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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 24
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    ARMES! ARMES!

    Claude did not know all that he had done, or the narrow margin of time
    by which he had succeeded. But he did know that he had saved the gate;
    that gate on the outer side of which four thousand of the picked troops
    of Savoy were waiting the word to enter. He knew that he had done it
    with death at his elbow and with the cries of his panic-stricken comrade
    in his ears. And in the moment of success he rose above the common
    level. He felt himself master of fear, lord of death; in the exultation
    of his triumph he thought nothing too hard or too dangerous for him.

    It was well perhaps that he had this feeling, for he had not a moment to
    waste if he would save himself. As the portcullis struck the ground with
    a thunderous crash and rebounded, and he turned from the winch to the
    stairhead, a last warning, cut short in the utterance, reached him, and
    he saw through the gloom that his companion was already in the grip of a
    figure which had succeeded in passing out of the staircase. Claude did
    not hesitate. With a roar of rage he ran like a bull at the enemy,
    struck him full under the arm with his pike, and drove him doubled up
    into the stairhead, with such force that the Genevese had much ado to
    free himself.

    The man was struck helpless--dead for aught that appeared at the moment.
    But the pike coming in contact with the edge of his corselet had not
    penetrated, and Claude recovered it quickly, and levelled it in waiting
    for the next comer. At the same time he adjured his comrade to secure
    the fallen man's weapon. The guard seized it, and the two waited, with
    suspended breath, for the sally which they were sure must come.

    But the stairs were narrow, the fallen body blocked the outlet, and
    possibly the assailants had expected no resistance. Finding it, they
    thought better of it. A moment and they could be heard beating a
    retreat.

    "Pardieu! they are going!" the guard exclaimed; and he began to shake.

    "Ay, but they will return!" Claude answered grimly. "Have no fear of
    that! The portcullis is down, and the only way to raise it, is up these
    stairs. But it will be hard if, armed as we are now, we cannot baffle
    them! Has he no pistol?"

    Marcadel--that was the soldier's name--felt about the prostrate man, but
    found none; and bidding him listen and not move for his life--but there
    was little need of the injunction--Claude passed over to the inner edge
    of the roof, facing the Corraterie. Here he raised his voice and shouted
    the alarm with all the force of his lungs, hoping thus to supplement the
    cries which here and there had been raised by the Savoyards.

    "Aux Armes! Armes!" he cried. "The enemy is at the gate! To arms! To
    arms!"

    A man ran out of the gateway at the sound of his shouting, levelled a
    musket and fired at him. The slugs flew wide, and Claude, lifted above
    himself, yelled defiance, knowing that the more shots were fired the
    more quickly and widely would the alarm be spread.

    That it was spreading, that it was being taken up, his position on the
    gateway enabled him to discern, distant as the Porte Neuve lay from the
    heart of the town. A flare of light at the rear of the Tertasse, and a
    confused hub-bub in that quarter, seemed to show that, though the
    Savoyards had seized the gate, they had not penetrated beyond it. Away
    on his extreme left, where the Porte de la Monnaye, hard by his old
    bastion, overlooked the Rhone and the island, were lights again, and a
    sound of a commotion as though there too the enemy held the gate, but
    found farther progress closed against them. On the Treille to his right,
    the most westerly of the three inner gates, and the nearest to the Town
    Hall, the enemy seemed to be preparing an attack, for as he ceased to
    shout, muskets exploded in that direction; and as far as he could judge
    the shots were aimed outwards.

    With such alarms at three inner points--to say nothing of the noise at
    the more distant Porte Neuve--it seemed impossible that any part of the
    city could remain in ignorance of the attack. In truth, as he stood
    peering down into the dark Corraterie, and listening to the heavy tramp
    of unseen feet, now here, now there, and the orders that rose from
    unseen throats--even as he prepared to turn, summoned by a warning cry
    from Marcadel, the first note of the alarm-bell smote his ear.

    One moment and the air hummed with its heavy challenge, and all of
    Geneva that still slept awoke and stood upright. Men ran half naked from
    their houses. Boys in their teens snatched arms and sallied forth. White
    faces looked into the night from barred windows or lofty dormers; and
    across narrow wynds and under dark Gothic entries men dragged huge
    chains and hooked them, and hurried on to where the alarm seemed loudest
    and the risk most pressing. In an instant in pitch-dark alleys lights
    gleamed and steel jarred on stone; out of the darkness deep voices
    shouted questions, or answered or gave orders, and from a thousand
    houses, alike in the wealthy Bourg du Four with its three-storied piles
    and in the sordid lanes about the water and the bridges, went up one
    wail of horror and despair. Men who had dreamed of this night for years,
    and feared it as they feared God's day, awoke to find their dream a
    fact, and never while they lived forgot that awakening. While women left
    alone in their homes bolted and barred and fell to prayers; or clasped
    to their breasts babes who prattled, not understanding the turmoil, or
    why their mothers looked strangely on them.

