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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 25
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    BASTERGA AT ARGOS.

    The fear that Blandano might postpone the night-round, to a time which
    would involve discovery, haunted Blondel; and late on this eventful
    evening he despatched Louis, as we have seen, to the Porte Neuve to
    remind the Captain of his orders. That done--it was all he could do--the
    Syndic sat down in his great chair, and prepared himself to wait. He
    knew that he had before him some hours of uncertainty almost
    intolerable; and a peril, a hundred times more hard to face, because in
    the pinch of it he must play two parts; he must run with the hare and
    hunt with the hounds, and, a traitor standing forward for the city he
    had betrayed, he must have an eye to his reputation as well as his life.

    He had no doubt of the success of Savoy, the walls once passed.
    Moreover, the genius of Basterga had imposed itself upon him as that of
    a man unlikely to fail. But some resistance there must be, some
    bloodshed--for the town held many devoted men; one hour at least of
    butchery, and that followed, he shuddered to think it, by more than one
    hour of excess, of cruelty, of rapine. From such things the captured
    cities of that day rarely escaped. In all that happened, the resistance
    and the peril, he must, he knew, show himself; he must take his part and
    run his risk if he would not be known for what he was, if he would not
    leave a name that men would spit on!

    Strangely enough it was the moment of discovery and his conduct in that
    moment--it was the anticipation of this, that weighed most heavily on
    his guilty mind as he sat in his parlour, his hour of retiring long
    past, his household in bed. The city slept round him; how long would it
    sleep? And when it awoke, how long dared he, how long would it be
    natural for him to ignore the first murmur, the succeeding outcry, the
    rising alarm? It was not his cue to do overmuch, to precipitate
    discovery, or to assume at once the truth to be the truth. But on the
    other hand he must not be too backward.

    Try as he would he could not divert his thoughts from this. He saw
    himself skulking in his house, listening with a white face to the rush
    of armed men along the street. He heard the tumult rising on all sides,
    and saw himself stand, guilty and irresolute, between hearth and door,
    uncertain if the time had come to go forth. Finally, and before he had
    made up his mind to go out, he fancied himself confronted by an entering
    face, and in an instant detected. And this it was, this initial
    difficulty, oddly enough--and not the subsequent hours of horror,
    confusion and danger, of dying men and wailing women--that rode his
    mind, dwelt on him and shook his nerves as the crisis approached.

    One consolation he had, and one only; but a measureless one. Basterga
    had kept his word. He was cured. Six hours earlier he had taken the
    _remedium_ according to the directions, and with every hour that had
    elapsed since he had felt new life course through his veins. He had had
    no return of pain, no paroxysm; but a singular lightness of body,
    eloquent of the change wrought in him and the youth and strength that
    were to come, had done what could be done to combat the terrors of the
    soul, natural in his situation. Pale he was, despite the potion; in
    spite of it he trembled and sweated. But he knew himself changed, and
    sick at heart as he was, he could only guess at the depths of nervous
    despair to which he must have fallen had he not taken the wondrous
    draught.

    There was that to the good. That to the good. He would live. And life
    was the great thing after all; life and health, and strength. If he had
    sold his soul, his country, his friends, at least he would live--if
    naught happened to him to-night. If naught--but ah, the thought pierced
    him to the heart. He who had proved himself in old days no mean soldier
    in the field, who had won honour in more than one fight, felt his brow
    grow damp, his knees grow flaccid, knew himself a coward. For the life
    which he must risk was not the old life, but the new one which he had
    bought so dearly; the new one for which he had given his soul, his
    country, and his friends. And he dared not risk that! He dared not let
    the winds of heaven blow too roughly on that! If aught befel him this
    night, the irony of it! The mockery of it! The deadly, deadly folly of
    it!

    He sweated at the thought. He cursed, cursed frantically his folly in
    omitting to give himself out for worse than he was; in omitting to take
    to his bed early in the day! Then he might have kept it through the
    night, through the fight; then he might have avoided risks. Now he felt
    that every ball discharged at a venture must strike him; that if he
    showed so much as his face at a window death must find its opportunity.
    He would not have dared to pass through a street on a windy day now--for
    if a tile fell it must fall on him. And he must fight! He must fight!

    His manhood shrivelled within him at the thought. He shuddered. He was
    still shuddering, when on the shutter which masked the casement came a
    knock, thrice repeated. A cautious knock of which the mere sound implied
    an understanding.

