The House of the Wolf by Stanley J. Weyman
Chapter X. Hau, Hau, Huguenots!
His late Majesty, Henry the Fourth, I remember--than whom no braver man wore sword, who loved danger indeed for its own sake, and courted it as a mistress--could never sleep on the night before an action. I have heard him say himself that it was so before the fight at Arques. Croisette partook of this nature too, being high-strung and apt to be easily over-wrought, but never until the necessity for exertion had passed away: while Marie and I, though not a whit stouter at a pinch, were slower to feel and less easy to move--more Germanic in fact.
I name this here partly lest it should be thought after what I have just told of Croisette that there was anything of the woman about him--save the tenderness; and partly to show that we acted at this crisis each after his manner. 'While Croisette turned pale and trembled, and hid his eyes, I stood dazed, looking from the desolate house to the face stiffening in the sunshine, and back again; wondering, though I had seen scores of dead faces since daybreak, and a plenitude of suffering in all dreadful shapes, how Providence could let this happen to us. To us! In his instincts man is as selfish as any animal that lives.
I saw nothing indeed of the dead face and dead house after the first convincing glance. I saw instead with hot, hot eyes the old castle at home, the green fields about the brook, and the grey hills rising from them; and the terrace, and Kit coming to meet us, Kit with white face and parted lips and avid eyes that questioned us! And we with no comfort to give her, no lover to bring back to her!
A faint noise behind as of a sign creaking in the wind, roused me from this most painful reverie. I turned round, not quickly or in surprise or fear. Rather in the same dull wonder. The upper part of the bookseller's door was ajar. It was that I had heard opened. An old woman was peering out at us.
As our eyes met, she made a slight movement to close the door again. But I did not stir, and seeming to be reassured by a second glance, she nodded to me in a stealthy fashion. I drew a step nearer, listlessly. "Pst! Pst!" she whispered. Her wrinkled old face, which was like a Normandy apple long kept, was soft with pity as she looked at Croisette. "Pst!"
"Well!" I said, mechanically.
"Is he taken?" she muttered.
"Who taken?" I asked stupidly.
She nodded towards the forsaken house, and answered, "The young lord who lodged there? Ah! sirs," she continued, "he looked gay and handsome, if you'll believe me, as he came from the king's court yester even! As bonny a sight in his satin coat, and his ribbons, as my eyes ever saw! And to think that they should be hunting him like a rat to-day!"
The woman's words were few and simple. But what a change they made in my world! How my heart awoke from its stupor, and leapt up with a new joy and a new-born hope! "Did he get away?" I cried eagerly. "Did he escape, mother, then?"
"Ay, that. he did!" she replied quickly. "That poor fellow, yonder--he lies quiet enough now God forgive him his heresy, say I!--kept the door manfully while the gentleman got on the roof, and ran right down the street on the tops of the houses, with them firing and hooting at him: for all the world as if he had been a squirrel and they a pack of boys with stones!"
"And he escaped?"
"Escaped!" she answered more slowly, shaking her old head in doubt. "I do not know about that I fear they have got him by now, gentlemen. I have been shivering and shaking up stairs with my husband--he is in bed, good man, and the safest place for him --the saints have mercy upon us! But I heard them go with their shouting and gunpowder right along to the river, and I doubt they will take him between this and the chatelet! I doubt they will."
"How long ago was it, dame?" I cried.
"Oh! may be half an hour. Perhaps you are friends of his?" she added questioningly.
But I did not stay to answer her. I shook Croisette, who had not heard a word of this, by the shoulder. There is a chance that he has escaped!" I cried in his ear. Escaped, do you hear?" And I told him hastily what she had said.
It was fine, indeed, and a sight, to see the blood rush to his cheeks, and the tears dry in his eyes, and energy and decision spring to life in every nerve and muscle of his face, "Then there is hope?" he cried, grasping my arm. "Hope, Anne! Come! Come! Do not let us lose another instant. If he be alive let us join him!"