    Something of this, something of the horror of that sudden awakening, and
    of the confusion in the narrow streets, where voices cried that the
    enemy were here or there or in a third place, and the bravest knew not
    which way to turn, penetrated to Claude on the roof of the tower; and at
    the thought of Anne and the perils that encircled her--for about the
    house in the Corraterie the uproar rose loudest--his heart melted. But
    he had not long to dwell on her peril; not long to dwell on anything.
    Before the great bell had hurled its warning abroad three times he had
    to go. Marcadel's voice, urgent, insistent, summoned him to the
    stairhead.

    "They are mustering at the bottom!" the man whispered over his shoulder.
    He was on his knees, his head in the hood of the staircase. The wounded
    man, breathing stertorously, still cumbered the upper steps. Marcadel
    rested one hand on him.

    Claude thrust in his head and listened. He could hear, above the thick
    breathing of the Savoyard, the stir of men muttering and moving in the
    darkness below; and now the stealthy shuffle of feet, and again the
    faint clang of a weapon against the wall. Doubtless it had dawned on
    some one in command below, that here on this tower lay the keys of
    Geneva: that by themselves three hundred men could not take, nor hold if
    they took, a town manned by five or six thousand; consequently that if
    Savoy would succeed in the enterprise so boldly begun, she must by hook
    or crook raise this portcullis and open this gate. As a fact,
    Brunaulieu, the captain of the forlorn hope, had passed the word that
    the tower must be taken at any cost; and had come himself from the Porte
    Tertasse, where a brisk conflict was beginning, to see the thing done.

    Claude did not know this, but had he known it, it would not have reduced
    his courage.

    "Yes, I hear them," he whispered in answer to the soldier's words. "But
    they have not mounted far yet. And when they come, if two pikes cannot
    hold this doorway which they can pass but one at a time, there is no
    truth in Thermopylæ!"

    "I know naught of that," the other answered, rising nervously to his
    feet. "I don't favour heights. Give me the lee of a wall and fair
    odds----"

    "Odds?" Claude echoed vain-gloriously--but only the stars attended to
    him--"I would not have another man!"

    Marcadel seized him by the sleeve. His voice rose almost to a scream.
    "But, by Heaven, there is another man!" he cried. "There!" He pointed
    with a shaking hand to the outer corner of the leads, in the
    neighbourhood of the place where the winch of the portcullis stood. "We
    are betrayed! We are dead men!" he babbled.

    Claude made out a dim figure, crouching against the battlement; and the
    thought, which was also in Marcadel's mind, that the enemy had set a
    ladder against the wall and outflanked them, rendered him desperate. At
    any rate there was but one on the roof as yet: and quick as thought the
    young man lowered his pike and charged the figure.

    With a shrill scream the man fell on his knees before him. "Mercy!"
    cried a voice he knew. "Mercy! Don't kill me! Don't kill me!"

    It was Louis Gentilis. Claude halted, looked at him in amazement,
    spurned him with his foot. "Up, coward, and fight for your life then!"
    he said. "Or others will kill you. How come you here?"

    The lad still grovelled. "I was in the guard-room," he whimpered. "I had
    come with a message--from the Syndic."

    "The Syndic Blondel?"

    "Yes! To remind the Captain that he was to go the rounds at eleven
    exactly. It was late when I got there and they--oh, this dreadful
    night--they broke in, and I, hid on the stairs."

    "Well, you can hide no longer. You have got to fight now!" Claude
    answered grimly, "There are no more stairs for any of us except to
    heaven! I advise you to find something, and do your worst. Take the
    winch-bar if you can find nothing else! And----"

    He broke off. Marcadel, who had remained at the stairhead, was calling
    to him in a voice that could no longer be resisted--a voice of despair.
    Claude ran to him. He found him with his head in the stairway, but with
    his pike shortened to strike. "They are coming!" he muttered over his
    shoulder. "They are more than half-way up now. Be ready and keep your
    eyes open. Be ready!" he continued after a pause. "They are nearly--here
    now!" His breath began to come quickly; at last stepping back a pace and
    bringing his point to the charge. "They are here!" he shouted. "On
    guard!"

