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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 21
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    Blondel's thin lips were warrant--to such of the world as had eyes to
    see--that in the ordinary things of life he would have been one of the
    last to put faith in a man of Basterga's stamp: and one of the first,
    had the case been other than his own, to laugh at the credulity he was
    displaying. He would have seen--no one more clearly--that, in making the
    bargain he had made, he was in the position of a drowning man who
    clutches at a straw; not because he believes that the straw will support
    him, but because he has no other hope, and is loth to sink.

    He would have seen, too, another thing, which indeed he did see dimly.
    This was that, talk as he might, make terms as he might, repeat as
    firmly as he pleased, "The _remedium_ first and then Geneva," he would
    be forced when the time came to take the word for the deed. If he dared
    not trust Basterga, neither dared the scholar trust him. Once safe, once
    snatched from the dark fate that scared him, he would laugh at the
    notion of betraying the city. He would snap his fingers in the Paduan's
    face; and Basterga knew it. The scholar, therefore, dared not trust him;
    and either there was an end of the matter or he must trust Basterga,
    must eat his own words, and, content with the possession of something,
    must wait for proof of its efficacy until the die was cast!

    In his heart he knew this. He knew that on the brink of the extremity
    to which circumstances and Basterga were slowly pushing him it might not
    be in his power to check himself: that he must trust, whether he would
    or no, and where instinct bade him place no trust. And this doubt, this
    suspicion that when all was done he might find himself tricked, and
    learn that for nothing he had given all, added immeasurably to the
    torment of his mind; to the misery of his reflections when he awoke in
    the small hours and saw things coldly and clearly, and to the fever and
    suspense in which he passed his days.

    He clung to one thought and got what consolation he could from it; a
    bitter and saturnine comfort it was. The thought was this: if it turned
    out that, after all, he had been tricked, he could but die; and die he
    must if he made no bargain. And to a dead man what matter was it what
    price he had paid that he might live! What matter who won or who lost
    Geneva, who lived, who died, who were slaves, who free!

    And again, the very easiness of the thing he was asked to do tempted
    him. It was a thing that to one in his position presented no difficulty
    and scarcely any danger. He had but to withdraw the guards, or the
    greater part of them, from a portion of the wall, and to stop on one
    pretext or another--the bitter cold of the wintry weather would
    avail--the rounds that at stated intervals visited the various posts.
    That was all; as a man of tried loyalty, intrusted with the safeguarding
    of the city, and to whom the officer of the watch was answerable, he
    might make the necessary arrangements without incurring, even after the
    catastrophe, more than a passing odium, a breath of suspicion.

    And Baudichon and Petitot? He tasted, when he thought of them, the only
    moments of comfort, of pleasure, of ease, that fell to his lot
    throughout these days. They would thwart him no more. Petty worms,
    whose vision went no farther than the walls of the city, he would have
    done with them when the flag of Savoy fluttered above St. Pierre; and
    when for the confines of a petty canton was substituted, for those who
    had eyes to see and courage to adapt themselves, the wide horizon of the
    Italian Kingdom. When he thought of them--and then only--he warmed to
    the task before him; then only he could think of it without a shiver and
    without distaste. And not the less because on that side, in their
    suspicion, in their grudging jealousy, in their unwinking integrity, lay
    the one difficulty.

    A difficulty exasperated by the insult that, in a moment of bitter
    disappointment, he had flung in Baudichon's face. That hasty word had
    revealed to the speaker a lack of self-control that terrified him, even
    as it had revealed to Baudichon a glimpse of something underneath the
    Fourth Syndic's dry exterior that might well set a man thinking as well
    as talking. This matter Blondel saw plainly he must deal with at once,
    or it might do harm. To absent himself from the next day's council might
    rouse a storm beyond his power to weather, or short of that might give
    rise at a later period to a dangerous amount of gossip and conjecture.

