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    Chapter 1

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    Chapter 1

    They were about to shut the Porte St. Gervais, the north gate of Geneva.
    The sergeant of the gate had given his men the word to close; but at the
    last moment, shading his eyes from the low light of the sun, he happened
    to look along the dusty road which led to the Pays de Gex, and he bade
    the men wait. Afar off a traveller could be seen hurrying two donkeys
    towards the gate, with now a blow on this side, and now on that, and now
    a shrill cry. The sergeant knew him for Jehan Brosse, the bandy-legged
    tailor of the passage off the Corraterie, a sound burgher and a good man
    whom it were a shame to exclude. Jehan had gone out that morning to
    fetch his grapes from Möens; and the sergeant had pity on him.

    He waited, therefore; and presently he was sorry that he had waited.
    Behind Jehan, a long way behind him, appeared a second wayfarer; a young
    man covered with dust who approached rapidly on long legs, a bundle
    jumping and bumping at his shoulders as he ran. The favour of the gate
    was not for such as he--a stranger; and the sergeant anxious to bar, yet
    unwilling to shut out Jehan, watched his progress with disgust. As he
    feared, too, it turned out. Young legs caught up old ones: the stranger
    overtook Jehan, overtook the donkeys. A moment, and he passed under the
    arch abreast of them, a broad smile of acknowledgment on his heated
    face. He appeared to think that the gate had been kept open out of
    kindness to him.

    And to be grateful. The war with Savoy--Italian Savoy which, like an
    octopus, wreathed clutching arms about the free city of Geneva--had come
    to an end some months before. But a State so small that the frontier of
    its inveterate enemy lies but two short leagues from its gates, has need
    of watch and ward, and curfews and the like, so that he was fortunate
    who found the gates of Geneva open after sunset in that year, 1602; and
    the stranger seemed to know this.

    As the great doors clanged together and two of the watch wound up the
    creaking drawbridge, he turned to the sergeant, the smile still on his
    face. "I feared that you would shut me out!" he panted, still holding
    his sides. "I would not have given much for my chance of a bed a minute

    The sergeant answered only by a grunt.

    "If this good fellow had not been in front----"

    This time the sergeant cut him short with an imperious gesture, and the
    young man seeing that the guard also had fallen stiffly into rank,
    turned to the tailor. He was overflowing with good nature: he must speak
    to some one. "If you had not been in front," he began, "I----"

    But the tailor also cut him short--frowning and laying his finger to his
    lip and pointing mysteriously to the ground. The stranger stooped to
    look more closely, but saw nothing: and it was only when the others
    dropped on their knees that he understood the hint and hastened to
    follow the example. The soldiers bent their heads while the sergeant
    recited a prayer for the safety of the city. He did this reverently,
    while the evening light--which fell grey between walls and sobered those
    who had that moment left the open sky and the open country--cast its
    solemn mantle about the party.

    Such was the pious usage observed in that age at the opening and the
    closing of the gates of Geneva: nor had it yet sunk to a form. The
    nearness of the frontier and the shadow of those clutching arms, ever
    extended to smother the free State, gave a reality to the faith of those
    who opened and shut, and with arms in their hands looked back on ten
    years of constant warfare. Many a night during those ten years had
    Geneva gazed from her watch-towers on burning farms and smouldering
    homesteads; many a day seen the smoke of Chablais hamlets float a dark
    trail across her lake. What wonder if, when none knew what a night might
    bring forth, and the fury of Antwerp was still a new tale in men's ears,
    the Genevese held Providence higher and His workings more near than men
    are prone to hold them in happier times?

    Whether the stranger's reverent bearing during the prayer gained the
    sergeant's favour, or the sword tied to his bundle and the bulging
    corners of squat books which stuffed out the cloak gave a new notion of
    his condition, it is certain that the officer eyed him more kindly when
    all rose from their knees. "You can pass in now, young sir," he said
    nodding. "But another time remember, if you please, the earlier here the
    warmer welcome!"

    "I will bear it in mind," the young traveller answered, smiling.
    "Perhaps you can tell me where I can get a night's lodging?"

    "You come to study, perhaps?" The sergeant puffed himself out as he
    spoke, for the fame of Geneva's college and its great professor,
    Theodore Beza, was a source of glory to all within the city walls.
    Learning, too, was a thing in high repute in that day. The learned
    tongues still lived and were passports opening all countries to
    scholars. The names of Erasmus and Scaliger were still in the mouths of

    "Yes," the youth answered, "and I have the name of a lodging in which I
    hope to place myself. But for to-night it is late, and an inn were more

    "Go then to the 'Bible and Hand,'" the sergeant answered. "It is a
    decent house, as are all in Geneva. If you think to find here a
    roistering, drinking, swearing tavern, such as you'd find in Dijon----"

    "I come to study, not to drink," the young man answered eagerly.

