In a small back room on the second
floor of the inn at Angers, a mean, dingy room which
looked into a narrow lane, and commanded no prospect
more informing than a blind wall, two men sat, fretting;
or, rather, one man sat, his chin resting on his hand,
while his companion, less patient or more sanguine,
strode ceaselessly to and fro.
In the first despair
for they were prisoners
had made up their minds to the worst, and the slow
hours of two days had passed over their heads without
kindling more than a faint spark of hope in their breasts.
But when they had been taken out and forced to mount
at first with feet tied to the
they had let the change,
the movement, and the open air fan the flame.
They had muttered a word to one another, they had
wondered, they had reasoned.
And though the silence
of their guards
from whose sour vigilance
the keenest question drew no response
of ill-omen, and, taken with their knowledge of the
man into whose hands they had fallen, should have
quenched the spark, these two, having special reasons,
the one the buoyancy of youth, the other the faith
of an enthusiast, cherished the flame.
breast of one indeed it had blazed into a confidence
so arrogant that he now took all for granted, and
was not content.
“It is easy for you to say ‘Patience!’”
he cried, as he walked the floor in a fever.
“You stand to lose no more than your life, and
if you escape go free at all points!
has robbed me of more than life!
Of my love,
and my self-respect, curse him!
He has worsted
me not once, but twice and thrice!
And if he
lets me go now, dismissing me with my life, I shall
shall kill him!” he concluded, through his teeth.
“You are hard to please!”
“I shall kill him!”
“That were to fall still lower!”
the minister answered, gravely regarding him.
“I would, M. de Tignonville, you remembered
that you are not yet out of jeopardy.
frame of mind as yours is no good preparation for
death, let me tell you!”
“He will not kill us!”
“He knows better than
most men how to avenge himself!”
“Then he is above most!”
La Tribe retorted.
“For my part I wish
I were sure of the fact, and I should sit here more
“If we could escape, now, of
ourselves!” Tignonville cried.
we should save not only life, but honour!
think of it!
If we could escape, not by his
leave, but against it!
Are you sure that this
“As sure as a man can be who
has only seen the Black Town once or twice!”
La Tribe answered, moving to the casement
was not glazed
and peering through the
rough wooden lattice.
“But if we could
escape we are strangers here.
We know not which
way to go, nor where to find shelter.
the matter of that,” he continued, turning from
the window with a shrug of resignation, “’tis
no use to talk of it while yonder foot goes up and
down the passage, and its owner bears the key in his
“If we could get out of his
power as we came into it!” Tignonville cried.
But it is not every floor has
“We could take up a board.”
The minister raised his eyebrows.
“We could take up a board!”
the younger man repeated; and he stepped the mean
chamber from end to end, his eyes on the floor.
with a change of attitude, “we might break through
the roof?” And, throwing back his head, he scanned
the cobwebbed surface of laths which rested on the
“Well, why not, Monsieur?
Why not break through the ceiling?” Tignonville
repeated, and in a fit of energy he seized his companion’s
shoulder and shook him.
“Stand on the bed,
and you can reach it.”
“And the floor which rests on it!”
, there is no
’Tis a cockloft above us!
And there!” And the young man
sprang on the bed, and thrust the rowel of a spur
through the laths.
La Tribe’s expression
He rose slowly to his feet.
“Try again!” he said.
Tignonville, his face red, drove the
spur again between the laths, and worked it to and
fro until he could pass his fingers into the hole he
Then he gripped and bent down a length
of one of the laths, and, passing his arm as far as
the elbow through the hole, moved it this way and
His eyes, as he looked down at his companion
through the falling rubbish, gleamed with triumph.
“Where is your floor now?” he asked.
“You can touch nothing?”
A little more and I might touch the tiles.”
And he strove to reach higher.
For answer La Tribe gripped him.
Down, Monsieur,” he muttered.
“They are bringing our dinner.”
Tignonville thrust back the lath as
well as he could, and slipped to the floor; and hastily
the two swept the rubbish from the bed.
Badelon, attended by two men, came in with the meal
he found La Tribe at the window blocking much of the
light, and Tignonville laid sullenly on the bed.
Even a suspicious eye must have failed to detect what
had been done; the three who looked in suspected nothing
and saw nothing.
They went out, the key was
turned again on the prisoners, and the footsteps of
two of the men were heard descending the stairs.
“We have an hour, now!”
Tignonville cried; and leaping, with flaming eyes,
on the bed, he fell to hacking and jabbing and tearing
at the laths amid a rain of dust and rubbish.
Fortunately the stuff, falling on the bed, made little
noise; and in five minutes, working half-choked and
in a frenzy of impatience, he had made a hole through
which he could thrust his arms, a hole which extended
almost from one joist to its neighbour.
time the air was thick with floating lime; the two
could scarcely breathe, yet they dared not pause.
