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    Chapter 23

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    Chapter 23
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    IN TWO CHARACTERS.

    After the wave, the trough of the wave; after action, passion. Not to
    sink a little after rising to the pitch of self-sacrifice, not to shed,
    when the deed is done, some bitter tears of regret and self-pity, were
    to be cast in a mould above the human.

    When the cloak--dear garment!--had slipped from her hands and the head
    bent that its owner might raise the cloak had passed from sight--when
    Anne had fled to the farther side of the room, to the farther side of
    the settle, and had heard his step die away, she would have given the
    world to see him again, to feel his arm about her, to hear the sound of
    his voice. The tears streamed down her face; in vain she tried to stay
    them with her hands, in vain she chid herself for her weakness. "It is
    for him! for him!" she moaned, and hid her face in her hands. But words
    stay no tears; and on the hearth which his coming had changed for her,
    standing where she had first seen him, where she had heard his first
    words of love, where she had tried him, she wept bitter tears for him.

    The storm died away at last--for after every storm falls a calm--but it
    left the empty house, the empty heart, silence. Her mother? She had
    still her mother, and with lagging footsteps she went upstairs to her.
    But she found her in a deep sleep, and she descended again, and going to
    his room began to put together his few belongings, the clothes he had
    worn, the books he had read; that if the house were entered they might
    not be lost to him. She buried her face in his garments and kissed them,
    fondly, tenderly, passionately, lingering over the task, and at last
    putting the things from her with reluctance. A knot of ribbon which she
    had seen him wear in the neck of his shirt on holidays she took and hid
    in her bosom, and fetching a length of her own ribbon she put it in
    place of the other. This she thought she could do without fear of
    bringing suspicion on him, for he alone would discern the exchange.
    Would he notice it? Would he weep when he found the ribbon as she wept
    now? And fondle it tenderly? At the thought her tears gushed forth.

    The day wore on. Supported by the knowledge that even a slight shock
    might cast her mother into one of her fits, Anne hid her fears from her,
    though the effort was as the lifting of a great weight. On the pretext
    that the light hurt the invalid's sight, she shaded the window, and so
    hid the hollows under her eyes and the wan looks that must have betrayed
    the forced nature of her cheerfulness. As a rule Madame Royaume's eyes,
    quickened by love, were keen; but this day she slept much, and the night
    was fairly advanced when Anne, in the act of preparing to lie down,
    turned and saw her mother sitting erect in the bed.

    The old woman's eyes were strangely bright. Her face wore an intent
    expression which arrested her daughter where she stood.

    "Mother, what is it?" she cried.

    "Listen!" Madame Royaume answered. "What is that?"

    "I hear nothing," Anne said, hoping to soothe her. And she approached
    the bed.

    "I hear much," her mother retorted. "Go! Go and see, child, what it
    is!" She pointed to the door, but, before Anne could reach it, she
    raised her hand for silence. "They are crossing the ditch," she
    muttered, her eyes dilated. "One, two, many, many of them! Many of them!
    They are throwing down hurdles, and wattles, and crossing on them! And
    there is a priest with them----"

    "Mother!"

    "A priest!" Her voice dropped a little. "The ladders are black," she
    whispered. "Black ladders! Ay, swathed in black cloth; and now they set
    them against the wall. The priest absolves them, and they begin to
    mount. They are mounting! They are mounting now."

    "Mother!" There was sharp pain in Anne's voice. Who does not know the
    heartache with which it is seen that the mind of a loved one is
    wandering from us? And yet she was puzzled. She dreaded one of those
    scenes in which her young strength was barely sufficient to control and
    soothe the frail form before her. But they did not begin as a rule in
    this fashion; here, though the mind wandered, was an absence of the
    wildness to which she had become inured. Here--and yet as she listened,
    as she looked, now at her mother, now into the dimly lighted corners of
    the room, where those dilated eyes seemed to see things unseen by her,
    black things, she found this phase no less disquieting than the other.

    "Hush!" Madame Royaume continued, heeding her daughter's interruption no
    farther than by that word and an impatient movement of the hand. "A
    stone has fallen and struck one down. They raise him, he is lifeless!
    No, he moves, he rises. They set other ladders against the wall. They
    mount now by tens and twenties--and--it is growing dark--dark, child.
    Dark!" She seemed to try to put away a curtain with her hands.