    "Well, the 'Bible and Hand,' then! It will answer your purpose well.
    Cross the bridge and go straight on. It is in the Bourg du Four."

    The youth thanked him with a pleased air, and turning his back on the
    gate proceeded briskly towards the heart of the city. Though it was not
    Sunday the inhabitants were pouring out from the evening preaching as
    plentifully as if it had been the first day of the week; and as he
    scanned their grave and thoughtful faces--faces not seldom touched with
    sternness or the scars of war--as he passed between the gabled
    steep-roofed houses and marked their order and cleanliness, as he saw
    above him and above them the two great towers of the cathedral, he felt
    a youthful fervour and an enthusiasm not to be comprehended in our age.

    To many of us the name and memory of Geneva stand for anything but
    freedom. But to the Huguenot of that generation and day, the name of
    Geneva stood for freedom; for a fighting aggressive freedom, a full
    freedom in the State, a sober measured freedom in the Church. The city
    was the outpost, southwards, of the Reformed religion and the Reformed
    learning; it sowed its ministers over half Europe, and where they went,
    they spread abroad not only its doctrines but its praise and its honour.
    If, even to the men of that day there appeared at times a something too
    stiff in its attitude, a something too near the Papal in its decrees,
    they knew with what foes and against what odds it fought, and how little
    consistent with the ferocity of that struggle were the compromises of
    life or the courtesies of the lists.

    At any rate, in some such colours as these, framed in such a halo,
    Claude Mercier saw the Free City as he walked its narrow streets that
    evening, seeking the "Bible and Hand". In some such colours had his
    father, bred under Calvin to the ministry, depicted it: and the young
    man, half French, half Vaudois, sought nothing better, set nothing
    higher, than to form a part of its life, and eventually to contribute to
    its fame. Good intentions and honest hopes tumbled over one another in
    his brain as he walked. The ardour of a new life, to be begun this day,
    possessed him. He saw all things through the pure atmosphere of his own
    happy nature: and if it remained to him to discover how Geneva would
    stand the test of a closer intimacy, at this moment, the youth took the
    city to his heart with no jot of misgiving. To follow in the steps of
    Theodore Beza, a Frenchman like himself and gently bred, to devote
    himself, in these surroundings to the Bible and the Sword, and find in
    them salvation for himself and help for others--this seemed an end
    simple and sufficing: the end too, which all men in Geneva appeared to
    him to be pursuing that summer evening.

    By-and-by a grave citizen, a psalm-book in his hand, directed him to the
    inn in the Bourg du Four; a tall house turning the carved ends of two
    steep gables to the street. On either side of the porch a long low
    casement suggested the comfort that was to be found within; nor was the
    pledge unfulfilled. In a trice the student found himself seated at a
    shining table before a simple meal and a flagon of cool white wine with
    a sprig of green floating on the surface. His companions were two
    merchants of Lyons, a vintner of Dijon, and a taciturn, soberly clad
    professor. The four elders talked gravely of the late war, of the
    prevalence of drunkenness in Zurich, of a sad case of witchcraft at
    Basle, and of the state of trade in Lausanne and the Pays de Vaud; while
    the student, listening with respect, contrasted the quietude of this
    house, looking on the grey evening street, with the bustle and chatter
    and buffoonery of the inns at which he had lain on his way from
    Chatillon. He was in a mood to appraise at the highest all about him,
    from the demure maid who served them to the cloaked burghers who from
    time to time passed the window wrapped in meditation. From a house hard
    by the sound of the evening psalms came to his ears. There are moods and
    places in which to be good seems of the easiest; to err, a thing
    well-nigh impossible.

    The professor was the first to rise and retire; on which the two
    merchants drew up their seats to the table with an air of relief. The
    vintner looked after the retreating figure. "Of Lausanne, I should
    judge?" he said, with a jerk of the elbow.

    "Probably," one of the others answered.

    "Is he not of Geneva, then?" our student asked. He had listened with
    interest to the professor's talk and between whiles had wondered if it
    would be his lot to sit under him.

    "No, or he would not be here!" one of the merchants replied, shrugging
    his shoulders.

    "Why not, sir?"

