In a room beside the gateway, into
which, as the nearest and most convenient place, Count
Hannibal had been carried from his saddle, a man sat
sideways in the narrow embrasure of a loophole, to
which his eyes seemed glued.
The room, which
formed part of the oldest block of the chateau, and
was ordinarily the quarters of the Carlats, possessed
two other windows, deep-set indeed, yet superior to
that through which Bigot
for he it was
But the larger windows looked
southwards, across the bay
at this moment
the noon-high sun was pouring his radiance through
them; while the object which held Bigot’s gaze
and fixed him to his irksome seat, lay elsewhere.
The loophole commanded the causeway leading shorewards;
through it the Norman could see who came and went,
and even the cross-beam of the ugly object which rose
where the causeway touched the land.
On a flat truckle-bed behind the door
lay Count Hannibal, his injured leg protected from
the coverlid by a kind of cage.
His eyes were
bright with fever, and his untended beard and straggling
hair heightened the wildness of his aspect.
But he was in possession of his senses; and as his
gaze passed from Bigot at the window to the old Free
Companion, who sat on a stool beside him, engaged
in shaping a piece of wood into a splint, an expression
almost soft crept into his harsh face.
“Old fool!” he said.
And his voice, though changed, had not lost all its
strength and harshness.
“Did the Constable
need a splint when you laid him under the tower at
The old man lifted his eyes from his
task, and glanced through the nearest window.
“It is long from noon to night,”
he said quietly, “and far from cup to lip, my
“It would be if I had two legs,”
Tavannes answered, with a grimace, half-snarl, half-smile.
“As it is
where is that dagger?
It leaves me every minute.”
It had slipped from the coverlid to
Badelon took it up, and set it on
the bed within reach of his master’s hand.
Bigot swore fiercely.
would be farther still,” he growled, “if
you would be guided by me, my lord.
leave to bar the door, and ’twill be long before
these fisher clowns force it.
Badelon and I
“Being in your full strength,”
Count Hannibal murmured cynically.
“Could hold it.
strength enough for that,” the Norman boasted,
though his livid face and his bandages gave the lie
to his words.
He could not move without pain;
and for Badelon, his knee was as big as two with plaisters
of his own placing.
Count Hannibal stared at the ceiling.
“You could not strike two blows!” he
“Don’t lie to me!
Badelon cannot walk two yards!
he continued with bitterness, not all bitter.
“Fine bars ’twixt a man and death!
No, it is time to turn the face to the wall.
And, since go I must, it shall not be said Count Hannibal
dared not go alone!
Bigot stopped him with an oath that
was in part a cry of pain.
he exclaimed in fury, “’tis she is that
I know it.
she has been our ruin from the day we saw her first,
ay, to this day!
’Tis she has bewitched
you until your blood, my lord, has turned to water.
Or you would never, to save the hand that betrayed
us, never to save a man
“Silence!” Count Hannibal
cried, in a terrible voice.
And rising on his
elbow, he poised the dagger as if he would hurl it.
“Silence, or I will spit you like the vermin
Silence, and listen!
old ban-dog, listen too, for I know you obstinate!
It is not to save him.
It is because I will
die as I have lived, fearing nothing and asking nothing!
It were easy to bar the door as you would have me,
and die in the corner here like a wolf at bay, biting
to the last.
That were easy, old wolf-hound!
Pleasant and good sport!”
That were a death!”
the veteran cried, his eyes brightening.
I would fain die!”
“And I!” Count Hannibal
returned, showing his teeth in a grim smile.
Yet I will not!
I will not!
Because so to die were to die unwillingly, and give
Be dragged to death?
old dog, if die we must, we will go to death!
We will die grandly, highly, as becomes Tavannes!
That when we are gone they may say, ’There died
may say!” Bigot muttered,
Count Hannibal heard and glared at
him, but presently thought better of it, and after
“Ay, she too!” he said.
As we have played the game
so, though we lose, we will play it
to the end; nor because we lose throw down the cards!