    He was early at the meeting, therefore, but to his surprise found it in
    session before the hour. This, and the fact that the hubbub of voices
    and discussion died down at his entrance--died down and was succeeded by
    a chilling silence--put him on his guard. He had not come unprepared for
    opposition; to meet it he had wound himself to a pitch, telling himself
    that after this all would be easy; that he had this one peril to face,
    this one obstacle to surmount, and having succeeded might rest.
    Nevertheless, as he passed up the Great Council Chamber amid that
    silence, and met strange looks on faces which were wont to smile, his
    courage for one moment, even in that familiar scene--conscience makes
    cowards of all--wavered. His smile grew sickly, his nerves seemed
    suddenly unstrung, his knees shook under him. It was a dreadful instant
    of physical weakness, of mental terror, under the eyes of all. To
    himself, he seemed to stand still; to be self-betrayed, self-convicted!

    Then--and so brief was the moment of weakness no eye detected it--he
    moved on to his place, and with his usual coolness took his seat. He
    looked round.

    "You are early," he said, ignoring the glances, hostile or doubtful,
    that met his gaze. "The hour has barely struck, I believe?"

    "We were of opinion," Fabri answered, with a dry cough, "that minutes
    were of value."


    "That not even one must be lost, Messer Blondel!"

    "In doing?" Blondel asked in a negligent tone, well calculated to annoy
    those who were eager in the matter. "In doing what, if I may ask?"

    "In doing, Messer Syndic," Petitot answered sharply, "that which should
    have been done a week ago; and better still a fortnight ago. In issuing
    a warrant for the arrest of the person whose name has been several times
    in question here."

    "Messer Basterga?"

    "The same."

    "You may save yourselves the trouble," the Syndic replied, with a little
    contempt. "The warrant has been issued. It was issued yesterday, and
    would have been executed in the afternoon, if he had not got wind of it,
    and left the town. And on this let me say one more word," Blondel
    continued, leaning forward and speaking in sudden heat, before any one
    could take up the question. "That word is this. If it had not been for
    the importunity of some who are here, the warrant had _not_ been issued,
    the man had still been within the walls, and we had been able still to
    trace his plans! We had not been as we now are, and as I foretold we
    should be, in the dark, ignorant from which quarter the blow may fall,
    and not a whit the wiser for the hint given us."

    "You have let him escape!" The words were Petitot's.

    "I? No! I have not let him escape, but those who forced my hand!"
    Blondel retorted in passion, so real, or so well simulated, that it
    swept away the majority of his listeners. "They have let him escape!
    Those who had no patience or craft! Those whose only notion of
    statesmanship, whose only method of making use of the document we had
    under our hand was to tear it up. Only yesterday morning I was with

    "Ay?" Baudichon cried, his eyes glowing with dull passion. "You were
    with him! And he went in the afternoon! Mark that!" He turned quickly to
    his fellows. "He went in the afternoon! Now, I would like to know----"

    Blondel stood up. "Whether I am a traitor?" he said, in a tone of fury;
    and he extended his arms in protest. "Whether I am in league with this
    Italian, I, Philibert Blondel of Geneva? That is what you ask, what you
    wish to know! Whether I sought him yesterday in the hope of worming his
    secrets from him, and doing what I could for the benefit of the State in
    a matter too delicate to be left to underlings? Or went there, one with
    him, to betray my country? To sell the Free City? That--that is what you

    His passion was full, overpowering, convincing; so convincing--it almost
    stopped his speech--that he believed in it himself, so convincing that
    it swept away all but his steady and professed opponents. "No, no!"
    cried a dozen voices, in tones that reflected his indignation. "No, no!

