The Long Night by Stanley J Weyman
A STUDENT OF THEOLOGY.

They were about to shut the Porte St. Gervais, the north gate of Geneva.
The sergeant of the gate had given his men the word to close; but at the
last moment, shading his eyes from the low light of the sun, he happened
to look along the dusty road which led to the Pays de Gex, and he bade
the men wait. Afar off a traveller could be seen hurrying two donkeys
towards the gate, with now a blow on this side, and now on that, and now
a shrill cry. The sergeant knew him for Jehan Brosse, the bandy-legged
tailor of the passage off the Corraterie, a sound burgher and a good man
whom it were a shame to exclude. Jehan had gone out that morning to
fetch his grapes from Möens; and the sergeant had pity on him.

He waited, therefore; and presently he was sorry that he had waited.
Behind Jehan, a long way behind him, appeared a second wayfarer; a young
man covered with dust who approached rapidly on long legs, a bundle
jumping and bumping at his shoulders as he ran. The favour of the gate
was not for such as he--a stranger; and the sergeant anxious to bar, yet
unwilling to shut out Jehan, watched his progress with disgust. As he
feared, too, it turned out. Young legs caught up old ones: the stranger
overtook Jehan, overtook the donkeys. A moment, and he passed under the
arch abreast of them, a broad smile of acknowledgment on his heated
face. He appeared to think that the gate had been kept open out of
kindness to him.

And to be grateful. The war with Savoy--Italian Savoy which, like an
octopus, wreathed clutching arms about the free city of Geneva--had come
to an end some months before. But a State so small that the frontier of
its inveterate enemy lies but two short leagues from its gates, has need
of watch and ward, and curfews and the like, so that he was fortunate
who found the gates of Geneva open after sunset in that year, 1602; and
the stranger seemed to know this.

As the great doors clanged together and two of the watch wound up the
creaking drawbridge, he turned to the sergeant, the smile still on his
face. "I feared that you would shut me out!" he panted, still holding
his sides. "I would not have given much for my chance of a bed a minute
ago."

The sergeant answered only by a grunt.

"If this good fellow had not been in front----"

This time the sergeant cut him short with an imperious gesture, and the
young man seeing that the guard also had fallen stiffly into rank,
turned to the tailor. He was overflowing with good nature: he must speak
to some one. "If you had not been in front," he began, "I----"

But the tailor also cut him short--frowning and laying his finger to his
lip and pointing mysteriously to the ground. The stranger stooped to
look more closely, but saw nothing: and it was only when the others
dropped on their knees that he understood the hint and hastened to
follow the example. The soldiers bent their heads while the sergeant
recited a prayer for the safety of the city. He did this reverently,
while the evening light--which fell grey between walls and sobered those
who had that moment left the open sky and the open country--cast its
solemn mantle about the party.

Such was the pious usage observed in that age at the opening and the
closing of the gates of Geneva: nor had it yet sunk to a form. The
nearness of the frontier and the shadow of those clutching arms, ever
extended to smother the free State, gave a reality to the faith of those
who opened and shut, and with arms in their hands looked back on ten
years of constant warfare. Many a night during those ten years had
Geneva gazed from her watch-towers on burning farms and smouldering
homesteads; many a day seen the smoke of Chablais hamlets float a dark
trail across her lake. What wonder if, when none knew what a night might
bring forth, and the fury of Antwerp was still a new tale in men's ears,
the Genevese held Providence higher and His workings more near than men
are prone to hold them in happier times?

Whether the stranger's reverent bearing during the prayer gained the
sergeant's favour, or the sword tied to his bundle and the bulging
corners of squat books which stuffed out the cloak gave a new notion of
his condition, it is certain that the officer eyed him more kindly when
all rose from their knees. "You can pass in now, young sir," he said
nodding. "But another time remember, if you please, the earlier here the
warmer welcome!"

"I will bear it in mind," the young traveller answered, smiling.
"Perhaps you can tell me where I can get a night's lodging?"

"You come to study, perhaps?" The sergeant puffed himself out as he
spoke, for the fame of Geneva's college and its great professor,
Theodore Beza, was a source of glory to all within the city walls.
Learning, too, was a thing in high repute in that day. The learned
tongues still lived and were passports opening all countries to
scholars. The names of Erasmus and Scaliger were still in the mouths of
men.

