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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Abbess Of Vlaye » CHAPTER VI. IN THE HAY-FIELD.
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CHAPTER VI. IN THE HAY-FIELD.
 The Vicomte gasped; it was evident, it was certain, that M. de Vlaye knew all. What was he to say, what to do? While Bonne, though her ear hung upon his reply, was conscious only of a desperate search, a wild groping, after some method of giving the alarm to those whom it concerned--to Charles lurking in the barn beside the water, to the Countess making hay for sport and thinking no evil. She had heard of a woman who in such a strait sent a feather which put quick wits on the alert. But she had no feather, she had nothing, and if she had, at her first word of withdrawing M. de Vlaye, she knew, would interpose. At last--
 
"It must be!" the Vicomte exclaimed, taking anew line with some presence of mind. "But I would not believe it!"
 
"It must be? what must be, sir?" his daughter Odette rejoined.
 
"It must be the Countess!" the Vicomte repeated in a tone of surprise and conviction, not ill feigned. He saw that to persist in denying the truth--with the hayfield in sight--would not serve, and in the end must cover him with confusion. "Dressed in that fashion," he continued, "and with no attendant save one rough clown, I--I could not credit her story. The Countess of Rochechouart! It seems incredible even now!"
 
"Yes, the Countess of Rochechouart," M. de Vlaye replied in a tone which proved that the Vicomte's sudden frankness did not deceive him. "With your permission we will wait on her, M. le Vicomte," he continued in the same tone, "and as soon as horses can be provided, I will escort her to a place of safety."
 
The Vicomte's face was a study of perplexity. "If you will alight," he said, slowly, "I will send and announce to the Countess--if Countess she really be--that you are here."
 
For an instant Bonne's heart stood still. If M. de Vlaye dismounted and entered, all things were possible. But the hope was dashed to the ground forthwith. "I thank you," Vlaye answered somewhat grimly, "but with your permission, M. le Vicomte, to business first. We will go to the meadows at once. It is not fitting that the Countess should be left for a minute longer than is necessary in a place so ill guarded. And, for the matter of that, things lost once are sometimes lost twice."
 
The Vicomte's nose twitched with rage; he was not a meek man. He understood M. de Vlaye's insinuation, he knew that M. de Vlaye knew; but he was helpless. On the threshold of his own house, on the spot where his ancestors' word had been law for generations--or a blow had followed the word--he stood impotent before this clever, upstart soldier who held him at mercy. And this the Abbess, had her affection for him been warm or her nature delicate, must have felt. Without a word spoken or a syllable of explanation, she must have perceived that she was witnessing her family's shame, and that her part in the scene was not with them.
 
But she, of them all, was the most in the dark, and her thoughts were otherwise bent. "You are very fearful for the young lady, M. de Vlaye," she said, turning to him, and speaking in a tone of mock offence. "I do not remember that you have ever been so over careful for me."
 
He bent his head and muttered something of which her sister caught not a word. Then, "But we must not waste time," he continued briskly. "Let us--with the Vicomte's permission--to the field! To the field!" And he turned his horse as he spoke into the sled-road that led around the courtyard wall; and by a gesture he bade his men follow. It was evident to Bonne, evident to her father, that he had had a spy on the house, and knew where his quarry harboured.
 
The girl wondered whether by flying through the house and dropping from the corner of the garden wall she could even now give the alarm. Then M. le Vicomte spoke. "I will come with you," he said in a surly tone that betrayed his sense of his position. "The times are indeed out of joint, and persons out of their places, but--Solomon, my staff! Daughter," to the Abbess, "a hold of your stirrup-leather! It is but a step, and I can still walk so far. If the field be unsafe for the guest,"--he added grimly--"it is fit the host should share the danger."
 
Bonne could have blessed him for the thought, for his offer bound the party to a walking pace, and something might happen. Vlaye, beyond doubt, had the same thought. But without breaking openly with the Vicomte--which for various reasons he was loth to do--he could not reject his company nor outpace him.
 
He raised no objection, therefore, and in displeased silence the Vicomte walked beside his daughter's horse, Bonne accompanying him on the other hand. She knew more than he, and had reason to fear more; she was almost sick with anxiety. But he, perhaps, suffered more. Forced on his own ground to do that which he did not wish to do, forced to play a sorry farce, he felt, as he trudged in the van of the party, that he walked the captive in a Roman triumph. And he could have smitten the Captain of Vlaye across the face.
 
