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
    "The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

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

    Chapter 12

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 12
    Previous Chapter
    THE CUP AND THE LIP.

    Blondel could not hide the agitation he felt as he listened to his
    unexpected visitors, and saw whither their errand tended. Fabri, who was
    leader of the deputation of three who had come upon him without warning,
    discerned this; much more Baudichon and Petitot, whose eyes were on the
    watch for the least sign of weakness. And Blondel was conscious that
    they saw it, and on that account strove the more to mask his feelings
    under a show of decision. "I have little doubt that I shall have news
    within the hour," he said. "Before night, I must have news." And nodding
    with the air of a man who knew much which he could not impart, he leant
    back in the old abbot's chair.

    But Fabri had not come for that, nor was he to be satisfied with that;
    and, after a pause, "Yes," he replied, "I know. That may be so. But you
    see, Messer Blondel, this affair is not quite where it was yesterday, or
    we should not have come to you to-day. The King of France--I am sure we
    are much indebted to him--does not write on light occasions, and his
    warning is explicit. From Paris, then, we get the same story as from
    Turin. And this being so, and the King's tale agreeing with our
    agent's----"

    "He does not mention Basterga!" Blondel objected. He repented the moment
    he had said it.

    "By name, no. But he says----"

    "Enough for any one with eyes!" Petitot exclaimed.

    "He says," Fabri repeated, requesting the other by a gesture to be
    silent, "that the Grand Duke's emissary is a Paduan expelled from Venice
    or from Genoa. That is near enough. And I confess, were I in your place,
    Messer Blondel----"

    "With your responsibilities," Petitot muttered through closed teeth.

    "I should want to know--more about him." This from Baudichon.

    Fabri nodded assent. "I think so," he said. "I really think so. In fact,
    I may go farther and say that were I in your place, Messer Blondel, I
    should seize him to-day."

    "Ay, within the hour!"

    "This minute!" said Baudichon, last of the three. And all three, their
    ultimatum delivered, looked at Blondel, a challenge in their eyes. If he
    stood out longer, if he still declined to take the step which prudence
    demanded, the step on which they were all agreed, they would know that
    there was something behind, something of which he had not told them.

    Blondel read the look, and it perturbed him. But not to the point of
    sapping the resolution which he had formed at the Council Table, and to
    which, once formed, he clung with the obstinacy of an obstinate man. The
    _remedium_ first; afterwards what they would, but the _remedium_ first.
    He was not going to risk life, warm life, the vista of sunny unending
    to-morrows, of springs and summers and the melting of snows, for a
    craze, a scare, an imaginary danger! Why at that very minute the lad
    whom he had commissioned to seize the thing might be on the way with it.
    At any minute a step might sound on the threshold, and herald the
    promise of life. And then--then they might deal with Basterga as they
    pleased. Then they might hang the Paduan high as Haman, if they pleased.
    But until then--his mind was made up.

    "I do not agree with you," he said, his underlip thrust out, his head
    trembling a little.

    "You will not arrest him?"

    "No, I shall not arrest him," he replied, hardening himself to meet
    their protestant and indignant eyes. "Nor would you," he continued with
    bravado, "in my place. If you knew as much as I do."

    "But if you know," Baudichon said, "I would like to know also."

    "The responsibility is mine." Blondel swayed himself from side to side
    in his chair as he said it. "The responsibility is mine, and I am
    willing to bear it. It is the old difference of policy between us," he
    continued, addressing Petitot. "You are willing to grasp at every petty
    advantage, I am willing----"

    "To risk much to gain much," Petitot exclaimed.

    "To take some risk to gain a real advantage," Blondel retorted,
    correcting him with an eye to Fabri; whom alone, as the one impartial
    hearer, he feared. "For to what does the course which you are so eager
    to take amount? You seize Basterga: later, you will release him at the
    Grand Duke's request. What are we the better? What is gained?"

    "Safety."

    "No, on the other hand, danger. Danger! For, warned that we have
    detected their plot, they will hatch another plot, and instead of
    working as at present under our eyes, they will work below the surface
    with augmented care and secrecy: and will, perhaps, deceive us. No, my
    friends"--throwing himself back in his chair with an air of patronage,
    almost of contempt--for by dint of repeating his argument he had come to
    believe it, and to plume himself upon it--"I look farther ahead than
    you do, and for the sake of future gain am willing to take--present
    responsibility."