    "No?" Blondel took up the word, his eyes sparkling, his adust complexion
    heated and full of fire. "But it is--yes, they say! Yes, they say whom
    you have to thank if we have lost our clue, they who met me going to him
    but yesterday and threatened me! Threatened me!" he repeated, in a voice
    of astonishment. "Me, who desired only, sought only, was going only to
    do my duty! I used, I admit the fault," he allowed his voice to drop to
    a tone more like his own, "words on that occasion that I now regret. But
    is blood water? Does no man besides Councillor Baudichon love his
    country? Is the suspicion, the open suspicion of such an one, no insult,
    that he must cavil if he be repaid in insult? I have given my proofs. If
    any man can be trusted to sound the enemy, it is I! But I have done! Had
    Messer Baudichon not pressed me to issue the warrant, not driven me
    beyond my patience, it had not been issued yesterday. It had been in the
    office, and the man within the walls! Ay, and not only within the walls,
    but fresh from a conference with the Sieur d'Albigny, primed with all we
    need to know, and in doubt by which side he could most profit!"

    "It was about that you saw him?" Petitot said slowly, his eyes fixed
    like gimlets to the other's face.

    "It was about that I saw him," Blondel answered. "And I think in a few
    hours more I had won him. But in the street he had some secret word or
    warning; for when I handed the warrant--against my better sense--to the
    officers, they, who had never lost sight of him between gate and gate,
    answered that he had crossed the bridge and left the town an hour
    before. Mon Dieu!"--he struck his two hands together and snapped his
    teeth--"when I think how foolish I was to be over-ridden, I could--I
    could say more, Messer Baudichon"--with a saturnine look--"than I said

    "At any rate the bird is flown!" Baudichon replied, with sullen temper.
    "That is certain! And it was you who were set to catch him!"

    "But it was not I who scared him," Blondel rejoined.

    "I don't know what you would have had of him!"

    "Oh, I see that plainly enough," said Fabri. He was an honest man,
    without prejudice, and long the peace-maker between the two parties.

    "I thank you," Blondel replied dryly. "But, by your leave, I will make
    it clear to Messer Baudichon also, who will doubtless like to know. I
    would have had of him the time and place and circumstance of the attack,
    if such be in preparation. And then, when I knew all, I would have made
    dispositions, not only to safeguard the city, but to give the enemy such
    a reception that Italy should ring with it! Ay, and such as should put
    an end for the rest of our lives to these treacherous attacks!"

    The picture which he drew thus briefly of a millennium of safety,
    charmed not only his own adherents, but all who were neutral, all who
    wavered. They saw how easily the thing might have been done, how
    completely the treacherous blow might have been parried and returned.
    Veering about they eyed Baudichon, on whom the odium of the lost
    opportunity seemed to rest, with resentment--as an honest man, but a
    simpleton, a dullard, a block! And when Blondel added, after a pause,
    "But there, I have done! The office of Fourth Syndic I leave to you to
    fill," they barely allowed him to finish.

    "No! No!" came from almost all mouths, and from every part of the
    council table.

    "No," Fabri said, when silence was made. "There is no provision for a
    change, unless a definite accusation be laid."

    "But Messer Baudichon may have one to make," Blondel said proudly. "In
    that case, let him speak."

    Baudichon breathed hard, and seemed to be on the point of pouring forth
    a torrent of words. But he said nothing. Instinct told him that his
    enemy was not to be trusted, but he had the wit to discern that Blondel
    had forestalled him, and had drawn the sting from his charges. He could
    have wept in dull, honest indignation; but for accusations, he saw that
    the other held the game, and he was silent. "Fat hog!" the man had
    called him. "Fat hog!" A tear gathered slowly in his eye as he recalled

    Fabri gave him time to speak; and then with evident relief, "He has none
    to make, I am sure," he said.

    "Let him understand, then," Blondel replied firmly, "let all understand,
    that while I will do my duty I am no longer in the position to guard
    against sudden strokes, in which I should have been, had I been allowed
    to go my own way. If a misfortune happen, it is not on me the blame must
    rest." He spoke solemnly, laughing in his sleeve at the cleverness with
    which he was turning his enemy's petard against him. "All that man can
    do in the dark shall be done," he continued. "And I do not--I am free to
    confess that--anticipate anything while the negotiations with the
    President Rochette are in progress."