    "Why not?" The merchant fixed the questioner with eyes of surprise.
    "Don't you know, young man, that those who live in Geneva may not
    frequent Geneva taverns?"

    "Indeed?" Mercier answered, somewhat startled. "Is that so?"

    "It is very much so," the other returned with something of a sneer.

    "And they do not!" quoth the vintner with a faint smile.

    "Well, professors do not!" the merchant answered with a grimace. "I say
    nothing of others. Let the Venerable Company of Pastors see to it. It is
    their business."

    At this point the host brought in lights. After closing the shutters he
    was in the act of retiring when a door near at hand--on the farther side
    of the passage if the sound could be trusted--flew open with a clatter.
    Its opening let out a burst of laughter, nor was that the worst: alas,
    above the laughter rang an oath--the ribald word of some one who had
    caught his foot in the step.

    The landlord uttered an exclamation and went out hurriedly, closing the
    door behind him. A moment and his voice could be heard, scolding and
    persuading in the passage.

    "Umph!" the vintner muttered, looking from one to the other with a
    humorous eye. "It seems to me that the Venerable Company of Pastors have
    not yet expelled the old Adam."

    Open flew the door and cut short the word. But it had been heard,
    "Pastors?" a raucous voice cried. "Passers and Flinchers is what I call
    them!" And a stout heavy man, whose small pointed grey beard did but
    emphasise the coarse virility of the face above it, appeared on the
    threshold, glaring at the four. "Pastors?" he repeated defiantly.
    "Passers and Flinchers, I say!"

    "In Heaven's name, Messer Grio!" the landlord protested, hovering at his
    shoulder, "these are strangers----"

    "Strangers? Ay, and flinchers, they too!" the intruder retorted,
    heedless of the remonstrance. And he lurched into the room, a bulky,
    reeling figure in stained green and tarnished lace. "Four flinchers! But
    I'll make them drink a cup with me or I'll prick their hides! Do you
    think we shed blood for you and are to be stinted of our liquor!"

    "Messer Grio! Messer Grio!" the landlord cried, wringing his hands. "You
    will be my ruin!"

    "No fear!"

    "But I do fear!" the host retorted sharply, going so far as to lay a
    hand on his shoulder. "I do fear." Behind the man in green his
    boon-fellows, flushed with drink, had gathered, and were staring half
    curious, half in alarm into the room. The landlord turned and appealed
    to them. "For Heaven's sake get him away quietly!" he muttered. "I shall
    lose my living if this be known. And you will suffer too! Gentlemen," he
    turned to the party at the table, "this is a quiet house, a quiet house
    in general, but----"

    "Tut-tut!" said the vintner good-naturedly. "We'll drink a cup with the
    gentleman if he wishes it!"

    "You'll drink or be pricked!" quoth Messer Grio; he was one of those who
    grow offensive in their cups. And while his friends laughed, he swished
    out a sword of huge length, and flourished it. "Ça! Ça! Now let me see
    any man refuse his liquor!"

    The landlord groaned, but thinking apparently that soonest broken was
    soonest mended, he vanished, to return in a marvellously short space of
    time with four tall glasses and a flask of Neuchatel. "'Tis good wine,"
    he muttered anxiously. "Good wine, gentlemen, I warrant you. And Messer
    Grio here has served the State, so that some little indulgence----"

    "What art muttering?" cried the bully, who spoke French with an accent
    new and strange in the student's ears. "Let be! Let be, I say! Let them
    drink, or be pricked!"

    The merchants and the vintner took their glasses without demur: and,
    perhaps, though they shrugged their shoulders, were as willing as they
    looked. The young man hesitated, took with a curling lip the glass which
    was presented to him, and then, a blush rising to his eyes, pushed it
    from him.

    "'Tis good wine," the landlord repeated. "And no charge. Drink, young
    sir, and----"

    "I drink not on compulsion!" the student answered.

    Messer Grio stared. "What?" he roared. "You----"

    "I drink not on compulsion," the young man repeated, and this time he
    spoke clearly and firmly. "Had the gentleman asked me courteously to
    drink with him, that were another matter. But----"

    "Sho!" the vintner muttered, nudging him in pure kindness. "Drink, man,
    and a fico for his courtesy so the wine be old! When the drink is in,
    the sense is out, and," lowering his voice, "he'll let you blood to a
    certainty, if you will not humour him."

    But the grinning faces in the doorway hardened the student in his
    resolution. "I drink not on compulsion," he repeated stubbornly. And he
    rose from his seat.