    Claude stooped an inch lower, and with gleaming eyes, and feet set
    warily apart, waited the onset; waited with suspended breath for the
    charge that must come. He could hear the gasps of the wounded man who
    lay on the uppermost step; and once close to him he caught a sound of
    shuffling, moving feet, that sent his heart into his mouth. But seconds
    passed, and more seconds, and glare as he might into the black mouth of
    the staircase, from which the hood averted even the light of the stars,
    he could make out nothing, no movement, no sign of life!

    The suspense was growing intolerable. And all the time behind him the
    alarm-bell was flinging "Doom! Doom!" down on the city, and a thousand
    sounds of fear and strife clutched at his mind and strove to draw it
    from the dark gap at which he waited, as a dog waits for a rat at the
    mouth of its hole. His breath began to come quickly, his knees shook. He
    heard his companion gasp--human nerves could stand it no longer. And
    then, just as he felt that, come what might, he must plunge his pike
    into the darkness, and settle the question, the shuffling sound came
    anew and steadied him, and he set his teeth and waited--waited still.

    But nothing happened, nothing moved. Again the seconds, almost the
    minutes passed, and the deep note of the alarm-bell swelled louder and
    heavier, filling all the air, all the night, all the world, with its
    iron tongue--setting the tower reeling, the head swimming. In spite of
    himself, in spite of the fact that he knew his life hung on his
    vigilance, his thoughts wandered; wandered to Anne, alone and
    defenceless in that hell below him, from which such wild sounds were
    beginning to rise; to his own fate if he and Marcadel got the worst; to
    the advantage a light properly shaded would have given them, had they
    had it. But, alas, they had no light.

    And then, while he thought of that, the world was all light. A sheet of
    flame burst from the hood, dazzled, blinded, scorched him; a crashing
    report filled his ears; he recoiled. The ball had missed him, had gone
    between him and Marcadel and struck neither. But for a moment in pure
    amazement, he stood gaping.

    That moment had been his last had the defence lain with him only, or
    even with him and Marcadel. It was the senseless form that cumbered the
    uppermost step which saved them. The man who had fired tripped over it
    as he sprang out. He fell his length on the roof. The next man, less
    hasty or less brave, sank down on the obstacle, and blocked the way for
    others.

    Before either could rise all was over. Claude brought down his pike on
    the head of the first to issue, and laid him lifeless on the leads. The
    guard, who was a better man at a pinch than in the anticipation of it,
    drove the other back--as he tried to rise--with a wound in the face.
    Then with a yell, assured that in the narrow stairhead the enemy could
    not use their weapons, the two charged their pikes into the obscurity,
    and thrust and thrust, and thrust again, in the cruelty of rage and
    fear.

    What they struck, or where they struck, they could not see; but their
    ears told them that they did not strike in vain. A shrill scream and the
    gurgling cry of a dying man proved it, and the wild struggle that ensued
    on the stairs; where the uppermost, weighed down by the fallen men,
    turned in a panic on those below and fought with them to force them to
    descend.

    Claude shuddered as he listened, as he waited, his pike still levelled;
    shuddered at the pitiful groaning that issued from the blackness,
    shuddered at the blows he had struck, and the scream that still echoed
    in his ears. He had not trembled when he fought, but he trembled at the
    thought of it.

    "They are beaten," he muttered huskily.

    "Ay, they are beaten!" Marcadel--he who had trembled before the
    fight--answered with exultation. "You were right. We wanted no more men!
    But it was near. If this rogue had not tripped our throats would have
    suffered."

    "He was a brave man," Claude answered, leaning heavily on his pike. He
    needed its support.

    Marcadel knelt down and felt the man over. "Ay," he said, "he was, to
    give the devil his due! And that reminds me. We've a skulker here who
    has escaped so far. He shall play his part now. We must have their arms,
    but it is dirty work groping in the dark for them; and maybe life enough
    in one of them to drive a dagger between one's ribs. He shall do it.
    Where is he?"

    Claude was feeling the reaction which ensues upon intense excitement. He
    did not answer. Nor did he interfere when Marcadel, pouncing on Louis,
    where he crouched in the darkest corner, forced him forward to the head
    of the staircase. There the lad fell on his knees weeping futilely,
    wailing prayers. But the guard kicked him forward.

    "In!" he said. "You know what you have to do! In, and strip them! Do you
    hear? And if you leave as much as a knife----"

    "I won't! I daren't!" Louis screamed. And grovelling on his face on the
    leads he clung to whatever offered itself.