"Yes," the youth answered, "and I have the name of a lodging in which I
hope to place myself. But for to-night it is late, and an inn were more
convenient."

"Go then to the 'Bible and Hand,'" the sergeant answered. "It is a
decent house, as are all in Geneva. If you think to find here a
roistering, drinking, swearing tavern, such as you'd find in Dijon----"

"I come to study, not to drink," the young man answered eagerly.

"Well, the 'Bible and Hand,' then! It will answer your purpose well.
Cross the bridge and go straight on. It is in the Bourg du Four."

The youth thanked him with a pleased air, and turning his back on the
gate proceeded briskly towards the heart of the city. Though it was not
Sunday the inhabitants were pouring out from the evening preaching as
plentifully as if it had been the first day of the week; and as he
scanned their grave and thoughtful faces--faces not seldom touched with
sternness or the scars of war--as he passed between the gabled
steep-roofed houses and marked their order and cleanliness, as he saw
above him and above them the two great towers of the cathedral, he felt
a youthful fervour and an enthusiasm not to be comprehended in our age.

To many of us the name and memory of Geneva stand for anything but
freedom. But to the Huguenot of that generation and day, the name of
Geneva stood for freedom; for a fighting aggressive freedom, a full
freedom in the State, a sober measured freedom in the Church. The city
was the outpost, southwards, of the Reformed religion and the Reformed
learning; it sowed its ministers over half Europe, and where they went,
they spread abroad not only its doctrines but its praise and its honour.
If, even to the men of that day there appeared at times a something too
stiff in its attitude, a something too near the Papal in its decrees,
they knew with what foes and against what odds it fought, and how little
consistent with the ferocity of that struggle were the compromises of
life or the courtesies of the lists.

At any rate, in some such colours as these, framed in such a halo,
Claude Mercier saw the Free City as he walked its narrow streets that
evening, seeking the "Bible and Hand". In some such colours had his
father, bred under Calvin to the ministry, depicted it: and the young
man, half French, half Vaudois, sought nothing better, set nothing
higher, than to form a part of its life, and eventually to contribute to
its fame. Good intentions and honest hopes tumbled over one another in
his brain as he walked. The ardour of a new life, to be begun this day,
possessed him. He saw all things through the pure atmosphere of his own
happy nature: and if it remained to him to discover how Geneva would
stand the test of a closer intimacy, at this moment, the youth took the
city to his heart with no jot of misgiving. To follow in the steps of
Theodore Beza, a Frenchman like himself and gently bred, to devote
himself, in these surroundings to the Bible and the Sword, and find in
them salvation for himself and help for others--this seemed an end
simple and sufficing: the end too, which all men in Geneva appeared to
him to be pursuing that summer evening.

By-and-by a grave citizen, a psalm-book in his hand, directed him to the
inn in the Bourg du Four; a tall house turning the carved ends of two
steep gables to the street. On either side of the porch a long low
casement suggested the comfort that was to be found within; nor was the
pledge unfulfilled. In a trice the student found himself seated at a
shining table before a simple meal and a flagon of cool white wine with
a sprig of green floating on the surface. His companions were two
merchants of Lyons, a vintner of Dijon, and a taciturn, soberly clad
professor. The four elders talked gravely of the late war, of the
prevalence of drunkenness in Zurich, of a sad case of witchcraft at
Basle, and of the state of trade in Lausanne and the Pays de Vaud; while
the student, listening with respect, contrasted the quietude of this
house, looking on the grey evening street, with the bustle and chatter
and buffoonery of the inns at which he had lain on his way from
Chatillon. He was in a mood to appraise at the highest all about him,
from the demure maid who served them to the cloaked burghers who from
time to time passed the window wrapped in meditation. From a house hard
by the sound of the evening psalms came to his ears. There are moods and
places in which to be good seems of the easiest; to err, a thing
well-nigh impossible.

The professor was the first to rise and retire; on which the two
merchants drew up their seats to the table with an air of relief. The
vintner looked after the retreating figure. "Of Lausanne, I should
judge?" he said, with a jerk of the elbow.

"Probably," one of the others answered.

"Is he not of Geneva, then?" our student asked. He had listened with
interest to the professor's talk and between whiles had wondered if it
would be his lot to sit under him.

"No, or he would not be here!" one of the merchants replied, shrugging
his shoulders.

"Why not, sir?"