Besides, man, die in the corner, die biting, and
he dies too!”
“And why not?” Bigot asked,
rising in a fury.
work is it we lie here, snared by these clowns of
Who led us wrong and betrayed us?
Would the devil had taken him a year
Would he were within my reach now!
I would kill him with my bare fingers!
And why not?”
“Why, because, fool, his death
would not save me!” Count Hannibal answered
“If it would, he would die!
But it will not; and we must even do again as we
I have spared him
a white-livered hound!
both once and twice,
and we must go to the end with it since no better
I have thought it out, and it must be.
Only see you, old dog, that I have the dagger hid
in the splint where I can reach it.
when the exchange has been made, and my lady has her
silk glove again
to put in her bosom!”
a grimace and a sudden reddening of his harsh features
master priest come within reach of my arm, I’ll
send him before me, where I go.”
“Ay, ay!” said Badelon.
“And if you fail of your stroke I will not fail
I shall be there, and I will see to
it he goes!
I shall be there!”
“Ay, why not?” the old
man answered quietly.
“I may halt on this
leg for aught I know, and come to starve on crutches
like old Claude Boiteux who was at the taking of Milan
and now begs in the passage under the Chatelet.”
“Bah, man, you will get a new lord!”
new lord with new ways!” he answered slowly and
“And I am tired.
are of another sort, lords now, than they were when
I was young.
It was a word and a blow then.
Now I am old, with most it is
hog, your distance!
You scent my lady!’
Then they rode, and hunted, and tilted year in and
year out, and summer or winter heard the lark sing.
Now they are curled, and paint themselves, and lie
in silk and toy with ladies
who shamed to
be seen at Court or board when I was a boy
love better to hear the mouse squeak than the lark
“Still, if I give you my gold
chain,” Count Hannibal answered quietly, “’twill
keep you from that.”
“Give it to Bigot,” the
old man answered.
The splint he was fashioning
had fallen on his knees, and his eyes were fixed on
the distance of his youth.
“For me, my
lord, I am tired, and I go with you.
I go with
It is a good death to die biting before
the strength be quite gone.
Have the dagger
too, if you please, and I’ll fit it within the
splint right neatly.
But I shall be there
“And you’ll strike home?”
Tavannes cried eagerly.
He raised himself on
his elbow, a gleam of joy in his gloomy eyes.
“Have no fear, my lord.
See, does it tremble?” He held out his hand.
“And when you are sped, I will try the Spanish
upwards with a turn ere you withdraw,
that I learned from Ruiz
on the shaven pate.
I see them about me now!” the old man continued,
his face flushing, his form dilating.
will be odd if I cannot snatch a sword and hew down
three to go with Tavannes!
And Bigot, he will
see my lord the Marshal by-and-by; and as I do to
the priest, the Marshal will do to Montsoreau.
He will teach him the
coup de Jarnac
never fear!” And the old man’s moustaches
curled up ferociously.
Count Hannibal’s eyes sparkled
“Old dog!” he cried
he held his hand to the veteran, who brushed it reverently
with his lips
“we will go together
Who touches my brother, touches Tavannes!”
“Touches Tavannes!” Badelon
cried, the glow of battle lighting his bloodshot eyes.
He rose to his feet.
You mind at Jarnac
“When we charged their horse, was my boot a
foot from yours, my lord?”
“Not a foot!”
“And at Dreux,” the old
man continued with a proud, elated gesture, “when
we rode down the German pikemen
grass before us, leaves on the wind, thistledown
it not I who covered your bridle hand, and swerved
not in the
“And at St. Quentin, when we
fled before the Spaniard
it was his day,
you remember, and cost us dear
“Ay, I was young then,”
Tavannes cried in turn, his eyes glistening.
It was the tenth of August.
And you were new with me, and seized my rein
“And we rode off together, my
of the last, of the last, as God sees
And striking as we went, so that they left
us for easier game.”
“It was so, good sword!
I remember it as if it had been yesterday!”