    They were silent awhile: his old mastery was beginning to assert itself.
    Then Petitot spoke. "You take a heavy responsibility," he said, "a heavy
    charge, Messer Blondel. What if harm come of it?"

    Blondel shrugged his shoulders.

    "You have no wife, Messer Blondel."

    The Fourth Syndic stared. What did the man mean?

    "You have no daughters," Petitot continued, a slight quaver in his tone.
    "You have no little children, you sleep well of nights, the fall of
    wood-ash does not rouse you, you do not listen when you awake. You do
    not----" he paused, the last barrier of reserve broken down, the tears
    standing openly in his eyes--"it is foolish perhaps--you do not yearn,
    Messer Blondel, to take all you love in your arms, and shelter them and
    cover them from the horrors that threaten us, the horrors that may fall
    on us--any night! You do not"--he looked at Baudichon and the stout
    man's face grew pale, he averted his eyes--"you do not dream of these
    things, Messer Blondel, nor awake to fancy them, but we do. We do!" he
    repeated in accents which went to the hearts of all, "day and night,
    rising and lying down, waking and sleeping. And we--dare run no risks."

    In the silence which followed Blondel's fingers tapped restlessly on the
    table. He cleared his throat and voice.

    "But there, I tell you there are no risks," he said. He was moved
    nevertheless.

    Petitot bowed, humbly for him. "Very good," he said. "I do not say that
    you are not right. But----"

    "And moment by moment I expect news. It might come at this minute, it
    might come at any minute," the Syndic continued. With a glance at the
    window he moved his chair, as if to shake off the spell that Petitot
    had cast over him. "Besides--you do not expect the town to be taken in
    an hour from now?"

    "No."

    "In broad daylight?"

    Petitot shook his head, "God knows what I expect!" he murmured
    despondently.

    "When the information we have points to a night attack?"

    Fabri nodded. "That is true," he said.

    "And the walls are well guarded at night."

    Fabri nodded again. "Yes," he said, "it is true. I think, Messer
    Petitot," he went on, turning to him, "we are a little over-fearful."

    The two others were silent, and Blondel eyed them harshly, aware that he
    had mastered them, yet hating them. Petitot's appeal to his
    feelings--which had touched and moved Blondel even while he resented it
    as something cruel and unfair--had lacked but a little of success. But
    missing, failing by ever so little, it left the three ill-equipped to
    continue the struggle on lower grounds. They sat silent, Fabri almost
    convinced, the others dejected: and Blondel sat silent also, hardened by
    his victory, and hating them for the manner of it. Was not his life as
    dear to him as their wives and children were to them? And was it not at
    stake? Yet he did not whine and pule to them. God! they whine, they
    complain, who had long years to live and rose of mornings without
    counting the days, and, at the worst and were Geneva taken, had but the
    common risks to run and many a chance of escape! While he--yet he did
    not pule to them! He did not stab them unfairly, cruelly, striving to
    reach their tender spots, to take advantage of their kindness of heart.
    He had no thought, no notion of betraying them; but, had he such, it
    would serve them right! It would repay them selfishness for
    selfishness, greed for greed! In his place they would not hesitate. He
    could see at what a price they set their petty lives, and how little
    they would scruple to buy them in the dearest market. Well was it for
    Geneva that it was he and not they whom God saw fit to try. And he
    glowered at them. Wives and daughters! What were wives and daughters
    beside life, warm life, life stretching forward pleasantly,
    indefinitely, morning after morning, day after day--life and a
    continuance of good things?

    Immersed as he was in this train of thought, it was none the less he who
    first caught the sound of a foot on the threshold, and a summons at the
    door. He rose to his feet. Already in his mind's eye he saw Basterga
    cast to the lions: and why not? The sooner the better if the _remedium_
    were really at the door. "There may be news even now," he said, striving
    to master his emotion, and to speak with the superiority of a few
    minutes before. "One moment, by your leave! I will see and let you know
    if it be so, Messer Fabri."

    "Do by all means," Fabri answered earnestly. "You will greatly relieve
    me."

    "Ay, indeed, I hope it is so," Petitot murmured.

    "I will see, and--and return," Blondel repeated, beginning to stammer.
    "I--I shall not be a minute." The struggle for composure was vain; his
    head was on fire, his limbs twitched. Had it come?