    "Mother!" Anne cried, bending over the bed and taking her mother's
    hand. "Don't, dear! Don't! You frighten me."

    The old woman raised her hand for silence, and continued to gaze before
    her. Anne's arm was round her; the girl marked with astonishment, almost
    with awe, how strongly and stiffly she sat up. She marvelled still more
    when her mother murmured in the same tone, "I can see no more," sighed,
    and sank gently back. Anne bent over her. "I can--see no more," Madame
    Royaume repeated; "I can----" She was asleep!

    Anne bent over her, and after listening a while to her easy breathing,
    heaved a deep sigh of relief. Her mother had been talking in her sleep;
    and she, Anne had alarmed herself for nothing. Nevertheless, as she
    turned from the bed she looked nervously over her shoulder. The other's
    wandering or dream, or what it was, had left a vague disquiet in her
    mind, and presently she took the lamp and, opening the door, passed out,
    and, with her hands still on the latch, listened.

    Suddenly her heart bounded, her startled eyes leapt upward to the
    ceiling. Close to her, above her, she heard a sound.

    It came from a trap-door that led to the tiles; a trap that even as her
    eyes reached it, lifted itself with a rending sound. Save for the
    bedridden woman, Anne was alone in the house; and for one instant it was
    a question whether she held her ground or fled shrieking into the room
    she had left. For an instant; then the instinct to shield her mother won
    the day, and with fascinated eyes she watched the legs of a man drop
    through the aperture, watched a body follow, and--and at last a face!

    Claude's face! But changed. Even while she sank gasping against the
    wall--for the surprise was too much for her--even while he took the lamp
    from her shaking hand and supported her, and relief and joy began to
    run like wine through her veins, she knew it. The forceful look, the
    tightened lips, the eyes gleaming with determination--all were new to
    her. They gave him an aspect so old, so strange, that when he had kissed
    her once she put him from her.

    "What is it?" she said. "Oh, Claude! What is it? What has happened?"

    Letting a smile appear--but such a smile as did not reassure her--he
    signed to her to go before him downstairs. She complied; but at the foot
    of the first flight she stopped, unable to bear the suspense longer. She
    turned to him again. "What is it?" she cried. "Something has happened?"

    "Something is happening," he answered. His eyes shone, exultant. "But it
    is a matter for others! We may be easy!"

    "What is it?"

    "The Savoyards are in Geneva."

    She started incredulously. "In Geneva? Here?" she exclaimed. "The
    enemy?"

    He nodded.

    "Here? In Geneva?" she repeated. She could not have heard aright.

    "Yes."

    But she still looked at him; she could not reconcile his words with his
    manner. This, the greatest calamity that could happen, this which she
    had been brought up to fear as the worst and most awful of
    catastrophes--could he talk of it, could he announce it after this
    fashion? With a smile, in a tone of pleasantry? He must be playing with
    her. She passed her hand over her eyes, and tried to be calm. "But all
    is quiet?" she said.

    "All is quiet now," he answered. "After midnight the trouble will
    begin."

    Still she could not understand him. His face said one thing, his voice
    another. Besides, the town was quiet: no sound of riot or disturbance,
    no clash of steel, no tramp of feet penetrated the walls. And the house
    stood on the ramparts where the first alarm must be given. "Do you
    mean," she asked at last, her eyes fixed steadfastly on him, "that they
    are going to attack the town after midnight?"

    "They are here now," he replied, shrugging his shoulders. "They scaled
    the wall after the guard had gone round at eleven, and they are lying by
    tens and twenties along the outer side of the Corraterie, waiting for
    the hour and the signal."

    She passed her hand across her closed eyes, and looked again,
    perplexedly. "And you," she said, "you? I do not understand. If this be
    so, what are you doing here?"

    "Here?"

    "Ay, here! Why have you not given the alarm in the town?"

    "Why should I give the alarm?" he retorted coolly. "To save those who
    hounded you through the streets two days ago? To save those who
    to-morrow may put you to the torture and burn you like the vilest of
    creatures? Save them?" with a grim smile. "No, let them save
    themselves!"

