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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 18
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    THE BARGAIN STRUCK.

    Claude, at the first sign of peril, had put himself between Anne and the
    door; and, had not the fear which seized the girl at the sight of
    Basterga robbed her of the power to think, she must have thrilled with a
    new and delicious sensation. She, who had not for years known what it
    was to be sheltered behind another, was now to know the bliss of being
    protected. Nor did her lover remain on the defensive. It was he who
    challenged the intruders.

    "What is it?" he asked, as the Syndic crossed the threshold; which was
    darkened a moment later by the scholar's huge form. "What is your
    business here, Messer Syndic, if it please you?"

    "With you, none!" Blondel answered; and pausing a little within the
    door, he cast a look, cold and searching, round the apartment. His
    outward composure hid a tumult of warring passions; shame and rage were
    at odds within him, and rising above both was a venomous desire to exact
    retribution from some one. "Nothing with you!" he repeated. "You may
    stand aside, young man, or, better, go to your classes. What do you here
    at this hour, and idle, were the fitting question; and not, what is my
    business! Do you hear, sirrah?" with a rap of his staff of office on the
    floor. "Begone to your work!"

    But Claude, who had been thirsting this hour past for realms to conquer
    and dragons to subdue, and who, with his mistress beside him, felt
    himself a match for any ten, was not to be put aside. His manhood
    rebelled against the notion of leaving Anne with men whose looks boded
    the worst. "I am at home," he replied, breathing a little more quickly,
    and aware that in defying the Syndic he was casting away the scabbard.
    "I am at home in this house. I have done no wrong. I am in no inn now,
    and I know of no right which you have to expel me without cause from my
    own lodging."

    Blondel's lean face grew darker. "You beard me?" he cried.

    "I beard no one," Claude answered hardily. "I am at home here, that is
    all. If you have lawful business here, do it. I am no hindrance to you.
    If you have no lawful business--and as to that," he continued, recalling
    with indignation the tricks which had been employed to remove him, "I
    have my opinion--I have as much right to be here as you! The more, as it
    is not very long," he went on, with a glance of defiance, directed at
    Basterga, "since you gave the man who now accompanies you the foulest of
    characters! Since you would have me rob him! Since you called him
    reprobate of the reprobate! Is he reprobate now?"

    "Silence!"

    "A corrupter of women, as you called him?"

    "Liar!" the Syndic cried, trembling with passion. "Be silent!" The blow
    found him unprepared. "He lies!" he stammered, turning to his ally.

    Basterga laughed softly. He had guessed as much: none the less he
    thought it time to interfere, lest his tool be put too much out of
    countenance. "Gently, young man," he said, "or perhaps you may go too
    far. I know you."

    "He is a liar!" Blondel repeated.

    "Probably," Basterga said, "but it matters not. It is enough that our
    business here lies not with him, but with this young woman. You seem to
    have taken her under your protection," he continued, addressing Claude,
    "and may choose, if you please, whether you will see her haled through
    the streets, or will suffer her to answer our questions here. As you
    please."

    "Your questions?" Claude cried, recalling with rage the occasions on
    which he had heard this man insult her. "Hear me one moment, and I will
    very quickly prove----"

    He was silent with the word on his lips. Her hand on his sleeve recalled
    the necessity of prudence. He bit his lip and stood glowering at them.
    It was she who spoke.

    "What do you wish?" she asked in a low voice.

    Naturally courageous as she was, she could not have spoken but for the
    support of her lover. For the unexpected conjunction of these two, and
    their entrance together, smote her with fear. "What is your desire?" she
    repeated.

    "To see your mother," Basterga answered. "We have no business with
    you--at present," he added, after a perceptible pause, and with a slight
    emphasis.

    She caught her breath. "You want to see my mother?" she faltered.

    "I spoke plainly," Basterga replied with sternness. "That was what I
    said."

    "What do you want with her?"

    "That is our affair."

    Pale to the lips, she hesitated. Yet, after all, why should they not go
    up and see her mother? Things were not to-day as they had been
    yesterday: or she had done in vain that which she had done, had sinned
    in vain if she had sinned. And that was a thing not to be considered.
    If they found her mother as she had left her, if they found the promise
    of the morning fulfilled, even their unexpected entrance would do no
    harm. Her mother was sane to-day: sane and well as other people, thank
    God! It was on that account she had let her heart rise like a bird's to
    her lips.

    Yet, when she opened her mouth to assent, she found the words with
    difficulty. "I do not know what you want," she said faintly. "Still if
    you wish to see her you can go up."

