But that only the more roused the
devil in the man; that, and the knowledge that he
had his own headstrong act to thank for the position.
He looked on the panic-stricken people who, scared
by the turmoil without, had come together in the courtyard,
wringing their hands and chattering; and his face
was so dark and forbidding that fear of him took the
place of all other fear, and the nearest shrank from
contact with him.
On any other entering as he
had entered, they would have hailed questions; they
would have asked what was amiss, and if the city were
rising, and where were Bigot and his men.
Count Hannibal’s eye struck curiosity dumb.
When he cried from his saddle, “Bring me the
landlord!” the trembling man was found, and brought,
and thrust forward almost without a word.
“You have a back gate?”
Tavannes said, while the crowd leaned forward to catch
“Yes, my lord,” the man faltered.
“Into the street which leads to the ramparts?”
“Ye-yes, my lord.”
You have five minutes.
Saddle as you never
saddled before,” he continued in a low tone,
” His tongue did not finish
the threat, but his hand waved the man away.
he held Tignonville
an instant with his lowering eye
the preaching fool with you, get arms and mount!
You have never played aught but the woman yet; but
play me false now, or look aside but a foot from the
path I bid you take, and you thwart me no more, Monsieur!
And you, Madame,” he continued, turning to
the Countess, who stood bewildered at one of the doors,
the Provost’s daughter clinging and weeping about
her, “you have three minutes to get your women
See you, if you please, that they
take no longer!”
She found her voice with difficulty.
“And this child?” she said.
is in my care.”
“Bring her,” he muttered
with a scowl of impatience.
And then, raising
his voice as he turned on the terrified gang of hostlers
and inn servants who stood gaping round him, “Go
help!” he thundered.
And quickly!” he added, his face growing a
shade darker as a second bell began to toll from a
neighbouring tower, and the confused babel in the
.-Croix settled into a dull roar
Fortunately it had been his first
intention to go to the Council attended by the whole
of his troop; and eight horses stood saddled in the
Others were hastily pulled out and bridled,
and the women were mounted.
La Tribe, at a look
from Tavannes, took behind him the Provost’s
daughter, who was helpless with terror.
the suddenness of the alarm, the uproar without, and
the panic within, none but a man whose people served
him at a nod and dreaded his very gesture could have
got his party mounted in time.
fain have swooned, but she dared not.
would fain have questioned, but he shrank from the
The Countess would fain have said something,
but she forced herself to obey and no more.
Even so the confusion in the courtyard, the mingling
of horses and men and trappings and saddle-bags, would
have made another despair; but wherever Count Hannibal,
seated in his saddle in the middle, turned his face,
chaos settled into a degree of order, servants, ceasing
to listen to the yells and cries outside, ran to fetch,
women dropped cloaks from the gallery, and men loaded
muskets and strapped on bandoliers.
Until at last
knew what those minutes of suspense cost him
saw all mounted, and, pistol in hand, shepherded them
to the back gates.
As he did so he stooped for
a few scowling words with Badelon, whom he sent to
the van of the party:
then he gave the word to
It was done; and even as Montsoreau’s
horsemen, borne on the bosom of a second and more
formidable throng, swept raging into the already crowded
square, and the cry went up for “a ram! a ram!”
to batter in the gates, Tavannes, hurling his little
party before him, dashed out at the back, and putting
to flight a handful of rascals who had wandered to
that side, cantered unmolested down the lane to the
Turning eastward at the foot of the
frowning Castle, he followed the inner side of the
wall in the direction of the gate by which he had
entered the preceding evening.
To gain this his party had to pass
the end of the Rue Toussaint, which issues from the
.-Croix and runs so straight that
the mob seething in front of the inn had only to turn
their heads to see them.
The danger incurred
at this point was great; for a party as small as Tavannes’
and encumbered with women would have had no chance
if attacked within the walls.
Count Hannibal knew it.
he knew also that the act which he had committed rendered
the north bank of the Loire impossible for him.
Neither King nor Marshal, neither Charles of Valois
nor Gaspard of Tavannes, would dare to shield him
from an infuriated Church, a Church too wise to forgive
His one chance lay in reaching
the southern bank of the Loire
speaking, the Huguenot bank
refuge in some town, Rochelle or St. Jean d’Angely,
where the Huguenots were strong, and whence he might
take steps to set himself right with his own side.
But to cross the great river which
divides France into two lands widely differing he
must leave the city by the east gate; for the only
bridge over the Loire within forty miles of Angers
lay eastward from the town, at Ponts de
To this gate, therefore, past
the Rue Toussaint, he whirled his party daringly;
and though the women grew pale as the sounds of riot
broke louder on the ear, and they discovered that
they were approaching instead of leaving the danger
though Tignonville for an instant thought him mad,
and snatched at the Countess’s rein
men-at-arms, who knew him, galloped stolidly on, passed
like clockwork the end of the street, and, reckless
of the stream of persons hurrying in the direction
of the alarm, heedless of the fright and anger their
passage excited, pressed steadily on.
and the gate through which they had entered the previous
evening appeared before them.
sight welcome to one of them
it was open.