    "No, it is when they are broken off, they will fall back on the other
    plan," one of the councillors said with an air of much wisdom.

    "I think that is so. Nor do I think that anything will be done during
    the present severe weather."

    "They like it no better than we do!"

    "But the roads are good in this frost," Fabri said. "If it be a question
    of moving guns or wagons----"

    "But it is not, by your leave, Messer Fabri, as I am informed," the man
    who had spoken before objected; supporting his opinion simply because he
    had voiced it, a thing seen every day in such assemblies. Fabri replied
    on him in the other sense: and presently Blondel had the satisfaction of
    listening to a discussion in which the one party said a dozen things
    that he saw would be of use to him--some day.

    One only said not a word, and that was Petitot. He listened to all with
    a puzzled look. He resented the insult which Blondel had flung at his
    friend Baudichon, but he saw all going against them, and no chance of
    redress; nay, capital was being made out of that which should have been
    a disadvantage. Worst of all, he was uneasy, fancying--he was very
    shrewd--that he caught a glimpse, under the Fourth Syndic's manner, of
    another man: that he detected signs of emotion, a feverishness and
    imperiousness not quite explained by the circumstances.

    He got the notion from this that the Fourth Syndic had learned more from
    Basterga than he had disclosed. His notion, even so, went no further
    than the suspicion that Blondel was hiding knowledge out of a desire to
    reap all the glory. But he did not like it. "He was always for risking,
    for risking!" he thought. "This is another case of it. God grant it go
    well!" His wife, his children, his daughters, rose in a picture before
    him, and he hated Blondel, who had none of these. He would have put him
    to death for running the tithe of a risk.

    When the council broke up, Fabri drew Blondel aside. "The bird is flown,
    but what of the nest?" he asked. "Has he left nothing?"

    "Between you and me," Blondel replied under his breath, as his eyes
    sought the other's, "I hope to make him speak yet. But not a word!"


    "Not a word! But there is just a chance. And it will be everything to us
    if I can induce him to speak."

    "I see that. But the house? Could you not search it?"

    "That would be to scare him finally."

    "You have made no perquisition there?"

    "None. I have heard," Blondel continued, hesitating as if he had not
    quite made up his mind to speak, "some things--strange things in respect
    to the house. But I will tell you more of that when I know more."

    He was too clever to state that he held the house in suspicion for
    sorcery and kindred things. Charges such as that spread, he knew,
    upwards from the lower classes, not downwards to them. The poison,
    disseminated as he had known how to disseminate it, by hints and
    innuendoes dropped among his officers and ushers, was already in the
    air, and would do its work. Fabri, a man of sense, might laugh to-day,
    and to-morrow; but the third day, when the report came to him from a
    dozen quarters, mainly by women's mouths, he would not laugh. And
    presently he would shrug his shoulders and stand aside, and leave the
    matter in more earnest hands.

    Blondel dropped no more than that hint, therefore, and as he passed
    homeward applauded his discretion. He was proud of the turn things had
    taken at the Council; elated by the part he had played, and the proof he
    had given of his mastery, he felt able to carry anything through. His
    mind, leaping over the immediate future, pictured a wider theatre, in
    which his powers would have full scope, and a larger stage on which he
    might aspire to play the first part. He saw himself not only wealthy,
    but ennobled, the fount of honour, the favourite, and, in time, the
    master of princes. Such as he was to-day the Medicis had been, and many
    another whom the world held noble. He had but to live and to dare; only
    to live and to dare! Only in order to do the one he must--it was no
    choice of his--do the other!

    Before he was five minutes older he was reminded of the necessity. At
    the door of his house the pains of the disease from which he
    suffered--aggravated, perhaps, by the excitement through which he had
    just passed, or by the cold of the weather--seized him with unusual
    violence. He leant, pale and almost fainting, against the door-jamb,
    unable at the moment to do so much as raise the latch. The golden dreams
    in which he had lost himself by the way, the visions of power and fame,
    vanished as he had so many times seen the after-glow vanish from the
    snow-peaks; leaving only cold images of death and desolation. Presently,
    with an effort, he staggered within doors, poured out such medicine as
    he had, and, bent double and almost without breath, swallowed it; and
    so, by-and-by, a wan and wild-eyed image of himself came out of the fit.

