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
    "Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

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

    Chapter 17

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 17
    Previous Chapter
    THE _REMEDIUM_.

    We have seen that for Claude, as he hurried from the bridge, the faces
    he met in the narrow streets of the old town were altered by the medium
    through which he viewed them; and appeared gloomy, sordid and fanatical.
    In the eyes of Blondel, who had passed that way before him, the same
    faces wore a look of selfishness, stupendously and heartlessly cruel.
    And not the faces only; the very houses and ways, the blue sky overhead,
    and the snow-peaks--when for an instant he caught sight of them--bore
    the same aspect. All wore their every-day air, and mocked the despair in
    his heart. All flung in his teeth the fact, the incredible fact, that
    whether he died or lived, stayed or went, the world would proceed; that
    the eternal hills, ay, and the insensate bricks and mortar, that had
    seen his father pass, would see him pass, and would be standing when he
    was gone into the darkness.

    There are few things that to the mind of man in his despondent moods are
    more strange, or more shocking, than the permanence of trifles. The
    small things to which his brain and his hand have given shape, which he
    can, if he will, crush out of form, and resolve into their primitive
    atoms, outlive him! They lie on the table when he is gone, are unchanged
    by his removal, serve another master as they have served him, preach to
    another generation the same lesson. The face is dust, but the canvas
    smiles from the wall. The hand is withered, but the pencil is still in
    the tray and is used by another. There are times when the irony of this
    thought bites deep into the mind, and goads the mortal to revolt. Had
    Blondel, as he climbed the hill, possessed the power of Orimanes to
    blast at will, few of those whom he met, few on whom he turned the
    gloomy fire of his eyes, would have reached their houses that day or
    seen another sun.

    He was within a hundred paces of his home, when a big man, passing along
    the Bourg du Four, but on the other side of the way, saw him and came
    across the road to intercept him. It was Baudichon, his double chin more
    pendulent, his massive face more dully wistful than ordinary; for the
    times had got upon the Councillor's nerves, and day by day he grew more
    anxious, slept worse of nights, and listened much before he went to bed.

    "Messer Blondel," he called out, in a voice more peremptory than was
    often addressed to the Fourth Syndic's ear. "Messer Syndic! One moment,
    if you please!"

    Blondel stopped and turned to him. Outwardly the Syndic was cool,
    inwardly he was at a white heat that at any moment might impel him to
    the wildest action. "Well?" he said. "What is it, M. Baudichon?"

    "I want to know----"

    "Of course!" The sneer was savage and undisguised. "What, this time, if
    I may be so bold?"

    Baudichon breathed quickly, partly with the haste he had made across the
    road, partly in irritation at the gibe. "This only," he said. "How far
    you purpose to try our patience? A week ago you were for delaying the
    arrest you know of--for a day. It was a matter of hours then."

    "It was."

    "But days have passed, and are passing! and we have no explanation;
    nothing is done. And every night we run a fresh risk, and every
    morning--so far--we thank God that our throats are still whole; and
    every day we strive to see you, and you are out, or engaged, or about to
    do it, or awaiting news! But this cannot go on for ever! Nor," puffing
    out his cheeks, "shall we always bear it!"

    "Messer Baudichon!" Blondel retorted, the passion he had so far
    restrained gleaming in his eyes, and imparting a tremor to his voice,
    "are you Fourth Syndic or am I?"

    "You! You, certainly. Who denies it?" the stout man said. "But----"

    "But what? But what?"

    "We would know what you think we are, that we can bear this suspense."

    "I will tell you what I think you are!"

    "By your leave?"

    "_A fat hog!_" the Syndic shrieked. "And as brainless as a hog fit for
    the butcher! That for you! and your like!"

    And before the astounded Baudichon, whose brain was slow to take in new
    facts, had grasped the full enormity of the insult flung at him, the
    Syndic was a dozen paces distant. He had eased his mind, and that for
    the moment was much; though he still ground his teeth, and, had
    Baudichon followed him, would have struck the Councillor without thought
    or hesitation. The pigs! The hogs! To press him with their wretched
    affairs: to press him at this moment when the grave yawned at his feet,
    and the coffin opened for him!

    To be sure he might now do with Basterga as he pleased without thought
    or drawback; but for their benefit--never! He paused at his door, and
    cast a haggard glance up and down; at the irregular line of gables
    which he had known from childhood, the steep, red roofs, the cobble
    pavement, the bakers' signs that hung here and there and with the wide
    eaves darkened the way; and he cursed all he saw in the frenzy of his
    rage. Let Basterga, Savoy, d'Albigny do their worst! What was it to him?
    Why should he move? He went into his house despairing.