"Why not?" The merchant fixed the questioner with eyes of surprise.
"Don't you know, young man, that those who live in Geneva may not
frequent Geneva taverns?"

"Indeed?" Mercier answered, somewhat startled. "Is that so?"

"It is very much so," the other returned with something of a sneer.

"And they do not!" quoth the vintner with a faint smile.

"Well, professors do not!" the merchant answered with a grimace. "I say
nothing of others. Let the Venerable Company of Pastors see to it. It is
their business."

At this point the host brought in lights. After closing the shutters he
was in the act of retiring when a door near at hand--on the farther side
of the passage if the sound could be trusted--flew open with a clatter.
Its opening let out a burst of laughter, nor was that the worst: alas,
above the laughter rang an oath--the ribald word of some one who had
caught his foot in the step.

The landlord uttered an exclamation and went out hurriedly, closing the
door behind him. A moment and his voice could be heard, scolding and
persuading in the passage.

"Umph!" the vintner muttered, looking from one to the other with a
humorous eye. "It seems to me that the Venerable Company of Pastors have
not yet expelled the old Adam."

Open flew the door and cut short the word. But it had been heard,
"Pastors?" a raucous voice cried. "Passers and Flinchers is what I call
them!" And a stout heavy man, whose small pointed grey beard did but
emphasise the coarse virility of the face above it, appeared on the
threshold, glaring at the four. "Pastors?" he repeated defiantly.
"Passers and Flinchers, I say!"

"In Heaven's name, Messer Grio!" the landlord protested, hovering at his
shoulder, "these are strangers----"

"Strangers? Ay, and flinchers, they too!" the intruder retorted,
heedless of the remonstrance. And he lurched into the room, a bulky,
reeling figure in stained green and tarnished lace. "Four flinchers! But
I'll make them drink a cup with me or I'll prick their hides! Do you
think we shed blood for you and are to be stinted of our liquor!"

"Messer Grio! Messer Grio!" the landlord cried, wringing his hands. "You
will be my ruin!"

"No fear!"

"But I do fear!" the host retorted sharply, going so far as to lay a
hand on his shoulder. "I do fear." Behind the man in green his
boon-fellows, flushed with drink, had gathered, and were staring half
curious, half in alarm into the room. The landlord turned and appealed
to them. "For Heaven's sake get him away quietly!" he muttered. "I shall
lose my living if this be known. And you will suffer too! Gentlemen," he
turned to the party at the table, "this is a quiet house, a quiet house
in general, but----"

"Tut-tut!" said the vintner good-naturedly. "We'll drink a cup with the
gentleman if he wishes it!"

"You'll drink or be pricked!" quoth Messer Grio; he was one of those who
grow offensive in their cups. And while his friends laughed, he swished
out a sword of huge length, and flourished it. "Ça! Ça! Now let me see
any man refuse his liquor!"

The landlord groaned, but thinking apparently that soonest broken was
soonest mended, he vanished, to return in a marvellously short space of
time with four tall glasses and a flask of Neuchatel. "'Tis good wine,"
he muttered anxiously. "Good wine, gentlemen, I warrant you. And Messer
Grio here has served the State, so that some little indulgence----"

"What art muttering?" cried the bully, who spoke French with an accent
new and strange in the student's ears. "Let be! Let be, I say! Let them
drink, or be pricked!"

The merchants and the vintner took their glasses without demur: and,
perhaps, though they shrugged their shoulders, were as willing as they
looked. The young man hesitated, took with a curling lip the glass which
was presented to him, and then, a blush rising to his eyes, pushed it
from him.

"'Tis good wine," the landlord repeated. "And no charge. Drink, young
sir, and----"

"I drink not on compulsion!" the student answered.

Messer Grio stared. "What?" he roared. "You----"

"I drink not on compulsion," the young man repeated, and this time he
spoke clearly and firmly. "Had the gentleman asked me courteously to
drink with him, that were another matter. But----"

"Sho!" the vintner muttered, nudging him in pure kindness. "Drink, man,
and a fico for his courtesy so the wine be old! When the drink is in,
the sense is out, and," lowering his voice, "he'll let you blood to a
certainty, if you will not humour him."

But the grinning faces in the doorway hardened the student in his
resolution. "I drink not on compulsion," he repeated stubbornly. And he
rose from his seat.