    "Good!" Basterga replied, and advancing, he opened the staircase door,
    then stood aside for the Syndic to ascend first. "Good! The uppermost
    floor, Messer Blondel," he continued, holding the door wide. "The stairs
    are narrow, but I think I can promise you that at the top you will find
    what you want."

    He could not divest his tone of the triumph he felt. Slight as the
    warning was, it sufficed; while the last word was still on his lips, she
    snatched the door from his grasp, closed it and stood panting before it.
    What inward monition had spoken to her, what she had seen, what she had
    heard, besides that note of triumph in Basterga's voice, matters not.
    Her mind was changed.

    "No!" she cried. "You do not go up! No!"

    "You will not let us see her?" Basterga exclaimed.

    "No!" Her breast heaving, she confronted them without fear.

    In his surprise at her action the scholar had recoiled a step: he was
    fiercely angry. "Come, girl, no nonsense," he said roughly and brutally.
    "Make way! Or we shall have a little to say to you of what you did in my
    room last night! Do you mark me?" he continued. "I might have you
    punished for it, wench! I might have you whipped and branded for it! Do
    you mind me? You robbed me, and that which you took----"

    "I took at his instigation!" she retorted, pointing an accusing finger
    at Blondel, who stood gnawing his beard, hating the part he was playing,
    and hating still more this white-faced girl who had come so near to
    ruining, if she had not ruined, his last chance of life. Hate her? The
    Syndic hated her for the hour of anguish through which he had just
    passed, hated her for the price--he shuddered to think of it--which he
    must now pay for his life. He hated her for his present humiliation, he
    hated her for his future shame. She seemed to blame for all.

    "You took it," Basterga answered, acknowledging her words only by a
    disdainful shrug, "and gave it to your mother. Why, I care not. Now that
    you see we know so much, will you let us go up!"

    "No!" She faced him bravely and steadfastly. "No. If you know so much,
    you know also why I took it, and why I gave it to her." And then, the
    radiance of unselfish love illuminating her pallid face, "I would do it
    again were it to do," she said. "And again, and yet again! For you, I
    have done you wrong; I have robbed you, and you may punish me. I must
    bear it. But as to him," pointing to Messer Blondel, "I am innocent!
    Innocent," she repeated firmly. "For he would have done it himself and
    for himself; it was he who would have me do it. And if I have done it, I
    have done it for another. I have robbed you, if need be I must pay the
    price; but that man has naught against me in this! And for the rest, my
    mother is well."

    "Ah?"

    "Ay, well! well!" she repeated, the light of joy softening her eyes as
    she repeated the word. "Well! and I fear nothing."

    Basterga laughed cruelly. "Well?" he said. "Well, is she? Then let us go
    up and see her. If she be well, why not?"

    "No!"

    "Why not?"

    She did not answer, but she did not make way.

    "Why not? I will tell you, if you please," he said. "And it will make
    you pipe to another tune. You have given her, young woman, that which
    will make her worse, and not better!"

    "She is better!"

    "For an hour, or for twelve hours!" he retorted. "That certainly. Then
    worse."

    "No!"

    "No? But I see what it is," he continued--and, alas, his voice
    strengthened the fear that like a dead hand was closing on her heart and
    staying it; deepened the terror that like a veil was falling before her
    eyes and darkening the room; so that she had much ado, gripping
    finger-nails into palms, to keep her feet and let herself from fainting.
    "I see what it is. You would fain play Providence," he continued--"that
    is it, is it? You would play Providence? Then come! Come then, and see
    what kind of Providence it is you have played. We will see if you are
    right or I am right! And if she be well, or if she be ill!" And again he
    moved towards the staircase.

    But she stood obstinately between him and the door. "No," she said. "You
    do not go up!" She was resolute. The fear that as she listened to his
    gibing tones had driven the colour from her face, had hardened it too.
    For, if he were right? If for that fear there were foundation? If that
    which the Syndic had led her to give and that which she had given,
    proved--though for a few hours it had seemed to impart marvellous
    vigour--useless or worse than useless? Then the need to keep these men
    from her mother was the greater, the more desperate. How they could be
    kept, for how long it was possible to keep them, she did not pause to
    consider, any more than the she-wolf that crouches, snarling, between
    her whelps and the hunt, counts odds. It was enough for her that if they
    were right the worst had come, and naught lay between her mother's
    weakness and their cruel eyes and judgments but her own feeble strength.

