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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 20
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    IN THE DARKENED ROOM.

    Claude flung the cloak from his head and shoulders, and sat up. It was
    morning--morning, after that long, dear sitting together--and he stared
    confusedly about him. He had been dreaming; all night he had slept
    uneasily. But the cry that had roused him, the cry that had started that
    quick beating of the heart, the cry that still rang in his waking ears
    and frightened him, was no dream.

    As he rose to his feet, his senses began to take in the scene; he
    remembered what had happened and where he was. The shutters were lowered
    and open. The cold grey light of the early morning at this deadest
    season of the year fell cheerlessly on the living-room; in which for the
    greater safety of the house he had insisted on passing the night. Anne,
    whose daily task it was to open the shutters, had been down then: she
    must have been down, or whence the pile of fresh cones and splinters
    that crackled, and spirted flame about the turned log. Perhaps it was
    her mother's cry that had roused him; and she had re-ascended to her
    room.

    He strode to the staircase door, opened it softly and listened. No, all
    was silent above; and then a new notion struck him, and he glanced
    round. Her hood was gone. It was not on the table on which he had seen
    it last night.

    It was so unlikely, however, that she had gone out without telling him,
    that he dismissed the notion; and, something recovered from the strange
    agitation into which the cry had cast him, he yawned. He returned to the
    hearth and knelt and re-arranged the sticks so that the air might have
    freer access to the fire. Presently he would draw the water for her, and
    fill the great kettle, and sweep the floor. The future might be gloomy,
    the prospect might lower, but the present was not without its pleasures.

    All his life his slowness to guess the truth on this occasion was a
    puzzle to him. For the materials were his. Slowly, gradually, as he
    crouched sleepily before the fire, it grew upon him that there was a
    noise in the air; a confused sound, not of one cry, but of many, that
    came from the street, from the rampart. A noise, now swelling a little,
    now sinking a little, that seemed as he listened not so distant as it
    had sounded a while ago. Not distant at all, indeed; quite close--now! A
    sound of rushing water, rather soothing; or, as it swelled, a sound of a
    crowd, a gibing, mocking crowd. Yes, a crowd. And then in one instant
    the change was wrought.

    He was on his feet; he was at the door. He, who a moment before had
    nodded over the fire, watching the flames grow, was transformed in five
    seconds into a furious man, tugging at the door, wrestling madly with
    the unyielding oak. Wrestling, and still the noise rose! And still he
    strained in vain, back and sinew, strained until with a cry of despair
    he found that he could not win. The door was locked, the key was gone!
    He was a prisoner!

    And still the noise that maddened him, rose. He sprang to the right-hand
    window, the window nearest the commotion. He tore open a panel of the
    small leaded panes, and thrust his head between the bars. He saw a
    crowd; for an instant, in the heart of the crowd and raised above it,
    he saw an uplifted arm and a white woman's face from which blood was
    flowing. He drew in his head, and laid his hands to one of the bars and
    flung his weight this way and that, flung it desperately, heedless of
    injury. But in vain. The lead that soldered the bar into the strong
    stone mullion held, and would have held against the strength of four.
    With heaving breast, and hands from which the blood was starting, he
    stood back, glared round him, then with a cry flung himself upon the
    other window, tore it open and seized a bar--the middle one of the
    three. It was loose he remembered. God! why had he not thought of it
    before? Why had he wasted time?

    He wasted no more, with those shouts of cruel glee in his ears. The bar
    came out in his hands. He thrust himself feet first through the
    aperture. Slight as he was, it was small for him, and he stuck fast at
    the hips, and had to turn on his side. The rough edges of the bars
    scraped the skin, but he was through, and had dropped to his feet, the
    bar which he had plucked out still in his hands. For a fraction of a
    second, as he alighted, his eyes took in the crowd, and the girl at bay
    against the wall. She was raised a little above her tormentors by the
    steps on which she had taken refuge.