    Yet when he reached the door he paused, afraid to open. What if it were
    not the _remedium_, what if it were some trifle? What if--but as he
    hesitated, his hand, half eager, half reluctant, rested on the latch,
    the door slid ajar, and his eyes met the complacent smirking face of his
    messenger. He fancied that he read success in Gentilis' looks, and his
    heart leapt up. "I shall be back in a moment," he babbled, speaking over
    his shoulder to those whom he left. "In a moment, gentlemen, one
    moment!" And going out he closed the door behind him--closed it
    jealously, that they might not hear.

    "I hope he has news will decide him," Petitot muttered lowering his
    voice involuntarily. "Messer Blondel is over-courageous for me!" He
    shook his head dismally.

    "He is very courageous," Fabri assented in the same undertone. "Perhaps
    even--a little rash."

    Baudichon grunted. "Rash!" he repeated. "I would like to know what he
    expects? I would like to know----"

    A cry as of a wild beast cut short the word: a blow, a shriek of pain
    followed, the door flew open; as they rose to their feet in wonder, into
    the room fell a lad--it was Louis--a red weal across his face, his arm
    raised to protect his head. Close on him, his eyes flaming, his cane
    quivering in the air, pressed Messer Blondel. In their presence he aimed
    another blow at the lad: but the blow fell short, and before he could
    raise his stick a third time the astonished looks of the three in the
    room reminded him where he was, and in a measure sobered him. But he was
    still unable to articulate: and the poor smarting wretch cowering behind
    the magistrates was not more deeply or more visibly moved.

    "Steady, steady, Messer Blondel!" Fabri said. "I fear something untoward
    has happened. What is it?" And he put himself more decidedly between
    them.

    "He has ruined us!"

    "Not that, I hope?"

    "Ruined us! Ruined us!" Blondel panted, his rage almost choking him. "He
    had it in his hands and let it go. He let it go!"

    "That which you----"

    "That which I"--a pause--"commissioned him to get."

    "But you did not! Oh, worshipful gentlemen," Gentilis wailed, turning to
    them, "indeed, he did not tell me to bring aught but papers! I swear he
    did not."

    "Whatever was there, I said! Whatever was there!" the Syndic screamed.

    "No, worshipful sir!" amid a storm of sobs. "No, no! Indeed no! And how
    was I to know? There was naught but that in the box, and who would think
    treason lay in a----"

    "Mischief lay in it!"

    "In a bottle!"

    "And treason," Blondel thundered, drowning his last word, "for aught you
    knew! Who are you to judge where treason lies, or may lie? Oh, pig, dog,
    fool," he continued, carried away by a fresh paroxysm of rage, at the
    thought that he had had it in his grasp and let it go! "If I could score
    your back!" And he brandished his cane.

    "You have scored his face pretty fairly," Baudichon muttered. "To score
    his back too----"

    "Were nothing for the offence! Nothing! As you would say if you knew
    it," Blondel panted.

    "Indeed?"

    "Ay."

    "Then I would like to know it. What is it he has done?"

    "He has left undone that which he was ordered to do," Blondel answered
    more soberly than he had yet spoken. He had recovered something of his
    power to reason. "That is what he has done. But for his default we
    should at this moment be in a position to seize Basterga."

    "Ay?"

    "Ay, and to seize him with proof of his guilt! Proof and to spare."

    "But I could not know," Louis whimpered. "Worshipful gentlemen, I could
    not know. I could not know what it was you wanted."

    "I told you to bring the contents of the box."

    "Letters, ay! Letters, worthy sir, but not----"

    "Silence, and go into that room!" Blondel pointed with a shaking finger
    to a small inner serving-room at the end of the parlour. "Go!" he
    repeated peremptorily, "and stay there until I come to you."

    Then, but not until the lad had taken his tear-bedabbled face into the
    closet and had closed the door behind him, the Syndic turned to the
    three. "I ask your pardon," he said, making no attempt to disguise the
    agitation which still moved him. "But it was enough, it was more than
    enough, to try me." He paused and wiped his brow, on which the sweat
    stood in beads. "He had under his hand the papers," looking at them a
    little askance as if he doubted whether the explanation would pass,
    "that we need! The papers that would convict Basterga. And because they
    did not wear the appearance he expected--because they were disguised,
    you understand--they were in a bottle in fact--and were not precisely
    what he expected----"

    "He left them?"

    "He left them." There was something like a tear, a leaden drop, in the
    corner of the Fourth Syndic's eye.

    "Still if he had access to them once," Petitot suggested briskly, "what
    has been done once may be done twice. He may gain access to them again.
    Why not?"

