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Title: The Leopard and the Lily Author: Marjorie Bowen * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1300881h.html Language: English Date first posted: Mar 2013 Most recent update: Mar 2013 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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In the year 1444 there reigned in Brittany, one of the fairest fiefs of France, François II., son of the great Duke, Jean V. and Jeanne of France, daughter of the unfortunate Charles VI.
He came to the throne in a time of peace. Between him and his two brothers was perfect friendship, and the wars that tore France did not disturb Brittany, unmolested by foreigners, strong and respected at home.
From the hand of François himself came the glint of the sword that brightening smote the country into factions, the little quarrels that spread into civil war, the little whispers that grew into foul slanders, the petty jealousies and intrigues that became heartbreaks and miseries.
And the beginning of this was the coming to the court of Rennes, of Guy de Montauban, a penniless Breton noble.
That was five years ago and for those five years had his influence spread and his power grown, till the Duke was a mere puppet in his hands and Brittany, delivered to him, slipping fast into a state of weakness and internal disorders.
Men wondered what gave to Montauban his great power over the Duke. For Guy de Montauban was in every sense an ordinary man. He had neither charm, gaiety, splendour, nor brilliant talents to attract the senses; neither affection, honesty, devotion nor truth to attach the heart.
Born in Italy, of an Italian mother, educated in Padua with all the elegance of the time (a training that, while it gave him neither wit nor talents, yet gave him a certain power of concealing lack of ability, and a finish in his manner, a gravity and dignity in his demeanour, his indolent, narrow mind was far from confirming)—Guy de Montauban, by the mere chance infatuation of the Duke, found himself at the age of thirty-five in a position to dictate to a reigning Prince and to use a whole country, if he willed, for his sport.
Yet even those who hated him most could not say he had made any great ill-use of his power. Things went wrong in Brittany, it was more through de Montauban's carelessness than his ill-will, he had no more the capacity for great crimes than for great strength or heroism. Indifferent to most things, if he sundered the Duke from his brothers, it was through idle talk, more the result of his position than his character.
Placed so that he could have swept the younger princes from before him, for five years Montauban had tolerated them about the Duke; Pierre, the second brother, who was meek, content to be overlooked, he even helped and treated with kindness.
Indolent and infirm of purpose, he spent his days in amusements that wearied, and useless quarrels with the only person at the Duke's court he had any active feeling for, namely, Gilles of Brittany, the Duke's third and youngest brother.
High-spirited, handsome, honest-hearted, full of gaiety and ambition, Gilles would not brook the all-powerful favourite, and by mocks and taunts, open and covert, stung Guy de Montauban into a dull feeling of hate. But Gilles cared nothing. Defying Duke and favourite both, he openly demanded his appanage; declared the Duke was bewitched, and only the good offices of Pierre and the Duchess patched up a hollow truce between him and Montauban. But the gay Prince's laughing taunts were not forgotten. It was not long before Montauban induced the Duke to send Gilles on an embassy to England and so remove from his sight the man who humbled him in his own eyes.
But Gilles, seeing rightly enough who had dictated the move would not go; he feared Montauban would work his undoing in his absence.
Then Montauban made Rennes unbearable, until at last, now more mindful of the present than the future, light-hearted Gilles left Brittany, not for England indeed but for France, where, with a company of English mercenaries he did good service against the Duke of Burgundy.
Meanwhile François, already feeble in health, grew more sickly. Impossible he would live long, it was possible he might die in a few months. He left no children, Brittany would pass to Pierre, and Montauban's fortunes fall like a house of cards.
There was only one thing could secure them, a wealthy marriage, such as now in the heydey of his power he might make.
He had only to speak his choice. The Duke would confirm it. There was no lady in Brittany, however, rich enough to tempt him. France was impoverished and it would be impolitic to leave the Duke to seek further.
Meantime, Gilles, returning from France, came again to his brother's court and asked his consent to his marriage with Françoise de Dinan, an unknown and penniless lady whom he had seen by chance and, for pure love, would marry.
Now were the two brothers once more reconciled. François II. had no objection to the match, the granting of which brought his brother into subjection; nor had Montauban any dislike to seeing Gilles unite himself to one who could bring him neither position, influence nor money.
Françoise de Dinan was the niece of Robert de Dinan, one of the richest nobles in Brittany or France, lord of the great lands of the house of Rohan, Chateaubriand, Bain, Beaumanoir, Hardouinaye and Montafilan, in all a fortune for a Prince; yet she brought no dowry with her hand, for she was the daughter of Robert de Dinan's younger brother who, after marrying a French princess, having flung his fortune to the winds in luxury and extravagance, had left at his death wife and daughter penniless.
Françoise found with her uncle a home, nothing more. Two years ago he had betrothed her to his on and heir and all honour had been lavished on her, but now Philippe de Dinan was wedded to another and she lived alone with her attendants in the château of Hardouinaye.
It was not Philippe's fault he had not married his cousin. She gave him back his troth to plight herself to Guy de Laval, an even richer match, who quarrelled with her over the Lord of Beaumanoir.
And he too parted in anger from her, and so at seven and twenty Françoise de Dinan was still unwed, when her schemes and her beauty brought Gilles' honest heart to her feet and she took the chance he offered.
She had never loved any; to dislike Gilles of Brittany was impossible, her lone life was growing well-nigh unbearable. He was a Prince and the Duke's brother.
These were her reasons and his was simply love.
Françoise de Dinan, older than Gilles by five years, was a poet, a musician, selfish, beautiful, passionately enamoured of the graces of life, colours, fancies, artificial emotions. Elegant in manner, refined, witty, brilliant, charming, she was by nature false and in that sense true, at least to herself.
She had played with her own soul, settled her life beforehand, laid down the path she was to tread and pursued it unfalteringly, scattering smiles, tears, frowns and caresses to help her to her self-appointed goal—of riches, independence, titles and worldly honour.
And so far she had passed along serene, her heart untouched; even to think of it moved to a passion out of her control, roused her laughter. In all her plans she reckoned without it, reckoned, too, without her passionate nature that had slept so long she did not know that it was there.
No one had passed beyond her smiles, more than dainty caresses she had given none. She kept herself inviolate, yet she had lost her many throws and not yet won a fortune.
Gilles of Brittany sincerely loved her. He was younger and, for all his high gaiety, more simple, than her former suitors; he had much of the ancient chivalry that never questioned a woman's word sworn to with kisses. She, too, with her twenty-seven years and her lost chances behind her, played more sanely now and lived more softly.
Then, with the same breath with which Gilles told her their marriage was assured and sworn to by the Duke's word before all Brittany, he told her too he had undertaken a delicate mission to England, that might mean some weeks' absence. The heart of Françoise de Dinan sank. She judged him by herself—supposing he forgot!
But in Gilles' mind was no doubt. His great love left no room for it. He trusted her as he did Heaven. He hoped much honour from this mission, and a rise in the Duke's favour, and they could spare a few weeks from a lifetime of happiness. He guessed nothing of her impatience to appear at the court of Rennes; how she shrank from the waiting weeks that might prelude another chance foregone. He took her dismay for grief at loss of him, and Françoise, when he spoke of it so, was moved to smile to herself, bitterly.
It was an October evening, the day before Prince Gilles sailed, that Françoise came from the château of Hardouinaye to take a last leave of him. The sun was sinking in a twist of golden vapour, tinging the flat gray rocks with colour, burning like fire in the little pools left by the rains of yesterday.
Beyond them the sea glinted, silver white. Françoise, shading her eyes from the level rays, looked down the road. The air was cold and from head to foot she was wrapped in a purple mantle; over her black hair was a hood that shadowed her fair face, a face that grew a little troubled as no one came down the straight road.
Impatiently she walked about under the trees; the last leaves of autumn burned bright as jewels against a sky the colour of dead forget-me-nots; always as she paced was that slight fear at her heart that he might grow indifferent.
But presently against the sun appeared the figures of two horsemen riding rapidly.
One was Gilles of Brittany; she waved her hand gaily and came to meet him, glancing at his handsome face to see if any doubt of her lurked there. But with gay brown eyes he smiled on her and Françoise's heart rose—of a surety he loved her and she could never lose him. Now with every word he spoke he confirmed it, as, outdistancing the man he rode with, he leaped to the ground and told her all his hopes, and spoke of what the journey to England might mean to both of them. For a while she listened smiling.
"But in England you will forget me," she said at last, and the fear in her voice was not all feigned—she found it hard to believe in sincere affection.
"Françoise, ma bien aimée," laughed Gilles of Brittany. "When the stars fall shall I forget!"
"Oh, Gilles!" she cried, looking up at him. "I would you were not going!"
"Now, why?" he answered smiling. "Only, Françoise, a few short weeks and my fortune may be made."
"If Montauban were not ever at the Duke's ear," said Françoise, "you would not have to go abroad to seek your fortune and leave me thus long." And in her heart she thought that, once she was the Prince's wife, it should go hard with her if she did not manage to overthrow the powerful favourite.
"Montauban is my one uneasiness," said Gilles tenderly, "yet he would never dare molest thee."
"Mon ami, he will not even deign to see me," she answered. "Even now he stays with mine uncle at Chateaubriand while I am imprisoned here—oh, Gilles, the one thing I care for in my dull life you take from me—I pray you do not go!"
The fear she could not lose put conviction into her voice; she clasped her delicate hands round his and her eyes were pleading.
"Mon Dieu!" cried Gilles. "After all why should I? I am my own master, ma chérie. Now ask again and, by my faith, I will not go!"
"You care so much?" she whispered, well pleased at this proof of her power.
"Françoise," he answered eagerly. "For your sake I was going—I'll stay for the same reason, sweet, if you'll take me fortuneless; what care I for the Duke's displeasure?"
But Françoise reflected what the Duke's displeasure meant and looked up with a sigh and a smile.
"Gilles, this is only folly—because I love you so I Go, I would not have it otherwise—only—"
But Gilles stopped her with a kiss, taking her hands in his joyously.
"We'll have no talk of that!" he laughed. "There are no oaths needed between us—Françoise, I ask none, I know you love me, ma chérie."
"Indeed, enough," she answered. Her voice broke into a little sob, her eyes were full of tears. Gilles' frank heart was touched to the quick to see her grief; silent with her hand in his he sought for some comfort.
"I shall not leave you utterly alone," he said at last. "I found a friend in France would give his life for aught of mine. He, Françoise, shall look to the sending me word if need be—"
"Nay, I need it not," she answered. "Sure of thee I need no more."
Then she knew not what drove her to it, but she took his hand and said: "Whatever happens, whatever befalls, will I be true, Gilles!"
"Françoise," he whispered, "I would as soon doubt Heaven!"
At his grave eagerness she almost feared, and turning her head sharply, noticed with relief that the Prince's companion advanced toward them.
"'Tis my friend," said Gilles. "The Englishman. Mon Dieu! I hear he comes for me—now how can I ever use to you, ma chérie—the word 'farewell'?"
Françoise smiled and answered softly, then drew her hands away and turned toward the newcomer who led the Prince's horse.
"Now the good angels guard you, sweet," said Gilles with a catch in his throat. The rider was singing to himself. As he drew near he took his cap off, waiting, and Gilles led Françoise to his saddle bow.
"Françoise," he said. "This is my true friend, Captain Kristopher Fassiferne, true friend he will be to you, if for my sake and his own worth you will accept his services."
It had grown so dark that though she glanced curiously at the Englishman's face, it only struck her as she answered graciously that he was much older than Gilles and not the man she would have thought he would have chosen for a friend.
"Sure," said Captain Kristopher gravely, "there's a more powerful weapon than will be found in a soldier's armoury, an' that's in your possession already, my lady."
"What, Messire?" she asked. The voice was low and pleasant, she strained her eyes the more clearly to see the face.
"It's an honest, true heart, my lady," he answered. "An' a true faith an' love, so it's none of my help the Prince will be wanting—"
And he laughed as Gilles sprang into the saddle.
The words galled her. As she drew back from Gilles' stirrup her gold scarf caught in the Englishman's and as he stooped to disentangle it, she, glancing up, saw that he had bright blue eyes and a laughing mouth. The laugh made her flush.
A few moments more and they had gone; Françoise, standing alone, watched them go, still with a colour in her cheeks. She was strangely humbled in her vanity—it seemed to her the Englishman had read her like a book and laughed at her for her poor pretence.
But she angrily shook off the fancy.
"Had I been my uncle's heir," she thought bitterly, "I had had no need to cheat a boy into love for me." She went back to the château very swiftly.
It rained heavily that night. Françoise, restless in her chamber, could not sleep for the sound of it beating on the stonework without her window.
Discontented and weary, she lit a little lamp and stirring the embers of her fire together, sat over it, brooding.
Though still dark it was near dawn. In a few hours Gilles would sail. "He is a mere simpleton," thought Françoise. "Could I have feigned affection to that friend of his so? Dieu? If I were rich—"
She broke off her thoughts abruptly, and turning her head looked at herself in the mirror that hung above the lamp; looked long and earnestly.
She grew angry with herself, frowned at the shadow in the glass, calling it fool; then lay back in her chair sighing with a fair brooding face. She had chosen for herself and repentance was too late.
She was bound to him before all Brittany.
Outside the rain beat stronger, mingled with gusts of wind; the bare boughs creaked and groaned. The storm jarred on Françoise, she rose restlessly and began pacing the room.
A sudden loud knocking at the château gates made her start violently.
For a moment she stood still in absolute fear; thoughts of her powerful, lawless neighbour, the Lord of Dol, an outlawed robber, flashed into her mind. Hardouinaye was very lonely and this the dead of night.
Throwing a cloak over her loosened dress she went out on the stairs, and, calling one of her women bade her go and bring the seneschal.
But there was no need; the loud knocking had roused the whole establishment; consisting only of a few, for Françoise de Dinan was allowed no state.
Carrying a lantern, struggling against the wind and the rain, the seneschal made his way to the gate where a little band of horsemen waited for admittance. Their leader demanded to see the chatelaine at once; he came, he said, from Chateaubriand, from her uncle, and would tell no more.
From her uncle!
Françoise heard in utter amazement, it was many weeks since she had had any message from her uncle, and she half suspected a ruse.
For a moment she hesitated; then made a compromise between her prudence and her curiosity.
"Admit the leader and keep him in sight," she said. "I will see him in the hall." With her heart beating fast she went back into her chamber and arranged her dress.
What could her uncle have to say to her? Had his spite, or Philippe's, urged them to forbid her marriage?
Then the strange hour moved her wonder almost to fear.
With the purple mantle over her straight red gown, her black hair gathered away from her bare throat and flushed face, Françoise de Dinan descended into the hall, followed by her two women; her mind busy with a thousand fancies.
The great chamber, dimly lit by hastily brought lights, looked blank and dreary; the seneschal and her few serving men were there and, standing by the ash-strewn hearth, a man who had put his dripping mantle on the chair beside him and was looking impatiently toward the entrance.
In a certain excitement, a half fear, a half hope of—something—Françoise entered, her eagerness making her fair face more human, less calm than was its wont. The stranger came forward; appeared surprised, almost startled at her great beauty set off as it was by the soft light, the dark background and the quiet mystery of her surrounding.
"I am Françoise de Dinan," she said, fully aware of the effect she produced and in no way abashed.
Her great black eyes studied him, closely noting every detail. He was slight and slender; good-looking, of a pale face; hair and eyes as black as her own, but with a hard, sneering mouth. He was richly dressed; he carried sword and dagger by his side and twisted gloves and a riding whip in his hand.
"What I have to say," he began, speaking in a very humble voice, more natural than assumed, "will be my best excuse for this sore lack of ceremony."
"You come from Chateaubriand?" asked Françoise, "from my uncle?"
"I have ridden straight from there, madam," he hesitated. "Perhaps by name I am not so unknown to you," he added, smiling. "I am Guy de Montauban."
At mention of the most powerful name in Brittany, she could not conceal her utter surprise or find any words to answer him. For once in her life she was completely at a loss.
"I am the friend of your betrothed," went on Montauban, smiling the more at her surprise. "And I come with grave news."
As quickly as she had lost her self-possession she recovered it and came forward into the full lamplight.
"Welcome, my lord," she said, "whatever news you bring is for the bearer's sake, welcome."
"There was not much love between you and your uncle?" asked Montauban, looking full at her with much admiration.
Completely at her ease now, flattered and expectant, Françoise lifted her brilliant eyes and laughed.
"Mon Dieu! No!"
For a second Montauban paused.
"Robert de Dinan is dead," he said.
In the perfect silence that followed he looked at her keenly; she had fallen back a step, very white, but her eyes were ablaze.
"Well?" she whispered at last, "and Philippe?"
Montauban's sombre face lit up.
"Your discernment is excellent," he returned. "He too is dead. They were both drowned yesterday. I saw their boat sink with all on board. A pleasure sail on a lake—morbleu!—it has made you the richest woman in Brittany."
The colour ebbed slowly back into Françoise's face, she looked with dancing eyes at the bewildered faces of the servants, then at Montauban.
"Dead?" she murmured. "Both dead?"
She had not believed there was anything under. Heaven could move her as this news had done; she trembled and had to catch at the tapestry for stealthy support; yet she was not one whit bewildered nor confused. In a second she saw it all too clearly, what it meant, what difference it made, saw, too, something of Montauban's purpose in bringing the news to her thus.
"And Prince Gilles?" she asked, raising her eyes. "He does not know?"
Montauban, always closely observing her, smiled and came a step nearer.
"He has already embarked," he said. "This news must follow him, Countesse."
"'Tis no matter," answered Françoise quickly. "'Tis a great matter that I should thank you and somewhat fittingly—for this your trouble," she added. So calm she was, he could only guess at her great excitement, at the deep joy she kept even from her eyes.
"Some day I may be so glad to call upon the gratitude of the Countesse de Chateaubriand," he answered, "as to wrong myself by calling to your mind such a service even as this—now I would pray you only to forgive an intrusion that has fallen so far below my respect—and also, Countesse, to remember me for so long as it may be till we meet at Rennes."
"Messire, were it years hence I should not fail in that," said Françoise, with her eyes turned away to hide their exultation.
Guy de Montauban passing from the sombre château, anew into the driving rain, found nothing but satisfaction in his knowledge.
"I feared she might love the Prince," he thought. "There is no love. She shall marry me within a month."
Shaken from his habitual indolence he reflected keenly on his chances and the means of bettering them. The result of his reflections was that, instead of riding to Rennes, he turned his horse toward the coast and started rapidly for the little port where Gilles was to have, or had, embarked.
Gilles stood in the courtyard, watching with a thoughtful face the last bales of goods carried through the gate toward the calm sea, while he talked to Kristopher Fassiferne, who leaned against the wall beside him.
Captain Kristopher was tall and well shaped, at first glance all thought him rarely handsome, but it was in expression and not in features that the claim lay. His real beauty was a pair of great blue eyes, dark and yet brilliantly changeful; for the rest he had a firm mouth and a clear freckled skin that flushed when he talked, face and neck so brown they made his bright eyes and teeth by contrast dazzling, the pleasantest of smiles and an eager frank look, a quiet manner; he looked and noticed more than he spoke, and laughed frequently.
In age he might have been thirty-five or six, his dress was a well-worn and patched leather suit, a faded scarf, and there was not a single ornament about him, except a silver ring on his left hand.
Gilles fell to pacing the courtyard with a puzzled, angry face.
"Mon cher," he said at last, stopping in front of the other. "The Sieur de Montauban dislikes me—ever since we came back from France—you and I—I've seen it still knowing how blindly François, my brother, trusts him. I was glad to think at first of this mission and escaping him a while—but—now—" Gilles crushed a paper in his hand with a laugh, "suddenly my heart misgives me."
Kristopher Fassiferne was listening, but he made no answer, and the Prince continued, still doubtfully.
"Parbleu! but—to leave him here—at my brother's ear."
"And what can he say there?" asked Kristopher, suddenly looking up with brilliant smiling eyes. "Or do, my Prince? Isn't he just a thing to be taken no heed of—and aren't you above all the meddlings of favourites?"
Gilles was silent, then a flush crept into his cheeks.
"I was thinking of Françoise," he said with shining eyes. "She is so alone—and so beautiful! Mon Dieu! did you ever see such beauty, Kristopher, mon ami?"
"It was so dark I could see nothing at all," answered Kristopher, tracing the cobbles with his sword point. "But were she just all the beauty that ever was—'tis no matter for the leaving of her an' she love you—an' what's six months, my Prince? an' she living alone an' not having even seen Sir Guy? It's trouble out of nothing you're making," and Kristopher looked up, showing his white teeth in a fascinating smile that Gilles' light-heartedness responded to at once.
"Morbleu, you are right, mon ami," he said, holding out his slender hand. "What is six months? And, praise be to St Herve, Françoise hath no riches that the Duke should want to break his promise—tell me now that you will look to her while I am away and I go happy."
"There are better men for that service, Prince," answered Kristopher Fassiferne gravely. "An' better able to please you in it, since the lady needs no watching, and it isn't a captain of mercenaries would protect her from Sir Guy if he came along, with the Duke behind him."
"Captain Kristopher," said the Prince eagerly, with wistful eyes, "you are the truest soul I ever knew—you are my only friend—there is none other I could trust—my brother, Pierre, is young yet—I will give you this letter to him—" He drew a paper from his pocket and forced it on the other, who stood silent looking at him.
"Mon Dieu! I am foolish," he continued, with a little laugh. "What can happen to her? But undertake this charge, Captain Kristopher."
"She hath guardians," was the reply. "Her uncle and her uncle's son—almost the richest men in Brittany."
"They!" cried Gilles impatiently. "They live at Chateaubriand—keeping her close in Hardouinaye—and they are men she hath been sore angered with—but I will not ask this service of you since it is distasteful, Captain Kristopher, praying to God and his saints alone to watch over Françoise de Dinan."
A squire came and touched him on the arm—the hour for his embarkation had come: the two great ships were laden, their sails spread; the wind was fair for England.
"Fare thee well, Captain Kristopher," smiled Gilles and he held out his hand.
The soldier raised his eyes and strode forward impulsively, clasping it warmly.
"I will do what you wish," he said smiling.
"Never a harm shall come to your lady, my Prince—aren't we comrades and sworn friends?"
"Captain Kristopher!" cried Gilles, his whole face clearing. "Now is my mind at ease and with a light heart I leave—swear to me by our friendship you mean this."
Kristopher Fassiferne laid his hand on the other's satin sleeve.
"I swear it," he said simply. "And you can trust me I On my honour," he added, "you leave one behind who will not forget."
Gilles of Brittany looked at him through the yellow hair and white feathers that were blown about his face.
"I am content," he said. "Take you that letter, mon ami, to my brother, Pierre—you go to Rennes?"
"Ay, to Rennes," and the soldier heaved something like a sigh. "To report myself, my Prince—and to take my commands from his Grace."
"Morbleu!" cried Gilles eagerly. "Had I half the influence Guy de Montauban has—you would be in a different position, mon cher—but go you to Pierre with that letter and remember Françoise knows you saved my life twice and that I love you—and if need be—remember your promise, Captain Kristopher."
He laid his hand on his friend's shoulder: "Wish me success, mon ami," he smiled, "for in truth, I am more than a little faint-hearted."
"Three times success," answered Kristopher. "And I have pledged my honour to look to the lady—though she wants no looking to—with a true heart and no riches to tempt the Duke—now, rest you easy, my Prince—for I've sworn."
The mist began to part and roll away, the standard of Brittany showed faintly at the mast of the ship in the offing.
"Blowing for England," said Kristopher, with a quick breath on the name. "God give you three times success, my Prince—"
Gilles grasped his hand in silence, with smiling eyes; in a moment more he had embarked. Standing silent, Captain Kristopher watched him enter the boat and near the ship—watched him on the deck, standing on the prow above the gold dragon. Then suddenly the breeze freshened, lifting the clouds like a veil, the great sails filled and the two ships began to move, long oar's splashed up wreaths of spray and scattered the sea birds till they rose and flew screaming round the masts and cordage. Gilles, waving his orange scarf, stood with uncovered head, a gallant figure—at the prow.
Kristopher's eyes never left it till the ships were lost in the gray sea mist, then he turned and went up the beach to where at a little distance some fifty men at arms were drawn up, English mercenaries under his command, newly returned from France and bound now with him for Rennes.
Captain Kristopher mounted his black horse.
"An' we get to Rennes to-night," he said, "we must be starting on the minute—give me my helmet, Robin, for we shall be riding through Koet Kandek—a very nest of robbers."
Then he turned to his men who waited wrapped in their cloaks.
"Now for Rennes," he said. "'Tis the long road—" He paused abruptly; a little group of horsemen were spurring rapidly over the short grass toward them—some ten or twelve with a tall knight leading.
"Now, who are these?" asked Kristopher.
Before there was time for an answer, the leader of the newcomers hid galloped up and reined in his horse.
"Gilles of Brittany hath sailed?" he asked, looking past Kristopher out to sea, eagerly.
"Yes, sailed and out of sight," was the answer. The other's dark face lit up; he halted and looked at Kristopher.
"You ride back to Rennes?" he asked, speaking as one used to command.
"Yes," said Kristopher, his blue eyes taking him in, keenly.
"I go that way, too," said the horseman. "I but came to see if the Prince had sailed. My name is Guy de Montauban."
He gave it with a pride amounting to arrogance; but Kristopher only inclined gravely his head.
"Are you not he whom they call Captain Kristopher," continued Guy, "and Gilles' friend?"
"I am he," answered Kristopher. "Captain Kristopher Fassiferne of the English mercenaries—will it please you, Sieur, if you come my way, we should ride on?—it grows late."
He spoke with a grave courtesy at variance with his rough dress and the rougher men he led; Montauban noticing it, looked at him, and, like everyone, was so struck with the fascination of his face as to keep his eyes there; when Kristopher, giving the signal to his men, was falling back to the head of them, he stopped him.
"Ride by me," he said. "I have to talk with you."
For a way the road ran along the sea like a white ribbon, fringed either side with salt-dried, shaking grass and scattered with dead sea weed, ancient and colourless, that crackled beneath the horses' hoofs.
"You were with the Prince in France?" asked Guy and he looked at his companion furtively. "He trusts you, Messire?"
Kristopher laughed, glancing round. "What are you wanting to find out, Sir Guy?" he said. "Isn't this a clumsy way of beginning? An' well may you save your pains, for half I know and half I guess."
Montauban stared at him with a faint flush on his thin face.
"What do you know?"
The road was rough and Kristopher stopped to tighten his reins before he answered. When he looked up the laugh had gone from his face.
"I know you have somewhat against the Prince," he said with angry eyes.
Guy did not answer and for some way they rode in silence, through the lands of Koet Kandek—desolate, forlorn, with no sign of living plant or flower to right or left.
Suddenly Guy turned to his companion: "Seeing you are his friend, the Prince bath not done much for you," he said. "Leaving you still leader of hired soldiers—find you fortune slow in coming, Captain?"
"Fortune?" said Kristopher, speaking as if roused from thoughts of other things. "That, Messire, I have long given up the seeking of, and it's a save of heartache!"
"A soldier without ambition!" said Montauban. "What use is your sword if not as a lever to rise with?"
"It earns me bread," said Kristopher, with defiant eyes. "It gets me a living and keeps me from sinking to some valet's place—it's a leader of mercenaries you're talking to, Sir Guy, an' no knight errant, and it's just for the living I get, I serve, and not for glory."
Guy glanced at him furtively.
"Lord Verdun of Valence," he said softly. "Is all your ambition quite dead?"
"St George!" cried Kristopher, and his clear skin flushed scarlet. "You know that?"
"That and more," was the answer. "I know why you keep your name hid, Lord Verdun, and why you ride here now, a hired soldier."
The colour faded from Kristopher's face.
"How came you to know?" he said, staring at Guy, who leaned nearer.
"I met one who knew you at the court of England, when you were high in power," he answered, keeping his eyes on the other. "Before—you were banished."
Kristopher's face showed white as linen in the dusk. He laughed bitterly.
"Well?" he asked defiantly.
"Is it true?" questioned Guy, as if astonished. "You are he who was banished from England as a traitor—for selling your country to the French—five years ago?"
Kristopher clinched his hands tight upon his bridle and kept his gaze fixed before him.
"Yes," he said, "It's true. I am he."
"Ah!" cried Guy triumphantly. "I will give you back the place that you have lost, Lord Verdun."
Kristopher turned fiercely with flaming eyes.
"That name's dead," he said, "and on all this earth there is no man can give me back what I have lost."
"Leave the name then," said Guy easily. "Listen to me, Captain Kristopher."
"I am Prince Gilles' friend," cried Kristopher, "and I will hear naught against him."
"Is your honour grown so nice of late?" asked Guy calmly. "You sold your country—couldn't you sell your friend, Captain Kristopher?"
"Dear Lord!" said Kristopher under his breath through set teeth; then he was silent and Montauban spoke again.
"Gilles leaves his betrothed behind," said Guy de Montauban, "fair and penniless—Françoise de Dinan—a heartless lady and an ambitious, who cares for him no more than she would for any man who brought her rank—are you listening?"
Kristopher was silent, motionless, looking in front of him.
"Françoise de Dinan will be my wife," continued Guy. "And Gilles stays in England till she is wedded."
Kristopher turned as if about to break out passionately but still remained silent.
"There is nothing to hinder me," continued Guy. "I can do anything with the Duke—easily enough will he take back his promise."
"And the lady?" said Kristopher hoarsely. "The lady?"
"Cares nothing for anyone—and now—is the richest heiress in Brittany or France."
Kristopher stared blankly.
"Robert de Dinan is dead," whispered Guy, in an excitement he could not repress. "And his son—I was at Chateaubriand, the Sieur de Dinan and his son were drowned—gone down in a storm—all were lost and among them these two—the lords of Dinan—and so Gilles' betrothed is the richest marriage in France. You see now, Captain Kristopher?"
"I see," answered Kristopher, without turning his head. "God help Prince Gilles!"
"You help me, Captain Kristopher," said Guy, and he put out his thin hand, touching the other's arm. "Help me win the lady and her fortune, help me keep Gilles in England—and Lord Verdun of Valence may make his fortune yet."
Kristopher shuddered, looking steadily in front of him.
"You have no scruples?" asked Montauban, scornful at sight of the other's face. "A man who betrayed his country may well betray his friend—what did the French pay you? I will double it, Captain Kristopher."
Kristopher shook him off passionately.
"Get you gone, Sieur," he said, with wild wide-open eyes. "I will ride to Rennes alone, not in the company of such as you—get you gone!"
It was raining fast, a blinding drizzle; Guy drew his cloak closer round him with an angry laugh.
"I am Guy de Montauban," he said. "These words come ill from an outcast!"
At this Kristopher looked him straight in the eyes, then he laughed, so suddenly that Guy was taken aback.
"I will give you others then," he flashed. "You're a poor, mean knave, Sieur, and not worth the snap of an honest man's fingers, and Gilles left me in charge of the lady—and she'll be true for all that it's you are the Duke's favourite—an outcast, say you?—I' faith, you talk of what you know nothing of—there never was a Verdun yet who smirched his name, an' given I'm the last of them there never will be."
Kristopher had a pleasant and soft way of speaking, a certain charm of words and voice that fascinated; that fascinated Guy now, spite of the fire and anger in Kristopher's tones.
He looked at him curiously.
"You have a tongue should have kept you your position," he said, "and an insolence I will remember at a more fitting time. Throw aside your chance as you will! I will wed the lady without you."
"Never," said Kristopher fiercely. "Never as I live! It's the Prince himself trusted me."
"Which is the greater fool—the Prince or you?" sneered Guy. "The Prince who thinks Françoise de Dinan loves him and makes a friendship with such as you—or you—to talk to me—like this?"
But Kristopher was suddenly swaying on his saddle, in a perfect frenzy of fury, and Montauban drew back from the bared recklessness of his eyes.
"Fool, say you, Sieur!" he cried. "Sure you're the fool—and a mean, pitiable fool, an' might a gentleman soil his hands a-breaking your neck it's I would do it—you, a carrier of scandal and a picker up of lies, getting great by another man's favour—proud blood I come of—an' never yet did I pledge my honour for nothing—and I pledged it to Prince Gilles—"
"You!" interrupted Guy, white with rage. "Your honour!"
"And has never an innocent man been banished before this?" flashed Kristopher. "Look at me and say I was a traitor!"
"It is your trade to lie and show a frank face," said Montauban, scornfully. He drew a whistle from his belt. "You think more is to be made by the Prince than by me," he added. "Fool, I have all Brittany behind me—in a month Françoise de Dinan will be my wife."
"Not in a year—or thrice three years," said Kristopher proudly. "An' thanking God I'll be for a woman's true heart that'll defeat your plots and your guiles."
Montauban laughed softly.
"Maybe her heart will change with her fortunes—maybe she will forget Prince Gilles."
"And I will remind her," said Kristopher. "Were to-morrow the blessed judgment day tonight I'd spend in the Prince's service."
They had gained a little clearing of crumbling earth through which a sunken stream ran muddily, the banks were grown with strange weeds of sickly hues and fungi of unwholesome tints, poisonously brilliant. Until now both leaders had been too angrily absorbed to heed their way, but Guy blew his whistle and summoned up his men.
"My thanks for the lifting of your company," said Kristopher and his eyes showed like jewels in his flushed face. "Pleasanter the road will be without a knave's converse." Then he laughed, showing his white teeth. "I' faith, little you gained that time, like the Devil in the fairy tale, you went a-fishing with a broken net and it's not the fish will cry over it—"
And Kristopher Fassiferne laughed again, and cantered back to his own band, leaving Guy looking after him through the rain and the gathering dark.
At a steady pace the fifty mercenaries turned on the road to Rennes; all the laugh had gone from their leader's face. He crushed his gloves together in his hands and shuddered violently, looking ahead with straining eyes.
