes cried, finding his tongue at last. "Rome? You
    rave, old man! Why, I was not born in those days. My father even was a
    boy! It was in '27 you sacked it--five-and-forty years ago!"

    The old man passed his hands over his heated face, and, as a man roused
    suddenly from sleep looks, he looked round the room. The light died out
    of his eyes--as a light blown out in a room; his form seemed to shrink,
    even while the others gazed at him, and he sat down.

    "No, I remember," he muttered slowly. "It was Prince Philibert of
    Chalons, my lord of Orange."

    "Dead these forty years!"

    "Ay, dead these forty years! All dead!" the old man whispered, gazing at
    his gnarled hand, and opening and shutting it by turns. "And I grow
    childish! 'Tis time, high time, I followed them! It trembles now; but
    have no fear, my lord, this hand will not tremble then. All dead! Ay,
    all dead!"

    He sank into a mournful silence; and Tavannes, after gazing at him awhile
    in rough pity, fell to his own meditations, which were gloomy enough. The
    day was beginning to wane, and with the downward turn, though the sun
    still shone brightly through the southern windows, a shadow seemed to
    fall across his thoughts. They no longer rioted in a turmoil of defiance
    as in the forenoon. In its turn, sober reflection marshalled the past
    before his eyes. The hopes of a life, the ambitions of a life, moved in
    sombre procession, and things done and things left undone, the
    sovereignty which Nostradamus had promised, the faces of men he had
    spared and of men he had not spared--and the face of one woman.

    She would not now be his. He had played highly, and he would lose
    highly, playing the game to the end, that to-morrow she might think of
    him highly. Had she begun to think of him at all? In the chamber of the
    inn at Angers he had fancied a change in her, an awakening to life and
    warmth, a shadow of turning to him. It had pleased him to think so, at
    any rate. It pleased him still to imagine--of this he was more
    confident--that in the time to come, when she was Tignonville's, she
    would think of him secretly and kindly. She would remember him, and in
    her thoughts and in her memory he would grow to the heroic, even as the
    man she had chosen would shrink as she learned to know him.

    It pleased him, that. It was almost all that was left to please
    him--that, and to die proudly as he had lived. But as the day wore on,
    and the room grew hot and close, and the pain in his thigh became more
    grievous, the frame of his mind altered. A sombre rage was born and grew
    in him, and a passion fierce and ill-suppressed. To end thus, with
    nothing done, nothing accomplished of all his hopes and ambitions! To
    die thus, crushed in a corner by a mean priest and a rabble of spearmen,
    he who had seen Dreux and Jarnac, had defied the King, and dared to turn
    the St. Bartholomew to his ends! To die thus, and leave her to that
    puppet! Strong man as he was, of a strength of will surpassed by few, it
    taxed him to the utmost to lie and make no sign. Once, indeed, he raised
    himself on his elbow with something between an oath and a snarl, and he
    seemed about to speak. So that Bigot came hurriedly to him.

    "My lord?"

    "Water!" he said. "Water, fool!" And, having drunk, he turned his face
    to the wall, lest he should name her or ask for her.

    For the desire to see her before he died, to look into her eyes, to touch
    her hand once, only once, assailed his mind and all but whelmed his will.
    She had been with him, he knew it, in the night; she had left him only at
    daybreak. But then, in his state of collapse, he had been hardly
    conscious of her presence. Now to ask for her or to see her would stamp
    him coward, say what he might to her. The proverb, that the King's face
    gives grace, applied to her; and an overture on his side could mean but
    one thing, that he sought her grace. And that he would not do though the
    cold waters of death covered him more and more, and the coming of the
    end--in that quiet chamber, while the September sun sank to the appointed
    place--awoke wild longings and a wild rebellion in his breast. His
    thoughts were very bitter, as he lay, his loneliness of the uttermost. He
    turned his face to the wall.

    In that posture he slept after a time, watched over by Bigot with looks
    of rage and pity. And on the room fell a long silence. The sun had
    lacked three hours of setting when he fell asleep. When he re-opened his
    eyes, and, after lying for a few minutes between sleep and waking, became
    conscious of his position, of the day, of the things which had happened,
    and his helplessness--an awakening which wrung from him an involuntary
    groan--the light in the room was still strong, and even bright. He
    fancied for a moment that he had merely dozed off and awaked again; and
    he continued to lie with his face to the wall, courting a return of
    slumber.

    But sleep did not come, and little by little, as he lay listening and
    thinking and growing more restless, he got the fancy that he was alone.
    The light fell brightly on the wall to which his face was turned; how
    could that be if Bigot's broad shoulders still blocked the loophole?
    Presently, to assure himself, he called the man by name.

    He got no answer.

    "Badelon!" he muttered. "Badelon!"

    Had he gone, too, the old and faithful? It seemed so, for again no
    answer came.

    He had been accustomed all his life to instant service; to see the act
    follow the word ere the word ceased to sound. And nothing which had gone
    before, nothing which he had suffered since his defeat at Angers, had
    brought him to feel his impotence and his position--and that the end of
    his power was indeed come--as sharply as this. The blood rushed to his
    head; almost the tears to eyes which had not shed them since boyhood, and
    would not shed them now, weak as he was! He rose on his elbow and looked
    with a full heart; it was as he had fancied. Badelon's stool was empty;
    the embrasure--that was empty too. Through its narrow outlet he had a
    tiny view of the shore and the low rocky hill, of which the summit shone
    warm in the last rays of the setting sun.

    The setting sun! Ay, for the lower part of the hill was growing cold;
    the shore at its foot was grey. Then he had slept long, and the time was
    come. He drew a deep breath and listened. But on all within and without
    lay silence, a silence marked, rather than broken, by the dull fall of a
    wave on the causeway. The day had been calm, but with the sunset a light
    breeze was rising.

    He set his teeth hard, and continued to listen. An hour before sunset
    was the time they had named for the exchange. What did it mean? In five
    minutes the sun would be below the horizon; already the zone of warmth on
    the hillside was moving and retreating upwards. And Bigot and old
    Badelon? Why had they left him while he slept? An hour before sunset!
    Why, the room was growing grey, grey and dark in the corners, and--what
    was that?

    He started, so violently that he jarred his leg, and the pain wrung a
    groan from him. At the foot of the bed, overlooked until then, a woman
    lay prone on the floor, her face resting on her outstretched arms. She
    lay without motion, her head and her clasped hands towards the loophole,
    her thick, clubbed hair hiding her neck. A woman! Count Hannibal
    stared, and, fancying he dreamed, closed his eyes, then looked again. It
    was no phantasm. It was the Countess; it was his wife!

    He drew a deep breath, but he did not speak, though the colour rose
    slowly to his cheek. And slowly his eyes devoured her from head to foot,
    from the hands lying white in the light below the window to the shod
    feet; unchecked he took his fill of that which he had so much desired--the
    seeing her! A woman prone, with all of her hidden but her hands: a
    hundred acquainted with her would not have known her. But he knew her,
    and would have known her from a hundred, nay from a thousand, by her
    hands alone.

    What was she doing here, and in this guise? He pondered; then he looked
    from her for an instant, and saw that while he had gazed at her the sun
    had set, the light had passed from the top of the hill; the world without
    and the room within were growing cold. Was that the cause she no longer
    lay quiet? He saw a shudder run through her, and a second; then it
    seemed to him--or was he going mad?--that she moaned, and prayed in half-
    heard words, and, wrestling with herself, beat her forehead on her arms,
    and then was still again, as still as death. By the time the paroxysm
    had passed, the last flush of sunset had faded from the sky, and the
    hills were growing dark.
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