Vayenne, p.1Percy James Brebner
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BY PERCY BREBNER
_Author of "Princess Maritza"_
ILLUSTRATIONS BY E. FUHR
THE JOHN McBRIDE CO.
THE JOHN McBRIDE CO.
I. THE TRAVELLER ARRIVES, II. THE CROIX VERTE LOSES ITS GUEST, III. THE DWARF OF ST. ETIENNE, IV. THE ROAD TO PASSEY, V. THE SCHOLAR, VI. AT THE CLEARING IN THE FOREST, VII. THE END OF A RACE FOR LIFE, VIII. INTO DEATH'S JAWS AGAIN, IX. COUNT FELIX, X. THE SUPERSTITION OF COUNT FELIX, XI. THE LAW OF THE LAND, XII. HOW JEAN LOST HIS ENEMIES, XIII. OBEDIENCE AND TRUST, XIV. THE DUKE'S FOOL, XV. THE COUNT LOSES HIS SWORD, XVI. THE ORDERS FOR RELEASE, XVII. THE DUKE OF MONTVILLIERS, XVIII. THE PRICE OF SUCCESS, XIX. A CHANGED MAN, XX. FATHER BERTRAND JUSTIFIES HIMSELF, XXI. THE OLD HAG, XXII. THE DWARF'S APPEAL, XXIII. THE GATES ARE SHUT, XXIV. THE FORD BY LARNE, XXV. THE CRYPT OF ST. ETIENNE, XXVI. THE VENGEANCE OF THE MOB, XXVII. ONLY THE FOOL, XXVIII. THE SUBMISSION OF MADEMOISELLE DE LIANCOURT, XXIX. THE DUKE'S MESSENGER, XXX. THE CROWNING OF ROGER HERRICK, XXXI. DUKE AND SUBJECTS,
Christine "The Spy!" she said He rushed upon Herrick wildly She sank into a chair His strong arms were about her
THE TRAVELLER ARRIVES
A long, straight road, no hedge or ditch separating it from the fieldson either side, but at intervals of fifty yards or so trees in pairs;tall, thin trees, but heavy-headed and with foliage spread out fussilynear the ground, all bent forward in one direction, and looking forall the world like ancient dames with their petticoats held out of themud as they struggled wearily homeward against a strong wind. In itsseason this road could be muddy, as many a traveller knew, the fiercestorms which raged across the low country making it almost impassablefor days together in winter-time. To-day the ancient diligence whichtraversed it at an even, jog-trot pace only left a long cloud of dustin its wake; and the driver, an old man who had driven along this roadat regular intervals for more years than he could count, who possiblyknew the exact number of trees which lined it, sat hunched upon hisseat and had nothing to do. Perhaps he slept, for the horses knew theway well enough to have performed the journey without him. Earlier inthe day there had been half a dozen passengers, but of these only oneremained, and he had found the driver so taciturn, and his patois sodifficult to understand when he did speak, that he had given up allattempt at conversation. He was weary of the long journey, and dozedwhenever the jolting of the somewhat crazy vehicle would allow him todo so.
For two days he had waited in the little frontier town, for thediligence only performed this journey twice in the week, and he hadbeen travelling since early morning. At the last moment, indeed, hehad hesitated whether he should take the journey at all. It was anabsurd fancy that had brought him to this Duchy of Montvilliers, awonder and speculation which had lain latent in him since childhood.As a boy a few chance words, and an elderly woman's earnest lookinginto his face, had stirred his imagination. Since then the work oflife had come to fire him with other ambitions, some partiallyrealized, perhaps, some found to be unworthy of pursuit; and then,suddenly as it were, almost as though some compelling voice had spokento his inner consciousness, the old wonder and speculation had sprungagain into life, and at last he was nearing the end of a journey whichas a lad he had promised himself one day to take.
The sun was fast sinking westward when the jolting of the vehicleagain woke the traveller, and he saw that the aspect of the land hadchanged. The monotonous pairs of trees had gone, and the diligence Wasascending a stiff incline between two swelling downs, part of a longline of hills which had risen mistily in the distance before them allday. It was a long climb and the horses stopped at intervals to restwithout any suggestion from the driver; on their own initiative theywent on again, and finally paused on the summit before beginning thelong descent on the other side.
"Vayenne?" asked the traveller, suddenly leaning toward the driver andpointing down into the valley. The man looked at him with sleepy eyesand nodded. It seemed a foolish question to him. What place could itbe but Vayenne?
