Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "There are some defeats more triumphant than victories."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 7

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 7
    Previous Chapter
    A SECOND TISSOT.

    Messer Blondel's sagacity in forbearing completely and for so long a
    period the neighbourhood of Basterga proved an unpleasant surprise to
    one man; and that was the man most concerned. For a day or two the
    scholar lived in a fool's paradise, and hugging himself on certain
    success, anticipated with confidence the entertainment which he would
    derive from the antics of the fish as it played about the bait, now
    advancing and now retreating. He had formed a low opinion of the
    magistrate's astuteness, and forgetting that there is a cunning which is
    rudimentary and of the primitives, he entertained for some time no
    misgiving. But when day after day passed by and still, though more than
    a week had elapsed, Blondel did not appear, nor make any overture, when,
    watch he never so carefully in the dusk of the evening or at the quiet
    hours of the day, he caught no glimpse of the Syndic's lurking figure,
    he began to doubt. He began to fear. He began to wait about the door
    himself in the hope of detecting the other: and a dozen times between
    dawn and dark he was on his feet at the upper window, looking warily
    down, on the chance of seeing him in the Corraterie.

    At last, slowly and against his will, the fear that the fish would not
    bite began to take hold of him. Either the Syndic was honest, or he was
    patient as well as cunning. In no other way could Basterga explain his
    dupe's inaction. And presently, when he had almost brought himself to
    accept the former conclusion, on an evening something more than a week
    later, a thing happened that added sharpness to his anxiety. He was
    crossing the bridge from the Quarter of St. Gervais, when a man cloaked
    to the eyes slipped from the shadow of the mills, a little before him,
    and with a slight but unmistakable gesture of invitation proceeded in
    front of him without turning his head.

    There was mist on the face of the river that rushed in a cataract below;
    a steady rain was falling, and darkness itself was not far off. There
    were few abroad, and those were going their ways without looking behind
    them. A better time for a secret rendezvous could not be, and Messer
    Basterga's heart leapt up and his spirits rose as he followed the
    cloaked figure. At the end of the bridge the man turned leftwards on to
    a deserted wharf between two mills; Basterga followed. Near the water's
    edge the projecting upper floor of a granary promised shelter from the
    rain; under this the stranger halted, and turning, lowered with a
    brusque gesture his cloak from his face. Alas, the eager "Why, Messer
    Blondel----" that leapt to Basterga's lips died on them. He stood
    speechless with disappointment, choking with chagrin. The stranger noted
    it and laughed.

    "Well," he said in French, his tone dry and sarcastic, "you do not seem
    overpleased to see me, Monsieur Basterga! Nor am I surprised. Large
    promises have ever small fulfilments!"

    "His Highness has discovered that?" Basterga replied, in a tone no less
    sarcastic. For his temper was roused.

    The stranger's eyes flickered, as if the other's words touched a sore.
    "His Highness is growing impatient!" he returned, his tone somewhat
    warmer. "That is what he has sent me to say. He has waited long, and he
    bids me convey to you that if he is to wait longer he must have some
    security that you are likely to succeed in your design."

    "Or he will employ other means?"

    "Precisely. Had he followed my advice," the stranger continued with an
    air of lofty arrogance, "he would have done so long ago."

    "M. d'Albigny," Basterga answered, spreading out his hands with an
    ironical gesture, "would prefer to dig mines under the Tour du Pin near
    the College, and under the Porte Neuve! To smuggle fireworks into the
    Arsenal and the Town House; and then, on the eve of execution, to fail
    as utterly as he failed last time! More utterly than my plan can fail,
    for I shall not put Geneva on its guard--as he did! Nor set every enemy
    of the Grand Duke talking--as he did!"

    M. d'Albigny--for he it was--let drop an oath. "Are you doing anything
    at all?" he asked savagely, dropping the thin veil of irony that
    shrouded his temper. "That is the question. Are you moving?"

    "That will appear."

    "When? When, man? That is what his Highness wants to know. At present
    there is no appearance of anything."

    "No," Basterga replied with fine irony. "There is not. I know it. It is
    only when the fireworks are discovered and the mines opened and the
    engineers are flying for their lives--that there is really an appearance
    of something."

    "And that is the answer I am to carry to the Grand Duke?" d'Albigny
    retorted in a tone which betrayed how deeply he resented such taunts at
    the lips of his inferior. "That is all you have to tell him?"

