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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    THE HOUSE ON THE RAMPARTS.

    The affair at the inn which had threatened to turn out so unpleasantly
    for our hero, should have gone some way towards destroying the illusions
    with which he had entered Geneva. But faith is strong in the young, and
    hope stronger. The traditions of his boyhood and his fireside, and the
    stories, animate with affection for the cradle of the faith, to which he
    had listened at his father's knee, were not to be over-ridden by the
    shadow of an injustice, which in the end had not fallen. When the young
    man went abroad next morning and viewed the tall towers of St. Peter, of
    which his father had spoken--when, from those walls which had defied
    through so many months the daily and nightly threats of an ever-present
    enemy, he looked on the sites of conflicts still famous and on
    farmsteads but half risen from their ruins--when, above all, he
    remembered for what those walls stood, and that here, on the borders of
    the blue lake, and within sight of the glittering peaks which charmed
    his eyes--if in any one place in Europe--the battle of knowledge and
    freedom had been fought, and the rule of the monk and the Inquisitor
    cast down, his old enthusiasm revived. He thirsted for fresh conflicts,
    for new occasions: and it is to be feared dreamt more of the Sword than
    of the sacred Book, which he had come to study, and which, in Geneva,
    went hand in hand with it.

    In the fervour of such thoughts and in the multitude of new interests
    which opened before him, he had well-nigh forgotten the Syndic's tyranny
    before he had walked a mile: nor might he have given a second thought to
    it but for the need which lay upon him of finding a new lodging before
    night. In pursuit of this he presently took his way to the Corraterie, a
    row of gabled houses, at the western end of the High Town, built within
    the ramparts, and enjoying over them a view of the open country, and the
    Jura. The houses ran for some distance parallel with the rampart, then
    retired inwards, and again came down to it; in this way enclosing a
    triangular open space or terrace. They formed of themselves an inner
    line of defence, pierced at the point farthest from the rampart by the
    Porte Tertasse: a gate it is true, which was often open even at night,
    for the wall in front of the Corraterie, though low on the town side,
    looked down from a great height on the ditch and the low meadows that
    fringed the Rhone. Trees planted along the rampart shaded the triangular
    space, and made it a favourite lounge from which the inhabitants of that
    quarter of the town could view the mountains and the sunset while
    tasting the freshness of the evening air.

    A score of times had Claude Mercier listened to a description of this
    row of lofty houses dominating the ramparts. Now he saw it, and, charmed
    by the position and the aspect, he trembled lest he should fail to
    secure a lodging in the house which had sheltered his father's youth.
    Heedless of the suspicious glances shot at him by the watch at the Porte
    Tertasse, he consulted the rough plan which his father had made for
    him--consulted it rather to assure himself against error than because he
    felt doubt. The precaution taken, he made for a house a little to the
    right of the Tertasse gate as one looks to the country. He mounted by
    four steep steps to the door and knocked on it.

    It was opened so quickly as to disconcert him. A lanky youth about his
    own age bounced out and confronted him. The lad wore a cap and carried
    two or three books under his arm as if he had been starting forth when
    the summons came. The two gazed at one another a moment: then, "Does
    Madame Royaume live here?" Claude asked.

    The other, who had light hair and light eyes, said curtly that she did.

    "Do you know if she has a vacant room?" Mercier asked timidly.

    "She will have one to-night!" the youth answered with temper in his
    tone: and he dashed down the steps and went off along the street without
    ceremony or explanation. Viewed from behind he had a thin neck which
    agreed well with a small retreating chin.

    The door remained open, and after hesitating a moment Claude tapped once
    and again with his foot. Receiving no answer he ventured over the
    threshold, and found himself in the living-room of the house. It was
    cool, spacious and well-ordered. On the left of the entrance a wooden
    settle flanked a wide fireplace, in front of which stood a small heavy
    table. Another table a little bigger occupied the middle of the room; in
    one corner the boarded-up stairs leading to the higher floors bulked
    largely. Two or three dark prints--one a portrait of Calvin--with a
    framed copy of the Geneva catechism, and a small shelf of books, took
    something from the plainness and added something to the comfort of the
    apartment, which boasted besides a couple of old oaken dressers, highly
    polished and gleaming, with long rows of pewter ware. Two doors stood
    opposite the entrance and appeared to lead--for one of them stood
    open--to a couple of closets: bedrooms they could hardly be called, yet
    in one of them Claude knew that his father had slept. And his heart
    warmed to it.