    Unto this last hour a little hope had shone through the darkness. At
    times the odds had seemed to be against him, at one time Heaven itself
    had seemed to declare itself his foe. But the _remedium_ had existed,
    the thing was still possible, the light burned, though distant, feeble,
    flickering. He had told himself that he despaired; but he had not known
    what real despair was until this moment, until he sat, as he saw now,
    among the Dead Sea splendours of his parlour, the fingers of his right
    hand drumming on the arm of the abbot's chair, his shaggy eyelids
    drooping over his brooding eyes.

    Ah, God! If he had stayed to take the stuff when it lay in his power! If
    he had refused to open until he held it in his hand! If, even after that
    act of folly, he had refused to go until she gave it him! How
    inconceivable his madness seemed now, his fear of scandal, his thought
    of others! Others? There was one of whom he dared not think; for when he
    did his head began to tremble on his shoulders; and he had to clutch the
    arms of the chair to stay the palsy that shook him. If _she_, the girl
    who had destroyed him, thought it was all one to him whom the drug
    advantaged, or who lived or who died, he would teach her--before he
    died! He would teach her! There was no extremity of pain or shame she
    should not taste, accursed witch, accursed thief, as she was! But he
    must not think of that, or of her, now; or he would die before his time.
    He had a little time yet, if he were careful, if he were cool, if he
    were left a brief space to recover himself. A little, a very little
    time!

    Whose were that foot and that voice? Basterga's? The Syndic's eyes
    gleamed, he raised his head. There was another score he had to pay! His
    own score, not Baudichon's. Fool, to have left his treasure unguarded
    for every thieving wench to take! Fool, thrice and again, for putting
    his neck back into the lion's mouth. Stealthily Blondel pulled the
    handbell nearer to him and covered it with his cloak. He would have
    added a weapon, but there was no arm within reach, and while he
    hesitated between his chair and the door of the small inner room, the
    outer door opened, and Basterga appeared and advanced, smiling, towards
    him.

    "Your servant, Messer Syndic," he said. "I heard that you had been
    inquiring for me in my absence, and I am here to place myself at your
    disposition. You are not looking----" he stopped short, in feigned
    surprise. "There is nothing wrong, I hope?"

    Had the scholar been such a man as Baudichon, Blondel's answer would
    have been one frenzied shriek of insults and reproaches. But face to
    face with Basterga's massive quietude, with his giant bulk, with that
    air, at once masterful and cynical, which proclaimed to those with whom
    he talked that he gave them but half his mind while reading theirs, the
    wrath of the smaller man cooled. A moment his lips writhed, without
    sound; then, "Wrong?" he cried, his voice harsh and broken. "Wrong? All
    is wrong!"

    "You are not well?" Basterga said, eyeing him with concern.

    "Well? I shall never be better! Never!" Blondel shrieked. And after a
    pause, "Curse you!" he added. "It is your doing!"

    Basterga stared. He was in the dark as to what had happened, though the
    Syndic's manner on leaving the bridge had prepared him for something.
    "My doing, Messer Blondel?" he said. "Why? What have I done?"

    "Done?"

    "Ay, done! It was not my fault," the scholar continued, with a touch of
    sternness, "that I could not offer you the _remedium_ on easy terms. Nor
    mine, that hard as the terms were, you did not accept them. Besides," he
    continued, slowly and with meaning,

    "Terque quaterque redit!

    You remember the Sibylline books? How often they were offered, and the
    terms? It is not too late, Messer Blondel--even now. While there is life
    there is hope, there is more than hope. There is certainty."

    "Is there?" Blondel cried; he extended a lean hand, shaking with
    vindictive passion. "Is there? Go and look in your casket, fool! Go and
    look in your steel box!" he hissed. "Go! And see if it be not too late!"

    For a moment Basterga peered at him, his brow contracted, his eyes
    screwed up. The blow was unexpected. Then, "Have you taken the stuff?"
    he muttered.

    "I? No! But she has!" And on that, seeing the change in the other's
    face--for, for once, the scholar's mask slipped and suffered his
    consternation to appear--Blondel laughed triumphantly: in torture
    himself, he revelled in a disaster that touched another. "She has! She
    has!"

    "She? Who?"

    "The girl of the house! Anne you call her! Curse her! child of
    perdition, as she is! She!" And he clawed the air.

    "She has taken it?" Basterga spoke incredulously, but his brow was damp,
    his cheeks were a shade more sallow than usual; he did not deceive the
    other's penetration. "Impossible!" he continued, striving to rally his
    forces. "Why should she take it? She has no illness, no disease!
    Try"--he swallowed something--"to be clear, man. Try to be clear. Who
    has told you this cock-and-bull story?"