The old woman tried to detain us, but in vain. Nay, pitying us, and fearing, I think, that we were rushing on our deaths, she cast aside her caution, and called after us aloud. We took no heed, running after Croisette, who had not waited for our answer, as fast as young limbs could carry us down the street. The exhaustion we had felt a moment before when all seemed lost be it remembered that we had not been to bed or tasted food for many hours--fell from us on the instant, and was clean gone and forgotten in the joy of this respite. Louis was living and for the moment had escaped.
Escaped! But for how long? We soon had our answer. The moment we turned the corner by the river-side, the murmur of a multitude not loud but continuous, struck our ears, even as the breeze off the water swept our cheeks. Across the river lay the thousand roofs of the Ile de la Cite, all sparkling in the sunshine. But we swept to the right, thinking little of that sight, and checked our speed on finding ourselves on the skirts of the crowd. Before us was a bridge--the Pont au Change, I think--and at its head on our side of the water stood the chatelet, with its hoary turrets and battlements. Between us and the latter, and backed only by the river, was a great open space half-filled with people, mostly silent and watchful, come together as to a show, and betraying, at present at least, no desire to take an active part in what was going on.
We hurriedly plunged into the throng, and soon caught the clue to the quietness and the lack of movement which seemed to prevail, and which at first sight had puzzled us. For a moment the absence of the dreadful symptoms we had come to know so well--the flying and pursuing, the random blows, the shrieks and curses and batterings on doors, the tipsy yells, had reassured us. But the relief was short-lived. The people before us were under control. A tighter grip seemed to close upon our hearts as we discerned this, for we knew that the wild fury of the populace, like the rush of a bull, might have given some chance of escape--in this case as in others. But this cold-blooded ordered search left none.
Every face about us was turned in the same direction; away from the river and towards a block of old houses which stood opposite to it. The space immediately in front of these was empty, the people being kept back by a score or so of archers of the guard set at intervals, and by as many horsemen, who kept riding up and down, belabouring the bolder spirits with the flat of their swords,and so preserving a line. At each extremity of this--more noticeably on our left where the line curved round the angle of the buildings--stood a handful of riders, seven in a group perhaps. And alone in the middle of the space so kept clear, walking his horse up and down and gazing at the houses rode a man of great stature, booted and armed, the feather nodding in his bonnet. I could not see his face, but I had no need to see it. I knew him, and groaned aloud. It was Bezers!
I understood the scene better now. The horsemen, stern, bearded Switzers for the most part, who eyed the rabble about them with grim disdain, and were by no means chary of their blows, were all in his colours and armed to the teeth. The order and discipline were of his making: the revenge of his seeking. A grasp as of steel had settled upon our friend, and I felt that his last chance was gone. Louis de Pavannes might as well be lying on his threshold with his dead servant by his side, as be in hiding within that ring of ordered swords.
It was with despairing eyes we looked at the old wooden houses. They seemed to be bowing themselves towards us, their upper stories projected so far, they were so decrepit. Their roofs were a wilderness of gutters and crooked gables, of tottering chimneys and wooden pinnacles and rotting beams, Amongst these I judged Kit's lover was hiding. Well, it was a good place for hide and seek-with any other player than Death. In the ground floors of the houses there were no windows and no doors; by reason, I learned afterwards, of the frequent flooding of the river. But a long wooden gallery raised on struts ran along the front, rather more than the height of a man from the ground, and access to this was gained by a wooden staircase at each end. Above this first gallery was a second, and above that a line of windows set between the gables. The block--it may have run for seventy or eighty yards along the shore--contained four houses, each with a door opening on to the lower gallery. I saw indeed that but for the Vidame's precautions Louis might well have escaped. Had the mob once poured helter-skelter into that labyrinth of rooms and passages he might with luck have mingled with them, unheeded and unrecognized, and effected his escape when they retreated.