Mounting on La Tribe’s shoulders
took his stand on the bed
the young man
thrust his head and arms through the hole, and, resting
his elbows on the joists, dragged himself up, and
with a final effort of strength landed nose and knees
on the timbers, which formed his supports.
moment to take breath, and press his torn and bleeding
fingers to his lips; then, reaching down, he gave a
hand to his companion and dragged him to the same
place of vantage.
They found themselves in a long narrow
cockloft, not more than six feet high at the highest,
and insufferably hot.
Between the tiles, which
sloped steeply on either hand, a faint light filtered
in, disclosing the giant rooftree running the length
of the house, and at the farther end of the loft the
main tie-beam, from which a network of knees and struts
rose to the rooftree.
Tignonville, who seemed possessed
by unnatural energy, stayed only to put off his boots.
Then “Courage!” he panted, “all
goes well!” and, carrying his boots in his hands,
he led the way, stepping gingerly from joist to joist
until he reached the tie-beam.
He climbed on
it, and, squeezing himself between the struts, entered
a second loft, similar to the first.
At the farther
end of this a rough wall of bricks in a timber-frame
lowered his hopes; but as he approached it, joy!
Low down in the corner where the roof descended,
a small door, square, and not more than two feet high,
The two crept to it on hands and knees
“It will lead to the leads,
I doubt?” La Tribe whispered.
not raise their voices.
“As well that way as another!”
Tignonville answered recklessly.
He was the
more eager, for there is a fear which transcends the
fear of death.
His eyes shone through the mask
of dust, the sweat ran down to his chin, his breath
came and went noisily.
if we can escape him!” he panted.
he pushed the door recklessly.
It flew open;
the two drew back their faces with a cry of alarm.
They were looking, not into the sunlight,
but into a grey dingy garret open to the roof, and
occupying the upper part of a gable-end somewhat higher
than the wing in which they had been confined.
Filthy truckle-beds and ragged pallets covered the
floor, and, eked out by old saddles and threadbare
horserugs, marked the sleeping quarters either of the
servants or of travellers of the meaner sort.
But the dinginess was naught to the two who knelt
looking into it, afraid to move.
Was the place
That was the point; the question which
had first stayed, and then set their pulses at the
Painfully their eyes searched each
huddle of clothing, scanned each dubious shape.
And slowly, as the silence persisted, their heads
came forward until the whole floor lay within the
field of sight.
And still no sound!
last Tignonville stirred, crept through the doorway,
and rose up, peering round him.
He nodded, and,
satisfied that all was safe, the minister followed
They found themselves a pace or so
from the head of a narrow staircase, leading downwards.
Without moving, they could see the door which closed
Tignonville signed to La Tribe to wait,
and himself crept down the stairs.
the door, and, stooping, set his eye to the hole through
which the string of the latch passed.
he looked, and then, turning on tiptoe, he stole up
again, his face fallen.
“You may throw the handle after
the hatchet!” he muttered.
on guard is within four yards of the door.”
And in the rage of disappointment he struck the air
with his hand.
“Is he looking this way?”
He is looking down
the passage towards our room.
But it is impossible
to pass him.”
La Tribe nodded, and moved softly
to one of the lattices which lighted the room.
It might be possible to escape that way, by the parapet
and the tiles.
But he found that the casement
was set high in the roof, which sloped steeply from
its sill to the eaves.
He passed to the other
window, in which a little wicket in the lattice stood
He looked through it.
In the giddy
void white pigeons were wheeling in the dazzling sunshine,
and, gazing down, he saw far below him, in the hot
square, a row of booths, and troops of people moving
to and fro like pigmies; and
and a strange
thing, in the middle of all!
as if the persons below could have seen his face at
the tiny dormer, he drew back.
He beckoned to M. Tignonville to come
to him; and when the young man complied, he bade him
in a whisper look down.
The younger man saw and drew in his
Even under the coating of dust his face
turned a shade greyer.
“You had no need to fear that
he would let us go!” the minister muttered,
with half-conscious irony.
There are two
And La Tribe breathed a few words
The object which had fixed his gaze
was a gibbet:
the only one of the three which
could be seen from their eyrie.
Tignonville, on the other hand, turned
sharply away, and with haggard eyes stared about the
“We might defend the staircase,”
“Two men might hold it for
“We have no food.”
gripped La Tribe’s arm.
“I have it!”
“And it may do!
do!” he continued, his face working.
And lifting from the floor one of the ragged pallets,
from which the straw protruded in a dozen places,
he set it flat on his head.
It drooped at each corner
had seen much wear
and, while it almost
hid his face, it revealed his grimy chin and mortar-stained
He turned to his companion.
La Tribe’s face glowed as he
“It may do!” he cried.
“It’s a chance!
But you are right!
It may do!”
