Chapter IV. Mademoiselle de la Vire.
 

My first desperate impulse on discovering the magnitude of my loss was to ride after the knaves and demand the token at the sword's point. The certainty, however, of finding them united, and the difficulty of saying which of the five possessed what I wanted, led me to reject this plan as I grew cooler; and since I did not dream, even in this dilemma, of abandoning the expedition the only alternative seemed to be to act as if I still had the broken coin, and essay what a frank explanation might effect when the time came.

After some wretched, very wretched, moments of debate, I resolved to adopt this course; and, for the present, thinking I might gain some knowledge of the surroundings while the light lasted, I pushed cautiously forward through the trees and came in less than five minutes within sight of a corner of the chateau, which I found to be a modern building of the time of Henry II., raised, like the houses of that time, for pleasure rather than defence, and decorated with many handsome casements and tourelles. Despite this, it wore, as I saw it, a grey and desolate air, due in part to the loneliness of the situation and the lateness of the hour; and in part, I think, to the smallness of the household maintained, for no one was visible on the terrace or at the windows. The rain dripped from the trees, which on two sides pressed so closely on the house as almost to darken the rooms, and everything I saw encouraged me to hope that mademoiselle's wishes would second my entreaties, and incline her to lend a ready ear to my story.

The appearance of the house, indeed, was a strong inducement to me to proceed, for it was impossible to believe that a young lady, a kinswoman of the gay and vivacious Turenne, and already introduced to the pleasures of the Court, would elect of her own free will to spend the winter in so dreary a solitude.

Taking advantage of the last moments of daylight, I rode cautiously round the house, and, keeping in the shadow of the trees, had no difficulty in discovering at the north-east corner the balcony of which I had been told. It was semi-circular in shape, with a stone balustrade, and hung some fifteen feet above a terraced walk which ran below it, and was separated from the chase by a low sunk fence.

I was surprised to observe that, notwithstanding the rain and the coldness of the evening, the window which gave upon this balcony was open. Nor was this all. Luck was in store for me at last. I had not gazed at the window more than a minute, calculating its height and other particulars, when, to my great joy, a female figure, closely hooded, stepped out and stood looking up at the sky. I was too far off to be able to discern by that uncertain light whether this was Mademoiselle de la Vire or her woman; but the attitude was so clearly one of dejection and despondency, that I felt sure it was either one or the other. Determined not to let the opportunity slip, I dismounted hastily and, leaving the Cid loose, advanced on foot until I stood within half-a-dozen paces of the window.

At that point the watcher became aware of me. She started back, but did not withdraw. Still peering down at me, she called softly to some one inside the chamber, and immediately a second figure, taller and stouter, appeared. I had already doffed my cap, and I now, in a low voice, begged to know if I had the honour of speaking to Mademoiselle de la Vire. In the growing darkness it was impossible to distinguish faces.

'Hush!' the stouter figure muttered in a tone of warning. 'Speak lower. Who are you, and what do you here?'

'I am here,' I answered respectfully, 'commissioned by a friend of the lady I have named, to convey her to a place of safety.'

'Mon dieu!' was the sharp answer. 'Now? It is impossible.'

'No,' I murmured, 'not now, but to-night. The moon rises at half-past two. My horses need rest and food. At three I will be below this window with the means of escape, if mademoiselle choose to use them.'

I felt that they were staring at me through the dusk, as though they would read my breast. 'Your name, sir?' the shorter figure murmured at last, after a pause which was full of suspense and excitement.

'I do not think my name of much import at present, Mademoiselle,' I answered, reluctant to proclaim myself a stranger. 'When--'

'Your name, your name, sir!' she repeated imperiously, and I heard her little heel rap upon the stone floor of the balcony.

'Gaston de Marsac,' I answered unwillingly.

They both started, and cried out together. 'Impossible!' the last speaker exclaimed, amazement and anger in her tone, 'This is a jest, sir. This--'

What more she would have said I was left to guess, for at that moment her attendant I had no doubt now which was mademoiselle and which Fanchette--suddenly laid her hand on her mistress's mouth and pointed to the room behind them. A second's suspense, and with a wanting gesture the two turned and disappeared through the window.

I lost no time in regaining the shelter of the trees; and concluding, though I was far from satisfied with the interview, that I could do nothing more now, but might rather, by loitering in the neighbourhood, awaken suspicion, I remounted and made for the highway and the village, where I found my men in noisy occupation of the inn, a poor place, with unglazed windows, and a fire in the middle of the earthen floor. My first care wets to stable the Cid in a shed at the back, where I provided for its wants as far as I could with the aid of a half-naked boy, who seemed to be in hiding there.