"Sweet St Kate!" he murmured once, "have pity on me!" Then again with a little gasp, "Sweet Lord—help me!"
It rained steadily, incessantly: men and horses were soaked through, the water was running off Kristopher's cap and streaming down his faded scarlet cloak—to right and left—before and behind—gray—nothing but gray—Montauban was quickly lost to sight, not a bird or a flower—nothing but weeds, dead and wet, straight and spiked, and broken boughs, bare trees, and flat dull blue rocks—and ahead, to the side of the road a great wood, dense even now, though the trees were leafless. At a gallop they were sweeping past, when Kristopher reined up his horse suddenly, and his followers stopped—fearfully.
"What was that?" said Captain Kristopher.
The men listened in a strained silence.
Only the drip of the rain and the pant of the streaming horses.
Kristopher turned in the saddle and looked toward the dark forest, rising lonesome and eerie with a white ribbon of a road twisting into it.
"'Twas nothing," said Robin.
"Hush," said Kristopher.
From the direction of the wood came a long, low cry rising slowly and dying away.
"Is it a human voice?" asked Kristopher.
"Dear Lord! No!" cried Robin, crossing himself. "'Tis the ghost of the unblessed!"
Suddenly the cry was repeated, and Kristopher flung himself from his horse.
"It is some one in distress!" he said, "an' a woman!"
Shrill it came again through the damp evening air. It was nearly dark and the men looked askance at the dim trees and the lone path through them, but Kristopher ran swiftly toward the wood and entered it. Presently the long, low wail rose again now—and Kristopher turned to motion his men up, only to find he could no longer see them. The undergrowth was dense and thick and for a moment he stood irresolute—then at another sound—the low baying of dogs, plunged through the dead leaves and suddenly found himself on a well-worn road, evidently running straight through the forest.
And down it came a single horseman followed by a pack of white dogs, glimmering, visible.
Kristopher, hidden in the dead foliage and the trunks, paused, half believing he looked on something unearthly.
But there came laughter and voices that were very human, as the cry he had heard was answered, and other horses and riders came through the trees, as if meeting and welcoming the first-comer.
Some of the advancing party carried lanterns, among them was a woman who rode first, next to the horseman Who led the dogs.
Her lantern showed a striped orange cloak and a sharp pretty face that teased Kristopher with a sense of being familiar; she was talking to her companion, who wiped his sword and laughed.
As they came nearer, Kristopher saw his face thrown up in the circle of the lantern light, a handsome, indolent face, the handsomest and most unpleasant he thought he had ever seen.
He was near a giant in size, this rider, but his face was framed in long curls like a woman's, and he wore not armour, but velvet and jewels.
As Kristopher gazed they swept past him, riding faster, but though they were gone quickly he caught the name the woman gave her companion when she spoke:
At their heels the dogs hurried, and a few men, fierce, ill-clad, then the forest swallowed them up again and Kristopher stood alone, cursing himself for the utter folly of dashing away from his men.
He made no doubt they were wandering robbers or pillaging soldiers, returning to one of the vast châteaux thereabouts, and, as he pushed on resolutely down the well-worn paths, would have banished them from his thoughts, had not the woman's face haunted him, still with that sense of a likeness to some other face.
There was no hope of finding his men that night. Kristopher, grown weary, hardly cared, they would find their way to Rennes alone as he must.
Suddenly the road grew wider and stopped before a cluster of houses. In a moment more Kristopher could distinguish a sign hanging from the nearest, and making his way to the door knocked on it loudly.
The door opened instantly. Yes, the place was an inn, the fat-faced Breton admitted, and this the village of Kormenk, some miles from the Rennes road.
"It's I will stay here to-night then," said Kristopher, and threw his wet cloak on the narrow bench in the hall.
With slow movements the man locked and bolted the door, then raised the lantern from the floor.
"St Kate, but I am wet and weary," sighed Kristopher.
The peasant muttered something under his breath, and opened a little door to his right.
Kristopher stepped in gladly; wringing the water from his cloak he went into the light, closing the door behind him.
The room was low, with great rafters and one window; the whole dimly lit and filled with the melody of old-world music, as faint as the perfume of dead flowers.
The musician sat with his back to the door, a slender, erect figure in blue velvet, playing a strange little lilting measure that seemed to bring shadowy shapes out of the dim corners to dance, the music of fairyland. Standing at the door, Kristopher looked at him—silent and startled.
The room had one other occupant, some one crouched in the great chair by the smouldering logs, the face buried in the hands. Neither moved at Kristopher's entrance, and he glanced with continued astonishment at the elegant player in blue, swaying slightly to and fro to the lilt of the tune, unheeding, and he remained silent, for the music lay like a charm over the old chamber. A soft light just touched some carved goblets on the table, and made them blink as if they were dancing; near them, in the shadow lay two swords, and close by a soiled, torn shoe, a lady's shoe, muddied and frayed, but once gold and white, not laid carelessly, but with a certain grace of arrangement, in keeping with the quaint measure, the little slender figure of the musician, the rapid movement of his delicate hands over the ivory keys, and the outlines of that other figure, huddled together in the faded crimson chair, motionless, with little fingers clutched in pale yellow curls.
It was all under a charm, as far removed from the wet forest and dark night as if it lay in another world, unreal and fantastic as a legend.
"Good even," said Kristopher suddenly, and coming forward he flung his wet gloves on the table.
Like a delicate picture in frost, shattered by a blow of a sword, the spell was broken. The musician stopped and turned with a reproachful face, the shadows danced away, Kristopher walked to the fireplace and with his foot stirred the logs into a blaze so that a strong red flare sprang up, lighting the farthest corner of the room, dispelling the last traces of the romance and mystery.
Kristopher began drying his wet clothes, looking et the other two, keenly, with smiling blue eyes.
"Good even," said the musician gravely, in a French that was not of Brittany, and he swung round on his seat to face the stranger.
He had a pointed face, with light yellow hair brushed out round it like a halo, and full lips that wore an expression of scorn.
Kristopher glanced from him to the other who by now sat up in the great chair staring.
In every form and feature the two were alike, as delicate as china, as small as children, French evidently, and of some station. Kristopher smiled tolerantly.
"I am English," he said. "Maybe you go to Rennes—Messires?"
He in the blue stepped from his bright stool, looking with some contempt at the other in the chair.
"I travel back to France, Monsieur," he said gravely, and his light-blue eyes were angry, though his voice was quiet.
"And I," cried the other excitedly, "I travel on—on—" he flung his head up proudly. "Even if alone—"
"Valerie, you will return with me," said his counter-part, speaking with much gesture. "Morbleu! and all the Holy Saints, but I am weary of it!" Then turning to Kristopher, who watched them amused. "Monsieur, he is mad, my brother here, we might be at the fairest court in Europe, instead of in this vile inn, were it not for his folly. Mon Dieu! Mad! and I mad to permit it, but—Monsieur—bear me witness—this is the end!"
The brother had sunk into the chair again in an attitude of despair.
"Oh, Amedée, Amedée, you will not forsake me—my brother Amedée—after so long—and me so near to goal!"
Amedée whirled on his heel:
"I have humoured thy madness long enough. An' thou will go, Valerie, go alone."
Valerie looked up at Kristopher, standing with smiling blue eyes, large and silent by the fire.
"I must be cooking my supper, it was morning when I last ate, and then it was but a sorry meal," he said, and drew up closer to the blaze, undoing his wallet calmly with a total disregard of the glances of the other two, who seemed to be forgetting their quarrels in observing him.
Presently the captain opened the door and looked out into the dark passage.
"A pot," he called, "and a bottle of wine." Then he returned to his cookery and his red cloak steaming over the chair.
"Morbleu!" murmured Valerie Estercel, shrinking away to the other end of the room, where he and his brother fell arguing anew in lowered tones.
The landlord entered, clapping down an iron frying-pan and a stone bottle of wine.
Kristopher seized them with a pleasant smile.
"Save our souls!" he cried, "but it's wet and cold outside—" he stopped and looked around.
"Who is Enguerrand?"
The peasant had shuffled to the door, he paused there, looking back.
"Enguerrand is La Rose Rouge," he said, and laughed hoarsely.
"And who—" said Kristopher, "is La Rose Rouge?"
But the man had gone, and Kristopher fell to his cooking, listening amused to the Frenchmen, who were talking in high, thin, excited voices.
Amedée had drawn himself up to his full height, with many scornful glances at his brother: "A strolling player!" he cried. "A dancing woman!"
"The lady I love!" flashed Valerie. "The lady I have sworn to adore till death. Monsieur—" he turned excitedly to Kristopher, "I have vowed to find her—her image is graven in my heart—more fair is she than dawning day—all the love in Ovid cannot express my passion!"
"Bah!" cried his brother, interrupting angrily, "thou hast seen her once—from a distance, Valerie, and we have sought for her for a year and a half—Valerie—I have no more to say, I start at daybreak for France—knight-errantry may go too far—and fantasy—"
With a flourish he clapped his feathered cap upon his head, and bowing low, strode from the room, his head high, his face flushed with indignation and resolve.
Kristopher, eating his supper, had given them only half his attention, but he looked up amused at Amedée's sudden exit and glanced with something like pity at the other who, after standing with an air of mighty resolution, took one of the swords from the table.
"I have sworn to Our Lady, the pheasant and the peacock," he said, his eyes large and eager, his face pale with excitement, "that I will go upon this quest I am vowed to—facing all the ill that may offer for one more sight of her! I will go alone—Amedée shall return to France—I have chosen."
There was an air of great bravery about him, a defiance as of a man facing a great misfortune.
Kristopher looked up from his plate and held out his hand with a sudden pleasant laugh'.
"If I can aid you, Sieur, I travel to Rennes—Captain Kristopher, of the English mercenaries—perchance your quest may lead you that way."
Valerie grasped his hand.
"Do not think I feel fear or doubt, do not dream I falter or that my footsteps turn aside—to Our Lady I have sworn. Monsieur—could you go on—even if you had lost your comrade? Wonder not I ask you, Monsieur, seeing I am forsaken." And he clasped his jewelled hands to his forehead, staring with a white face at Kristopher, who answered instantly, lifting his brilliant eyes:
"I would be going alone," he said, "had I sworn it—save our souls—an' all the world turned their backs!"
The little French stranger seemed to dilate with delight.
"Would you! would you!" he cried. "Oh. Mon Dieu! so will I, Monsieur! Monsieur! I love her so—into my heart no doubt can enter while that great love is there!"
Kristopher looked up at him in amusement.
"I' faith, you're a very knight of romance," he said. And he fell to his supper again, calmly, till Sir Valerie seized his hand between his two slender ones and put it to his lips passionately.
"Sure, it's none too much sense the good saints blessed you with," said Kristopher amazed.
Valerie fell again to fondling the shoe, murmuring to himself, and Kristopher began clearing away his supper, stifling yawns.
"Her slipper! Mon Dieu, her slipper!" And the small, frayed, white thing, hung with broken bells, was pressed close to Valerie's heart.
"St Kate!" groaned Kristopher. "But rain will make a man's bones ache, also a sitting horseback all day, an' a being sick with passion."
He laid his head against the back of his chair, stretching out his legs to the fire, while Valerie, clasping the shoe, was gazing upward, with parted lips.
"Yea, it must be I shall find her I soon, Mon Dieu! soon!"
"An' I am wondering what you're going to do then," murmured Kristopher sleepily.
"Then—ah, then—all my life will be golden light. I shall return to France with her. Oh, my lady! Mon Dieu! the sweetest lady on earth!"
"We're wanting another log," said Kristopher, suddenly noticing the fire was low, "an' you might be getting it, Sir Valerie." And he yawned again, blinking at the other with sleepy blue eyes.
Valerie flung himself on the bench opposite, unheeding, and leaned forward with eager, clasped hands and excited face, his breast heaving under his scarlet doublet.
"Monsieur! listen to me—I will tell you all—everything—Monsieur—all! It was June, two years ago—"
Kristopher roused himself.
"I will be getting the log," he said, rising, but the little Frenchman entreated him back to his seat with a gesture he could not disregard.
"We were riding back from the tourney at Paris," resumed Sir Valerie. "Amedée and I—Amedée and Valerie Estercel of Lorraine, Monsieur."
His pale, blue eyes sought Kristopher's an instant, then travelled back to the fire.
"It was evening, M'sieur—just the clear, pale light before the dusk—the long, white road seemed a path to love and glory. Amedée carried a silver and crimson pennon on his lance—won at the tourney—and ahead of us I saw two mules—two women muffled to the chin riding them—Ah! Mon Dieu! It was the hour of all my life! the great, pure sky throbbed like my heart in swift beats—all earthly care fell from me—I became as one winged, uplifted. The mules disappeared down the hill, but I was after them—my lips smiling—my heart laughing—uplifted—exalted—till I felt myself treading on clouds and stars. I gained the hilltop and saw them still ahead—pausing outside the houses of a little village—a golden village in a silver calm. With winged feet and a heart afire I hurried on—the perfume of the cool, fresh air became mingled with faintest music—music to tear the heartstrings—she on the dark mule played—she on the white one—sang!"
Valerie Estercel paused, his hands clasping and unclasping. Kristopher, leaning back in his chair, was silent.
"She sang! I could not speak or cry—I drew nearer softly and watched—she sang in English—Mon Dieu! in liquid music! Little else have I seen since, little else till death shall I see but that figure, stirring lightly as a flower petal—" He stopped suddenly, choking with emotion, and bowed his head on his hands.
"I stood entranced—enchanted. Amedée found me there like one turned to stone—and they—they had gone! Oh, my beautiful queen—oh, my heart's goddess—ever since have I followed you—and ever will! Once in Normandy did I see her—so hastily she fled that I picked up her shoe—only two days ago I saw her again—Oh, belle amie I Oh, my soul's desire!"
The infantile voice rose and fell as if labouring with a passion of tears, he clasped his slender fingers over his heart, bending forward in the faint firelight.
"Ah I my poor heart! It is sore with waiting—But one day I shall see and hear her again. Monsieur, assure me you believe so also!"
There was no answer. Kristopher lay back, his handsome head on the worn velvet of the chair, his dark lashes on his flushed cheek—he was asleep.
"Morbleu!" cried Valerie angrily, "a coarse churl!"
The blue eyes opened, looking at him, dazed.
"I was telling thee of my lady I My quest!" lie cried, flushing scarlet.
Kristopher's head fell back, his breast rising with his even breathing—and Sir Valerie turned away in despair.
At the door he looked back. Captain Kristopher was fast asleep, the firelight caught the silver ring he wore and the tarnished buttons of his côte-hardie. He was certainly fast asleep; with a sigh Valerie went out.
It was the first hour of the next dawn, a fair morning that held the promise of one of those perfect autumn days, slipped, as a rose into the pages of a dusty book, between the wet, gray weeks.
A white light lay over the wide, low landscape, mellowing the bare, wet trees, transfiguring the forlorn weeds and flowers, and, tinted like a great shell, flushed and pure, the sky was reflected in many still pools, that the breeze was not strong enough to ruffle.
Kristopher Fassiferne, standing at the door of the old inn, was conscious of a great peace in the infinite calmness of the sky, the sense of largeness and space, the freedom of that gray country rolling to the horizon.
Behind him were the sounds of footsteps, and the jingle of a horse's bridle, the low patter of a dog's feet and some one speaking French softly.
And presently Amedée Estercel rode out of the court-yard, his dog and squire beside him.
Kristopher, saluting, watched till the figure was lost in the distance, then turned into the inn.
Valerie Estercel was there, torn between grief at his brother's departure and the one fixed thought to find the idol of his quest. Kristopher's comfort (though given as if humouring a child) called forth passionate gratitude and praises of his lady in high fantastical terms, which his listener forgot as soon as they were uttered.
Half an hour later the two were on the road, and before midday had parted at the gates of Rennes, Kristopher to the fort above the gates where he was quartered, Valerie Estercel to the inn: "The Sign of the Rising Sun."
Disheartened at his brother's desertion, forlornly eager on his search, Valerie, as soon as his horse was stabled, wandered out beyond the walls of Rennes, aimlessly, too full of his thoughts to heed how far he went, or whither he bent his way. Several people passed him on the road, merchants, soldiers, travellers; in particular he noticed a knight, a lady and their servant, noticed them because the lady's face, angry and tear-stained, reminded him of the dancing girl he sought.
And when the knight drew rein, asked him something of the direction of the road and the inns in Rennes, he answered with his eyes upon the lady, courteously as was his wont, his chivalrous heart touched by her seeming trouble.
He told them of "The Sign of the Rising Sun" and was rewarded with a smile from the lady, who, lifting her weary eyes to his, told him gently they came travelling from the coast of France, and as they rode away and he turned with another smile to hope that they might meet again in Rennes, as she drew her orange mantle round her with the air of a great dame, yet smiled again beneath discreetly lowered lids.
"A successor to Enguerrand, think you?" asked the knight of the lady as they rode on; he made a gesture of gloomy scorn toward Valerie Estercel. "Has he money, think you, Denise? Judging by his face he has little wit."
The lady turned furious eyes on him. "We have quarrelled with Enguerrand—your fault, my brother," she said stormily. "Will it please you not to speak of him? As for this man we have met, we have need of any who will speak to us—fool or knave."
"La Rose Rouge has left you sore," remarked her brother. "But 'tis I should be the one angered at you who had so little hold on him that at the first difference he cast us off like dogs!"
"Oh, silence!" cried the lady passionately. "Have we not lived on him, the three of us for months, do we not carry away gold enough? And—you to talk! What had you ever gained from La Rose Rouge without my face to catch his fancy?"
The brother shrugged his shoulders.
"Shall we go to the inn of our gentleman's advising, Denise?" he asked.
She nodded angrily, and lapsing into silence they passed through the gates of Rennes.
Meanwhile, Valerie Estercel, still walking slowly onward along the great road, was suddenly aware of two figures approaching. Two women in gray cloaks mounted on little palfreys. One was the dancing girl.
As they drew nearer and the first vague tremor of a doubt was confirmed into a certainty, the Chevalier stood still and dumb.
It was she—she at last, the lady of his dreams, she round whom all his fantastic devotion clustered, it was the dancing girl.
She came on unsuspecting, talking to her companion. The little Frenchman could neither speak nor move.
It seemed almost as if they might pass each other. He could find no words, but if he could only step forward and let his eyes rest upon her!—There seemed no need of speech. He turned toward her.
Then, glancing round she saw him and drew up her palfrey with fear and some anger in her look.
"The mad Frenchman!" whispered her companion. "Ride on!"
But Valerie had caught her bridle, stammering he knew not what.
"Monsieur!" she said flushing, "what do you want—mean? Are you following me?"
She was fair, truly, only her prettiness had faded, her thick hair was ash colour, under her dark cloak her white dancing-dress was showing.
"Yes, I have followed you," stammered the Chevalier. "Did I not assure you I would follow you—always, madame? Tell me why you fly from me?"
"Monsieur," she answered, "let go my palfrey—I am beneath your notice—and above it, too—I know not what you mean and will not ask, only I pray you, let me go."
But his hand only tightened on the bridle. At last!—it seemed 'twould be enough to merely gaze upon her face.
"I adore you!" he said simply. "I would take you from this life—"
"You insult me," she interrupted sharply, her gray eyes filling with tears. "I am a poor dancer—let me go, I want nothing from you—a year ago I said so, Monsieur, let me go—"
"I am Valerie Estercel," he said quickly. "Of a great name and fortune—I will use both freely in winning you for my wife."
She seemed startled by his earnestness, touched, too; glancing at her companion, she laughed almost wildly.
"Mon Dieu! you are mad, I think!" she said. "That is if you are sincere—I believe you are sincere, Monsieur—"
"Sincere!" cried Valerie fervently. "God knows you are the one dear thing on the earth to me!"
"You know not what you say," she answered. "Monsieur, this is folly," and her companion broke in impatiently:
"Monsieur, let us go—we have no wish to stay."
"Nor any will," added the dancing girl more gently. Her sad eyes fell on the Chevalier. "I pray you cease this fantasy and follow us no more.
"You were not born to this—you are not happy!" cried Estercel earnestly. "Mon Dieu! I know it. Why will you not leave this world for the one where you belong?"
"I am what I was born," she answered bitterly. "A churl—of the dust, the gutter—leave me there. Happy? I do not ask for so much—only, Monsieur, to be left alone, unspied upon, unfollowed."
She drew her cloak round her and gathered the reins up with a gesture that was his dismissal, but Estercel would not take it, he caught the rein, he pleaded with her to heed him and to listen.
"I need neither protection nor sympathy," she broke in suddenly, "nor am I a woman to be made an idol of. What heart I have is not mine to give. Once more I say I believe you are sincere, Monsieur, and will heed me when I ask you—go and waste no more time in following me."
He dropped her bridle with a piteous face.
"I cannot put you from my heart," he said slowly. "Through long weeks have I—hoped—but since you ask—"
"You'll laugh at this to-morrow," she said, quickly, then at the sight of the misery in the large, childlike eyes she added: "You are an honest gentleman, Monsieur—and—so young!" Smiling a little wistfully, she held out her hand, but with a sad gesture Valerie stepped back.
"Will you not tell me your name?" he said. "You have asked me, and my love shall trouble you no more, only tell me your name."
"I have many names," she answered. "I hardly know which I may call my own—the dearest one—to me—is Yvonne-Marie—"
"Yvonne-Marie—" the Chevalier murmured it. "My dear thanks for this favour," he added simply.
"Will you not add to it? Is there not some service I may do—thee?" His voice fell softly to the word.
"None—save promising to follow no more."
"I promise," he answered, his staring, tear-blinded eyes on her face. He paused a moment as if about to say more, then turned away, adding simply; "Farewell, Yvonne-Marie."
She smiled between bitterness and sadness, and glanced at her companion, then touched up her palfrey without a word and the two rode on toward Rennes.
"An' she does not love Prince Gilles—I will be utterly undone—for the game is in the lady's hands." So thought Captain Kristopher, looking over the wide town of Rennes from the window of the fort that overhung the gates.
The emptiness, the dreariness of the room made it a cage; so it struck Kristopher as fie turned from the prospect of the gray, mist-shrouded town.
He began moodily pacing the rough flags, and his thoughts shaped themselves to half-uttered words.
"I' faith, it's not for a leader of hired soldiers to be picking and choosing—" With a laugh he checked himself and picking up his doublet, opened the door.
"Robin!" he called. "This will be needing patching," and he flung it down the corridor, and returning to the table, sat there in his shirt, his face gloomy, his eyes on the mists and the grayness without. He had not seen Montauban since he had left him that day in Koet Kandek; he had been to Court and seen the Duke's second brother, and obtained feeble promises of advancement from him—beyond that, nothing. Pointless as ever, his life dragged on, to-morrow Françoise de Dinan came to Rennes, her month of mourning over, and from more than one Kristopher had heard her betrothal spoken of lightly, as a thing easily to be broken, thinking of his promise, he grew sick at heart.
"An' Guy de Montauban is all powerful—sure, it remains with the lady herself—for nothing I can do."
That same evening in a little inn in Rennes, a mixed company of travellers sat at supper, and high in the seat of the pointed window were two "disrevellers "—strolling players and story tellers—both women. One, the older and the darker, was called Héloïse by her companion, the other was she who had given her name to Sir Valerie as Yvonne-Marie.
A minstrel in a striped dress had just finished singing, and the company, flushed and laughing, turned to the window seat and to the two who sat there—silent.
"Tell us another story, ma chérie," cried one, and raised a goblet glittering in the firelight.
The others echoed his words, pushing their chairs back over the rushes, laughing.
Yvonne-Marie turned her head and gazed down at them, wearily. She looked ill, all the rouge on her cheeks could not disguise their thinness and pallor, her dress had been white, but was now soiled and torn.
"I have told you all my stories," she said sullenly.
"Tell them again!" laughed the minstrel.
Yvonne-Marie put her hot hand in her companion's, her eyes were blazing, the brightly lit room, the laughing faces, the fire, began to swim before her.
"Ask Héloïse," she said, "if you want something to make you laugh—I have no pleasant tales."
The dark woman frowned impatiently: "'Tis our living, fool!" she whispered. "Tell them something an' you wish for shelter to-night."
Yvonne-Marie's heart was heaving under the tarnished lace—the serving man held up a glass of wine to her and she took it and drank and laughed, then she dropped the glass, spilling the rest over the rushes, drawing herself together, shivering.
"Tell us somewhat sad, then," said the man at the head of the table, good-humouredly.
As she raised her head, her eyes almost startled them; some of the wine had fallen over her dress—it looked like blood. She began talking, rapidly, feverishly, looking straight in front of her, taking no heed of her listeners.
"It was a long time ago—and yet a little while—it was in the forest of Fontainebleau and yet it was nowhere—that two people lived, alone and happy. One was a girl and the other was her father.
"He was an outlaw—for what I cannot tell—and she—she was a girl I Fontainebleau I—the beautiful forest—the strong wet leaves—the happy, unseen flowers—Fontainebleau! She knew nothing but that forest—nothing of shame and lies, hate or love—fear she knew, for their lives were not safe anywhere but there—and hope—sometimes hope of something better even than the happy present—beyond that—nothing. And one day into the forest of Fontainebleau three strangers rode—straight up to their but and dismounted.
"Two were men, they had light hair and eyes—one was dark of face, the other smiled, the third was a woman, much more beautiful than anything this girl had ever seen.
"And all three were dressed in silk and finest cloth and there were jewels in the lady's ears and on her neck. The horses were trapped with silver—the girl crept away among the trees, abashed, while they talked to her father—and she would have run away and hid—but they called her out and told her she was coming with them—she was old enough, they said, and pretty too.
"They were her brothers and her sister.
"She saw them give some money to their father—and he laughed, bidding her God-speed—the soldiers had found him out at last—he was leaving Fontainebleau—and France.
"Afterward she heard he was dead, killed before he reached the coast, and she did not weep much for other troubles lay heavy on her heart—but often she would wake in the night and weep to think of Fontainebleau and the spotted deer.
"They took her to a country chateau, her brothers and her sister, and for a year she lived there, learning many things—but not that they were liars and robbers and she a`poor dupe in their hands!
"They told her she was al countess and all the lands they looked at from the chateau theirs...
"By and by they sent her to England with her youngest brother—to the English—and she was called Countess and he Count and the name they used was not their own—but she did not know it. She was young and pretty—she grew happy—she did not question why or wherefore she, an outlaw's daughter, was living as a high-born dame—she was weak and foolish-hearted.
"There was a young knight at the court, wealthy and a noble—the king's favourite and pleasant to all men.
"He was a soldier and held a high post, his comings and goings were triumphs of magnificence, he lived in royal state, twenty gentlemen waited on him—fifty serving men rode behind him, his largesse was greater than the king's—of three counties he was the lord and his name through the land one with honour.
"And she loved him.
"One day her brother found her with his picture—and she told him—weeping, poor soul!
"And he—her brother—used her to bait his trap, dangling her before the young knight's eyes...
"And she loved him with her whole soul.
"Her brother had letters from the French court, and influence.
"In the end the young knight married her.
"Then, not a month after her wedding-day her brother came and spoke to her telling her she was not what her husband thought her, and if he knew the truth he would cast her off—and she clung to him, weeping, and begged him to be silent forever—for she was living in Paradise!
"And then he told her to find out things from her husband—listen when others talked to him—take his papers and bring them to him to copy. If she did this he would not tell.
"She—poor fool! she promised—only too gladly and her life went on happily—cleverly she did her spying and stealing—for ah! she was afraid of losing him!
"Only she noticed her husband began to grow graver—and some people would look coldly on him.
"And they were called before the king, both of them—and she heard it put to him that suspicion lay on him, of betraying his country—but so proudly and calmly did he deny it and so high stood his honour, they believed him.
"'And your wife,' they said to him—'is French.'
"And he answered hotly before she could speak 'My wife is my wife and I answer for her honour with my own.'
"And again they believed him, and to show trust, gave him a paper—writing on it—and limning.
"When they reached home she crept away into the dark and wept—and presently her brother came and she thought the Devil must look as he did...
"He asked her for that paper—for a little while:
"'Give it me or I tell him,' he said.
"She knew where it was—she went and fetched it—and gave it him. He promised it back, she tried to stifle her heart with that.
"Two days after she sat alone in the dusk—she heard him coming up the stairs—stumbling.
"When he came into the room she saw his face was the colour of paper, he went to the window and leaned there, silent. He did not speak to her or she to him. A long time seemed to go by, then he looked up and told her the English had been defeated—and some islands lost to the French.
"She said nothing—there were other feet on the stairs and the room filled with the great court lords.
"They asked him for that paper, he vowed on his honour it had never left his hands, and turned proudly to give it them.
"She sat frozen, she could have laughed in anguish—there was no paper I they shrugged their shoulders at his dismay—he was the only man who knew the English plans—this had been a test and proved him false.
"His face was as white as the lace round his throat—they left her alone—she had not spoken, she did not tell.
"Presently he came back—up to where she sat, laid his dear head on her shoulder and wept. 'I'm ruined,' he said, 'penniless and banished—dishonoured—can you love a dishonoured man, dear heart?'
"She loved him more than all the world—she could not tell—she could not save his honour and lose his love.
"All his splendour was taken from him—all his lands—they took the sword from his side and the orders from his neck and broke them.
"Still she did not speak.
"They were banished—in a few hours they would start for France.
"For one whole long night an angry crowd surged outside the windows and called him vile names.
"Still she did not tell.
"Half mad, she sat crouching in the dark when her brother came again.
"'Leave me now,' he said, 'come back to France with me—he is penniless and I've made more gold than you've ever seen by that piece of paper.'
"He showed her some of the money, laughing, he had the paper in his hand—she took it from him and struck him across the face with it—shaking with fury and dashed out of the room...
"Outside she met her husband, his hand on the door...
"After a while he spoke.
"'I've heard,' he said, and drew the paper out of her hand spreading it out under the light.
"When he turned, his face was quite different.
"'It's strange to think I ever loved you,' he said in a strained voice, and he turned away, leaving her there—alone.
"This is only a story I am telling—I can't say what she felt—I do not know—I only know she was sure of this—that he would not tell the truth—for he had answered for her honour before them all. Ah I me!
"'I will clear him myself,' she said, but the doors were locked on her, and at the next day's gray dawn, they started for France.
"The shame was still over him—he had not told.
"All the long, weary journey he never spoke to her—never looked at her.
"And this she knew however great her sin, her punishment was greater—in all the world could be no greater bitterness than this—to lose his love.
"He took her to a convent in France and left her there with the nuns. She was a miserable impostor, of a disgraced family, with spies and thieves for her brothers—she deserved it—but she loved him.
"This is a foolish story, is it not? but I am, reaching the end—what became of him do not know, she never saw him again—as he was going he spoke to her again: 'Thou hast done that,' he said, 'that has severed us two forever. Teach thine own soul to forgive thee—no curse of mine shall drag thee down.'
"She lived there for a year, a whole weary year—she tried to pray, to bring repentance to her heart—but it was a stranger to her, as sin had been—it did not ease her heart to pray—she had no thought of any but him—she was dying, slowly, not because of the stern life—not because of remorse, but of love.
"Then she escaped—one of the sisters helping her and coming too—she had a gold cross on her dress and she sold it and bought a mummer's outfit.
"And so she went in quest of him—with nothing but her love for her guide.
"She sought three years in vain—singing and dancing for her livelihood—she sought in vain!
"There is no more to say."
Yvonne-Marie brought her gray eyes from staring in front of her, and looked at the ring of listeners held silent by her words, and laughed unhappily and changed the dull, level tones of her voice.
"Thank you for your patience," she said wildly, putting her hands to her burning forehead, "you have listened to a true tale, Messires!"
Her companion dragged at her sleeve, but she shook her off, laughing again.
"Tell us the names!" cried one of the company, and as Yvonne sprang down into the rushes he held out a piece of money.
She did not seem to see, she leaned against the wall, her cheeks hotly bright with colour under her rouge, her eyes shining.
The other woman went round the table collecting coins in the corner of her gold scarf and those that gave it were subdued and quiet. There was something painful both in the tale and the teller.
Yvonne-Marie looked round at them, flinging her hood over her head.
"She doesn't want to find him now," she said. "That is the worst of it—what is she now? A beggar living on charity!"
Without waiting for the other she ran to the door, but one of the men put out his hand and caught her by the wrist as she passed.
"Was it you?" he said with a smile in his eyes.
Yvonne-Marie wrenched her hand away with a reckless laugh.
"I?" she cried. "I am a poor 'disreveller'—nothing more. She I tell you of, passed under the name of Diane d'Esperon; her real name was Yvonne-Marie; and he, the Englishman, was Verdun of Valence, and Lord of Coventry—should you ever meet him, Messire, exiled as a traitor, you will know it was his wife, his wretched wife, for whom he bears the blame and to whom he never casts a thought!"
She lurched forward and caught at the door, leaving the company silent behind her—then out into the oak passage and the dark.
Héloïse crept out after her and took her hot hand.
"Yvonne—Yvonne-Marie—are you mad?"
There was no answer. They drew back the bolt and stepped into the night, the keen air making them shiver in their thin dresses. Héloïse was knotting the coins into the corner of her dress; Yvonne-Marie looking at her, saw she was crying quietly.
"Poor thing!" she said dully, quietly. "You are sorry you ever came with me—you wish you were in the convent again."
The rain had dried, but it was damp and cold. They walked on rapidly toward the house where they had lodgings, splashing through tie mud that covered the streets.
For some days Françoise de Dinan had been at the court of Rennes; despite the flying of many rumours she was still Gilles of Brittany's betrothed; Kristopher began to think he had put too high a value on Montauban's skill, too low a value on her faith. Even for his friend's sake he had no wish to meddle in court intrigues nor any desire to put himself against Montauban, so he waited quietly till a summons from the Duke brought him to the court.