They passed only too quickly from the shelter of the house to the open meadows and the hot sunshine, and so over the stone bridge. Bonne knew that at this point they must become visible to the workers in the hay-field, and she counted on an interval of a few minutes during which the fugitives might take steps to hide themselves, or even to get over the river and bury themselves in the woods. She could have cried, therefore, when, without apparent order, a party from the rear cantered past the leaders and, putting their horses into a sharp hand-gallop, preceded them in their advance upon the panic-stricken haymakers, in the midst of whom they drew rein in something less than a minute.
 
The Vicomte halted as the meaning of the man?uvre broke upon him, and, striking his staff into the ground, he followed them with his eyes. "You seem fearful indeed," he growled, his high nose wrinkled with anger.
 
"Things happen very quickly at times," Vlaye answered, ignoring the tone.
 
"Take care, sir, take care!" the Abbess of Vlaye cried, addressing her lover. She little thought in her easy insouciance how near the truth she was treading. "If you show yourself so very anxious for the Countess's safety, I warn you I shall grow jealous."
 
"You have seen her," M. de Vlaye answered in a low tone, meant only for her ear; and he hung slightly towards her. "You know how little cause you have to fear."
 
"Fear?" the Abbess retorted rather sharply. "Know, sir," with a quick defiant glance, "that I fear no one!"
 
Apparently the handful of riders who had preceded the main body had no order but to stand guard over the workers. For having halted in the midst of the startled servants, who gazed on them in stupefaction, they remained motionless in their saddles. Meanwhile the Vicomte, with a surly face, was drawing slowly up to them. When no more than thirty or forty paces divided the two parties, the leader of the van wheeled about, and trotting to M. de Vlaye's side, saluted him.
 
"I do not see them, my lord," he muttered in a low tone.
 
The captain of Vlaye reined in his horse, and sitting at ease, cast an eagle glance over the terrified haymakers, who had instinctively fallen into three or four groups. In one part of the field the hay had been got into heaps, but these were of small size, and barely adequate to the hiding of a child. Nevertheless, look where he would--and his lowering brow bespoke his disappointment--he could detect no one at all resembling a Countess. A moment, and his glance passed from the open meadow to the ruined buildings, which stood on the brink of the stream. It remained fixed on them.
 
"Search that!" he said in a low tone. And raising his hand he pointed to the old barn. "They must be there! Go about it carefully, Ampoule."
 
The man he addressed turned, and summoning his party, cantered across the sward--never so green as after mowing--towards the building. As the riders drew near the river, Bonne could command herself no longer. She uttered a low groan. Her face bespoke her anguish.
 
M. de Vlaye did not see her face--it was turned from him--but he caught the sound and understood it. "The sun is hot," he said in a tone of polite irony. "You find it so, mademoiselle? Doubtless the Countess has sought protection from it--in the barn. She will be there, take my word for it!"
 
Bonne made no reply. She could not have spoken for her life; and he and they watched, shading their eyes from the sun, she, poor girl, with a hand which shook. The horsemen were by this time near the end of the building, and all but one proceeded to alight. The rest were in the act of delivering up their reins, and one had already vanished within the building, when in full view of the company, who were watching from the middle of the field, a man sprang from an opening at the other end of the barn, reached in three bounds the brink of the stream, and even as Vlaye's shout of warning startled the field, plunged from the bank, and was lost to sight.
 
"Holà! Holà!" M. de Vlaye cried in stentorian tones, and, with his rowels in his horse's flanks, he was away racing to the spot before his followers had taken the alarm. The next moment they were thundering emulously at his heels, their charge shaking the earth. Even the men who had alighted beside the barn, and as yet knew nothing of the evasion, saw that something was wrong, took the alarm, and hurried round the building to the river.
 
"He is there!" cried one, as they pulled up along the bank of the stream. And the speaker, in his desire to show his zeal, wheeled his horse about so suddenly that he well-nigh knocked down his neighbour.
 
"No, there! There!" cried another. And "There!" cried a third, as the fugitive dived, otter fashion, the willows of the stream affording him some protection.
 
