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    Chapter 26

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    Chapter 26
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    THE DAWN.

    Anne was but one of some thousands of women who passed through the trial
    of that night; who heard the vague sounds of disquiet that roused them
    at midnight grow to sharp alarms, and these again--to the dull, pulsing
    music of the tocsin--swell to the uproar of a deadly conflict waged by
    desperate men in narrow streets. She was but one of thousands who that
    night heard fate knocking at their hearts; who praying, sick with fear,
    for the return of their men, showed white faces at barred windows, and
    by every tossing light that passed along the lane viewed long years of
    loneliness or widowhood.

    But Anne had this burden also; that she had of herself sent her man into
    danger; her man, who, but for her pleading, but for her bidding, might
    not have gone. And that thought, though she had done her duty, laid a
    cold grip upon her heart. Her work it was if he lay at this moment stark
    in some dark alley, the first victim of the assault; or, sorely wounded,
    cried for water; or waited in pain where none but the stricken heard
    him. The thought bowed her to the ground, sent her to her prayers, took
    from her alike all memory of the danger that had menaced her this
    morning, and all consciousness of that which now threatened her, a
    helpless woman, if the town were taken.

    The house, having its back on the Rue de la Cité, at the point where
    that street joined the Tertasse, stood in the heart of the conflict; and
    almost from the moment of the first attack on the Porte Neuve, which
    Claude was in time to witness, was a centre of fierce and deadly
    fighting. Anne dared not leave her mother, who, strange to say, slept
    through the early alarms; and it was bowed on the edge of her mother's
    bed--that bed beside which she had tasted so much of happiness and so
    much of grief--that she passed, not knowing what the turning page might
    show, the first hour of anxiety and suspense.

    The report of a shot shook her frame. A scream stabbed her like a knife.
    Lower and lower she thrust her face amid the bed-clothes, striving to
    shut out sound and knowledge; or, woman-like, she raised her pale,
    beseeching face that she might listen, that she might hope. If he fell
    would they tell her? And how he fell, and where? Or would they hold her
    strange to him? Would she never hear?

    Suddenly her mother opened her eyes, lay a while listening, then slowly
    sat up and looked at her. Anne saw the awakening alarm in the dear face,
    that in some mysterious way recalled its youth; and she fancied that to
    her other troubles, the misery of one of the old paroxysms was going to
    be added. At such an hour, with such sounds of terror filling the night,
    with such a glare dancing on the ceiling the first attack had come on,
    years before. Then the alarm had been fictitious; to-night the calamity
    which the poor woman had imagined, was happening with every circumstance
    of peril and alarm.

    But Madame Royaume's face, though anxious and serious, retained to an
    astonishing extent its sanity. Whether the strange dream which she had
    had earlier in the night had prepared her for the state of things to
    which she awoke, or the weeks and months which had elapsed since that
    old alarm of fire dropped in some inexplicable way from her--and as one
    shock had upset, another restored the balance of her mind--certain it is
    that Anne, watching her with a painful interest, found her sane. Nor did
    Madame Royaume's first words dispel the impression.

    "They hold out?" she asked, grasping her daughter's hand and pressing
    it. "They hold out?"

    "Yes, yes, they hold out," Anne answered, hoping to soothe her. And she
    patted the hand that clasped hers. "Have no fear, dear, all will go
    well."

    "If they have faith and hold out," the aged woman replied, listening to
    the strange medley of sounds that rose to them.

    "They will, they will," Anne faltered.

    "But there is need of every one!"

    "They are gone, dear," the girl answered, repressing a sob with
    difficulty. "We are alone in the house."

    "So it should be," Madame Royaume replied, with sternness. "The man to
    the wall, the maid to the pall! It was ever so!"

    A low cry burst from Anne's lips. "God forbid!" she wailed. "God forbid!
    God have mercy!"

    The next moment she could have bitten out her tongue; she knew that such
    words and such a cry were of all others the most likely to excite her
    patient. But after some obscure fashion their positions seemed this
    night to be reversed. It was the mother who in her turn patted her
    daughter's hand and sought to soothe her.

    "Ay, God forbid," she said softly. "But man must do his part. I mind
    when----" She paused. Her eyes travelling round the room, fixed their
    gaze on the fireplace. She seemed to be perplexed by something she saw
    there, and Anne, still fearing a recurrence of her illness, asked her
    hurriedly what it was. "What is it; mother?" she said, leaning over her,
    and following the direction of her eyes. "Is it the great pot you are
    looking at?"