But now there were sentries on each gallery and more on the roof. Whenever one of the latter moved or seemed to be looking inward-- where a search party, I understood, were at work--indeed, if he did but turn his head, a thrill ran through the crowd and a murmur arose, which once or twice swelled to a savage roar such as earlier had made me tremble. When this happened the impulse came, it seemed to me, from the farther end of the line. There the rougher elements were collected, and there I more than once saw Bezers' troopers in conflict with the mob. In that quarter too a savage chant was presently struck up, the whole gathering joining in and yelling with an indescribably appalling effect:
"Hau! Hau! Huguenots! Faites place aux Papegots!"
in derision of the old song said to be popular amongst the Protestants. But in the Huguenot version the last words were of course transposed.
We had worked our way by this time to the front of the line, and looking into one another's eyes, mutely asked a question; but not even Croisette had an answer ready. There could be no answer but one. What could we do? Nothing. We were too late. Too late again! And yet how dreadful it was to stand still among the cruel, thoughtless mob and see our friend, the touch of whose hand we knew so well, done to death for their sport! Done to death as the old woman had said like any rat, not a soul save ourselves pitying him! Not a soul to turn sick at his cry of agony, or shudder at the glance of his dying eyes. It was dreadful indeed.
"Ah, well," muttered a woman beside me to her companion--there were many women in the crowd--"it is down with the Huguenots, say I! It is Lorraine is the fine man! But after all yon is a bonny fellow and a proper, Margot! I saw him leap from roof to roof over Love Lane, as if the blessed saints had carried him. And him a heretic!"
"It is the black art," the other answered, crossing herself.
"Maybe it is! But he will need it all to give that big man the slip to-day," replied the first speaker comfortably.
"That devil!" Margot exclaimed, pointing with a stealthy gesture of hate at the Vidame. And then in a fierce whisper, with inarticulate threats, she told a story of him, which made me shudder. "He did! And she in religion too!" she concluded. "May our Lady of Loretto reward him."
The tale might be true for aught I knew, horrible as it was! I had heard similar ones attributing things almost as fiendish to him, times and again; from that poor fellow lying dead on Pavannes' doorstep for one, and from others besides. As the Vidame in his pacing to and fro turned towards us, I gazed at him fascinated by his grim visage and that story. His eye rested on the crowd about us, and I trembled, lest even at that distance he should recognise us.
And he did! I had forgotten his keenness of sight. His face flashed suddenly into a grim smile. The tail of his eye resting upon us, and seeming to forbid us to move, he gave some orders. The colour fled from my face. To escape indeed was impossible, for we were hemmed in by the press and could scarcely stir a limb. Yet I did make one effort.
"Croisette!" I muttered he was the rearmost--"stoop down. He may not have seen you. Stoop down, lad!"
But St. Croix was obstinate and would not stoop. Nay, when one of the mounted men came, and roughly ordered us into the open, it was Croisette who pushing past us stepped out first with a lordly air. I, following him, saw that his lips were firmly compressed and that there was an eager light in his eyes. As we emerged, the crowd in our wake broke the line, and tried to pursue us; either hostilely or through eagerness to see what it meant. But a dozen blows of the long pikes drove them back, howling and cursing to their places.
I expected to be taken to Bezers; and what would follow I could not tell. But he did always it seemed what we least expected, for he only scowled at us now, a grim mockery on his lip, and cried, "See that they do not escape again! But do them no harm, sirrah, until I have the batch of them!"
He turned one way, and I another, my heart swelling with rage. Would he dare to harm us? Would even the Vidame dare to murder a Caylus' nephew openly and in cold blood? I did not think so. And yet--and yet--
Croisette interrupted the train of my thoughts. I found that he was not following me. He had sprung away, and in a dozen strides reached the Vidame's stirrup, and was clasping his knee when I turned. I could not hear at the distance at which I stood, what he said, and the horseman to whom Bezers had committed us spurred between us. But I heard the Vidame's answer.
"No! no! no!" he cried with a ring of restrained fury in his voice. "Let my plans alone! What do you know of them? And if you speak to me again, M. St. Croix--I think that is your name, boy--I will--no, I will not kill you. That might please you, you are stubborn, I can see. But I will have you stripped and lashed like the meanest of my scullions! Now go, and take care!"