"You drink not?" Grio exclaimed. "You drink not? Then by the living----"

"For Heaven's sake!" the landlord cried, and threw himself between them.
"Messer Grio! Gentlemen!"

But the bully, drunk and wilful, twitched him aside. "Under compulsion,
eh!" he sneered. "You drink not under compulsion, don't you, my lad? Let
me tell you," he continued with ferocity, "you will drink when I please,
and where I please, and as often as I please, and as much as I please,
you meal-worm! You half-weaned puppy! Take that glass, d'you hear, and
say after me, Devil take----"

"Messer Grio!" cried the horrified landlord.

"Devil take"--for a moment a hiccough gave him pause--"all flinchers!
Take the glass, young man. That is well! I see you will come to it! Now
say after me, Devil take----"

"That!" the student retorted, and flung the wine in the bully's face.

The landlord shrieked; the other guests rose hurriedly from their seats,
and got aside. Fortunately the wine blinded the man for a moment, and he
recoiled, spitting curses and darting his sword hither and thither in
impotent rage. By the time he had cleared his eyes the youth had got to
his bundle, and, freeing his blade, placed himself in a posture of
defence. His face was pale, but with the pallor of excitement rather
than of fear; and the firm set of his mouth and the smouldering fire in
his eyes as he confronted the drunken bravo, no less than the manner in
which he handled his weapon, showed him as ready to pursue as he had
been hardy to undertake the quarrel.

He gave proof of forethought, too. "Witness all, he drew first!" he
cried; and his glance quitting Grio for the briefest instant sought to
meet the merchants' eyes. "I am on my defence. I call all here to
witness that he has thrust this quarrel upon me!"

The landlord wrung his hands. "Oh dear! oh dear!" he cried. "In Heaven's
name, gentlemen, put up! put up! Stop them! Will no one stop them!" And
in despair, seeing no one move to arrest them, he made as if he would
stand between them.

But the bully flourished his blade about his ears, and with a cry the
goodman saved himself "Out, skinker!" Grio cried grimly. "And you, say
your prayers, puppy. Before you are five minutes older I will spit you
like a partridge though I cross the frontier for it. You have basted me
with wine! I will baste you after another fashion! On guard! On guard,
and----"

"_What is this?_"

The voice stayed Grio's tongue and checked his foot in the very instant
of assault. The student, watching his blade and awaiting the attack, was
surprised to see his point waver and drop. Was it a trick, he wondered?
A stratagem? No, for a silence fell on the room, while those who held
the floor hastened to efface themselves against the wall, as if they at
any rate had nothing to do with the fracas. And next moment Grio
shrugged his shoulders, and with a half-stifled curse stood back.

"What is this?"

The same question in the same tone. This time the student saw whose
voice it was had stayed Grio's arm. Within the door a pace in front of
two or three attendants, who had displaced the roisterers on the
threshold, appeared a spare dry-looking man of middle height, wearing
his hat, and displaying a gold chain of office across the breast of his
black velvet cloak. In age about sixty, he had nothing that at a first
glance seemed to call for a second: his small pinched features, and the
downward curl of the lip, which his moustache and clipped beard failed
to hide, indicated a nature peevish and severe rather than powerful. On
nearer observation the restless eyes, keen and piercing, asserted
themselves and redeemed the face from insignificance. When, as on this
occasion, their glances were supported by the terrors of the State, it
was not difficult to understand why Messer Blondel, the Syndic, though
no great man to look upon, had both weight with the masses, and a hold
not to be denied over his colleagues in the Council.

No one took on himself to answer the question he had put, and in a voice
thin and querulous, but with a lurking venom in its tone, "What is
this?" the great man repeated, looking from one to another. "Are we in
Geneva, or in Venice? Under the skirts of the scarlet woman, or where
the magistrates bear not the sword in vain? Good Mr. Landlord, are
these your professions? Your bailmen should sleep ill to-night, for they
are likely to answer roundly for this! And whom have we sparking it
here? Brawling and swearing and turning into a profligate's tavern a
place that should be for the sober entertainment of travellers? Whom
have we here--eh! Let me see them! Ah!"

He paused rather suddenly, as his eyes met Grio's: and a little of his
dignity fell from him with the pause. His manner underwent a subtle
change from the judicial to the paternal. When he resumed, he wagged his
head tolerantly, and a modicum of sorrow mingled with his anger. "Ah,
Messer Grio! Messer Grio!" he said, "it is you, is it? For shame! For
shame! This is sad, this is lamentable! Some indulgence, it is true"--he
coughed--"may be due after late events, and to certain who have borne
part in them. But this goes too far! Too far by a long way!"