Suddenly M. de Vlaye's voice rang above all. "After him!" he cried. "After him, fools, and seize him on the other side!"
 
In a twinkling three or four of the more courageous forced their horses into the stream, and began to swim across. Sixty yards below the spot where he had entered the water, the swimmer's head could be seen. He was being borne on a current towards a willow-bed which projected from the opposite bank, and offered a hiding-place. With wild cries those who had not entered the stream followed him along the bank, jostling and crossing one another, and marked him here and marked him there, while the baying of the excited hounds, restrained by their couples, filled the woods beyond the river with the fierce music of the chase.
 
Meantime the Vicomte and his younger daughter remained alone in the middle of the meadow; for the Abbess's horse had carried her after the others, whether she would or no, with her hawk clinging and screaming on her sleeve. Of the two who remained, the Vicomte was in a high rage. To be used after this fashion by his guests! To see strangers taking the law into their own hands on his land! To be afoot while hireling troopers spurned his own clods in his face, and all without leave or license, all where he and his forebears had exercised the low justice and the high for centuries! It was too much!
 
"What is it? Who is it?" he cried, adding in his passion oaths and execrations then too common. "That is not the Countess! Are they mad?"
 
"It is Charles," she answered, weeping bitterly. "He was hiding there. And he thought that they were in search of him. Oh, they will kill him! They will kill him!"
 
"Charles?" the Vicomte exclaimed, and stood turned to stone. "Charles?"
 
"Yes!" she panted. "And, oh, sir, a word! He is your son, and a word may save him! He has done nothing--nothing that they should hunt him like a rat!"
 
But the Vicomte was another man now, moved, wrought on by Heaven knows what devils of pride and shame. "My son!" he cried, his rage diverted. "That my son? You lie, girl!" coarsely. "He is no son of mine. You wander. It is some skulking Crocan they have unharboured. Son of mine? Hiding on my land? No! You rave, girl!"
 
"Oh, sir!" she panted.
 
"Not a word!" He gripped her wrist fiercely and forced her to silence. "Do you hear me? Not a word. He is no son of mine!"
 
She clung to him, still imploring him, still trying to soften him. But he shook her off, roughly, brutally, raising his stick to her; and, blinded by her tears, unable to do more, she sank to the ground and buried her face, that she might not see, in a mass of hay. He, without a word, turned his back on her, on the crowd beside the river, on the groups of frightened haymakers--turned his back on all and strode away in the direction of the chateau, with those devils of shame and pride, which he had pampered so long, riding him hard. He had drained at last the cup of humiliation to the dregs. He had seen his son hunted like a beast of vermin on his own land in his presence. And his one desire was to be gone. Rage with the cause of this last and worst disgrace dried up all natural feeling, all thought for his flesh and blood, all pity. He cared not whether his son lived or died. His only longing was to escape in his own person; to be gone from the place and scene of degradation, to set himself once more in a position, to--to be himself!
 
There are tones of the voice that in the lowest depth inspire something of confidence. Bonne, as she lay crushed under the weight of her misery, with the merciless sun beating down upon her neck, heard such a tone whispering low in her ear.
 
"Lie still, mademoiselle," it murmured. "Lie still! Where you are, you are unseen, and I must speak to you. The man, whoever he is, is taken. They have seized him."
 
She tried to rise. He laid his hand on her shoulder and held her down.
 
"I must go!" she gasped, still struggling to rise. "I must go! It is my brother!"
 
The Lieutenant--for he it was--muttered, it is to be feared, an oath. "Your brother!" he said. "It is your brother, is it? Ah, if you had trusted me! But all is not lost! Listen!" he continued urgently. "M. de Vlaye has bidden the men who have taken him--on the farther side of the river--to convey him along that bank to the ford, and so by the road to Vlaye. And--will you trust me now, mademoiselle?"
 
"I will, I will!" she sobbed. She showed him for one moment her tear-stained, impassioned face. "If you will help me! If you will help my brother!"
 