Impatience, hate and wild passion flamed in his face for the moment-transfiguring it. Croisette came back to us slowly, white-lipped and quiet. "Never mind," I said bitterly. "The third time may bring luck."
Not that I felt much indignation at the Vidame's insult, or any anger with the lad for incurring it; as I had felt on that other occasion. Life and death seemed to be everything on this morning. Words had ceased to please and annoy, for what are words to the sheep in the shambles? One man's life and one woman's happiness outside ourselves we thought only of these now. And some day I reflected Croisette might remember even with pleasure that he had, as a drowning man clutching at straws, stooped to a last prayer for them.
We were placed in the middle of a knot of troopers who closed the line to the right. And presently Marie touched me. He was gazing intently at the sentry on the roof of the third house from us; the farthest but one. The man's back was to the parapet, and he was gesticulating wildly.
"He sees him!" Marie muttered.
I nodded almost in apathy. But this passed away, and I started involuntarily and shuddered, as a savage roar, breaking the silence, rang along the front of the mob like a rolling volley of firearms. What was it? A man posted at a window on the upper gallery had dropped his pike's point, and was levelling it at some one inside: we could see no more.
But those in front of the window could; they saw too much for the Vidame's precautions, as a moment showed. He had not laid his account with the frenzy of a rabble, the passions of a mob which had tasted blood. I saw the line at its farther end waver suddenly and toss to and fro. Then a hundred hands went up, and confused angry cries rose with them. The troopers struck about them, giving back slowly as they did so. But their efforts were in vain. With a scream of triumph a wild torrent of people broke through between them, leaving them stranded; and rushed in a headlong cataract towards the steps. Bezers was close to us at the time. "S'death!" he cried, swearing oaths which even his sovereign could scarce have equalled. "They will snatch him from me yet, the hell-hounds!"
He whirled his horse round and spurred him in a dozen bounds to the stairs at our end of the gallery. There he leaped from him, dropping the bridle recklessly; and bounding up three steps at a time, he ran along the gallery. Half-a-dozen of the troopers about us stayed only to fling their reins to one of their number, and then followed, their great boots clattering on the planks.
My breath came fast and short, for I felt it was a crisis. It was a race between the two parties, or rather between the Vidame and the leaders of the mob. The latter had the shorter way to go. But on the narrow steps they were carried off their feet by the press behind them, and fell over and hampered one another and lost time. The Vidame, free from this drawback, was some way along the gallery before they had set foot on it.
How I prayed--amid a scene of the wildest uproar and excitement-- that the mob might be first! Let there be only a short conflict between Bezers' men and the people, and in the confusion Pavannes might yet escape. Hope awoke in the turmoil. Above the yells of the crowd a score of deep voices about me thundered "a Wolf! a Wolf!" And I too, lost my head, and drew my sword, and screamed at the top of my voice, "a Caylus! a Caylus!" with the maddest.
Thousands of eyes besides mine were strained on the foremost figures on either side. They met as it chanced precisely at the door of the house. The mob leader was a slender man, I saw; a priest apparently, though now he was girt with unpriestly weapons, his skirts were tucked up, and his head was bare. So much my first glance showed me. It was at the second look it was when I saw the blood forsake his pale lowering face and leave it whiter than ever, when horror sprang along with recognition to his eyes, when borne along by the crowd behind he saw his position and who was before him--it was only then when his mean figure shrank, and he quailed and would have turned but could not, that I recognized the Coadjutor.
I was silent now, my mouth agape. There are seconds which are minutes; ay, and many minutes. A man may die, a man may come into life in such a second. In one of these, it seemed to me, those two men paused, face to face; though in fact a pause was for one of them impossible. He was between--and I think he knew it--the devil and the deep sea. Yet he seemed to pause, while all, even that yelling crowd below, held their breath. The next moment, glaring askance at one another like two dogs unevenly coupled, he and Bezers shot shoulder to shoulder into the doorway, and in another jot of time would have been out of sight. But then, in that instant, I saw something happen. The Vidame's hand flashed up above the priest's head, and the cross-hilt of his sheathed sword crashed down with awful force, and still more awful passion, on the other's tonsure! The wretch went down like a log, without a word, without a cry! Amid a roar of rage from a thousand throats, a roar that might have shaken the stoutest heart, and blanched the swarthiest cheek, Bezers disappeared within!