    "It is the truth."

    "She has taken it?"

    "To give to her mother--yes."

    "And she?"

    "Has taken it? Yes."

    The scholar, ordinarily so cool and self-contained, could not withhold
    an execration. His small eyes glittered, his face swelled with rage; for
    a moment he was within a little of an explosion. Of what mad, what
    insensate folly, unworthy of a schoolboy, worthy only of a sot, an
    imbecile, a Grio, had he been guilty! To leave the potion, that if it
    had not the virtues which he ascribed to it, had virtue--or it had not
    served his purpose of deceiving the Syndic during some days or hours--to
    leave the potion unprotected, at the mercy of a chance hand, of a
    treacherous girl! Safeguarded, in appearance only, and to blind his
    dupe! It seemed incredible that he could have been so careless!

    True, he might replace the stuff at some expense; but not in a day or an
    hour. And how--with one dose in all the world!--keep up the farce? The
    dose consumed, the play was at an end. An end--or, no, was he losing his
    wits, his courage? On the instant, in the twinkling of an eye, he shaped
    a fresh course.

    He cursed the girl anew, and apparently with the same fervour. "A
    month's work it cost me!" he cried. "A month's work! and ten gold
    pieces!"

    The Syndic, pale, and almost in a state of collapse--for the bitter
    satisfaction of imparting the news no longer supported him--stared. "A
    month's work?" he muttered. "A month? Years you told me! And a fortune!"

    "I told you? Never!" Basterga opened his eyes in seeming amazement.
    "Never, good sir, in all my life!" he repeated emphatically.
    "But"--returning grimly to his former point--"ten gold pieces, or a
    fortune--no matter which, she shall pay dearly for it, the thieving
    jade!"

    The Syndic sat heavily in his seat, and, with a hand on either arm of
    the abbot's chair, stared dully at the other. "A fortune, you told me,"
    he said, in a voice little above a whisper. "And years. Was it a
    fiction, all a fiction? About Ibn Jasher, and the Physician of Aleppo,
    and M. Laurens of Paris, and--and the rest?"

    Basterga deliberately took a turn to the window, came back, and stood
    looking down at him. "Mon Dieu!" he muttered. "Is it possible?"

    "Eh?"

    "I can scarcely believe it!" The scholar spoke with a calmness half
    cynical, half compassionate. "But I suppose you really think that of me,
    though it seems incredible! You are under the impression that the drug
    this jade stole was the _remedium_ of Ibn Jasher, the one incomparable
    and sovereign result of long years of study and research? You believe
    that I kept this in a mere locked box, the key accessible by all who
    knew my habits, and the treasure at the mercy of the first thief! Mon
    Dieu! Mon Dieu! If I said it a thousand times I could not express my
    astonishment. I might be the vine grower of the proverb,

    Cui saepe viator
    Cessisset magna compellans voce cucullum!"

    The Syndic heard him without changing the attitude of weakness and
    exhaustion into which he had fallen on sitting down. But midway in the
    other's harangue, his lips parted, he held his breath, and in his eyes
    grew a faint light of dawning hope. "But if it be not so?" he muttered
    feebly. "If this be not so, why----"

    "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!"

    "Why did you look so startled a moment ago?"

    "Why, man? Because ten pieces of gold are ten pieces! To me at least!
    And the potion, which was made after a recipe of that same Messer
    Laurens of Paris, cost no less. It is a love-philtre, beneficent to the
    young, but if taken by the old so noxious, that had you swallowed it,"
    with a grin, "you had not been long Syndic, Messer Blondel!"

    Blondel shook his head. "You do not deceive me," he muttered. For though
    he was anxious to believe, as yet he could not. He could not; he had
    seen the other's face. "It is the _remedium_ she has taken! I feel it."

    "And given to her mother?"

    Blondel inclined his head.

    The scholar laughed contemptuously. "Then is the test easy," he said.
    "If it be the _remedium_ you will find her mother, who has not left her
    bed for three years, grown strong and well and vigorous, and like to him
    who lifted up his bed and walked. But if it be the love-philtre, you
    have but to come with me, and you will find her----" He did not finish
    the sentence, but a shrug of his shoulders and a mysterious smile filled
    the gap.

    Imperceptibly Blondel had raised himself in his chair. The gleam of
    hope, once lighted in his eyes, was growing bright. "How?" he asked.
    "How shall we find her? If it be the philtre only that she has taken--as
    you say?"