They were fortunate indeed, for a
few seconds later they had been too late.
alarm had preceded them.
As they dashed up, a
man ran to the chains of the portcullis and tried
to lower it.
He failed to do so at the first
touch, and, quailing, fled from Badelon’s levelled
A watchman on one of the bastions of
the wall shouted to them to halt or he would fire:
but the riders yelled in derision, and thundering through
the echoing archway, emerged into the open, and saw,
extended before them, in place of the gloomy vistas
of the Black Town, the glory of the open country and
the vine-clad hills, and the fields about the Loire
yellow with late harvest.
The women gasped their relief, and
one or two who were most out of breath would have
pulled up their horses and let them trot, thinking
the danger at an end.
But a curt savage word
from the rear set them flying again, and down and
up and on again they galloped, driven forward by the
iron hand which never relaxed its grip of them.
Silent and pitiless he whirled them before him until
they were within a mile of the long Ponts de
series of bridges rather than one bridge
the broad shallow Loire lay plain before them, its
sandbanks grilling in the sun, and grey lines of willows
marking its eyots.
By this time some of the women,
white with fatigue, could only cling to their saddles
with their hands; while others were red-hot, their
hair unrolled, and the perspiration mingled with the
dust on their faces.
But he who drove them had
no pity for weakness in an emergency.
back and saw, a half-mile behind them, the glitter
of steel following hard on their heels:
faster!” he cried, regardless of their prayers:
and he beat the rearmost of the horses with his scabbard.
A waiting-woman shrieked that she should fall, but
he answered ruthlessly, “Fall then, fool!”
and the instinct of self-preservation coming to her
aid, she clung and bumped and toiled on with the rest
until they reached the first houses of the town about
the bridges, and Badelon raised his hand as a signal
that they might slacken speed.
The bewilderment of the start had
been so great that it was then only, when they found
their feet on the first link of the bridge, that two
of the party, the Countess and Tignonville, awoke
to the fact that their faces were set southwards.
To cross the Loire in those days meant much to all:
to a Huguenot, very much.
It chanced that these
two rode on to the bridge side by side, and the memory
of their last crossing
that, on their journey north a month before, they had
crossed it hand-in-hand with the prospect of passing
their lives together, and with no faintest thought
of the events which were to ensue, flashed into the
mind of each of them.
It deepened the flush which
exertion had brought to the woman’s cheek, then
left it paler than before.
A minute earlier
she had been wroth with her old lover; she had held
him accountable for the outbreak in the town and this
hasty retreat; now her anger died as she looked and
In the man, shallower of feeling
and more alive to present contingencies, the uppermost
emotion as he trod the bridge was one of surprise
He could not at first believe in their
good fortune. “
!” he cried,
“we are crossing!” And then again in a
lower tone, “We are crossing!
We are crossing!”
And he looked at her.
It was impossible that she should
not look back; that she who had ceased to be angry
should not feel and remember; impossible that her answering
glance should not speak to his heart.
as on that day a month earlier, when they had crossed
the bridges going northward, the broad shallow river
ran its course in the sunshine, its turbid currents
gleaming and flashing about the sandbanks and osier-beds.
To the eye, the landscape, save that the vintage
was farther advanced and the harvest in part gathered
in, was the same.
But how changed were their
relations, their prospects, their hopes, who had then
crossed the river hand-in-hand, planning a life to
be passed together.
The young man’s rage boiled
up at the thought.
Too vividly, too sharply
it showed him the wrongs which he had suffered at the
hands of the man who rode behind him, the man who
even now drove him on and ordered him and insulted
He forgot that he might have perished in
the general massacre if Count Hannibal had not intervened.
He forgot that Count Hannibal had spared him once
He laid on his enemy’s shoulders
the guilt of all, the blood of all:
and, as quick
on the thought of his wrongs and his fellows’
wrongs followed the reflection that with every league
they rode southwards the chance of requital grew, he
cried again, and this time joyously
“We are crossing!
and we shall be in our own land!”
The tears filled the Countess’s
eyes as she looked westwards and southwards.
“Vrillac is there!” she
cried; and she pointed.
“I smell the sea!”
“Ay!” he answered, almost
under his breath.
“It lies there!
And no more than thirty leagues from us!
fresh horses we might see it in two days!”
Badelon’s voice broke in on
“Forward!” he cried, as the
party reached the southern bank. “
And, obedient to the word, the little company, refreshed
by the short respite, took the road out of Ponts de
at a steady trot.
Nor was the Countess
the only one whose face glowed, being set southwards,
or whose heart pulsed to the rhythm of the horses’
hoofs that beat out “Home!” Carlat’s
and Madame Carlat’s also.
hearing from her neighbour that they were over the
Loire, plucked up courage; while La Tribe, gazing before
him with moistened eyes, cried “Comfort”
to the scared and weeping girl who clung to his belt.