It was then I saw the power of discipline and custom. Few as were the troopers who had followed him--a mere handful--they fell without hesitation on the foremost of the crowd, who were already in confusion, stumbling and falling over their leader's body; and hurled them back pell-mell along the gallery. The throng below had no firearms, and could give no aid at the moment; the stage was narrow; in two minutes the Vidame's people had swept it clear of the crowd and were in possession of it. A tall fellow took up the priest's body, dead or alive, I do not know which, and flung it as if it had been a sack of corn over the rail. It fell with a heavy thud on the ground. I heard a piercing scream that rose above that babel--one shrill scream! and the mob closed round and hid the thing.
If the rascals had had the wit to make at once for the right-hand stairs, where we stood with two or three of Bezers' men who had kept their saddles, I think they might easily have disposed of us, encumbered as we were, by the horses; and then they could have attacked the handful on the gallery on both flanks. But the mob had no leaders, and no plan of operations. They seized indeed two or three of the scattered troopers, and tearing them from their horses, wreaked their passion upon them horribly. But most of the Switzers escaped, thanks to the attention the mob paid to the houses and what was going forward on the galleries; and these, extricating themselves joined us one by one, so that gradually a little ring of stern faces gathered about the stair- foot. A moment's hesitation, and seeing no help for it, we ranged ourselves with them; and, unchecked as unbidden, sprang on three of the led horses.
All this passed more quickly than I can relate it: so that before our feet were well in the stirrups a partial silence, then a mightier roar of anger at once proclaimed and hailed the re- appearance of the Vidame. Bigoted beyond belief were the mob of Paris of that day, cruel, vengeful, and always athirst for blood; and this man had killed not only their leader but a priest. He had committed sacrilege! What would they do? I could just, by stooping forward, command a side view of the gallery, and the scene passing there was such that I forgot in it our own peril.
For surely in all his reckless life Bezers had never been so emphatically the man for the situation--had never shown to such advantage as at this moment when he stood confronting the sea of faces, the sneer on his lip, a smile in his eyes; and looked down unblenching, a figure of scorn, on the men who were literally agape for his life. The calm defiance of his steadfast look fascinated even me. Wonder and admiration for the time took the place of dislike. I could scarcely believe that there was not some atom of good in this man so fearless. And no face but one no face I think in the world, but one--could have drawn my eyes from him. But that one face was beside him. I clutched Marie's arm, and pointed to the bareheaded figure at Bezers' right hand.
It was Louis himself: our Louis de Pavannes, But he was changed indeed from the gay cavalier I remembered, and whom I had last seen riding down the street at Caylus, smiling back at us, and waving his adieux to his mistress! Beside the Vidame he had the air of being slight, even short. The face which I had known so bright and winning, was now white and set. His fair, curling hair--scarce darker than Croisette's--hung dank, bedabbled with blood which flowed from a wound in his head. His sword was gone; his dress was torn and disordered and covered with dust. His lips moved. But he held up his head, he bore himself bravely with it all; so bravely, that I choked, and my heart seemed bursting as I looked at him standing there forlorn and now unarmed. I knew that Kit seeing him thus would gladly have died with him; and I thanked God she did not see him. Yet there was a quietness in his fortitude which made a great difference between his air and that of Bezers. He lacked, as became one looking unarmed on certain death, the sneer and smile of the giant beside him.
What was the Vidame about to do? I shuddered as I asked myself. Not surrender him, not fling him bodily to the people? No not that: I felt sure he would let no others share his vengeance that his pride would not suffer that. And even while I wondered the doubt was solved. I saw Bezers raise his hand in a peculiar fashion. Simultaneously a cry rang sharply out above the tumult, and down in headlong charge towards the farther steps came the band of horsemen, who had got clear of the crowd on that side. They were but ten or twelve, but under his eye they charged, as if they had been a thousand. The rabble shrank from the collision, and fled aside. Quick as thought the riders swerved; and changing their course, galloped through the looser part of the throng, and in a trice drew rein side by side with us, a laugh and a jeer on their reckless lips.