    "If it be the philtre? The mother, you mean?"

    "Yes."

    "Mad! Mad!" Basterga repeated with decision, "and beside herself. As you
    had been," he continued grimly, "had you by any chance taken the _aqua
    Medeæ_."

    "That you kept in the steel box?"

    "Ay."

    "You are sure it was not the _remedium_?" Blondel leaned forward. If
    only he could believe it, if only it were the truth, how great the
    difference! No wonder that the muscles of his lean throat swelled, and
    his hands closed convulsively on the arms of his great chair, as he
    strove to read the other's mind.

    He had as soon read a printed page without light. The scholar saw that
    it needed but a little to convince him, and took his line with
    confidence; nor without some pride in the wits that had saved him. "The
    _remedium_?" he repeated with impatient wonder. "Do you know that the
    _remedium_ is unique? That it is a man's life? That in the world's
    history it scarce appears once in five hundred years? That all the
    wealth of kings cannot produce it, nor the Spanish Indies furnish it? Do
    you remember these things, Messer Blondel, and do you ask if I keep it
    like a common philtre in a box in my lodgings?" He snorted in contempt,
    and going disdainfully to the hearth spat in the fire as if he could not
    brook the idea. Then returning to the Syndic's side, he took up his
    story in a different tone. "The _remedium_," he said, "my good friend,
    is in the Grand Duke's Treasury at Turin. It is in a steel box, it is
    true, but in one with three locks and three keys, sealed with the Grand
    Duke's private signet and with mine; and laid where the Treasurer
    himself cannot meddle with it."

    The Syndic sat up straight, and with his eyes fixed sullenly on the
    floor fingered his beard. He was almost persuaded, but not quite. Could
    it be, could it really be that the thing still existed? That it was
    still to be obtained, that life by its means was still possible?

    "Well?" Basterga said, when the silence had lasted some time.

    "The proof!" Blondel retorted, excitement once more over-mastering him.
    "Let me have the proof! Let me see, man, if the woman be mad."

    But the scholar, leaning Atlas-like, against the wall beside the long
    low window, with his arms crossed, and his great head sunk on his
    breast, did not move. He saw that this was his hour and he must use it.
    "To what purpose?" he answered slowly: and he shrugged his shoulders.
    "Why go to the trouble? The _remedium_ is in Turin. And if it be not, it
    is the Grand Duke's affair only, and mine, since you will not come to
    his terms. I would, I confess," he continued, in a more kindly tone,
    "that it were your affair also, Messer Blondel. I would I could have
    made you see things as they are and as I see them. As, believe me,
    Messer Petitot would see them were he in your place; as Messer Fabri and
    Messer Baudichon--I warrant it--do see them; as--pardon me--all who rank
    themselves among the wise and the illuminate, see them. For all such,
    believe me, these are times of enlightening, when the words which past
    generations have woven into shackles for men's minds fall from them, and
    are seen to be but the straw they are; when men move, like children
    awaking from foolish dreams, and life----"

    The Syndic's eyes glowed dully.

    "Life," Basterga continued sonorously, "is seen to be that which it is,
    the one thing needful which makes all other things of use, and without
    which all other things are superfluities! Bethink you a minute, Messer
    Blondel! Would Petitot give his life to save yours?"

    The Syndic smiled after a sickly fashion. Petitot? The stickling pedant!
    The thin, niggling whipster!

    "Or Messer Fabri?"

    Blondel shook his head.

    "Or Messer Baudichon?"

    "I called him but now--a fat hog!"

    It was Basterga's turn to shake his head. "He is not one to forget," he
    said gravely. "I fear you will hear of that again, Messer Blondel. I
    fear it will make trouble for you. But if these will not, is there any
    man in Geneva, any man you can name, who would give his life for you?"

    "Do men give life so easily?" Blondel answered, moving painfully in his
    chair.

    "Yet you will give yours for them! You will give yours! And who will be
    a ducat the better?"

    "I shall at least die for freedom," the Syndic muttered, gnawing his
    moustache.

    "A word!"

    "For the religion, then."

    "It is that which men make it!" the scholar retorted. "There have been
    good men of all religions, though we dare not say as much in public, or
    in Geneva. 'Tis not the religion. 'Tis the way men live it! Was John
    Bernardino of Assisi, whom some call St. Francis, a worse man than
    Arnold of Brescia, the Reformer? Or is your Beza a better man than
    Messer Francis of Sales? Or would the heavens fall if Geneva embraced
    the faith of the good Archbishop of Milan? Words, Messer Blondel,
    believe me, words!"

    "Yet men die for them!"