    "He may, but he may not. Still, I should have thought of that and--and
    made allowance," Blondel answered with a fair show of candour. "But too
    often an occasion let slip does not return, as you well know. The least
    disorder in the box he searched may put Basterga on the alert, and wreck
    my plans."

    They did not answer. They felt one and all, Petitot and Baudichon no
    less than Fabri, that they had done this man an injustice. His passion,
    his chagrin, his singleness of aim, the depth of his disappointment,
    disarmed even those who were in the daily habit of differing from him.
    Was this--this the man whom they had secretly accused of lukewarmness?
    And to whom they had hesitated to entrust the safety of the city? They
    had done him wrong. They had not credited him with a tithe of the
    feeling, the single-mindedness, the patriotism which it was plain he
    possessed.

    They stood silent, while Blondel, aware of the precipice, to the verge
    of which his improvident passion had drawn him, watched them out of the
    corner of his eye, uncertain how far their comprehension of the scene
    had gone. He trembled to think how nearly he had betrayed his secret;
    and took the more shame to himself, inasmuch as in cooler blood he saw
    the lad's error to be far from irremediable. As Petitot said, that which
    could be done so easily and quickly could be done a second time. If only
    he had not struck the lad! If only he had commanded himself, and spoken
    him fairly and sent him back! Almost by this time the _remedium_ might
    be here. Ay, here, in the palm of his hand! The reflection stabbed
    Blondel so poignantly, the sense of his folly went so deep, he groaned
    aloud.

    That groan fairly won over Baudichon, who was by nature of a kind heart.
    "Tut, tut," he said; "you must not take it to heart, Messer Blondel. Try
    again."

    "Unless, indeed," Petitot murmured, but with respect, "Messer Blondel
    knows the mistake to be fraught with consequences more grave than we
    suppose."

    The Fourth Syndic smiled awry: that was precisely what he did know. But
    "No," he said, "the thing can be cured. I am sorry I lost my temper. Not
    a moment must be wasted, however. I will see this young man: if he
    raises any difficulty, I have still another agent whom I can employ. And
    by to-morrow at latest----"

    "You may still have the thing in your hands."

    "I think so. I certainly think so."

    "Good. Then till to-morrow," Fabri answered, as he took his cap from the
    table and with the others turned towards the door. "Good luck, Messer
    Blondel. We are reassured. We feel that our interests are in good
    hands."

    "Yes," said Petitot almost warmly. "Still, caution, caution! Messer
    Blondel. One bad man within the gates----"

    "May be hung!" Blondel cried gaily.

    "Ay, may be! But unhung is a graver foe than five hundred men without!
    It is that I would have you bear in mind."

    "I will bear it in mind," the Fourth Syndic answered. "And when I can
    hang him," with a vindictive look, "be sure I will--and high as Haman!"

    He attended them with solicitude to the door, being set by what had
    happened a little more upon his behaviour. That done and the outer door
    closed upon them, he returned to the parlour, but did not at once seek
    the young man, upon whom he had taken the precaution of turning the key.

    Instead he stood a while, pondering with a pale face; a haggard, paler
    replica he seemed of the stiff, hard portrait on the panel over the
    mantel. He was wondering why he had let himself go so foolishly; he was
    recognising with a sinking heart that it was to his illness he owed it
    that he had so frequently of late lost control of himself.

    For a man to discover that the power of self-mastery is passing from him
    is only a degree less appalling than the consciousness of insanity
    itself; and Blondel cowered, trembling under the thought. If aught
    could strengthen his purpose it was the suspicion that the insidious
    disease from which he suffered was already sapping the outworks of that
    mind on whose clever combinations he depended for his one chance of
    cure.

    Yet while the thought strengthened, it terrified him. "I must make no
    second mistake--no second mistake!" he muttered, his eyes on the door of
    the serving-room. "No second mistake!" And he waited a while considering
    the matter in all its aspects. Should he tell Louis more than he had
    told him already? It seemed needless. To send the lad with curt, stern
    words to fetch that which he had omitted to bring--this seemed the more
    straight-forward way: and the more certain, too, since the lad had now
    seen the other magistrates, and could have no doubt of their concurrence
    or of the importance of the task entrusted to him. Blondel decided on
    that course, and advancing to the door he opened it and called to his
    prisoner to come out.