    The Syndic remained motionless, glaring at the window. Everything on a
    night like this, and to an uneasy conscience, menaced danger. At length
    it occurred to him that the applicant might be Louis, whom he had sent
    with the message to the Porte Neuve: and he took the lamp and went to
    admit him, albeit reluctantly, for what did the booby mean by returning?
    It was late, and only to open at this hour might, in the light cast by
    after events, raise suspicions.

    But it was not Louis. The lamp flickering in the draught of the doorway
    disclosed a huge dusky form, glimmering metallic here and there, that in
    a trice pushed him back, passed by him, entered. It was Basterga. The
    Syndic shut the door, and staggered rather than walked after him to the
    parlour. There the Syndic set down the lamp, and turned to the scholar,
    his face a picture of guilty terror. "What is it?" he muttered. "What
    has happened? Is--the thing put off?"

    The other's aspect answered his question. A black corselet with shoulder
    pieces, and a feathered steel cap raised Basterga's huge stature almost
    to the gigantic. Nor did it need this to render him singular; to draw
    the eye to him a second time and a third. The man himself in this hour
    of his success, this moment of conscious daring, of reliance on his star
    and his strength, towered in the room like a demi-god. "No," he
    answered, with a ponderous, exultant smile, slow to come, slow to go.
    "No, Messer Blondel. Far from it. It has not been put off."

    "Something has been discovered?"

    "No. We are here. That is all."

    The Syndic supported himself by a hand pressed hard against the table
    behind him. "Here?" he gasped. "You are here? You have the town already?
    It is impossible."

    "We have three hundred men in the Corraterie," Basterga answered. "We
    hold the Tertasse Gate, and the Monnaye. The Porte Neuve is cut off, and
    at our mercy; it will be taken when we give the signal. Beyond it four
    thousand men are waiting to enter. We hold Geneva in our grip at
    last--at last!" And in an accent half tragic, half ironic, he
    declaimed:--

    "Venit summa dies et ineluctabile tempus
    Dardaniae! Fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium et ingens
    Gloria Teucrorum! Ferus omnia Jupiter Argos
    Transtulit!"

    And then more lightly, "If you doubt me, how am I here?" he asked. And
    he extended his huge arms in the pride of his strength. "Exercise your
    warrant now--if you can, Messer Syndic. Syndic," he continued in a tone
    of mockery, "where is your warrant now? I have but this moment," he
    pointed to wet stains on his corselet, "slain one of your guards. Do
    justice, Syndic! I have seized one of your gates by force. Avenge it,
    Syndic! Syndic? ha! ha! Here is an end of Syndics."

    The Syndic gasped. He was a hard man, not to say an arrogant one, little
    used to opposition; one who, times and again, had ridden rough-shod over
    the views of his fellows. To be jeered at, after this fashion, to be
    scorned and mocked by this man who in the beginning had talked so
    silkily, moved so humbly, evinced so much respect, played the poor
    scholar so well, was a bitter pill. He asked himself if it was for this
    he had betrayed his city; if it was for this he had sold his friends.
    And then--then he remembered that it was not for this--not for this, but
    for life, dear life, warm life, that he had done this thing. And,
    swallowing the rage that was rising within him, he calmed himself.

    "It is better to cease to be Syndic than cease to live," he said
    coldly.

    But the other had no mind to return to their former relations. "True, O
    sage!" he answered contemptuously. "But why not both? Because--shall I
    tell you?"

    "I hear----"

    "Yes, and I hear too! The city is rising!" Basterga listened a moment.
    "Presently they will ring the alarm-bell, and----"

    "If you stay here some one may find you!"

    "And find me with you?" Basterga rejoined. He knew that he ought to go,
    for his own sake as well as the Syndic's. He knew that nothing was to be
    made and much might be lost by the disclosure that was on his tongue.
    But he was intoxicated with the success which he had gained; with the
    clang of arms, and the glitter of his armed presence. The true spirit of
    the man, as happens in intoxication of another kind, rose to the
    surface, cruel, waggish, insolent--of an insolence long restrained, the
    insolence of the scholar, who always in secret, now in the light, panted
    to repay the slights he had suffered, the patronage of leaders, the
    scoffs of power. "Ay," he continued, "they may find me with you! But if
    you do not mind, I need not. And I was just asking you--why not both?
    Life and power, my friend?"

    "You know," Blondel answered, breathing quickly. How he hated the man!
    How gladly would he have laid him dead at his feet! For if the fool
    stayed here prating, if he were found here by those who within a few
    moments would come with the alarm, he was himself a lost man. All would
    be known.

    That was the fear in Blondel's mind; the alarm was growing louder each
    moment, and drawing nearer. And then in a twinkling, in two or three
    sentences, Basterga put that fear into the second place, and set in its
    seat emotions that brooked no rival.

