Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

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

    Chapter 11

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 11
    Previous Chapter
    BY THIS OR THAT.

    Long after Basterga, with an exultant smile and the words "I have limed
    him!" on his lips, had passed into the Bourg du Four and gone to his
    lodging, the Syndic sat frowning in his chair. From time to time a sigh
    deep and heart-rending, a sigh that must have melted even Petitot, even
    Baudichon, swelled his breast; and more than once he raised his eyes to
    his painted effigy over the mantel, and cast on it a look that claimed
    the pity of men and Heaven.

    Nevertheless with each sigh and glance, though sigh and glance lost no
    whit of their fervour, it might have been observed that his face grew
    brighter; and that little by little, as he reflected on what had passed,
    he sat more firmly and strongly in his chair.

    Not that he purposed buying his life at the price which Basterga had put
    on it. Never! But when a ship is on the lee-shore it is pleasant to know
    that if one anchor fails to hold there is a second, albeit a borrowed
    one. The knowledge steadies the nerves and enables the mind to deal more
    firmly with the crisis. Or--to put the image in a shape nearer to the
    fact--though the power to escape by a shameful surrender may sap the
    courage of the garrison, it may also enable it to array its defences
    without panic. The Syndic, for the present at least, entertained no
    thought of saving himself by a shameful compliance; it was indeed
    because the compliance was so shameful, and the impossibility of
    stooping to it so complete, that he sighed thus deeply, and raised eyes
    so piteous to his own portrait. He who stood almost in the position of
    Pater Patriæ to Geneva, to betray Geneva! He the father of his country
    to betray his country! Perish the thought! But, alas, he too must
    perish, unless he could hit on some other way of winning the _remedium_.

    Still, it is not to be gainsaid that the Syndic went about the search
    for this other way in a more cheerful spirit; and revolved this plan and
    that plan in a mind more at ease. The ominous shadow of the night, the
    sequent gloom of the morning were gone; in their place rode an almost
    giddy hopefulness to which no scheme seemed too fanciful, no plan
    without its promise. Betray his country! Never, never! Though, be it
    noted, there was small scope in the Republic for such a man as himself,
    and he had received and could receive but a tithe of the honour he
    deserved! While other men, Baudichon and Petitot for instance, to say
    nothing of Fabri and Du Pin, reaped where they had not sown.

    That, by the way; for it had naught to do with the matter in hand--the
    discovery of a scheme which would place the _remedium_ within his grasp.
    He thought awhile of the young student. He might make a second attempt
    to coerce him. But Claude's flat refusal to go farther with the matter,
    a refusal on which, up to the time of Basterga's abrupt entrance, the
    Syndic had made no impression, was a factor; and reluctantly, after some
    thought, Blondel put him out of his mind.

    To do the thing himself was his next idea. But the scare of the night
    before had given him a distaste for the house; and he shrank from the
    attempt with a timidity he did not understand. He held the room in
    abhorrence, the house in dread; and though he told himself that in the
    last resort--perhaps he meant the last but one--he should venture,
    while there was any other way he put that plan aside.

    And there was another way: there were others through whom the thing
    could be done. Grio, indeed, who had access to the room and the box, was
    Basterga's creature; and the Syndic dared not tamper with him. But there
    was a third lodger, a young fellow, of whom the inquiries he had made
    respecting the house had apprised him. Blondel had met Gentilis more
    than once, and marked him; and the lad's weak chin and shifty eyes, no
    less than the servility with which he saluted the magistrate had not
    been lost on the observer. The youth, granted he was not under
    Basterga's thumb, was unlikely to refuse a request backed by authority.

    As he reflected, the very person who was in his thoughts passed the
    window, moving with the shuffling gait and sidelong look which betrayed
    his character. The Syndic took his presence for an omen: tempted by it,
    he rose precipitately, seized his head-gear and cane, and hurried into
    the street. He glanced up and down, and saw Louis in the distance moving
    in the direction of the College. He followed. Three or four youths,
    bearing books, were hastening in the same direction through the narrow
    street of the Coppersmiths, and the Syndic fell in behind them. He dared
    not hasten over-much, for a dozen curious eyes watched him from the
    noisy beetle-browed stalls on either side; and presently, finding that
    he did not gain, he was making up his mind to await a better occasion,
    when Louis, abandoning a companion who had just joined him, dived into
    one of the brassfounders' shops.