    On one side her hair hung loose, and the cheek beneath it was cut and
    bleeding, giving her a piteous and tragic aspect. Four out of five of
    her assailants were women; one of these had torn her face with her
    nails. Streaks of mud were mingled with the blood which ran down her
    neck; and even as Claude recovered himself after the drop from the
    window, a missile, eluding the bent arm with which she strove to shield
    her face, struck and bespattered her throat where the collar of her
    frock had been torn open--perhaps by the same rough clutch which had
    dragged down her hair. The ring about her--like all crowds in the
    beginning--were strangely silent; but a yell of derision greeted this
    success, and a stone flew, narrowly missing her, and another, and
    another. A woman, holding a heavy Bible after the fashion of a shield,
    was stooping and striking at her knees with a stick, striving to bring
    her to the ground; and with the cruel laughter that hailed the hag's
    ungainly efforts were mingled other and more ugly sounds, low curses,
    execrations, and always one fatal word, "Witch! Witch!"--fatal word spat
    at her by writhing mouths, hissed at her by pale lips, tossed broadcast
    on the cold morning wind, to breed wherever it flew fear and hate and
    suspicion. For, even while they mocked her they feared her, and shielded
    themselves against her power with signs and crossings and the Holy Book.

    To all, curse and blow and threat, she had only one word. Striving
    patiently to shield her face, "Let me go!" she wailed pitifully. "Let me
    go! Let me go!" Strange to say, she cried even that but softly; as who
    should say, "If you will not, kill me quietly, kill me without noise!"
    Ay, even then, with the blood running down her face, and with those eyes
    more cruel than men's eyes hemming her in, she was thinking of the
    mother whom she had sheltered so long.

    "Let me go! Let me go!" she repeated.

    "Witch, you shall go!" they answered ruthlessly. "To hell!"

    "Ay, with her dam! To the water with her! To the water!"

    "Look for the devil's mark! Search her! Again, Martha! Bring her down!
    Bring her down, and we'll soon see whether----"

    Then he reached them. The man, one of the few present, who had bidden
    them search her fell headlong on his face in the gutter, struck behind
    as by a thunder-bolt. The great Bible flew one way, the hag's stick flew
    another--and in its flight felled a second woman. In a twinkling Claude
    was on the steps, and in the heart of the crowd stood two people, not
    one; in a twinkling his arm was round the girl, his pale, furious face
    confronted her tormentors, his blazing eyes beat down theirs! More than
    all, his iron bar, brandished recklessly this way and that, threatened
    the brains of the man or the woman who was bold enough to withstand him.

    For he was beside himself with rage. He learned in that moment that he
    was of those who fight with joy and rejoicing, and laugh where others
    shake. The sight of that white, bleeding face, of that hanging hair, of
    that suppliant arm, above all, the sound of that patient "Let me go! Let
    me go!" that expected nothing and hoped nothing, had turned his blood to
    fire. The more numerous his opponents--if they were men--the better he
    would be pleased; and if they were women, such women, unsexed by hate
    and superstition, as he saw before him, women looking a millionfold more
    like witches than the girl they accused, the worse for them! His arm
    would not falter!

    It seemed of steel indeed. The bar quivered like a reed in his grasp,
    his eyes darted hither and thither, he stood an inch taller than at
    other times. He was like the war-horse that sniffs the battle.

    And yet he was cool after a fashion. He must get her home, and to do so
    he must not lose a moment. The vantage of the steps on which they stood,
    raised a hand's breath above their assailants, was a thing to be
    weighed; but it would not serve them if these cursed women mustered, and
    the cowardly crew before him throve to a mob. He must home with her. But
    the door was locked, and she could only go in as he had come out. Still,
    she must go.

    He thought all this between one stride and another--and other thoughts
    thick as leaves falling in a wind. Then, "Fools!" he thundered, and had
    her down the steps, and was dragging her towards her door before they
    awoke from their surprise, or thought of attacking him. The woman with
    the big Bible had had her fill--though he had not struck her but her
    stick--and sat where she had fallen in the mud. The other woman hugged
    herself in pain. The man was in no hurry to be up, having once felt
    Claude's knee in the small of his back. For a few seconds no one moved;
    and when they recovered themselves he was half-way to the Royaumes'
    door.

    They snatched up mud, then, and flung it after the pair with shrill
    execrations. And the woman who had picked up the stick hurled it in a
    frenzy after them, but wide of the mark. A dozen stones fell round them,
    and the cry of "The Witch! The Witch!"--cry so ominous, so cruel, cry
    fraught with death for so many poor creatures--followed hard on them.
    But they were within five paces of the door now, and if he could lift
    her to the window----

    "The key," she murmured in his ear. "The key is in the lock!"