    "Why not both?" he said, jeering. "Live and be Syndic, both? Because you
    had the scholar's ill, eh, Messer Blondel? Or because your physician
    _said_ you had it--to whom I paid a good price--for the advice?" The
    devil seemed to look out of the man's eyes, as he spoke in short
    sentences, each pointed, each conveying a heart-stab to its hearer.

    "To whom--you gave?" Blondel muttered, his eyes dilated.

    "A good price--for the advice! A good price to tell you, you had it."

    The magistrate's face swelled till it was almost purple, his hands
    gripped the front of his coat, and pressed hard against his breast.
    "But--the pains?" he muttered. "Did you--but no," with a frightful
    grimace, "you lie! you lie!"

    "Did I bribe him--to give you those too?" the other answered, with a
    ruthless laugh. "You have alighted on it, most grave and reverend sage.
    You have alighted on the exact fact, so clever are you! That was
    precisely what I did some months back, after I heard that you, being
    fearful as rich men are, had been to him for some fancied ill. You had
    two medicines? You remember? The one gave, the other soothed your
    trouble. And now that you understand, now that your mind is free from
    care, and you can sleep without fear of the scholar's ill--will you not
    thank me for your cure, Messer Blondel?"

    "Thank you?" the magistrate panted. "Thank you?" He stepped back two
    paces, groping with his hands, as if he sought to support himself by the
    table from which he had advanced.

    "Ay, thank me!"

    "No, but I will pay you!" and with the word Blondel snatched from the
    table a pistol which he had laid within his reach an hour earlier.
    Before the giant, confident in his size, discovered his danger, the
    muzzle was at his breast. It was too late to move then--three paces
    divided the men; but, in his haste to raise the pistol, Blondel had not
    shaken from it the handkerchief under which he had hidden it, and the
    lock fell on a morsel of the stuff. The next moment Basterga's huge hand
    struck aside the useless weapon, and flung Blondel gasping against the
    wall.

    "Fool!" the scholar cried, towering above the baffled, shrinking man
    whose attempt had placed him at his mercy. "Think you that Cæsar
    Basterga was born to perish by your hand? That the gods made me what I
    am, I who carry to-night the fortunes of a nation and the fate of a
    king, that I might fall by so pitiful a creature as you! Ay, 'tis the
    alarm-bell, you are right. And by-and-by your friends will be here. It
    is a wonder," he continued, with a cruel look, "that they are not here
    already; but perhaps they have enough to fill their hands! And come or
    stay--if they be like you, poor fool, weak in body as in wit--I care
    not! I, Cæsar Basterga, this night lord of Geneva, and in the time to
    come, and thanks to you----"

    "Curse you!" Blondel gasped.

    "That which I dare be sworn you have dreamt of being!"--the scholar
    continued with a subtle smile. "The Grand Duke's _alter ego_, Mayor of
    the Palace, Adviser to his Highness! Yes, I hit you there? I touch you
    there! Oh, vanity of little men, I thought so! "He broke off and
    listened, as sharp on one another two gun-shots rang out at no great
    distance from the house. A third followed as he hearkened: and on it a
    swelling wave of sound that rose with each second louder and nearer.
    "Ay, 'tis known now!" Basterga resumed, in a tone more quiet, but not
    less confident. "And I must go, my dear friend--who thought a minute
    ago to speed me for ever. Know that it lies not in hands mean as yours
    to harm Cæsar Basterga of Padua! And that to-night, of all nights, I
    bear a charmed life! I carry, Syndic, a kingdom and its fortunes!"

    He seemed to swell with the thought, and in comparison of the sickly man
    scowling darkly on him from the wall, he did indeed look a king, as he
    turned to the door, flung it wide and passed into the passage. With only
    the street door between him and the hub-bub that was beginning to fill
    the night, he could measure the situation. He had stayed late. The beat
    of many feet hastening one way--towards the Porte Tertasse--the clatter
    of weapons as here and there a man trailed his pike on the stones, the
    roar of rising voices, the rattle of metal as some one hauled a chain
    across the end of the Bourg du Four and hooked it--sounds such as these
    might have alarmed an ordinary man who knew himself cut off from his
    party, and isolated among foes.

    But Basterga did not quail. His belief in his star was genuine; he was
    intoxicated with the success which he fancied lay within his grasp. He
    carried Cæsar and his fortunes! was it in mean men to harm him? Nay, so
    confident was he, that when he had opened the door he stood an instant
    on the threshold viewing the strange scene, and quoted with an
    appreciation as strange--

    "At domus interior gemitu miseroque tumultu
    Miscetur, penitusque cavae plangoribus aedes
    Femineis ululant; ferit aurea sidera clamor"--

    from his favourite poet. After which without hesitation but also without
    hurry he turned and plunged into the stream of passers that was hurrying
    towards the Porte Tertasse.