    The house was still; the room was somewhat dark, for the windows were
    low and long, strongly barred, and shaded by the trees, through the cool
    greenery of which the light filtered in. The young man stood a moment,
    and hearing no footstep or movement wondered what he should do. At
    length he ventured to the door of the staircase and, opening it,
    coughed. Still no one answered or came, and unwilling to intrude farther
    he turned about and waited on the hearth. In a corner behind the settle
    he noticed two half pikes and a long-handled sword; on the seat of the
    settle itself lay a thin folio bound in stained sheepskin. A log
    smouldered on the hearth, and below the great black pot which hung over
    it two or three pans and pipkins sat deep among the white ashes. Save
    for these there was no sign in the room of a woman's hand or use. And he
    wondered. Certainly the young man who had departed so hurriedly had said
    it was Madame Royaume's. There could be no mistake.

    Well, he would go and come again. But even as he formed the resolution,
    and turned towards the outer door--which he had left open--he heard a
    faint sound above, a step light but slow. It seemed to start from the
    uppermost floor of all, so long was it in descending; so long was it
    before, waiting on the hearth cap in hand, he saw a shadow darken the
    line below the staircase door. A second later the door opened and a
    young girl entered and closed it behind her. She did not see him;
    unconscious of his presence she crossed the floor and shut the outer
    door.

    There was a something in her bearing which went to the heart of the
    young man who stood and saw her for the first time; a depression, a
    dejection, an I know not what, so much at odds with her youth and her
    slender grace, that it scarcely needed the sigh with which she turned
    to draw him a pace nearer. As he moved their eyes met. She, who had not
    known of his presence, recoiled with a low cry and stared wide-eyed: he
    began hurriedly to speak.

    "I am the son of M. Gaston Mercier, of Chatillon," he said, "who lodged
    here formerly. At least," he stammered, beginning to doubt, "if this be
    the house of Madame Royaume, he lodged here. A young man who met me at
    the door said that Madame lived here, and had a room."

    "He admitted you? The young man who went out?"

    "Yes."

    She gazed hard at him a moment, as if she doubted or suspected him.
    Then, "We have no room," she said.

    "But you will have one to-night," he answered

    "I do not know."

    "But--but from what he said," Claude persisted doggedly, "he meant that
    his own room would be vacant, I think."

    "It may be," she answered dully, the heaviness which surprise had lifted
    for a moment settling on her afresh. "But we shall take no new lodgers.
    Presently you would go," with a cold smile, "as he goes to-day."

    "My father lodged here three years," Claude answered, raising his head
    with pride. "He did not go until he returned to France. I ask nothing
    better than to lodge where my father lodged. Madame Royaume will know my
    name. When she hears that I am the son of M. Gaston Mercier, who often
    speaks of her----"

    "He fell sick here, I think?" the girl said. She scanned him anew with
    the first show of interest that had escaped her. Yet reluctantly, it
    seemed; with a kind of ungraciousness hard to explain.

    "He had the plague in the year M. Chausse, the pastor of St. Gervais,
    died of it," Claude answered eagerly. "When it was so bad. And Madame
    nursed him and saved his life. He often speaks of it and of Madame with
    gratitude. If Madame Royaume would see me?"

    "It is useless," she answered with an impatient shrug. "Quite useless,
    sir. I tell you we have no room. And--I wish you good-morning." On the
    word she turned from him with a curt gesture of dismissal, and kneeling
    beside the embers began to occupy herself with the cooking pots;
    stirring one and tasting another, and raising a third a little aslant at
    the level of her eyes that she might peer into it the better. He
    lingered, watching her, expecting her to turn. But when she had skimmed
    the last jar and set it back, and screwed it down among the embers, she
    remained on her knees, staring absently at a thin flame which had sprung
    up under the black pot. She had forgotten his presence, forgotten him
    utterly; forgotten him, he judged, in thoughts as deep and gloomy as the
    wide dark cavern of chimney which yawned above her head and dwarfed the
    slight figure kneeling Cinderella-like among the ashes.

    Claude Mercier looked and looked, and wondered, and at last longed:
    longed to comfort, to cherish, to draw to himself and shelter the
    budding womanhood before him, so fragile now, so full of promise for the
    future. And quick as the flame had sprung up under her breath, a magic
    flame awoke in his heart, and burned high and hot. If he did not lodge
    here,

    The sky might fall, fish fly, and sheep pursue
    The tawny monarch of the Libyan strand!

    But he would lodge here. He coughed.

    She started and turned, and seeing him, seeing that he had not gone, she
    rose with a frown. "What is it?" she said. "For what are you waiting,
    sir?"

    "I have something in charge for Madame Royaume," he answered.