But then he heard whispered words and laughs that made him wish Gilles was back in Brittany.
"She is a great fortune for a third brother!"
"Hearts change with titles too—she never loved him."
Kristopher passed on quickly—how had there risen even a hint of such a thing? From the Duke's demeanour—from hers—or knowledge of the practice of courts?
In the low, crowded audience chamber he stepped aside into the window, waiting his turn.
Françoise de Dinan was there, so richly dressed, so different in gay bearing and laughter he would hardly have known her for the same woman whose sad face had looked wistful through the mist.
Guy de Montauban was beside her; both glancing up saw Kristopher, and the lady paused and came a little nearer to the window.
"You know yonder soldier, madame?" said Guy, smiling. "The banished Englishman who fought so well in France."
"One of Gilles' men," she answered. "He did him some service once—were he not a tried soldier we might call him a friend."
"He will not dare to come and speak to me," she thought and was sorry for it, eyeing Kristopher through her thick, dark lashes, While she spoke to Montauban of indifferent things and pulled the velvet ribbons on her sleeve with a slight impatience.
Her month of mourning over, she had blazed into the rich garments she had ever dreamed of—a princess, the wealthiest woman in Brittany, at the summit of her desires at last. There only remained to dash her joy that she had parted with her liberty in her obscurity—a good match for Françoise de Dinan was a poor one for the Countess de Chateaubriand, and her tie to Gilles galled her secretly—she had no need to marry for money now.
She turned away at last to speak elsewhere.
"An' you've forgotten me?" said a voice behind her, and she looked round into the blue eyes of Captain Kristopher.
Delighted, she took little pains to conceal it, holding out her hand instantly.
"Captain Kristopher Fassiferne," she said, and the next instant was vexed she had the name so ready. "Where did I see you, Messire," she added lightly, to cover it.
Captain Kristopher smiled. He was perfectly unabashed, completely at his ease, like one used to courts.
"You remember," he said, "outside the walls of Hardouinaye—when the Prince said good-bye—my lady—an' you wore a purple gown an' a gold ribbon—sure, you remember now?"
His smile deepened, his face and voice held her so completely she could not take her eyes away. Guy waiting by the stairs for the Duke, looked at them frowning, but she took no heed.
"You have quick eyes," she said, "and a good memory, Sieur."
"Maybe," he smiled. "But it's some things don't—need a good memory to remember, an' one of them is you, my lady—sure it's not quite a senseless clod I am to see you and forget you."
It was the first time Françoise de Dinan had so been spoken to—she was bewildered and fascinated by something so different from the stately manners and set speeches of her nation.
"Gilles hath often spoken of you," she said, and her eyes were noting every detail of his dress and appearance. "Hath he not done more for you than a poor captaincy?"
He laughed, standing easily before her, his cap in his hands.
"You cannot be a man's friend and his favourite both—and I'm his friend, my lady."
His vivid, dancing eyes sought her face. She could not tell why—she could not answer him—but turned away with a sudden desire to hide herself—to get away from them all—and looking round and seeing Guy's pale yellow eyes on her, the desire grew. It did not please Montauban she should so remember Kristopher, and so look at him and so speak to him—for all her face was soon indifferent, it did not please him.
"The Duke," said Pierre.
Guy took his eyes from Kristopher slowly; his dark face was none the pleasanter for the other's smiles.
"The Duke." The word went round.
The Duke of Brittany crept down the stairs slowly, leaning on the Duchess' arm; he was tall and stooped, peering ahead with weak eyes.
Halfway down the courtiers were already thronging—Montauban pushing up to him, spoke a second—then standing aside, a dozen others filled his place.
The Duchess, sandy-haired, light-lashed, awkward of bearing, came over to Françoise and kissed her affectionately.
Her affection was false, and Françoise knew it, but answered with the sweetest of smiles. "There has been no news from England, madame—for long," she said. "The Duke hath not heard to-day?"
"Ah, no, ma chérie—and what is of such interest in England?"
"You ask me?" said Françoise in a soft, reproachful tone. "Ah! Madame, you—who know my heart." She turned swimming eyes on the Duchess—"Madame—your brother and my betrothed!"
"You are very constant, ma petite—how long will it last, m'amie?"
"Madame!" sighed Françoise, and her eyes roved to Kristopher.
"Till he comes back or forgets?" asked the Duchess.
"You break my heart, Madame," said Françoise, sighing again, still looking at Kristopher. "Surely I sorrow enough for you to spare me this?"
"You keep it well hid," said the Duchess, sharply.
AT the "Sign of the Rising Sun," the inn near the gates of Rennes, where Valerie Estercel stayed, a stranger, both to the city and to Brittany, had arrived. An Englishman with one esquire.
He sat now in the public parlour, leaning over a letter of directions, pushing his hair back from his intent face, in the endeavour to make out the close writ French.
The window was open and a sweet smell of freshness, of rain and wet earth was blown into the sunny oaken room.
The Englishman appeared to be a person of some distinction judging by his blue velvet dress, handsomely ruffled with lace, and the sable cloak thrown over the back of his chair, and when he rose from the letter, and crossed to the window, he showed a tall, well-formed figure and a pleasant face, the most remarkable feature of which was a pair of light brown eyes.
It was drawing toward the evening, and those who lodged there beginning to return to the "Sign of the Rising Sun," and he of the brown eyes, noticing the courtyard filling with travellers, went into the passage in some anxiety, surveying a bale of goods and a chest that stood there.
"Plague on your outlandish tongue," he said to himself, glancing at the host, for he spoke no Breton, and the other little French.
By dint of signs and much impatience on the part of the Englishman, the packages were dragged upstairs and lodged in his room, still regarded by their owner with anxious eyes.
Among those returning to the inn was Valerie Estercel and he did not come alone.
A lady and a knight were with him, attended by a serving man. The couple whom he had met on the road outside Rennes, the gray-eyed dame and her dark brother.
To the host Sir Valerie explained they were travellers who had lost their way, and whom he had met outside the town—to-night they could stay at the "Rising Sun "—to-morrow he would leave Rennes with them—as they had asked the favour of his company.
The Englishman had returned to the parlour and was looking out of the window at the wide prospect of crooked roofs, with here and there the high-springing, slender spires of beautiful churches.
When he turned again Valerie Estercel was in the room, and the lady undoing her mantle at the fire, the profile of her face clear against her dark hood. She had a tender mouth and wistful, and heavy, dark-brown hair lay coiled about her neck, she was rouged and her eyes darkened, but it was done so well as to be forgiven. Valerie was talking to her in a low voice and her companion standing near the door covertly surveyed the Englishman.
He had a dark face and shrewd eyes and was plainly dressed but with elegance.
Suddenly Valerie turned to the figure in the window with whom he had some slight acquaintance, they having been guests together these few days at the "Rising Sun."
"Madame," he said to the lady, "Sir Gregan Griffiths, an Englishman, travelling Brittany as we do—one whom I trust may accompany us—Sir Gregan, this is Madame la Contesse d'Estouteville and her brother, Sir Esper Vassè."
Sir Gregan Griffiths looked at them both keenly. He had merry eyes and a mouth that looked as if it was always going to break into a laugh.
He laughed now, bowing, then turned to the window again, but his eyes were on the lady's face—she reminded him of some one, reminded him very strongly.
A boy came in and placed lights round the room and put more logs on the fire stirring it into a ruddy glow that shone through Valerie's flaxen hair.
The lady had laid her cloak aside, underneath she wore a long, gray gown that matched her eyes in colour, and at her breast and in her pretty hair were thick red ribbons.
She had scarlet velvet gloves and drew them off slowly, seating herself in the great chair in front of the fire, Valerie on one side, and her brother, dark, silent, on the other.
They were talking together, softly, when Gregan Griffiths, coming from the window with his eyes on her face, joined in easily, leaning on the back of Valerie's chair.
"Maybe you know Brittany better than I," he said. "Maybe, you can tell me something I have been puzzled over since I landed."
"What, Messire?" asked Madame d'Estouteville, and there was a slight simper in the sweetness of her tone.
"This," said Gregan—"Who is La Rose Rouge?"
He was surprised to see her start and flush—and her brother answered quickly as if to cover her confusion:
"What have you heard of him, Messire?"
The Englishman shrugged his shoulders lightly. "Travelling through Hardouinaye and Dol, I heard much—every forest I traversed, they bade me beware of La Rose Rouge—every horseman riding by, went on his knees to God to defend them against La Rose Rouge—I passed houses burned to the ground—La Rose Rouge did it—I passed trees laden with corpses—La Rose Rouge did it—and no one could tell me who La Rose Rouge was."
"I heard of him," said Valerie, "when I rode through Hardouinaye."
Madame d'Estouteville kept her eyes on the fire, but Sir Esper answered with a laugh: "I can tell you—it is Enguerrand de la Rose, Count of Bàrrès and Dol, called La Rose Rouge because of the colour of his hair, his eyes, and his hands—a dangerous rebel, Messire, who has defied the Duke and the King, long and successfully."
"The people of Brittany seem to hold him in terror," said Gregan.
Esper's sister spoke now, sweetly:
"He holds the land of Dol—a perfect king there, Messire, no one dare interfere."
She folded her hands in her lap, they were very white and pretty hands, and she crossed her feet daintily, her red shoes glowing like fire in the warm light.
Her voice was very plaintive and sweet—Gregan Griffiths had heard one very like it—some years ago in England—he was watching her keenly.
"Madame," he said suddenly, "had you a sister at the court of England?"
She turned and looked him straight in the face. "Never, Messire."
Her voice was quite steady, her face calm.
"You remind me, Madame, of one called Diane d'Espernon—you never knew of her?"
She did wince a little now and turned away, but still she answered firmly and with some disdain: "I never heard the name, Messire."
Gregan smiled, but his face had grown hard.
"'Tis some mistake," said her brother hastily ant he rose: "Your chamber will be ready now, Denise."
As she rose, she looked at Gregan defiantly, her teeth set in her under lip, then gathering her skirts about her, was gone, Sir Esper following.
Gregan looked after them and laughed:
"Save our souls! a pretty pair!"
Valerie Estercel, day-dreaming over the fire, looked up startled.
"What do you mean, Messire?"
Gregan Griffiths came up to him and laid his hand on his shoulder:
"You make those your companions?"
"Yes, Messire, our roads he together—and the countess' face remindeth me of one I hold in my heart—they asked me—therefore I go with them." He turned great, swimming eyes up at the other and spoke gravely.
"My friend," said Gregan calmly. "Take a warning—that man and his sister are as clever a pair of rogues as ever deceived."
Valerie sprang to his feet with a flushed face. "What right have you to say that—Morbleu! what right?"
Gregan looked amused into the other's angry eyes.
"You are easily caught," he said, "and I am sorry for you—why, the man's a scoundrel, a lying scoundrel—and the lady—"
"The lady—what of the lady?" Valerie's slender figure was dilated to its full height, his eyes blazing.
"She is—well, no better—take heed in time, Sir Valerie."
"This is slander!" cried Valerie. "Mon Dieu! slander! Have they not trusted me I stands it with mere honour to listen to you now? I will go with them to the end of the earth!"
"More like to the end of the next street to be left there clubbed with your pockets empty." Valerie flushed hotly:
"I'll not listen—I'll not believe."
"Sir Valerie—whatever you call yourself," retorted Gregan angrily, "you're a fool, and I warrant this isn't the first time you've been told so—but an' you've a fancy to grace my lady Denise's net—it's not I will be wasting time stopping you."
Valerie held his clasped hands up to Heaven in a passionate appeal:
"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! that I should hear this! that a true knight should be so insulted. Hear me swear—"
But the door banging told him Gregan had gone, and he flung himself on to the settle again, sighing.
Gregan Griffiths went up to his chamber and began pacing about angrily.
"She is Diane d'Espernon's sister, I feel sure of it," he said, "an' busy ruining others as Diane ruined Kristopher." He felt sore and angry at having met them—what were they doing in Brittany where Kristopher was—Kristopher, whom he had come from England to see, for Sir Gregan's wife was Fassiferne's own sister.
Presently he heard voices outside and went out on to the landing.
Denise and Esper were talking together on the stairs, half hidden in the dark and with them another—he who had come with them as a serving-man.
Gregan caught a glimpse of him, and all the blood rushed to his face.
All doubts had vanished now—that serving-man was he who had shone at the English court as Kristopher Fassiferne's friend and his wife's brother.
It was some hours later, past midnight, the whole inn silent, dark, not a soul stirring. The great parlour was in perfect blackness, the fire out, the ashes cold.
Presently there was a faint sound, as of a footstep, and a pale light flickered up, a taper, showing clearly who held it, Denise d'Estouteville.
Her brothers were there, too, creeping softly into the thin circle of light.
Denise put the taper cautiously on the table, shading it with her hands.
"Eneth," she said to the younger of the two men, "he is abed and asleep?"
Eneth nodded, but Esper spoke angrily:
"'Tis a piece of folly—I think he knew you, Denise."
"How could he?" she retorted sharply, "he had never seen me—and I am not so very like to Yvonne-Marie."
"Hush!" whispered Eneth.
"Besides," continued Denise in a lower tone, "we must have money—I brought nothing away from Bàrrès but the ornaments I wore."
"Curse you for quarrelling with Enguerrand," said Esper sullenly, "and for looking so foolish when he was mentioned."
"It was you," she said. "I had kept him had not you interfered—.—"
"Ma chérie," said the younger brother softly, picking up the candle. "If you have anything to say—this is hardly the time to say it—I have the keys here—I know he carries treasure."
"And the wine is drugged," said Denise. "An' we are to deceive that wearisome fool, Sir Valerie, we must have money." As she spoke she opened the door softly, and silently they stepped out into the corridor.
The one candle shed a pale light, enough to show the way, no more.
They were all darkly dressed, Denise with a handkerchief tied over the lower half of her face, making her look ghastly in the sickly light.
"Hush—did one of you speak?"
She looked back over her shoulder, stopping.
"No, no," whispered Esper.
Cautiously they gained the first landing, a cold wind blew across from the draughty window and almost put the candle out, its flickering light only showed a few feet of dark, carved wood and their own tense faces.
"Which door?" breathed Denise, fumbling her hand across the wall in the dark.
They paused—breathless a moment, it was only the wind.
"Curse the wind," muttered Esper.
Another sound was mingled with it now, the wild beat of the rain, slashing down through the bare trees.
"Fortunate," said Denise, and carefully turned the handle; there was no need for the key, the door was unlocked.
Breathlessly, with a silent, gliding motion, Denise crept in, Eneth after her; for a second the elder brother hung back, then followed.
The room was fairly small and low, the one window firmly barred.
A great black bedstead stood against the wall, canopied in silk.
Denise stepped a little closer, light-footed as a cat.
Eneth was creeping across the room with the stealthy pace of a panther, feeling by the wall as he went.
"Where is it—where?" whispered Denise. She held the light over her head and looked round.
"Here," said Eneth; from the far corner of the room he dragged a great package, drawing it lightly over the floor.
Esper was beside it in a moment, the tools were ready and he was prizing the lid open.
Denise stood over them with the taper, not without some anxious glances toward the bed.
A stifled exclamation from Esper intercepted him, the chest lay open, the pale light showed folds of stuffs—no gold—no jewels!
"Curse them!" cried Eneth. "Malidictè!"
"There is gold somewhere," said Denise. "I have kept my ears and eyes open all the evening and heard of it. Gregan Griffiths carried it."
"We must find it," said Eneth.
They paused and looked round irresolute, flashing the candle into the farthest corners of the room. There was no sign of any chest or anything containing money.
Denise bit her lip in vexation. "We had best leave it," said Esper, fearfully.
"Is he not drugged?" returned Denise, "and the wind and rain beat loud enough to drown our footsteps to the others."
She looked toward the bed. Under the rough coverlet lay Gregan Griffiths in a deep sleep. At the end of the bed was his fur-lined cloak and the blue velvet suit.
Eneth was going over the pockets deftly, there were papers and money—both English.
"Ah!" Denise pointed to the bedside, on a cane chair lay a sword and a dagger, both bare and in reach of the sleeper's hand, and underneath was a small, padlocked box.
The three fixed their eyes on it eagerly.
The sleeper never moved or stirred, his deep breathing alone showed he was alive.
The rain beat down steadily, the wind made the casement rattle and the faint candlelight leaped up and down.
"Draw that box out," whispered Denise.
"It lies very close to him," returned Esper, shrinking.
"He is a powerful man, as I know of old," said Eneth, looking at the sleeper's outline beneath the clothes. He slipped the money he had taken from the clothes into his pocket, and the papers into the breast of his doublet. "Plague take it, for English money!"
"Shall we stand here till dawn?" said Denise, angrily. "He is drugged!"
With a sudden catlike movement Eneth had crept up and drawn the box out into the room.
Denise, bending forward eagerly, with the taper, saw something gleam on the bed.
"He wears a fine ring," she said.
The two men were busy forcing the box open; this time was no mistake, it contained bags of gold and jewels. Esper closed it with a sigh of content.
"Now—leave as quickly as we can," he said.
"I will have that ring," said Denise, "to give to Valerie—"
"Come away," said Esper roughly, dragging the heavy box toward the door. Denise followed him, but stopped by the bedside.
The sleeper's hand lay outside, on one of his fingers he wore a carved gold ring of great beauty, set with a crystal.
"Eneth—et me that ring—"
"Hush—come away—it is pure folly—there are rings here and to spare."
Denise hesitated a moment, but the sight of that great jewel roused all her greed.
"I must have it—he is drugged—it will only take a second."
Eneth turned in a fever of impatience. "Must you always do the one thing too much? Taking it from his very hand!"
"I will do it myself," said Denise. The sleeper's steady breathing came regularly, the dark curtains were drawn well away from the bed, the ring gleamed on the hand lying on the tapestry coverlet. Denise drew nearer, carrying the candle, and her brothers waited in the door, fuming, the faint, yellow light throwing a shaded gleam over the sleeper's face. The woman's eyes were on the ring, she looked round keenly and leaned forward.
Esper and Eneth held their breath. Her hand was on his, with delicate fingers she was drawing it off, so still, her very breathing was checked—it fitted tight—still it was coming—
Her hand was seized in a grasp of iron and a pair of brown eyes were looking at her from the pillow.
"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!" she struggled violently, flinging the taper to the ground, Eneth making desperately for the door only shut it in the dark, and could not find the handle.
"Let me go, let me go!" cried Denise. She leaned down and bit the hand that held her, struggling wildly.
It was dark, pitch dark. Esper in a frenzy of fear, fought wildly for the door, he could not find it.
They could hear Denise's stifled cries of rage, the sound of a desperate struggle.
"We must kill him," said Eneth.
It was the only way for their safety—the only way—a few sparks of fire still burned on the hearth, Esper with the cunning of desperation thrust the taper he carried into the grate—in a moment more the room was in the light again, the whole thing had taken only seconds in almost perfect silence. Esper looking round wildly, with a drawn sword, saw Denise lying by the bedfoot, twisted round with the sheet, and sitting on the bed Sir Gregan with a flushed face; he had his sword across his knee, and Esper hesitated.
"Three of you are there?" said Sir Gregan, looking round at them—"now"—as Eneth made toward him with his dagger—"you put your swords—both of you—down here beside me—or I blow this. You—unspeakable caitiff—I remember you." He had a silver whistle round his neck and showed it them.
Eneth fell back with lowering hate in his face. They knew each other—these two.
The Englishman rose, his bare sword in his hand.
"You miserable rogues—you know what it would mean if you were found here? Hanging."
"Wretched coward!" flashed Denise, and struggled on to her knees. "Kill him, Eneth."
"Hanging," repeated Gregan calmly. "Now do you want to be hanged?" He was a powerful man, the game was in his hands, though he was only half dressed and they were two, the slightest noise would bring the house and Valerie about them.
Suddenly Esper put his sword down, Eneth his beside it.
"Now bring that box back!"
Esper dragged it back into the room, watching for a chance to seize the other by the throat, but he was watchful, too, and had that bare sword across his knee.
"You were rifling my pockets—keep the money for your trouble—and give me the papers back."
"You were awake!" said Denise, her eyes bright with hate.
"Yes, my pretty lady, I was awake. I know too much to drink the wine brought to me in inns in this honest country—when Sir Eneth d'Espernon brings it."
Eneth flung the money and letters on the bed with a curse, the box of jewels stood in the middle of the floor.
"You may go," said Gregan curtly.
There was nothing else to do, they turned, humbled, baffled. As they neared the door he came up to them with a curious smile:
"Take this," he said to Denise, and slipped the gold ring off his finger. He held it out in the pale taper light close to her bewildered face. "As a token that Gregan Griffiths will be silent as Kristopher Fassiferne was."
"Why should you tell?" she flashed. "Have you not got it all back—keep your ring, too!"
Esper tried to hush her, but she flung him off.
"Keep your ring, too—" she tossed it back across the room, her tear-stained face distorted with passion.
He looked at her with a smile.
"Now, my sweet little rogue—you will leave this inn—and Rennes—to-morrow."
"Before daybreak," said Esper, and dragged his sister from the room.
Eneth paused a moment.
"I am unarmed—" he began fiercely.
"And a thief," said Gregan Griffiths, calmly, "otherwise we might fight—as it is—Sir Eneth d'Espernon—"
He took him by the shoulders and put him outside the door, closing it after him.
He heard them hesitate outside, baffled. Gregan laughed a little.
I suppose I was a fool to let them go—but it made me sick to think of that woman's face hanging from the town gibbet—had it not been for her he picked up his ring and shut the lid of the treasure box, drawing it close to the bed.
"The little devil bit hard, too," he murmured, looking ruefully at his finger, stiff from Denise's teeth.
He half thought they might return.
"She has spirit enough for anything," he said to himself and kept on the alert, half sorry that he had not choked the life out of Eneth.
But the night wore on and no one came, and Gregan fell asleep in his chair, forgetful of everything in utter weariness.
He woke with a start, the noise of horses outside had awakened him: It was daylight, there were voices outside, the voices of the Bretons, the cheerful calls of the stable boy.
Gregan remembered last night, save for the tumbled tapestries and that handkerchief under his sword he had almost thought it a dream.
He went to the window and looked out, there were four people mounted on horses, the three of last night and another.
"That fool Sir Valerie," said Gregan to himself, "now if they don't leave Rennes—the whole pack of them—"
A sudden thought struck him, he went back into the room and fetched the handkerchief.
Denise looked pale and her sleeves were well down over her wrists.
Gregan opened the window and leaned out:
"Madame," he said softly, "Madame!"
She looked up instantly, there was no blush on her face, no fear in her eyes, only a cold questioning.
Gregan's anger rose higher, there was malice in his even voice. "Madame—you dropped this—last night." He flung the handkerchief, and as it fluttered to the ground, Sir Valerie picked it up, and at sight of it a slow colour mounted to Denise's cheeks.
"Thank you, Messire," she said, but she did not raise her eyes to those bright brown ones above.
But Valerie did look up, and hotly too.
"A gallant way to return a lady's handkerchief!" he cried. "Worthy thee—who art thou—thou churl!"
"Now," said Gregan, "this is too much. What art thou?—I will tell thee—a fool among rogues."
And he drew his head in, shutting the window sharply on Valerie's furious reply.
And not till they were out of the courtyard and well up the street, did Gregan Griffiths descend, and calling his man, set out in search of Captain Kristopher.
Kristopher Fassiferne and Gregan Griffiths walked in the gardens of the Duke's Palace—some seven days after the latter's arrival in Brittany.
Kristopher was in Prince Pierre's service now—to-morrow Gregan returned to England, his mission part fulfilled—part not.
He had come to bring the money raised from the sale of an estate in France and consigned by his sister to Kristopher—he had also been entrusted with a packet of letters from Gilles—this part of his errand he had performed—what else he had come for, viz., to prevail on Kristopher to return to England, he had not fulfilled, and had argued and pleaded in vain. There was a dark blot on the fame of the Englishman, and Kristopher would not clear himself—would not listen to entreaty.
They walked over wet leaves, under low trees, in the mist of late afternoon. Gregan looked at his companion's musing face, and spoke softly.
"Five years—five years of exile, poverty, and disgrace—sure it is enough!"
Kristopher turned on him fiercely:
"You will be driving me mad with your talk—I say I'll not speak, will not shake off the beden I took up—and sure, I'll bear no more."
Gregan made no reply—then after a while spoke again:
"Have you seen her—since?"
Kristopher turned eyes on him that were dark with passion.
"Diane," said Gregan. "Your wife."
"Nor ever will?"
They walked on in silence, a glance at Kristopher's face told Gregan the subject was hopeless.
The wind blew strong and cold beneath a sky that, pale and dear, stretched above the bare trees. Kristopher shivered and looked up.
"An' I were free to go I could not," he said, "for I'm left in trust—an' a difficult trust."
"Your honour is—as ever, fantastic," said Gregan.
"Just because I will be seeing no wrong done an absent friend? Sure I swore, Gregan—swore they should not steal his lady from Prince Gilles, an' it's not my sister's lord should be counselling the breaking of oaths."
They had come to a pause at an old wooden seat, and sat there. Gregan rested his foot upon it, looking gloomily upon the ground.
"An' the lady be faithful," he said, "there is no need for you to be watching and guarding her."
"Sure, what is one faithful heart against a score of knaves? There is Montauban, lying to the Duke day and night—no letters coming from Gilles—no, I must stay in Rennes—till he comes back."
"He hath been gone two months, and she is still betrothed to him."
Kristopher looked round at Gregan and sighed.
"But the Duke bath been closeted with Guy—he bath spoken to her—an' they do lie, Gregan They do lie!"
"If she loved him, it would make no difference, Kit."
Kristopher's face flushed scarlet under its freckles, and his blue eyes sparkled, he looked away through the trees and smiled.
"But she doesn't," he said under his breath, "she cares nothing."
Gregan looked at him, puzzled. Kristopher turned and laid his hand on the other's arm, and all the smile had gone from the blue eyes.
"But I must be making her, Gregan, that's why I stay in Rennes—she shall marry Gilles—I have sworn it!"
"And she?" asked Gregan.
"Near two months have I been in Rennes," answered Kristopher, "an' seen her every day—but never—save the first time of her meeting has she spoken to me—I have no reason to doubt her."
"Then how is it you know she does not care?" asked Gregan, as they turned in the path and walked slowly back.
Kristopher shuddered, for the wind was keen and cutting.
"There's some things one knows without telling," he said, "an' times when the eyes say more than the lips—an' yet—an' yet—it's praying for me you must be, Gregan."
Gregan looked up, surprised, but Kristopher only looked back and laughed lightly.
Half an hour later they stood in the Duke's presence chamber and, half hidden in a window embrasure, watched the crowd.
Françoise de Dinan was there; she talked to Montauban, seated with her back to Kristopher, laughing.
Beside her another lady, silent and grave, now and then gave furtive glances at Kristopher in the recess.
This was Odalie de Merle, cousin to Duke and Comtesse de Verrandois.
Françoise de Dinan was in a vivid pink and purple dress that eclipsed her companion's quiet green robe as her beauty did the other's pink and white.
"Guy de Montauban is overmuch with Gilles' betrothed of late," said Kristopher quietly, but angered at Guy's smiling face; and then seeing the two, the Duke called Gregan forward in his peevish voice:
"You are from England, Messire?" he said.
Françoise turned and laid down the cards she held, and de Montauban looked up.
"What of our brother Gilles?" said Françoise fretfully. "No news again this packet this business should be done and he back—Morbleu! how long he dallies What is the reason?"
"Prince Gilles is a favourite at the English court, my lord," began Gregan.
"A favourite!" The Duke interrupted him, stamping impatiently. "Aye, I know he is a favourite!"
"A popular ambassador," murmured Guy with a smile.
"Mon Dieu! they love the envoy more than the mission—what say you, Messire, my brother's friend?"
And the Duke turned with some malice to Kristopher.
Françoise rose suddenly and moved from where she had been sitting.
"Sure," said Kristopher, smiling. "I should be saying he's been no success—recall him, my lord."
Montauban looked at him, and in the slight pause awaiting his reply the laughter and the light whispers ceased.
"'Recall' is strange advice from a friend," he said in a tone to sting Kristopher into retort.
"The other's stranger from an enemy," cried Kristopher, "an' but a cloaking of ill deeds under fine words!"
Reddening with peevish anger, the Duke turned:
"My brother has no enemy here," he said.
"Certainly no enemy," sneered Montauban, "but an unwise friend."
Kristopher was angered. A long endurance of much slander of his absent friend broke suddenly in daring speech.
"Honesty is not always wise," he said, with a flushed face. "What I said was true as it was hasty."
The crowd about him tittered at his folly, and Montauban's laugh and the Duke's quiet sneer fired the Englishman still more. He stepped before them all and swore that neither the favourite nor his master should slander Gilles of Brittany while he stood there.
"Your insolence," said the Duke, turning away with his hand on Montauban's shoulder, "will cover neither your faults nor Prince Gilles' failure."
His tone was less than scorn: it was contempt and Kristopher laid his hand on his sword, words on his lips that uttered would have meant the end for him of liberty—perhaps life.
But a soft touch caught his sleeve.
Françoise de Dinan.
As he turned she fell away again and no one could have said she stayed him, but with her touch, her look, all the mad impulse died out of Kristopher and his hand dropped to his side.
Montauban seemed to ignore him, but still half waited, hoping to hear him utter the unforgivable.
But Kristopher stood silent, bowed, and the Duke passed on.
Then the crowd about the mad Englishman broke into open comment; some advised him that no folly of his could better the Prince's cause, others advised him to leave the Palace—and Rennes.
But Kristopher heard them absently. He saw Françoise leave the audience chamber.
Presently he too turned abruptly and made his way to a little armoury within the Palace where few came to trouble the solitary brooding: Kristopher had sought the place before.
It grew near to dusk.
Kristopher crossed to the one window that looked out on to the town, and as he stood there he shuddered like one rousing himself from sleep.
"Leave Rennes," he muttered, "aye, I must leave Rennes—I dare not stay."
It was not fear of the Duke nor Montauban that drove him to thinking how he might at once leave Brittany nor stay within the Palace another hour; they had left his thoughts long since.
"A fool I've been!" he cried furiously, with a stormy face. "A fool to stay so long."
But who would speak for Gilles when he had gone?
That thought came as an added trouble, reminding him it was his duty to remain and see Françoise de Dinan keep her troth.
The slight noise of a footstep, the sound of a closing door, made him turn sharply.
It was Françoise. She stood against the sharp lines of the swords upon the wall, her eyes very bright and steady.
Kristopher's thoughts leaped into a mad confusion, the mists seemed to thicken and gather about his sight as he waited for her to speak, his hand shut tight upon the window bar.
"They have broken my betrothal," said Françoise, "they say he is a traitor and I may think no more of him—I came to tell you—as you are his friend."
She spoke simply as if they were equals and knew each other well
They were alone together for the first time, both were keenly aware of it. Kristopher looked at her before he answered, saw her averted face, the bend of her neck where the black hair lay, and how her bright gown heaved over her heart.
"An' what did you say to them, my lady?"
She was silent a while.
"Montauban has the power," she said at last.
Kristopher's eyes were on her all the time, he moved a little from the window, speaking in a very even voice.
"Montauban! sure, I think it's you have the power—if you love him."
Again she paused, still with her face away.
"Do you believe in him?"
He made an impatient movement. "Believe!" he answered, his voice bitter. "Sure, I know he's true enough and noble—an' he trusts you as he does heaven—you an' me."
"Montauban and the Duke think otherwise," said Françoise softly.
"What they told you was a lie!" cried Kristopher fiercely. "But what matters it an' you love him?" and he laughed unsteadily, twisting the ends of his belt together.
"He's true?" said Françoise in a strange voice.
"You think so?"
"Do you want me to swear to it?" asked Kristopher, facing her, "pledge my honour on his—would you believe that, my lady?"
She raised her eyes, looking straight into his through the dusk.
"I don't want to believe," she said, "I don't love him—and you know it."
Straight as a sword thrust between them her quiet words tore down the veil and they stood face to face without disguise.
Kristopher stared at her, the blood beating in his face.
"You love me!" he cried suddenly. "By Heaven, you love me My French lily!"
"You know it," answered Françoise, holding her hands out, her head lifted high. And you?
"I!" cried Kristopher triumphantly, his whole face changed, "Oh! my dear—mine—mine! an' you love me?
"You," she said trembling, "and only you."
She pressed her face against the wall between the swords, and he caught her hands in his with a sudden laugh.
"Sure, I've dreamed of this," he whispered unsteadily. "Of such utter happiness—dreamed it might happen to other men—but not to me—sure, not to me!"
She felt his fingers close tighter round her hand:
"How I love you, Françoise!"
With a stifled cry she faced him and he drew her nearer passionately.
"An' you know nothing of me," he whispered. "A soldier of fortune—an' you love me!—won't you say so again, darling? Won't you look at me—speak to me an' tell me you're mine, mine to all eternity, my love?"
The dusk was the colour to them of flame and roses, she dropped her head on to his soldier's mantle, and shivered and sobbed for joy.
"Darling—" said Kristopher again in his winning voice, clasping her close to him eagerly. "You cannot guess how I love you! My lily of France!"
Laughing, in the very pride of delight, he kissed her fallen hair and she raised her head suddenly to look at him in a deep joy that found the silence as proud as triumphal music, the dusk as splendid as flashing gems.
"That there should be such a thing as this in the world and I have not known it!" she cried, her face held high and through the dusk she showed a perfect harmony, fair as the first flush of roses on the ending of the spring.
But Kristopher took his eyes from hers, and his hand from her shoulder so suddenly she fell back a step.