"I will!" he said, and then, and abruptly, he laid his hand on her and violently pressed her down. "Be still!" he muttered in a tone of sharp warning. "I have no more wish to be seen by Vlaye than your brother had!" Lying beside her, he peeped warily over the hay by which he was partly hidden; a slight hollow in which that particular cock rested served to shelter them somewhat, but the screen was slight. "I fear they are coming this way," he continued, his voice not quite steady. "I would I had my horse here, and sound, and I would trouble them little. But all is not lost, all is not lost," he repeated slowly, "till their hands are on us! Nor, may-be, even then!"
 
She understood, and lay trembling and hiding her face, unable to face this new terror. The thunder of hoofs, coming nearer and nearer, once more shook the earth. The horsemen were returning from the river.
 
"Lie low!" he repeated, more coolly. "They have spied the Countess. I feared they would. And they are hot foot after her--so ho! And we are saved! Yes," he continued, peeping again and more boldly, "we are saved, I think. They have stopped her, just as Roger and her man--clever Roger, he will make a general yet--were about to pass her over the bridge. Another minute and they had got her to cover in the house, and it had been my fate to be taken."
 
She did not answer, her agitation was too great. And after a brief silence during which the Lieutenant watched what went forward at the end of the meadow: "Now, mademoiselle," he said in a more gentle tone, "it is for the Countess I want your help. I will answer for your brother. If no accident befall him he shall be free before many hours are over his head. Remember that! But with Mademoiselle de Rochechouart--if she be once removed to Vlaye, and cast into this man's power, it will go hard. She is a child, little able to resist. Do you go to her, support her, speak for her, fight for her even--only gain time. Gain time! He will not resort to violence at once, or I am mistaken. He will not drag her away by force until he has exhausted all other means. He will suffer her to stay awhile if you play your part well. And you must play it well!"
 
"I will!" Bonne cried, all her forces rallied by hope. "I do not know who you are, but save my brother----"
 
"I will save him!"
 
"And I will bless you!"
 
"Do you save the Countess, and she will bless you!" he answered cheerfully. "Now to her, mademoiselle, and do not leave her. Go! Show yourself as brave there as here, and----"
 
He did not finish the sentence, but as she rose his hand, through some accident, or some impulse that surprised him--for such weaknesses were not in his nature--met hers through the hay and clasped it. The girl reddened to the brow, sprang up, and in a trice was hastening across the field towards the crowd that in a confused medley of horse and foot, peasants and troopers, was gathered about the stone bridge which spanned the brook. The sun beat hotly down on the little mob, but in the interest of the scene which was passing in their midst no one thought twice of the heat.
 
Bonne's spirits were in a tumult. She hardly knew what she thought or how she felt, or what she was going to do.
 
But one thing she knew. On one thing she set her foot with every step, and that was fear. A new courage, and a new feeling, filled the girl with an excitement half-painful, half-delightful. Whence this was she did not ask herself, nor why she rested so confidently on the guarantee of her brother's safety, which an untried stranger had given her. It was enough that he had given it. She did not go beyond that.
 
When she came, hot and panting, to the skirts of the crowd, she found that she must push her way between the horses of the troopers if she would see anything of what was passing. In the act she noticed that half the men were grinning, the others exchanging sly looks and winks. But she was through at last. Now she could see what was afoot.
 
On the bridge, three paces before her, stood M. de Vlaye with his back to her. He had dismounted, and had his hat in his hand. Beyond him, standing at bay, as it seemed, against the low side wall of the bridge, was the Countess, her small face white, and puckered, and sullen, and behind her again stood Roger, and Fulbert, the steward, with a wild-beast glare in his eyes.
 
"Surely, mademoiselle," Bonne heard M. de Vlaye say in honeyed accents, as she emerged from the crowd, "surely it were better you mounted here----"
 
"No!"
 
"And rode to the chateau. And then at your leisure----"
 
"No, I thank you. I will walk."
 
"But, Countess, you are not safe," he persisted, "on foot and in the open, after what has passed."
 
"Then I will go to the chateau," she replied, "but I can walk, I thank you." It was strange to see the firmness, ay, and dignity, that awoke in her in this extremity.
 
"That, of course," M, de Vlaye replied lightly. "Of course. But seeing the Abbess on horseback, I thought that you might prefer to ride with her----"
 
"It is but a step."
 