    He told himself in after days that it was that decided him; that but for
    that sharp fit of pain and the prospect of others like it, he would not
    have yielded to the temptation, no, not to be the Grand Duke's
    favourite, not to be Minister of Savoy! He ignored, in his looking
    backward, the visions of glory and ambition in which he had revelled. He
    saw himself on the rack, with life and immunity from pain drawing him
    one way, the prospect of a miserable death the other; and he pleaded
    that no man would have decided otherwise. After that experience the
    straw did not float, so thin that he was not ready to grasp it rather
    than die, rather than suffer again. Nor did the fact that the straw at
    that moment lay on the table beside him go for much.

    It did lie there. When he felt a little stronger and began to look about
    him, he found a note at his elbow. It was a small, common-looking
    letter, sealed with a B, that might signify Blondel or Basterga, or, for
    the matter of that, Baudichon. He did not know the handwriting, and he
    opened it idly, in the scorn of small things that pain induced.

    He had not read a line of the contents, before his countenance changed.
    The letter was from Basterga, and cunningly contrived. It gave him the
    directions he needed, yet it was so worded that even after the event it
    might pass for a trifling communication from a physician. The place and
    the hour were specified--the latter so near that for a moment his cheek
    grew pale. On that ensued the part which interested him most; but as the
    whole was brief, the whole may be given.

    "Sir" (here followed a cabalistic sign such as physicians were in the
    habit of using to impose on the vulgar). "After paying a visit in the
    Corraterie, where I have an appointment on Saturday evening next
    between late and early, I will be with you. But the mixture with the
    necessary directions shall be sent to you twelve hours in advance, so
    that before my visit you may experience its good effects. As surely as
    the wrong potion in the case you wot of deprived of reason, so surely
    (as I hope for salvation) will this potion have the desired effect.

    "The Physician of Aleppo."

    "Saturday next, between late and early!" Blondel muttered, gazing at the
    words with fascinated eyes. "It is for the day after to-morrow! The day
    after to-morrow!" And in his thoughts he passed again over the road he
    had travelled since his first visit to Basterga's room, since the hour
    when the scholar had unrolled before him the map of the town he called
    "Aurelia," and had told him the story of Ibn Jasher and the Physician of

    "No, I am not well," he answered. He sat, warmly wrapped up, in the high
    chair in his parlour, his face so drawn with want of sleep that Captain
    Blandano of the city guard, who had come to take his orders, had no
    difficulty in believing him. "I am not well," he repeated peevishly. "It
    is the weather." He had some soup before him. Beside it stood a tiny
    phial of medicine; a phial strangely shaped and strange looking,
    containing something not unlike the green cordial of the Carthusians.

    "It troubles me a good deal, too," Blandano said. "There are seven men
    absent in the fourth ward. And two men, whose wives are urgent with me
    that they should have leave."

    "Leave?" the Syndic cried. "Do they think naught"--leaning forward in a
    passion--"of the safety of the city? If I were not ill, I would take
    service on the wall myself to set an example!"

    "There is no need of that," the Captain answered respectfully, "if I
    might have permission to withdraw a few men from the west side so as to
    fill the places on the east----"

    "Ay, ay!"

    "From the Rhone side of the town----"

    "From the Corraterie? That is least open to assault."

    "Yes, from that part perhaps would be best," Blandano assented, nodding.
    "Yes, I think so. If I might do that, I think I could manage."

    "Well, then do it," Blondel answered. "And make a note that I assented
    to your suggestion to take them from the Corraterie and put them on the
    lower part of the wall. After all, the nights are very bitter now, and
    there are limits. Do the men grumble much?"