This done, I returned to the front of the house, having pretty well made up my mind how I would set about the task before me. As I passed one of the windows, which was partially closed by a rude curtain made of old sacks, I stopped to look in. Fresnoy and his four rascals were seated on blocks of wood round the hearth, talking loudly and fiercely, and ruffling it as if the fire and the room were their own. A pedlar, seated on his goods in one corner, was eyeing them with evident fear and suspicion; in another corner two children had taken refuge under a donkey, which some fowls had chosen as a roosting-pole. The innkeeper, a sturdy fellow, with a great club in his fist, sat moodily at the foot of a ladder which led to the loft above, while a slatternly woman, who was going to and fro getting supper, seemed in equal terror of her guests and her good man.

Confirmed by what I saw, and assured that the villains were ripe for any mischief, and, if not checked, would speedily be beyond my control, I noisily flung the door open and entered. Fresnoy looked up with a sneer as I did so, and one of the men laughed. The others became silent; but no one moved or greeted me. Without a moment's hesitation I stepped to the nearest fellow and, with a sturdy kick, sent his log from under him. 'Rise, you rascal, when I enter!' I cried, giving vent to the anger I had long felt. 'And you, too!' and with a second kick I sent his neighbour's stool flying also, and administered a couple of cuts with my riding-cane across the man's shoulders. 'Have you no manners, sirrah? Across with you, and leave this side to your betters.'

The two rose, snarling and feeling for their weapons, and for a moment stood facing me, looking now at me and now askance at Fresnoy. But as he gave no sign, and their comrades only laughed, the men's courage failed them at the pinch, and with a very poor grace they sneaked over to the other side of the fire and sat there, scowling.

I seated myself beside their leader. 'This gentleman and I will eat here,' I cried to the man at the foot of the ladder. 'Bid your wife lay for us, and of the best you have; and do you give those knaves their provender where the smell of their greasy jackets will not come between us and our victuals.'

The man came forward, glad enough, as I saw, to discover any one in authority, and very civilly began to draw wine and place a board for us, while his wife filled our platters from the black pot which hung over the fire. Fresnoy's face meanwhile wore the amused smile of one who comprehended my motives, but felt sufficiently sure of his position and influence with his followers to be indifferent to my proceedings. I presently showed him, however, that I had not yet done with him. Our table was laid in obedience to my orders at such a distance from the men that they could not overhear our talk, and by-and-by I leant over to him.

'M. Fresnoy,' I said, 'you are in danger of forgetting one thing, I fancy, which it behoves you to remember.'

'What?' he muttered, scarcely deigning to look up at me.

'That you have to do with Gaston de Marsac,' I answered quietly. 'I am making, as I told you this morning, a last attempt to recruit my fortunes, and I will let no man--no man, do you understand, M. Fresnoy?--thwart me and go harmless.'

'Who wishes to thwart you?' he asked impudently.

'You,' I answered unmoved, helping myself, as I spoke, from the roll of black bread which lay beside me. 'You robbed me this afternoon; I passed it over. You encouraged those men to be insolent; I passed it over. But let me tell you this. If you fail me to-night, on the honour of a gentleman, M. Fresnoy, I will run you through as I would spit a lark.'

'Will you? But two can play at that game,' he cried, rising nimbly from his stool. 'Still better six! Don't you think, M. de Marsac, you had better have waited--?'

'I think you had better hear one word more,' I answered coolly, keeping my seat, 'before you appeal to your fellows there.'

'Well,' he said, still standing, 'what is it?'

'Nay,' I replied, after once more pointing to his stool in vain, 'if you prefer to take my orders standing, well and good.'

'Your orders?' he shrieked, growing suddenly excited.

'Yes, my orders!' I retorted, rising as suddenly to my feet and hitching forward my sword. 'My orders, sir,' I repeated fiercely, 'or, if you dispute my right to command as well as to pay this party, let us decide the question here and now--you and I, foot to foot, M. Fresnoy.'

The quarrel flashed up so suddenly, though I had been preparing it all along, that no one moved. The woman indeed, fell back to her children, but the rest looked on open-mouthed. Had they stirred, or had a moment's hurly-burly heated his blood, I doubt not Fresnoy would have taken up my challenge, for he did not lack hardihood. But as it was, face to face with me in the silence, his courage failed him. He paused, glowering at me uncertainly, and did not speak.