It lay in the gathering twilight like the city of a dream, indefinite,unreal, mystical. The hills overshadowed it, keeping silent watch; andspanned by a stone bridge, a river, dotted with green islands likeemeralds upon its bosom, swept around its southern and western sides,holding it in its arms. Over all was the diaphanous haze of eveningand silence, save for the thin music of bell and chime from belfry orclock tower, joyous little cadences which rose and fell at shortintervals. Indistinctly the eye could trace the direction of some ofthe wider streets, and toward the northern side, dominating the cityfrom rising ground, five gaunt, weather-beaten towers, with massivewalls and battlements between, frowned over all below. There wasmenace in this castle, power, and perchance cruelty. It spoke ofdespotic government, of might as right, of stern repression, of feudallaws and the crushing of all liberty; and yet close to it, thecrowning glory of a glorious church, a great spire pierced upwardthrough the haze, telling of other things and a time to come.
They were complex thoughts which filled the mind of the traveller asthe diligence swung rapidly down toward the town. To him, indeed,Vayenne was a dream city, an unknown city; yet somehow it had alwaysseemed a part of himself. In an indefinite way he had always knownthat some day he would come to it, would have a part in its life, beof it; and now, as every moment brought him nearer to it, he forgotthat he was a casual traveller merely, that only a few hours ago hehad hesitated whether he should come at all. He was obliged to come.He was only fulfilling his destiny.
Lights began to blink in the houses as they crossed the old stonebridge and passed under a massive gateway on the city side of it.Lights swung at street corners as the lumbering vehicle passed overthe cobblestones with much rattle and noise upward toward the castle.Even the driver roused a little from his lethargy, and cracked hiswhip. They had proceeded some distance when he suddenly drew to theside of the street, and the horses came to a standstill. They wereevidently used to such pauses; for in these narrow thoroughfarestraffic was difficult, and the diligence made no pretence of keepingtime. There was the sound of horses' hoofs behind, and in a fewmoments a woman, followed by half a dozen horsemen, rode by. Shechecked her pace as she passed, and turned to look at the traveller,while the driver slowly raised his whip in salute. The light from alamp swinging from a bracket on the wall fell upon her, and thetraveller saw that she was young, two or three and twenty, her figureslight and supple. Her dark gray habit may have made her look smallerthan she really was, and the mare, which she sat like an accomplishedhorsewoman, was a big and powerful animal, almost too much, it seemed,for those little gloved hands which held the reins to manage. Yetthere was strength in those little hands. There was a suggestion ofstrength about her altogether, strength of will and purpose. It shoneout of a pair of dark gray eyes set under gracefully curved brows andveiled with long lashes. The firm little mouth showed it, and therewas just enough suspicion of squareness about the chin to emphasizeit. She had nut-brown hair, a curl of which fell upon her foreheadfrom underneath a gray astrakhan cap, and the little head was poisedproudly on her shoulders. No ordinary woman this, not one to beeasily swayed by love or any other passion, a woman to rule ratherthan be ruled.
"Who is that?" asked the traveller, leaning toward the dri
"A beautiful woman," was the slow answer.
"But her name?"
The driver cracked his whip and the diligence began to rattle over thecobbles again.
"Some day she may be Duchess," he said, as though he was following hisown train of thought rather than answering his companion's question.
There was no time to tempt him into being more explicit, for thehorses turned a corner sharply, and with a shake of their harnessstopped before a long, low building, on which the traveller could justdecipher the words, Hotel de la Croix Verte. It was an old house,redolent of the past, the lights within shining but faintly throughthe small windows. Its upper story projected over the narrow footway,and its lower walls bulged outward, as though they had grown tired ofthe load they had had to bear so long. Its age seemed to have infectedits inhabitants, too, for some moments elapsed before the door opened,and a man came out leisurely to receive the parcels which thediligence had brought. That it had brought a traveller also did notexcite him, nor was he in any hurry to welcome him. Perhaps thetraveller was half dreaming, for he almost started when the man turnedand spoke to him.
"Yes; it's a long journey," he answered, "and I am ready to do justiceto the best you have."
He followed the landlord along a narrow passage and up a twistingstaircase.
"The best room," said the landlord as he opened a door and lit acandle. "There's no one else staying in the house. Strangers do notcome much to Vayenne."
"No?" said the traveller interrogatively.
"No," returned the landlord. "It's not an easy journey, and, besides,what can strangers want in Vayenne? By your accent you'll be----"
"Well, to what extent does my accent betray me?" asked the traveller,with a smile.
"English or German," was the answer.
"Englishman," said the traveller--"Roger Herrick by name, a casualvisitor who may be interested enough to stay in Vayenne some time."
The landlord nodded, as though he were not surprised at anything anEnglishman might do, and went out promising an excellent dinnerforthwith.
"So I am in Vayenne at last!" Herrick exclaimed as he glanced aroundthe old room, pleased with its panelled walls and low, beamed ceiling."In Vayenne! I hardly thought when the time came that the fact wouldimpress me so much."