    He had been right not to quail. In the medley of light and shadow which
    filled the Bourg du Four and the streets about the Town Hall, in the
    confusion, in the rush of all in one direction and with one intent, no
    one paid heed to him, or supposed him to belong to the enemy. Some cried
    "To the Treille! They are there! To the Treille!" And these wheeled that
    way. But more, guided by the sounds of conflict, held on to the point
    where the short, narrow street of the Tertasse turned left-handed out of
    the equally narrow Rue de la Cité--the latter leading onwards to the
    Porte de la Monnaye, and the bridges. Here, at the meeting of the two
    confined lanes, overhung by timbered houses, and old gables of strange
    shapes, a desperate conflict was being fought. The Savoyards, masters of
    the gate, had undertaken to push their way into the town by the Rue
    Tertasse; not doubting that they would be supported by-and-by, upon the
    entrance of their main body through the Porte Neuve. They had proceeded
    no farther, however, than the junction with the Rue de la Cité--a point
    where darkness was made visible by two dim oil lamps--before, the alarm
    being given, they found themselves confronted by a dozen half-clad
    townsfolk, fresh from their beds; of whom five or six were at once laid
    low. The survivors, however, fought with desperation, giving back, foot
    by foot; and as the alarm flew abroad and the city rose, every moment
    brought the defenders a reinforcement--some father just roused from
    sleep, armed with the chance weapon that came to hand, or some youth
    panting for his first fight. The assailants, therefore, found themselves
    stayed; slowly they were driven back into the narrow gullet of the
    Tertasse. Even there they were put to it to hold their ground against an
    ever-increasing swarm of citizens, whom despair and the knowledge that
    they were fighting on their hearths, for their wives, and for their
    children, brought up in renewed strength.

    In the Tertasse, however, where it was not possible to outflank them,
    and no dark side-alley, vomiting now and again a desperate man, gave one
    to death, a score could hold out against a hundred. Here then, with the
    gateway at their backs--whence three or four could fire over their
    heads--the Savoyards stood stubbornly at bay, awaiting the
    reinforcements which they were sure would come from the Porte Neuve.
    They were picked troops not easily discouraged; and they had no fear
    that aught serious had happened. But they asked impatiently why
    D'Albigny with the main body did not come; why Brunaulieu with the
    Monnaye in his hands did not see that the time was opportune. They
    chafed at the delay. Give the city time to array itself, let it recover
    from its first surprise, and all their forces might scarcely avail to
    crush opposition.

    It was at this moment, when the burghers had drawn back a little that
    they might deliver a decisive attack, that Basterga came up. Fabri the
    Syndic had taken the command, and had shouted to all who had windows
    looking on the lane to light them. He had arrayed his men in some sort
    of order and was on the point of giving the word to charge, when he
    heard the steps of Basterga and some others coming up; he waited to
    allow them to join him. The instant they arrived he gave the word, and
    followed by some thirty burghers armed with half-pikes, halberds,
    anything the men had been able to snatch up, he charged the Savoyards
    bravely.

    In the narrow lane but four or five could fight abreast, and the Grand
    Duke's men were clad in steel and well armed. Nevertheless Fabri bore
    back the first line, pressed on them stoutly, and amid a wild _mêlée_ of
    struggling men and waving weapons, began to drive the troop, in spite of
    a fierce resistance, into the gate. If he could do this and enter with
    them, even though he lost half his men, he might save the city.

    But the Savoyards, though they gave back, gave back slowly. Within
    twenty paces of the gate the advance wavered, stopped, hung an instant.
    Of that instant Basterga took advantage. He had moved on undetected,
    with the rearmost burghers: now he saw his opportunity and seized it. He
    flung to either side the man to right and left of him. He struck down,
    almost with the same movement, the man in front. He rushed on Fabri, who
    in the middle of the first line was supporting, though far from young, a
    single combat with one of the Savoyard leaders. On him Basterga's coward
    weapon alighted without warning, and laid him low. To strike down
    another, and turning, range himself in the van of the foreigners with a
    mighty "Savoy! Savoy!" was Basterga's next action; and it sufficed. The
    panic-stricken burghers, apprised of treason in their ranks, gave back
    every way. The Savoyards saw their advantage, rallied, and pressed them.
    Speedily the Italians regained the ground they had lost, and with the
    tall form of their champion fighting in the van, began to sweep the
    towns-folk back into the Rue de la Cité.