    "You drink not?" Grio exclaimed. "You drink not? Then by the living----"

    "For Heaven's sake!" the landlord cried, and threw himself between them.
    "Messer Grio! Gentlemen!"

    But the bully, drunk and wilful, twitched him aside. "Under compulsion,
    eh!" he sneered. "You drink not under compulsion, don't you, my lad? Let
    me tell you," he continued with ferocity, "you will drink when I please,
    and where I please, and as often as I please, and as much as I please,
    you meal-worm! You half-weaned puppy! Take that glass, d'you hear, and
    say after me, Devil take----"

    "Messer Grio!" cried the horrified landlord.

    "Devil take"--for a moment a hiccough gave him pause--"all flinchers!
    Take the glass, young man. That is well! I see you will come to it! Now
    say after me, Devil take----"

    "That!" the student retorted, and flung the wine in the bully's face.

    The landlord shrieked; the other guests rose hurriedly from their seats,
    and got aside. Fortunately the wine blinded the man for a moment, and he
    recoiled, spitting curses and darting his sword hither and thither in
    impotent rage. By the time he had cleared his eyes the youth had got to
    his bundle, and, freeing his blade, placed himself in a posture of
    defence. His face was pale, but with the pallor of excitement rather
    than of fear; and the firm set of his mouth and the smouldering fire in
    his eyes as he confronted the drunken bravo, no less than the manner in
    which he handled his weapon, showed him as ready to pursue as he had
    been hardy to undertake the quarrel.

    He gave proof of forethought, too. "Witness all, he drew first!" he
    cried; and his glance quitting Grio for the briefest instant sought to
    meet the merchants' eyes. "I am on my defence. I call all here to
    witness that he has thrust this quarrel upon me!"

    The landlord wrung his hands. "Oh dear! oh dear!" he cried. "In Heaven's
    name, gentlemen, put up! put up! Stop them! Will no one stop them!" And
    in despair, seeing no one move to arrest them, he made as if he would
    stand between them.

    But the bully flourished his blade about his ears, and with a cry the
    goodman saved himself "Out, skinker!" Grio cried grimly. "And you, say
    your prayers, puppy. Before you are five minutes older I will spit you
    like a partridge though I cross the frontier for it. You have basted me
    with wine! I will baste you after another fashion! On guard! On guard,

    "_What is this?_"

    The voice stayed Grio's tongue and checked his foot in the very instant
    of assault. The student, watching his blade and awaiting the attack, was
    surprised to see his point waver and drop. Was it a trick, he wondered?
    A stratagem? No, for a silence fell on the room, while those who held
    the floor hastened to efface themselves against the wall, as if they at
    any rate had nothing to do with the fracas. And next moment Grio
    shrugged his shoulders, and with a half-stifled curse stood back.

    "What is this?"

    The same question in the same tone. This time the student saw whose
    voice it was had stayed Grio's arm. Within the door a pace in front of
    two or three attendants, who had displaced the roisterers on the
    threshold, appeared a spare dry-looking man of middle height, wearing
    his hat, and displaying a gold chain of office across the breast of his
    black velvet cloak. In age about sixty, he had nothing that at a first
    glance seemed to call for a second: his small pinched features, and the
    downward curl of the lip, which his moustache and clipped beard failed
    to hide, indicated a nature peevish and severe rather than powerful. On
    nearer observation the restless eyes, keen and piercing, asserted
    themselves and redeemed the face from insignificance. When, as on this
    occasion, their glances were supported by the terrors of the State, it
    was not difficult to understand why Messer Blondel, the Syndic, though
    no great man to look upon, had both weight with the masses, and a hold
    not to be denied over his colleagues in the Council.

    No one took on himself to answer the question he had put, and in a voice
    thin and querulous, but with a lurking venom in its tone, "What is
    this?" the great man repeated, looking from one to another. "Are we in
    Geneva, or in Venice? Under the skirts of the scarlet woman, or where
    the magistrates bear not the sword in vain? Good Mr. Landlord, are
    these your professions? Your bailmen should sleep ill to-night, for they
    are likely to answer roundly for this! And whom have we sparking it
    here? Brawling and swearing and turning into a profligate's tavern a
    place that should be for the sober entertainment of travellers? Whom
    have we here--eh! Let me see them! Ah!"