    The Syndic walked on slowly, returning here and there a reverential
    salute. He was nearly at the gate of the College, when Louis, late and
    in haste, overtook him, and hurried by him. Blondel doubted an instant
    what he should do; doubted now the moment for action was come the
    wisdom of the step he had in his mind. But a feverish desire to act had
    seized upon him, and after a moment's hesitation he raised his voice.
    "Young man," he said, "a moment! Here!"

    Louis, not quite out of earshot, turned, found the magistrate's eye upon
    him, wavered, and at last came to him. He cringed low, wondering what he
    had done amiss.

    "I know your face," Blondel said, fixing him with a penetrating look.
    "Do you not lodge, my lad, in a house in the Corraterie? Near the Porte
    Tertasse?"

    "Yes, Messer Syndic," Louis answered, overpowered by the honour of the
    great man's address, and still wondering what evil was in store for him.

    "The Mère Royaume's?"

    "Yes, Messer Syndic."

    "Then you can do me--or rather"--with an expression of growing
    severity--"you can do the State a service. Step this way, and listen to
    me, young man!" And his asperity increased by the fear that he was
    taking an unwise step, he told the youth, in curt stiff sentences, such
    facts as he thought necessary.

    The young student listened thunderstruck, his mouth open, and an
    expression of fatuous alarm on his face. "Letters?" he muttered, when
    the Syndic had come to a certain point in the story he had decided to
    tell.

    "Yes, papers of importance to the State," the Syndic replied weightily,
    "of which it is necessary that possession should be taken as quietly as
    possible."

    "And they are----"

    "They are in the steel box chained to the wall of his apartment. Be it
    your task, young man, to bring the box and the letters unread and
    untouched to me. Opportunities of securing them in Messer Basterga's
    absence cannot but occur," he continued more benignly. "Choose one
    wisely, use it boldly, and the care of your fortunes will be in better
    hands than yours! A word to Basterga, on the other hand," Blondel
    continued slowly, and with a deadly look--he had not failed to notice
    that Louis winced at the name of Basterga--"and you will find yourself
    in the prison of the Two Hundred, destined to share the fate of the
    conspirators."

    The young man began to shake. "Conspirators?" he cried faintly. The word
    brought vividly before him the horrors of the scaffold and the wheel.
    "Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Why did I go to that house to lodge?"

    "Do your duty," the Syndic said, "and you need fear nothing."

    "But if I cannot--do it?" the youth stammered, his teeth chattering. He
    to penetrate to Basterga's room unbidden! He to rob the formidable man
    and perhaps be caught in the act! He to deceive him and meet his eye at
    meals! Impossible! "But if I cannot--do it?" he repeated, cowering.

    "The State knows no such word!" the Syndic returned grimly. "Cannot," he
    continued slowly, "means will not. Do your duty and fear nothing. Do it
    not, pause, hesitate, breathe but a syllable of that which I have told
    you, and you will have all to fear. All!"

    He saw too late that it was he himself who had all to fear; that in
    taking the lad before him into his confidence, he had placed himself in
    the hands of a craven. But he had done it. He had gone too far, moved by
    the foolish impulse of the moment, to retreat. His sole chance lay in
    showing the lad on which side danger pressed him most closely; on
    frightening him completely. And when Louis did not reply:--

    "You do not answer me?" Blondel said in his sternest tones. "You do not
    reply? Am I to understand that you decline? That you refuse to perform
    the task which the State assigns to you? In that case be sure you will
    perish with those whom the Two Hundred know to be the enemies of Geneva,
    and for whom the rack and the wheel are at this moment prepared."

    "No!" Louis cried passionately; he almost fell on his knees in the open
    street. "No, no! I will go anywhere, do anything, Messer Syndic! I swear
    I will; I am no enemy! No conspirator!"