Between them was a ringing of metal and a bronze shield fell forward from against the wall, caught by her dress as she had moved; it was Prince Gilles' shield, with his arms across the boss.
With instinctive terror Françoise looked at Kristopher and he back at her with a colourless face.
"Gilles?" he muttered, "Gilles?"
"Gilles I that!" she cried passionately. "Would you put him between us—now?"
"Now," answered Kristopher. "Now—between us—now an'—always!"
She stared at him incredulous, then broke into weak and desperate laughter:
"You almost made me believe you loved me," she said. "And then you speak of—Gilles—who will find ten loves to love him before he stops to wed the one. Gilles, a simpleton!" She came near, her hands clenched tight, her eyes full of passionate appeal that belied the defiance of her words.
"Simpleton?" echoed Kristopher, wildly. "Aye, fool an' treble fool—for he trusted me!"
"Must you remember that now?" asked Françoise trembling. "Remember it when you and I stand here—together?"
"Remember it!" cried Kristopher. "Why did you tempt me with your fair face ever to forget it? Oh, Françoise!" he added with a passion that made her cower, "we're standing at Hell's gates, you an' I."
She came to him, still with that wonder in her face.
"Call me knave and coward," said Kristopher hoarsely, "for it's both I am an' worse—I was his friend." He leaned against the wall, his blue eyes wide open, and Françoise stood motionless and dumb before what she did not understand, yet with a sense of bitter anguish struggling for words.
"I'll leave Rennes," said Kristopher suddenly, with a great effort. "I'll leave Brittany."
"Oh, no!" cried Françoise sharply, then her tone fell into utter misery. "You mean you'd leave me—when—I love you!"
"I mean there's all the world between us," answered Kristopher and he paced the room in a storm of passion, "just lies an' cowardice an' treachery. I mean I've been a cursed madman to say what I did to you, to dare to look at you—isn't it a deed a man would scorn to kill another for?"
The gloom whirled round Françoise, as if in a dream she saw the pale arc of the window and the dark line of the man's figure as he passed and repassed it in his swift strides.
Slowly she sank from heavy leaning on the wall to her knees, motionless under the crossed swords.
"I'll leave Rennes," said Kristopher again. "Forgive me an' forget me for a miserable coward!"
And she heard him turn toward the door: as he opened it, she turned her head slowly.
"I think you've broken my heart," she whispered.
In a second he was back beside her; the open door clicked to.
"Oh, my darling!" he cried, with a catch in his voice and lifted her up with strong hands that shook. "It was my fault—mine—I could but love you, dear, seeing you—it was my fault—I can only leave you as all honour stands between—"
But she slipped from his grasp, and dropped her head against the wall, catching at the cold armour rather than at him.
"It's a thing that can't be," continued Kristopher, stumbling over his words. "It Can't be—it's hate we should build on lies—not love—don't you see it, Françoise?" he caught her hands in his eagerly—"Don't you see it?"
But this appeal met with no response in Françoise's heart, a passionate denial was on her lips, but she did not dare voice it, did not dare say how little this talk of honour was to her.
"Don't you see it?" cried Kristopher again, waiting in an agony for her answer. "Don't you understand—Françoise?"
"I cannot even hear what you say," she answered, under her breath. "I only know you're speaking to me—touching me—that I love you."
"Don't speak to me like that," cried Kristopher. "For God's sake!" He dropped her hands and moved back a step, struggling with his breath: "It's rather your curses an' your scorn I deserve," he said at last. "Give me those an' I can leave you—give me your hate—I must go."
Françoise roused herself and, opening her eyes, faced the dark of the room.
"No," she said. "Stay—and I will keep my word,—you shall not be dishonoured through me—I'll wait for Gilles of Brittany—if you ask it I'll marry him."
"You would?" cried Kristopher, "you'd do that?"
She saw her words had added to his love, his admiration, that this way she held him better than any other.
"For your sake," she whispered, "if you ask it—Oh, but you must stay. I cannot do it alone—Kristopher, promise me you'll stay!" And she followed him to the window where he stood and, reaching her hands to his shoulders, looked up with brilliant eyes.
"Promise me you'll stay!" she pleaded again; he could see the dim pink of the gown on her heart rise and fall, feel how she shook, and hear the tears hidden behind her tense voice. It put in him such a rage against himself, such a love for her, he came near to throwing all the world aside to hold her free from any touch of sorrow, but Françoise in her wild eagerness was waiting for an answer: "See, I'll do anything—anything—I will not speak to you, look at you—only know you're there—I'll not tempt you by as much as a smile—only you must stay—Mon Dieu! I should die if you left Brittany—Kristopher you won't go—you won't leave me—you'll stay, Kristopher!"
"I dare not!" he answered brokenly. "Ah, my darlin', I dare not!"
And he tried to put her away, to blind himself to her thrown-back face outlined against the circle of the window where a pale moon hung.
"For both our sakes," he said, but Françoise clung to him desperately, the heap of her black hair fell on to his arm, he could not help it that he stopped and looked down at her, that there was more triumph than horror in his face.
"I bring half Brittany as my dowry," she said, "I should enrich a prince. Before the world I would give all this to you, give my life and count it joy—for you I would wed your friend—for you—and you, will you not stay for me—Kristopher—it is all—stay Ah, my love, stay!"
She broke into a passion of shuddering weeping, hiding her face; she was wild as if it was her life she prayed for.
Kristopher tried to speak, smote into deeper anguish at her tears, but she cried out through her sobs:
"If I kneel to you!"
The pride in Kristopher's face rose to exaltation, between great joy and great misery, half mad, beyond reasoning, nearer triumphant laughter than horror of what he did, he leaned forward and drew her to him, across Gilles' fallen shield and kissed her, on her wet cheeks and trembling mouth.
Reality seemed to swoon away into the dusk of dreams, outside a bird called shrilly as birds will at dark, and for a long while they stood silent save for his heavy breathing, motionless save for her quiver under his arm.
She feared to speak, lest this sweetness should vanish as a spell, and he could find no words that were not mockeries of the treasure of his joy.
But at last the fear that had kept her silent found her words. At last she spoke:
"You'll stay—now?" she whispered, looking up into his blue eyes.
"I cannot choose," whispered Kristopher. "I'll stay, darling—Françoise, sure I can't reason on it—I'll stay."
The bird called again, flying across the window, and Françoise, drawing herself away, gave a trembling laugh under her breath, staring through the dark. She cared for little else, she was not fearful of the future if he stayed in Rennes, there was pure joy in her heart and ecstasy tempered by no regret.
"My love," she said very softly. "Mine—" and when he came forward to where her dim figure stood, she laughed again, passionately, and was gone, leaving the door open on a flood of light.
A low, mean house in a narrow, squalid street in Rennes.
It was evening, a chill stinging rain had fallen all day, and in this house, old and ill-built, it dripped through the cracked roof and slimy walls. Only in the larger lower room was there a light and a fire, and there the window was shutterless and hung across with a soiled yellow satin skirt; only dirty rushes covered the floor. On a long rickety bench were some torn clothes, various half-broken pots and a bundle of sticks.
In front of the fire sat Denise, beside her a torn tambourine and flute, a greasy dish and a pair of tawdry shoes. A faded scarf was tied round her hair, and she was whitening her face and arms before a cracked mirror, shivering the while in her pinched red finery. It was not rare for these three vagabonds to be reduced suddenly from a fine appearance to open squalor; this old house was a favourite haunt of theirs when fortune played them as ill a turn as she had done now when she cast Yvonne-Marie in their way—Yvonne-Marie, their sister, who at first sight of them had at once told their travelling companion, Valerie Estercel, their true character and her own story.
Disappointed of any hope of money from Sir Valerie, the three were reduced to their last resource—but they were still clever rogues with many friends among the scum of Rennes—and not alone did they retreat to their hiding-place—Valerie Estercel came with them—as a prisoner, and Yvonne-Marie, if not as a prisoner, by force.
The brothers moved about the room silently. Eneth in a ragged, parti-coloured tumbler's suit, Esper tuning a flute. Huddled in one corner, sitting motionless, staring with bright eyes through tangled locks was Yvonne-Marie.
Presently Denise rose, twisting some faded velvet flowers in her hair, her eyes weary, and sullen lines about her mouth.
"Yvonne," she said. "Yvonne-Marie!"
Her sister looked up defiantly, as if she knew what the other would say.
"I'll not come with you," she answered. "I'll not come."
Esper, plastering a hole in the wall up with a handful of rushes, rooked round at them.
"Go supperless then," he sneered over his shoulder. "Starve—you fool!"
Yvonne-Marie laughed, pressing her hands to her head.
"I shall not need lack of food to kill me," she said, "an' I will not dance and sing for you—"
"Your repentance comes late, my fair saint," said Eneth. "Why did you ever leave your convent an' you were so virtuous?"
"With thoughts of atonement," she cried. "To find him we wronged so, Eneth—our souls are lost for what we did that year in England!"
She stopped, choking, but her brothers only laughed and Denise stamped in a sudden fury.
"Why did you cross our way again with whinings, and tears—and a pride that looks ill in rags, my sister?"
Yvonne-Marie moved from the wall slowly, her shadow thrown grotesque and huge behind her:
"I did not wish it," she said slowly. "I tried to evade you—you followed me up—I could not help it."
Esper laughed now, he had an unpleasant laugh and showed his teeth like a wolf:
"Did we ask you, my sister—to tell Sir Valerie Estercel our quality?"
His voice was rough and dangerous, but Yvonne-Marie only smiled bitterly.
"No—but you asked me to help deceive him—and from the day I left England I vowed—no more—I've seared my soul enough, Mon Dieu! enough!"
Sullenly she dragged herself to the fire and crouched there, huddling over the scanty flames.
"Little enough Sir Valerie gains by your treachery," said Denise, drawing a ragged mantle over her finery. "And little enough you will, Yvonne-Marie."
"Are you going to murder him?" asked her sister, dully, looking over her shoulder, her white face tinted red from the flames. "Or wait till he dies in his imprisonment?"
"Do you intend to save him?" smiled Denise, extinguishing the lamp.
"No," said Yvonne-Marie wearily dropping her head in her hands.
"You stay with her, Eneth," said Esper, opening the door, his teeth chattering in the chill draught that swept in from the other room. "And look to the prisoner."
The younger brother put his tambourine down, and seated himself in the corner with a shrug of his shoulders; watching his sister was the same to him as singing in the streets; he had always liked Yvonne-Marie, in his rough way he was sorry for her.
"Shut the door," he said gloomily, "an' you do not want me to perish of cold."
"Good-bye, Yvonne-Marie!" said Denise, and the crazy door banged on them.
Yvonne-Marie leaned forward and raked the sticks together, then she glanced over her shoulder furtively at Eneth's silent figure.
Presently she laughed.
"Strange to think we should ever come together again, you and I!"
It was too dark for him to see the fierce, hot anger in her eyes. He answered carelessly:
"Why not?" he said. "Two of a trade—we are likely to meet!"
Yvonne-Marie shuddered violently, a pinched-up figure outlined against the light.
"Are you hungry, Eneth?" she said after a pause.
"Hungry?" He laughed now, bitterly. "Aye, and thirsty—you fool to tell Sir Valerie—we might have been rich now!"
"He is at the court of Rennes," said Yvonne-Marie quietly, "I saw him to-day—he threw me a piece of money."
Eneth stared across at her, blankly, through the shadowy room.
"Who do you mean?" he asked puzzled.
"Kristopher," she answered, without turning round. "Isn't it strange—Eneth—strange!" And she laughed again, rocking to and fro.
"And so he never told—" said Eneth after a silence. "And no one would believe now if he did—how many years ago, Yvonne-Marie?"
"Five," she answered. "Five years."
A long silence fell over them—once they heard footsteps overhead—the prisoner, Sir Valerie Estercel.
Suddenly Yvonne-Marie looked round, and put her hand to her breast.
"You are hungry," she said, "go and get some food, Eneth "—and she held out a couple of silver coins on the palm of her hand. She had this much of her sister's art that she could conceal under indifference her great anxiety.
Her brother snatched them eagerly, with an angry reproach.
"An' we starving!" he cried. "But I can't leave you," he added doubtfully.
Yvonne-Marie smiled, it seemed as if her long waited-for chance had come at last.
"I'll look after the prisoner," she said. "Go and get the food, Eneth."
He was hungry—he did not credit her with any desire to free Sir Valerie and his weakness made him desperate, but he was careless mainly through an indifference that cared little what she did.
"I'll lock the door on you," he mused cunningly—"Lock you in—the two of you."
Yvonne-Marie, crouched with her chin on her knees, made no reply, looking sullenly into the fire till she heard the key turn in the outer door and she was alone. It was almost dark—worse than dark with tall, waving shadows and black recesses.
She rose slowly, chilled and weary, the footsteps overhead had ceased, the fire rose and fell in the gusty draughts and outside the rain beat.
There was no other sound—a painful stillness. Yvonne-Marie opened the door and looked into the pitch black.
It was like the dwelling-place of thieves, dismal and evil. She closed the door, again leaning against the wall, the dark filled with fire and leaping before her eyes.
"Kit—my beautiful Kit!"
She was in another world, there was a gulf between them nothing could bridge—not even her great love, it seemed to her, and the tears rolled down her face.
She stood a moment bent with misery, then gathered herself together, wiping her eyes hurriedly.
In the dismal red lights of the fire, leaping up, leaping down, she found her mantle and put it on, then drew from her dress a little crucifix and kissed it humbly, going on her knees beside the dismal hearth.
"Oh, Marie!" she whispered weakly. "Marie, have mercy!"
She was dizzy with weakness, it cost her an effort to rise and mount the stairs to Valerie Estercel's room, her head reeled and her hand clasped tight over the crucifix, trembled.
"Sir Valerie," she called; even to herself her voice sounded very faint. "Sir Valerie!"
Instantly the door was opened and Valerie Estercel came on to the head of the stairs, peering through the dark; his room was never locked, but with a guard ever below this had availed little till now.
"It is your chance," said Yvonne-Marie, trembling the more she heard of him. "Our chance—I am alone—I've got Esper's key—come down, Sir Valerie."
In a second he was beside her and the two moved toward the door and the firelight.
"You mean, you've come to save me?" he asked eagerly.
Yvonne-Marie turned her head away in bitter shame.
"Save you!" she echoed, then after a second, "what you must think of us—of me!"
She had told him everything when she first fell in with her brother again and him, deceived, in their company; she had disclosed their true character to him and her own story, and when they, before he could profit by her warning, had made him a prisoner in this hidden part of Rennes, she had done all in her power to save him. But face to face with Valerie her little courage fled; she felt shamed to the very dust before this man who had once thought so well of her.
"'Tis not in my power, to think ill of you," answered Valerie gravely. "As I believed you before I believe you now—and honour you, Madame."
Yvonne-Marie looked round quickly, wistfully into his white face and eager eyes.
"Monsieur," she faltered. "I—I—am leaving these—to-night, I will set you free—then go back, I have my friend waiting for me at our old lodging—I managed to send to her yesterday—and you—you will in charity forget—I—I—"
"You? What then?" asked Valerie, looking at her steadily. "You will go back to your old lifer Madame?"
Again Yvonne-Marie gave him that swift, piteous glance.
"I can trust you," she said faintly. "I know it, Monsieur—but you—dare I ask you—I have no right—"
"Oh, Madame," interrupted Valerie, an agony of pity and love behind the stateliness of his manner, "if you have ever held me worthy of one thought—I pray you let me serve you."
Yvonne-Marie, steadying herself against the wall, glanced at him in a great gratification, then her tired face flushed hot.
"I am ill, I think," she said. "I've been ill for days—I have just strength enough to get away from here—Monsieur, you will take me to Héloïse—and then—" She stopped a moment, looking at Valerie, her cheeks scarlet. "If I am very ill—like to die," she continued, with a great effort, "I want you—in your great charity, Monsieur—toto—go to—my husband—and—and bring him to me—he might come, you see, if I was dying—"
Valerie was dumb in the great sorrow and pathos of her words, he felt tears choking him, blinding him, but Yvonne-Marie, seeing him silent, flushed still deeper, misreading him.
"You see, Monsieur," she said tastily, as if in excuse, "I have no friend—and I thought—that is I hoped—I dared to dream he might come if—if you asked him—if I was ill and helpless—"
"He shall come!" burst out Valerie suddenly. "Sainte Marie! He shall!"
"He is gentle," she answered with her head low. "He will—yet swear to me not to bring him—lest I am like to die."
"If you wish," cried Valerie, his eyes glittering with impatience. "But why not now? Mon Dieu! What have you done you have not atoned for?"
"Oh, no," she whispered. "Promise me!"
"But he would come—I doubt not he loves you—I do not dream he has forgotten!"
Yvonne-Marie turned such bright, glowing eyes to him—her whole face lit up so at the mere words that Valerie could not bear to look at her and read how she loved another—a curious rage against this other took hold of his soul—"He shall come," he vowed in his heart. "He shall come."
"If I might think it," she said with a little gasp. "I gave up that dream—so long ago! Yet if he should come—and—if he should have—cared—all along—Mon Dieu!—if it should be—"
In the firelight Valerie Estercel saw her face for one instant flushed and smiling, then as the flame faded leaving them in the dark she caught his arm with sudden energy, throwing open the door.
"You've promised?" she asked, feverishly. "If I am like to die and not else."
Not till they had traversed the dark passage and reached the outer door did Valerie answer and then he spoke very low:
"If I can best serve you so," he said. "I will swear it."
Yvonne-Marie's hand was on the latch, she had unlocked the door, she looked over her shoulder to where she knew he stood and answered with a wistfulness in her voice that made him glad of the dark that hid her face.
"God bless you, Sir Valerie—I—I—am very grateful—"
He made no reply but again he vowed silently—
"He shall come—he shall forgive her—" for more and more his love and pity for her grew—more and more his increasing wrath against her husband.
Yvonne-Marie waiting, touched his arm again timidly.
"Eneth will be back," she whispered. "And you have no sword."
The wind had risen, they could hear it blowing high without and feel it holding the door against their efforts like a live thing.
At last Valerie with a sudden wrench tore it open. "Jesu!" he cried with a great start and Yvonne-Marie echoed the cry, falling back a step.
A man in a traveller's mantle stood in the doorway holding the reins of the horse he had just dismounted.
He was not in the least disconcerted by this sudden appearance before he had knocked, or astonished at their surprise. Utterly ignoring Valerie he looked at the woman's cloaked figure.
"Is that you, Denise?" he said, and his insolent, affected voice fired Valerie into instant reply.
"Neither Denise nor, any concern of thine—let us pass."
The stranger surveyed him from his great height and laughed, making no attempt to move.
"Where is Denise?" he asked, still with his eyes on Yvonne-Marie, and she, schooled all her life to fear and obedience, came forward fearfully with an eager desire to speak him fair.
"Monsieur," she began. "Denise is not here—" She got no further, the stranger bent forward and pushed her hood back from her face with the stock of his riding-whip, then fell back laughing again.
"Parbleu! the truth for once," he cried. "Then since Denise is not here—I may not stay one instant!"
And he mounted his horse before Valerie, who had stepped forward furiously, could interfere.
"Peace—for our lives!" whispered Yvonne-Marie, staying her companion, and to the horseman she said aloud, "Monsieur—whatever your errand, Denise is not here or like to be to-night."
She closed the door behind her as she spoke, locking it while Valerie Estercel looked at the stranger with his hand where his sword should have been and doubt in his face. It had ceased to rain, the stars were out and the wind as it blew high caught the horseman's mantle showing the splendid embroidery, purple and green, of the satin he woke underneath and the gold work on his white gauntlets.
"Oh, Dieu!" he said, after another glance at them, as curious as they gave him. "If Madame Denise could not wait no more can I—give you good even."
He pulled his large hat off with a certain mock courtesy that made Valerie flush with anger and Yvonne-Marie tremble with fear.
The lantern hanging above the door sent its light full over his face as he turned away slowly, a face with thick, red curls hanging about it, rouged on the cheeks, a face that was perfectly handsome, insolent, and arrogant in every line, a face that repelled Yvonne-Marie utterly and made her drag Valerie away.
"Are you afraid, ma petite?" asked the horseman with an unpleasant smile that showed large white teeth behind his full red lips. "With such a gallant cavalier?"
He turned his red-brown eyes for the first time on Valerie and touching his horse up suddenly, in a second was gone.
Now the way was free before them Valerie seized her arm and started at a swift pace they did not relax, and in a tense silence they did not break, till they had reached a wider, more reputable street where, freed from immediate fear of pursuit, they paused.
"Oh, Mon Dieu!" said Yvonne-Marie weakly. "That man—if he should find Denise and tell her of us—who was he? Do they not say the Devil comes in such a guise—bedizened like a woman—with such a smile?"
"They dare not on their lives pursue us," answered Valerie, then stopped aghast, to find she leaned against the house beside them, sobbing.
"I am weary," she whispered. "Oh, so weary—that man who knew Denise—my sister—Oh, Sainte Marie, the shame of it I And yet—" she lifted her head, stifling her tears back with a piteous bravery. "Yet I am his wife—you will remember?"
And before he could answer she began to talk feverishly, hurriedly of other things, their present safety and the way before them, and Valerie, quick to understand, responded to her change of tone gravely, choking back the great desire he had to comfort her passionately.
She walked very quickly and eagerly though she shook from head to foot and her lips trembled as she faltered out her gratitude, and her piteous trouble at the burden she had been to him.
"I thought I was beneath pity," she said. "You have heartened me with the hope I am not beneath—forgiveness—liking. God bless you, Valerie Esterce!"
Valerie turned and looked at her half seen, half hidden in the starlight—he was quiet, almost holding his breath that he might hear hers coming and going, walking softly that he might catch the light sound of her feet, and behind his silence love, pity, and a deep anger grew into, one great resolve. Suddenly, at a low door she stopped and held out her hand.
"Promise me," she said, "out of your gentle courtesy—you will not trouble him by any hint of me unless I am like to die—then—if he could forgive."
Through her soft hair she smiled, and her hand fluttered in his. "You would know the house?" she questioned. "You would come and ask for me?"
"Yes," answered Valerie Estercel, very low, and at the sound of his voice the anxiety faded from her weary face, she knocked lightly and drew her hand away, then as the door opened quickly, sending yellow light across the road, Valerie stepped back into the shadow to hide his face.
"Oh, Héloïse!" cried Yvonne-Marie in a broken voice. "I have come home!"
It was the last sight he had of her, as she always remained in his memory, in the candlelight, with drooping head and pitiful eyes, searching for him in the dark. But, leaning heavily against the wall, he made no movement, no reply to her timid farewell, and the door closed on them, leaving it again dark.
In the brightness of a winter morning, Françoise and Odalie wandered away from the Duchess and her ladies, far into the palace grounds.
The Lady of Dinan was not thinking of her companion, her head was upheld proudly, her eyes looking ahead and shining.
"Odalie," she said suddenly, "do you think Gilles be true?"
Odalie looked up.
"I know it," she said. "And so, Françoise, do you."
Françoise shrugged her shoulders, smiling oddly.
"They say he has sold his country—the Duke and Guy—no letters come—why should I not believe it true?"
The colour was flushing into Odalie's fair face.
"You know it false," she answered. "In your heart you know Guy lies and he is honourable—you said so."
Françoise looked at her smiling, her eyes defiant. "It rests with me to be convinced, Odalie."
The Duke's cousin clenched her hands tightly in her fur dress.
"To say you are convinced or no—to take advantage of another's falsehood or no—you said you knew they burned the letters."
"Put it as you will," smiled the Lady of Dinan. "It rests with me."
Odalie de Merle was silent.
They had reached a little cluster of trees that fringed a sloping hollow, near which grew a great beech, the silver trunk, shining like polished metal, splashed with dried brown moss. A pile of logs lay close and Françoise seated herself on them.
Odalie de Merle came close, half timidly with frightened eyes, and spoke very low.
"Are you going to marry Guy de Montauban?" Françoise looked up swiftly, laughing.
"No, m'amie—three times no!"
"Are you going to keep your troth to Gilles?" said Odalie, still with that startled look in her face, and with lips that trembled.
"You are very serious," answered Françoise, with a slight mock in her tone. "What can it matter to you whether I do or no?"
Odalie flushed crimson.
"Nothing," she answered in the same tone. "Nothing—only—it seems a dreadful thing—when there is none to speak for him—that you should forget."
"Now must your tender soul be doing penance for my sins?" smiled the Lady of Dinan. "Content yourself, Odalie. I will weep for my own falsehoods."
Odalie turned away sharply, and Françoise turning too, noticed people coming through the trees.
"My suitor and his tools," she said and laughed again, folding her hands in her lap.
The two were a great contrast, side by side in the calm sunshine. Montauban, coming toward them, thought so and his heart leaped and warmed to Françoise's beauty—it was not only the lands of Dinan he was wooing now.
From head to foot Françoise was in blue; a sapphire blue velvet lined with violet, her little gauntlets were ermine, her hood, her shoes bright gold, she leaned her head against the smooth trunk behind her and smiled.
Odalie de Merle seemed commonplace by comparison.
Guy de Montauban, coming nearer, smiled too. "I have been looking for you, Madame," he said, and as he spoke Odalie de Merle moved away quickly, the distress in her face deepening, but Françoise only turned her head.
"By what right, Messire?" she smiled.
"Because you left me this morning before I had finished—because it is my fate to seek you and follow you, my Lady of Dinan."
Françoise glanced round to see Odalie walking away with the Duchess and her ladies.
"You are going to say the same thing, Sieur," she said—"and—so am I."
"I do not lack courage," he answered. "In such a cause—"
"The winning of the lands of Dinan," said Françoise rising. "For me you do not care—"
"Madame—I love you!"
"Monsieur! I am betrothed!" And she laughed, dimpling her face.
"That was long since broken—" cried Guy, raising his eyes, "formally broken by the Duke—"
"What care I for the Duke? It rests with me, Messire."
"Madame—Gilles is a proved traitor."
"If I believed, Messire," answered Françoise. "It would make no difference—and I do not."
He was maddened by her smile and tone, baffled by what seemed her caprice, he kept his voice even with difficulty.
"You do not care for Gilles, Madame?"
"Did I say so?—does it follow I must care for you?"
He came nearer, controlling himself—he had thought to win her in two weeks and two months saw him still unsuccessful, and memory of this came to him, stinging.
"You are playing with me, Madame—and why? I can make you greater than he could—I can offer you everything pride can ask—it is the Duke's will—nay, the Duke's command, and this man, whose idle troth you keep—you do not care for—and he is proved unworthy!"
She looked at him with smiling eyes.
Guy flushed and spoke passionately. "All Rennes know his letters few!"
"But they show him loving—those few!"
"Pierre even no longer believes in him!"
"Pierre is nothing to me." She moved further away but Guy came after her eagerly.
"Françoise! you madden me—what whim is this constancy—or is it something more than a whim?"
There was a challenge in her eyes as she looked straight back at him, that put a new anger and some fear into his voice.
"It is something more."
She drew one of her gloves off and looked at Gilles' ring on her white finger, then she laughed, and a certain insult in the action stung Guy into a great anger.
"Who is it you do love?"
She quailed ever so slightly under his gaze, and drew her skirt away.
"Not you, Messire—and more, you have no right to ask."
But the lightness had gone from her tone, and she flushed faintly. Guy noticed it in added rage:
"There is one you would break your troth for—"
Their eyes looked straight into each other.
"Has Kristopher Fassiferne been pleading his friend's cause?"
At this sudden, unexpected mention of his name, the colour flew into her face and she faltered in her answer for all her pride.
"What do you mean?"
Montauban looked at her keenly.
"It were better not to say what I mean," he said, all gentleness gone from his voice. "I have no wish to anger you—what I think shall remain in my thoughts—only—had not you better be careful—you and—Captain Kristopher?"
For a second she hesitated in her reply and he thought she was going to strike her glove across his face or answer in great anger, but when she did speak it was with a smile:
"If you were not my very good friend," she said, "I might be angered, Sieur—as it is—Mon Dieu! I only wonder what you mean."
"Shall I put it more clearly?" asked Montauban. "My meaning—the meaning of your refusal?"
"No," answered Françoise swiftly. "I think—you had better—not."
Montauban was not afraid she did not understand, he felt he had the mastery over her, it was she who was baffled, startled now, he who had the strength of a great and bitter rage.
"We will speak no more of it," he said quietly. "I think you see now I am not utterly blind, not utterly—a fool—I think you see too, Madame, that you will be my wife and that there are things my future wife may not do."
"I am Gilles' betrothed," answered Françoise, her anger rising too. "You cannot make me forget it—"
Montauban smiled bitterly.
"And you cannot use his name as a shield much longer—shall I be the only one to see and talk? Gilles of Brittany is very fortunate, Madame, both in his betrothed—and in his friend."
"I can have no answer to any of this," she replied, biting her lip. "Nothing to say to what you have no right to ask—as for your insults—I—I—do not understand them."
They looked at each other with angry eyes, then Françoise turned away without a word and Montauban made no attempt to follow her.
Steadily she walked on over the dead leaves, her heart in a tumult, unheeding of the broken boughs and the swift birds startled at her approach.
Looking back once she saw Montauban was hidden from view in the trees and with a sigh she seated herself on the twisted roots of an elm, dropping her head in her hands.
A footstep fell sharply on the dead sticks and she looked up swiftly to see Kristopher Fassiferne coming through the beeches, a hound in a leash beside him. As he stopped suddenly at sight of her she rose against the tree and smiled, but Kristopher stood where he was, motionless.
"Won't you speak to me?" whispered Françoise. "It is so long since you spoke to me."
"It does not need for words," he answered looking at the ground, "between us two—speak to you!—haven't I been getting courage to speak to you—to say farewell?"
Françoise came a step toward him in swift terror, thinking of Montauban's words.
"What has happened?" she said. "Do you mean to leave me to do it—alone?"
"I mean I must leave Rennes—I'm sinking lower every day I stay," said Kristopher, still with his face away. "It's not in the compass of things we—we—should go on like this."
"What has happened?" repeated Françoise, "what do you mean? Am I not doing what you bid me—what I said I could not do alone?"
"Gilles must come back," said Kristopher. "It's the only thing—now."
A helpless, miserable fear came over Françoise that he had heard something, that Montauban had spoken to him as he had to her, that he was set on leaving her for all she could say.
"Are you afraid?" she said bitterly. "Afraid of Montauban—a court spy? Oh, Mon Dieu! you cannot love me, then—I am afraid of nothing but of seeing you leave my sight!"
"Afraid?" echoed Kristopher. He turned and looked at her with sombre eyes. "Yes, I'm afraid—afraid of Montauban, afraid of every menial in the palace that looks at me, afraid of myself—of you—afraid of Gilles of Brittany as of God!
"Then you do not love me," said Françoise, coming a step nearer with a white face. "You never did—or—you—are tired of me."
There was no sincerity in her words, he knew it and laughed, almost in anger.
"That's my greatest fear," he said. "I'm afraid of lovin' you too much—an' you know it, Françoise."
She stood silent, looking at him eagerly. Montauban's taunt lay heavily on her heart, how his name had been flung at her, she dare not tell him what Montauban knew or guessed—she had nothing to say to combat this resolution that would take all her happiness from her, she could not tell how well he read her and she dreaded to lose him too much to declare her real sentiments.
"I'll marry Gilles," she said feverishly. "I'll keep my troth—indeed—only stay at Rennes—just that one thing, stay where I may see you." She had come close and laid her bare hand on his sleeve, her face pleading as a child's and he, lifting his head, seized her hand in his with a sudden passion and anguish that made her tremble.
"You don't know what you're asking," he cried. "You don't realise what it would mean—you don't see the end—the inevitable end—"
A passionate response rose to Françoise's lips—she longed to cry out she cared for nothing, honour, shame, another's pain, nothing—but looking into his strained blue eyes she dare not.
"Don't you understand?" he continued desperately, almost fiercely. "Françoise, Françoise! don't you see what's before us—that it's just the impossible we're tryin'—deceivin' ourselves, hidin' wrong with smooth names! Can we go on lookin' at each other as if there were nothing between us—Afraid!—aren't you afraid, Françoise?"
"Of nothing but of losing you," she answered, her blood beating fever-high with the mad hope she might yet win him to forget his honour for her sake. "I care not what any may say—"
"You don't understand," interrupted Kristopher passionately, taking her hand from his arm and moving away.
"Do you think I can let you be slandered because of me, the Prince laughed at, and—Oh, there are evil tongues endough in Rennes, and enemies enough who'll seize the slightest breath—"
"Mon Dieu! Montauban has been speaking to you," cried Françoise, betraying herself in her fear.
"Montauban?" asked Kristopher sharply. "God in Heaven! What does he know?"
"Nothing—" she answered faintly. "Only I thought—"
"Tell me the truth," interrupted Kristopher. "What has he said to you?"
"Nothing," whispered Françoise trembling. "Nothing—he is ever hounding me, but he said nothing of you, nothing—don't go for that—stay—"
"There is no movin' my mind, Françoise," he answered looking at her full. "Though I must go—Heaven can't stop me—or you—even you."
Françoise drew herself straight in her velvet mantle, stung by desperate grief into cruelty.
"Where will you go?" she said with flashing eyes. "Who has caught your fancy now—or will you go back to—your wife?"
It was the first time she had been mentioned between them, and Françoise herself was startled at the sound of her own bitter taunt, all her anger died into shame at the sight of his blanched face.
"I—I—have deserved—even—that," he said huskily and turned his head away. "Though—maybe—it's you don't know what power you have to hurt me—"
Françoise burst into wild, sudden tears, crouching down on the elm roots, her bright gown shaken over with dead leaves.
"You make it very hard for me," said Kristopher after a pause.