    She had her wits, too, then, and her courage! He felt a glow of pride,
    his arm pressed her more closely to him. "Unlock it!" he answered, and
    leaving her to it, having now no fear that she would faint or fall, he
    turned on the rabble with his bar.

    But they were for words, not blows, a rabble of cowards and women. They
    turned tail with screams and fled to a distance, more than one falling
    in the sudden _volte-face_. He made no attempt to pursue them along the
    rampart, but looked behind him, and found that she had opened the door.
    She had taken out the key, and was waiting for him to enter.

    He went up the steps, entered, and she closed the door quickly. It shut
    out in a moment the hootings of the returning women. While she locked it
    on the inside, he raised the bars and slid them into their places. Then,
    not till then, he turned to her.

    Her face averted, she was staunching the blood which trickled from her
    cheek. "It was the child's mother!" she faltered, a sob in her voice. "I
    went to her. I thought--that she would believe. Get me some water,
    please! I must go upstairs. My mother will be frightened."

    He was astonished: on fire himself, with every pulse beating madly, he
    was prepared for her to faint, to fall, to fling herself into his arms
    in gratitude; prepared for everything but this self-forgetfulness.
    "Water?" he said doubtfully, "but had you not better--take some wine,
    Anne?"

    "To wash! To wash!" she replied sharply, almost angrily. "How can I go
    to her in this state? And do you shut the shutters."

    A stone had that moment passed through a pane of one of the windows. The
    rout of women were gathering before the house; the step she advised was
    plainly necessary. Fortunately the Royaumes' house, like all in the
    Corraterie--which formed an inner line of defence pierced by the
    Tertasse gate--had outside shutters of massive thickness, capable of
    being lowered from within. He closed these in haste and found, when he
    turned from the task and looked for her--a small round hole in each
    shutter made things dimly visible--that she was gone to soothe her
    mother.

    He could not but love her the more for it. He could not but respect her
    the more for her courage, for her thoughtfulness, her self-denial. But
    when the heart is full and would unburden itself, when the brain teems
    with pent-up thoughts, when the excitement of action and of peril wanes
    and the mind would fain tell and hear and compare and remember--then to
    be alone, to be solitary, is to sink below one's self.

    For a time, while his pulses still beat high, while the heat of battle
    still wrought in him, and the noise without continued, and there seemed
    a prospect of things to be done, he stood up against this. Thump! Thump!
    They were stoning the shutters. Let them! He placed the settle across
    the hearth, and in this way cut off the firelight that might have
    betrayed those in the room to eyes peeping through the holes. By-and-by
    the shrill vixenish cries rose louder, he caught the sound of voices in
    altercation, and of hoarse orders: and slowly and reluctantly the babel
    seemed to pass away. An anxious moment followed: fearfully he listened
    for the knock of the law, the official summons which must make all his
    efforts useless. But it did not come.

    It was when the silence which ensued had lasted some minutes that the
    strangeness and aloofness of his position in this darkened room began to
    weigh on his spirits. His eyes had adapted themselves to the gloom, and
    he could make out the shapes of the furniture. But it was morning! It
    was day! Outside, the city was beginning to go about its ordinary work,
    its ordinary life. The streets were filling, the classes were mustering.
    And he sat here in the dark! The longer he stared into the strange,
    depressing gloom, the farther he seemed from life; the more solitary,
    the more hopeless, the more ominous seemed the position.

    Alone with two women whom the worst of fates threatened! Whose pains and
    ultimate lot the brawl in which he had taken part foreshadowed too
    clearly. For thus and with as little cause perished in those days
    thousands of the helpless and the friendless. Alone with these two,
    under the roof from which all others had fled, barred with them behind
    the gloomy shutters until the hour came, and their fellows, shuddering,
    cast them out--what chance had he of escaping their lot?

    Or what desire to escape it? None, he told himself. None! But he who
    fights best when blows are to be struck and things can be done finds it
    hard to sit still where it is the inevitable that must be faced. And
    while Claude told himself that he had no desire to escape, since escape
    for her was impossible, his mind sought desperately the means of saving
    all. The frontier lay but a league away. Conceivably they might lower
    themselves from the wall by night; conceivably his strength might avail
    to carry her mother to the frontier. But, alas! the crime of witchcraft
    knew no frontier; the reputation of a witch once thrown abroad, flew
    fast as the swiftest horse. Before they had been three days in Savoy,
    the women would be reported, seized and examined; and their fate at
    Faucigny or Bonneville would be no less tragic than in the Bourg du Four
    of Geneva.