    "You may be no enemy. But you must show yourself a friend!"

    "I will! I will indeed."

    "And no syllable of this will pass your lips?"

    "As I live, Messer Syndic! Nothing! Nothing!"

    When he had repeated this several times with the earnestness of extreme
    terror, and appeared to have laid to heart such particulars as Blondel
    thought he should know, the Syndic dismissed him, letting him go with a
    last injunction to be silent and a last threat.

    By mere force of habit the lad would have gone forward and entered the
    College; but on the threshold he felt how unfit he was to meet his
    fellows' eyes, and he turned and hastened as fast as his trembling limbs
    would carry him towards his home. The streets, to his excited
    imagination, were full of spies; he fancied his every movement watched,
    his footsteps counted. If he lingered they might suppose him lukewarm,
    if he paused they might think him ill-affected. His speed must show his
    zeal. His poor little heart beat in his breast as if it would spring
    from it, but he did not stay nor look aside until the door of the house
    in the Corraterie closed behind him.

    Then within the house there fell upon him--alas! what a thing it is to
    be a coward--a new fear. The fear was not the fear of Basterga, the
    bully and cynic, whom he had known and fawned on and flattered; but of
    Basterga the dark and dangerous conspirator, of whom he now heard, ready
    to repay with the dagger the least attempt to penetrate his secrets! On
    his entrance he had flung himself face downward on his pallet in the
    little closet in which he slept; but at that thought he sprang up,
    suffocated by it; already he fancied himself in the hands of the
    desperadoes whom he had betrayed, already he pictured slow and lingering
    deaths. But again, at the remembrance of the task laid upon him, he
    flung himself prostrate, writhing, and cursing his fate, and shedding
    tears of panic. He to beard Basterga! He to betray him! Impossible! Yet
    if he failed, the rack and the wheel awaited him. Either way lay danger,
    on either side yawned torture and death. And he was a coward. He wept
    and shuddered, abandoning himself to a very paroxysm of terror.

    When his door was pushed open a minute later, he did not hear the
    movement; with his head buried in the pillow he did not see the face of
    wonder, mingled with alarm, which viewed him from the doorway. He had
    forgotten that it was Anne Royaume's custom to attend to the young men's
    rooms during their absence at the afternoon lecture; and when her voice,
    asking in startled accents what was amiss and if he were ill, reached
    his ears, he sought, with a smothered shriek, to cover his head with the
    bedclothes. He fancied that Basterga was upon him!

    "What is the matter?" she repeated, advancing slowly to the side of the
    bed. Then, getting no answer, she dragged the coverlet off him. "What is
    it? Don't you know me?"

    He sat up then, saw who it was and came gradually to himself, but with
    many sighs and tears. She stood, looking down on him with contempt. "Has
    some one been beating you?" she asked, and searched with hard eyes--he
    had been no friend to her--for signs of ill-treatment.

    He shook his head. "Worse," he sobbed. "Far worse! Oh, what will become
    of me? What will become of me? Lord, have mercy upon me! Lord, have
    mercy upon me!"

    Her lip curled. Perhaps she was comparing him with another youth who had
    spoken to her that morning in a different strain.

    "I don't think it matters much," she said scornfully, "what becomes of
    you."

    "Matters?" he exclaimed.

    "If you are such a coward as this! Tell me what it is. What has
    happened? If it is not that some one has beaten you, I don't know what
    it is--unless you have been doing something wrong, and they have put you
    out of the University? Is it that?"

    "No!" he cried fretfully. "Worse, worse! And do you leave me! You can do
    nothing! No one can do anything!"

    She had her own troubles, and to-day was almost sinking under them. But
    this was not her way of bearing them. She shrugged her shoulders
    contemptuously. "Very well," she said, "I will go if I can do nothing."

    "Do?" he cried vehemently. "What can you do?" And then, in the act of
    turning from him, she stood; so startling was the change, so marvellous
    the transformation which she saw come over his face. "Do," he repeated,
    trembling violently, and speaking in a tone as much altered as his
    expression. He rose to his feet. "Do? Perhaps you--you can do
    something--still. Wait. Please wait a minute! I--I was not quite
    myself." He passed his hand across his brow. She did not know that
    behind his face of frightened stupor his mind was working cunningly,
    following up the idea that had occurred to him.