    "Ay," Madame Royaume answered slowly. "How comes it here?"

    "There was no one below," Anne explained. "I brought it up this morning.
    Don't you remember? There is no fire below."

    "No?"

    "That is all, mother. You saw me bring it up."

    "Ay?" And then after a pause: "Let it down a hook."

    "But----"

    "Let it down, child!" And when Anne, to soothe her, had obeyed and let
    the great pot down until the fire licked its sides, "Is it full?" Madame
    asked.

    "Half-full, mother."

    "It will do." And for a time the woman in the bed was silent.

    Outside there was noise enough. The windows in the room looked into the
    Corraterie, from which side no more than passing sounds of conflict rose
    to them; the pounding of running feet, sharp orders, a shot, and then
    another. But the landing without the bedroom door looked down by a
    high-set window into the narrow Tertasse; and from this, though the door
    was shut, rose an inferno of noise, the clash of steel, the cries of the
    wounded, the shouts of the fighters. The townsfolk, rallying from their
    first alarm, were driving the enemy out of the Rue de la Cité, penning
    him into the Tertasse, and preparing to carry that street.

    On a sudden there came, not a cessation of the uproar, but a change in
    its character. It was as if the current of a river were momentarily
    stayed and pent up; and then with a mighty crashing of timbers and
    shifting of pebbles, and a din as of the world's end, began to run the
    other way. Anne's face turned a shade paler; so appalling was the noise,
    she would fain have stopped her ears. But her mother sat up.

    "What is it?" she asked eagerly. "What is it?"

    "Dear mother, do not fret! It must be----"

    "Go and see, child! Go to the window in the passage, and see!" Madame
    Royaume persisted.

    Anne had no wish to go, no wish to see. She pictured her lover in the
    _mêlée_ whence rose those appalling cries; and gladly would she have
    hidden her head in the bedclothes and poured out her heart in prayer for
    him. But Madame persisted, and she yielded, went into the passage and
    opened the small window. With the cold air entered a fresh volume of
    sound. On the walls and timbered gables opposite her--and so near that
    she could well-nigh touch them with her extended arm--strange lights
    played luridly; and here and there, at dormers on a level with her, pale
    faces showed and vanished by turns.

    She looked down. For a moment, in the confusion, in the medley of moving
    forms, she could discern little or nothing. Then, as her eyes became
    more accustomed to the sight, she made out that the tide of conflict was
    running inward into the town, a sign that the invaders were gaining the
    mastery.

    "Well?" Madame Royaume asked, her voice querulous.

    Anne strove to say something that would soothe her mother. But a sob
    choked her, and when she regained her speech she felt herself impelled,
    she knew not why, to tell the truth. "I fear our people are falling
    back," she murmured, trembling so violently that she could barely stand.

    "How far? Where are they, child?" Her mother's voice was eager. "Where
    are they?"

    "They are almost under the window!" And then withdrawing her head with a
    shudder, while she clung for support to the frame of the window: "They
    are fighting underneath me now," she said. "God pity them!"

    "And who is--are we still getting the worst of it?"

    Forced by a kind of fascination, Anne looked out again. "Yes, there is
    one man, a big man, leads them on," she said, in the voice of one who,
    painfully absorbed in a sight, reports it involuntarily. "He is driving
    our people before him. Ah! he has struck one down this moment. He is
    almost underneath us now. But his people will not follow him! They are
    standing. He--he waves them on!"

    "He is beneath us?" Madame's voice sounded strangely near, strangely
    insistent. But Anne, wrapt in what she saw, did not heed it.

    "Yes! He is a dozen paces in front of his men. He is underneath us now.
    He urges them to follow him! He towers above them! He is----"

    She broke off; close to her sounded a heavy breathing, that even above
    the babel of the street caught her ear. She drew in her head, looked,
    and, overwrought by that which she had been witnessing, she shrieked
    aloud.

    Beside her, bending under the weight of the great steaming pot, stood
    her mother! Her mother, who had scarcely left her bedroom twice in a
    twelvemonth, nor crossed it as many times in a week. But it was her
    mother; endowed at this pass, and for the instant, with supernatural
    strength. For even as Anne recoiled thunderstruck, the old woman lifted
    the huge _marmite_, half-full and steaming as it was, to the ledge of
    the window, steadied it there an instant, and then, with the gleaming
    eyes and set pale face of an avenging prophetess, thrust it forth.