    Basterga was silent awhile. When he spoke again, it was in a lower and
    more cautious tone. "No; you may tell his Highness this," he said, after
    glancing warily behind him. "You may tell him this. The longest night in
    the year is approaching. Not many weeks divide us from it. Let him give
    me until that night. Then let him bring his troops and ladders and the
    rest of it--the care whereof is your lordship's, not mine--to a part of
    the walls which I will indicate, and he shall find the guards withdrawn,
    and Geneva at his feet."

    "The longest night? But that is some weeks distant," d'Albigny answered
    in a grumbling tone. Still it was evident that he was impressed by the
    precision of the other's promise.

    "Was Rome built in a day? Or can Geneva be destroyed in a day?" Basterga
    retorted.

    "If I had my hand on it!" d'Albigny answered truculently, "the task
    would not take more than a day!" He was a Southern Frenchman and an
    ardent Catholic; an officer of high rank in the employ of Savoy; for the
    rest, proud, brave, and difficult.

    "Ay, but you have not your hand on it, M. d'Albigny!" Basterga retorted
    coolly. "Nor will you ever have your hand on it, without help from me."

    "And that is all you have to say?"

    "At present."

    "Very good," d'Albigny replied, nodding contemptuously. "If his Highness
    be wise----"

    "He is wise. At least," Basterga continued drily, "he is wiser than M.
    d'Albigny. He knows that it is better to wait and win, than leap and
    lose."

    "But what of the discontented you were to bring to a head?" d'Albigny
    retorted, remembering with relief another head of complaint, on which he
    had been charged to deliver himself. "The old soldiers and rufflers
    whom the peace has left unemployed, and with whom the man Grio was to
    aid you? Surely waiting will not help you with them! There should be
    some in Geneva who like not the rule of the Pastors and the drone of
    psalms and hymns! Men who, if I know them, must be on fire for a change!
    Come, Monsieur Basterga, is no use to be made of them?"

    "Ay," Basterga answered, after stepping back a pace to assure himself by
    a careful look that no one was remarking a colloquy which the time and
    the weather rendered suspicious. "Use them if you please. Let them drink
    and swear and raise petty riots, and keep the Syndics on their guard! It
    is all they are good for, M. d'Albigny; and I cannot say that aught
    keeps back the cause so much as Grio's friends and their line of
    conduct!"

    "So! that is your opinion, is it, Monsieur Basterga?" d'Albigny
    answered. "And with it I must go as I came! I am of no use here, it
    seems?"

    "Of great use presently, of none now," Basterga replied with greater
    respect than he had hitherto exhibited. "Frankly, M. d'Albigny, they
    fear you and suspect you. But if President Rochette of Chambery, who has
    the confidence of the Pastors, were to visit us on some pretext or
    other, say to settle such small matters as the peace has left in doubt,
    it might soothe their spirits and allay their suspicions. He, rather
    than M. d'Albigny, is the helper I need at present."

    D'Albigny grunted, but it was evident that the other's boldness
    impressed him. "You think, then, that they suspect us?" he said.

    "How should they not? Tell me that. How should they not? Rochette's task
    must be to lull those suspicions to sleep. In the meantime I----"

    "Yes?"

    "Will be at work," Basterga replied. He laughed drily as if it pleased
    him to baulk the other's curiosity. Softly he added under his breath,

    "Captique dolis, lacrimisque coactis,
    Quos neque Tydides, nec Larrissæus Achilles
    Non anni domuere decem, non mille carinæ!

    D'Albigny nodded. "Well, I trust you are really counting on something
    solid," he answered. "For you are taking a great deal upon yourself,
    Monsieur Basterga. I hope you understand that," he added with a
    searching look.

    "I take all on myself," the big man answered.

    The Frenchman was far from content, but he argued no more. He reflected
    a moment, considering whether he had forgotten anything: then, muttering
    that he would convey Basterga's views to the Grand Duke, he pulled his
    cloak more closely about his face, and with a curt nod of farewell, he
    turned on his heel and was gone. A moment, and he was lost to sight
    between the wooden mills and sheds which flanked the bridge on either
    side, and rendered it at once as narrow and as picturesque as were most
    of the bridges of the day. Basterga, left solitary, waited a while
    before he left his shelter. Satisfied at length that the coast was
    clear, he continued his way into the town, and thinking deeply as he
    went came presently to the Corraterie. It cannot be said that his
    meditations were of the most pleasant; and perhaps for this reason he
    walked slowly. When he entered the house, shaking the moisture from his
    cloak and cap, he found the others seated at table and well advanced in
    their meal. He was twenty minutes late.