    She began to think him mad. But though she held him in distaste, she had
    no fear of him; and even when he closed the door with a cringing air,
    and a look that implored indulgence, she held her ground. "Only, you
    need not close the door," she said coldly. "There is no one in the house
    except my mother."

    "Messer Basterga?"

    "He has gone out. Is it of him," in sudden enlightenment, "that you are
    afraid?"

    He nodded sullenly. "Yes," he said; and then he paused, eyeing her in
    doubt if he could trust her. At last, "It is, but, if you dared do it, I
    know how I could draw his teeth! How I could"--with the cruel grin of
    the coward--"squeeze him! squeeze him!" and he went through the act with
    his nervous, shaking fingers. "I could hold him like that! I could hold
    him powerless as the dog that would bite and dare not!"

    She stared at him. "You?" she said; it was hard to say whether
    incredulity or scorn were written more plainly on her face. "You?"

    "I! I!" he replied, with the same gesture of holding something. "And I
    know how to put him in your power also!"

    "In my power!"

    "Ay."

    Her face grew hard as if she too held her enemy passive in her grip.
    Then her lip curled, and she laughed in scorn. "Ay! And what must I do
    to bring that about? Something, I suppose, you dare not, Louis?"

    "Something you can do more easily than I," he answered doggedly. "A
    small thing, too," he continued, clasping his hands in his eagerness and
    looking at her with imploring eyes. "A nothing, a mere nothing!"

    "And yet it will do so much?"

    "I swear it will."

    "Then," she retorted, eyeing him shrewdly, "if it is so easy to do why
    were you undone a minute ago? And puling like a child in arms?"

    "Because," he said, flushing under her eyes, "it--it is not easy for me
    to do. And I did not see my way."

    "It looked like it."

    "But I see it now if you will help me. You have only to take a packet of
    letters from his room--and you go there when you please--and he is
    yours! While you have the letters he dare not stir hand or foot, lest
    you bring him to the scaffold!"

    "Bring him to the scaffold?"

    "Get the letters, give them to me, and I will answer for the rest."
    Louis' voice was low, but he shook with excitement. "See!" he continued,
    his eyes at all times prominent, almost starting from his head, "it
    might be done this minute. This minute!"

    "It might," the girl replied, watching him coldly. "But it will not be
    done either this minute or at all unless you tell me what is in the
    letters, and how you come to know about them."

    Should he tell her? He fancied that he had no choice. "Messer Blondel
    the Syndic wants the letters," he answered sullenly. And, urged farther
    by her expression of disbelief, he told the astonished girl the story
    which Blondel had told him. The fact that he believed it went far with
    her; why, for the rest, doubt a story so extraordinary that it seemed to
    bear the stamp of truth?

    "And that is all?" she said when he came to the end.

    "Is it not enough?"

    "It may be enough," she replied, her resolute manner in strange contrast
    with his cowardly haste. "Only there is a thing not clear. If the Syndic
    knows what is in the letters, why does he not seize them and Basterga
    with them--the traitor with the proof of his treason?"

    "Because he is afraid of the Grand Duke," Louis cried. "If he seize
    Basterga and miss the proof of his treason, what then?"

    "Then he is not sure that the letters are there?" Anne replied keenly.

    "He is not sure that they would be there when he came to seize them,"
    Louis answered. "Basterga might have a dozen confederates in the house
    ready at a sign to destroy the letters."

    She nodded.

    "And that is what they will make us out to be," he continued, his voice
    sinking as his fears returned upon him. "The Syndic threatened as much;
    and such things have happened a hundred times. I tell you, if we do not
    do something, we shall suffer with him. But do it, and he is in your
    power! And if he has any hold on you, it is gone!"