She glanced up to see he looked at her yearningly and with a great effort caught her sobs back. "I will go," she said. "I will leave Rennes—to wait for Gilles, you shall stay and I will go—Oh, Mon Dieu! I would not be cruel, dishonourable, I will keep my troth—have I not said so? I will leave Rennes to-morrow."
"Where would you go?" asked Kristopher. "No—'tis my part to leave."
"You must stay in Rennes—" she answered desperately, "are you not his friend—all he has to speak for him?—you must stay—I will go."
He came a step nearer to where she sat and the hound whined restlessly.
"'Tis your wish?" he asked, fingering his sword-belt.
"Yes—I would be free of Montauban—of it all," whispered Françoise quickly, rising. "I shall go to Chateaubriand till Gilles returns."
Her bare hand was against the rough elm bole and Kristopher leaned and kissed it where it lay.
"God be with you—my dear, dear lady," he said very low, "an'—an' forgive me if you may."
Françoise shivered, pausing a moment to choose her words and temper them with quietness.
"If he—Montauban—follows me, if I am in trouble—if I need you, send for you—you will come? you are the only thing in the world that cares for me," she added quickly, piteously. "As Gilles' friend you'll come?"
The hound ran between them, thrusting his muzzle into Kristopher's hand, a little wind swirled the leaves round, then Kristopher lifted his blue eyes and answered.
"If you need me—I'll come."
A moment more and she was alone, watching his figure disappear through the trees.
"Need you!" she cried aloud. "Oh, my love, need you!" She dropped her head against the tree and burst into hysterical laughter and sobs, more proud than sad, joyous than agonised, she set her teeth in the black hair blown across her face and clenched her hands tight, shaking from head to foot.
"You shall come!" she cried, lifting her fair face to the blue sky, "you shall come to me!"
More rumours, more insolent letters, had completed the Duke's dislike of his brother—it was easy for Guy to deceive one so willing to be deceived, to manage one so completely his tool, and, in the pure truth of it, Gilles had had no success in his mission, he had written to ask for his recall, and that letter Montauban had not destroyed, but given to the Duke and dictated the answer—that Gilles was not to set foot in Brittany till his mission was accomplished—and the penalty would be the penalty of treason.
"In a month she shall be my wife," said Guy, "and the Prince may return for the wedding."
Françoise had been at Chateaubriand for some days and the Duke sent Montauban red-hot after her to take up his residence at Konkorgas, a little chateau belonging to the Duke not half a mile from Chateaubriand. Montauban's squire and confidant had a pretty acquaintance with most of the rogues in Rennes and some knowledge of those three who called themselves D'Estoutevilles. His master being in need of such—they were taken into Guy's service, outwardly as servants, in reality as tools in the winning of Françoise de Dinan and her lands.
This evening, after Prince Gilles had been gone from the shores of Brittany near three months, this cold, dull evening in January, Françoise de Dinan crept up to her chamber, silently—she had dismissed her women, their talk, the sight of their faces was a pain to her. Alone, the lamp in her hand, she entered the room.
Since she had first been dazzled and intoxicated by her great love, this was the first time she had reflected—thought of the future; here, alone, things that had seemed dim and unreal in Rennes with Kristopher before her, seemed living and close now, and the sacrifice she had promised so easily—impossible.
The room was sombre and silent, she hung the lamp on the wall with a shudder, thinking of Hardouinaye.
The long windows were all curtained from the winter night, there was not a breath of wind; she closed the door and came to where the great logs smouldered on the hearth; her footstep, the rustle of her gown seemed to break the perfect stillness painfully, and many things, confused by day, seemed clear now.
Françoise leaned her aching head against the chimney-piece and faced it—at first she had not thought or cared in the pride and glory of her love, the one knowledge that he returned it filled her world—but now—she looked ahead with frightened eyes, her courage sinking—if she was true, if she gave him up and waited—what would it mean? a gray life—on the horizon no hope—and Kristopher—she might never see him again, but have to act the lie she had first smiled to Gilles to the end.
She had no mercy on her own weakness, her own soul—she had no honour and knew it, she had tricked her betrothed into loving her for her own ends—she had cheated, schemed, and lied to become a Princess, to shine at Rennes, to be rich.
Torn out of her heart into the light it was nothing more, and she could not complain of injustice, what she had asked had been given—and she wanted none of it—only this one thing she had never reckoned on or known of—love.
Flinging herself down beside the bed, she buried her face in the rich coverlet, crouching, afraid—for—
"He thinks me honourable—he loves me because he does not know!"
And of all her bitter thoughts that was the bitterest—he did not know.
With a little gasp she laid her head against the bed—thinking of the armoury in Rennes and his kiss—he loved her! he loved her! Her whole soul rebelled, her whole heart cried out—"I cannot do it! I will not!"
There was his wife—these lonely days she had often thought of her with wonder, scorn, maybe, but never jealousy, she was not afraid of any rival in Kristopher's heart—she thought of her now, as another barrier—but she might be dead, and if she lived—such a marriage was as thistledown—she would make him clear his honour and her power would cause Rome to free him from his wife—it was no real obstacle, in her eyes—neither was Gilles—the only thing was—his honour. She went to the window, with an unsteady hand drawing the curtains, leaning her sick head against the mullions.
The still country—overlooking Dol and Bàrrès—lay dark under a darker sky. Then as she stood there, silent, a faint sound broke the silence, and she opened the window, startled. It was a man singing.
Françoise took the lamp and carried it to the window, holding it above her head, so she stood full in light.
Along the path beneath came another light, held steadily—a man on horseback it seemed carried it.
The country was desolate—Dol some miles away. Françoise wondered, drawing back a little—she thought of Guy—but it was not his voice.
"Canst thou hear me, love,
Through wind and rain,
Where the broken poppy curtsies, love,
To the elder in the lane?
"Canst thou see me, love?
Through the storm and the night,
Where the bruised grass is weeping, love,
And the marsh flare is bright."
The voice was low and soft. Françoise put down the lamp, but did not shut the window—the circle of light below moved steadily on, she was sure she had not been seen.
"Oh, love, my own love!
The may is all torn,
The lilies have died in the breath of the wind,
But here's a rose, and a red rose
A harbour shall find!"
The jingle of the horse bells ceased, the rider suddenly raised the lantern and she saw his face, a laughing face, framed in dark red curls, and before she could draw back he had flung something up at her, and ridden on, laughing.
"The snow lies heavy, love,
On flowers 'neath our feet—
Still one red rose, love,
Till next we meet."
Françoise pushed the window to, and picked up what he had thrown—a full red rose—a Fresh rose in January—a rose the colour of blood.
She stared at it, then looked again out of the casement for the singer—but he had gone—it was perfectly still again and icy cold, she seemed frozen to her heart, hardly conscious of pain only great weariness. She put the rose in water and extinguished the lamp, standing shivering in the dark, then heartsick she threw off her heavy garments and lay down on her bed.
How silent it was, silent with a great loneliness, neither the wind to murmur nor the rain to splash—from the curtained bed she could not even see the stars, quite still she lay with wide eyes looking into the darkness, her hands clasped tight under her cold cheek—then her hushed breathing was broken with sobs and she hid her face in the lavender pillow.
"Oh, Kristopher! I want you! I want you!" Her thoughts stung her into restless movements, she rose and looked at the stars again, longing for the dawn, longing too, perhaps, for that singer to return.
She stood silent a long while—till the light came and the room grew dully light, then she threw her embroidered robe around her and seated herself in the black chair by the dead embers. The day gave promise of rain, the sun rose pale, swimming in a watery mist, torn gray clouds floating about it, the light in the chamber was very faint and cold, filling it with a ghostliness little less sombre than the dark.
Sitting in her chair, Françoise caught sight of her face in the mirror opposite; she looked hardly beautiful now, with swollen eyes and her locks hanging lank round her pale face. Impatient of herself she rose and bound her hair up, bathed her face, then returned to her seat, sitting miserably quiet, with lifeless hands, while the gray light strengthened into white, and the sun trod down the clouds, rising higher, floating in faint pink.
A bird called shrilly under the window and the sound roused Françoise; she went to the table under the window, as a faint ray of sunlight fell across her face, then faded again as the clouds once more overcame the sun.
Slowly she drew a parchment out, spreading it on the table with a great flush beaming in her cheeks, and eyes sparkling. Panting she wrote in the indistinct light.
"Come—for I need thee." Then she added, hesitatingly, "For Gilles' sake."
"Françoise de Dinan."
She folded the letter, but hesitated over the seal, started to tear it across, then looked up and saw the great red rose staring at her.
It was like a live thing—something as terrible as beautiful—something, Françoise thought, evil, but she laughed—"A wandering troubadour!"
It was afternoon of the next day, and she stood in the great hall of her château. He had come—come at once—they told her he was below and she waited for him, looking out of the window with unseeing eyes.
Françoise wore an orange gown furred with white, opening on to silk the colour of a daffodil, and round her right wrist a bracelet fashioned like a snake in gold. She moved to the fire, looking dazzlingly bright, and turned away from the door as she heard footsteps and the arras drawn aside.
The door closed softly and Françoise shivered in her satin, there was a sense of cold, of winter brought into the warm room, she kept her eyes on the fire, and the flames swam before her like a molten sea.
"I've come," said Kristopher, "I've come, my lady."
The red rose stood near her, she raised her eyes to it, and a second time it gave her courage.
"I could not rest without you," she said rising. "I could not do what you asked me—and so—I sent for you—and so—"
He came up to the fire, standing facing her.
"You mean you'll break your word?" he said under his breath, playing with his sword hilt, with his trick of twisting his fingers in the leather.
The sight of him, the sound of his voice was a mad pain to her.
"Is that everything to you?" she whispered. "That I should keep my word to Gilles of Brittany?"
Kristopher laughed, sadly.
"Isn't it just everything, my lady? Your honour and mine—"
Françoise rose, trembling.
He started at the new note in her voice and raised his ardent blue eyes, his whole face lit by the firelight.
"I am not honourable," went on Françoise. "Do you really know me? Do you know that I deceived Gilles?"
She broke off abruptly, her eyes on his face.
"I know," said Kristopher. "Before I saw you I knew."
A great joy leaped into her face. "It makes no difference?"
Kristopher grasped the wood-carving tight.
"Nothing in heaven or earth makes any difference—it's not virtues or beauty makes love, my lady—but the one soul and the one face—and the heart that's yours, and the eyes that look different on you, and the mouth that trembles at your goin', that's love, my lady, and when you're free to speak it—it's heaven, too—just heaven—and when there's all the world between just honour and faith and all that's right between—it's just hell! my lady, hell!"
He turned from her, leaning his head in his hands on the mantelpiece, and a great triumph and pride came over Françoise to see him so moved.
"This is the right," she said softly, "as God's laws are above men's laws—so is love above honour—must we slay our souls for a shadow—for a light promise—Oh, no! no cannot ask it—want it—" Lightly she laid her hand on his sleeve, but as he raised his head at the look in his eyes she shrank and blanched.
"Gilles," he said with difficulty—"my friend—whom I swore to, vowin' my honour, believin' me, trustin' me now—what of that—Oh, God in Heaven! what of that?"
"To-day it is you and I—Kristopher—you and I alone."
The strong, upleaping light was over them both, she leaned nearer, her mouth a-tremble, and he winced beneath her touch.
"Oh, dear heart!" he murmured, "you don't know how hard it is for me." Then he turned suddenly, taking her hand, his blue eyes dark with pain.
"It's my friend and—my wife."
"Your marriage is as thistledown!" she cried passionately. "You fear her shame—putting her before me—the woman who could do—that."
"She is my wife," said Kristopher miserably, "and God help me! truer in her love than—I am—what right have I to judge—who once loved her—she was but a tool!"
"You can think of her—now!" Françoise drew her hand away, the orange and daffodil heaving on her heart.
"And 'tis but a word—tell the world what she is—and your marriage is nothing—believe Gilles the traitor he seems and your word, my word is nothing!"
Kristopher drew himself up, the blood beating in his cheeks.
"I know Gilles honourable," he said brokenly. "An' because it's easy to think—him other—sure, I should be vile indeed—to pretend—for mine own ends—and—and—she was my wife—an' her treachery mine—an' I took it—shall I expose her when it suits me? Drag her in the dust—now? Oh, sure—you would not wish me as low—as that!"
Françoise was silent, crouching in the chair, her dress crushed in her hands.
"And Gilles trusted me," he continued. "An' I've never lied yet—my lady—"
"Oh!" cried Françoise, "you do not love me! You put others before me—you do not love me!" And she rose suddenly, facing him. "You are bound in bonds of straw and you will not break them for me—Oh! you do not love me!"
Kristopher stepped nearer, but she fell away, weeping, brilliant as a summer marigold in the fireglow.
"Higher than the highest imaginings I love you," said Kristopher, leaning forward, "an' my love is of that quality I may not dishonour it, makin' something low an mean out of something so beautiful—an' it's you see it—in your own dear heart—my soul's love!"
But she looked up frightened, trying to speak, her face white, her eyes glittering with tears.
"You'll do it!" said Kristopher passionately. "An' I—sure—we could not love so much an' be unworthy!"
"'Tis for all our lives, Kristopher!" cried Françoise desperately. "To part—for—all our lives!"
"'Tis our souls," he said, "for all eternity!"
"I care not," she cried. "If my love is a crime I will take the punishment."
A mad exultation rose in Kristopher's heart, he, too, felt reckless for the future, regardless of his soul, the honour he talked of was a dead thing too—she alone sitting white—for his sake was real.
"If I might have died before I saw your sweet face—and so spared your tears now!"
"Would you leave me, bien-aimé? Tread on what loves you so? See, nothing in all the world matters—only this—I love you! I love you!"
He was on his knees beside her chair, the room had grown dim to both of them.
She bent and kissed his hair—the low head by the carved dragon of the arm. The fire had died down, but was strong enough to show where his hand rested on the crimson cushion, and the curve of her lips.
He looked up with a flushed, passionate face.
"Françoise...my love...my beautiful love..."
"Ask me to marry Gilles of Brittany now," cried Françoise proudly, leaning from the silk cushions, so near their cheeks almost touched, then Kristopher rose suddenly, staring at her.
"Yes—I ask you."
He gave a pitiful little laugh—it was so dark—she could not see—but she thought she heard him sob...
"God forgive me—and you...I'm going..." She sat frozen, seeing him move away.
"Kristopher! who do you think will benefit by this?—A-ah!...it will not be Gilles!"
She sprang up, stumbling forward and caught his sleeve.
"Fare thee well—my lady," said Kristopher tenderly, and he put her from him on to the crimson cushions.
The door closed—softly—she heard it, the fall back of the arras and his light footstep.
How cold it was! She shuddered violently, staring dumbly in front of her, then moved slowly, groping in the half dark.
Her dress caught the table near and something was hurled to the ground.
On the hearth lay the crimson rose.
She picked it up and thrust it passionately out of sight, then drew herself suddenly straight like a hunted animal that hears the hounds.
Some one was opening the door and as she saw who entered she burst out fiercely, for it was Guy de Montauban.
"How dare you force yourself on me!"
"How dare you refuse me?" he answered, coming forward. "Françoise—I met the Englishman coming from your presence."
He had come on her in a moment when his knowledge of her was like a whip in his hands to cow her and the sense of it made her wince.
"I will ride after him," he said, after waiting in vain for her answer. "I will tell him you are my betrothed wife."
Again he paused, again she was silent.
"There must be an end of this," he went on. "You are behaving foolishly—is the fellow worth it?"
Françoise said something under her breath. "You do not understand," she muttered.
"I will go after Captain Kristopher, and tell him so," said Montauban grimly.
Then Françoise suddenly turned like one goaded beyond bearing.
"Tell him what you will! I am weary of it all," she said fiercely. "There, take Gilles' ring—show your Captain Kristopher—say I am to be your wife—say I hate him—only go!"
She slipped her betrothal ring from her finger and thrust it into Montauban's hand, who looked at her earnestly a moment.
"You mean this?" he asked.
And without another word he turned and closed the door sharply on her dim seen figure.
Kristopher Fassiferne rode back to Rennes, through rain and a fine chill sleet, when suddenly he was aware another horseman was following him—sharply he drew rein and as the other neared, he recognised Guy de Montauban, smiling, smiling still more at sight of him, and stopping too, gaily:
"Captain Kristopher," he cried. "Do you remember our last ride?"
"I have a good memory for a knave's face," said Kristopher recklessly.
"Remember you what I said?"
"What I would not recall, nor, for shame, should you—"
"I said I would win the lady without your—or any aid—Messire," said Montauban.
Their horses were close together, Guy's face leaning close to Kristopher's. "And you—Messire—said 'No'—"
"And say it again," said Kristopher fiercely. "I say it's true to the end she'll be."
"She is my promised wife," said Montauban, "with her own lips she has consented."
"It's a lie!" cried Kristopher hotly, then he laughed, "an' sure—a poor lie."
"It is the truth," said Guy with sparkling eyes. "And to-morrow all Brittany shall know—see this—Messire, to prove it."
He held out his hand and on the open palm was a pearl ring—Gilles' betrothal ring. Kristopher knew it at once, that very day he had seen it on Françoise's finger, and he started and flushed enough to gratify even Montauban's spite.
"Take this as double proof," he continued. "That Françoise de Dinan is beyond your meddling, and that I will sweep you from Brittany as I did from Rennes!"
"Ah!" said Kristopher. "Sure, you're a low, mean knave, Sir Guy—an' what I said—I say again—she shall not be your wife."
Swiftly he leaned forward and seized Montauban's hand in his, there was a moment's struggle, but a moment only.
"You churl!" cried Guy furiously, caressing his bruised fingers, but Kristopher slipped Françoise's ring into his doublet.
"Will you fight for it?" he said furiously. "Here and now?"
"Give me that ring," said Montauban. "Are you a common robber as you are a common traitor?"
In the light of the swinging lantern, Kristopher looked grimly threatening—in spite of his bold words Montauban drew back and Kristopher laughed in his face, with inflamed features.
"A cold night for long converse—get you to bed, Montauban, when she is your wife I will give you the ring—an' sure I'll leave Brittany."
He touched his horse up and passed on, leaving Guy silent. Kristopher rode furiously, madly, not knowing it was cold and raining, not caring it was dark.
"So she would not keep her troth—she would fling herself away on Guy in her anger—"
He felt for her ring, drawing it out, and his eyes lit and sparkled. Surely he had done enough—fulfilled his vow, he could no longer keep her true—he would help his friend no more and what mattered it to Gilles who supplanted him as long as he lost her?
Reining up his horse, he stopped, looking back through the night, panting, holding the ring tight.
"They are but bonds of straw," he whispered eagerly. "She said so—even now I might go back—I might go back."
The cold wind blew through his ruffled hair and against his hot cheeks, he lifted the little ring to his lips, struggling with himself.
He might send to Gilles—tell him of this thing, bring him back, he could easily send—none knowing there was Robin, his man would go, in a week Gilles might be in Brittany.
That was the right, what he must do—Gilles must return, he urged his horse on again, not daring to look back, the chill rain stinging his face.
As he neared the city the day broke, wet and gray, in the early light the wide gates were distinguishable ahead of him, and almost without knowing it he slackened his pace.
Once inside Rennes, once Robin was charged with that message, the thing was done and she lost irrevocably, again he drew the ring out, looking at it, at her name and Gilles' intertwisted inside the circle, and still with it in his hand rode through the low arch into the still sleeping street.
His horse, wet and jaded, moved wearily and Kristopher looked back over his shoulder again and again with set teeth and a face flushed at the baseness of his thoughts.
Into the courtyard of the house where he stayed he rode, rebellious at heart, forgetful now of Gilles and that other, dead or alive in France, thinking of Françoise left in Chateaubriand.
He stabled the horse himself, then waited, in the courtyard, leaning against the house front, tracing pattern with his sword point, till the place should be astir. Following the whole miserable thing out in his mind, he could see Gilles would be kept in ignorance till all was over, he alone, of all Brittany would send him word of this treachery—it was his trust, on him would be the burden and the shame and it could be done easily enough, had there been no other motive in his heart, he would have done it—without question—at once.
He turned to the house to wake Robin but did not, wandering restlessly to the stable instead, looking at a fresh horse there, asking himself fearfully:
"What if I never send—if I rode back even now?"
Presently came Robin, whistling merrily, and Kristopher started at sight of him, guiltily, following him into the house, talking of indifferent things, saying nothing of that journey to England.
"I will speak of it later," he said to himself, pacing about restlessly, but the time went by and he did not, and the more he delayed the more difficult it grew, again and again her words occurred to him: "They are but bonds of straws!"
Robin, moving to and fro, glanced at him curiously, more than once, surprised at his restlessness, at his start and flush when spoken to and his absorbed silence.
Again Kristopher turned to speak—again he said nothing and let Robin leave the room.
And now, the first doubt crept into his heart, his faith in himself was shaken, neither his pride nor his honour satisfied him, what had been his standard all his life seemed swept away, right and wrong grew strangely confused, passionately he rebelled against it all, crying out in his heart with the recklessness of passion, for her, only for her, forgetful of the past and future, his pride lowered to heedlessness of his name, his honour lowered to the forgetfulness of all faith. The evil had entered his soul, with the first hesitation a barrier had been removed, and a thousand devils rushed into his heart.
"I will go back," he said. "I will go back."
In the stable he found the horse still, and saddled it himself, his face flushing hotly as Robin entered to help him, and across his wild thoughts came the recollection of where Robin should be—on the coast by now.
But he said nothing, mounting and riding away fiercely; what was in his heart he hardly knew, he could think of nothing clearly, he had no plan for the future—he was simply riding back to her—to save her from Montauban. Furious with himself, abashed and yet triumphant. The gray old street was very quiet, the sound of voices singing in a little church near the gate the only sound. The music inflamed Kristopher's eager soul the more, it exalted, intoxicated him, lifting his action and his love higher, for a moment blinding him to himself.
The sun parted the clouds, shining brightly, full on the old gates and Kristopher's blue mantle, he could have sung aloud, joined the rich hymn, laughed—as he passed the gates his eyes were bright to madness, he lashed his horse up, thinking no more of turning.
"One rides after you, Messire," said the watchman, as he opened the gate.
"'Tis none I will heed," cried Kristopher with a sudden, wild smile. "Let me pass, for sure—for nought will I stay."
He was forcing by impetuously when the man stopped him again.
"He calls after you, Messire."
Kristopher turned impatiently, a single horseman was riding up the street.
"Captain Kristopher!" he cried, urging his horse faster and soon came up to him, white-faced, panting.
"Sir Valerie Estercel!" said Kristopher, until this very moment he had forgotten his very existence, given him no thought since they last parted.
"Aye, Valerie Estercel," returned the other. "Where ride you, Captain Kristopher?" His great eyes devoured his face eagerly and Kristopher's flushed scarlet.
"On mine own errand," he cried with defiant eyes.
"Whatever it be you must back with me," said Sir Valerie, laying his hand on the other's arm in his eagerness. "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! How I have sought for you!"
"Sought for me?" answered Kristopher proudly. "Now I know not for what—but I must on, Sir Valerie."
"All honour demands your return," said Valerie Estercel sternly, and Kristopher knowing his journey known to himself alone was startled and angered, thinking the Frenchman's head turned with his romantic follies, and chafing at the delay he strove to pass, but a second time Sir Valerie laid his hand on his bridle demanding his return, till Kristopher came near to shaking him off furiously.
"Oh!" said Valerie wildly, bitterly, in his childish manner. "Throw me off—you have the power and the cruelty of strength I Yet hear me first you shall."
Kristopher controlled his rising anger, interrupting abruptly.
"Sir Valerie—you are but a child, meddle not with things past your understanding—I must ride on—at once."
"Then," said Sir Valerie with blazing eyes, "I must say what I would have spared you—here."
Something in his face struck Kristopher: "What do you mean?" he cried with a sudden pang, and put his hand to his forehead, being sore bewildered.
"Your wife is in Rennes," said Valerie Estercel, quivering with anger. "Your wife—"
Kristopher dropped his reins, staring, and Valerie drew back from his white face—clasping his hands like a child in distress.
"My wife!...My wife...Diane?" said Kristopher, faltering in his speech. "It is...it is...not possible, I have no wife now."
"She is in Rennes," said Valerie Estercel, "ill unto death—"
Kristopher put his hand out swiftly, stopping him, his whole bearing changed.
"It is not possible," he said again, under his breath with trembling lips.
Valerie turned his horse's head.
"With thine own eyes see," he said. "For two years she has sought for you—escaping from her prison to find you."
"Oh!" muttered Kristopher, drawing himself up, staring at Valerie with unseeing eyes. "To find me—Diane—to find me—"
"Will you come now—shall she lie there with strangers to tend her?"
The colour spread over Kristopher's face slowly—he never moved his wide eyes—there was horror in them and utter woe.
"How may I tell this is the truth?" he said with painful effort.
The gatekeeper, standing waiting during their low conversation, came forward now, asking whether he should close the gate—and Kristopher turned sharply, looking at the road, beyond the road that led to Chateaubriand.
"Yes," he said slowly. "I shall not ride from Rennes sure—not to-day."
At these words, Valerie leaned forward, but Kristopher drew back, touching up his horse.
The harsh closing of the gate sounded behind them and they rode back through the streets of Rennes.
Kristopher sat in the parlour of the little house where Valerie Estercel had brought him.
Upstairs was his wife and Odalie de Merle—her charities were well known in Rennes and she visited Yvonne-Marie as she visited all the sick in need.
He had seen her, and it did not help to make his position the more bearable that she, Françoise's friend, was there to wonder who this woman was Valerie Estercel had left to his care, left in his hands proudly, with no word uttered as yet of the rage in his soul.
Yesterday when Kristopher had come and looked at his wife she had made no sign of gladness, shrinking away, like a dog afraid of the lash, hiding her face, and he recalled the gesture now, sickening at his heart.
Last night, in his agony, he had resolved this should make no difference, that he would not forsake Françoise, that Yvonne-Marie should bear her punishment to the end, but now, he had grown afraid and dared not, for the high courage of a stainless purpose was gone from him, he could not deal with his wife as he had done, for in thought if not in action he was as low as she and his motive as ignoble as hers had ever been.
And Françoise—what of her? He could not trust himself to think of her, he could not bring himself to resign all hopes, fiercely he chafed against what kept them apart, miserably he saw he could not in honour break the barriers down, and so he sat, till his heart was numb with a great weariness.
The sun crept round till it lay on the table and over his bent head, a footstep sounded outside and he roused himself, rising to his feet—desperately. There was no more time to be given to thought, he could not sit still and let things drift—something must be done—something.
Valerie Estercel entered suddenly, and the sight of him added to the anguish of Kristopher's indecision, it was one more stab to his pride that this stranger he had smiled at knew his story, but he spoke gently, keeping his eyes away.
"I have to thank you, Sieur—yesterday I—I—you left too soon—"
Valerie said nothing and Kristopher hesitated a second, grasping the chair back tight, then lifted his eyes, like a dumb animal's in their misery, and spoke again with an added pride in his voice: "An' with my thanks, Sir Valerie, I have to say this matter hath grown beyond any meddling...it is mine own affair..."
Valerie Estercel, leaning with his back against the door, made no sign of moving though he read his dismissal clearly enough in Kristopher's words, there was no colour in his face, and his eyes were swollen as with weeping.
"What are you going to do?" he asked, trembling, clenching his hands.
Kristopher, sunk in his distracting thoughts again, started at Valerie's tense voice.
"I have said," he answered flushing. "It is mine own affair."
But Valerie was blinded by unreasoning rage and the infatuation of his fantastic devotion. He broke out passionately:
"You have not answered me—what are you going to do?"
"What right have you to ask?" cried Kristopher.
Valerie began to speak, but broke off, staring dumbly—it had not struck him before Kristopher might not know—might not have remembered that confidence in the wayside inn and understand.
He could not say what was on his tongue. Kristopher's frank eyes abashed him and he stood silent, raging inwardly.
"She—hath thought fit to confide in you," went on Kristopher slowly. "An' for what you did you have all the gratitude that can be—but with what I may do no man shall interfere."
Valerie was bursting out beyond control—passionately—when Kristopher broke in angrily.
"An' were you not a child, Sir Valerie—"
"Nay, but you shall hear," cried Valerie, trembling with the force of his words. "I credited you with honour and mercy and justice and—I say I will not—I will not see a woman die sacrificed to your pride."
"You talk of what you know not," said Kristopher sternly. "Get you gone before you anger me," and he turned his back. But Valerie had no thought of going, he was not confused by many views, he gave no thought to the man's pain, there was one thing only in his mind—Yvonne-Marie.
"Go to her," he said—"tell all Rennes she is your wife or—you are unworthy of an honourable name."
"I seek to satisfy myself, not your standards of honour," answered Kristopher, with his back to Valerie. "An' once more—begone."
Valerie drew himself up proudly.
"She confided in me—I will be worthy of it—I'll not go—she hath gone through misery and want, she hath tasted of the deepest bitterness. She hath near died of weariness of soul—seeking for you—"
"Oh, how dare you!" cried Kristopher suddenly. "How dare you!"
He turned and faced Valerie, who shrank away, his voluble words dying in his throat at the bitterness and the anger in the other's face.
"I' faith you've said enough—you've dared enough," said Kristopher. "Think you it's you can interfere—you?"
Valerie glanced at him standing close, quietly, proud and strong, and faltered almost to tears.
"She will die! Mon Dieu! she will die of your hate!" Kristopher flushed, suddenly motionless—What if she did? In his soul he knew he wished it.
Valerie moved from the door miserably silent, taking no heed as Kristopher passed him, making no reply as Kristopher spoke.
"It's no good you can do here, Sir Valerie. What is it to you whether my wife dies or no?"
Valerie Estercel was silent, making no movement. Kristopher waited for him to speak, regarding him steadily, then left the room.
He could hear voices outside—among them Odalie de Merle's. He mounted the stairs quickly, his blood at fever heat. Valerie's hysterical words, motiveless as they seemed, had served to sting him near to madness...On the landing he paused, leaning against the window, trying to steady himself to the sight of the calm gray sky without, trying to fix his thoughts on anything save Françoise. Odalie de Merle, coming down the stairs, stopped at sight of him, her gentle face colouring.
"I am needed no more, Messire," she said. Kristopher looked at her, thinking of when he had seen Françoise beside her—her presence was an added pain, but his natural sweetness made him answer courteously, thanking her, even though his voice broke and she saw it, coming suddenly closer, her calm eyes full of trouble.
"Messire," she said, speaking low, "Will you not speak for Gilles of Brittany?"
"Why do you ask me?" he answered. "Countess?"
But he was ashamed and could not look at her and she had noticed how he winced at his friend's name.
"You are the only one," she whispered. "He hath no other friends—all Brittany knows now how Montauban hath triumphed—"
She stopped, panting with her own boldness, holding on to the stair railing, and Kristopher looked into her pure face, bitterly.
"What may I do to help him?"
"You may send for him, Messire," said Odalie, and at his own thought meeting him Kristopher started, then fell to fingering his sword belt, looking away.
She watched him, with cold hands tightly clenched like one might watch another at the torture, and had he seen her face then, he must have known that she understood.
But he did not look round till she had turned to go, and then he spoke with his eyes still on the sword hilt.
"Come back with me, Countess," he said, his voice suddenly steady. "Sure, you'll not refuse?"
Odalie de Merle followed him without a word, regardless of her attendants waiting without.
"St Kate bless you for your sweet charity," he said under his breath, opening a door at the top of the stairs. "An' for your words, Countess."
The room they entered was that that led into Yvonne-Marie's—large and bare. Héloïse, waiting there, crept away at her entry, being mortally afraid of Kristopher.
He took no heed of her, but went to the table and began to write, while Odalie watched him, again with that expression of utter love and sorrow on her face, and when he had finished and handed the parchment to her she could hardly read for the smarting tears.
"Faith, I will bring the prince back," said Kristopher proudly. "I can do no more."
"You will send it—secretly?" said Odalie.
"To-day—in seven days he should be here, with help—it's force we must use—once the prince is in Brittany."
He paused, sealing the parchment slowly.
"And Françoise?" asked Odalie. "She will not refuse."
Kristopher was silent. He could not bring himself to speak of her, only after a while, with his head turned away did he answer.
"It's his life—an'—an'—and others will be in her hands, sure, she'll come—"
Odalie de Merle drew her breath sharply—she was afraid of Françoise.
"An' now," said Kristopher, "I'll tell you why I'm here—an' who she is you nursed."
He was leaning against the table, his figure clear-cut against the square window, his letter in his hands. A sudden terror and shame rushed over Odalie, she dare not look at him.
"Why me?" she faltered, "I came here, not knowing till yesterday—you were here."
"'Tis what all the world will know," he answered. "Sure, what is it to you? Yet out of your charity listen to me, Countess."
He opened the door of the other room,' and
Odalie followed him shrinking, silent, noticing with a sharp pain how he was labouring with his breath, how tight his hands were clenched—what it cost him to drag this secret into the light.
Near the window sat Yvonne-Marie, wrapped in something red and gray, with her listless head hanging to one side and her hands folded in her lap.
Her whole attitude expressed utter indifference, she did not look up when they entered.
For a second Kristopher stood looking at her, her delicate prettiness had gone, only her gray eyes were the same—there seemed something about her he had never seen before, as if her origin and her need had proclaimed themselves...in her hands and her weary droop, dull as a hunted animal. He came closer, he was no nearer sympathy or forgiveness for her than he had been five years ago—but he was looking at things from a different level—he knew what it was to be tempted, almost what it was to fall, he no longer felt the utter furious scorn of something so low, but rather pity for something so weak.
"Diane," he said, laying his hand on the back of her chair, and again she made the gesture she had done yesterday and would not look up—she was expecting no pity from him, he had not given the forgiveness she had half hoped for yesterday; she was very sure he was going to cast her off, Kristopher glanced at Odalie and Héloïse, then down again at her. It seemed as if Valerie had spoken the truth—she looked like to die from sheer distaste of life.