    He was a clever man. But at times, in moments of irritation, the sense
    of his cleverness and of his superiority to the mass of men led him to
    do the thing which he had better have left undone. It was so this
    evening. Face to face with d'Albigny, he had put a bold face on the
    difficulties which surrounded him: he had let no sign of doubt or
    uncertainty, no word of fear respecting the outcome escape him. But the
    moment he found himself at liberty, the critical situation of his
    affairs, if the Syndic refused to take the bait, recurred to his mind,
    and harassed him. He had no _confidante_, no one to whom he could
    breathe his fears, no one to whom he could explain the situation, or
    with whom he could take credit for his coolness: and the curb of
    silence, while it exasperated his temper, augmented a hundredfold the
    contempt in which he held the unconscious companions among whom chance
    and his mission had thrown him. A spiteful desire to show that contempt
    sparkled in his eyes as he took his seat at the table this evening; but
    for a minute or two after he had begun his meal he kept silence.

    On a mind such as his, outward things have small effect; otherwise the
    cheerful homeliness of the scene must have soothed him. The lamp,
    telling of present autumn and approaching winter, had been lit: a
    wood-fire crackled pleasantly in the great fireplace and was reflected
    in rows of pewter plates on either dresser: a fragrant stew scented the
    air; all that a philosopher of the true type could have asked was at his
    service. But Basterga belonged rather to the fifteenth century, the
    century of the south, which was expiring, than to the century of the
    north which was opening. Splendour rather than comfort, the gorgeousness
    of Venice, of red-haired dames, stiff-clad in Titian velvets, of tables
    gleaming with silk and gold and ruby glass, rather than the plain
    homeliness which Geneva shared with the Dutch cities, held his mind.
    To-night in particular his lip curled as he looked round. To-night in
    particular ill-pleased and ill-content he found the place and the
    company well matched, the one and the other mean and contemptible!

    One there--Gentilis--marked the great man's mood, and, cringing, after
    his kind, kept his eyes low on his platter. Grio, too, knew enough to
    seek refuge in sullen silence. Claude alone, impatient of the constraint
    which descended on the party at the great man's coming, continued to
    talk in a raised voice. "Good soup to-night, Anne," he said cheerfully.
    For days past he had been using himself to speak to her easily and
    lightly, as if she were no more to him than to the others.

    She did not answer--she seldom did. But "Good?" Basterga sneered in his
    most cutting tone. "Ay, for schoolboys! And such as have no palate save
    for pap!"

    Claude being young took the thrust a little to heart. He returned it
    with a boy's impertinence. "We none of us grow thin on it," he said with
    a glance at the other's bulk.

    Basterga's eyes gleamed. "Grease and dish-washings," he exclaimed. And
    then, as if he knew where he could most easily wound his antagonist, he
    turned to the girl.

    "If Hebe had brought such liquor to Jupiter," he sneered, "do you think
    he had given her Hercules for a husband, as I shall presently give you
    Grio? Ha! You flush at the prospect, do you? You colour and tremble," he
    continued mockingly, "as if it were the wedding-day. You'll sleep little
    to-night, I see, for thinking of your Hercules!" With grim irony he
    pointed to his loutish companion, whose gross purple face seemed the
    coarser for the small peaked beard that, after the fashion of the day,
    adorned his lower lip. "Hercules, do I call him? Adonis rather."

    "Why not Bacchus?" Claude muttered, his eyes on his plate. In spite of
    the strongest resolutions, he could not keep silence.

    "Bacchus? And why, boy?" frowning darkly.

    "He were better bestowed on a tun of wine," the youth retorted, without
    looking up.

    "That you might take his place, I suppose?" Basterga retorted swiftly.
    "What say you, girl? Will you have him?" And when she did not answer,
    "Bread, do you hear?" he cried harshly and imperiously. "Bread, I say!"
    And having forced her to come within reach to serve him, "What do you
    say to it?" he continued, his hand on the trencher, his eyes on her
    face. "Answer me, girl, will you have him?"