    "But----"

    "I would save you! not them! I would save your mother! not them! And it
    is done. Let the Grand Duke triumph to-night, let Savoy take Geneva, and
    our good townsfolk will have other matters to occupy their thoughts
    to-morrow! Ay, and through many and many a morrow to come! Save them?"
    with a grim note in his voice; "no, I save you. Let them save
    themselves! It is God's mercy on us, and His judgment on them! Or why
    happens it to-night? To-night of all nights in the year?"

    She was very pale, and for a moment remained silent: whether she felt
    the temptation to which he had succumbed, or was seeking what she should
    say to move him, is uncertain. At last, "It is impossible," she
    murmured, in a low voice. "You have not thought of the women and
    children, of the fathers and mothers who will suffer."

    "And your mother!"

    "Is one. God forbid that I should save her at the expense of all! God
    forbid!" she wailed, as if she feared her own strength, as if the
    temptation almost overcame her. And then laying her hand on his arm and
    looking up to him--his face was set so hard--"You will not do this!" she
    said. "You will not do this! Could we be happy after? Could we be happy
    with blood on our heads, and on our hands, and on our hearts! Happy, oh
    no! Claude, dear heart, dear husband, we cannot buy happiness so, or
    life so, or love so! We cannot save ourselves--so! We cannot play God's
    part--so!"

    "It is not we who do it," he answered stubbornly.

    "It is we who may prevent it!" she answered, leaning more heavily on his
    arm, looking up to him more earnestly; with pleading eyes which it was
    hard to refuse. "Would you, to save us, have betrayed Geneva?"

    He groaned--she had moved him. "God knows!" he answered. "To save you--I
    think I would!"

    "You would not! You would not!" she repeated. "Neither must you do this!
    Honour, faith, duty, all forbid it!"

    "And love?" he cried.

    "And love!" she answered. "For who would love dishonoured? Who would
    love in shame? No; go as you have come, and give the alarm! And do, and
    help! Go, as you have come! But how"--with a startled look as she
    thought of the trap-door--"did you come?"

    "By the Tertasse Gate," he explained. "There were but two men on guard,
    and they were asleep. I passed them unseen, climbed the stairs to the
    leads--I have been up twice before--and crossed the roofs. I knew I
    could come this way unseen, and if I had come by the door----"

    She understood and cut him short. "Then go as you came and rouse the
    watch in the gate!" she cried feverishly. "Rouse them and all, and
    Heaven grant you be not too late! Go, Claude, for the love of me, for
    the love of God, go quickly!" Her hands on his arm shook with eagerness.
    "So that, if there be treachery here----"

    "There is treachery!" he said darkly. "Grio----"

    "We at least shall have no part in it! You will go? You will go?" she
    repeated, clinging to his arm, trembling against him, looking up to him
    with eyes which he could not resist. Love wrestled here, on the higher,
    the nobler, the unselfish side, and came the stronger out of the
    contest. There were tears in his eyes as he answered.

    "I will go. You are right, Anne. But you will be alone."

    "I run no greater risk than others," she answered. He held her to him,
    and their lips met once. And in that instant, her heart beating against
    his, she comprehended to what she was sending him, into what peril of
    life, into what a dark hell of force and fire and blood; and her arms
    clung to him as if she could not let him go. Then, "Go, and God keep
    you!" she murmured in a choked voice. And she thrust him from her.

    A moment later he was on the roof, and she was kneeling where he had
    left her, bowed down, with her face on the bare stairs in an agony of
    prayer for him. But not for long; she had her part to do. She hurried
    down to the living-room and made sure that the strong shutters were
    secured; then up to Basterga's room and to Grio's, and as far as her
    strength went she piled the furniture against the iron-barred casements
    that looked on to the ramparts. While she worked her ears listened for
    the alarm, but, until she had finished and was ascending with the light
    to her mother's room she heard nothing. Then a distant cry, a faint
    challenge, the drum-drum of running feet, a second cry--and silence. It
    might be his death-cry she had heard; and she stood with a white face,
    shivering, waiting, bearing the woman's burden of suspense. To lie down
    by her mother was impossible; rapine, murder, fire, all the horrors, all
    the perils of a city taken by surprise, crowded into her mind. Yet they
    moved her not so much as the dangers he ran, whom she had sent forth to
    confront them, whom she had plucked from her own breast that he might
    face them!