"Countess," said Kristopher, raising his head. "Again I thank you for these kindnesses—to my wife—Mistress Fassiferne, seeing that other name was once held so high—too high for this estate—her name is Mistress Fassiferne."
Odalie de Merle made no answer, her eyes were on Kristopher's proud face and the sick woman, who suddenly turned her head and sat up, with a pitiful eagerness.
"My Lord!" gasped Yvonne-Marie. "My Lord!"
It was a sign of the distance between them, that even in her happiest days she had always called him that, it was the first time he had heard her speak—he leaned his face lower and lifted up her hand.
"We've come together—Diane—it's what was meant—forgive me as I you—an'—an' so—it's no ill will there is between us—my wife."
Yvonne-Marie shuddered violently, burying her face in the cushions, sobbing.
"When I was banished England, Countess," said Kristopher, "I could ask none to share the shame, though it was undeserved—an' so—Diane I left in France—but she hath had faith enough to seek me out—an' I would have all know she is my wife—sure, if any ask you—you will tell this, Countess?" He spoke awkwardly, with an effort Odalie noticed, she saw what his control cost him, she saw, dimly, the truth.
"If you wish it," she said faintly. "I leave Rennes to-morrow for Chateaubriand—"
"Tell any there who ask of me," said Kristopher, speaking over Yvonne-Marie's bent head. "But sure—who is like to care?"
His voice was low as a sob—Odalie could bear it no more, she rose suddenly and went toward the door, feeling her way as if blind—and in truth the whole room was blurred through her unshed tears.
Yvonne-Marie looked up from her cushion, her white face was filled with colour, her dull eyes bright. Kristopher, looking at her, saw she would not die—she would live! live!—a chain and burden, a barrier between him and Françoise forever and ever—the thing was done—forever—he had spoken—she would live! As he had said, he bore her no ill will—the past was dead indeed, he had lived down that pain, he was bitterly sorry for her—he could not bring himself to kiss her.
"We will go from here," he said. "Sure, when you're better—we'll talk of what we'll do—Diane."
Odalie, at the door, heard him, speaking with difficulty, heard some murmured answer from Yvonne-Marie and fled downstairs, numbed and sick at heart.
She stopped in the parlour to recover herself before she left the inn, her whole heart was bleeding, her whole frame a-tremble—she thought of Françoise and shuddered.
Valerie Estercel, who had not moved since Kristopher left him, rose at her entrance.
Odalie de Merle clutched at a chair to keep herself from falling.
"I am no longer needed," she faltered as some excuse. "I am—am—going."
"Who no longer needs you?" said Valerie with blazing eyes.
"Mistress Fassiferne," said Odalie firmly.
"Her lord hath now the charge of her—Mistress Fassiferne!" repeated Valerie and he gave a great sigh that was half a sob, "and she will live?"
"Oh, yes," answered Odalie wearily, "she is not like to die."
Again Valerie sighed, creeping to the door, and Odalie glanced round at him.
"There is no longer need of me," he said, and was gone before she could speak.
Odalie drew closer to the fire, shivering—she could hardly move, the red light caught a jewelled ring on her finger—the Lord of Bàrrès's betrothal ring—she twisted it round, and wrapped her handkerchief about it, the tears running silently down her cheeks.
She was standing thus when Kristopher entered, her back to him; to see her there surprised him; he looked for Valerie.
"I am cold," said the Countess Odalie—"and Sir Valerie Estercel hath let the fire out."
Kristopher came closer. She was fastening her hood, her face hidden, something in her voice moved his gentleness to speak.
"Thank you, Countess—sweet St Kate bless you—an' if you see—"
He stumbled over the name, the blood rushing to his face.
"Françoise de Dinan—" said Odalie. "I know what you would say, Messire—I will do all I can—for Gilles of Brittany."
A horseman clattered across the cobbles outside—Robin with the letter in his belt—Kristopher watched him ride past the window, then turned to her—slowly.
"It is done, Countess."
Odalie de Merle suddenly raised her head. "You have acted as a noble gentleman, Messire," she said with a strange pride, and held out her hand.
He clasped it, flushing more deeply, then she drew away with some whispered excuse and was gone.
It was fourteen days later and the day before Françoise de Dinan's wedding.
She sat in the hall of the castle of Chateaubriand, in the full candlelight, in the midst of a rich company, furious at heart.
When she accepted Montauban she had done so with the thought that it was the surest way to bring Kristopher back, that it would prove to him she would not wait for Gilles; day by day she had waited in the certainty he would come if only in anger, if only to defy Guy and speak again for his friend.
But there had been never a word or a sign from him: completely he had disappeared since the night he had left her on her knees—and her waiting days had been a long agony, an agony tempered at first with hope, she could not believe he would let her marry Guy. She dared to think he would claim her yet.
But not many days passed before she heard that that killed all hope, coming to her carelessly, through Pierre, who had known Kristopher, and gently through Odalie de Merle, she had heard of him and of his new-found wife.
After her first furious humour and mad grief and anger had exhausted themselves into utter weariness and woe and she thought her hot heart had sobbed itself out, there came a letter. It was from Kristopher. All her passions flamed afresh till she was in the mood for murder, sitting among her guests—with his writing over her heart. This letter! It held Gilles' life and Kristopher's—the lives of those who followed them—it gave their hiding place—and he had put it into her hands. Gilles had returned—Kristopher had dared take so much as that on his soul—to bring him back secretly, and then trust her with his life.
His letter said nothing of what was her soul's one thought, nothing of his love, his wife. It told her Gilles, at his instance, had returned secretly to Brittany with English aid, that they now were hidden some few miles from Chateaubriand with the Lord of Bàrrès as an ally and it asked her to meet him at a place he minutely described the next day at dawn.
"That you may keep your plighted troth to Gilles of Brittany—"
That was all, there was not one word to show he despised or loved her, nothing of Guy, nothing of his wife, no reproach or scorn or regret—but this written with his own hand, signed with his name, sealed with his seal, his life, all their lives, put into her hands in a trust that was too proud even to enjoin secrecy.
It filled her with a furious amazement that after what was past he should have sent her such an instrument of vengeance, she felt shamed to the very soul to think he should have thought her above using it, angry to think perhaps he scorned her so he thought She was too weak to dare—ashamed and angry both when it struck her he might not guess she knew.
The fact that he and not Gilles had written, that he and not Gilles would meet her first, these things only showed any doubt of her, he used no entreaties—he wrote as if certain she would come.
Françoise thought of his wife and looked across at Guy de Montauban with flaming eyes, her hand lying on what was Kristopher's death-warrant if she showed it. She knew he would come to-morrow.
She leaned back, her head against the purple cushions, her eyes still on Guy, and drew the letter out, smoothing it on her lap.
From her chair grinned wooden griffins, the same glowed in silver from the andirons, sending fantastic shadows across the wall, dancing in the firelight, and soon there was another shadow mingled with theirs, Odalie's, coming, velvet-slippered from the laughing company to where these two sat apart.
Françoise, looking at Guy's moody face, did not notice her, and Odalie stopped suddenly as if she had been stabbed.
In the red light she saw the open letter—the name, the message—the next second Françoise put her sleeve over it, then folded it beneath her hand, and Odalie came round the chair, looking at her in a dread that froze her.
"Jesu!" she said under her breath, for in Françoise's face she read what she meant to do, and the image of Kristopher lying dead rose up, stunning her.
"Odalie," smiled Françoise, breaking the strained silence. "We are poor company here, my lord and I, come and talk to me."
Odalie sank on the stool at her feet, glad to hide her white face in the shadow, to gain time.
"Guy," said Françoise again with a mad recklessness in her tone, "you are silent, mon ami—cannot you sing or play or even talk?"
Montauban rose impatiently, adding his shadow to the others on the wall; she had ever mocked and flouted him, to-night almost beyond bearing.
"I can remain silent," he said. "And in some circumstances that is no small gift."
Françoise laughed, leaning forward, her chin in her hand, her elbow on the letter.
"Do I anger you?" she said. "I have that here shall make my peace—"
Odalie heard her in utter terror—she was going to use Montauban as her instrument, going to show that letter. Odalie's sick dread was confirmed, she clutched the griffins on Françoise's chair, thinking desperately of some means to gain time.
"That shall make you forgive me three times over," continued the Lady of Dinan, with a little caress in her voice, her white right hand over Kristopher's seal. Odalie looked from her to Guy, the colour leaping into her face.
"You have never done that yet, Françoise, that a smile could not atone," said Montauban, and she laughed, looking straight at him, and he caught the sneer in her eyes, and lapsed into silence again, flushing deeply.
"And you, my pious cousin," smiled Françoise, "why are you so silent?"
Odalie roused herself from her numb dread and answered something, her starry eyes still on the paper.
"Oh!" cried Françoise, lifting her brilliant eyes to Guy. "Her thoughts are all on her new altar cloth—earning a halo with yards of wool-work and a place in Heaven bought by alms—and the prayers of churls—paid for! Preserve me from a Heaven bought by such!"
And she laughed again, bitterly—"She is playing with herself," thought Odalie, clasping cold hands, and in truth the Lady of Dinan fingered the letter slowly as if it gave her cruel enjoyment, and as Guy came closer she looked up at him with reckless eyes and flaming cheeks and a tightening of her beautiful mouth as if she imagined him standing thus over Kristopher, dead.
"Whose prayers do you look to to save your soul?".said Guy smiling, putting his hand on the arm of her chair, so close to the flutter of that paper Odalie could have screamed in agony.
"There are the bedesmen at a mark apiece," mocked Françoise, "and there is always Gilles—poor, deserted Gilles—"
At her sudden light mention of his name, Montauban winced in anger, and Odalie found her chance to speak.
"That name sounds hardly well from you, Françoise," she said, "nor these sneers—"
"You think not?" was the answer. "Then shall we talk of somewhat else—the Lord of Birres? your betrothed—your well-beloved." Her words were cruel as her eyes and mouth, they stung Odalie to the heart and angered Guy, already sore from the sting of her tongue, but she took no heed of either, taunting and flouting them both in her soft voice, always with her hand tight over the letter—like a wild thing with its prey.
"He is so handsome, Odalie I Does it matter his father was a common soldier—he is so brave—does it matter he is a robber and a cut-throat?"
"Madame!" gasped Odalie, cowering away, but Françoise laughed the more. "Oh, you will buy him back to peace and law—ma chérie—the Church will absolve his murders—maybe he will even grow as devoted as my lord here—and you will never know how many there were before!"
"You are mad to-night," said Odalie quietly, but white and trembling. "Why are you taunting me with my misfortune?"
Montauban said nothing, he was held by her fascination to stand there gazing at her, though his heart was burning within him.
"Enguerrand," said Françoise softly, stroking Odalie's brilliant curls with delicate fingers, "a pretty name, ma mignonne—how many have thought so?"
Montauban's page rose up suddenly from the shadow with a half-checked gesture of an anger that could no longer be still, for Montauban's page was Denise d'Estouteville though even her master did not know her sex, and Françoise noticed it—for a second her eyes were distracted from Odalie's white face, then she looked at Guy, laughing.
"Your page lacks manners," she said.
"And you—" cried the page, flushing scarlet under her rouge, but Guy put her back suddenly, fiercely, and she turned away into the shadow, while Françoise laughed again, lifting the letter from her knee to her heart with reckless madness in her magnificent eyes.
"Odalie, Odalie—are you angry with me? Because I said Enguerrand was a fair name?"
"If it be—'tis not for you to be saying so," said Guy sternly.
"Like you Gilles better?" flashed Françoise, rising swiftly to her feet, and Odalie rose too, thinking of nothing but the letter in the other's hand.
"Not from your lips," answered Montauban quietly, "not from her who shall be my wife."
"Shall be?" she said defiantly. "Are you so sure of that? but, let be—you hate me now, yet I have that shall make you love me as you never did—"
Odalie caught her arm.
"Now God help you, for you are mad to-night!" she cried, but Françoise took no heed and never moved her eyes from Guy's angry face—she despised them equally—but for him she had a use.
"Whom hold you highest in your hate? Whom would you give the most to slay?" Her voice was low and even, but distinct and clear, she held herself, as ever, aloof from him, as ever, she seemed unattainable, dimly he felt she was using him as a tool, despising him the while, and as she came nearer, beautiful, smiling, he was angered into words.
"Who? He whose memory makes you insult me now—he whom I shall kill for it—Madame—"
His face was near as passionate as hers, she had stung him into forgetting all prudence.
"And next?" she mocked, seeming not to know Odalie was gripping her arm, staring from one to the other in an agony.
"Next!" said Montauban—"there is no other—"
"And—" said Françoise—"he is—Gilles of Brittany."
"No," he answered, looking straight at her with a bloodless face, "he is Kristopher Fassiferne—"
"Françoise—" whispered Odalie. "Françoise—" and there was wild entreaty in her voice. Françoise did not shake her off or look at her—but unfolded the letter slowly—spreading it out.
"Kristopher Fassiferne," she said in a strange, low voice. "This is the second time you have flung his name at me."
"But not the last," said Montauban furiously, "neither his name nor your falsehoods—Madame."
"You think I care for him?" she answered, her eyes and cheeks burning, and before her face Odalie fell back, hopelessly, "now see how much I care—here is his life, Montauban." She held out the letter, smiling as Guy took it, then glanced for the first time at Odalie.
"How much do you know?" she said proudly. "How ever much—that is my love."
"No love at all, but a Devil's pride," answered Odalie, and she drew away in a trembling horror. "You—you—coward!"
Françoise only half heard her words. She was intoxicated, sick with passion, the blood beat in her ears till she was dizzy, her hands were fever hot, the jewels on her breast no brighter than her angry eyes, she came close to Guy, looking over his shoulder as he eagerly read Kristopher's letter—the careful writing of one unused to the pen—the ill-spelled French, his name at the bottom—all was burned in on her heart—to the very way the firelight fell over the folds in the parchment.
Montauban looked into her eves. "You mean—you want—me to go?" he whispered.
"I gave it to you," said Françoise, "and you ask me what to do? It is—his life."
Guy gave a great gasp, and the colour mounted to his face.
"You care for me—after all?"
"Enough for this," said Françoise, scorning him in her heart as three times fool for not understanding.
"Enough to be your wife to-morrow—when you have met that man—"
"And Gilles," said Guy, gazing at her in a kind of bewildered joy and wonder. "Back in Brittany—all their lives on it—and they send you—this—"
"'Twas their error," she answered. "Go now and prove it so—why do you hesitate? the directions, are they not complete?"
"I do not understand you," said Guy passionately. "If I could dare to think this means what it seems—"
She lifted her face suddenly and kissed him on his cheek.
"Think what you will—do what you will—tell all the company or tell no one—I care not—of so little matter is it all to me."
He forgot all her falseness with her face so close, he was completely duped, all his rage had vanished with the reading of that letter—that she should have given it—to him I There was no time for either to say more, the Duchess came up from the distant guests and Françoise moved away leaving Guy bewildered with his delight.
He beckoned to his little page and spy, eagerly whispered directions—he would tell no one, but gather men secretly.
"Who are they?" said Denise. "These you take to-morrow—need you many men?"
"Nay, not many," answered Guy with bright eyes on Françoise's distant figure. "They will be trapped as hares—Count Enguerrand maybe will show fight."
"Where shall I tell my brothers to bring the men, Messire?" asked Denise. Guy bade her follow him to another room, and there wrote his directions bidding her carry them to her brother Esper who commanded Montauban's escort.
Denise d'Estouteville took the paper and hurried from the gaily lit parts of the château.
In the middle of the stone passage, under the solitary lamp she stopped, opened the paper, and carefully read the directions.
"The chapel of St Herve—in the borders of the woods—some half mile away."
Denise folded it with a frown, stamping her foot.
"He shall not die a dog's death for all your tricks, Madame Françoise," she said to herself. "Betray who not lift a finger, but not La Rose Rouge."
She half laughed, half frowned at the recollections the name brought, twirling a ruby ring round her finger, then shrugged her shoulders and hastened on her errand, with a calm face.
In the chapel of St Herve, Kristopher Fassiferne waited for the daybreak. It was fresh and cold, the little lamp burning before the statue of the saint gave a faint light—it was utterly silent. Presently a wind rose and the clouds began to gather over the dying moon. Kristopher drew his blue mantle round him and went to the door, looking out on to the half-seen country.
As it grew lighter he went back to the lamp, and as he extinguished it the flame flickered up a moment, showing his grave eyes and set mouth, then sank, leaving all almost dark.
Outside two horses waited, now and then the jingle of their harness broke the silence, twice Kristopher went and looked at them, coming back to pace the damp stone floor with intent eyes ever on the open door.
And now the darkness was lifting like a veil, though still sunless, the sky heavy with great clouds, lightly stirred. Kristopher paused in the door, his heart suddenly leaping high, and his eyes riveted to a figure running swiftly through the bare trees toward him; as it drew nearer he stepped from the shadow eagerly into the faint gray only to fall back again the light faded from his face—it was a boy in a dark cloak who speeding rapidly over the bare ground came up to the chapel door and stopped, panting, looking at him, showing under his mantle the bright blue of a page's dress.
"Captain Kristopher Fassiferne?" he asked with an odd defiance in his voice, still gasping for breath.
"Yes," answered Kristopher, looking at him keenly, nonplussed by his sudden appearance, startled too. "Come you as a friend?"
The page shrugged his shoulders, and his mantle falling back showed Montauban's arms on his breast and a ruby ring on his bare hand.
"I come to tell you you are betrayed. Your letter is in Montauban's hands—you're waiting for your death, Captain Kristopher."
A certain almost insolence in the tone, a jaunty carriage of the head marked the page as he flung out the words, standing against the square of brightening light, and Kristopher had a vague feeling of having seen that face and heard that voice before.
"The Lady Françoise sent you?" he demanded, half suspecting some trap on Guy's part, half fearful of he knew not what.
The page laughed, impatiently.
"She gave your letter to Montauban, she bid him come to meet you here—kissing him on it."
Kristopher stepped forward and laid his hand on the other's shoulder sternly. "Think you I'll take that as the truth—that? 11
"As you wish," was the defiant answer, but Denise d'Estouteville shrank from his face for all her courage.
"Stay and find it true or false—what care I? I did not come to save you—" she added with a sneer.
Kristopher dropped his hand, and sat down heavily on the low bench, that ran round the wall, a great figure half hidden in the shadow.
"Oh!" cried Denise, curiosity and hate mingled in her face, "hath this struck all reason out of you? You are betrayed, I say, betrayed!"
"Why have you come to tell me so?" asked Kristopher looking up suddenly.
"For no love of you—but because of one who is entrapped too—La Rose Rouge, whom I served once, and quarrelled with, and hated—and maybe loved—and whom I would not have die in a snare—and—save yourself and him—and who you will—but—quick!"
Kristopher did not move from where he sat nor take his eyes from her face.
"Sure, it was brave of you, child," he said calmly, "to venture this much for one you knew—but know this, I'll not leave this place alive without what I came for."
"You think I lie?" she cried. "You believe her perfection could not stoop to this—but I say I will save Count Enguerrand—you have no right at least to throw other lives away!"
Kristopher rose and came nearer to where she stood, flushed and vehement, her face scarlet above the blue dress.
"You have not the voice or the bearing of a page," he said quietly, "and, sure, somewhere I have seen your face before—whoever you are—Count Enguerrand is safe, my warning would do no good—if Montauban knows the evil hath been done—Gilles and the Count are some distance away—I said to them an' I be not back by broad day—the thing is over and I am dead—for back I will not come alone—I say it again, to you."
She turned away, suddenly, from his steady blue eyes, and though she laughed, it was more affected than real.
"You think she'll come!" she said. "Even as I left the château Guy's men were arming—but as you are so foolish—what care I for any? My love to La Rose Rouge is not so much—"
Slipping the ruby ring from her finger she held it out to Kristopher: "If you ever see him again give him that, and say the wearer risked their life to save his."
He took it and put it in his doublet, his sad eyes looking past her through the door.
"Sure, I'll remember," he said, with something of his old smile, and Denise turned away, it was getting late, and fear for herself was uppermost, but she stopped at the door and looked at him standing silent and proud, with a sweetness in his face nothing could efface, and a sudden remorse smote her—he was waiting for his death.
"She isn't worth it," she whispered over her shoulder, "not a man's life."
Kristopher flushed from brow to chin and smiled proudly.
"What can you know of her?" he said passionately, "or of me—of any of it? If she did this—"
"If!" broke in Denise. "I saw her—"
"Sure, your errand's done," he answered, a sudden anger in his face. "Get you back—I stay here and wait—"
"For death," said Denise, with a little smile. "For her," said Captain Kristopher.
Denise could not understand him—she stared, still hesitating, suddenly furious against Françoise.
"Whether you speak truth or no," said Kristopher, impatiently, "whether you go to urge Montauban faster or no—wherever you come from—go."
She shrugged her shoulders, daring to stay no longer, and drawing her mantle over her light dress, slipped out into the bare trees, not without some glances back at the stranger whom she yet knew so well.
"If it should be so—" whispered Kristopher. "If it should be so."
He watched the page disappear, and seated himself against the wall, his sword across his knees.
It was bitter cold, silent, remote, a few flakes of snow fluttered from the gray sky in at the open door. Kristopher shuddered. Denise had broken all his calm—he was on fire with impatience, watching the snow increase till it lay a little heap, white and fresh, on the dusty floor, watching it flying past quickly shutting him off from the world like a curtain drawn swiftly down.
"She'll come," he said speaking aloud to steady himself. "Body and soul she is mine—an' she'll come to me." And he sat still as carved stone, his eyes on the ground to be rid of the falling snow.
A light sound broke the calm, he looked up to see a woman standing in the doorway with a lantern in her hand...
At first he did not know her. He had ever pictured her in his heart as he last had seen her, in her brilliant gown, in the firelight—she was hooded now in something dark, with a face as white as the snowflakes on her shoulders.
"You've come," he said, knowing her now as she looked at him. "Thank God for that!"
His eyes flashed into brilliancy as he came nearer, the light of her lantern catching the silver clasp under his chin and the studs on his belt, she was looking at him with wild eyes—almost in wonder.
"What think you I came for?" she said. "To tell you Montauban knows—only that—to give you time to save yourself—because—maybe because I pitied you."
The snow was drifting in behind her whitening the floor, blotting out the landscape.
"You mean you'll not come?" said Kristopher, and she dropped her eyes and put the lantern on the ground as if her strength failed, before she answered.
"Yes," she cried bitterly. "I mean that—I mean you are betrayed."
"By whom?" he asked, and she crouched against the wall wringing her hands, and hiding her despairing face.
"It was taken from me—that letter," she whispered. "Montauban got it by force—tore it from me. I could not help it—why did you send it! Mon Dieu! Why! They are coming to kill you—I could do nothing—I—I—"
He came up close to her, and she dare not look at him, being shamed and sick almost to fainting.
"Is this truth you're telling, my lady?"
There was a second's silence, then she spoke passionately, still with her eyes away.
"No, it's a lie, a lie—I gave Montauban that letter, I bade him come and kill you here—because I thought I hated you for leaving me—because—I was mad And now I have come to save you."
Her voice faltered and broke, she put her hands before her face.
"It was only that I loved you so!"
Kristopher drew her hands away from her face and took them in his and kissed them, laughing under his breath.
"Oh, you lovely thing," he said softly. "Sure, I could not be angry with you—didn't I know you'd come—what matters for anything but that?"
All the jealousy, her sore anger had gone—she wondered she could ever for a second have doubted he was hers and hers only—his wife faded from her thoughts as if she had never been.
"Come, my lady," he said, "they're waiting—Gilles of Brittany is waiting." And she quivered and blenched as if he had struck her, drawing herself up against the wall.
"You want me to go—to him? You came for that—after all?"
"What else?" he said with a quiet strength and certainty of himself that frightened her. "There's no reasoning on't, no question—it's the right, just the right, my lady—just the one thing to do—and you came because you knew it."
Françoise looked into his blue eyes and flushed eager face, all her wild feelings merged into one dread of losing him.
"Listen," she said, her voice low and as intense as her great eyes, "you're asking of me what I cannot do—I cannot marry Gilles—for I love you—no one's love, no one's hate matters—I love you. Kristopher—I accepted Montauban to bring you back—only for that—I'll follow you now, where you will—in honour or dishonour—my very soul is yours—and that's the simple truth, Kristopher."
Standing a pace away from her, he did not speak, and a great joy began to fill his heart.
"Will you take me, Kristopher? Oh, I have nothing in all the whole world but you—no knighthood to keep sacred, no honour, hardly any God—nothing but you who are all these to me."
"Dear heart!" he cried suddenly, his eyes sparkling. "Sure, I love you too much to bring you to shame—maybe for myself—for them—but for you—"
"I do not count it shame," she said, her heart heaving beneath the dark dress, a delicate colour in her cheeks. "But rather shame to lie a lifetime long to Gilles—look at me and answer me."
It was his chance—she was his to take now and keep forever—Gilles and his wife—his word twice given—his honour before the world on one side—on the other this—his chance—in a flash he saw it so.
"I loved you so I would have killed you," whispered Françoise. "Because I thought you had forgotten—but you had not—Kristopher—now you see me again—you cannot think of that other!"
The allusion to his wife sent the blood to his cheeks, he thought of her white face and what he had said to her—of Gilles—trusting him—of his name, secretly, proudly kept unstained so long.
"Dear heart," he said, speaking very low, "what should I be if I did this? A thing fit for no one's love—and you'd see it—you'd turn from me—from what my love had brought you to." His words struck on her heart, dully, she clasped and unclasped her hands, writhing through all her slender body, while he watched her in a miserable silence she could find no words to break.
He was the stronger, in her heart she knew it—if he bid her she must go to Gilles—if he did not bend, she must—all her tears could not touch his steadfastness, with the bitterness of despair she read it in his eves as he looked at her.
"Some men would do this for me," she broke out bitterly. "Some would put me above everything—all the world esteems—everything!—would have taken me—proudly; Gilles would have done it—in your place—why did I not give my heart to such?"
"None who loved you as I do would do other than what I do," he said, startled into fierceness at her words. "Would you have me bring you lower than the dust to gratify myself—for you do not dare to doubt I love you—so much."
She was cowed into utter silence at his sudden passion, she dare say no more—she was conscious he was lifting her mantle from where it had fallen and putting it round her.
"So much," he whispered again, his face so close she felt his breath on her cheek, "so much, I'll lift you where none of this shall touch you...you'll be the Prince's wife."
But for his holding of her up—she would have fallen, her head dropped so low her face was hidden.
"I'll not come." she whispered. "Take me yourself—or go—alone."
"An' I'll not force you," breathed Kristopher. "Take you as I might by strength—but stay here—an' you choose it—holding you—till Montauban comes—think you I'll go back alone—now?"
"Stay and be killed?" she cried in a white terror.
"Yes," he said, "an' you here to see—you'll not return till I be dead—at least I owe Gilles that!"
"And me?" said Françoise, raising her eyes at last to his. "Where do I touch your thoughts? What do you owe me?"
"You?" answered Kristopher. "All my love can think of nothing more to offer than this return—to the true—to the right."
She began sobbing, passionately, wrenching her hands away to hide her face.
"Take me to him—I'll come—but not willingly! Oh, mon Dieu! not willingly! Whatever happens remember that! not willingly but—because I can resist no more!"
"You'll thank Heaven for it yet, my lady," cried Kristopher, raising her with hands that trembled.
"It is not right to me," said Françoise desperately. "But wrong—bitter wrong—remember I said so—when I lie to Gilles to please you—betray my own soul to lull his folly!"
She turned away to the door, standing out dark against the snow.
"Haste—lest Montauban come."
With set lips and flaming cheeks she followed Kristopher through the swift snowflakes, her passionate heart leaping under the heavy mantle.
As he helped her to the horse he saw her face, white in the dark hood—not luxuriously beautiful now but pained to distortion—for him—and all his courage sank to misery and rebellion again—what right had he to act for her—what right?
Her thoughts were still all for him
"Haste—even now—if they come."
He had had his chance and lost it—she was no longer his—perhaps he had even killed her love—and the thought leaped up in his heart mocking him as they flew through the scudding snow side by side toward Gilles of Brittany.
The evening of the same day Castle Bàrrès was flaring with lights from top to bottom, five hundred men were there, the English who had followed Gilles and the men of Enguerrand de la Rose, Count of Bàrrès and Dol, the lord of all the lands that bordered the estates of Dinan and now leagued with Gilles of Brittany against Heaven, earth and Hell, as he had sworn, throwing all his immense power into the balance—for mere love of rebellion and fierce lawlessness men thought, and so he let them think, making no mention of what had worked with him—a once seen woman's face. Françoise de Dinan stood before the fire in the gaunt, ill-furnished hall and looked on the crowd moving to and fro—looked beyond them down the corridor to where lights burned in the chapel where they prepared for her wedding. She was glad to be rid of them all for a few moments, to stand alone without Gilles' eager eyes upon her—to gain some respite, all half dazed, bewildered as she was. Not far away, two other women talked—one with blue eyes that were strangely familiar, Kristopher's sister and Sir Gregan Griffiths' wife, who had hung over Françoise in sympathy and tenderness, till chilled by the other's coldness—the second slight and shrinking, with a timid face. Among all those that came and went, Françoise watched these two covertly, leaning slightly forward with locked hands—her journey here, her meeting with Gilles, was a blur, she remembered nothing but Kristopher's blue mantle in front and the blinding snow—Kilda Griffiths' kindly talk was blended with her recollection too, that and a face she had seen before somewhere.
Recalling that face, she looked round those passing in and out, arming, shouting orders, carrying torches, her aching head against the chimmey-piece, a silent spectator of the turmoil—then suddenly stiffened and flushed, all her vague remembrance confirmed—a knight in inlaid armour had stopped in front of her, smiling.
"Oh," she cried impulsively. "The singer outside Chateaubriand!"
"The lady at the window," he smiled back. "Welcome to my poor castle for many things—above all for that remembrance."
Françoise suddenly understood.
"You are Count Enguerrand?" she said, both startled and vexed.
"La Rose Rouge," he said with a deepening of his curious smile, and she flushed more hotly at his tone, thinking of his flower that had been as an evil suggestion in her trouble.
"Where is the Prince?" she asked impatiently. "What are we waiting for?"
"The chapel hath not been used these many years," said Count Enguerrand. "The Prince would have it swept before his wedding—and tonight we start for Guildo, Madame."
Françoise glanced at him, his voice had the same almost unpleasant fascination for her his flower had—besides she had heard too much of him not to feel curious. His face was as insolent, as handsome as her memory had pictured it only his red-brown eyes were soft and laughing as a woman's now.
"There are many here I do not know," she said hastily, looking away again. "When the Prince told me their quality I was too weary to heed—who is the fair-haired lady, Count?"
She asked at random, because the silence discomposed her, but the answer drove all the blood from her heart like the shock of a sudden blow.
"She is Mistress Fassiferne," he answered, "the wife of the Prince's friend."
Françoise felt her heart leap into her eyes, she could hardly command herself, in a great fear and agony she turned away, with no flush on her face now and strove to murmur some reply.
La Rose Rouge looked at her keenly, and as she braced herself to face him again, his expression made her tingle to her finger-tips.
"Count," she said desperately, "do me this favour to bring the Prince to me."
"I read that you would be alone?" he smiled, and left her at once, going over to the window and talking with Gregan Griffiths.
"His wife!" whispered Françoise—his wife in flesh and blood—what had been but a name till now, was another woman like herself—it made her misery real as it had never been.
She sat on the oak settle, her thoughts whirling, the room spinning before her, then her eyes fell on Count Enguerrand and rested there, half frightened, half attracted through all her distraction.
A well-known voice roused her, she rose unsteadily to meet Gilles face to face and listen to his eager talk till she could have screamed aloud in anguish.
La Rose Rouge, lolling against the window, had his eyes on her—occasionally he glanced at Gilles with something like pity and amusement.
"Come you with us to Guildo?" he asked suddenly, turning to where Kristopher stood silent behind him.
"No," was the answer. "I command the English in Dol, Messire—taking leave of you to-night," then with a sudden start: "I had near forgot! It's a message I have for you, Count."
They stood apart from the noise and bustle under the light of a torch fixed high on the wall, and Count Enguerrand withdrew his eyes from Françoise to fix them on Kristopher curiously as he took a ring from his doublet and tendered it with his frank smile.
"A little page in Montauban's service, Count, gave it me for you and he bade me say he risked his life to save yours as indeed he did—coming to warn me."
The look on Enguerrand's face made him stop suddenly. La Rose Rouge glanced from the ring lying on his palm into the other's face and laughed.
"You've made a mistake," he said.
"A mistake?" said Kristopher.
Enguerrand held the ring up between his finger and thumb, still laughing softly.
"' Françoise,' the name round this is—a pearl and a bloodstone."
His eyes had disappeared to mere specks of light, he seemed convulsed with insolent amusement; Kristopher flushed scarlet with a sudden recollection and a great rage against his own heedlessness.
"It's a mistake," he said quietly. "A ring of my Lady of Dinan's I found—give it me—this was yours."
"This I do know," smiled La Rose Rouge taking the ruby—"and this other shall I not give it the lady?" motioning to where she stood with her back to them.
"Give it me," repeated Kristopher with a dangerous light in his eyes. "I'll choose my own time and place for its return."
"Maybe," said Enguerrand softly, handing it back. "Maybe, it would be wiser."
"What do you mean?" demanded Kristopher.
"A good many things," returned La Rose Rouge with a hidden fierceness under the careless insolence of his manner. "Among others that I own no master and'll stand no questioning, Captain Kristopher."