    She did not answer, but that which he had quite falsely attributed to
    her before, a blush, slowly and painfully darkened her cheeks and neck.
    He seized her brutally by the chin, and forced her to raise her face.
    "Blushing, I see?" he continued. "Blushing, blushing, eh? So it is for
    him you thrill, and lie awake, and dream of kisses, is it? For this new
    youth and not for Grio? Nay, struggle not! Wrest not yourself away! Let
    Grio, too, see you!"

    Claude, his back to the scene, drove his nails into the palms of his
    hands. He would not turn. He would not, he dared not see what was
    passing, or how they were handling her, lest the fury in his breast
    sweep all away, and he rise up and disobey her! When a movement told him
    that Basterga had released her--with a last ugly taunt aimed as much at
    him as at her--he still sat bearing it, curbing, drilling, compelling
    himself to be silent. Ay, and still to be silent, though the voice that
    so cruelly wounded her was scarcely mute before it began again.

    "Tissot, indeed!" Basterga cried in the same tone of bitter jeering. "A
    fig for Tissot! No more shall we

    Upon his viler metal test our purest pure,
    And see him transmutations three endure!

    And why? Because a mightier than Tissot is here! Because," with a coarse
    laugh,

    "Our stone angelical whereby
    All secret potencies to light are brought

    has itself suffered a transmutation! A transmutation do I say! Rather an
    eclipse, a darkening! He, whom matrons for their maidens fear, has come,
    has seen, has conquered! And we poor mortals bow before him."

    Still Claude, his face burning, his ears tingling, put force upon
    himself and sat mute, his eyes on the board. He would not look round, he
    would not acknowledge what was passing. Basterga's tone conveyed a
    meaning coarser and more offensive than the words he spoke; and Claude
    knew it, and knew that the girl, at whom he dared not look knew it, as
    she stood helpless, a butt, a target for their gloating eyes. He would
    not look for he remembered. He saw the scalding liquid blister the skin,
    saw the rounded arm quiver with pain; and remembering and seeing, he was
    resolved that the lesson should not be lost on him. If it was only by
    suffering he could serve her, he would serve her.

    He dared not look even at Gentilis, who sat opposite him; and who was
    staring in gross rapture at the girl's confusion, and the burning
    blushes, so long banished from her pale features. For to look at that
    mean mask of a man was the same thing as to strike! Unfortunately, as it
    happened, his silence and lack of spirit had a result which he had not
    foreseen. It encouraged the others to carry their brutality to greater
    and even greater lengths. Grio flung a gross jest in the girl's face:
    Basterga asked her mockingly how long she had loved. They got no answer;
    on which the big man asked his question again, his voice grown menacing;
    and still she would not answer. She had taken refuge from Grio's
    coarseness in the farthest corner of the hearth: where stooping over a
    pot, she hid her burning face. Had they gone too far at last? So far,
    that in despair she had made up her mind to resist? Claude wondered. He
    hoped that they had.

    Basterga, too, thought it possible; but he smiled wickedly, in the pride
    of his resources. He struck the table sharply with his knife-haft.
    "What?" he cried. "You don't answer me, girl? You withstand me, do you?
    To heel! To heel! Stand out in front of me, you jade, and answer me at
    once. There! Stand there! Do you hear?" With a mocking eye he indicated
    with his knife the spot that took his fancy.

    She hesitated a moment, scarlet revolt in her face; she hesitated for a
    long moment; and the lad thought that surely the time had come. But then
    she obeyed. She obeyed! And at that Claude at last looked up; he could
    look up safely now for something, even as she obeyed, had put a bridle
    on his rage and given him control over it. That something was doubt. Why
    did she comply? Why obey, endure, suffer at this man's hands that which
    it was a shame a woman should suffer at any man's? What was his hold
    over her? What was his power? Was it possible, ah, was it possible that
    she had done anything to give him power? Was it possible----

    "Stand there!" Basterga repeated, licking his lips. He was in a cruel
    temper: harassed himself, he would make some one suffer. "Remember who
    you are, wench, and where you are! And answer me! How long have you
    loved him?"

    The face no longer burned: her blushes had sunk behind the mask of
    apathy, the pallid mask, hiding terror and the shame of her sex, which
    her face had worn before, which had become habitual to her. "I have not
    loved him," she answered in a low voice.

    "Louder!"

    "I have not loved him."

    "You do not love him?"

    "No." She did not look at Claude, but dully, mechanically, she stared
    straight before her.