“And at Cerisoles, the Battle
of the Plain, in the old Spanish wars, that was most
like a joust of all the pitched fields I ever saw
Cerisoles, where I caught your horse?
It was in the shock when we broke Guasto’s
“At Cerisoles?” Count
Hannibal muttered slowly.
“Why, man, I
“I caught your horse, and mounted
You remember, my lord?
at Landriano, where Leyva turned the tables on us again.”
Count Hannibal stared.
he muttered bluntly. “’Twas in ’29,
forty years ago and more!
My father, indeed
“And at Rome
! in the old days at Rome!
When the Spanish company scaled the wall
was first, I next
was it not my foot you
And was it not I who dragged you up, while
the devils of Swiss pressed us hard?
were days, my lord!
I was young then, and you,
my lord, young too, and handsome as the morning
“You rave!” Tavannes cried,
finding his tongue at last.
You rave, old man!
Why, I was not born in those
My father even was a boy!
in ’27 you sacked it
The old man passed his hands over
his heated face, and, as a man roused suddenly from
sleep looks, he looked round the room.
died out of his eyes
as a light blown out
in a room; his form seemed to shrink, even while the
others gazed at him, and he sat down.
“No, I remember,” he muttered
“It was Prince Philibert of Chalons,
my lord of Orange.”
“Dead these forty years!”
“Ay, dead these forty years!
All dead!” the old man whispered, gazing at
his gnarled hand, and opening and shutting it by turns.
“And I grow childish!
high time, I followed them!
It trembles now;
but have no fear, my lord, this hand will not tremble
Ay, all dead!”
He sank into a mournful silence; and
Tavannes, after gazing at him awhile in rough pity,
fell to his own meditations, which were gloomy enough.
The day was beginning to wane, and with the downward
turn, though the sun still shone brightly through
the southern windows, a shadow seemed to fall across
They no longer rioted in a turmoil
of defiance as in the forenoon.
In its turn,
sober reflection marshalled the past before his eyes.
The hopes of a life, the ambitions of a life, moved
in sombre procession, and things done and things left
undone, the sovereignty which Nostradamus had promised,
the faces of men he had spared and of men he had not
and the face of one woman.
She would not now be his.
had played highly, and he would lose highly, playing
the game to the end, that to-morrow she might think
of him highly.
Had she begun to think of him
In the chamber of the inn at Angers
he had fancied a change in her, an awakening to life
and warmth, a shadow of turning to him.
pleased him to think so, at any rate.
him still to imagine
of this he was more
that in the time to come, when
she was Tignonville’s, she would think of him
secretly and kindly.
She would remember him,
and in her thoughts and in her memory he would grow
to the heroic, even as the man she had chosen would
shrink as she learned to know him.
It pleased him, that.
almost all that was left to please him
and to die proudly as he had lived.
But as the
day wore on, and the room grew hot and close, and
the pain in his thigh became more grievous, the frame
of his mind altered.
A sombre rage was born and
grew in him, and a passion fierce and ill-suppressed.
To end thus, with nothing done, nothing accomplished
of all his hopes and ambitions!
To die thus,
crushed in a corner by a mean priest and a rabble of
spearmen, he who had seen Dreux and Jarnac, had defied
the King, and dared to turn the St. Bartholomew to
To die thus, and leave her to that
Strong man as he was, of a strength of
will surpassed by few, it taxed him to the utmost
to lie and make no sign.
Once, indeed, he raised
himself on his elbow with something between an oath
and a snarl, and he seemed about to speak.
that Bigot came hurriedly to him.
“Water!” he said.
“Water, fool!” And, having drunk, he
turned his face to the wall, lest he should name her
or ask for her.
For the desire to see her before he
died, to look into her eyes, to touch her hand once,
only once, assailed his mind and all but whelmed his
She had been with him, he knew it, in the
night; she had left him only at daybreak.
then, in his state of collapse, he had been hardly
conscious of her presence.