'Well,' I said, 'don't you think that if I pay I ought to give orders, sir?'

'Who wishes to oppose your orders?' he muttered, drinking off a bumper, and sitting down with an air of impudent bravado, assumed to hide his discomfiture.

'If you don't, no one else does,' I answered. So that is settled. Landlord, some more wine.'

He was very sulky with me for a while, fingering his glass in silence and scowling at the table. He had enough gentility to feel the humiliation to which he had exposed himself, and a sufficiency of wit to understand that that moment's hesitation had cost him the allegiance of his fellow-ruffians. I hastened, therefore, to set him at his ease by explaining my plans for the night, and presently succeeded beyond my hopes; for when he heard who the lady was whom I proposed to carry off, and that she was lying that evening at the Chateau de Chize, his surprise swept away the last trace of resentment. He stared at me, as at a maniac.

'Mon Dieu!' he exclaimed. 'Do you know what you are doing, Sieur?'

'I think so,' I answered.

'Do you know to whom the chateau belongs?'

'To the Vicomte de Turenne.'

'And that Mademoiselle de la Vire is his relation?'

'Yes,' I said.

'Mon Dieu!' he exclaimed again. And he looked at me open- mouthed.

'What is the matter?' I asked, though I had an uneasy consciousness that I knew--that I knew very well.

'Man, he will crush you as I crush this hat!' he answered in great excitement. 'As easily. Who do you think will protect you from him in a private quarrel of this kind? Navarre? France? our good man? Not one of them. You had better steal the king's crown jewels--he is weak; or Guise's last plot--he is generous at times, or Navarre's last sweetheart--he is as easy as an old shoe. You had better have to do with all these together, I tell you, than touch Turenne's ewe-lambs, unless your aim be to be broken on the wheel! Mon Dieu, yes!'

'I am much obliged to you for your advice,' I said stiffly, 'but the die is cast. My mind is made up. On the other hand, if you are afraid, M. Fresnoy--'

'I am afraid; very much afraid,' he answered frankly.

'Still your name need not be brought into the matter,' I replied, 'I will take the responsibility. I will let them know my name here at the inn, where, doubtless, inquiries will be made.'

'To be sure, that is something,' he answered. thoughtfully. 'Well, it is an ugly business, but I am in for it. You want me to go with you a little after two, do you? and the others to be in the saddle at three? Is that it?'

I assented, pleased to find him so far acquiescent; and in this way, talking the details over more than once, we settled our course, arranging to fly by way of Poitiers and Tours. Of course I did not tell him why I selected Blois as our refuge, nor what was my purpose there; though he pressed me more than once on the point, and grew thoughtful and somewhat gloomy when I continually evaded it. A little after eight we retired to the loft to sleep; our men remaining below round the fire and snoring so merrily as almost to shake the crazy old building. The host was charged to sit up and call us as soon as the moon rose, but, as it turned out, I might as well have taken this office on myself, for between excitement and distrust I slept little, and was wide awake when I heard his step on the ladder and knew it was time to rise.

I was up in a moment, and Fresnoy was little behind me; so that, losing no time in talk, we were mounted and on the road, each with a spare horse at his knee, before the moon was well above the trees. Once in the Chase we found it necessary to proceed on foot, but, the distance being short, we presently emerged without misadventure and stood opposite to the chateau, the upper part of which shone cold and white in the moon's rays.

There was something so solemn in the aspect of the place, the night being fine and the sky without a cloud, that I stood for a minute awed and impressed, the sense of the responsibility I was here to accept strong upon me. In that short space of time all the dangers before me, as well the common risks of the road as the vengeance of Turenne and the turbulence of my own men, presented themselves to my mind, and made a last appeal to me to turn back from an enterprise so foolhardy. The blood in a man's veins runs low and slow at that hour, and mine was chilled by lack of sleep and the wintry air. It needed the remembrance of my solitary condition, of my past spent in straits and failure, of the grey hairs which swept my cheek, of the sword which I had long used honourably, if with little profit to myself; it needed the thought of all these things to restore me to courage and myself.