It was neatly done: and while it was being done the Vidame and his knot of men, with those who had been searching the building, hurried down the gallery towards us, their rear cleared for the moment by the troopers' feint. The dismounted men came bundling down the steps, their eyes aglow with the war-fire, and got horses as they could. Among them I lost sight of Louis, but perceived him presently, pale and bewildered, mounted behind a trooper. A man sprang up before each of us too, greeting our appearance merely by a grunt of surprise. For it was no time to ask or answer. The mob was recovering itself, and each moment brought it reinforcements, while its fury was augmented by the trick we had played it, and the prospect of our escape.
We were under forty, all told; and some men were riding double. Bezers' eye glanced hastily over his array, and lit on us three. He turned and gave some order to his lieutenant. The fellow spurred his horse, a splendid grey, as powerful as his master's, alongside of Croisette, threw his arm round the lad, and dragged him dexterously on to his own crupper. I did not understand the action, but I saw Croisette settle himself behind Blaise Bure-- for he it was--and supposed no harm was intended. The next moment we had surged forward, and were swaying to and fro in the midst of the crowd.
What ensued I cannot tell. The outlook, so far as I was concerned, was limited to wildly plunging horses--we were in the centre of the band and riders swaying in the saddle--with a glimpse here and there of a fringe of white scowling faces and tossing arms. Once, a lane opening, I saw the Vidame's charger --he was in the van--stumble and fall among the crowd and heard a great shout go up. But Bezers by a mighty effort lifted it to its legs again. And once too, a minute later, those riding on my right, swerved outwards, and I saw something I never afterwards forgot.
It was the body of the Coadjutor, lying face upwards, the eyes open and the teeth bared in a last spasm. Prostrate on it lay a woman, a young woman, with hair like red gold falling about her neck, and skin like milk. I did not know whether she was alive or dead; but I noticed that one arm stuck out stiffly and the crowd flying before the sudden impact of the horses must have passed over her, even if she had escaped the iron hoofs which followed. Still in the fleeting glance I had of her as my horse bounded aside, I saw no wound or disfigurement. Her one arm was cast about the priest's breast; her face was hidden on it. But for all that, I knew her--knew her, shuddering for the woman whose badges I was even now wearing, whose gift I bore at my side; and I remembered the priest's vaunt of a few hours before, made in her presence, "There is no man in Paris shall thwart me to-night!"
It had been a vain boast indeed! No hand in all that host of thousands was more feeble than his now: for good or ill! No brain more dull, no voice less heeded. A righteous retribution indeed had overtaken him. He had died by the sword he had drawn --died, a priest, by violence! The cross he had renounced had crushed him. And all his schemes and thoughts, and no doubt they had been many, had perished with him. It had come to this, only this, the sum of the whole matter, that there was one wicked man the less in Paris--one lump of breathless clay the more.
For her--the woman on his breast--what man can judge a woman, knowing her? And not knowing her, how much less? For the present I put her out of my mind, feeling for the moment faint and cold.
We were clear of the crowd, and clattering unmolested down a paved street before I fully recovered from the shock which this sight had caused me. Wonder whither we were going took its place. To Bezers' house? My heart sank at the prospect if that were so. Before I thought of an alternative, a gateway flanked by huge round towers appeared before us, and we pulled up suddenly, a confused jostling mass in the narrow way; while some words passed between the Vidame and the Captain of the Guard. A pause of several minutes followed; and then the gates rolled slowly open, and two by two we passed under the arch. Those gates might have belonged to a fortress or a prison, a dungeon or a palace, for all I knew.
They led, however, to none of these, but to an open space, dirty and littered with rubbish, marked by a hundred ruts and tracks, and fringed with disorderly cabins and make-shift booths. And beyond this--oh, ye gods! the joy of it--beyond this, which we crossed at a rapid trot, lay the open country!