    "I will give it her," she returned sharply. "Why did you not say so at
    once?" And she held out her hand.

    "No," he said hardily. "I have it in charge for her hand only."

    "I am her daughter."

    He shook his head stubbornly.

    What she would have done on that--her face was hard and promised
    nothing--is uncertain. Fortunately for the young man's hopes, a dull
    report as of a stick striking the floor in some room above reached their
    ears; he saw her eyes flicker, alter, grow soft. "Wait!" she said
    imperiously; and stooping to take one of the pipkins from the fire, she
    poured its contents into a wooden bowl which stood beside her on the
    table. She added a horn-spoon and a pinch of salt, fetched a slice of
    coarse bread from a cupboard in one of the dressers, and taking all in
    skilled steady hands, hands childishly small, though brown as nuts, she
    disappeared through the door of the staircase.

    He waited, looking about the room, and at this, and at that, with a new
    interest. He took up the book which lay on the settle: it was a learned
    volume, part of the works of Paracelsus, with strange figures and
    diagrams interwoven with the crabbed Latin text. A passage which he
    deciphered, abashed him by its profundity, and he laid the book down,
    and went from one to another of the black-framed engravings; from these
    to an oval piece in coarse Limoges enamel, which hung over the little
    shelf of books. At length he heard a step descending from the upper
    floors, and presently she appeared in the doorway.

    "My mother will see you," she said, her tone as ungracious as her look.
    "But you will say nothing of lodging here, if it please you. Do you
    hear?" she added, her voice rising to a more imperious note.

    He nodded.

    She turned on the lowest step. "She is bed-ridden," she muttered, as if
    she felt the need of explanation. "She is not to be disturbed with house
    matters, or who comes or goes. You understand that, do you?"

    He nodded, with a mental reservation, and followed her up the confined
    staircase. Turning sharply at the head of the first flight he saw before
    him a long narrow passage, lighted by a window that looked to the back.
    On the left of the passage which led to a second set of stairs, were two
    doors, one near the head of the lower flight, the other at the foot of
    the second. She led him past both--they were closed--and up the second
    stairs and into a room under the tiles, a room of good size but with a
    roof which sloped in unexpected places.

    A woman lay there, not uncomely; rather comely with the beauty of
    advancing years, though weak and frail if not ill. It was the woman of
    whom he had so often heard his father speak with gratitude and respect.
    It was neither of his father, however, nor of her, that Claude Mercier
    thought as he stood holding Madame Royaume's hand and looking down at
    her. For the girl who had gone before him into the room had passed to
    the other side of the bed, and the glance which she and her mother
    exchanged as the daughter leant over the couch, the message of love and
    protection on one side, of love and confidence on the other--that
    message and the tone, wondrous gentle, in which the girl, so curt and
    abrupt below, named him--these revealed a bond and an affection for
    which the life of his own family furnished him with no precedent.

    For his mother had many children, and his father still lived. But these
    two, his heart told him as he held Madame Royaume's shrivelled hand in
    his, were alone. They had each but the other, and lived each in the
    other, in this room under the tiles with the deep-set dormer windows
    that looked across the Pays de Gex to the Jura. For how much that
    prospect of vale and mountain stood in their lives, how often they rose
    to it from the same bed, how often looked at it in sunshine and shadow
    with the house still and quiet below them, he seemed to know--to guess.
    He had a swift mental vision of their lives, and then Madame Royaume's
    voice recalled him to himself.

    "You are newly come to Geneva?" she said, gazing at him.

    "I arrived yesterday."

    "Yes, yes, of course," she answered. She spoke quickly and nervously.
    "Yes, you told me so." And she turned to her daughter and laid her hand
    on hers as if she talked more easily so. "Your father, Monsieur
    Mercier," with an obvious effort, "is well, I hope?"

    "Perfectly, and he begged me to convey his grateful remembrances. Those
    of my mother also," the young man added warmly.

    "Yes, he was a good man! I remember when, when he was ill, and M.
    Chausse--the pastor, you know"--the reminiscence appeared to agitate
    her--"was ill also----"

    The girl leant over her quickly. "Monsieur Mercier has brought something
    for you, mother," she said.

    "Ah?"

    "His grateful remembrances and this letter," Claude murmured with a
    blush. He knew that the letter contained no more than he had already
    said; compliments, and the hope that Madame Royaume might be able to
    receive the son as she had received the father.

    "Ah!" Madame Royaume repeated, taking the letter with fingers that shook
    a little.

    "You shall read it when Monsieur Mercier is gone," her daughter said.
    With that she looked across at the young man. Her eyes commanded him to
    take his leave.