"Is that all?" said Kristopher, looking at him straightly.
Enguerrand shrugged his shoulders, laughing again, glancing at Françoise now moving slowly toward the chapel.
"How got you this same ruby ring?" he said, ignoring the question.
"I told you, Count," answered Kristopher, distracted by his own stormy thoughts, thinking he must get this ring back to her before Gilles saw—tingling with the annoyance of his slip before this man.
"Montauban's page!" smiled La Rose Rouge, whirling the ruby round in the light. "Mine once, Monsieur—and useful too—clever and troubled with no scruples—a pity we quarrelled! but you say she put her life on saving mine? Now, what woman would do as much for you?"
"Woman?" cried Kristopher, and suddenly two faces were before him—with a dark forest for background—the man's, that before him now—the woman's, the same with the page in blue.
"Shall we say boy then?" answered Enguerrand mockingly. "What boy would do the like for you?"
"I' faith, Count," cried Kristopher, "boy or woman, what care I—the time is something too precious to be wasted thus."
Kristopher did not care greatly to think that Enguerrand—false, utterly without honour, must hold the safety of Guildo in his hands—at present his interest bound him to Gilles, but Kristopher had small hope of his faith if the Duke bribed higher.
Meanwhile he had made possible what without his aid had been impossible: by his immense power alone could they keep a foothold in Brittany, and Kristopher bore his company for what his alliance meant to Gilles.
Turning from him now, he passed through the eager excited company and the flaring lights to the dark and the quiet of the corridor and from that to the pale yellow glow in the chapel where two dim lamps burned above the altar, and through the rose window floated the fine snow whitening the dusty floor beneath. Against the wall leaned Françoise, either side of her the half grotesque, half terrible forms of cowering angels. She was not praying or weeping, her hands were locked in front of her and she stared out blankly. Kristopher's heart died within him at sight of her face—it took all his courage to go up to her—but for her own sake Gilles must not know she had parted with his ring.
"I could not send this by another," he said speaking slowly, holding it out. She took it, putting it on her finger dully, it was not easy for either to speak, since the morning something had come between them—something that had driven them insensibly apart—they were no longer alone—under the same roof was his wife and her betrothed—no names or symbols now but tangible facts.
And the sense of this, the feeling the distance between them was widening, that she could never hear him talk other than she had just done, that it was hopeless now—hopeless—stirred her sick heart almost to madness.
"I got it from Montauban," said Kristopher unsteadily. "There is no need to tell the Prince."
"Oh, I am an adept in deception!" flashed Françoise, with flaming eyes. "I can lie to him an' you bid me—tell him what you choose—say I was forced into it—say how I wept for him."
"Don't speak like that," interrupted Kristopher. "Don't—you're—not—like that."
She drew herself up, quivering, shutting out the sight of his blue eyes with her hand over her own.
"You've left me no choice," she said. "You've put me where I cannot go back—an' so—I'm going on—into what'll be—Hell."
Her words came with difficulty, she drew her free hand backward and forward over the cold stone.
"I'll do it," she went on, "but I'm not strong—nor brave—and if I fall and fall terribly, as I feel it in me to fall—remember I gave you the chance—I asked you to save me—and you put honour first."
The clink of armour sounded outside—the red flare of torches fell across the gloom—in a little while she would be taken from him forever—all the unreasoning passion he had crushed flamed up in his heart again—bidding him take her—save her, at the cost of everything—pay with his honour, with all the world—for the sight of her face comforted of its despair.
"Save you?" he gasped, gripping the slender pillar beside him tight—"and now!"
"Would you?" she asked, looking up with sparkling eyes—"But no—your love does not go so far."
"You do me wrong," he said, passionately. "Nothing matters but you—"
He stopped and dropped his outstretched hand. Françoise too recoiled as if a snake had sprung up between. Down the steps came Kristopher's wife.
"My lord—" she began, then looked from one to the other, confused at Françoise's presence.
"I do not know this lady, Messire," said the Lady of Dinan, with the cruelty of great pain, her pride helping her to her calm.
"My wife," answered Kristopher, sick with shame and agony, humbled to the very dust in his own eyes. "Mistress Fassiferne."
Yvonne-Marie looked at Françoise smiling curiously, too.
"I have no need to ask your name," she said. "I have seen you before, Madame."
"And I you," answered Françoise, "but I had forgotten."
There was this in her that she had no small feelings of jealousy or hate at sight of Kristopher's wife, she was as indifferent to her as to Gilles—save as an obstacle she had not touched her, but looking at her now she marvelled passionately why he should be bearing shame and banishment for her sake—why he should do so much for her.
"The Prince bade me—if I saw you, my lord," said Yvonne-Marie, "say the English are all in readiness—he hath been reviewing them—I had trouble to find you," she added with a faint smile, and Françoise who had been marking her timid shrinking address with a strange pleasure suddenly flushed.
"Count Enguerrand told me," continued
Yvonne-Marie. "He was sitting in the doorway and saw you within."
The flush on Françoise's face deepened, she glanced at Kristopher, his eyes were on the ground, but she saw the blood had rushed to his cheeks too and knew his thought was the same—"If that man heard!"
"Gregan hath his men in readiness?" said Kristopher with an effort.
"Yes," answered Yvonne-Marie, "and so are yours—the Prince said we might start when he did, my lord."
"Start for where?" asked Françoise.
"For Dol, Madame, where my lord bath the command."
"You do not come to Guildo?"
Françoise turned to Kristopher impulsively. "No, Madame—to Dol—"
He was labouring with his breath painfully, the whole scene had become a torture to him he could not bear, the lamps over the altar were blinking like evil eyes, the proud face of Françoise, the half-frightened face of his wife—accusing faces both seemed to rise and fall as if tossed up on some great sea.
Yvonne-Marie's gentle voice broke the pause.
"Sir Gregan Griffiths commands the English in Guildo, Madame."
The chapel was filling, Enguerrand ascended lazily, yawning, others behind him, and Françoise turned from them all and went to the altar steps, and knelt there silent—this was as the last hope killed—it would be farewell—to-night and forever.
What else she had expected she did not know, in truth it was all she could have looked for—nevertheless it stabbed and stung—they must part, and that other would go with him.
"Oh, Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!" moaned Françoise, her head in her hands. "I cannot bear it!"
But when Gilles came up to her, and took her hand, she answered him and smiled, remembering how easy once had been what now was so difficult.
"What you have given for me," she said. "This is war, Gilles, war to the death!"
He looked round at the gathering of soldiers proudly.
"Nay, I have not given half enough," he said happily, "an' can I punish my brother's and Montauban's falsehood by rewarding your truth with a crown—"
"I do not ask it," she said, her eyes busy with Kristopher standing on the altar steps fixing a torch.
"Nor I," cried Gilles—"anything but this!"
"Now are we lit as we have never been lit before!" cried Enguerrand, as the last torch was raised. "'Tis a long time since prayers were held here, Lady—here in Bàrrès, where roses grow in winter."
"By aid of the evil one?" laughed Gilles, but Françoise dropped her eyes from the dancing red ones of the Count—her strange dread of him was growing and yet in the awful future the thought of him being there gave her a curious comfort—as his rose had done.
Standing before the priest with her hand in Gilles', she looked round on them all, the quiet chapel glowing red from the torchlight, spears and armour—Kilda and Yvonne-Marie with the English behind her—to the right Kristopher—to the left Enguerrand, the light full on his smiling face and twisting curls, playing on the fantasy of his armour and showing a little dancing imp in his velvet eyes—he held her gaze fascinated; there was such an expression of insolent devilry in his whole bearing she could have cried aloud in fear—his figure gave a horror to the whole place, as if the devil had come to see her wed. She felt in a dream, a nightmare, closed in some great tomb with red light flickering over friends, standing up dazed and dumb to part with her soul—her happiness forever.
A moment more and the thing was done, until death, too late now all hopes and struggles, all prayers and pleadings, over all glimpses of happiness, the sweetness that was too sweet to dread the future—she was Gilles of Brittany's wife.
Their names were ringing to the vaulted roof—"Long live Gilles of Brittany! Long live Françoise of Brittany!" The sombre chapel was broken into a medley of colour and light—in the crowd that came about them she missed Kristopher, but Enguerrand's evil face seemed ever close to hers, he had put his casque on, and the red plumes lay on his shoulders like blood, he spoke to Gilles laughing, but his eyes were ever on her...
The snow had turned to a fine rain as they gathered in the courtyard, the English archers and the French outlaws, even for one night they dared not stay at Bàrrès, it was too near to Rennes, another day's march and they would be well within La Rose Rouge's land and safe.
Gilles was taking leave of Kristopher, Françoise moved her horse farther away that she might not hear his voice, that she too might not have to say farewell—here before them all, she would rather he should leave without a word, but Gilles came up with his friend behind him and she could not avoid turning.
"Shall I leave some of my thanks to you, Françoise?" smiled Gilles, "to this gentleman who hath done so much for both of us?"
"What can I say?" faltered Françoise, glad of the dark to hide her face. "Empty thanks are but poor—"
"Any thanks, Princess," answered Kristopher, "are but a mockery of my poor services—peace and happiness to you, Princess!"
She could not answer, she dare not look, she knew he had gone—gone with his wife, that was her farewell. She writhed on the saddle in a mute agony, clenching her hands over her heart, struggling for breath, and when she did turn, her love had indeed gone, and beside Gilles rode Enguerrand de la Rose, smiling.
They were journeying to Guildo, still ahead of their pursuers, a hundred archers under Gregan Griffiths's command, two hundred under Count Enguerrand's, slowly making their way over the desolate country where the remainder of the men awaited them; English some of these, some La Rose Rouge's men, outlaws, robbers, glad to have Gilles of Brittany's name to war under, and looking as the English for some great advantage from the Duke's rebellious brother.
It was quite light and cold, the ground slippery with half melted snow, the slush of broken ice.
They rode slowly, carefully; the way led over rough rocks and past deep ravines, through clogging marshes and hard broken ground where the horses stumbled and could hardly find a foothold.
Françoise, riding a black horse, by the side of Gilles, some paces before the others, was sensible of no fatigue, the agony at her heart dulled all weariness, she rode erect and straight as any soldier, long after Kilda was half falling from her horse, and lagging far behind.
"Dear heart," said Gilles softly, joyously. "We are but two hours off Guildo—dear heart—there we shall be safe from all the world."
Two hours! God had not heard her prayer—she was drawing nearer—nearer—there was no more pity in heaven than in her lover's heart.
"And we are unpursued," she said, turning her dark eyes on Gilles; she had to make some answer, and this was but speaking her thoughts; she almost wished Montauban would overtake them, so desperately she longed for something to happen—something before her fate closed round her—before they reached Guildo. "And now ride ahead, Gilles, the way is narrow."
As she spoke she drew her hand away from his and backed her horse—Oh, for a miracle! for something to strike-her dead—for some deliverance—either of Heaven or Hell!
Before them the road wound up a steep rugged rock, twisting along its edge, hardly wide enough for more than one, and giving straight on to a considerable drop into a stone-filled valley, where a little dark stream gurgled.
It was gray and colourless, there was no sun, rocks, horsemen, trees and the driving rain distinct in a cheerless cold light that was hard and pitiless. But Gilles rode ahead gaily, it was not gray to him, Françoise rode behind, muffled close in her cloak, and near to her La Rose Rouge was following singing under his breath, in a fascinating voice that jarred on her like discordant howls. She could have screamed, she could have implored him 'to stop, but she dare not turn and look into his dancing eyes—she was afraid.
Oh, for a deliverance from Heaven or—Hell!
"Ma foi!" said Gilles with a gay laugh. "These roads are slippery!"
He was riding carelessly; the path so narrow at places the horses only could pass with difficulty, and suddenly the blood rushed to Françoise's heart, in front of Gilles the earth had crumbled away—across his path was a great rift—there was foothold for neither horse nor man, and he looking ahead did not see.
Her first impulse was to cry out—but she did not—a deliverance! a miracle! Gilles drew nearer—in a moment he must see—La Rose Rouge had stopped singing. All feeling was frozen in her, her thought was turning her blood cold, still she did not speak—did not warn—he would see for himself—he must see—Oh, God in heaven, he must not see!
"Gilles!" she called suddenly, and hardly knew she did it, it was so low he did not hear; her voice would not come—he would see—"Gilles!" she shrieked, and knew why now, knew what it felt like to murder. "Gilles! my horse is slipping—help!"
He looked round instantly, loosening his hold on the reins and for an instant struggled to turn the horse or dismount, and in that instant he lost his control, the animal, confused, plunged—caught his foot in the fissure, and tore forward at a headlong gallop over the level stones with Gilles dragged after, one foot caught in the saddle trappings...
Françoise dropped from her horse, she had meant worse than this, she had meant horse and rider to be hurled over the cliff—La Rose Rouge sprang from his horse and lifted her up, still smiling, his face whiter than ever.
"Well done, my beautiful devil!" he whispered, but she slipped from him and sank on her knees on to the wet ground.
"Gilles! Gilles! save him—Oh, mon Dieu! he will be dead—stop him!" she was frantic, struggling, she realised what she had done in her madness, the others were coming—she called out to them, trying to free herself from Enguerrand.
"Gilles!" she screamed. "Kristopher! Kristopher!"
But La Rose Rouge held her tight, dragging her from the horses.
"Gilles will not trouble you again, beautiful," he said with a deepening smile. "And, Mignonne, you must not call him Kristopher."
Françoise gazed at him in silent horror as he put his face so close to her the red curls touched her breast.
"The others might hear, beautiful—and the others might guess, beautiful—"
"You are mad," gasped Françoise. "Let go my hands—go and help the Prince—let go my hands, I say!"
"Others have done that," he answered. "The Englishman hath stopped the horse."
"Is he dead?" said Françoise, cowering from the veiled brown eyes, turning desperately to Gregan, who came running up white and gasping.
"Keep the Princess here," he cried brokenly. "The Prince's horse has thrown him—Dead! I don't know—he's—mangled."
"Dead!" shrieked Françoise, and Gregan shook his head motioning, shuddering, to Enguerrand to keep her away.
La Rose Rouge drew her from the crowd, her hands in his.
"There aren't many women would have dared that," he whispered. "Take heart—he may be dead."
"Oh, devil!" cried Françoise, "think you I wish it?"
Enguerrand glanced toward the excited group they stood apart from and smiled.
"I know it—I heard—if I keep silence you'll owe me some thanks, Princess."
She looked at him with a white upturned face.
"Your silence! I would not buy it with a word!" she said.
La Rose Rouge's insolent eyes began to dance dangerously.
"Then," he whispered, "shall I turn and tell them all?"
The gray mist was writhing between them like a living thing, half shutting off the figures moving to and fro.
"All?" repeated Enguerrand, and his red brows were gathered together in a heavy frown. "Even Kristopher Fassiferne?" She looked at him a moment then turned her face away.
"Oh, not him!"
The frown disappeared from Enguerrand's face, he flushed with pleasure and laughed softly.
"So I've touched you now, my lady?"
He had no time for more. Kristopher's sister came up and drew Françoise away weeping; through the rain figures moved silently, the long line of spears showed through the mist, as the soldiers waited motionless along the hill.
Enguerrand watched Françoise till her bent figure had disappeared in the gray among the others.
"Now is he dead?" he thought, and looked over the cruel rocks down which the horse had dragged his master till Gregan Griffiths had stopped the creature and drawn Gilles away near the spot where they now gathered.
"Now' is he dead?"
Enguerrand turned to know at once, "Yes," or "No," when his foot struck against something—a little packet of letters. Instantly he picked it up, thrusting it up his sleeve, as Gregan Griffiths was upon him, and the soldiers moved nearer.
"Will the Prince live?" he asked.
"Saints! How may a man know?" shuddered Sir Gregan. "He is alive—now."
Enguerrand sprang on to his horse, snarling between his teeth.
"Is this the first blood you've seen?" he cried aloud, "that you mow and chatter thus?"
He beckoned the men up behind him angrily.
"Whether Gilles be dead or alive we must to Guildo to-night—tell them so, Chevalier."
"The poor Princess," murmured Sir Gregan, looking back, his voice trembling, his face white with the horror of it.
La Rose Rouge glanced to where she rode beside the litter within which Gilles of Brittany lay hidden under a scarlet cloak, the one spot of colour in the cavalcade.
"The poor Princess!" he smiled. "A fine entry shall we make into Guildo."
Those who carried Gilles and those who followed, the Bretons and the English, came silently, but Kilda was weeping, and her sobs broke the silence painfully. Enguerrand drew his horse up and waited for the little cavalcade to pass, and as Françoise drew near, he smiled.
Her face was calm but changed and she gazed on the outline beneath the red cloak steadily.
But La Rose Rouge leaned forward and as she looked up with heavy eyes, his smile deepened and he turned his horse sharply and rode beside her, in silence, down the twisting road.
A deliverance!—either of Heaven—or Hell! Françoise looked from the litter where her husband lay to the man riding beside her—the man who knew, who held her in his hand—her punishment had fallen swiftly on her crime, and her crime had been for nothing—Prince Gilles lived. The very sky seemed bearing down on her, the mist to lie like lead upon her heart, she was conscious of two things only, the scarlet cloak one side, the smiling face with her secret behind it the other. She dared not draw away from him, she dared not show her fear and hate—he knew! he knew!
And so, in the silver evening between Gilles of Brittany and Enguerrand de la Rose Rouge, Françoise rode into Guildo by the sea.
It was a month after Françoise de Dinan's wedding, and Brittany was torn from coast to centre with a hot civil war.
On the side of Gilles of Brittany were the English and Count Enguerrand's great power—on the Duke's side the French, fearful for their hold in Brittany if the rebellious prince was as successful as it seemed he might be. For successful so far he was, more so than his friends had dared to hope, half the country was his—a large army wore his colours, the peasantry of Dol were up in arms for him, the English allies were reinforced till they outnumbered the French and it seemed they might crow strong enough to wrest the Duke's very crown from his grasp. But he in whose name so much blood was shed was incapable of understanding his victories—Gilles lay between life and death in Guildo, shunned by his wife, avoided by Enguerrand and his followers, and dependent on the charity of Kilda Griffiths and the tenderness of servants.
Françoise had not been near him since their stay in Guildo, they had told her his back was injured and that he would be a cripple for life and she could not bring herself to look on him, her miserable life was punishment enough without that, she told herself bitterly. She lived in a daily fear of Count Enguerrand, a fear that he would speak of what he knew of her, a fear that he would betray her husband and his cause into Montauban's hands.
And this last thought was very terrible to Françoise, it was more horror than remorse she felt for what she had done, more fear for the consequences than regret for the motive—yet she could not bear to think of Gilles betrayed, maimed and helpless, into the hands of his bitter enemy. It could avail her nothing. Ghastly as was her mockery of a life in Guildo, it was better than what her fate would be if she fell into Montauban's hands again—bitter as her wrong toward Gilles was now, it would be bitterer if through this wretched war she had caused he lost his life, and though Françoise of Brittany had an easy standard of right and wrong, even her wild heart shrank from the bare horror of having on her soul the murder of the man she had deceived and crippled.
She would have done much to prevent it and she watched Enguerrand eagerly and fearfully.
Well enough she knew he was dealing with Montauban—that Guildo was infested with French spies and often she had to listen to the muttered complaints of the English that they were in league with a traitor, but as yet Enguerrand had shown no open sign of treachery and she dare not speak to him of her fears.
He had displayed no desire to make any use of what he knew, so far he had not sought her out; nor in any way alluded to that ride to Guildo.
But Françoise did not trust this silence—she thought bitterly that he was not the man to forego the advantage he had over her, and when she discovered she had lost the only two letters Kristopher had written her, she was filled with the sickening dread that they were in Enguerrand's possession.
She could do nothing but wait and bear her suspense as best she might—she was at his mercy in that; if he chose to be silent she could not speak of her shame.
And so the spies came and went unmolested, and when Gregan Griffiths came with furious complaints of La Rose Rouge she had to hush him and pretend she believed in Enguerrand's honour, even while her lies made her sick with rage and shame.
Then suddenly what she had been waiting for came—Count Enguerrand demanded to see her, and she, not daring to offend him, consented, cold with terror.
And waiting for him she spent the time pacing to and fro her room like a caged animal raging against herself and all mankind.
After arranging himself carefully before his mirror, Count Enguerrand left his room to seek Françoise de Dinan.
"Thank you for this favour, Madame," he said with a gravity that brought the blood to her cheeks. "A favour I will repay with what I come to tell you—"
"I am listening, Count," answered Françoise. She raised her beautiful head but did not look at him.
"Are you not tired of Guildo, Princess?" he said smiling, a few paces away from her. "Hath it not become an irksome prison to you?"
"How a prison?" she said quickly. "My château, Count."
"Princess," smiled Enguerrand, "in three days you will be free—Guildo will be in Montauban's hands—Gilles hath been too long a-dying!"
Françoise looked at him in utter terror and rose up to the full of her slim height with her face ivory white, all the slow horror and dread of these days in Guildo seemed realised, she was face to face with the worst at last.
"You mean you are going to betray Guildo? Mon Dieu! Then what they said was true!" she cried.
"If they said that, it was," answered La Rose Rouge with dancing eyes. "I have gained half Brittany by this service to the Duke—and the hand of the Duke's cousin—"
"You will betray Guildo to Montauban!" interrupted Françoise, sharply, and Enguerrand looked at her straightly, with a great admiration for her beauty, and no thought of the anguish in her eyes.
"Which means Gilles will not be so long a-dying," he said softly. "In three days—I have arranged it with Guy's spies."
"You dare to come and tell this to me—?" flashed Françoise, passionately. "You—you—dare to I You are foolish as you are vile, Count, for Gregan Griffiths will know of this before nightfall—"
She was trembling with anger, her eyes blazing, but Enguerrand never moved from his easy position against the wall and the insolent smile did not leave his face.
"Leave me!" continued Françoise, drawing farther away. "Did I not scorn you more than fear you I would have you hanged for what you are—for I am mistress at least in my own château—leave me before I have you flung out of my presence."
"Have you forgotten our ride to Guildo—when the Prince fell?" answered Enguerrand, his red brows frowning over his smile.
Françoise did not wince but faced him undaunted, her head held very high.
"Yes," she said through bloodless lips, "and you are mad to remember it—mad to speak of it now—mad to think it could weigh with me—mad to venture to insult me so."
"Do you remember your wedding day?" asked Enguerrand, always with his eyes on her. "And how Kristopher Fassiferne came to return you your betrothal ring? I was in the shadows and heard—and saw."
"Then are you spy as well as traitor," cried Françoise furiously, "and none of this means anything to me!"
"Ma foi, you have a fine courage," smiled La Rose Rouge. "Two letters now, from this same Kristopher Fassiferne—have you not missed them of late?"
"If you have stolen them," she answered, with quivering lips but a high carriage still, "show them to all the world—he never wrote aught that could shame either of us."
But she dropped her eyes and shook so that she could hardly stand as he laid on the table between them the packet he had picked up on the rocks.
"Certainly he was cautious," he said quietly. "But they are something—these letters—and there is—this—and this—"
Françoise stared wildly as he put before her a letter of her own, written to Kristopher and never sent, passionate, written in her greatest misery—signed with her name.
"You should have burned it," he smiled. "And, Princess, you should have opened these."
They were Gilles' letters, those he had written to her from England, and the seal was unbroken.
"Where did you get them?" asked Françoise, hoarsely, and Enguerrand's eyes sparkled and watched the keen effect of every word.
"Oh, I have spies in Chateaubriand," he said slowly, "where you left these, these that are proof enough I think, that my word be taken against yours—were I to show them to the Prince, enough to make him believe you wished his death and tried for it, enough to make you false and a murderess before all Brittany, all Brittany, and—your lover."
Françoise shrank down into the chair with her face in her hands, conquered, humbled beyond concealment, and Enguerrand came closer, his soft voice very low; at the sound of it she looked up again with a ghastly distorted face and strove in vain to speak.
"You should have visited your husband, Princess—" he said, "it hath been noticed—what I could prove would not long be doubted."
"Oh, Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!" cried Françoise, finding her voice in a burst of agony, twisting her hands together. "What are you torturing me for? What do you want of me—I could not see him—I dare not—"
She ended in a shuddering sob and dragged herself up. "Maimed! disfigured! How have I lived this month? Oh! I have been so miserable you well may spare me more."
His strange eyes never moved from her tortured beauty, but he was startled out of his sneer when he saw her go on her knees.
"Here, in the very dust," she said, looking up with the tears running down a face distorted with pain. "Have mercy on me, Count! Spare Gilles' of Brittany!"
Enguerrand flushed scarlet with pleasure to see her there, he was coarse-souled enough to value this submission of her helpless distress, cruel enough to enjoy his pleasure, as he silently watched her stifling her tears back—in her pain unconscious of her humiliation.
"Mon Dieu!" he said at last, his whole face glowing, "to think that you should do this for the thing you hate—or is it still what that man thinks of you? But either way, I'll not betray Guildo—for your sake."
"Oh, swear it!" cried Françoise, staggering to her feet. "Swear it!"
"Would you believe me if I did?" he said, with a smile no longer insolent but fierce. "What have I to swear by? There is little sacred to both of us, Princess, little sacred to either." He pushed toward her the letters lying between them. "Burn those to prove I'll not betray Guildo without your consent."
And as Françoise stared at him, incredulous,' he picked them up himself and flinging them on the fire, watched them burn.
"So, am I your friend indeed," he cried over his shoulder at her, through his red hair. "Now, thank me, Princess."
But terror mingled with Françoise's relief, she grew almost more afraid of Enguerrand as he did this and asked nothing—a shrinking as if a devil had offered his friendship, and as he turned he read her thought.
"Are you afraid of yourself, Princess?"
"No," she whispered back. "But of you—why did you do that?"
Till now she had thought only of herself, but something in his face and triumphant bearing made her pause. "You'll give up all this meant to you?" she continued wonderingly. "I—I never thought it—for what?"
"For mine own ends," he smiled. "Always for mine own ends, Princess, but my ends are yours, I think—"
Françoise looked at him, bewildered. She was too much under his influence to imagine she had over him any of her own.
"I do not understand you," she said. "But—from my soul, I thank you, Count—"
"Say 'my friend,'" said Enguerrand, holding out his hand across the table she kept between them. He had done much for her, he asked for no return, and so she gave him her hand, something comforted—one friend at least, she thought, as Enguerrand's near presence and touch thrilled her into her old courage—what if he was a friend indeed—her stronger half?
"My friend," she said, then as she drew her hand away she smiled faintly. "I think I have your rose still—shall it be a pledge between us?" she added with a quick glance.
"Now, on my soul!" cried Enguerrand, passionately, pleased beyond measure. "Kristopher Fassiferne was a fool to let you go!"
Françoise flashed back responsive to the note in his voice.
"Would you have done it?" she cried.
"Had I had blue eyes and you had loved me," smiled Enguerrand with an ardent face. "The world between had made no difference!"
"I take my leave on that," said Enguerrand, triumphant at the door, brilliant, for all the sunless light, in his scarlet and gold. "While you still smile on me, Madame!"
When he had gone Françoise felt strangely forlorn, at first above everything she had dreaded seeing him, and had been glad that he seemed to avoid her, but now he had proved himself, at least generous, and more courteous than she had dared to hope, she longed for the distraction from her wretched thoughts his converse gave, his lawless way of looking at life, the light way he regarded what she had done put her at her ease, raised herself in her own eyes, though he knew everything, she was no longer afraid of him—he was the one soul in Guildo she was not humbled before. He knew her secret and he was her friend—she felt more than a little proud that he had done so much for her, as she cast up all the tales she could remember of his wickedness and savagery.
He had ended the anxiety she had felt this month in Guildo—her secret was safe with him—and for her sake he would not betray them—which in some way eased her soul of its burden toward her husband.
"I would take you were all the world between, an' you loved me," he had said, and Françoise found herself wishing with a bitter sigh that Kristopher Fassiferne was more like La Rose Rouge.
Count Enguerrand well kept the promise he had made Françoise. Montauban's spies returned discomfited; La Rose Rouge broke his betrothal to Odalie de Merle, refused to betray Guildo or Gilles of Brittany, refused to detach himself from the Prince's cause.
And Guy de Montauban had placed his hopes on the character and precedents of the Lord of Bàrrès, he had been very sanguine of bribing him to betray the cause his unique power upheld.
Furious in his disappointment, Montauban half suspected it was Françoise's influence again defeating him, though he had not thought Enguerrand a man to be swayed by a woman when his advantage showed another way.
Whatever the motive behind this sudden change of front—for La Rose Rouge had dallied long with the Duke's offers—Montauban found himself baffled and defeated.
But, though the Duke was a mere tool in his hands, and all Brittany his to use for his object, Françoise was still as far from him as on that day she had fled through the snow with Kristopher, and Montauban was half distraught with his bitter impatience.
He lay at Chateaubriand with all his forces, as near to Dol as he could compass, as near to Guildo and Françoise.
Yesterday he had been driven back by the English, he was smarting under it now, chafing under the delay of the French, sick with fury and impatience, in the mood to stake anything in one desperate attempt to take Guildo, he had grown reckless and indifferent as to the real objects of the war; Gilles' rebellion, the safety of the Breton throne, the triumphs of the English or the French had narrowed down to his personal hates and desires.
He stood by the great fireplace—on the very spot where she had given him that letter, where she had kissed him—the whole hall was full of memories of her, he remembered her sitting in the window seat, singing, with topaz on her breast, and at thoughts of her eyes and voice felt he could almost forgive her—now, if she came back, felt it for one moment and the next second was clutching the arms of his chair, wishing he had her down before him and his fingers round her throat...Her treachery had roused a savagery in him he had himself beet unaware of.
"Messire," said a voice softly. Opposite the other side of the red-tiled hearth stood Denise d'Estouteville, mountebank, court lady, juggler, beggar and spy, but to Guy only a sharp-witted page introduced to his service by that useful rogue d'Estouteville, who was useful at times when deftness counted more than courage.
She drew the ribbons on her sleeve through her teeth, frowning, and waited for him to speak, looking keenly at his thin haggard face the while.
"Well?" he said wearily, and Denise smiled under her frown, coming to what she meant at once.
"Send me to Bàrrès, Sieur," she said. "Let me deal with La Rose Rouge."
"You?" said Montauban. He looked at her a moment in silence. "What could you do? Your bragging brother failed—spies are no use in Guildo."
"I once knew Count Enguerrand, Sieur," replied Denise. "We had some tenderness for one another—at least he will listen to me."
"Morbleu!" cried Montauban, bitterly. "You are sanguine! Think you the Count will do for an ancient tenderness what he cannot be bribed to—do for a boy what he will not do for his advantage!"
"Give me the chance to try, Sieur," said Denise, coming nearer. "At least it can do no harm."
"It is mere child's folly," answered Guy impatiently. "Count Enguerrand is a very stone!"
"Well," whispered Denise, still playing with her scarlet ribbons and speaking eagerly. "Well—if he fail, Sieur, I have hopes of another—send me to Guildo."
Montauban looked up at her sharply.
"Of another? who else could play the traitor?"
There was a swift scorn at his dullness in her eyes, and she dropped the lids to conceal it, smoothing her dress with a smile and a catlike lightness of gesture.
"I have done you good service, Sieur, for just reward if I do you a greater service, will you give me a greater reward? What will you give me if I tell you how you may take Guildo?"
"What do you want?" said Montauban abruptly. "It is impossible to take Guildo but by force."
"I want money—" said Denise. "The only thing I've ever cared about—not money that is enough to dazzle a page, but money that'll unlock the world's delights—a fortune, Sieur."
"You are a strange boy," Montauban smiled faintly, "and direct of speech. If you know of what will get me Guildo, I'll buy it of you with—a fortune."
"Then, send me to Guildo," she answered with brightening eyes. "If not La Rose Rouge, as I have said there is another—"
Their eyes met and Denise smiled.
"My Lady Françoise."
Montauban stared bewildered, the blood singing in his head at mention of her name—"What do you mean?"
"Sieur," said Denise, "I mean she will do it—the Prince's wife—the Prince is sick unto death and helpless—she hates him."
Guy rose to his feet, a burning red in his thin cheeks.
"You—think she'd—betray him?"
"But not for me!" said Montauban bitterly. "Mon Dieu! She may be as false as Hell—but very fear would keep her from that."
"Very love would make her," answered Denise. "She'd do it for love not fear as I would word the message."
"Betray Gilles for me?" asked Montauban, struggling between his doubt and hope. "If she wearied of him sick and maimed, would she credit me with such forgiveness as to betray him for me?"
"No—not for you—but for Kristopher Fassiferne, Sieur—"
"Now, where learned you that!" cried Guy furiously. "Who taught you to couple his name to hers?"
"Mine own eyes," said Denise quietly. "I know she loves him—I know also her love can be made her ruin—please you be not angered, Sieur, and listen—"
"You go far on my patience," answered Montauban, crouching down in his chair again, biting his lips furiously. "But—"
"I may speak? Sieur, it is so plain—let her but think Captain Kristopher is without and through them all she opens the gates—She shall think him without, and so—the thing is done, Sieur."
"How?" asked Guy sullenly looking away.
"Sieur!" smiled Denise. "It is easy! I take a message in to Guildo, from Captain Kristopher, I say, it tells her his wife is dead, it tells her he can yearn for her no more—this with what embellishment my fancy doth suggest—it tells her that he hath sacrificed his honour at last—"
"His honour!" sneered Montauban. "Mon Dieu! His honour!"
Denise shrugged her shoulders.
"So they call it—it says also, this message, that he will ride to Guildo and bid the gates be opened, coming for her, to take her on his heart to peace and liberty in France—waving therein all aside for this. And so, when some such men arrive, she will open to them."