    But men who have just passed through a life and death struggle, are
    hard. "You won't?" Marcadel answered, applying his boot brutally, but
    without effect. "You will! Or you will feel my pike between your ribs!
    In! In, my lad!"

    A scream answered each repetition of the word, and proved that the
    threat was no empty one. Claude might have intervened, but he remembered
    Anne and the humiliations she had suffered in this craven's presence.

    "In!" Marcadel repeated a third time. "And if you leave so much as a
    knife upon them I will throw you off the tower. You understand, do you?
    Then in, and strip them!"

    And driven by sheer torture--for the pike had thrice drawn blood from
    his writhing body--Louis crept, weeping and quaking, into the staircase;
    and on one of her tormentors Anne was avenged. But Claude was thinking
    more of her present peril than of this; he had moved from the stairhead.
    A swell in the volume of sound which rose from the Corraterie had drawn
    him to that side of the tower, where shaking off the exhaustion which
    for a time had overcome him, he was straining his eyes to learn what was
    passing in the babel below.

    The sight was a singular one. The Monnaye Gate far to the left, the
    Tertasse immediately before him, and the Treille on his right, were the
    centres of separate conflagrations. In one place a house, fired by the
    petard employed to force the door, was actually alight. In other places
    so great was the conflux of torches, the flash and gleam of weapons, and
    the babel of sounds that it wrought on the mind the impression of a fire
    blazing up in the night. Behind the Porte Tertasse, in the narrow
    streets of the Tertasse and the Cité--immediately, therefore, behind the
    Royaumes' house--the conflict seemed to rage most hotly, the shots to be
    most frequent, the uproar greatest, even the light strongest; for the
    reflection of the combat below bathed the Tertasse tower in a lurid
    glow. Claude could distinguish the roof of the Royaumes' house; and to
    see so much yet to be cut off as completely as if he stood a hundred
    miles away, to be so near yet so hopelessly divided, stung him to a new
    impatience and a greater daring.

    He returned to Marcadel. "Are we going to stay on this tower?" he cried.
    "Shut up here, while this goes forward and we may be of use?"

    "I think we have done our part," the other answered soberly. "If any man
    has saved Geneva, it is you! There, man, I give you the credit," he
    continued, in a burst of generosity, "and it is no small thing! For it
    might make my fortune. But I have done some little too!"

    "Ay! But cannot we----"

    "What would you have us do more?" the man continued, and with reason.
    "Leave the roof to them? 'Tis all they want! Leave them to raise the old
    iron grate, and let in--what I hear yonder?" He indicated the darker
    outer plain below the wall, whence rose the murmur of halted battalions,
    waiting baffled, and uncertain, the opening of the gate.

    "Ay, but if we descend?"

    "May we not win the gate from a score?" Marcadel answered, between
    contempt and admiration. "Is that what you mean? And when we have won
    it, hold it? No, not if each of us were Gaston of Foix, Bayard, and M.
    de Crillon rolled into one! But what is this? We are winning or we are
    losing! Which is it?"

    From the Treille Gate had burst a rabble of men; a struggling crowd
    illumined by the glare of three or four lights. Pikes and halberds
    flashed in the heart of the mob as it swirled and struggled down the
    Corraterie in the direction of the gate from which the two men viewed
    it. Half-way thither, in the open, its progress seemed to be checked; it
    hung and paused, swaying this way and that; it recoiled. But at length,
    with a roar of triumph, it rolled on anew over half a dozen prostrate
    forms, and in a trice burst about the base of the Porte Neuve, swept, as
    it seemed to those above, into the gateway, and--in a twinkling broke
    back, repelled by a crashing volley that shook the tower.

    "They are our people!" cried Claude.

    "Ay!"

    "And now is our time!" The lad waved his weapon. "A diversion in the
    rear--and 'tis done!"

    "In Heaven's name stop!" cried Marcadel, and he gripped Claude's sleeve.
    "A diversion, ay!" he continued. "But a moment too soon or a moment too
    late--and where will we be?"

    He spoke in vain. His words were wasted on the air. Claude, not to be
    restrained, had entered the staircase. Pike in hand he felt his way over
    the bodies that choked it; by this time he was half-way down the stairs.
    Marcadel hesitated, waited a moment, listened; then, partly because
    success begets success, and courage courage, partly because he would not
    have the triumph taken from him, he too risked all. He snatched from
    Gentilis' feeble hands a long pistol, part of the spoils of the
    staircase; and, staying only to assure himself that a portion of the
    priming still lay in the pan, he hurried after his leader.