It was singular to see how all sniffed the air as
if already it smacked of the sea and of the south;
and how they of Poitou sat their horses as if they
asked nothing better than to ride on and on and on
until the scenes of home arose about them.
them the sky had already a deeper blue, the air a
softer fragrance, the sunshine a purity long unknown.
Was it wonderful, when they had suffered
so much on that northern bank?
When their experience
during the month had been comparable only with the
Yet one among them, after the
first impulse of relief and satisfaction, felt differently.
Tignonville’s gorge rose against the sense
of compulsion, of inferiority.
To be driven forward
after this fashion, whether he would or no, to be
placed at the back of every base-born man-at-arms,
to have no clearer knowledge of what had happened or
of what was passing, or of the peril from which they
fled, than the women among whom he rode
things kindled anew the sullen fire of hate.
North of the Loire there had been some excuse for his
inaction under insult; he had been in the man’s
country and power.
But south of the Loire, within
forty leagues of Huguenot Niort, must he still suffer,
still be supine?
His rage was inflamed by a disappointment
he presently underwent.
Looking back as they
rode clear of the wooden houses of Ponts de
he missed Tavannes and several of his men; and he
wondered if Count Hannibal had remained on his own
side of the river.
It seemed possible; and in
that event La Tribe and he and Carlat might deal with
Badelon and the four who still escorted them.
But when he looked back a minute later, Tavannes
was within sight, following the party with a stern
face; and not Tavannes only.
Bigot, with two
of the ten men who hitherto had been missing, was
It was clear, however, that they brought
no good news, for they had scarcely ridden up before
Count Hannibal cried, “Faster! faster!”
in his harshest voice, and Bigot urged the horses
to a quicker trot.
Their course lay almost parallel
with the Loire in the direction of Beaupreau; and
Tignonville began to fear that Count Hannibal intended
to recross the river at Nantes, where the only bridge
below Angers spanned the stream.
With this in
view it was easy to comprehend his wish to distance
his pursuers before he recrossed.
The Countess had no such thought.
“They must be close upon us!” she murmured,
as she urged her horse in obedience to the order.
“Whoever they are!” Tignonville
“If we knew what had
happened, or who followed, we should know more about
For that matter, I know what I wish
he would do.
And our heads are set for it.”
“Make for Vrillac!” he answered, a savage
gleam in his eyes.
“Ah, if he would!” she
cried, her face turning pale.
“If he would.
He would be safe there!”
“Ay, quite safe!” he answered
with a peculiar intonation.
And he looked at
He fancied that his thought, the thought
which had just flashed into his brain, was her thought;
that she had the same notion in reserve, and that
they were in sympathy.
And Tavannes, seeing them
talking together, and noting her look and the fervour
of her gesture, formed the same opinion, and retired
more darkly into himself.
The downfall of his
plan for dazzling her by a magnanimity unparalleled
and beyond compare, a plan dependent on the submission
his disappointment in this might
have roused the worst passions of a better man.
But there was in this man a pride on a level at least
with his other passions:
and to bear himself
in this hour of defeat and flight so that if she could
not love him she must admire him, checked in a strange
degree the current of his rage.
When Tignonville presently looked
back he found that Count Hannibal and six of his riders
had pulled up and were walking their horses far in
On which he would have done the same
himself; but Badelon called over his shoulder the
eternal “Forward, Monsieur,
and sullenly, hating the man and his master more deeply
every hour, Tignonville was forced to push on, with
thoughts of vengeance in his heart.
Through a country which had lost its smiling wooded
character and grew more sombre and less fertile the
farther they left the Loire behind them.
for ever, it seemed
Javette wept with fatigue, and the other
women were little better.
The Countess herself
spoke seldom except to cheer the Provost’s daughter;
who, poor girl, flung suddenly out of the round of
her life and cast among strangers, showed a better
spirit than might have been expected.
on the slopes of some low hills, which they had long
seen before them, a cluster of houses and a church
appeared; and Badelon, drawing rein, cried
We stay an hour!”
It was six o’clock.
had ridden some hours without a break.
sighs and cries of pain the women dropped from their
clumsy saddles, while the men laid out such food
as had been brought, and hobbled
the horses that they might feed.
The hour passed
rapidly, and when it had passed Badelon was inexorable.
There was wailing when he gave the word to mount
again; and Tignonville, fiercely resenting this dumb,
reasonless flight, was at heart one of the mutineers.
But Badelon said grimly that they might go on and
live, or stay and die, as it pleased them; and once
more they climbed painfully to their saddles, and
jogged steadily on through the sunset, through the
gloaming, through the darkness, across a weird, mysterious
country of low hills and narrow plains which grew
more wild and less cultivated as they advanced.
Fortunately the horses had been well saved during the
long leisurely journey to Angers, and now went well
When they at last unsaddled for
the night in a little dismal wood within a mile of
Clisson, they had placed some forty miles between
themselves and Angers.