    But he was resolute. "My father expresses the hope," he said, "that you
    will grant me the same privilege of living under your roof, Madame,
    which was so highly prized by him."

    "Of course, of course," she answered eagerly, her eyes lighting up. "I
    am not myself, sir, able to overlook the house--but, Anne, you will see
    to--to this being done?"

    "My dear mother, we have no room!" the girl replied; and stooping, hid
    her face while she whispered in her mother's ear. Then aloud, "We are so
    full, so--it goes so well," she continued gaily. "We never have any
    room. I am sure, sir,"--again she faced him across the bed--"it is a
    disappointment to my mother, but it cannot be helped."

    "Dear, dear, it is unfortunate!" Madame Royaume exclaimed; and then with
    a fond look at her daughter, "Anne manages so well!"

    "Yet if there be a room at any time vacant?"

    "You shall assuredly have it."

    "But, mother dear," the girl cried, "M. Grio and M. Basterga are
    permanent on the floor below. And Esau and Louis are now with us, and
    have but just entered on their course at college. And you know," she
    continued softly, "no one ever leaves your house before they are obliged
    to leave it, mother dear!"

    The mother patted the daughter's hand. "No," she said proudly. "It is
    true. And we cannot turn any one away. And yet," looking up at Anne,
    "the son of Messer Mercier? You do not think--do you think that we could
    put him----"

    "A closet however small!" Claude cried.

    "Unfortunately the room beyond this can only be entered through this
    one."

    "It is out of the question!" the girl responded quickly; and for the
    first time her tone rang a little hard. The next instant she seemed to
    repent of her petulance; she stooped and kissed the thin face sunk in
    the pillow's softness. Then, rising, "I am sorry," she continued stiffly
    and decidedly. "But it is impossible!"

    "Still--if a vacancy should occur?" he pleaded.

    Her eyes met his defiantly. "We will inform you," she said.

    "Thank you," he answered humbly. "Perhaps I am fatiguing your mother?"

    "I think you are a little tired, dear," the girl said, stooping over
    her. "A little fatigues you."

    Madame's cheeks were flushed; her eyes shone brightly, even feverishly.
    Claude saw this, and having pushed his plea and his suit as far as he
    dared, he hastened to take his leave. His thoughts had been busy with
    his chances all the time, his eyes with the woman's face; yet he bore
    away with him a curiously vivid picture of the room, of the bow-pot
    blooming in the farther dormer, of the brass skillet beside the green
    boughs which filled the hearth, of the spinning wheel in the middle of
    the floor, and the great Bible on the linen chest beside the bed, of the
    sloping roof, and a queer triangular cupboard which filled one corner.

    At the time, as he followed the girl downstairs, he thought of none of
    these things. He only asked himself what mystery lay in the bosom of
    this quiet house, and what he should say when he stood in the room below
    at bay before her. Of one thing he was still sure--sure, ay and surer,
    since he had seen her with her mother,

    The sky might fall, fish fly, and sheep pursue
    The tawny monarch of the Libyan strand!

    but he lodged here. The mention of his adversary of last night, which
    had not escaped his ear, had only hardened him in his resolution. The
    room of Esau--or was it Louis' room--must be his! He must be Jacob the
    Supplanter.

    She did not speak as she preceded him down the stairs, and before they
    emerged one after the other into the living-room, which was still
    unoccupied, he had formed his plan. When she moved towards the outer
    door to open it he refused to follow: he stood still. "Pardon me," he
    said, "would you mind giving me the name of the young man who admitted
    me?"

    "I do not see----"

    "I only want his name."

    "Esau Tissot."

    "And his room? Which was it?"

    Grudgingly she pointed to the nearer of the two closets, that of which
    the door stood open.

    "That one?"

    "Yes."

    He stepped quickly into it, and surveyed it carefully. Then he laid his
    cap on the low truckle-bed. "Very good," he said, raising his voice and
    speaking through the open door, "I will take it." And he came out again.

    The girl's eyes sparkled. "If you think," she cried, her temper showing
    in her face, "that that will do you any good----"

    "I don't think," he said, cutting her short, "I take it. Your mother
    undertook that I should have the first vacant room. Tissot resigned this
    room this morning. I take it. I consider myself fortunate--most
    fortunate."

    Her colour came and went. "If you were a boor," she cried, "you could
    not behave worse!"

    "Then I am a boor!"

    "But you will find," she continued, "that you cannot force your way
    into a house like this. You will find that such things are not done in
    Geneva. I will have you put out!"