    A second they gazed at one another with suspended breath. Then from the
    street below rose a wild shriek, a crash, and lo, the huge pot lay
    shattered in the kennel beside the man whom, Heaven directed, it had
    slain. As if the shock of its fall stayed for an instant even the
    movement of the world, a silence fell on all: then, as the roar of
    conflict rose again, louder, more vengeful, with a new note in it, she
    caught her mother in her arms.

    "Mother! Mother!" she cried. "Mother!"

    The elder woman was white to the lips. "Get me to bed!" she muttered.
    "Get me to bed!" She had lost the power even to stand. That she had ever
    borne, even for a yard, the great pot which it taxed Anne's utmost
    strength to carry upstairs was a miracle. But a miracle were all the
    circumstances connected with the act.

    Anne carried her back and laid her on the bed, greatly fearing for her.
    And thenceforth for a while the girl's horizon, so wide and stormy an
    instant before, was narrowed to the bed beside which she stood, narrowed
    to the dear face on which the lamplight fell, disclosing its death-like
    pallor. For the time Anne forgot even her lover, was deaf to the
    struggle outside, was unmindful of the flight of the hours. For her,
    Geneva might have lain at peace, the night been as other nights, the
    house below been heavy with the breathing of tired sleepers. She looked
    neither to the right nor the left, until under her loving hands Madame
    Royaume revived, opened her eyes and smiled--the smile she had for one
    face only in the world.

    By that time Anne had lost count of the time. It might be hard on
    morning, it might be a little after midnight. One thing only was clear,
    the lamp required oil, and to get it she must descend to the ground
    floor. She opened the door and listened, wondering dully how the
    conflict had gone. She had lost count of that also.

    The small window at the head of the stairs remained open as they had
    left it; and through it a ceaseless hum, as of a hive of bees swarming,
    poured in from the night, and told of multitudes astir. The alarm-bell
    had ceased to ring, the wilder sounds of conflict had died down; in the
    parts about the Tertasse the combat appeared to be at an end. But this
    might be either because resistance had ceased, or because the battle had
    rolled away to other quarters, or--which she scarcely dared to
    hope--because the foe had been driven out.

    As she stood listening, she shivered in the cold air that came from the
    window. She felt as if she had been beaten, and knew that this came of
    the shocks she had suffered and the long strain. She feared for her
    nerves, and hated to go down into the dark parts of the house as if some
    danger lurked there. She longed for morning, for the light; and thought
    of Claude and his fate, and wondered why the thought of his danger did
    not move her to weeping, as it had moved her a few hours earlier.

    In truth she was worn out. The effort to revive her mother had cost her
    the last remains of strength. Her feet as she descended the stairs were
    of lead, the brazen notes of the alarm-bell hummed in her ears. When she
    reached the living-room she set the lamp on one of the tables and sat
    down wearily, with her eyes on the cold, empty hearth and on the settle
    where she had sat with his arms about her. And now, if ever, she must
    weep; but she could not.

    The lamp burned low, and cast smoky shadows on the ceiling and the
    walls. The shuttered windows showed their dead faces. The cheerful soul
    of the room had passed from it with the fire, leaving the shell gloomy,
    lifeless, repellent. Anne drowsed a moment in sheer exhaustion, and
    would have slept, if the lamp on the point of expiring had not emitted
    a sound and roused her. She rose reluctantly, dragged herself to the
    great cupboard under the stairs, and, having lighted a rushlight at the
    dying flame, put out the lamp and refilled it.

    She was about to re-light it, and had taken the rushlight in her hand
    for the purpose, when she heard through the shuttered windows and the
    barred door a growing clamour; the tramp of heavy feet, the hum of many
    voices, the buzz of a crowd that, almost as soon as she awoke to its
    near presence, came to a stand before the house. The tumult of voices
    raised all at once in different keys did not entirely drown the clash of
    arms; and while she stood, sullenly regarding the door, and resigned to
    the inevitable, whatever it might be, thin shafts of light pierced the
    shutters and stabbed the gloom about her.

    With that a hail-storm of knocks fell on the door and on the shutters. A
    dozen voices cried, "Open! Open!" The jangle of a halberd as its bearer
    let the butt drop heavily on the stone steps added force to the summons.

    Anne's first impulse was to retreat upstairs, and leave them to do their
    worst. Her next--she was in a state of collapse in which resistance
    seemed useless--was to open. She moved to the door, and with cold hands
    removed the huge bars and let down the chain. It was only when she had
    done so much, when it remained only to unlock, that she wavered; that
    she trembled to think on what the crowd might be bent, and what might be
    her fate at their hands. She paused then, with her fingers on the key;
    but not for long. She remembered that, before she descended, she had
    heard neither shot nor cry. Resistance therefore had ceased, and that of
    a single house, held by two helpless women, could avail nothing, could
    but excite to fury and reprisals.