    Or no! she was wrong in that; she had forgotten! As she spoke, and as
    Basterga with a scowl repeated the order to stand aside, Claude put her
    gently but irresistibly by, and took her place. The young man's eyes
    were bright, his colour high. "You will not go up!" he said, a mocking
    note of challenge, replying to Basterga's tone, in his voice. "You will
    not go up."

    "Fool! Will you prevent us?"

    "You will not go up! No!"

    In the very act of falling on the lad, Basterga recoiled. Claude had not
    been idle while the others disputed. He had gone to the corner for his
    sword, and it was the glittering point, suddenly whipped out and
    flickered before his eyes that gave the scholar pause, and made him leap
    back. "Pollux!" he cried, "are you mad? Put down! Put down! Do you see
    the Syndic? Do you know," he continued, stamping his foot, "that it is
    penal to draw in Geneva?"

    "I know that you are not going upstairs!" Claude answered gently. He was
    radiant. He would not have exchanged his position for a crown. She was
    looking, and he was going to fight.

    "You fool," Basterga returned, "we have but to call the watch from the
    Tertasse and you will be haled to the lock-up, and jailed and whipped,
    if not worse! And that jade with you! _Stultus es?_ Do you hear? Messer
    Syndic, will you be thwarted in this fashion? Call these lawbreakers to
    order and bid them have done!"

    "Put up!" the Syndic cried, hoarse with rage. He was beside himself,
    when he thought of the position in which he had placed himself. He
    looked at the two as if he would fain have slain them where they stood.
    "Or I call the watch, and it will be the worse for you," he continued.
    "Do you hear me? Put up?"

    "He shall not go upstairs!" Claude answered, breathing quickly. He was
    pale, but utterly and fixedly resolved. If Basterga made a movement to
    attack him, he would run him through whatever the consequences.

    "Then, fool, I will call the watch!" Blondel babbled, fairly beside
    himself.

    Claude had no answer to that; only they should not go up. It was the
    girl's readier wit furnished the answer.

    "Call them!" she cried, in a clear voice. "Call the watch, Messer
    Syndic, and I will tell them the whole story. What Messer Blondel would
    have had me do, and get, and give."

    "It was for the State!" the Syndic hissed.

    "And is it for the State that you come to-day with that man?" she
    retorted, and with her outstretched finger she accused Basterga of
    unspoken things. "That man! Last night you would have had me rob him.
    The day before he was a traitor. To-day he and you are one. Are one!
    What are you plotting together?"

    The Syndic shrank from the other's side under the stab of her
    words--words that, uttered at random, flew, straight as the arrow that
    slew Ahab, to the joint of his armour. "To-day you and that man are
    one," she repeated. "One! What are you plotting together?"

    She knew as much as that, did she? She knew that they were one, and that
    they were plotting together; while in the Council men were clamouring
    for the Paduan's arrest, and were growing suspicious because he was not
    arrested--Baudichon, whom he had called a fat hog, and Petitot, that
    slow, plodding sleuth-hound of a patriot. What if light fell on the true
    state of things--and less than the girl had said might cast that light?
    Then the warrant might go, not for the Paduan only, but for himself. Ay,
    for him! For with an enemy ever lying within a league of the gates
    warrants flew quickly in Geneva. Men who sleep ill of nights, and take
    the cock-crow for war's alarum, are suspicious, and, once roused,
    without ruth or mercy.

    There was the joint in his harness. Once let his name be published with
    Basterga's,--as must happen if the watch were summoned and the girl
    spoke out--and no one could say where the matter might end, or what
    suspicions might not be awakened. Nay, the matter was worse, more
    perilous and more lightly balanced; for, setting himself aside, none the
    less was a brawl that brought up Basterga's name, a thing to be shunned.
    The least thing might precipitate the scholar's arrest; his arrest must
    lead to the loss of the _remedium_, if it existed; and the loss of the
    _remedium_ to the loss of that which Messer Blondel had come to value
    the more dearly the more he sacrificed to keep it--the Syndic's life.

    He dared not call the watch, and he dared not use violence. As he awoke
    to those two facts, he stood blinking in dismayed silence, swallowing
    his rage, and hating the girl and hating the man with a dumb hatred.
    Though the reasons which weighed with him were unknown to the two, they
    could not be blind to his fear and his baffled mien; and had he been
    alone they might have taken victory for certain. But Basterga was not
    one to be so lightly thwarted. His intellect, his wit, his very mass
    intimidated. Therefore it was with as much relief as surprise that Anne
    read in his face the reflection of the other's doubts, and saw that he,
    too, gave back.