"It was not I began it!" the bully muttered sullenly, a mixture of
bravado and apology in his bearing. He sheathed his blade, and thrust
the long scabbard behind him. "He threw a glass of wine in my face,
Syndic--that is the truth. Is an old soldier who has shed blood for
Geneva to swallow that, and give God thanks?"

The Syndic turned to the student, and licked his lips, his features more
pinched than usual. "Are these your manners?" he said. "If so, they are
not the manners of Geneva! Your name, young man, and your dwelling
place?"

"My name is Claude Mercier, last from Chatillon in Burgundy," the young
man answered firmly. "For the rest, I did no otherwise than you, sir,
must have done in my case!"

The magistrate snorted. "I!"

"Being treated as I was!" the young man protested. "He would have me
drink whether I would or no! And in terms no man of honour could bear."

"Honour?" the Syndic retorted, and on the word exploded in great wrath.
"Honour, say you? Then I know who is in fault. When men of your race
talk of honour 'tis easy to saddle the horse. I will teach you that we
know naught of honour in Geneva, but only of service! And naught of
punctilios but much of modest behaviour! It is such hot blood as yours
that is at the root of brawlings and disorders and such-like, to the
scandal of the community: and to cool it I will commit you to the town
jail until to-morrow! Convey him thither," he continued, turning sharply
to his followers, "and see him safely bestowed in the stocks. To-morrow
I will hear if he be penitent, and perhaps, if he be in a cooler
temper----"

But the young man, aghast at this sudden disgrace, could be silent no
longer. "But, sir," he broke in passionately, "I had no choice. It was
no quarrel of my beginning. I did but refuse to drink, and when he----"

"Silence, sirrah!" the Syndic cried, and cut him short. "You will do
well to be quiet!" And he was turning to bid his people bear their
prisoner out without more ado when one of the merchants ventured to put
in a word.

"May I say," he interposed timidly, "that until this happened, Messer
Blondel, the young man's conduct was all that could be desired?"

"Are you of his company?"

"No, sir."

"Then best keep out of it!" the magistrate retorted sharply.

"And you," to his followers, "did you hear me? Away with him!"

But as the men advanced to execute the order, the young man stepped
forward. "One moment!" he said. "A moment only, sir. I caught the name
of Blondel. Am I speaking to Messer Philibert Blondel?"

The Syndic nodded ungraciously. "Yes," he said, "I am he. What of it?"

"Only this, that I have a letter for him," the student answered, groping
with trembling fingers in his pouch. "From my uncle, the Sieur de
Beauvais of Nocle, by Dijon."

"The Sieur de Beauvais?"

"Yes."

"He is your uncle?"

"Yes."

"So! Well, I remember now," Blondel continued, nodding. "His name was
Mercier. Certainly, it was. Well, give me the letter." His tone was
still harsh, but it was not the same; and when he had broken the seal
and read the letter--with a look half contemptuous, half uneasy--his
brow cleared a little. "It were well young people knew better what
became them," he cried, peevishly shrugging his shoulders. "It would
save us all a great deal. However, for this time as you are a stranger
and well credited, I find, you may go. But let it be a lesson to you, do
you hear? Let it be a lesson to you, young man. Geneva," pompously, "is
no place for brawling, and if you come hither for that, you will quickly
find yourself behind bars. See that you go to a fit lodging to-morrow,
and do you, Mr. Landlord, have a care that he leaves you."

The young man's heart was full, but he had the wisdom to keep his temper
and to say no more. The Syndic on his part was glad, on second thoughts,
to be free of the matter. He was turning to go when it seemed to strike
him that he owed something more to the bearer of the letter. He turned
back. "Yes," he said, "I had forgotten. This week I am busy. But next
week, on some convenient day, come to me, young sir, and I may be able
to give you a word of advice. In the forenoon will be best. Until
then--see to your behaviour!"

The young man bowed and waited, standing where he was, until the bustle
attending the Syndic's departure had quite died away. Then he turned.
"Now, Messer Grio," he said briskly, "for my part I am ready."

But Messer Grio had slipped away some minutes before.
 
 
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