    Grio laughed boisterously. "A dose for young Hopeful!" he cried. "Ho!
    Ho! How do you feel now, Master Jackanapes?"

    The big man smiled.

    "Galle, quid insanis? inquit, Tua cura Lycoris
    Perque nives alium perque horrida castra secuta est!"

    he murmured. He bowed ironically in Claude's direction. "The gentleman
    passes beyond the jurisdiction of the court," he said. "She will have
    none of him, it seems; nor we either! He is dismissed."

    Claude, his eyes burning, shrugged his shoulders and did not budge. If
    they thought to rid themselves of him by this fooling they would learn
    their mistake. They wished him to go: the greater reason he should stay.
    A little thing--the sight of a small brown hand twitching painfully,
    while her face and all the rest of her was still and impassive, had
    expelled his doubts for the time--had driven all but love and pity and
    burning indignation from his breast. All but these, and the memory of
    her lesson and her will. He had promised and he must suffer.

    Whether Basterga was deceived by his inaction, or of set purpose was
    minded to try how far they could go with him, the big man turned again
    to his victim. "With you, my girl," he said, "it is otherwise. The soup
    was bad, and you are mutinous. Two faults that must be paid for. There
    was something of this, I remember, when Tissot--our good Tissot, who
    amused us so much--first came. And we tamed you then. You paid forfeit,
    I think. You kissed Tissot, I think; or Tissot kissed you."

    "No, it was I kissed her," Gentilis said with a smirk. "She chose me."

    "Under compulsion," Basterga retorted drily. "Will you ransom her
    again?"

    "Willingly! But it should be two this time," Gentilis said grinning.
    "Being for the second offence, a double----"

    "Pain," quoth Basterga. "Very good. Do you hear, my girl? Go to
    Gentilis, and see you let him kiss you twice! And see we see and hear
    it. And have a care! Have a care! Or next time your modesty may not
    escape so easily! To him at once, and----"

    "No!" The cry came from Claude. He was on his feet, his face on fire.
    "No!" he repeated passionately.

    "No?"

    "Not while I am here! Not under compulsion," the young man cried. "Shame
    on you!" He turned to the others, generous wrath in his face. "Shame on
    you to torture a woman so--a woman alone! And you three to one!"

    Basterga's face grew dark. "You are right! We are three," he muttered,
    his hand slowly seeking a weapon in the corner behind him. "You speak
    truth there, we are three--to one! And----"

    "You maybe twenty, I will not suffer it!" the lad cried gallantly. "You
    may be a hundred----"

    But on that word, in the full tide of speech he stopped. His voice died
    as suddenly as it had been raised, he stammered, his whole bearing
    changed. He had met her eyes: he had read in them reproach, warning,
    rebuke. Too late he had remembered his promise.

    The big man leaned forward. "What may we be?" he asked. "You were going,
    I think, to say that we might be--that we might be----"

    But Claude did not answer. He was passing through a moment of such
    misery as he had never experienced. To give way to them now, to lower
    his flag before them after he had challenged them! To abandon her to
    them, to see her--oh, it was more than he could do, more than he could
    suffer! It was----

    "Pray go on," Basterga sneered, "if you have not said your say. Do not
    think of us!"

    Oh, bitter! But he remembered how the scalding liquor had fallen on the
    tender skin. "I have said it," he muttered hoarsely. "I have said it,"
    and by a movement of his hand, pathetic enough had any understood it, he
    seemed to withdraw himself and his opposition.

    But when, obedient to Basterga's eye, the girl moved to Gentilis' side
    and bent her cheek--which flamed, not by reason of Gentilis or the
    coming kisses, but of Claude's presence and his cry for her--he could
    not bear it. He could not stay and see it, though to go was to abandon
    her perhaps to worse treatment. He rose with a cry and snatched his cap,
    and tore open the door. With rage in his heart and their laughter, their
    mocking, triumphant laughter, in his ears, he sprang down the steps.

    A coward! That was what he must seem to them. A coward's part, that was
    the part they had seen him play. Into the darkness, into the night, what
    mattered whither, when such fierce anger boiled within him? Such
    self-contempt. What mattered whither when he knew how he had failed! Ay,
    failed and played the Tissot! The Tissot and the weakling!
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 7
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Stanley J Weyman essay and need some advice, post your Stanley J Weyman essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?