"And I am walking," Bonne struck in, pushing to the front. "I will go with the Countess to the house." She spoke with a firmness which surprised herself, and certainly surprised M. de Vlaye, who had not seen her at his elbow. He hesitated, and partly in view of the Countess's attitude, partly of the fact that he had not precisely defined his next step if he got her mounted--he gave way.
 
"By all means," he said. "And we will form your guard."
 
Bonne passed her arm round the young Countess. "Come," she said. "I see my sister has preceded us to the house. The sun is hot, and the sooner we are under cover the better."
 
It was not the heat of the sun, however, that had driven the Abbess from the scene, but a spirit of temper. She had no suspicion of the truth--as yet. But the fuss which M. de Vlaye seemed bent on making about the little countess piqued her, and after looking on a minute or two, and finding herself still left in the background, she had let her jealousy have vent, had struck spur to her horse and ridden back to the house in a rage. This was the last thing she would have done had her eyes been open. Had she guessed how welcome to her admirer her retreat at that moment was, she would have risked a hundred sunstrokes before she went!
 
She had no notion of the real situation, however, and Bonne, who had, and with a woman's wit saw in her a potent ally, was too late to call her back, though she longed to do it. Between the bridge and the house-gate lay three hundred yards, every yard, it seemed to Bonne, a yard of peril to her charge; and the girl nerved herself accordingly. For Vlaye's darkening face sufficiently declared his perplexity. At any instant, at any point, he might throw off the mask of courtesy, use force, and ride off with his prey. And what could she do?
 
Only with a brave face walk slowly, slowly, talking as she went! Talking and making believe to be at ease; repressing both the treacherous flutter of her own heart and the little Countess's tendency to start at every movement M. de Vlaye made--as the lamb starts when the wolf bares its teeth! Bonne felt that to let him see that they expected violence was to invite it; and though, if he made a movement to seize her companion, she was prepared to cling and scream and fight with her very nails--she knew that such methods were the last desperate resource, to resort to which portended defeat.
 
He walked abreast of them, his rein on his arm, his haughty head bent. A little behind them on the left side walked Roger and the Countess's steward. Behind these again, at a short distance, followed the mob of troopers, grinning and nudging one another, and scarce deigning to hide their amusement.
 
Bonne guessed all, yet she talked bravely. "It is quite an adventure!" she said brightly. "We did but half believe it, M. de Vlaye! Until you told us, we thought mademoiselle must be romancing. That she could not be--oh, no, it seemed impossible that she could be the real Countess!"
 
"Indeed?" M. de Vlaye answered, measuring with his keen eye the distance to the corner of the courtyard. The girl's chatter embarrassed him. He could not weigh quite coolly the chances and the risks.
 
"It was after nine o'clock--yes, it must have been nearer midnight!" Bonne continued, with that woman's power of dissembling which puts men's acting to shame. "It was quite an alarm when she came! We thought we were to be robbed."
 
"It is for that reason," Vlaye said smoothly, "I wish the Countess to be placed in safety."
 
"Or that it was the Crocans----"
 
"Precisely--it might have been. And therefore I wish her to place herself without delay----"
 
"In proper clothes!" Bonne exclaimed cheerfully. "Of course! So she must, M. de Vlaye, and this minute! To think of the Countess of Rochechouart"--she laughed, and affectionately drew the girl nearer to her--"making hay in a waiting-woman's clothes! No wonder that she did not wish to be seen!"
 
M. de Vlaye looked at the chatterer askance, and mechanically gnawed his moustache. He believed, nay, he was almost sure that she knew all and was playing with him. If so she was playing so successfully that here they were at the corner of the courtyard and he no nearer a decision. They had but to pass along one wall, turn, and in forty paces they would be at the gate. He must make up his mind promptly, then! And, curse her! she talked so fast that he could not bring his mind to it, or weigh the emergencies. If he seized the girl here----
 
"Roger should not have let her try to cross the brook, M. de Vlaye, should he?" Bonne babbled. "He should have known better. Now she has wet her feet and must change her shoes! Yes," playfully, "you must, mademoiselle."
 
"I will," the Countess muttered with shaking lips.
 