    She turned the key and opened. The lights dazzled her. The doorway, as
    she stood faltering, almost fainting, before it, seemed to be full of
    grotesque dancing faces, some swathed in bandages, others
    powder-blackened, some hot with excitement, others pallid with fatigue.
    They were such faces, piled one above the other, as are seen in bad
    dreams.

    On the intruders' side, those who pressed in first saw a girl strangely
    quiet, who held the door wide for them. "My mother is ill," she said in
    a voice that strove for composure; if they were the enemy, her only
    hope, her only safety, lay in courage. "And she is old," she continued.
    "Do not harm her."

    "We come to do harm neither to you nor to her," a voice replied. And the
    foremost of the troop, a thick dwarfish man with a huge two-handed
    sword, stood aside. "Messer Baudichon," he said to one behind him, "this
    is the daughter."

    She knew the fat, sturdy councillor--who in Geneva did not?--and through
    her stupor she recognised him, although a great bandage swathed half his
    head, and he was pale. And, beginning to have an inkling that things
    were well, she began also to tremble. By his side stood Messer
    Petitot--she knew him, too, he had been Syndic the year before--and a
    man in hacked and blood-stained armour with his arm in a sling and his
    face black with powder. These three, and behind them a dozen others--men
    whom she had seen on high days robed in velvet, but who now wore, one
    and all, the ugly marks of that night's work--looked on her with a
    strange benevolence. And Baudichon took her hand.

    "We do not come to harm you," he said. "On the contrary we come to thank
    you and yours. In the name of the city of Geneva, and of all those here
    with me----"

    "Ay! Ay!" shouted Jehan Brosse, the tailor. And he rang his sword on the
    doorstep. "Ay! Ay!"

    "We come to thank you for the blow struck this night from this house!
    That it rid us of one of our worst foes was a small thing, girl. But
    that it put heart into our burghers and strength into their arms at a
    critical moment was another and a greater thing. Which shall not, if
    Geneva stand--as stand by God's pleasure she shall, the stronger for
    this night's work--be forgotten! The name of Mère Royaume will at the
    next meeting of the Greater Council be inscribed among the names of
    those whom the Free City thanks for their services this night!"

    A murmur of stern approval that began with those in the house rolled
    through the doorway and was echoed by the waiting throng that filled the
    street.

    She was weeping. All it meant, all it might mean, what warranty of
    powerful friends, what fame beyond the reach of dark stories, or a
    woman's spite, she could not yet understand, she could not yet
    appreciate. But something, the city's safety, the city's gratitude, the
    countenance of these men who came to her door blood-stained, dark with
    smoke, reeling with fatigue--came that they might thank her mother and
    do her honour--something of this she did grasp as she wept before them.

    She had but one thing to ask, to desire; and in a moment it was given
    her.

    "Nor is that all!" The voice that broke in was harsher and blunter than
    Baudichon's. "If it be true, as I am told, that a young man of the name
    of Mercier lives here? He does, does he? Ay, he lives, my girl. He is
    safe, have no fear. For the matter of that he has nine lives,
    and"--Captain Blandano continued with an oath--"he has had need of all
    this night, God forgive me for the word! But, as I said, that is not
    all. For if there is any one man who has saved Geneva, it is he, the man
    who let down the portcullis. And if the city does not dower you, my
    girl----"

    "The city shall dower her!" The speaker's voice came from somewhere in
    the neighbourhood of the doorway, and was something tremulous and
    uncertain. But what it lacked in strength it made up in haste and
    eagerness. "The city shall dower her! If not, I will!"

    "Good, Messer Blondel, and spoken like you!" Blandano answered heartily.
    And though one or two of the foremost, on hearing Blondel's voice,
    looked askance at one another, and here and there a whisper passed of
    "The Syndic of the guard? How came----" the majority drowned such
    murmurings under a chorus of applause.

    "We are of one mind, I think!" Baudichon said. And with that he turned
    to the door. "Now, good friends," he continued, "it wants but little of
    daylight, and some of us were best in our beds. Let us go. That we lie
    down in peace and honour"--he went on, solemnly raising his hand over
    the happy weeping girl beside him, as if he blessed her--"that our wives
    and children lie safe within our walls is due, under God, to this roof.
    And I call all here to witness that while I live the city of Geneva
    shall never forget the debt that is due to this house and to the name of
    Royaume!"