    "Not wise men. And when you have died for them, who will thank you?" The
    Syndic groaned. "Who will know, or style you martyr?" Basterga continued
    forcibly. "Baudichon, whom you have called a fat hog? He will sit in
    your seat. Petitot--he said but a little while ago that he would buy
    this house if he lived long enough."

    "He did?" The Syndic came to his feet as if a spring had raised him.

    "Certainly. And he is a rich man, you know."

    "May the Bise search his bones!" Blondel cried, trembling with fury. For
    this was the realisation of his worst fears. Petitot to live in his
    house, lie warm in his bed, sneer at his memory across the table that
    had been his, rule in the Council where he had been first! Petitot, that
    miserable crawler who had clogged his efforts for years, who had shared,
    without deserving, his honours, who had spied on him and carped at him
    day by day and hour by hour! Petitot to succeed him! To be all and own
    all, and sun himself in the popular eye, and say "Geneva, it is I!"
    While he, Blondel, lay rotting and forgotten, stark, beneath snow and
    rain, winter wind and summer drought!

    Perish Geneva first! Perish friend and foe alike!

    The Syndic wavered. His hand shook, his thin dry cheek burned with
    fever, his lips moved unceasingly. Why should he die? They would not die
    for him. Nay, they would not thank him, they would not praise him. A
    traitor? To live he must turn traitor? Ay, but try Petitot, and see if
    he would not do the same! Or Baudichon, who could not sleep of nights
    for fear--how would he act with death staring him in the face? The
    bravest soldiers when disarmed, or called upon to surrender or die,
    capitulate without blame. And that was his position.

    Life, too; dear, warm life! Life that might hold much for him still.
    Hitherto these men and their fellows had hampered and thwarted him,
    marred his plans and balked his efforts. Freed from them and supported
    by an enlightened and ambitious prince, he might rise to heights
    hitherto invisible. He might lift up and cast down at will, might rule
    the Council as his creatures, might live to see Berne and the Cantons at
    his feet, might leave Geneva the capital of a great and wealthy country.

    All this, at his will; or he might die! Die and rot and be forgotten
    like a dog that is cast out.

    He did not believe in his heart that faith and honour were words;
    fetters woven by wise men to hamper fools. He did not believe that all
    religions were alike, and good or bad as men made them. But on the one
    side was life, and on the other death. And he longed to live.

    "I would that I could make you see things as I see them," Basterga
    resumed, in a gentle tone. Patiently waiting the other's pleasure he had
    not missed an expression of his countenance, and, thinking the moment
    ripe, he used his last argument. "Believe me, I have the will, all the
    will, to help you. And the terms are not mine. Only I would have you
    remember this, Messer Blondel: that others may do what you will not, so
    that after all you may find that you have cast life away, and no one the
    better. Baudichon, for instance, plays the Brutus in public. But he is a
    fearful man, and a timid; and to save himself and his family--he thinks
    much of his family--he would do what you will not."

    "He would do it!" the Syndic cried passionately. And he struck the
    table. "He would, curse him!"

    "And he would not forget," Basterga continued, with a meaning nod, "that
    you had miscalled him!"

    "No! But I will be before him!" The Syndic was on his feet again,
    shaking like a leaf.

    "Ay?" Basterga blew his nose to hide the flash of triumph that shone in
    his eyes. "You will be wise in time? Well, I am not surprised. I thought
    that you would not be so mad--that no man could be so mad as to throw
    away life for a shadow!"

    "But mind you," Blondel snarled, "the proof. I must have the proof," he
    repeated. He was anxious to persuade himself that his surrender depended
    on a condition; he would fain hide his shame under a show of bargaining.
    "The proof, man, or I will not take a step."

    "You shall have it."

    "To-day?"

    "Within the hour."

    "And if she be not mad--I believe you are deceiving me, and it was the
    _remedium_ the girl took--if she be not mad----" The Syndic, stammering
    and repeating himself, broke off there. He could not meet the other's
    eyes; between a shame new to him and the overpowering sense of what he
    had done, he was in a pitiable state. "Curse you," with violence, "I
    believe you have laid a trap for me!" he cried. "I say if she be not
    mad, I have done."

    "Let it stand so," Basterga answered placidly. "Trust me, if she has
    taken the philtre she will be mad enough. Which reminds me that I also
    have a crow to pick with Mistress Anne."

    "Curse her!"

    "We will do more than that," Basterga murmured. "If she be not very good
    we will burn her, my friend.

    Uritur infelix Dido, totaque videtur
    Urbe furens!"

    His eyes were cruel, and he licked his lips as he applied the
    quotation.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 17
    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?