    He paused rather suddenly, as his eyes met Grio's: and a little of his
    dignity fell from him with the pause. His manner underwent a subtle
    change from the judicial to the paternal. When he resumed, he wagged his
    head tolerantly, and a modicum of sorrow mingled with his anger. "Ah,
    Messer Grio! Messer Grio!" he said, "it is you, is it? For shame! For
    shame! This is sad, this is lamentable! Some indulgence, it is true"--he
    coughed--"may be due after late events, and to certain who have borne
    part in them. But this goes too far! Too far by a long way!"

    "It was not I began it!" the bully muttered sullenly, a mixture of
    bravado and apology in his bearing. He sheathed his blade, and thrust
    the long scabbard behind him. "He threw a glass of wine in my face,
    Syndic--that is the truth. Is an old soldier who has shed blood for
    Geneva to swallow that, and give God thanks?"

    The Syndic turned to the student, and licked his lips, his features more
    pinched than usual. "Are these your manners?" he said. "If so, they are
    not the manners of Geneva! Your name, young man, and your dwelling

    "My name is Claude Mercier, last from Chatillon in Burgundy," the young
    man answered firmly. "For the rest, I did no otherwise than you, sir,
    must have done in my case!"

    The magistrate snorted. "I!"

    "Being treated as I was!" the young man protested. "He would have me
    drink whether I would or no! And in terms no man of honour could bear."

    "Honour?" the Syndic retorted, and on the word exploded in great wrath.
    "Honour, say you? Then I know who is in fault. When men of your race
    talk of honour 'tis easy to saddle the horse. I will teach you that we
    know naught of honour in Geneva, but only of service! And naught of
    punctilios but much of modest behaviour! It is such hot blood as yours
    that is at the root of brawlings and disorders and such-like, to the
    scandal of the community: and to cool it I will commit you to the town
    jail until to-morrow! Convey him thither," he continued, turning sharply
    to his followers, "and see him safely bestowed in the stocks. To-morrow
    I will hear if he be penitent, and perhaps, if he be in a cooler

    But the young man, aghast at this sudden disgrace, could be silent no
    longer. "But, sir," he broke in passionately, "I had no choice. It was
    no quarrel of my beginning. I did but refuse to drink, and when he----"

    "Silence, sirrah!" the Syndic cried, and cut him short. "You will do
    well to be quiet!" And he was turning to bid his people bear their
    prisoner out without more ado when one of the merchants ventured to put
    in a word.

    "May I say," he interposed timidly, "that until this happened, Messer
    Blondel, the young man's conduct was all that could be desired?"

    "Are you of his company?"

    "No, sir."

    "Then best keep out of it!" the magistrate retorted sharply.

    "And you," to his followers, "did you hear me? Away with him!"

    But as the men advanced to execute the order, the young man stepped
    forward. "One moment!" he said. "A moment only, sir. I caught the name
    of Blondel. Am I speaking to Messer Philibert Blondel?"

    The Syndic nodded ungraciously. "Yes," he said, "I am he. What of it?"

    "Only this, that I have a letter for him," the student answered, groping
    with trembling fingers in his pouch. "From my uncle, the Sieur de
    Beauvais of Nocle, by Dijon."

    "The Sieur de Beauvais?"


    "He is your uncle?"


    "So! Well, I remember now," Blondel continued, nodding. "His name was
    Mercier. Certainly, it was. Well, give me the letter." His tone was
    still harsh, but it was not the same; and when he had broken the seal
    and read the letter--with a look half contemptuous, half uneasy--his
    brow cleared a little. "It were well young people knew better what
    became them," he cried, peevishly shrugging his shoulders. "It would
    save us all a great deal. However, for this time as you are a stranger
    and well credited, I find, you may go. But let it be a lesson to you, do
    you hear? Let it be a lesson to you, young man. Geneva," pompously, "is
    no place for brawling, and if you come hither for that, you will quickly
    find yourself behind bars. See that you go to a fit lodging to-morrow,
    and do you, Mr. Landlord, have a care that he leaves you."

    The young man's heart was full, but he had the wisdom to keep his temper
    and to say no more. The Syndic on his part was glad, on second thoughts,
    to be free of the matter. He was turning to go when it seemed to strike
    him that he owed something more to the bearer of the letter. He turned
    back. "Yes," he said, "I had forgotten. This week I am busy. But next
    week, on some convenient day, come to me, young sir, and I may be able
    to give you a word of advice. In the forenoon will be best. Until
    then--see to your behaviour!"

    The young man bowed and waited, standing where he was, until the bustle
    attending the Syndic's departure had quite died away. Then he turned.
    "Now, Messer Grio," he said briskly, "for my part I am ready."

    But Messer Grio had slipped away some minutes before.
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    Chapter 1
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