    The blood surged to her face. Hold upon her? Ah! Rage--or was it
    hope?--lightened in her eyes and transformed her face. She was thinking,
    he guessed, of the hundred insults she had undergone at Basterga's
    hands, of the shame-compelling taunts to which she had been forced to
    listen, of the loathed touch she had been forced to bear. If there was
    aught in her mind beyond this, any motive deeper or more divine, he did
    not perceive it; enough, that he saw that she wavered, and he pressed
    her.

    "You will be free," he cried passionately. "Freed from him! Freed from
    fear of him! Say you will do it! Say that you will do it," he continued
    fervently, and he made as if he would kneel before her. "Do it, and I
    swear that never shall a word to displease you pass my lips."

    With a glance of scorn that pierced even his selfishness, "Swear only,"
    she said, "that you have told me the truth! I ask no more."

    "I swear it on my salvation!"

    She drew a deep breath.

    "I will do it," she said. "The steel box which is chained to the wall?"

    "Yes, yes," he panted, "you cannot mistake it. The key----"

    "I know where he keeps it."

    She said no more, but turned, and regarding his thanks as little as if
    they had been the wind passing by her, she opened the door, crossed the
    living-room, and vanished up the staircase. He followed her as far as
    the foot of the stairs, and there stood listening and shifting his feet
    and biting his nails in an agony of suspense. She had not deigned to bid
    him watch for Basterga's coming, but he did so; his eyes on the outer
    door, through which the scholar must enter, and his tongue and feet in
    readiness to warn her or save himself, according as the pressure of
    danger directed the one or the other step.

    Meanwhile his ears were on the stretch to catch what she did. He heard
    her try the door of the room. It was locked. He heard her shake it. Then
    he guessed that she fetched a key, for after an interval, which seemed
    an age, he caught the grating of the wards in the lock. After that, she
    was quiet so long, that but for the apprehensions of Basterga's coming,
    which weighed on his coward soul, he must have gone up in sheer jealousy
    so see what she was doing.

    Not that he distrusted her. Even while he waited, and while the thing
    hung in the balance, he smiled to think how cleverly he had contrived
    it. On the side of the authorities he would gain favour by delivering
    the letters: on the other side, if Basterga retained power to harm, it
    was not he who had taken the letters, nor he who would be exposed to the
    first blast of vengeance--but the girl. The blame for her, the credit
    for him! From the nettle danger his wits had plucked the flower safety.
    But for his fears he could have chuckled; and then he heard her leave
    the room, and relock the door. With a gasp of relief, he retired a pace
    or two, and waited, his eyes fixed on the doorway through which she must
    enter.

    She was long in coming, and when she came his hand, extended to receive
    the letters, fell by his side, the whispered question died on his lips.
    Her face told him that she had failed. It might have told him also that
    she had built far more on the attempt than she had let him perceive. But
    what was that to him? It was enough for him that she had not the
    letters. He could have torn her with his hands. "Where are they? Where
    are they?" he cried, advancing upon her. "You have not got them?"

    "Got them?" And then she straightened herself, and with a passionate
    glance at the door, "No! And he has not come in time to take me in the
    act, it seems. As I have no doubt you planned, you villain! That I might
    be more and deeper in his power!"

    "No! No!" he cried, recoiling. "I never thought of it!"

    "Yes, yes!" she retorted.

    He wrung his hands. How was he to make her understand? "I swear," he
    cried, and he fell on his knees with uplifted hands. "I swear on my
    knees I thought of no such thing. The tale I told you was true! True,
    every word of it! And the letters----"

    "There are no letters!" she said.

    "In the box?"

    "None."

    He sprang to his feet. He shook his fist at her in low ignoble rage.
    "You lie!" he cried. "You have not looked. You have played with me. You
    have gone into the room and come out again, but you have not looked, you
    have not dared to look."

    "I have looked," she answered quietly. "In the box that is chained to
    the wall. There are no papers in it. There is nothing in it except a
    small phial."

    "A phial?"

    "Of some golden liquid."

    "That is all?"

    "All!"

    Louis Gentilis stared at her, open-mouthed. Had the Syndic deceived him?
    Or had some one deceived the Syndic?
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 11
    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?