    But arrived at the meeting of the ways, Basterga's followers paused,
    hesitating to expose their flank by entering this second street. The
    Genevese saw this, rallied in their turn, and for a moment seemed to be
    holding their own. But three or four of their doughtiest fighters lay
    stark in the kennel, they had no longer a leader, they were poorly armed
    and hastily collected; and devoted as they were, it needed little to
    renew the panic and start them in utter rout. Basterga saw this, and
    when his men still hung back, neglecting the golden opportunity, he
    rushed forward, almost alone, until he stood conspicuous between the two
    bands--the one hesitating to come on, the other hesitating to fly.

    "Savoy!" he thundered, "Ville gagnée! The city is ours! Cowards, come
    on!" And waving his halberd above his head, he beckoned to his followers
    to advance.

    Had they done so, had they charged on the instant, they had changed all
    for him, and perhaps all for Geneva. But they hung a moment, and the
    next, as in shame they drew themselves together for the charge, their
    champion stooped forward with a shrill scream. The next instant he
    received full on his nape a heavy iron pot, that descending with
    tremendous force from a window above him, rolled from him broken into
    three pieces.

    He went down under the blow as if a sledge-hammer had struck him; and so
    sudden, so dramatic was the fall--his armour clanging about him--that
    for an instant the two bands held their hands and stood staring, as
    indifferent crowds stand and gaze in the street. A dozen on the
    patriots' side knew the house from which the _marmite_ fell, and marked
    it; and half as many saw at the small window whence it came the grey
    locks and stern wrinkled face of an aged woman. The effect on the
    burghers was magical. As if the act symbolised not only the loved ones
    for whom they fought, but the dire distress to which they were come,
    they rushed on the foreign men-at-arms with a spirit and a fury hitherto
    unknown. With a ringing shout of "Mère Royaume! Mère Royaume!"--raised
    by those who knew the old woman, and taken up by many who did not--they
    swept the foe, shaken by the fall of their leader, along the narrow
    Tertasse, pressed on them, and, still shouting the new war-cry, entered
    the gateway along with them.

    "Mère Royaume! Mère Royaume!" The name rang savagely in the groining of
    the arch, echoed dully in the obscurity in which the fierce struggle
    went on. And men struck to its rhythm, and men died to it. And men who
    heard it thus and lived never forgot it, nor ever went back in their
    minds to that night without recalling it.

    To one man, flurried already, and a coward at heart, the name carried a
    paralysing assurance of doom. He had seen Basterga fall--by this woman's
    hand of all hands in the world--and he had been the first to flee. But
    in the lane he tripped over Fabri, he fell headlong, and only raised
    himself in time to gain the gateway a few feet in front of the avenging
    pikes. Still, he might escape, he hoped to escape, through the gate and
    into the open Corraterie. But the first to reach the gates had taken in
    hand to shut them, and so to prevent the townsfolk reaching the
    Corraterie. One of the great doors, half-closed, blocked his way, and
    instinctively--ignorant how far behind him the pike-points were--he
    sprang aside into the guard-room.

    His one chance now--for he was cut off, and knew it--lay in reaching the
    staircase and mounting to the roof. A bound carried him to the door, he
    grasped the handle. But a fugitive who had only a second before saved
    himself that way, took him for a pursuer, dragged the door close and
    held it--held it in spite of his efforts and his imprecations.

    Five seconds, ten, perhaps, Grio--for he it was--wasted in struggling
    vainly with the door. The man on the other side clung to it with a
    despair equal to his own. Five seconds, ten, perhaps; but in that space
    of time, short as it was, the man paid smartly for the sins of his life.
    When the time of grace had elapsed, with a pike-point a few inches from
    his back and the gleaming eyes of an avenging burgher behind it, he fled
    shrieking round the table. He might even yet have escaped by a chance;
    for all was confusion, and though there was a glare there was no light.
    But he stumbled over the body of the man whom he had slain without pity
    a few hours before. He fell writhing, and died on the floor, under a
    dozen blows, as beasts die in the shambles.

    "Mère Royaume! Mère Royaume!" The cry--the last cry he heard--swelled
    louder and louder. It swept through the gate, it passed through to the
    open, and bore far along the Corraterie, far along the ramparts, ay, to
    the open country, the earnest of victory, the earnest of vengeance.

    Geneva was saved. He who would have betrayed it, slain like Pyrrhus the
    Epirote by a woman's hand, lay dead in the dark lane behind the house in
    which he had lived.
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