    Meanwhile, Claude, after gaining the tiles, paused a moment to consider
    his next step. Far below him, on the narrow, black triangle of the
    Corraterie, lay the Savoyards, some three hundred in number, who had
    scaled the wall. Out of the darkness of the plain, beyond and below
    them, rose the faint, distant quacking of alarmed ducks, proving that
    others of the enemy moved there. Even as he listened, the whirr of a
    wild goose winging its flight over the city came to his ear. On his
    left, with a dim oil lamp marking, here or there, the meeting of four
    ways, the town slept unsuspicious, recking nothing of the fate prepared
    for it.

    It was a solemn moment, and Claude on the roof under the night sky, felt
    it to be so. Restored to his higher self, he breathed a prayer for
    guidance and for her, and was as eager now as he had before been cold.
    But not the less for that did he ply the wits that, working freely in
    this hour of peril, proved him one of those whom battle owns for master.
    He had gathered enough, lying on his face in the bastion, to feel sure
    that the forlorn hope which had gained a footing on the wall would not
    move until the arrival of the main body whom it was its plan to admit by
    the Porte Neuve. To carry the alarm to the Porte Neuve, therefore, and
    secure that gate, seemed to be the first and most urgent step; since to
    secure the Tertasse and the other inner gates would be of little avail,
    if the main body of the enemy were once in possession of the ramparts.
    The course that at first sight seemed the most obvious--to enter the
    town, give the alarm at the town hall, and set the tocsin ringing--he
    rejected; for while the town was arming, the three hundred who had
    entered might seize the Porte Neuve, and so secure the entrance of the
    main body.

    These calculations occupied no more than a few seconds: then, his mind
    made up to the course he must pursue, he crawled as quickly, but also as
    quietly, as he could along the dark parapets until he gained the leads
    of the Tertasse. Safe so far, he proceeded, with equal or greater
    caution, to descend the narrow cork-screw staircase, that led to the
    guard-room on the ground floor.

    He forgot that it is more easy to ascend without noise than to descend.
    With all his care he stumbled when he was within three steps of the
    bottom. He tried to save himself, but fell against the half-open door,
    flung it wide, and, barely keeping his feet, found himself face to face
    with the two watchmen, who, startled by the noise, had sprung to their
    feet, thinking the devil was upon them. One, with an oath upon his lips,
    reached for his half-pike; his fellow, less sober, steadied himself by
    resting a hand on the table.

    If they gave the alarm, his plan was gone. The enemy, finding themselves
    discovered, would seize the Porte Neuve. "One minute!" he cried
    breathlessly. "Let me explain!"

    "You!" the more sober retorted, glaring fiercely at him. "Who the devil
    are you? And where have you been?"

    "Quiet, man, quiet!"

    "What is it?"

    "Treason!" Claude answered, imploring silence by a gesture. "Treason!
    That is what it is! But for God's sake, no noise! No noise, man, or our
    throats are as good as cut! Savoy has the wall!"

    The man stared, and no wonder. "You are mad," he said, "or drunk!
    Savoy----"

    "Fool, it is so!" Claude cried, beside himself with impatience.

    "Savoy?"

    "They are under the trees on the ramparts within a few yards of us now!
    Three hundred of them! A word and you will feel their pikes in your
    breast! Listen to me!"

    But with a laugh of derision the drunken man cut him short. "Savoy
    here--on the wall!" he hiccoughed. "And we on guard!"

    "It is so!" Claude urged. "Believe me, it is so! And we must be wary."

    "You lie, young man! And I'll--hic--I'll prove it! See here! Savoy on
    the wall, indeed! Savoy? And we on guard?"

    He lurched in two strides to the outer door, seized it, and supported
    himself by it. Claude leant forward to stop him, but could not reach,
    being on the other side of the table. He called to the other to do so.
    "Stop him!" he said. "Stop him!"

    The man might have done so, but he did not stir; and "Stop him?" the sot
    answered, his hand on the door. "Not--two of you--will stop him! Now,
    then! Savoy, indeed! On the wall? I'll show you!"