Tignonville dropped the ragged mattress,
and tore off his coat; then he rent his breeches at
the knee, so that they hung loose about his calves.
“Do you the same!” he
“And quick, man, quick!
Once outside we must pass through
the streets under these”
he took up
his burden again and set it on his head
we reach a quiet part, and there we
Or swim the
river!” the minister said.
He had followed
his companion’s example, and now stood under
a similar burden.
With breeches rent and whitened,
and his upper garments in no better case, he looked
a sorry figure.
Tignonville eyed him with satisfaction,
and turned to the staircase.
“Come,” he cried, “there
is not a moment to be lost.
At any minute they
may enter our room and find it empty!
Then, not too softly, or it may rouse
And mumble something at the door.”
He began himself to scold, and, muttering
incoherently, stumbled down the staircase, the pallet
on his head rustling against the wall on each side.
Arrived at the door, he fumbled clumsily with the latch,
and, when the door gave way, plumped out with an oath
if the awkward burden he bore were the only thing
on his mind.
he was on duty
at the apparition; but the next moment he sniffed
the pallet, which was none of the freshest, and, turning
up his nose, he retreated a pace.
He had no
suspicion; the men did not come from the part of the
house where the prisoners lay, and he stood aside
to let them pass.
In a moment, staggering, and
going a little unsteadily, as if they scarcely saw
their way, they had passed by him, and were descending
So far well!
when they reached the foot of that flight they came
on the main passage of the first-floor.
right and left, and Tignonville did not know which
way he must turn to reach the lower staircase.
Yet he dared not hesitate; in the passage, waiting
about the doors, were four or five servants, and in
the distance he caught sight of three men belonging
to Tavannes’ company.
At any moment, too,
an upper servant might meet them, ask what they were
doing, and detect the fraud.
He turned at random,
to the left as it chanced
marched along bravely, until the very thing happened
which he had feared.
A man came from a room
plump upon them, saw them, and held up his hands in
“What are you doing?”
he cried in a rage and with an oath.
set you on this?”
Tignonville’s tongue clave to
the roof of his mouth.
La Tribe from behind
muttered something about the stable.
“And time too!” the man
But how come you this
Are you drunk?
Here!” He opened
the door of a musty closet beside him, “Pitch
them in here, do you hear?
And take them down
when it is dark.
I wonder you did
not carry the things though her ladyship’s room
If my lord had been in and met you!
Now then, do as I tell you!
Are you drunk?”
With a sullen air Tignonville threw
in his mattress.
La Tribe did the same.
Fortunately the passage was ill-lighted, and there
were many helpers and strange servants in the inn.
The butler only thought them ill-looking fellows
who knew no better.
“Now be off!” he continued
“This is no place for your sort.
Be off!” And, as they moved, “Coming!
Coming!” he cried in answer to a distant summons;
and he hurried away on the errand which their appearance
Tignonville would have gone to work
to recover the pallets, for the man had left the key
in the door.
But as he went to do so the butler
looked back, and the two were obliged to make a pretence
of following him.
A moment, however, and he
was gone; and Tignonville turned anew to regain them.
A second time fortune was adverse; a door within a
pace of him opened, a woman came out.
from the strange figure; her eyes met his.
the light from the room behind her fell on his face,
and with a shrill cry she named him.
One second and all had been lost,
for the crowd of idlers at the other end of the passage
had caught her cry, and were looking that way.
With presence of mind Tignonville clapped his hand
on her mouth, and, huddling her by force into the
room, followed her, with La Tribe at his heels.
It was a large room, in which seven
or eight people, who had been at prayers when the
cry startled them, were rising from their knees.
The first thing they saw was Javette on the threshold,
struggling in the grasp of a wild man, ragged and
begrimed; they deemed the city risen and the massacre
Carlat threw himself before his mistress,
the Countess in her turn sheltered a young girl, who
stood beside her and from whose face the last trace
of colour had fled.
Madame Carlat and a waiting-woman
ran shrieking to the window; another instant and the
alarm would have gone abroad.
Tignonville’s voice stopped
“Don’t you know me?” he
cried, “Madame! you at least!
Are you all mad?”
The words stayed them where they stood
in an astonishment scarce less than their alarm.
The Countess tried twice to speak; the third time
“Have you escaped?” she muttered.
Tignonville nodded, his eyes bright
“So far,” he said.
“But they may be on our heels at any moment!
Where can we hide?”
The Countess, her hand pressed to
her side, looked at Javette.
“The door, girl!” she whispered.
“Ay, lock it!
can go by the back-stairs,” Madame Carlat answered,
awaking suddenly to the situation.
Once in the yard they may pass out
through the stables.”
“Which way?” Tignonville
“Don’t stand looking
at me, but
“Through this door!” Madame
Carlat answered, hurrying to it.
He was following when the Countess
stepped forward and interposed between him and the
“Stay!” she cried; and
there was not one who did not notice a new decision
in her voice, a new dignity in her bearing.
