We noted some way back the ease with
which women use one concession as a stepping-stone
to a second; and the lack of magnanimity, amounting
almost to unscrupulousness, which the best display
in their dealings with a retiring foe.
are concessions which touch even a good woman’s
conscience; and Madame de Tavannes, free by the tenure
of a blow, and with that exception treated from hour
to hour with rugged courtesy, shrank appalled before
the task which confronted her.
To ignore what La Tribe had told her,
to remain passive when a movement on her part might
save men, women, and children from death, and a whole
city from massacre
this was a line of conduct
so craven, so selfish, that from the first she knew
herself incapable of it.
But to take the only
other course open to her, to betray her husband and
rob him of that, the loss of which might ruin him,
this needed not courage only, not devotion only, but
a hardness proof against reproaches as well as against
And the Countess was no fanatic.
No haze of bigotry glorified the thing she contemplated,
or dressed it in colours other than its own.
Even while she acknowledged the necessity of the act
and its ultimate righteousness, even while she owned
the obligation which lay upon her to perform it, she
saw it as he would see it, and saw herself as he would
True, he had done her a great wrong;
and this in the eyes of some might pass for punishment.
But he had saved her life where many had perished;
and, the wrong done, he had behaved to her with fantastic
In return for which she was to ruin
It was not hard to imagine what he would
say of her, and of the reward with which she had requited
She pondered over it as they rode
that evening, with the weltering sun in their eyes
and the lengthening shadows of the oaks falling athwart
the bracken which fringed the track.
breezy heaths and over downs, through green bottoms
and by hamlets, from which every human creature fled
at their approach, they ambled on by twos and threes;
riding in a world of their own, so remote, so different
from the real world
from which they came
and to which they must return
that she could
have wept in anguish, cursing God for the wickedness
of man which lay so heavy on creation.
troopers riding at ease with swinging legs and swaying
and singing now a refrain from
Ronsard, and now one of those verses of Marot’s
psalms which all the world had sung three decades
wore their most lamb-like aspect.
Behind them Madame St. Lo chattered to Suzanne of
a riding mask which had not been brought, or planned
expedients, if nothing sufficiently in the mode could
be found at Angers.
And the other women talked
and giggled, screamed when they came to fords, and
made much of steep places, where the men must help
In time of war death’s shadow covers
but a day, and sorrow out of sight is out of mind.
Of all the troop whom the sinking sun left within
sight of the lofty towers and vine-clad hills of Vendome,
three only wore faces attuned to the cruel August
week just ending; three only, like dark beads strung
far apart on a gay nun’s rosary, rode, brooding
and silent, in their places.
The Countess was
the others were the two men whose thoughts
she filled, and whose eyes now and again sought her,
La Tribe’s with sombre fire in their depths,
Count Hannibal’s fraught with a gloomy speculation,
which belied his brave words to Madame St. Lo.
He, moreover, as he rode, had other
thoughts; dark ones, which did not touch her.
And she, too, had other thoughts at times, dreams
of her young lover, spasms of regret, a wild revolt
of heart, a cry out of the darkness which had suddenly
So that of the three only La Tribe
This day they rode a long league after
sunset, through a scattered oak-wood, where the rabbits
sprang up under their horses’ heads and the
squirrels made angry faces at them from the lower branches.
Night was hard upon them when they reached the southern
edge of the forest, and looked across the dusky open
slopes to a distant light or two which marked where
“Another league,” Count
Hannibal muttered; and he bade the men light fires
where they were, and unload the packhorses. “’Tis
pure and dry here,” he said.
a watch, Bigot, and let two men go down for water.
I hear frogs below.
You do not fear to be moonstruck,
“I prefer this,” she answered in a low
“Houses are for monks and nuns!”
he rejoined heartily.
“Give me God’s
“The earth is His, but we deface
it,” she murmured, reverting to her thoughts,
and unconscious that it was to him she spoke.
He looked at her sharply, but the
fire was not yet kindled; and in the gloaming her
face was a pale blot undecipherable.
a moment, but she did not speak again; and Madame
St. Lo bustling up, he moved away to give an order.
By-and-by the fires burned up, and showed the pillared
aisle in which they sat, small groups dotted here and
there on the floor of Nature’s cathedral.
Through the shadowy Gothic vaulting, the groining
of many boughs which met overhead, a rare star twinkled,
as through some clerestory window; and from the dell
below rose in the night, now the monotonous chanting
of the frogs, and now, as some great bull-frog took
the note, a diapason worthy of a Brescian organ.