    "Ay, ay!" cried the bandy-legged tailor. "I too! The small with the
    great, the rich with the poor, as we have fought this night!"

    "Ay! Ay!"

    Some shook her by the hand, and some called Heaven to bless her, and
    some with tears running down their faces--for no man there was his
    common everyday self--did naught but look on her with kindness. And so,
    each having done after his fashion, they trooped out again into the
    street. A moment later, as the winter sun began to colour the distant
    snows, and the second Sunday in December of the year 1602 broke on
    Geneva, the voices of the multitude rose in the one hundred and
    twenty-fourth psalm; to the solemn thunder of which, poured from
    thankful hearts, the assembly accompanied Baudichon to his home a little
    farther down the Corraterie.

    Anne was about to close the door and secure it after them--with feelings
    how different from those with which she had opened that door!--when it
    resisted her shaking hands. She did not on the instant understand the
    reason or what was the matter. She pushed more strongly, still it came
    back on her, it opened widely and more widely. And then one who had
    heard all, yet had not shown himself, one who had entered with
    Baudichon's company, but had held himself hidden in the background,
    pushed in, uninvited.

    Uninvited? The rushlight still burned low and smokily, and she had not
    relighted the lamp. The corners were dark with shadows, the hearth was
    cold and empty and ugly, the shutters still blinded the windows. But the
    coming of this uninvited one--love comes ever unexpected and
    uninvited--how strangely, how marvellously, how beautifully did it
    change all for her, light all, fill all.

    As she felt his arms about her, as she clung to him, and sobbed on his
    shoulder, as she strove for words and could not utter them for the
    happiness of her heart, as she felt his kisses rain on her face in joy
    and safety, who had not left her in sorrow, no, nor in the shadow of
    death, nor for any fears of what man could do to him--let it be said
    that her reward was as her trial.

    Madame Royaume lived four years after that famous attack on the Free
    City of Geneva which is called the Escalade; and during that time she
    experienced no return of the mysterious malady that came with one shock,
    and passed from her with another. Nor, so far as can be ascertained at
    the distant time at which I write, did the suspicions which the night of
    the Escalade found in the bud survive it. Probably the Corraterie and
    the neighbouring quarter, ay, and the whole city of Geneva, had for many
    a week to come matter for gossip and to spare. It is certain, at any
    rate, that whatever whispers were current in this house or that, no
    tongue wagged openly against the favourites of the council, who were
    also the favourites of the crowd. For Mère Royaume's act hit
    marvellously the public fancy, and, passing from mouth to mouth, and
    from generation to generation, is still the first, the best loved, and
    the most picturesque of the legends of Geneva.

    And Messer Blondel? Did he evade the penalty of his act? Ask any man in
    the streets of Geneva, even to-day, and he will tell you the fate of
    Philibert Blondel, Fourth Syndic. He will tell you how the magistrate
    triumphed for a time, as he had triumphed in the council before, how he
    closed the mouths of his accusers, how not once, but twice and thrice,
    by the sheer force and skill of a man working in a medium which he
    understood, he won his acquittal from his compeers. But though
    punishment be slow to overtake, it does overtake at last; nor has the
    world witnessed many instances more pertinent or more famous than that
    of Messer Blondel. Strive as he might, tongues would wag within the
    council, and without. Silence as he might Baudichon and Petitot, smaller
    men would talk; and their talk persisted and grew, and was vigorous when
    months and even years had passed. What the great did not know the small
    knew or guessed, and fixed greedy eyes on the head of the man who had
    dared to sell Geneva. The end came four years after the Escalade. To
    conceal the old negotiation he committed a further crime, and being
    betrayed by the tool he employed was seized and convicted. On the 1st
    September, 1606, he lost his head on a scaffold erected before his own
    house in the Bourg du Four.

    The Merciers had at least one son--probably he was the eldest, for he
    bore his father's name--who lived into middle life, and proved himself
    their worthy descendant. For precisely fifty years after the date of
    these events a poor woman of the name of Michée Chauderon was put to
    death in Geneva, on a charge of sorcery; and among those--and they were
    not few--who strove most manfully and most obstinately to save her, we
    find the name of a physician of great note in the Canton at that
    time--one Claude Mercier. He did not prevail, though he struggled
    bravely; the long night of superstition, though nearing its close, still
    reigned; that woman suffered. But he carried it so far and so boldly
    that from that day to this--and the city may be proud of the fact--no
    person has suffered death in Geneva on that dreadful charge.

    THE END.
    Chapter 26
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