    Yet, something must be done, something could surely be done. But what?
    The bravest caught in a net struggles the most desperately, and involves
    himself the most hopelessly. And Claude felt himself caught in a net. He
    felt the deadly meshes cling about his limbs, the ropes fetter and
    benumb him. From the sunshine of youth, from freedom, from a life
    without care, he had passed in a few days into the grip of this [Greek:
    anagkê], this dire necessity, this dark ante-chamber of death. Was it
    wonderful that for a moment, recognising the sacrifice he was called
    upon to make and its inefficacy to save, he rebelled against the love
    that had drawn him to this fate, that had led him to this, that in
    others' eyes had ruined him? Ay, but for a moment only. Then with a
    heart bursting with pity for her, with love for her, he was himself. If
    it must be, it must be. The prospect was dark as the room in which he
    stood, confined and stifling, sordid and shameful; the end one which
    would make his name a marvel and an astonishment. But the prospect and
    the end were hers too; they would face them together. Haply he might
    spare her some one pang, haply he might give her some one moment of
    happiness, the support of one at least who knew her pure and spotless.
    And while he thought of it--surprise of surprises--he bowed his head on
    his folded arms and wept.

    Not in pity for himself, but for her. It was the thought of her
    gentleness, her loving nature, her harmlessness--and the end this, the
    reward this--which overcame him; which swelled his breast until only
    tears could relieve it. He saw her as a dove struggling in cruel hands;
    and the pity which, had there been chance or hope, or any to smite,
    would have been rage, could find no other outlet. He wept like a woman;
    but it was for her.

    And she, who had descended unheard, and stood even now at the door, with
    a something almost divine in her face--a something that was neither love
    nor compassion, maid's fancy nor mother's care, but a mingling of all
    these, saw. And her heart bled for him; her arms in fancy went round
    him, in fancy his head was on her breast, she comforted him. She, who a
    moment before had almost sunk down on the stairs, worn out by her
    sufferings and the strain of hiding them from her mother's eyes, forgot
    her weakness in thought for him.

    She had no contempt for his tears. She had seen him stand between
    herself and her tormentors, she had seen the flash of his eye, heard his
    voice, knew him brave. But the fate, for which long thought and hours on
    her knees had prepared her--so that it seemed but a black and bitter
    passage with peace beyond--appalled her for him; and might well appal
    him. The courage of men is active, of women passive; with a woman's
    instinct she knew this, allowed for it, and allowed, too, for another
    thing--that he was fasting.

    When he looked up, startled by the tinkle of pewter and the rustle of
    her skirt, she was kneeling between the settle and the fire, preparing
    food. He flattered himself that in the dark she had not seen him, and
    when he had regained his self-control he stepped to the settle-back and
    looked over it.

    "You did not see me?" he said.

    She did not answer at once, but finished what she was doing. Then she
    stood up and handed him a bowl. "The bread is on the table," she said,
    indicating it. She was a woman, and, dark as it was, she kept the
    disfigured cheek turned from him.

    He would have replied, but she made a sign to him to eat, and, seating
    herself on a stool in the corner with her plate on her lap, she set him
    an example. Apart from her weary attitude, and the droop of her head, he
    might have deemed the scene in which they had taken part a figment of
    his brain. But round them was the gloom of the closed room!

    "You did not see me?" he repeated presently.

    She stood up. "I would I had never seen you!" she cried; and her
    anguished tone bore witness to the truth of her words. "It is the worst,
    it is the bitterest thing of all! of all!" she repeated. The settle was
    between them, and she rested her hands on the back of it. He stooped,
    and, in the darkness, covered them with kisses, while his breast heaved
    with the swell of the storm which her entrance had cut short. "For all
    but that I was prepared," she continued; "I was ready. I have seen for
    weeks the hopelessness of it, the certain end, the fate before us. I
    have counted the cost, and I have learned to look beyond for--for all we
    desire. It is a sharp passage, and peace. But you"--her voice rested on
    the same tragic note of monotony--"are outside the sum, and spoil all. A
    little suffering will kill my mother, a little, a very little fear. I
    doubt if she will live to be taken hence. And I--I can suffer. I have
    known all, I have foreseen all--long! I have learned to think of it, and
    I can learn by God's help to bear it! And in a little while, a very
    little while, it will be over, and I shall be at rest. But you--you, my
    love----"

    Her voice broke, her head sunk forward. His lips met hers in a first
    kiss; a kiss, salted by the tears that ran unchecked down his face. For
    a long minute there was silence in the room, a silence broken only by
    the low, inarticulate murmur of his love--love whispered brokenly on her
    tear-wet lips, on her cold, closed eyelids. She made no attempt to
    withdraw her face, and presently the murmur grew to words of defiance,
    of love that mocked at peril, mocked at shame, mocked at death, having
    assurance of its own, having assurance of her.