The darkness walled all in; the night was still;
a falling caterpillar sounded.
Even the rude
men at the farthest fire stilled their voices at times;
awed, they knew not why, by the silence and vastness
of the night.
The Countess long remembered that
for she lay late awake; the cool
gloom, the faint wood-rustlings, the distant cry of
fox or wolf, the soft glow of the expiring fires that
at last left the world to darkness and the stars;
above all, the silent wheeling of the planets, which
spoke indeed of a supreme Ruler, but crushed the heart
under a sense of its insignificance, and of the insignificance
of all human revolutions.
“Yet, I believe!” she
cried, wrestling upwards, wrestling with herself.
“Though I have seen what I have seen, yet I believe!”
And though she had to bear what she
had to bear, and do that from which her soul shrank!
The woman, indeed, within her continued to cry out
against this tragedy ever renewed in her path, against
this necessity for choosing evil, or good, ease for
herself or life for others.
But the moving heavens,
pointing onward to a time when good and evil alike
should be past, strengthened a nature essentially
noble; and before she slept no shame and no suffering
for the moment at least
great a price to pay for the lives of little children.
Love had been taken from her life; the pride which
would fain answer generosity with generosity
must go, too!
She felt no otherwise when the day
came, and the bustle of the start and the common round
of the journey put to flight the ideals of the night.
But things fell out in a manner she had not pictured.
They halted before noon on the north bank of the
Loir, in a level meadow with lines of poplars running
this way and that, and filling all the place with the
soft shimmer of leaves.
Blue succory, tiny mirrors
of the summer sky, flecked the long grass, and the
women picked bunches of them, or, Italian fashion,
twined the blossoms in their hair.
A road ran
across the meadow to a ferry, but the ferryman, alarmed
by the aspect of the party, had conveyed his boat
to the other side and hidden himself.
Presently Madame St. Lo espied the
boat, clapped her hands and must have it.
poplars threw no shade, the flies teased her, the life
of a hermit
in a meadow
no longer to her taste.
“Let us go on the water!”
“Presently you will go to bathe,
Monsieur, and leave us to grill!”
“Two livres to the man who will
fetch the boat!” Count Hannibal cried.
In less than half a minute three men
had thrown off their boots, and were swimming across,
amid the laughter and shouts of their fellows.
In five minutes the boat was brought.
It was not large and would hold no
more than four.
Tavannes’ eye fell on Carlat.
“You understand a boat,”
“Go with Madame St. Lo.
And you, M. La Tribe.”
“But you are coming?”
Madame St. Lo cried, turning to the Countess.
“Oh, Madame,” with a curtsey, “you
“Yes, I will come,” the Countess answered.
“I shall bathe a short distance
up the stream,” Count Hannibal said.
took from his belt the packet of letters, and as Carlat
held the boat for Madame St. Lo to enter, he gave
it to the Countess, as he had given it to her yesterday.
“Have a care of it, Madame,” he said in
a low voice, “and do not let it pass out of
To lose it may be to lose my head.”
The colour ebbed from her cheeks.
In spite of herself her shaking hand put back the
“Had you not better then
it to Bigot?” she faltered.
“He is bathing.”
“Let him bathe afterwards.”
“No,” he answered almost
harshly; he found a species of pleasure in showing
her that, strange as their relations were, he trusted
“No; take it, Madame.
have a care of it.”
She took it then, hid it in her dress,
and he turned away; and she turned towards the boat.
La Tribe stood beside the stern, holding it for her
to enter, and as her fingers rested an instant on
his arm their eyes met.
His were alight, his
arm even quivered; and she shuddered.
She avoided looking at him a second
time, and this was easy, since he took his seat in
the bows beyond Carlat, who handled the oars.
Silently the boat glided out on the surface of the
stream, and floated downwards, Carlat now and again
touching an oar, and Madame St. Lo chattering gaily
in a voice which carried far on the water.
it was a flowering rush she must have, now a green
bough to shield her face from the sun’s reflection;
and now they must lie in some cool, shadowy pool under
fern-clad banks, where the fish rose heavily, and
the trickle of a rivulet fell down over stones.
It was idyllic.
But not to the
Her face burned, her temples throbbed,
her fingers gripped the side of the boat in the vain
attempt to steady her pulses.
The packet within
her dress scorched her.
The great city and its
danger, Tavannes and his faith in her, the need of
action, the irrevocableness of action hurried through
The knowledge that she must act now
pressed upon her with distracting
Her hand felt the packet, and fell again
“The sun has caught you,
,” Madame St. Lo said.
should ride in a mask as I do.”