I judged at a later period that my companion was affected in somewhat the same way; for, as I stooped to press home the pegs which I had brought to tether the horses, he laid his hand on my arm. Glancing up to see what he wanted, I was struck by the wild look in his face (which the moonlight invested with a peculiar mottled pallor), and particularly in his eyes, which glittered like a madman's. He tried to speak, but seemed to find a difficulty in doing so; and I had to question him roughly before he found his tongue. When he did speak, it was only to implore me in an odd, excited manner to give up the expedition and return.

'What, now?' I said, surprised. 'Now we are here, Fresnoy?'

'Ay, give it up!' he cried, shaking me almost fiercely by the arm. 'Give it up, man! It will end badly, I tell you! In God's name, give it up, and go home before worse comes of it.'

'Whatever comes of it,' I answered coldly, shaking his grasp from my arm, and wondering much at this sudden fit of cowardice, 'I go on. You, M. Fresnoy, may do as you please!'

He started and drew back from me; but he did not reply, nor did he speak again. When I presently went off to fetch a ladder, of the position of which I had made a note during the afternoon, he accompanied me, and followed me back in the same dull silence to the walk below the balcony. I had looked more than once and eagerly at mademoiselle's window without any light or movement in that quarter rewarding my vigilance; but, undeterred by this, which might mean either that my plot was known, or that Mademoiselle de la Vire distrusted me, I set the ladder softly against the balcony, which was in deep shadow, and paused only to give Fresnoy his last instructions. These were simply to stand on guard at the foot of the ladder and defend it in case of surprise; so that, whatever happened inside the chateau, my retreat by the window might not be cut off.

Then I went cautiously up the ladder, and, with my sheathed sword in my left hand, stepped over the balustrade. Taking one pace forward, with fingers outstretched, I felt the leaded panes of the window and tapped softly.

As softly the casement gave way, and I followed it. A hand which I could see but not feel was laid on mine. All was darkness in the room, and before me, but the hand guided me two paces forward, then by a sudden pressure bade me stand. I heard the sound of a, curtain being drawn behind me, and the next moment the cover of a rushlight was removed, and a feeble but sufficient light filled the chamber.

I comprehended that the drawing of that curtain over the window had cut off my retreat as effectually as if a door had been closed behind me. But distrust and suspicion gave way the next moment to the natural embarrassment of the man who finds himself in a false position and knows he can escape from it only by an awkward explanation.

The room in which I found myself was long, narrow, and low in the ceiling; and being hung with some dark stuff which swallowed up the light, terminated funereally at the farther end in the still deeper gloom of an alcove. Two or three huge chests, one bearing the remnants of a meal, stood against the walls. The middle of the floor was covered with a strip of coarse matting, on which a small table, a chair and foot-rest, and a couple of stools had place, with some smaller articles which lay scattered round a pair of half-filled saddle-bags. The slighter and smaller of the two figures I had seen stood beside the table, wearing a mask and riding cloak; and by her silent manner of gazing at me, as well as by a cold, disdainful bearing, which neither her mask nor cloak could hide, did more to chill and discomfit me than even my own knowledge that I had lost the pass-key which should have admitted me to her confidence.

The stouter figure of the afternoon turned out to be a red- cheeked, sturdy woman of thirty, with bright black eyes and a manner which lost nothing of its fierce impatience when she came a little later to address me. All my ideas of Fanchette were upset by the appearance of this woman, who, rustic in her speech and ways, seemed more like a duenna, than the waiting-maid of a court beauty, and better fitted to guard a wayward damsel than to aid her in such an escapade as we had in hand.

She stood slightly behind her mistress, her coarse red hand resting on the back of the chair from which mademoiselle had apparently risen on my entrance. For a few seconds, which seemed minutes to me, we stood gazing at one another in silence, mademoiselle acknowledging my bow by a slight movement of the head. Then, seeing that they waited for me to speak, I did so.

'Mademoiselle de la Vire?' I murmured doubtfully.

She bent her head again; that was all.

I strove to speak with confidence. 'You will pardon me, mademoiselle,' I said, 'if I seem to be abrupt, but time is everything. The horses are standing within a hundred yards of the house, and all the preparations for your flight are made. If we leave now, we can do so without opposition. The delay even of an hour may lead to discovery.'

For answer she laughed behind her mask-laughed coldly and ironically. 'You go too fast, sir,' she said, her low clear voice matching the laugh and rousing a feeling almost of anger in my heart. 'I do not know you; or, rather, I know nothing of you which should entitle you to interfere in my affairs. You are too quick to presume, sir. You say you come from a friend. From whom?'

'From one whom I am proud to call by that title,' I answered with what patience I might.