    They fell on her ears as warm thaw-rain on frozen sward; and slowly into
    the pallor of her face, the whiteness of her closed eyelids, crept a
    tender blush. Strange that for a few brief moments they were happy;
    strange, proof marvellous of the dominance of the inner life over the
    outer, of love over death.

    "My love, my love!"

    "Again!"--he murmured.

    "My love, my love!"

    But at length she came to herself, she remembered. "You will go?" she
    said. She put him from her and held him fondly at arm's length, her
    hands on his shoulders. "You will go? It is all you can do for me. You
    will go and live?"

    "Without you?"

    "Yes. Better, a hundred times better so--for me."

    "And for me? Why may I not save you and her?"

    "It is impossible!"

    "Nothing is impossible to love," he answered. "The nights are long, the
    wall is not too high! No wall is too high for love! It is but a league
    to the frontier, and I am strong."

    "Who would receive us?" she asked sadly. "Who would shelter us? In
    Savoy, if we were not held for sorcery, we should be delivered to the
    Inquisition."

    "We might gain friends?"

    "With what? No," she continued, her hands cleaving more tightly to him;
    "you must go, dear love! Dear love! You must go! It is all you can do
    for me, and it is much! Oh, indeed, it is much! It is very much!"

    He drew her to him as near as the settle would permit, until she was
    kneeling on it, and in spite of her faint resistance he could look into
    her eyes. "Were you in my place, would you leave me?" he asked.

    "Yes," she lied bravely, "I would."

    But the flash of resentment in her eyes gave her voice the lie, and he
    laughed joyfully. "You would not!" he said. "You would not leave me on
    this side of death!"

    She tried to protest.

    "Nor will I you," he continued, stopping her mouth with fresh kisses.
    "Nor will I you till death! Did you think me a coward?" He held her from
    him and looked into her reproachful eyes. "Or a Tissot? Tissot left you.
    Or Louis Gentilis?"

    But she made him know that he was none of these in a way that satisfied
    him; and a moment later her mother's voice called her from the room. He
    thought, having no experience of a woman's will, that he had done with
    that; and in her absence he betook himself to examining the defences of
    the house. He replaced the bar which he had wrested from the window;
    wedging it into its socket with a morsel or two of molten lead. The
    windows of the bedrooms, his own and Louis', looked into a narrow lane,
    the Rue de la Cité, that ran at the back of the Corraterie in a line
    with the ramparts; but not only were they almost too small to permit the
    passage of a full-grown man, they were strongly barred. Against such a
    rabble, as had assaulted Anne, or even a more formidable mob, the house
    was secure. But if the law intervened neither bar nor bolt could save
    them.

    He fell to thinking of this, and stood, arrested in the middle of the
    darkened room that, as the hours went by, was beginning to take on a
    familiar look. The day was passing, all without remained quiet, nothing
    had happened. Was it possible that nothing would happen? Was it possible
    that the girl through long brooding exaggerated the peril? And that the
    worst to be feared was such an outbreak as had occurred that morning?
    Such an outbreak as might not take place again, since mobs were fickle
    things.

    He dwelt a while on this more hopeful view of things. Then he recalled
    Basterga's threats, the Syndic's face, the departure of Louis and Grio;
    and his heart sank as lead sinks. The rumour so quickly spread--by what
    hints, what innuendoes, what cunning inquiries, what references to the
    old, invisible, bedridden woman, he could but guess--that rumour bore
    witness to a malice and a thirst for revenge which were not likely to
    stop at words. And Louis' flight? And Grio's? And Basterga's?--for he
    did not return. To believe that all these, taken together, these and the
    outrage of the morning, portended anything but danger, anything but the
    worst, demanded a hopefulness that even his youth and his love could not
    compass.

    Yet when she descended he met her with brave looks.
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    Chapter 20
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