The transition and relief were so wonderful that I shall never forget them. I gazed on the wide landscape before me, lying quiet and peaceful in the sunlight, and could scarce believe in my happiness. I drew the fresh air into my lungs, I threw up my sheathed sword and caught it again in a frenzy of delight, while the gloomy men about me smiled at my enthusiasm. I felt the horse beneath me move once more like a thing of life. No enchanter with his wand, not Merlin nor Virgil, could have made a greater change in my world, than had the captain of the gate with his simple key! Or so it seemed to me in the first moments of freedom, and escape--of removal from those loathsome streets.
I looked back at Paris--at the cloud of smoke which hung over the towers and roofs; and it seemed to me the canopy of hell itself. I fancied that my head still rang with the cries and screams and curses, the sounds of death. In very fact, I could hear the dull reports of firearms near the Louvre, and the jangle of the bells. Country-folk were congregated at the cross-roads, and in the villages, listening and gazing; asking timid questions of the more good-natured among us, and showing that the rumour of the dreadful work doing in the town had somehow spread abroad. And this though I learned afterwards that the keys of the city had been taken the night before to the king, and that, except a party with the Duke of Guise, who had left at eight in pursuit of Montgomery and some of the Protestants--lodgers, happily for themselves, in the Faubourg St. Germain--no one had left the town before ourselves.
While I am speaking of our departure from Paris, I may say what I have to say of the dreadful excesses of those days, ay, and of the following days; excesses of which France is now ashamed, and for which she blushed even before the accession of his late Majesty. I am sometimes asked, as one who witnessed them, what I think, and I answer that it was not our country which was to blame. A something besides Queen Catherine de' Medici had been brought from Italy forty years before, a something invisible but very powerful; a spirit of cruelty and treachery. In Italy it had done small harm. But grafted on French daring and recklessness, and the rougher and more soldierly manners of the north, this spirit of intrigue proved capable of very dreadful things. For a time, until it wore itself out, it was the curse of France. Two Dukes of Guise, Francis and Henry, a cardinal of Guise, the Prince of Conde, Admiral Coligny, King Henry the Third all these the foremost men of their day--died by assassination within little more than a quarter of a century, to say nothing of the Prince of Orange, and King Henry the Great
Then mark--a most curious thing--the extreme youth of those who were in this business. France, subject to the Queen-Mother, of course, was ruled at the time by boys scarce out of their tutors' hands. They were mere lads, hot-blooded, reckless nobles, ready for any wild brawl, without forethought or prudence. Of the four Frenchmen who it is thought took the leading parts, one, the king, was twenty-two; Monsieur, his brother, was only twenty; the Duke of Guise was twenty-one. Only the Marshal de Tavannes was of mature age. For the other conspirators, for the Queen-Mother, for her advisers Retz and Nevers and Birague, they were Italians; and Italy may answer for them if Florence, Mantua and Milan care to raise the glove.
To return to our journey. A league from the town we halted at a large inn, and some of us dismounted. Horses were brought out to fill the places of those lost or left behind, and Bure had food served to us. We were famished and exhausted, and ate it ravenously, as if we could never have enough.
The Vidame sat his horse apart, served by his page, I stole a glance at him, and it struck me that even on his iron nature the events of the night had made some impression. I read, or thought I read, in his countenance, signs of emotions not quite in accordance with what I knew of him--emotions strange and varied. I could almost have sworn that as he looked at us a flicker of kindliness lit up his stern and cruel gloom; I could almost have sworn he smiled with a curious sadness. As for Louis, riding with a squad who stood in a different part of the yard, he did not see us; had not yet seen us at all. His side face, turned towards me, was pale and sad, his manner preoccupied, his mien rather sorrowful than downcast. He was thinking, I judged, as much of the many brave men who had yesterday been his friends-- companions at board and play-table--as of his own fate. When we presently, at a signal from Bure, took to the road again, I asked no permission, but thrusting my horse forward, rode to his side as he passed through the gateway.