'His name!'

I answered firmly that I could not give it. And I eyed her steadily as I did so.

This for the moment seemed to baffle and confuse her, but after a pause she continued: 'Where do you propose to take me, sir?'

'To Blois; to the lodging of a friend of my friend.'

'You speak bravely,' she replied with a faint sneer. 'You have made some great friends lately it seems! But you bring me some letter, no doubt; at least some sign, some token, some warranty, that you are the person you pretend to be, M. de Marsac?'

'The truth is, Mademoiselle,' I stammered, 'I must explain. I should tell you--'

'Nay, sir,' she cried impetuously, 'there is no need of telling. If you have what I say, show it me! It is you who lose time. Let us have no more words!'

I had used very few words, and, God knows, was not in the mind to use many; but, being in the wrong, I had no answer to make except the truth, and that humbly. 'I had such a token as you mention, mademoiselle,' I said, 'no farther back than this afternoon, in the shape of half a gold coin, entrusted to me by my friend. But, to my shame I say it, it was stolen from me a few hours back.'

'Stolen from you!' she exclaimed.

'Yes, mademoiselle; and for that reason I cannot show it,' I answered.

'You cannot show it? And you dare to come to me without it!' she cried, speaking with a vehemence which fairly startled me, prepared as I was for reproaches. You come to me! You!' she continued. And with that, scarcely stopping to take breath, she loaded me with abuse; calling me impertinent, a meddler, and a hundred other things, which I now blush to recall, and displaying in all a passion which even in her attendant would have surprised me, but in one so slight and seemingly delicate, overwhelmed and confounded me. In fault as I was, I could not understand the peculiar bitterness she displayed, or the contemptuous force of her language, and I stared at her in silent wonder until, of her own accord, she supplied the key to her feelings. In a fresh outburst of rage she snatched off her mask, and to my astonishment I saw before me the young maid of honour whom I had encountered in the King of Navarre's antechamber, and whom I had been so unfortunate as to expose to the raillery of Mathurine.

'Who has paid you, sir,' she continued, clenching her small hands and speaking with tears of anger in her eyes, 'to make me the laughing-stock of the Court? It was bad enough when I thought you the proper agent of those to whom I have a right to look for aid! It was bad enough when I thought myself forced, through their inconsiderate choice, to decide between an odious imprisonment and the ridicule to which your intervention must expose me! But that you should have dared, of your own notion, to follow me, you, the butt of the Court--'

'Mademoiselle!' I cried.

'A needy, out-at-elbows adventurer!' she persisted, triumphing in her cruelty. 'It exceeds all bearing! It is not to be suffered! It--'

'Nay, mademoiselle; you shall hear me!' I cried, with a sternness which at last stopped her. 'Granted I am poor, I am still a gentleman; yes, mademoiselle,' I continued, firmly, 'a gentleman, and the last of a family which has spoken with yours on equal terms. And I claim to be heard. I swear that when I came here to-night I believed you to be a perfect stranger! I was unaware that I had ever seen you, unaware that I had ever met you before,'

'Then why did you come?' she said viciously.

'I was engaged to come by those whom you have mentioned, and there, and there only am I in fault. They entrusted to me a token which I have lost. For that I crave your pardon.'

'You have need to,' she answered bitterly, yet with a changed countenance, or I was mistaken, 'if your story be true, sir.'

'Ay, that you have!' the woman beside her echoed.

'Hoity toity, indeed! Here is a fuss about nothing. You call yourself a gentleman, and wear such a doublet as--'

'Peace, Fanchette" mademoiselle said imperiously. And then for a moment she stood silent, eyeing me intently, her lips trembling with excitement and two red spots burning in her cheeks. It was clear from her dress and other things that she had made up her mind to fly had the token been forthcoming; and seeing this, and knowing how unwilling a young girl is to forgo her own way, I still had some hopes that she might not persevere in her distrust and refusal. And so it turned out.

Her manner had changed to one of quiet scorn when she next spoke. 'You defend yourself skilfully, sir,' she said, drumming with her fingers on the table and eyeing me steadfastly. 'But can you give me any reason for the person you name making choice of such a messenger?'

'Yes,' I answered, boldly. 'That he may not be suspected of conniving at your escape.'

'Oh!' she cried, with a spark of her former passion. 'Then it is to be put about that Mademoiselle de la Vire had fled from Chize with M. de Marsac, is it? I thought that!'