One of the troopers who had been of the expedition the day before, and whom the situation tickled, laughed on a sudden outright. M. de Vlaye half halted, turned and looked back in wrath. Was he going to give the signal? Bonne's arm shook. But no, he turned again. And they were almost at the second corner; now they turned it, and her eyes sought the gate greedily, to learn who awaited them there. If the Vicomte was there, and her sister, it was so much in her favour. He would hardly dare to carry the girl off by force under their eyes.
 
But they were not there. Even Solomon was invisible; probably he had taken the Abbess's horse to the stable. Bonne was left to her own resources, therefore, to her own wits; and at the gate, at the moment of interest, at the last moment, the pinch would come.
 
And still, but with a dry throat, she talked. "To leave the sun for the shade!" she cried with a prodigious sigh as the western wall of the courtyard intervened and protected them from the sun's heat. "Is it not delightful! It was almost worth while to be so hot, to feel so cool! Are you cool, M. de Vlaye?"
 
"Yes," he replied grimly, "but----"
 
"Sommes-nous au milieu du bois?"
she sang, cutting him short--they were within seven or eight paces of the gateway, and she fancied that his face was growing hard, that she detected the movements of a man preparing to make his leap--
 
"Sommes-nous à la rive?
Sommes-nous au milieu du bois?
Sommes-nous à la rive?
A la rive? A la rive!" she chanted, her arm closing more tightly about the Countess. "A la rive!"
 
With the last word--Pouf!--she thrust the child towards the open gateway, and by the same movement dropped on her knees in front of M. de Vlaye, completely thwarting his first instinctive impulse, which was to snatch at the Countess. "It is my pin!" she cried, rising as quickly as she had knelt--the whole seemed but one movement. "Pardon, M. de Vlaye," she continued, but by that time the Countess was twenty paces away, and half-way across the court. "Did I interrupt you? How lucky to find it! I must have lost it yesterday!"
 
He did not speak, but his eyes betrayed his rage--rage not the less that his men had witnessed and understood the man?uvre; nay, dared by a titter to betray their amusement. For an instant he was tempted to seize her and crush the cursed pride out of her--he to be outwitted before his people by a woman! Or why should he not take her a hostage in the other's room?
 
Then he remembered that he needed no hostage; he had one already. In a voice that drove the blood from her cheeks, "Take care! Take care, mademoiselle!" he muttered. "Sometimes one pays too much for such a trifle as a pin. You might have hurt yourself, stooping so suddenly! Or hurt--your brother!"
 
Roger could no longer keep silence. "I can take care of myself, M. de Vlaye," he said, "and of my sister also, I would have you know."
 
But M. de Vlaye had himself in hand again. "It was not to you I referred," he said coldly and contemptuously. "Take me to your father."
 
They found the Vicomte awaiting them on the drawbridge at the farther side of the court. But the Countess had vanished; she had not lost a moment in hiding herself in the recesses of her room. For the first time in their intercourse M. de Vlaye approached his host without ceremony or greeting.
 
"The Countess must come with me," he said roughly and roundly. "She cannot stay here. This place," with a look of naked scorn, "is no place for her. Give orders, if you please, that she prepare to accompany me."
 
The Vicomte, shaken by the events of the morning, stood thunderstruck. His hand trembled on his staff, and for a moment he could not speak. At last--
 
"The Countess is in my care, and under my protection," he said, in a voice shrill with emotion.
 
"Neither of which would avail her in the least," M. de Vlaye answered brutally, "in the event of danger! But it is not to enter into an argument that I am here. I care nothing for the number of your household, or the strength of your house, M. le Vicomte, or," with a sneer, "what was the condition of either--before Coutras. The point is, this is no place for one in the Countess of Rochechouart's position. It is my duty to see her placed in a position of greater safety, and I intend to perform that duty!"
 
The Vicomte, powerless as he was, shook with passion. "Since when," he exclaimed, "has that duty been laid upon you?"
 
"It is laid on me," the Captain of Vlaye answered contemptuously, "by the fact that there is no one else in the district who can perform it."
 
"You will perform it at your peril," the Vicomte said.
 
"I shall perform it."
 
"But if the Countess prefers to stay here?" Roger cried, interfering hotly.
 
"It is a question of her safety, and not of her preference," Vlaye retorted, standing grim and cold before them. "She must come."
 