Monsieur, we may be going too fast.
To go out
now and in that guise
may it not be to
incur greater peril than you incur here?
sure that you are in no danger of your life at present.
Therefore, why run the risk
“In no danger, Madame!”
he cried, interrupting her in astonishment.
you seen the gibbet in the Square?
Do you call
that no danger?”
“It is not erected for you.”
“No, Monsieur,” she answered
firmly, “I swear it is not.
And I know
of reasons, urgent reasons, why you should not go.
M. de Tavannes”
she named her husband
nervously, as conscious of the weak spot
he rode abroad laid strict orders on all to keep within,
since the smallest matter might kindle the city.
Therefore, M. de Tignonville, I request, nay I entreat,”
she continued with greater urgency, as she saw his
gesture of denial, “you to stay here until he
“And you, Madame, will answer for my life?”
For a moment,
a moment only, her colour ebbed.
What if she
What if she surrendered her
old lover to death?
doubt was of a moment only.
Her duty was plain.
“I will answer for it,”
she said, with pale lips, “if you remain here.
And I beg, I implore you
by the love you
once had for me, M. de Tignonville,” she added
desperately, seeing that he was about to refuse, “to
“Once!” he retorted, lashing
himself into ignoble rage.
“By the love
I once had!
Say, rather, the love I have, Madame
I am no woman-weathercock to wed the winner, and hold
or not hold, stay or go, as he commands!
it seems,” he continued with a sneer, “have
learned the wife’s lesson well!
practise on me now, as you practised on me the other
night when you stood between him and me!
then, I spared him.
And what did I get by it?
Bonds and a prison!
And what shall I get now?
No, Madame,” he continued bitterly,
addressing himself as much to the Carlats and the others
as to his old mistress.
“I do not change!
I was going and I go!
If death lay beyond that door”
he pointed to it
“and life at his
will were certain here, I would pass the threshold
rather than take my life of him!” And, dragging
La Tribe with him, with a passionate gesture he rushed
by her, opened the door, and disappeared in the next
The Countess took one pace forward,
as if she would have followed him, as if she would
have tried further persuasion.
But as she moved
a cry rooted her to the spot.
A rush of feet
and the babel of many voices filled the passage with
a tide of sound, which drew rapidly nearer.
escape was known!
Would the fugitives have time
to slip out below?
Some one knocked at the door, tried
it, pushed and beat on it.
But the Countess
and all in the room had run to the windows and were
If the two had not yet made their
escape they must be taken.
Yet no; as the Countess
leaned from the window, first one dusty figure and
then a second darted from a door below, and made for
the nearest turning, out of the Place
Before they gained it, four men, of whom, Badelon,
his grey locks flying, was first, dashed out in pursuit,
and the street rang with cries of “Stop him!
Seize him!” Some one
of the pursuers or another
to add to the
alarm let off a musket, and in a moment, as if the
report had been a signal, the Place was in a hubbub,
people flocked into it with mysterious quickness, and
from a neighbouring roof
it was impossible to say
the crackling fire
of a dozen
alarmed the city far and
Unfortunately, the fugitives had been
baulked at the first turning.
Making for a second,
they found it choked, and, swerving, darted across
the Place towards St.-Maurice, seeking to lose themselves
in the gathering crowd.
But the pursuers clung
desperately to their skirts, overturning here a man
and there a child; and then in a twinkling, Tignonville,
as he ran round a booth, tripped over a peg and fell,
and La Tribe stumbled over him and fell also.
The four riders flung themselves fiercely on their
prey, secured them, and began to drag them with oaths
and curses towards the door of the inn.
The Countess had seen all from her
window; had held her breath while they ran, had drawn
it sharply when they fell.
Now, “They have
them!” she muttered, a sob choking her, “they
have them!” And she clasped her hands.
If he had followed her advice!
If he had only
followed her advice!
But the issue proved less certain
than she deemed it.
The crowd, which grew each
moment, knew nothing of pursuers or pursued.
On the contrary, a cry went up that the riders were
Huguenots, and that the Huguenots were rising and
slaying the Catholics; and as no story was too improbable
for those days, and this was one constantly set about,
first one stone flew, and then another, and another.
A man with a staff darted forward and struck Badelon
on the shoulder, two or three others pressed in and
jostled the riders; and if three of Tavannes’
following had not run out on the instant and faced
the mob with their pikes, and for a moment forced
them to give back, the prisoners would have been rescued
at the very door of the inn.
As it was they
were dragged in, and the gates were flung to and barred
in the nick of time.
Another moment, almost another
second, and the mob had seized them.
As it was,
a hail of stones poured on the front of the inn, and
amid the rising yells of the rabble there presently
floated heavy and slow over the city the tolling of
the great bell of St.-Maurice.