He went to the window, opened it, and looked out. Like shadows in thedarkness he could dimly discern the towers of the castle above theroofs opposite, and the slender spire with its top lost in the night.The chimes made little bursts of ecstatic music like the voices andlaughter of spirits in the air. Somewhere there was the low rumble ofa cart over the cobbles, but the street below him was empty. Thediligence had gone; no pedestrian was on the narrow footway. It almostseemed as though he were deserted, left here for all time; that,however anxious he might be to leave Vayenne, he would not be able todo so. The city of his dreams had him fast, and already the first ofher surprises was preparing for him. Could he have looked but for aninstant into the near future, he might possibly have gone to dinnerwith less appetite than he did.
The long, low room had its windows toward the street, and was brokenup by partitions. A waiter pointed to one of these separate retreatsas Herrick entered, and he saw that his table was laid there. On theother side of the partition four men were sitting, a bottle of wineand glasses on the table between them. Herrick casually noticed thatone was in uniform and that another wore the cassock of a priest, buttook no further interest in them, and he had come into the room soquietly that they did not look up at his entrance, and were perhapsunconscious that any one was dining on the other side of thepartition.
The landlord had been true to his word, and had provided an excellentdinner. It was good wine, too, that was set upon the table, andHerrick began to discover how hungry he really was. For a long timehis attention was confined to the business in hand, and then hesuddenly became conscious of the conversation on the other side of thepartition. It seemed to have taken a more serious turn, the voiceswere dropped a little, and it was this fact, no doubt, which madeHerrick listen unconsciously.
"Such men as he is die hard," said one man. "The old Duke may holddeath at arm's length for years yet."
"Not so, my son. I know something of his disease, and naught but amiracle can help him. A few weeks perhaps, and then----"
It was evidently the priest who spoke. His voice was soft andpersuasive, and Herrick thought that some suggestive gesture,explaining what must ensue, had probably finished the sentence.
There was silence for a few moments, and then the ring of a glass asit was placed on the table.
"When the reins fall from a strong hand there is always trouble," saidanother man.
"And opportunity, don't forget that," said the priest. "You have yourambitions; have we not talked of them before this? They are within afew short weeks of realization, if you will be guided by me."
"Ay, or I am within measurable distance of losing my head, if thingsgo awry," was the answer. "There are always two sides to such a schemeas this."
"I hadn't thought to find a coward in Gaspard Lemasle," said thepriest.
There was a sudden movement and quick shuffle of feet, then a laugh,the laugh of a strong man, deep-chested and resonant.
"Bah! I forgot. One cannot fight with a cassock. See here, FatherBertrand, granted I have ambitions, where it not better to stand bythe stronger side? Count Felix is strong, even as his uncle. The oldDuke looks upon him as his successor. Strong hands are ready to catchthe reins as they fall. In the face of such a man will Vayenne shoutfor a pale-faced scholar it has little knowledge of, think you?"
"And what reward is Gaspard Lemasle to win from Count Felix?" askedthe priest. "Is Gaspard Lemasle's support necessary to him? Rewardscome only to those who struggle for them. For you they lie in thehands of that pale scholar at Passey. There will be many to shout forhim, and, with a determined leader to fight for him, I can seeenthusiastic crowds in the streets of Vayenne."
"Father Bertrand speaks nothing but the truth," said another man, andit seemed certain that only Lemasle's consent was wanting to completea scheme which had long occupied the priest's attention.
"Maybe," Lemasle returned, "I care not overmuch which way it goes."
"And you have forgotten Mademoiselle de Liancourt," said the priest.
"A second time your cassock protects you, father," laughed the other."It were a sin, indeed, to forget her. Pass the bottle, and let ushave brimming glasses to drink her health. Christine de Liancourt, themost beautiful woman in Montvilliers."
"In the world," corrected the priest quietly. "She is heart and soulfor this pale scholar, and she has mentioned Gaspard Lemasle to me."
"By the faith, you shall tell me what she said," the other cried,striking the table until the glasses rattled.
"Nay, nay, it was for no ears but mine; yet, mark you, she knows abrave man when she sees him, and----"
The priest stopped suddenly. The silent street had suddenly awoke.There were hurrying feet and men shouting to each other as they ran,then the sound of a gun which boomed in deep vibration and died slowlyaway in the distance.
With inarticulate and fragmentary exclamations the four men sprang upand hurried to the door. Herrick followed them more leisurely.
"The Duke is dead!" a man cried to them as they stood in the doorway,and as he ran he shouted the news to others who had been brought fromtheir houses by the sound of the gun. "The Duke is dead!"
"Dead!" said the priest slowly, crossing himself, more by habit thanintention it seemed, for other thoughts than of death were reflectedin his face. He looked at his companions one after the other, deepmeaning in his look, and last of all his eyes rested on RogerHerrick, standing a little in the rear, his face lit up by the lightof a lamp hanging in the passage. For a moment the priest did notappear to realize that Herrick was a stranger, and then his eyesopened wider and remained fixed upon him.
"A sudden death," said Herrick. "I heard you say just
Father Bertrand glanced back into the room they had left, to the placewhere he and his companions had been sitting.
"Very sudden," he answered, and then after a pause he added, "Verystrange."
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