'Through the assistance of M. de Marsac,' I retorted, correcting her coldly. 'It is for you, mademoiselle,' I continued, 'to weigh that disadvantage against the unpleasantness of remaining here. It only remains for me to ask you to decide quickly. Time presses, and I have stayed here too long already.'

The words had barely passed my lips when they received unwelcome confirmation in the shape of a distant sound--the noisy closing of a door, which, clanging through the house at such an hour--I judged it to be after three o'clock--could scarcely mean anything but mischief. This noise was followed immediately, even while we stood listening with raised fingers, by other sounds--a muffled cry, and the tramp of heavy footsteps in a distant passage. Mademoiselle looked at me, and I at her woman. 'The door!' I muttered. 'Is it locked?'

'And bolted!' Fanchette answered; 'and a great chest set against it. Let them ramp; they will do no harm for a bit.'

'Then you have still time, mademoiselle,' I whispered, retreating a step and laying my hand on the curtain before the window. Perhaps I affected greater coolness than I felt. 'It is not too late. If you choose to remain, well and good. I cannot help it. If, on the other hand, you decide to trust yourself to me, I swear, on the honour of a gentleman, to be worthy of the trust-- to serve you truly and protect you to the last! I can say no more.'

She trembled, looking from me to the door, on which some one had just begun to knock loudly. That seemed to decide her. Her lips apart, her eyes full of excitement, she turned hastily to Fanchette.

'Ay, go if you like,' the woman answered doggedly, reading the meaning of her look. 'There cannot be a greater villain than the one we know of. But once started, heaven help us, for if he overtakes us we'll pay dearly for it!'

The girl did not speak herself, but it was enough. The noise at the door increased each second, and began to be mingled with angry appeals to Fanchette to open, and with threats in case she delayed. I cut the matter short by snatching up one of the saddle-bags--the other we left behind--and flung back the curtain which covered the window. At the same time the woman dashed out the light--a timely precaution--and throwing open the casement I stepped on to the balcony, the others following me closely.

The moon had risen high, and flooding with light the small open space about the house enabled me to see clearly all round the foot of the ladder, to my surprise Fresnoy was not at his post, nor was he to be seen anywhere; but as, at the moment I observed this, an outcry away to my left, at the rear of the chateau, came to my ears, and announced that the danger was no longer confined to the interior of the house, I concluded that he had gone that way to intercept the attack. Without more, therefore, I began to descend as quickly as I could, my sword under one arm and the bag under the other.

I was half-way down, and mademoiselle was already stepping on to the ladder to follow, when I heard footsteps below, and saw him run up, his sword in his hand.

'Quick, Fresnoy!' I cried. 'To the horses and unfasten them! quick!'

I slid down the rest of the way, thinking he had gone to do my bidding. But my feet were scarcely on the ground when a tremendous blow in the side sent me staggering three paces from the ladder. The attack was so sudden, so unexpected, that but for the sight of Fresnoy's scowling face, wild with rage, at my shoulder, and the sound of his fierce breathing as he strove to release his sword, which had passed through my saddle-bag, I might never have known who struck the blow, or how narrow had been my escape.

Fortunately the knowledge did come to me in time, and before he freed his blade; and it nerved my hand. To draw my-blade at such close quarters was impossible, but, dropping the bag which had saved my life, I dashed my hilt twice in his face with such violence that he fell backwards and lay on the turf, a dark stain growing and spreading on his upturned face.

It was scarcely done before the women reached the foot of the ladder and stood beside me. 'Quick!' I cried to them, 'or they will be upon us.' Seizing mademoiselle's hand, just as half-a- dozen men came running round the corner of the house, I jumped with her down the haha, and, urging her to her utmost speed, dashed across the open ground which lay between us and the belt of trees. Once in the shelter of the latter, where our movements were hidden from view, I had still to free the horses and mount mademoiselle and her woman, and this in haste. But my companions' admirable coolness and presence of mind, and the objection which our pursuers, who did not know our numbers, felt to leaving the open ground, enabled us to do all with, comparative ease. I sprang on the Cid (it has always been my habit to teach my horse to stand for me, nor do I know any accomplishment more serviceable at a pinch), and giving Fresnoy's grey a cut over the flanks which despatched it ahead, led the way down the ride by which I had gained the chateau in the afternoon. I knew it to be level and clear of trees, and the fact that we chose it might throw our pursuers off the track for a time, by leading them to think we had taken the south road instead of that through the village.