Now to ask for her
or to see her would stamp him coward, say what he
might to her.
The proverb, that the King’s
face gives grace, applied to her; and an overture
on his side could mean but one thing, that he sought
And that he would not do though the
cold waters of death covered him more and more, and
the coming of the end
in that quiet chamber,
while the September sun sank to the appointed place
wild longings and a wild rebellion in his breast.
His thoughts were very bitter, as he lay, his loneliness
of the uttermost.
He turned his face to the
In that posture he slept after a time,
watched over by Bigot with looks of rage and pity.
And on the room fell a long silence.
had lacked three hours of setting when he fell asleep.
When he re-opened his eyes, and, after lying for
a few minutes between sleep and waking, became conscious
of his position, of the day, of the things which had
happened, and his helplessness
which wrung from him an involuntary groan
light in the room was still strong, and even bright.
He fancied for a moment that he had merely dozed
off and awaked again; and he continued to lie with
his face to the wall, courting a return of slumber.
But sleep did not come, and little
by little, as he lay listening and thinking and growing
more restless, he got the fancy that he was alone.
The light fell brightly on the wall to which his face
was turned; how could that be if Bigot’s broad
shoulders still blocked the loophole?
to assure himself, he called the man by name.
He got no answer.
“Badelon!” he muttered.
Had he gone, too, the old and faithful?
It seemed so, for again no answer came.
He had been accustomed all his life
to instant service; to see the act follow the word
ere the word ceased to sound.
And nothing which
had gone before, nothing which he had suffered since
his defeat at Angers, had brought him to feel his
impotence and his position
and that the
end of his power was indeed come
The blood rushed to his head; almost
the tears to eyes which had not shed them since boyhood,
and would not shed them now, weak as he was!
He rose on his elbow and looked with a full heart;
it was as he had fancied.
was empty; the embrasure
that was empty
Through its narrow outlet he had a tiny
view of the shore and the low rocky hill, of which
the summit shone warm in the last rays of the setting
The setting sun!
Ay, for the
lower part of the hill was growing cold; the shore
at its foot was grey.
Then he had slept long,
and the time was come.
He drew a deep breath
But on all within and without
lay silence, a silence marked, rather than broken,
by the dull fall of a wave on the causeway.
The day had been calm, but with the sunset a light
breeze was rising.
He set his teeth hard, and continued
An hour before sunset was the time
they had named for the exchange.
What did it
In five minutes the sun would be below
the horizon; already the zone of warmth on the hillside
was moving and retreating upwards.
and old Badelon?
Why had they left him while
An hour before sunset!
room was growing grey, grey and dark in the corners,
what was that?
He started, so violently that he jarred
his leg, and the pain wrung a groan from him.
At the foot of the bed, overlooked until then, a woman
lay prone on the floor, her face resting on her outstretched
She lay without motion, her head and her
clasped hands towards the loophole, her thick, clubbed
hair hiding her neck.
stared, and, fancying he dreamed, closed his eyes,
then looked again.
It was no phantasm.
It was the Countess; it was his wife!
He drew a deep breath, but he did
not speak, though the colour rose slowly to his cheek.
And slowly his eyes devoured her from head to foot,
from the hands lying white in the light below the window
to the shod feet; unchecked he took his fill of that
which he had so much desired
A woman prone, with all of her hidden but
a hundred acquainted with her would
not have known her.
But he knew her, and would
have known her from a hundred, nay from a thousand,
by her hands alone.
What was she doing here, and in this
He pondered; then he looked from her
for an instant, and saw that while he had gazed at
her the sun had set, the light had passed from the
top of the hill; the world without and the room within
were growing cold.
Was that the cause she no
longer lay quiet?
He saw a shudder run through
her, and a second; then it seemed to him
was he going mad?
that she moaned, and prayed
in half-heard words, and, wrestling with herself,
beat her forehead on her arms, and then was still
again, as still as death.
By the time the paroxysm
had passed, the last flush of sunset had faded from
the sky, and the hills were growing dark.