    He let the door go, and reeled three paces into the darkness outside,
    waving his hands as if he drove chickens. "Savoy! Savoy!" he cried; but
    whether in drunken bravado, in derision, or in pure disbelief, God only
    knows! For the word had barely passed his lips the second time before a
    gurgling scream followed, freezing the hearts of the two listeners; and,
    before the second guard could close the door or move from his place on
    the hearth, four men sprang in out of the darkness, and bore him back.
    Before he had struck a blow they had pinned him against the wall.

    Claude owed his escape to his position behind the door. They did not see
    him as they sprang in, intent on the one they did see. He knew
    resistance to be futile, and a bound carried him into the darkness of
    the cork-screw staircase. Once there, he dared not move. Thence he saw
    and heard what followed.

    The man pinned against the wall, with the point of a knife flickering
    before his eyes, begged piteously for his life.

    "Then silence!" Basterga answered--for the foremost who had entered was
    he. "A word and you die!"

    "Better let me finish him at once!" Grio growled. The prisoner's face
    was ashen, his eyes were starting from his head. "Dead men give no
    alarms."

    "Mercy! Mercy!" the man gasped.

    "Ay, ay, let him live," Basterga said good-naturedly. "But he must be
    gagged. Turn your face to the wall, my man!"

    The poor wretch complied with gratitude. In a twinkling the Paduan's
    huge fingers closed round his neck, and over his wind-pipe. "Now
    strike," the big man hissed. "He will make no noise!"

    With a sickening thud Grio's knife sank between the shoulders, a moment
    the body writhed in Basterga's herculean grip, then it sank lifeless to
    the floor. "Had you struck him, fool," Basterga muttered wrathfully,
    wiping a little blood from his sleeve, "as you wanted to strike him, he
    had squealed like a pig! Now 'tis the same, and no noise. Ha! Seize
    him!"

    He spoke too late. Claude had seen his opportunity, and as the
    treacherous blow was struck had crept forth. At the moment the other saw
    him he bounded over the threshold. Even as his feet touched the ground a
    man who stood outside lunged at him with a pike but missed him--a
    chance, for Claude had not seen the striker. The next moment the young
    man had launched himself into the darkness and was running for his life
    across the Corraterie in the direction of the Porte Neuve.

    He knew that his foes were lying on every side of him, and the cry of
    "Seize him! Seize him!" went with him, making every step a separate
    peril. He could not see a yard, but he was young and fleet and active;
    and the darkness covering him, the men were confused. Over more than one
    black object he bounded like a deer. Once a man rising in front of him
    brought him heavily to the ground, but by good fortune it was his foot
    struck the man, and on the head, and the fellow lay still and let him
    rise. A moment later another gripped him, but Claude and he fell
    together, and the younger man, rolling nimbly sideways, got clear and to
    his feet again, made for the wall on his right, turned left again, and
    already thought himself over the threshold of the Porte Neuve. The cry
    "Aux Armes! Aux Armes!" was already on his lips, he thought he had
    succeeded, when between his eyes and the faintly lighted gateway a
    dozen forms rose as by magic and poured in before him--so near to him
    that, unable to check himself, he jostled the hindmost.

    He might have entered with them, so near was he. But he saw that he was
    too late; he guessed that the outcry behind him had precipitated the
    attack, and, arresting himself outside the ring of light, but within a
    few paces of the gateway, he threw himself on the ground and awaited the
    event. It was not long in declaring itself. For a few seconds a dull
    roar of shots and shouts and curses filled the gate. Then out again,
    helter-skelter, with a flash of exploding powder and a whirl of steel
    and blows, came defenders and assailants in a crowd, the former bent on
    escaping, the latter on cutting them off from the Porte Tertasse and the
    town. For an instant after they had poured out the gate seemed quiet,
    and with his eyes upon it, Claude rose, first to his knees and then to
    his feet, paused a moment in doubt, then darted in and entered the
    guard-room.

    The firelight--the other lights in the small, dingy chamber had been
    trampled under foot--showed him two wounded men groaning on the floor,
    and the body of a third who lay apparently dead. Claude bent over one,
    found what he wanted--a half-pike--and glided to the door of the stairs
    that led to the roof. It was in the same position as in the Tertasse. He
    opened it, passed through it, mounted two steps, and in the darkness
    came plump against some one who seized him by the throat.