“I have not one with me,”
she muttered, her eyes on the water.
“And I but an old one.
But at Angers
The Countess heard no more; on that
word she caught La Tribe’s eye.
beckoning to her behind Carlat’s back, pointing
imperiously to the water, making signs to her to drop
the packet over the side.
When she did not obey
felt sick and faint
she saw through a mist
his brow grow dark.
He menaced her secretly.
And still the packet scorched her; and twice her
hand went to it, and dropped again empty.
On a sudden Madame St. Lo cried out.
The bank on one side of the stream was beginning
to rise more boldly above the water, and at the head
of the steep thus formed she had espied a late rosebush
in bloom; nothing would now serve but she must land
at once and plunder it.
The boat was put in
therefore, she jumped ashore, and began to scale the
“Go with Madame!” La Tribe
cried, roughly nudging Carlat in the back.
you not see that she cannot climb the bank?
The Countess opened her mouth to cry
“No!” but the word died half-born on her
lips; and when the steward looked at her, uncertain
what she had said, she nodded.
“Yes, go!” she muttered.
“Yes, man, go!” cried
the minister, his eyes burning.
And he almost
pushed the other out of the boat.
The next second the craft floated
from the bank, and began to drift downwards.
La Tribe waited until a tree interposed and hid them
from the two whom they had left; then he leaned forward.
“Now, Madame!” he cried
“In God’s name, now!”
“Oh!” she cried.
I want to think.”
“He trusted me!” she wailed.
“He trusted me!
How can I do it?”
Nevertheless, and even while she spoke, she drew forth
“Heaven has given you the opportunity!”
“If I could have stolen it!” she answered.
“Fool!” he returned, rocking
himself to and fro, and fairly beside himself with
“Why steal it?
in your hands!
You have it!
It is Heaven’s
own opportunity, it is God’s opportunity given
For he could not read her mind nor
comprehend the scruple which held her hand.
He was single-minded.
He had but one aim, one
He saw the haggard faces of brave men
hopeless; he heard the dying cries of women and children.
Such an opportunity of saving God’s elect, of
redeeming the innocent, was in his eyes a gift from
And having these thoughts and seeing
hesitate when every movement
caused him agony, so imperative was haste, so precious
he could bear the suspense
When she did not answer he stooped
forward, until his knees touched the thwart on which
Carlat had sat; then, without a word, he flung himself
forward, and, with one hand far extended, grasped
Had he not moved, she would have done
his will; almost certainly she would have done it.
But, thus attacked, she resisted instinctively; she
clung to the letters.
“No!” she cried.
Let go, Monsieur!” And she
tried to drag the packet from him.
“Give it me!”
“Let go, Monsieur!
you hear?” she repeated.
And, with a vigorous
jerk, she forced it from him
he had caught
it by the edge only
and held it behind
“Go back, and
“Give it me!” he panted.
“I will not!”
“Then throw it overboard!”
“I will not!” she cried
again, though his face, dark with passion, glared
into hers, and it was clear that the man, possessed
by one idea only, was no longer master of himself.
“Go back to your place!”
“Give it me,” he gasped,
“or I will upset the boat!” And, seizing
her by the shoulder, he reached over her, striving
to take hold of the packet which she held behind her.
The boat rocked; and, as much in rage as fear, she
A cry uttered wholly in rage answered
hers; it came from Carlat.
La Tribe, however,
whose whole mind was fixed on the packet, did not heed,
nor would have heeded, the steward.
But the next
moment a second cry, fierce as that of a wild beast,
clove the air from the lower and farther bank; and
the Huguenot, recognizing Count Hannibal’s voice,
involuntarily desisted and stood erect.
the boat rocked perilously under him; then
unheeded it had been drifting that way
softly touched the bank on which Carlat stood staring
La Tribe’s chance was gone;
he saw that the steward must reach him before he could
succeed in a second attempt.
On the other hand,
the undergrowth on the bank was thick, he could touch
it with his hand, and if he fled at once he might
He hung an instant irresolute; then,
with a look which went to the Countess’s heart,
he sprang ashore, plunged among the alders, and in
a moment was gone.
thundered Count Hannibal.
“After him, man!”
and Carlat, stumbling down the steep slope and through
the rough briars, did his best to obey.
Before he reached the water’s
edge, the noise of the fugitive’s retreat had
A few seconds and it died away.