    "It is as much as I can do to make them go the rounds," Blandano
    answered. "Some plead the weather; and some argue that, with President
    Rochette, whose word is as good as his bond, on the point of coming to
    an agreement with us, the rounds are a farce!"

    The Syndic shrugged his shoulders. "Well!" he muttered, rubbing his chin
    and looking thoughtfully before him, "we must not wear the men out.
    There is no moon now, is there?"


    "And the enemy can attempt nothing without light," Blondel continued,
    thinking aloud. "See here, Blandano, we must not put too heavy a burden
    on our people. I see that. As it is so cold, I think you may pass the
    word to pretermit the rounds to-night--save two. At what hours would you

    Blandano considered his own comfort--as the other expected he would--and
    answered, "Early and late, say an hour before midnight and an hour
    before dawn".

    "Then let be it as you suggest. But see"--with returning asperity--"that
    those rounds go, and at their hours. Let there be no remissness. I will
    make a note," he continued, "of the hours fixed. An hour before midnight
    and an hour before dawn".

    He extended his arm and drew the ink-horn towards him. Midway in the
    act, whether it was that his hand shook by reason of his illness, or
    that he was in a hurry to close an interview which tried him more
    severely than appeared, his sleeve caught the little phial of green
    water that stood beside the soup on the table. It reeled an instant on
    its edge, toppled on its side, and rolling, in one-tenth of the time it
    takes to tell the tale, to the verge of the table--fell over.

    Messer Blondel made a strange noise in his throat.

    But the Captain had seen what was happening. Dexterously he caught the
    bottle in his huge palm, and with an air of modest achievement was going
    to set it on the table, when he saw that the Syndic had fallen back in
    his chair, his face ghastly. Blandano was more used to death in the
    field than in the house; and in a panic he took two steps towards the
    door to call for help. Before he could take a third, Blondel gasped, and
    made an uncertain movement with his hand, as if he would reassure him.

    Blandano returned and leant over him. "You are ill, Messer Syndic," he
    said anxiously. "Let me call some one."

    The Syndic could not speak, but he pointed to the table. And when
    Blandano, unable to make out what he wanted, and suspecting a stroke of
    a mortal disease, turned again to the door, persisting in his intention
    of getting aid, the Syndic found strength to seize his sleeve, and
    almost instantly regained his speech. "There!" he gasped, "there! The
    phial! Put it down!"

    Captain Blandano placed it on the table, wondering much. "I was afraid
    you were ill, Messer Blondel," he said.

    "I was ill," the Syndic answered; and he pushed his chair back so that
    no part of him was in contact with the table. He looked at the little
    bottle with fascinated eyes, and slowly, as he looked, the colour
    returned to his face. "I--was ill," he repeated, with a sigh that seemed
    to relieve his breast. "I had a fright!"

    "You thought it was broken?" Blandano said, wondering much, and looking
    in his turn at the phial.

    "Yes, I thought that it was broken. I am much obliged to you. Much, very
    much obliged to you," the Syndic repeated, with a deep sigh, his hands
    still moving nervously about his dress. Then, after a moment's pause,
    "Will you ring the bell?" he said.

    The Captain, marvelling much, rang the hand-bell which lay on a
    neighbouring table. He marvelled still more when he heard Messer
    Blondel order the servant to place six bottles of his best wine in a
    basket and take them to the Captain's lodging.

    Blandano stared. He knew the wine to be choice and valuable; and he eyed
    the tiny phial respectfully. "It is something rare, I expect?" he said.

    The Syndic nodded.

    "And costly too, I doubt not?" with an admiring glance.

    "Costly?" Messer Blondel repeated the word, and when he had done so
    turned on the other a look that led the Captain to think that he was
    going to be ill again. Then, "It cost me--it will cost me"--again a
    spasm contorted the Syndic's face--"I don't know what it will not have
    cost me before it is paid for, Messer Blandano!"
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