    The man had no weapon--at any rate he did not strike; and Claude, taken
    by surprise, could not level his pike in the narrow stairway. For a
    moment they wrestled, Claude striving to bring his weapon to bear on his
    foe, the latter trying to strangle him. But the advantage of the stairs
    lay with the first comer, who was the uppermost, and gradually he bore
    Claude back and back. The young man, however, would not let go such hold
    as he had, and both were on the point of falling out on the floor of the
    guard-room when the light disclosed Claude's face.

    "You are of us!" his opponent panted. And abruptly he released his grip.

    "Geneva!"

    "I know you!" The man was one of the guard who, in the alarm, had
    escaped into the stairway. "I know you! You live in the Corraterie!"

    Claude wasted not a second. "Up!" he cried. "We can hold the roof! Up,
    man, for your life! For your life! It is our only chance!"

    With the fear of death upon him, the other needed no second telling. He
    turned, and groped upwards in haste; and Claude followed, treading on
    his heels; nor a moment too soon. While they were still within the
    staircase, which their elbows rubbed on either side, they heard the
    enemy swarm into the room below. Cries of triumph, of "Savoy! Savoy!" of
    "Ville gagnée! gagnée!" hummed dully up to them, and proclaimed the
    narrowness of their escape. Then the night air met their faces, they
    bent their heads and passed out upon the leads; they had above them the
    stars, and below them all the world of night, with its tramp of hidden
    feet, its swaying lights so tiny and distant, and here and there its cry
    of "Savoy! Savoy!" that showed that the enemy, relying on their capture
    of the Porte Neuve, were casting off disguise.

    Claude heard and saw all, but lost not a moment. He had not made this
    haste for his life only: before he had risen to his knees or set foot in
    the gate, he had formed his plan. "The Portcullis!" he cried. "The
    Portcullis! Where are the chains? On this side?" Less than a week
    before he had stood and watched the guard as they released it and raised
    it again for practice.

    The soldier, familiar with the tower, should have been able to go to the
    chains at once. But though he had struggled for his life and was ready
    to struggle for it again, he had not recovered his nerve, and he shrank
    from leaving the stairs, in holding which their one chance consisted. He
    muttered, however, that the winch was on such and such a side, and, with
    his head in the stairway, indicated the direction with his hand. Claude
    groped his way to the spot, his breath coming fast; fortunately he laid
    his hand almost at once on the chains and felt for the spike, which he
    knew he must draw or knock out. That done, the winch would fly round,
    and the huge machine fall by its own weight.

    On a sudden, "They are coming!" the soldier cried in a terrified
    whisper. "My God, they are coming! Come back! Come back!" For Claude had
    their only weapon, and the guard was defenceless. Defenceless by the
    side of the stairs up which the foe was climbing!

    The hair rose on Claude's head, but he set his teeth; though the man
    died, though he died, the portcullis must fall! More than his own life,
    more than the lives of both of them, more than lives a hundred or a
    thousand hung on that bolt; the fate of millions yet unborn, the freedom
    and the future of a country hung on that bolt which would not give
    way--though now he had found it and was hammering it. Grinding his
    teeth, the sweat on his brow, he beat on it with the pike, struck the
    iron with the strength of despair, stooped to see what was amiss--still
    with the frenzied prayers of the other in his ears--saw it, and struck
    again and again--and again!

    Whirr! The winch flew round, barely missing his head. With a harsh,
    grinding sound that rose with incredible swiftness to a scream, piercing
    the night, the ponderous grating slid down, crashed home and barred all
    entrance--closed the Porte Neuve. It did more, though Claude did not
    know it. It cut off the engineer from the outer gate, of which the keys
    were at the Town Hall, and against which in another minute, another
    sixty seconds, he had set his petard. That set and exploded, Geneva had
    lain open to its enemies. As it was, so small was the margin, so fatally
    accurate the closing, that when the day rose, it disclosed a portent.
    When the victors came to examine the spot they found beneath the
    portcullis the mangled form of one of the engineers, and beside him lay
    his petard.
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