    "You are two fools!" he said. "Two great, big fools!" There was
    resignation, there was something that was almost approval in his tones.
    "You do not know what you are doing! Is there no way of making you hear
    reason?"

    "You cannot go up," Anne said. She had won, it seemed, without knowing
    how she had won.

    Basterga grunted; and then, "Ah, well," he said, addressing Claude, "if
    I had you in the fields, my lad, it would not be that bit of metal would
    save you!" And he spouted with appropriate gesture--

    "--Illum fidi aequales, genua aegra trahentem
    Jactantemque utroque caput, crassumque cruorem
    Ore ejectantem mixtosque in sanguine dentes
    Ducunt ad navis!

    Half an hour in my company, and you would not be so bold."

    Claude smiled with pardonable contempt, but made no reply, nor did he
    change his attitude.

    "Come!" Blondel muttered, addressing his ally with his eyes averted. "I
    have reasons at present for letting them be!" They were strange reasons,
    to judge by the hang-dog look of the proud magistrate. "But I shall know
    how to deal with them by-and-by. Come, man, come!" he repeated
    impatiently. And he turned towards the door and unlocked it.

    Basterga moved reluctantly after him. "Ay, we go now," he said, with a
    look full of menace. "But wait a while! Cæsar Basterga does not forget,
    and his turn will come! Where is my cap?"

    He had let it fall on the floor, and he turned to pick it up, stooping
    slowly and with difficulty as stout men do. As he raised himself, his
    head still low, he butted it suddenly and with an activity for which no
    one would have given him credit full into Claude's chest. The unlucky
    young man, who had lowered his weapon the instant before, fell back with
    a "sough" against the wall, and leant there, pale and breathless. Anne
    uttered one scream, then the scholar's huge arm enfolded her neck and
    drew her backwards against his breast.

    "Up! up! Messer Blondel!" he cried. "Now is your chance! Up and surprise
    her!" And with his disengaged hand he gripped Claude, for further
    safety, by the collar. "Up; I will keep them quiet!"

    The Syndic wasted a moment in astonishment, then he took in the
    situation and the other's cleverness. Before Basterga had ceased to
    speak, he was at the door of the staircase, and had dragged it open. But
    as he set his foot on the lowest stair, Anne, held as she was against
    Basterga's breast, and almost stifled by the arm which covered her
    mouth, managed to clutch the Syndic by his skirts, and, once having
    taken hold, held him with the strength of despair. In vain he struggled
    and strove and wrestled to jerk himself free; in vain Basterga, hampered
    by Claude, tried to drag the girl away--Blondel came away with her! She
    clung to him, and even, freeing her mouth for a moment, succeeded in
    uttering a scream.

    "Curse her!" Basterga foamed: and had he had a hand to spare, he would
    have struck her down. "Pull, man, have you no strength! Let go, you
    vixen! Let go, or----"

    He tried to press her throat, but in changing his hold allowed her to
    utter a second scream, louder, more shrill, more full of passion than
    the other. At the same instant a chair, knocked down by Blondel in his
    efforts, fell with a crash, throwing down a pewter platter; and Claude,
    white and breathless as he was, began to struggle, seeing his mistress
    so handled. The four swayed to and fro. Another moment, and either the
    Syndic must have jerked himself free, or the contest must have attained
    to dimensions that could not escape the notice of the neighbours, when a
    sound--a sound from within, from upstairs--stayed the tumult as by
    magic.

    Blondel ceased to struggle, and stood aghast. Basterga relaxed his hold
    upon his prisoners and listened. Claude leant back against the wall. The
    girl alone--she alone moved. Without speaking, without looking, as a
    bird flies to its young, she sprang to the stairs and fled up them.

    The maniacal laugh, the crazy words--a moment only, they heard them: and
    then the door above, which the poor woman, so long bedridden, had
    contrived in her frenzy of fear to open, closed on the sounds and
    stifled them. But enough had been heard: enough to convince Blondel,
    enough to justify Basterga, enough to change the fortunes of more than
    one in the room. The scholar's eyes met the Syndic's.

    "Are you satisfied?" he asked, in a low voice.

    Blondel, breathing hard, nodded.

    "You heard?"

    He nodded a second time. He looked scared.