A dozen of his troopers had ridden into the courtyard, and from their saddles were watching the group on the drawbridge. The group consisted, besides the Vicomte, of Roger and his sister, old Solomon the porter, and the wild-looking steward. Roger, his heart bursting with indignation, measured with his eye the distance across the courtyard, and had thoughts of flinging himself upon Vlaye, bearing him to the ground, and making his life the price of his men's withdrawal. But he had no weapon, Solomon and Fulbert were in the like case, and the Captain of Vlaye, a man in the prime of life, and armed, was likely to prove a match for all three.
 
If the Vicomte's ancestors in the pride of their day and power had been deaf to the poor man's cry, if the justice-elm without the castle gates had received in the centuries past the last sighs of the innocent, if the towers of the old house had been built in groaning and cemented with blood, some part of the debt was paid this day on the drawbridge. To see the sacred rights of hospitality deforced, to stand by while the guest whom he could not protect--and that guest a woman of his rank and kind--was torn from his hearth, to be set for a laughing-stock to this canaille of troopers--such a humiliation should have slain the last of the Villeneuves where he stood.
 
Yet the Vicomte lived--lived, it is true, with twitching lips and shaking hands--but lived, and, after a few seconds of moody silence, stooped to parry the blow which he could not return.
 
"To-morrow--if you will wait until to-morrow," he muttered, "she may be better prepared to--take the journey."
 
"To-morrow?"
 
"Yes, if you will give us till to-morrow"--reluctantly--"we may persuade her."
 
M. de Vlaye's answer was as unexpected as it was decisive. "Be it so!" he said. "She shall have till to-morrow." He spoke more graciously, more courteously, than he had yet spoken. "I have been--it is possible that in my anxiety for her safety, M. le Vicomte, I have been hasty. Once a soldier, always a soldier! Forgive me, and you, mademoiselle, the same; and I, on my side, will say to-morrow. There, I am not unreasonable," with a poor attempt at joviality. "Only I must leave with you ten or a dozen troopers for her safe keeping. And beyond to-morrow, in the present state of the country, I cannot spare them."
 
At the mention of the troopers the Vicomte's jaw fell. He stared.
 
"Will not that suit you?" M. de Vlaye said gaily. He had recovered his usual spirits. He spoke in his old tone.
 
"It must," the Vicomte answered sullenly. "But I could answer for her without your troopers."
 
M. de Vlaye shook his head. "Ah, no," he said. "I can say no better than that. With the Crocans so near, and growing in boldness every day, I am bound to be careful. I am told," with a peculiar smile, "that some ne'er-do-wells of birth have joined them in these parts. The worse for them!"
 
"Well, be it so," the Vicomte said with a ghastly smile. "Be it so! Be it so!"
 
"Good," Vlaye answered cheerfully--he grew more at his ease with every word. Some might have thought that he had gained all he wanted or saw a new and easy way to it. "Good, and as I must be returning, I will give the necessary orders at once."
 
He turned as he spoke, and crossing the courtyard, conferred awhile with Ampoule, his second in command. Hurriedly men were told off to this hand and that, some trotting briskly under the archway--where the hay of more peaceful days deadened the sound of hoofs, and the cobwebs almost swept their heads--and others entering by the same road. Presently M. de Vlaye, whose horse had been brought to him, got to his saddle, rode a few paces nearer the drawbridge, and raised his hat.
 
"I have done as you wish," he said. "Until tomorrow, M. le Vicomte! Mademoiselle, I kiss your hands!" And wilfully blind to the coldness of the salutation made in return, he wheeled his horse gracefully, called a man to his side, and rode out of the court.
 
The Vicomte let his chin fall upon his breast, and beyond a doubt his reflections were of the bitterest. But soon he remembered that there were strange eyes upon him, and he turned and went heavily into his house, the house that others now had in keeping. Old Solomon followed him with an anxious face, and Fulbert, ever desirous to be with his mistress, vanished in their train. The troopers, after one or two glances at the two who remained on the drawbridge, and a jest at which some laughed outright and some made covert gestures of derision, began to lead their horses into the long stable.
 
Roger's eye met Bonne's in a glance of flame. "Do you see?" he said. "He was to leave twelve--at the most. He has left eighteen. Do you understand?"
 
She shook her head.
 
"I do!" he said. "I do! We may go to our prayers!"


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