    By this time Claude was within four stairs of the guard-room. The low
    door that admitted to it stood open; and towards it a man, hearing the
    hasty tread of feet, had that moment turned a startled face. There was
    no room for anything but audacity, and Claude did not flinch. In two
    bounds, he hurled himself through the door on to the man, missed him
    with his pike--but was himself missed. In a flash the two were rolling
    together on the floor.

    In their fall they brought down a third man, who, swearing horribly,
    made repeated stabs at Claude with a dagger. But the only light in the
    room came from the fire, the three were interlaced, and Claude was young
    and agile as an eel: he evaded the first thrust, and the second. The
    third went home in his shoulder, but desperate with pain he seized the
    hand that held the poniard, and clung to it; and before the man who had
    been the first to fall could regain his pike, or a third man who was
    present, but who was wounded, could drag himself, swearing horribly, to
    the spot, Marcadel fired from the stairs, and killed the wounded man.
    The next instant with a yell of "Geneva!" he sprang on the others under
    cover of the smoke that filled the room.

    The combat was still but of two to two; and without the guard-room but
    almost within arm's length, were a dozen Savoyards, headed by Picot the
    engineer; any one of whom might, by entering, turn the scale. But the
    pistol-shot had come to the ears of the attacking party: that instant,
    guessing that they had allies within, they rallied and with loud cries
    returned to the attack. Even while Marcadel having disposed of one more,
    stood over the struggling pair on the floor, doubting where to strike,
    the burghers burst a second time into the gateway--on which the
    guard-room opened--struck down Picot, and, hacking and hewing, with
    cries of "Porte Gagnée! Porte Gagnée!" bore the Savoyards back.

    For the half of a minute the low-groined archway was a whirl of arms and
    steel and flame. Half a dozen single combats were in progress at once;
    amid yells and groans, and the jar and clash of a score of weapons. But
    the burghers, fighting bareheaded for their wives and hearths, were not
    to be denied; by-and-by the Savoyards gave back, broke, and saved
    themselves. One fierce group cut its way out and fled into the darkness
    of the Corraterie. Of the others four men remained on the ground, while
    two turned and tried to retreat into the guard-room.

    But on the threshold they met Claude, vicious and wounded, his eyes in a
    flame; and he struck and killed the foremost. The other fell under the
    blows of the pursuing burghers, and across the two bodies Claude and
    Marcadel met their allies, the leaders of the assault. Strange to say,
    the foremost and the midmost of these was a bandy-legged tailor, with a
    great two-handed sword, red to the hilt; to such a place can valour on
    such a night raise a man. On his right stood Blandano, Captain of the
    Guard, bareheaded and black with powder; on his left Baudichon the
    councillor, panting, breathless, his fat face running with sweat and
    blood--for he bore an ugly wound--but with unquenchable courage in his
    eyes. A man may be fat and yet a lion.

    It was a moment in the lives of the five men who thus met which none of
    them ever forgot. "Was it one of you two who lowered the portcullis?"
    Blandano gasped, as he leaned an instant on his sword.

    "He did," Marcadel answered, laying his hand on Claude's shoulder. "And
    I helped him."

    "Then he has saved Geneva, and you have helped him!" Blandano rejoined
    bluntly. "Your name, young man."

    Claude told him.

    "Good!" Blandano answered. "If I live to see the morning light, it shall
    not be forgotten!"

    Baudichon leant across the dead, and shook Claude's hand. "For the women
    and children!" he said, his fat face shaking like a jelly; though no man
    had fought that night with a more desperate valour. "If I live to see
    the morning inquire for Baudichon of the council."

    Jehan Brosse, the bandy-legged tailor with the huge sword--he was but
    five feet high and no one up to that night had known him for a
    hero--squared his shoulders and looked at Claude, as one who takes
    another under his protection. "Baudichon the councillor, whom all men
    know in Geneva," he said with an affectionate look at the great man--he
    was proud of the company to which his prowess had raised him. "You will
    not forget the name! no fear of that! And now on!"

    "Ay, on!" Blandano answered, looking round on his panting followers, of
    whom some were staunching their wounds and some, with dark faces and
    gleaming eyeballs, were loading and priming their arms. "But I think
    the worst is over and we shall win through now. We have this gate safe,
    and it is the key, as I told you. If all be well elsewhere, and the main
    guards be held----"

    "Ay, but are they?" Baudichon muttered nervously: he reeled a little,
    for the loss of blood was beginning to tell upon him. "That is the
    question!"
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    Chapter 24
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