    "Why?" he asked, craftily resorting to argument. "When I ask only to
    remain and be quiet? Why, when you have, or to-night will have, an empty
    room? Why, when you lodged Tissot, will you not lodge me? In what am I
    worse than Tissot or Grio," he continued, "or--I forget the other's
    name? Have I the plague, or the falling sickness? Am I Papist or Arian?
    What have I done that I may not lie in Geneva, may not lie in your
    house? Tell me, give me a reason, show me the cause, and I will go."

    Her anger had died down while he spoke and while she listened. Instead,
    the lowness of heart to which she had yielded when she thought herself
    alone before the hearth showed in every line of her figure. "You do not
    know what you are doing," she said sadly. And she turned and looked
    through the casement. "You do not know what you are asking, or to what
    you are coming."

    "Did Tissot know when he came?"

    "You are not Tissot," she answered in a low tone, "and may fare worse."

    "Or better," he answered gaily. "And at worst----"

    "Worse or better you will repent it," she retorted. "You will repent it
    bitterly!"

    "I may," he answered. "But at least you never shall."

    She turned and looked at him at that; looked at him as if the curtain of
    apathy fell from her eyes and she saw him for the first time as he was,
    a young man, upright and not uncomely. She looked at him with her mind
    as well as her eyes, and seeing felt curiosity about him, pity for him,
    felt her own pulses stirred by his presence and his aspect. A faint
    colour, softer than the storm-flag which had fluttered there a minute
    before, rose to her cheeks; her lips began to tremble. He feared that
    she was going to weep, and "That is settled!" he said cheerfully.
    "Good!" and he went into the little room and brought out his cap. "I lay
    last night at the 'Bible and Hand,' and I must fetch my cloak and pack."

    She stayed him by a gesture. "One moment," she said. "You are determined
    to--to do this? To lodge here?"

    "Firmly," he answered, smiling.

    "Then wait." She passed by him and, moving to the fireplace, raised the
    lid of the great black pot. The broth inside was boiling and bubbling to
    within an inch of the lip, the steam rose from it in a fragrant cloud.
    She took an iron spoon and looked at him, a strange look in her eyes.
    "Stand where you are," she said, "and I will try you, if you are fit to
    come to us or no. Stand, do you hear," she repeated, a note of
    excitation, almost of mockery, in her voice, "where you are whatever
    happens! You understand?"

    "Yes, I am to stand here, whatever happens," he answered, wondering.
    What was she going to do?

    She was going to do a thing outside the limits of his imagination. She
    dipped the iron spoon in the pot and, extending her left arm,
    deliberately allowed some drops of the scalding liquor to fall on the
    bare flesh. He saw the arm wince, saw red blisters spring out on the
    white skin, he caught the sharp indraw of her breath, but he did not
    move. Again she dipped the spoon, looking at him with defiant eyes, and
    with the same deliberation she let the stuff fall on the living flesh.
    This time the perspiration sprang out on her brow, her face burned
    suddenly hot, her whole frame shrank under the torture.

    "Don't!" he cried hoarsely. "I will not bear it! Don't!" And he uttered
    a cry half-articulate, like a beast's.

    "Stand there!" she said. And still he stood: stood, his hands clenched
    and his lips drawn back from his teeth, while she dipped the spoon
    again, and--though her arm shook now like an aspen and there were tears
    of pain in her eyes--let the dreadful stuff fall a third time.

    She was white when she turned to him. "If you do it again," he cried
    furiously, "I will upset--the cursed pot."

    "I have done," she said, smiling faintly. "I am not very brave--after
    all!" And going to the dresser, her knees trembling under her, she
    poured out some water and drank it greedily. Then she turned to him, "Do
    you understand?" she said with a long tense look. "Are you prepared? If
    you come here, you will see me suffer worse things, things a hundred
    times, a thousand times worse than that. You will see me suffer, and you
    will have to stand and see it. You will have to stand and suffer it. You
    will have to stand! If you cannot, do not come."

    "I stood it," he answered doggedly. "But there are things flesh and
    blood cannot stand. There is a limit----"

    "The limit I shall fix," she said proudly. "Not you."

    "But you will fix it?"

    "Perhaps. At any rate, that is the bargain. You may accept or refuse.
    You do not know where I stand, and I do. You must see and be blind, feel
    and be dumb, hear and make no answer, unless I speak--if you are to come
    here."

    "But you will speak--sometime?"

    "I do not know," she answered wearily, and her whole form wilting she
    looked away from him. "I do not know. Go now, if you please--and
    remember!"
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    Chapter 2
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