    "Then you have enough to burn the old witch and the young one with her!"
    Basterga replied. He turned his small eyes, sparkling with malignity, on
    the young man, who stood against the wall, pale, and but half recovered
    from the blow he had sustained. "You thought to thwart me, did you,
    Messer Claude? You thought yourself clever enough to play with Cæsar
    Basterga, did you? To hold at bay--oh, clever fellow--a magistrate and a
    scholar! And defy us both! Now I will tell you what will come of it!" He
    shook his great finger in front of the young man. "Your pretty bit of
    pink and white will burn! Burn, see you! A show for the little boys, a
    holiday for the young men and the young women, a treat for the old men,
    who will see her white limbs writhe in the smoke! Ha!" as Claude, with a
    face of horror, would have waved him away, "that touches you, does it?
    You had not thought of that? Nay, you had not thought of other things. I
    tell you, before the sun sets this evening, this house shall be
    anathema! Before night what we have heard will be known abroad, and
    there will be much added to it. There was a child died in the fourth
    house from this on Sunday! It will be odd if she did not overlook it.
    And the young wife of the Lieutenant at the Porte Tertasse, who has
    ailed since her marriage--a pale thing; who knows but he looked this way
    once and Mistress Anne thought ill of his defection? Ha! Ha! You would
    cross Cæsar Basterga, would you? No, Messer Claude," he set his huge
    foot on the fallen sword which Claude had made a movement to recover. "I
    fight with other weapons than that! And if you lay a finger on me"--he
    extended his arms to their widest extent--"I will crush the life out of
    you. That is better," as Claude stood glaring helplessly at him--"I
    teach you prudence, at any rate. And as," with a sneer, "you are so apt
    at learning, I will do you, if you choose, a greater kindness that man
    ever did you, or woman either!"

    The young man, breathing quickly, did not speak. Perhaps his eyes were
    watching for an opening; at the least appearance of one he would have
    flung himself upon his enemy.

    "You do not choose. And yet, I will do it. In one word--Go!

    Teque his, puer, eripe flammis!"

    He pointed to the door with a gesture tragic enough. "Go and live, for
    if you stay you die! Wait not until the chain is drawn before the door,
    until boards darken the windows, and men cross the street when they
    would pass! Until women hide their heads as they go by, and the market
    will not sell, nor the water run for you! For then, as surely as she
    will perish, you will perish with her!"

    "So be it!" Claude cried. And in his turn he pointed, not without
    dignity, to the door. "Go you, and our blood be upon your head!"

    Basterga shrugged his shoulders, and in one moment put the thing and his
    grand manner away from him. "Enough! we will go," he said. "You are
    satisfied, Messer Syndic? Yes. Farewell, young sir, you have my last
    word." And while the young man stood glowering at him, he opened the
    street door, and the two passed out.

    "You will not go on with this?" Blondel muttered with a backward
    gesture, as the two paused.

    "Nothing," Basterga answered in a low voice, "will suit our purpose
    better. It will amuse Geneva and fill men's mouths till the time come.
    For you too, Messer Blondel," he continued, with a piercing look, "will
    live and not die, I take it?"

    The other knew then that the hour had come to set his seal to the
    bargain: and equally, that if at this eleventh hour he would return, the
    path was open. But _facilis_--known is the rest, and the grip which a
    strong nature gains on a weaker, and how hardly fear, once admitted, is
    cast out. Within the Syndic's sight rose one of the gates, almost within
    touch rose the rampart of the city, long his own, which he was asked to
    betray. The mountains of his native land, pure, cold and sunlit, stood
    up against the blue depth of winter sky, eloquent of the permanence of
    things, and the insignificance of men. The contemplation of them turned
    his cheek a shade paler and struck terror to his heart; but did not stay
    him. His eyes avoiding the other's gaze, his face shrinking and
    pitiable, shame already his portion, he nodded.

    "Precisely," Basterga said. "Then nothing can better serve our purpose
    than this. Let your officers know what you have heard, and know that you
    would hear more--of this house. That, and a hint of evil practices and
    witch's spells dropped here and there, will give your townsfolk
    something to talk of and stare at and swallow--till our time come."

    "But if I bid them watch this house," Blondel muttered weakly--how fast,
    how fast the thing was passing out of his hands!--"attention will be
    called to you, and then, Messer Basterga----"

    "My work is done here," Basterga replied calmly. "I have crossed that
    threshold for the last time. When I leave you--and it is time we
    parted--I go out of the gates, not again to return until--until things
    have been brought to the point at which we would have them, Messer
    Blondel."

    "And that," the Syndic said with a shudder, "will be?"

    "Towards the longest night. Say, in a week or so from now. The precise
    moment--that and other things, I will let you know by a safe mouth."

    "But the _remedium_? That first!" the Syndic muttered, a scowl, for a
    second, darkening his face.

    Basterga smiled. "Have no fear," he replied. "That first, by all means.
    And afterwards--Geneva."
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