    To his credit be it said the sight of the lad's wealed face gave the
    Syndic something of a shock. He was soon to be more gravely shaken.
    Instigated partly by curiosity, partly by the desire to fix Louis'
    scared faculties, he began by asking what was the aspect of the phial
    which the lad had omitted to bring. "What was its colour and size, and
    how full was it?" he proceeded, striving to speak gently and to make
    allowance for the cowering weakness of the youth before him. "Do you
    hear?" he urged. "Of what shape was it? You can tell that at least. You
    handled it, I suppose? You took it out of the metal box?"

    Louis burst into tears.

    Blondel had much ado--for it was true, he had small command of
    himself--not to strike the lad again. Instead, "Fool," he said, "what do
    your tears help you or advance me? Speak, I tell you, and answer my
    question! What was the appearance of this flask or bottle, or what it
    was--that you left there?"

    The lad sank to his knees. Fear and pain had robbed him of the petty
    cunning he possessed. He no longer knew what to tell nor what to
    withhold. And in a breath the truth was out. "Don't strike me!" he
    wailed, guarding his smarting face with his arm. "And I'll tell you all!
    I will indeed!"

    The Syndic knew then that there was more to learn. "All?" he repeated,
    aghast.

    "Ay, the truth. All the truth," Louis moaned. "I didn't see it. I did
    not go to it! I dared not! I swear I dared not.'"

    "You did not see it?" the Syndic said slowly. "The phial? You did not
    see the phial?"

    "No."

    This time Messer Blondel did not strike. He leant heavily upon the
    table; his face, which a moment before had been swollen with impatience,
    turned a sickly white. "You--you didn't see it?" he muttered--his tone
    had sunk to a whisper. "You didn't see it? Then all you told me was a
    lie? There was nothing--no bottle in the box? But how, then, did you
    know anything of a bottle? Did he"--with a sharp spasm of pain--"send
    you here to tell me this?"

    "No, no! She told me. She looked--for me in the box."

    "Who?"

    "Anne. Anne Royaume! I was afraid," the lad continued, speaking with a
    little more confidence, as he saw that the Syndic made no movement to
    strike him, "and she said that she would look for me. She could go to
    his room, and run little risk. But if he had caught me there he would
    have killed me! Indeed he would!" Louis repeated desperately, as he
    read the storm-signs that began to darken the Syndic's face.

    "You told her then?"

    "I could not do it myself! I could not indeed."

    He cowered lower; but he fared better than he expected. The Syndic drew
    a long fluttering breath, a breath of returning life, of returning hope.
    The colour, too, began to come back to his cheeks. After all, it might
    have been worse. He had thought it worse. He had thought himself
    discovered, tricked, discomfited by the man against whom he had pitted
    his wits, with his life for stake. Whereas--it seemed a small thing in
    comparison--this meant only the inclusion of one more in the secret, the
    running of one more risk, the hazarding another tongue. And the lad had
    not been so unwise. She had easier access to the room than he, and ran
    less risk of suspicion or detection. Why not employ her in place of the
    lad?

    The youth grovelling before him wondered to see him calm, and plucking
    up spirit stood upright. "You must go back to her, and ask her to get it
    for you," Blondel said firmly. "You can be back within the half-hour,
    bringing it."

    Louis began to shrink. His eyes sank. "She will not give it me," he
    muttered.

    "No?" Blondel, as he repeated the word, wondered at his own moderation.
    But the shock had been heavy; he felt the effect of it. He was languid,
    almost half-hearted. Moreover, a new idea had taken root in his mind.
    "You can try her," he said.

    "I can try her, but she will not give it me," Louis repeated with a new
    obstinacy. As the Syndic grew mild he grew sullen. The change was in the
    other, not in himself. Subtly he knew that the Syndic was no longer in
    the mood to strike.

    Blondel ruminated. It might be better, it might even be safer, if he saw
    the girl himself. The story--of treason and a bottle--which had imposed
    on his colleagues might not move her much. It might be wiser to attack
    her on other grounds, grounds on which women lay more open. And
    self-pity whispered with a tear that the truth, than which he could
    conceive nothing more moving, nothing more sublimely sad, might go
    farther with a woman than bribes or threats or the most skilful
    inventions. He made up his mind. He would tell the truth, or something
    like it, something as like it as he dared tell her.

    "Very well," he said, "you can go! But be silent! A word to him--I shall
    learn it sooner or later--and you perish on the wheel! You can go now. I
    shall put the matter in other hands."
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 12
    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?