"She'll not believe it," said Montauban quickly. "She has seen you in my service—she is no fool—Mon Dieu! no fool—"
"Trust me for convincing her," replied Denise. "I'll to Dol first where this paragon commands, and steal some token—I'll succeed, Sieur."
Montauban looked up at her, fired by some of her quiet eagerness.
"I almost believe you will," he smiled.
"You're a strange boy and a clever, if you should trick her into that—make her do it openly—"
"Aye," said Denise, with glittering eyes. "Openly! I'll so blind and madden her with her love she'll do it before them all—Gilles will know—all Brittany will know, her lover will know—she will be ashamed, a traitress and—she will lose his love—is not that a revenge worth paying for!"
"And it shall be paid for!" cried Montauban with a flushed face.
"Here's my hand on it, page." They clasped hands, standing on the brilliant tiles, and Guy's eyes searched her face, then dropped to her hand in his—it was the first time he had looked at her close.
"Why—" he said. "Why..."
He looked at her again, closely—paused a while, then smiled meaningly.
"Indeed!—You are a strange boy I—so this is why you are even cleverer than your brothers!—this is the secret of your influence with Count Enguerrand—because—why—Madame!"
"And that is why I shall succeed," answered Denise with her head high. "Because I am—Madame."
"Trick her as you have me," said Montauban. "And I have no fears. Now what are you to have come to this?" he added curiously.
"That is no matter." answered Denise defiantly, something proudly. "You pay for my services, Sieur, not my history."
"Is it to be bought?" he asked.
"Maybe, but the price is high—and—I choose the buyer, Sieur."
Montauban took some money from his pocket, counting it over on his hand in the red glow of the fire.
"Here's for your journey," he said, giving it her, smiling. "I do not doubt of your success."
"Nor I of my reward," answered Denise. "A fortune, Sieur."
"Made you one with Count Enguerrand?" asked Montauban smiling more still.
Denise tossed her head.
"I wasn't his page," she said insolently. "Give you good even, Sieur—I am on to Guildo."
"Give you Godspeed, page," answered Montauban gravely. "For your own sake as well as mine, you'll try and succeed, page."
Kristopher Fassiferne, commander of the English and the Prince's forces in Dol, bore his part in the war with a quietness that revealed to none how large a part he bore in the Prince's success and how unhappy a heart lay behind the sweetness of his manner.
The news of Gilles of Brittany's accident inflicted a deep pain that would not heal and a torturing self-reproach he could not reason away. He had brought him back—for this. He—his friend.
It seemed as if all he had touched had crumbled to dust—his sacrifice had proved useless. Gilles was involved in a war that he could not reap the benefit of if he succeeded, and must bear the full penalty of if he failed. Françoise was tied to a cripple whom she could not love and might now hate, and his own wife drooped silent and miserable.
"A fine coil I've made of it all!" he thought bitterly. "There'll be no one owing me thanks for what I've done!"
Yet he had done the right, the only thing possible and Françoise had risen to his level.
That one thing comforted Kristopher; she at least had proved herself worthy and he was deeply glad of it. He meant never to see her again and for that reason he refused to go to Guildo even when Gilles lay mortally ill—he could not face her over her maimed husband.
And it added to Kristopher's dissatisfaction with himself that he saw Yvonne-Marie was wretched.
All he could do he did, but he could not content her.
"Only on love could we have been reconciled," she thought miserably, "and on his side there is no love." Yet he gave her as complete a trust as if she had never proved herself unworthy, he made no allusion to the past, and never questioned her as to her life those five years.
And this very gentleness chafed Yvonne-Marie almost more than reproaches—his toleration was a harder thing to her than his anger—and at the back of her thoughts was always a vague feeling she could not define herself.
It was jealousy of Françoise—a dim realisation of the truth that had come to her on Gilles of Brittany's wedding night when she had entered the chapel in Bàrrès.
This spring morning she stood on the balcony of their house in Dol and shivered in the pale sunlight, and looked over the houses toward Guildo, then down at the creeper about her feet, faintly green with the first leaves, and as she gazed she saw two strolling players come into the courtyard beneath, the sun strong on their satin hoods—the man playing, the woman dancing. Yvonne-Marie drew back from the balcony and entered the room with a flush on her face, a flush often called to her cheeks at a thousand little sights and words, meaning nothing before, but much now to her sensitiveness, in the memories they recalled.
In the low-arched chamber sat Kristopher writing, and she went straight to him and stood the other side of the table, her breath coming and going in great leaps with a long resolution finding vent at last.
"My lord," she said—"My lord—"
He looked up at her and she winced from the steadiness of his blue eyes, but the mad desire to know what was behind them drove her on.
"I've come to speak to you—I cannot bear it any longer—"
Kristopher put his pen down in silence almost as if he had expected this, and Yvonne-Marie went on quickly. She had long meant to do this and her courage had risen to her need, suddenly.
"I cannot live like this, my lord—on your tolerance—with the memory of what I did between us—"
"Sure, I have forgotten," said Kristopher wearily. "Why grieve for it—or—speak of it?"
"I have not forgotten," answered Yvonne-Marie passionately, "nor have you—it's eating into my very soul—"
"Then forgiven—either way dead and atoned for, my wife," he replied gently.
"I have made no atonement," cried Yvonne-Marie. "Are you not banished, disgraced, outcast for me? Do I not know and see it every day, and can I think it dead? Let me tell, tell the truth—"
Kristopher moved as if in pain.
"That I should not forgive," he said. "It's five years ago—who cares now for my dishonour? And it's—it's—not hard to bear—it's a fresh life I'm living—that's all over—don't you see—Yvonne?"
"At least," she whispered, "it might—make you think—the better of me."
"Dear heart," said Kristopher tenderly, "there is no need for that, sure." He could not bear to see she had turned away to hide her tears, and he rose impulsively, but she faced him again with her hands clasped tight over her gray dress.
"I must do something," she said wildly. "Something! I am wretched beyond bearing! Why did you never ask me what I did those five years? Why did you forgive me without question? Without a word?"
"I trusted you," he answered simply. "There was ever that about you—I never doubted you would remember you were my wife—an'—why questions? Would you be here now an' I thought you needed them?"
"Would I were dead before I was here!" cried Yvonne-Marie looking at him with eyes shining through tears. "Do you remember at the convent gate—"
"Don't," cried Kristopher sharply. "That's over."
"Not over," she answered. "We're acting it now—you said You have done that that's severed us two forever,' said it and meant it—and it was true—Mon Dieu! true! true!"
"Yvonne, Yvonne," he cried desperately. "There is no one in all the world I'd put before you, say what you wish an' I'll do it—can you ask more?"
"No," she answered with her head away, "not so much—and yet—yet—"
An officer entering with a message broke the pause, and she at least was glad of it, and crept out on to the balcony again, resting her head on the sun-warmed stone, her weary eyes toward Guildo.
Presently he came out to her, with his sword and cloak on.
"I'm going to the walls, dear heart, they say Montauban comes nearer—"
She made no answer and he came closer.
"Kiss me, Yvonne," he said, with a sudden bright flush, "I may be gone all day."
The blood rushed into her white face and she drew farther away, crushing into the bare creeper.
"Oh, no!" she whispered, and Kristopher winced at her tone and her averted face.
"At least it's good-bye you'll be sayin'," he held out his hand wistfully. "If you knew how I'd be gladdened if you'd forgive—"
"Forgive!" murmured Yvonne, and she suffered him to take her hand and kiss it, and let him turn away leaving her, after hesitating a moment for her answer.
A second later and he was back, suddenly flushed anew with pleasure at a thought that had come to him, he might be gone all day or longer, he would leave her in his place—as his lieutenant, in full trust. He said so, giving her the keys. There could be no greater mark of confidence, but the very eagerness he showed in his desire to show he trusted her made it valueless in her eyes.
She thanked him, not looking round, and again he lingered a moment, but she said nothing more, standing quite motionless in the sunshine, till he had gone, then she leaned over the balustrade, eagerly, to see him ride out.
The strolling disrevellers were still there, sitting in a corner with a group of soldiers, eating their dinner, bright patches of colour among the russet uniforms, like butterflies among withered leaves, and as Kristopher rode through, the man leaned low over his guitar and the woman drew her hood down, but Yvonne-Marie did not notice them, her eyes were following the little band of horsemen.
"My lord, my lord Kristopher," she whispered. "Mon Dieu! how I love you!"
When she could no longer see him, she still leaned over the stone, wondering miserably what she might do now.
Restlessly she began pacing up and down, going over every word and gesture of his—"What did it cost him to ask me to kiss him?" she asked herself bitterly.
Then as she turned, she stopped, staring for she saw the singer in her orange hood standing in the open window looking at her.
"Denise!" she gasped, in utter dismay.
"Yes," answered her sister, coming out on to the balcony. "All the morning have I been waiting for your fine lord to go—I came up now under pretence of telling your fortune—I have to speak with you—"
"You'll go," said Yvonne, trembling with surprise and shame. "I'll not speak to you."
"Am I not rather the one to be angered?" she said. "Think how you left us—with Sir Valerie, how you tricked Eneth that night—but for all that I've come to do you a service."
Yvonne-Marie was white with anger, she hated her sister now more than she had ever done, she stamped in her rage.
"Leave this place at once," she cried. "Or I'll have you sent—what are you here for? to spy or steal? my lord left me in command—"
"Hath he gone to Guildo?" interrupted Denise with a simper as she seated herself calmly on the balcony.
"Denise," said her sister, the more angry she could not help a pang at the name. "I'll have you exposed for what you are if you won't go."
Denise broke in again, smiling insolently. "And what am I, Madame Virtue—your sister! Oh, you're a fool," she added, "in a fool's paradise too, my Yvonne, if you think this husband of yours you won't have spied upon cares one jot for you!"
"Mon Dieu!" cried Yvonne, hoarse with passion. "Have you come to insult me—you—you shameless! Get you gone—"
"You little fool!" said Denise, with a look of contempt. "I've come to help you—listen to me—"
"I'll not," cried Yvonne, "'tis treachery to him!"
"Oh!" mocked Denise, "how devoted you have become, my sister! Treachery, forsooth—don't you know he is mad with love for Françoise de Dinan and she for him—don't you know you're too indifferent to him for her to be jealous even."
At the sudden shock of her faint fears confirmed thus in her sister's brutal words, all speech was struck out of Yvonne-Marie, she stood as if frozen, staring, and Denise seeing she believed, laughed, leaning along the stone.
"What think you she married Gilles for if not to please him? for he is a pure Sir Galahad! Nevertheless, he loves her perhaps the more that their love went not beyond sighs and glances, even those atoned for in burdening himself with you—"
Yvonne-Marie writhed, helpless, too weak to say she did not believe, too agonised to conceal her misery, and Denise surveyed her with a scorn in which there was no touch of pity. "He loves her because she is worthy of what he thinks her—and you are not."
"Stop!" shrieked her sister. "I don't believe what you say—I'll not listen—how do you know?"
"I was Montauban's page," laughed Denise, "and saw it all—you see it, too, you believe it too, ma chérie! but we are wasting time, Yvonne-Marie."
She looked at her sister with disdainful gray eyes, and her full red lips curled as Yvonne beat her hands against herself with the desperate action of a caged bird.
It had been hanging over Yvonne-Marie she might one day meet Denise or her brothers—but to meet like this, unprepared, to hear this, know it true and not have the courage to scorn it, to feel herself feeble before the other's laughter—with a great effort she tried to collect herself, trembling pitifully, not daring to look at Denise.
"What did you come for? Whatever it was go now—for pity's sake—don't say any more—I—I can't bear it."
"You miserable, weak thing!" said Denise. "This is what I came to say—what if Françoise de Dinan was disgraced before all Brittany—brought as low as you? in his eyes, mind—"
Yvonne-Marie dropped her hands from her face and a faint colour came to her cheeks.
"What do you mean?" she said slowly.
"Why, that he'd despise her then, loathe her, and there'd be some chance for you—supposing he found her hollow and false as he found you—?"
"Oh!" cried Yvonne-Marie. "Oh!"
And she looked round half-frightened, as Denise drew nearer still.
"But she is noble—" she faltered. "She—would never—and—Oh—I could not have her trapped as I was trapped!"
"We'll see, ma mignonne," answered her sister.
"She's not so noble—she'd have thrown everything aside for him—she shall now—with your help I'll make her betray Guildo—and put her husband in Montauban's hands—before all Brittany."
"Betray Guildo?" gasped Yvonne—"she—she'd—do it?"
Denise nodded impatiently, feeling the time short.
"Yes, I want your help—it serves my ends, you see, and yours. She must think he asks her—I want something to deceive her with—some token—his name or some paper—come—you said you had the keys—"
Her sister stared and Denise slipped impatiently from the wall and shook her by the shoulder.
"Don't be a fool!" she exclaimed angrily, stamping her foot. "You have the keys."
"You want them?" interrupted Yvonne-Marie, who had lapsed into a calm the other took for submission.
"Yes—you must know how to use them, where his papers are kept—Eneth needs some copy for this letter he must write—"
"What will it say—this letter?" interrupted Kristopher's wife, and her sister answered with growing impatience.
"It will ask her to betray Guildo, and thinking it comes from him she'll do it—now—the keys!"
"You think so?" said Yvonne-Marie slowly, still with no attempt to comply with her sister's demands.
"Never fear but she will disgrace herself," answered Denise, "all her inclinations lie that way, and I think to find an ally in Count Enguerrand."
"You'll find none in me," said Yvonne-Marie under her breath, "for a moment, I—I was tempted—but not now—I've not come back to him to deceive him a second time."
"You won't!" cried Denise, utterly astonished. "Why—don't you believe he loves her?"
"The more I have to thank heaven and his chivalry that he came back to me, loving her," answered Yvonne-Marie with flashing eyes. "I am weak and vile—you speak the truth—he does not love me—I am not worthy of it—yet not so unworthy as to lift a finger either against him or Françoise de Dinan."
Denise was silent in sheer vexation, she could find nothing to meet this unexpected turn of affairs, it had never remotely occurred to her Yvonne-Marie would refuse to play the traitor.
Her sister, speaking faintly, broke the pause. "Will you go now, 'Denise? Don't say anything more of this to me—nothing can move me!"
"You'll not help me?"
Yvonne-Marie lifted her great gray eyes—"No," she answered, "not in any way—"
"Not help me to bring him back to you!" cried Denise, she could not understand this sudden strength on her weak sister's part, it bewildered even more than it angered her.
Yvonne-Marie turned her quivering face away.
"No," she said through her set teeth.
"You fool!" exclaimed Denise in a fury. "But we shall succeed without you—I suppose your virtue won't make you tell him," she added with a sneer.
Yvonne-Marie stood immovable—she dared not show her weakness or reveal the wild tumult of her heart. She was afraid of Denise and held herself in lest she should betray how greatly she was moved.
"I don't understand what you said," she answered as firmly as she could. "If the Prince's wife is vile enough to betray him—I—I shall not be called on to clear her—that—it—I—"
"Ah! you won't tell—" cried Denise triumphantly. "No, I'm not afraid of that—you'd like to reap the benefit without the trouble—for you understand well enough what I mean."
It was the truth—Yvonne-Marie both understood and ardently wished Denise success, the thought of Françoise lowering herself in Kristopher's eyes was a brighter pleasure than she had known for a long while, but she stifled her feelings back and turned away with a firmness Denise admitted to herself, sullenly, was hopeless to shake.
She had no time to waste in more words, they were on their way to Guildo and could risk no delay, so in silence she swung on her heel and flung back the way she came, through the window and the chamber.
Not wholly in vain had she come; in passing through the castle she had picked up a little dagger that she had seen Kristopher wear in Rennes.
The sweet spring days, that were so fair for all the war and terror they looked upon in Brittany, wore away till five had gone since Denise came to Dol on her way to Guildo, and Yvonne-Marie, though outwardly going quietly about her life, was waiting with an intense eagerness for some news of her sister's success or failure.
But this evening it was quiet within and without the castle of the commandant, and within the embrasure of the open window Yvonne-Marie played chess with Kristopher.
Against the high-carved chimney piece leaned Enguerrand de la Rose. He had that day ridden from Guildo seemingly to bring reinforcements into Dol and order provisions for Guildo, in reality to observe Kristopher and his wife. They were part of a pattern he was skilfully fitting together, a pattern that when completed, should make him master of Françoise de Dinan's dowry—and, incidentally, herself.
He was fond of watching people; it amused him to watch these two whose secret he knew, it amused him still more to torture them with little remarks they could feel and not resent, and as he knew they both disliked him and that he was only there on tolerance, his amusement grew a pleasure.
Gregan Griffiths had requested Kristopher to come to Guildo to see the sick Prince, his ally and his friend. Enguerrand was charged with the message, and in his malicious hands it became another weapon wherewith to wound Gilles' friend. There had been a long silence in the chamber that La Rose Rouge now broke. He had been watching them closely, and Yvonne-Marie's strained silence and pale face and Kristopher's sad eyes had put him in high good humour.
"So I'll tell Sir Gregan you won't come to Guildo," he said. "Though it's a pity—the Prince is lonely."
A slight movement on Kristopher's part told how voice and tone had jarred, he answered slowly, with a visible effort.
"Say I shall be serving the Prince better here—sure, what am I wanted for in Guildo?"
Enguerrand shrugged his shoulders.
"It seemed you might have wished to see the Prince—your friend."
"They say it's no one he knows yet, Count, so the seein' me would be little service."
La Rose Rouge laughed.
"Morbleu! he hath little chance of knowing any," he said, "since none but servants come to him!"
Kristopher dropped his rook and stooped with a flushed face to recover it, and Yvonne-Marie who had watched the chess-board till now, looked up with bright eyes.
"What of the Prince's wife, Sieur?" she asked.
"My Lady Françoise is in love," said La Rose Rouge. "By her white face—her tears—her hate of her husband, her distracted voice—I know it now—with whom? It is amusing to guess—"
Kristopher sprang up suddenly, scattering the chess-men into his wife's lap.
"She you speak of is our Prince's wife," he said hoarsely with his noble face angry and his eyes brilliant. "I'll hear no slander of her, Count Enguerrand."
Enguerrand swiftly turned, too, like a man who sees his enemy suddenly face him.
"I voice what every serving man may know," he answered insolently, "I it is who make the Prince's rebellion a success—at least I'll keep my tongue free. I say she makes no show of caring for Prince Gilles."
"Why does it anger you?" cried Yvonne-Marie coming forward. "What is she to us, my lord?"
"I neither know it nor believe it," answered Kristopher, turning to her, and she blenched before his look. "Dear Lord! what are we to judge—any of us here."
They were silent before him, both of them. If Enguerrand meditated an answer he thought better of it and contented himself with a sneer and a shrug of his shoulders.
"If she were what you say five times over," continued Kristopher, mastering his first anger, flushing in his eagerness, "It's we have no right to speak of it—if I believed it, it's I would not hear you, Count."
La Rose Rouge laughed. Yvonne-Marie grew suddenly frightened lest this should go too far.
"Will you play no more?" she said.
"I' faith, no more," he answered stormily. "I'm in no mood for it, sure."
"All because of a chance word against the Princess!" flashed Yvonne-Marie. "Oh, sorry am I I spoke against your paragon—who is very human after all, I doubt not!"
"Yvonne-Marie," said Kristopher, turning away. "It's charity best becometh a woman. When you speak so—so ungenerous, sure, you hurt me."
She had hurt him now she could see even by what the darkening room showed her of his face, but she stood silent and watched him go, and when the door had closed on him, she began picking up the chess-men, slowly. There was a moment's silence, broken only by the voices without, then Enguerrand turned yawning.
"Madame the commander's wife," he said. "Good even to you, I must get to Guildo to-night."
Yvonne-Marie made no answer, great dislike and some fear of Enguerrand was struggling with a wild rage against herself.
She leaned over the chess-men, choking, and Enguerrand came up and handed her a fallen pawn.
"Your lord hath a quick temper," he whispered. "What will he say when he findeth Françoise of Brittany betrayeth Guildo?"
The chess-men rattled to the ground again. Yvonne-Marie stood mute, staring, her eyes wide to catch his face in the uncertain light.
"We've met before," continued Enguerrand. "You remember?—in Rennes, when I thought you were your sister—Denise, who is in Guildo now—belike, Madame, you wish her success? She told you, I think, of her errand there."
"If she told you this much of me," answered
Yvonne-Marie scarlet with anger and shame, "she must have told you I refused to lift a finger to aid—your—infamy!"
"But you haven't told your husband for all this—and you won't," said La Rose Rouge. "Denise has given her the letter—and when it works with her—an' she's disgraced herself—well! you won't tell that letter was false, I think!"
Yvonne-Marie looked at 'him as he stood in the firelight resplendent as a jewel from head to foot; flaunting and handsome and strong.
"Oh, how vile you are!" she cried with an instinctive loathing. "I pray Heaven the Prince's wife may be delivered from your toils!"
"I cannot say amen to that prayer, my fierce saint," he answered. "But what is that to you—I say, will you tell?—but no—you won't."
"Oh, mon Dieu, I do not know. I do not know! I can only pray she may not be tempted." Enguerrand watched her white distress.
"She will do it," he said—"against herself. I will make her."
Yvonne-Marie looked at him, startled.
"You!" she cried again. "Why should you want this thing to happen?"
"That's too long a tale for now," he answered. "Enough I'll do it—and you should be grateful."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "you're afraid of me—you're sorry Denise told me—"
"Maybe I am, but I am not afraid of you. I have seen you and the Englishman. You will not tell, Madame."
He took up his cloak and sword from the chair and glanced at her covertly.
But she made no sign of assent or refusal, she did not know herself What she should do, she hated Enguerrand and despised herself; but he watching her figure standing motionless in the circle of the window was satisfied.
"We're safe from her," he said to himself and the little anxiety he had felt on account of Kristopher's wife was allayed.
He rode back to Guildo that night under a delicate new moon and through a wealth of spring flowers, his thoughts busy with Françoise de Dinan. Denise had been in Guildo three days, for that time Françoise had had the letter; as yet she had given no answer, every time she was approached she asked for longer to consider and Enguerrand and Denise had to bear their impatience with outward quiet. Neither had any doubt that she would eventually fall, and Enguerrand had a second card to play should she long prove obdurate.
It was night by the time he reached Guildo and few were abroad, but as he went down the long corridor to his quarters he noticed that a light burned in the little chapel at the end.
"Who is there?" he asked the servant who attended him, and as the man did not know he bade him wait for him at the foot of the stairs and taking the lantern went softly to the chapel door.
The light that burned within was very faint, being thrown only by the candle that burned in front of the altar, and Enguerrand, looking through the half-open door, could at first distinguish nothing; then, with a sudden start he saw Françoise seated on the altar steps with her hands clasped round her knees.
She wore a dark dress and her heavy black hair hid half the face that was turned to something lying on the step above her.
On her lap lay the little dagger Denise had picked up in Kristopher's house and that they had given her as a token the letter was true.
She sat perfectly motionless, and as his eyes became used to the light Enguerrand saw it was the letter she was studying so fixedly—and steadily, and fearful lest he should be seen, he drew back again and returned softly.
So she could not sleep or rest for agitation—she was troubled enough to sit at night in that chapel studying their bait!
The next morning Enguerrand was abroad early in the woods outside Guildo. Denise had asked him to meet her there—Françoise, she said, had promised her answer this morning and she would bring it to him there at once.
He was a strong ally to Montauban's spy, through him her admission had been made possible, through him it was possible for her and Eneth to live there under the very eyes of the angry English, with but a thin pretence to veil their occupation, and if Denise sometimes wondered at his protection she accepted it gratefully.
It was a perfect morning, there were no signs in these beautiful woods of the bloodshed that stained Brittany; sunshine was everywhere, on the back of the gulls that came and went slowly, on the hawthorn meadows and the massive ramparts of the château, and on the flag of Gilles of Brittany that hung idle above. Underfoot were primroses, violets, lilies and fern, and through the young leafage glittered a turquoise sea. The spring tide was at its full. Enguerrand had not long to wait before Denise came running through the trees toward him, a paper in her hand.
He looked up expectantly and noticed her face was flushed and her eyes bright.
"Well?" he asked. "Well?"
Denise flung closer through the daffodils, her blue and green doublet heaving over her heart.
"She hath given it back," she cried furiously. "She bade me carry it to Montauban—who was the sender, she said! She vowed it was a lie!"
"Maledictè!" exclaimed Enguerrand, genuinely startled and angered. "Did she not believe it came from the Englishman?"
"Morbleu! I know not!" answered Denise angrily. "I only know my pains are for naught, and that she'll have none of it."
"She knows him too well," said Enguerrand frowning. "She knows his stiff pride and narrow creed would never permit him to do this—"
"In plain words she bath more wit than we," flashed Denise. "She's seen through the lot of us!"
"I don't think so," he answered with a deeper frown. "I think it was a hair's weight in the balance that made her decide—I was pretty sure of her!"
"And I!" cried Denise. "I was certain of success—Maledictè! must I go back to Montauban to prate of failure. No, ma foi—she shall betray Guildo!"
"Yes," said Enguerrand, with a musing face, "she shall."
Montauban's spy, pulling angrily at the daffodils, suddenly stopped and looked up at him with something of disdain and wonder.
"Why do you want her to do this thing?" she demanded. "Why didn't you do it yourself, La Rose Rouge?"
"What are your reasons, ma mignonne?" smiled Enguerrand. He was seated on an old log at the foot of the flowering almond, being simply dressed he looked younger, the colour in his face was natural, and the perfect handsomeness of his appearance was not marred by the usual affectations of his dress and manner, and Denise, looking at him in silence a moment before she answered, was filled with a mingled rage and admiration.
"My reasons!" she cried somewhat bitterly. "Oh—the same I served you for—Montauban pays me well."
"You served me because you loved me," said Enguerrand, looking up and smiling.
"You insolent!" she answered with a sneer. "Think you you were more to me than the many I have served?"
"Did you risk your life to save the many from a chance of danger?"
"'Twas for my own ends," said Denise, but she coloured under her paint and he noticed it and laughed.
"Ma foi, I believe you love me still, ma belle!" he said, leaning back against the almond, the sunshine flecked over his green dress.
"I'll see you hanged for a ducat, La Rose Rouge," she answered with rising anger. "I came not to Guildo to see you again—but because my mission took me here."
"Yet would you make our quarrel up, Denise," said Enguerrand calmly. "I warrant you came for that too."
"Our quarrel! our parting rather—we are too wise to quarrel as we are too wise to love—and too much alike to work together, La Rose Rouge," she laughed turning her sharp, still pretty face toward him with an impudent curl of her lip and a defiant toss of her head. "Ma foi—I think I had forgotten you until we met here in Guildo."
"Maybe," answered Enguerrand lazily. "You're a clever rogue, ma petite—whom I've ever had a liking for—and I know I've only to lift my finger to bring you to my feet."
"You think so?" said Denise scornfully, but she avoided the gaze of his red eyes, she was in the presence of the one person she was not at her ease with, the one she was slightly afraid of—the only being she had ever cared for.
"I know it," replied La Rose Rouge. "I've never met a pride yet I couldn't melt—you wouldn't think Françoise de Dinan had been on her knees to me; she never knelt to her God, I think, but she knelt to me—"
"She did!" cried Denise, "Françoise de Dinan."
"She shall come to kiss the latchet of my shoe," said Enguerrand, with his beautiful eyes sparkling. "Morbleu! she is pretty in her pride, she may keep it to all the world save me, but she, the proudest princess in Brittany, will grow to no more dare raise her eyes in my presence than you would, did I bid you."
Denise's sense of fear increased, she felt vaguely sorry she had ever come to Guildo, she looked at the young hunter in the green, with the calm handsome face, and the hint of savagery in his mouth, and felt in her sore heart he spoke the truth. Enguerrand suddenly broke into a pleasant laugh and held out to her his shapely hand.
"We are comrades in trade, at least," he said. "It's the object of both of us to make Françoise de Dinan betray Guildo—take my hand on it, ma mignonne."
"Morbleu! I do not understand you!" said Denise dropping his hand quickly. "I can see that you were willing to betray Guildo for your advantage—can see you found it more to your advantage to refuse—but why you would drive her into doing what you could do better yourself—!"
"Since it helps you, Denise," he answered indolently. "Why complain?"
"I don't," she said abruptly. "I only wonder."
"Because it suits me."
He leaned forward through the flowering grasses and stroked the white dog lying in the sunlight.
"It suits me, ma mignonne, that she shall disgrace herself before all Brittany—that Gilles shall die, that a certain Englishman in Dol shall see his idol fall—that—"
"Mon Dieu!" cried Denise startled. "You love her!"
"Ah, you are jealous," said Enguerrand glancing at her, raising his red brows. "For all you did not remember me."
"I was a fool not to see it," said Denise, very pale, her glance for all its scorn, fixed in the spring glory at her feet. "But she stands too high for you—there's too much between—"
"Take you so much comfort from the thought, ma belle!" he smiled. "There's nothing between I'll not remove—"
"Then you do love her," cried Denise again, unable to keep the tears from her eyes and the bitterness from her tone.
Enguerrand shrugged his shoulders.
"She'll be my wife," he said.
"Even your devil's tricks can't accomplish that," she answered with flashing eyes. "There's Gilles of Brittany, Guy de Montauban, her lover and her pride between!"
"Oh!" said La Rose Rouge with a look in his eyes that sent her cold. "I have them all in the hollow of my hand."
"She hates you," said Denise.
He rose suddenly, scattering the trailing blossoms, with a change in his indolent face, like a man thinking suddenly come to a decision.
"Give me that letter she returned you," he said holding out his hand, but Denise put it behind her back facing him with bright eyes and an erect head.
"She hates you," she repeated.
"I think not," he answered. "If she does she will not when she is a by-word for falsehood."
"I see," interrupted Denise angrily, "you would disgrace her to your level—she shall betray, murder her husband—Oh! I see—La Rose Rouge, but remember, the man she loves is Kristopher Fassiferne."
Enguerrand flushed and the latent fiend in his eyes sprang to life.
"Take care how you use that name," he said. "Give me that letter."
"No," answered Denise, drawing further away. "I'll not help you."
La Rose Rouge showed his white teeth in a smile, still holding out his hand.
"What good will it do?" she said again. "She won't believe—she loves him too well."
Then she suddenly cowered from the look on his face and half sank against the young chestnuts.
"You do love her!" she cried for the third time.
"Should it pain you so?" he asked, as angry now as she was, as savage as a roused wolf. "Give me the letter."
"Never," said Denise setting her teeth, her blood up.
"Never?" he echoed, coming close to her, and the next instant he had grasped her hand in his and dragged the paper from her, though she struggled furiously.
"For your ends—why not mine?" he said, quiet and sneering again. "Two of a trade—we should work together, and not quarrel, mignonne."
"Madame, the Prince hath sent for you." Françoise stood at an open window looking over the sea when this message came to her.
Of late she had seen her husband several times, as he grew nearer health she could no longer avoid it and after what Enguerrand had said of how they thought of her, her pride as well as her remorse made her treat him with tenderness. She sighed a little now and shut the window on the freedom without, but she felt nearer resignation than she had done for many months.
The three days she had struggled with herself over that letter had been an intolerable agony for she half believed it came from Kristopher, but with returning it to Denise she had given herself a strange content, for the first time in her life she felt mistress of herself, strong enough to resist temptation.
For the first time in her life, too, she, ever too proud for confidences, had eased 'her wretched heart in sincere prayer, spending all night on the floor of her room before the little ivory Madonna, vowing to the heaven she had never believed in that all the remainder of her life should be devoted to Gilles, and sobbing out her repentance till quiet stole over her, and all passion was frozen in her heart.
As she passed through the chateau on her way to the Prince, she met Enguerrand de la Rose and stopped with a quiet dignity. She had seen little of him since he had given her his word not to betray them, a promise he had kept. His demeanour had been respectful and quiet, he had not sought her out, and she was grateful.
"A fair morning, Sieur," she said smiling. She was in green, carrying a basket filled with jasmine and violets; among the delicate lace on her breast was a cluster of snowdrops.
"Spring itself, Princess," he answered; he had a letter in his hand that told him Montauban's men were an hour's march off, he put it in his white doublet as he spoke, his strange red eyes intent upon her face with a great triumph. A slight fear smote her as she passed on she reasoned it away—"I am not in his power—he burned those letters, there is only his word—and he means me well."
In the Prince's antechamber she bade the page following her wait, and, raising the silken tapestry, entered Gilles' room. The doctor sitting with him rose and left them alone, and Françoise laid her flowers on the table then came to the Prince's couch and kissed his hand.
He was lying under the open window, dressed in scarlet, his pallid face raised on cushions, one arm strapped to his breast, a rich coverlet over his bandaged foot, his face drawn, more with utter weariness than pain.
"Thank thee for coming, Françoise," he said, his still bright eyes fell on his beautiful wife. "So sweet a day I feared you might be abroad."
"'Tis fair within Guildo as without, Gilles," she answered smiling, but she glanced out at the sea and he was quick to see the longing in her eyes.
"Guildo has grown a prison to you, Françoise."
"Nay," she cried eagerly, leaving the flowers she was arranging to come and kneel beside him. "All my sorrow is for you, Gilles, the loneliness for you! Mon Dieu! what have I not brought you to! war and misery have been my dowry, my husband—I was not worth it."
Gilles made no answer, his hand stole to the breast of his doublet as if feeling for something. She drew nearer, stroking his forehead caressingly, the snowdrops at her breast pressed his doublet, her voice was soft as a child's, her mouth as tender.
"Gilles," she said, "you're sad to-day, and it's I—I who have made you so—you flung everything in the world aside for me!"
He looked down into the upturned face, her pale beauty was like the drooping flowers rising and falling with her breathing, her presence filled the room like a perfume, like the sunshine.
"Nothing matters to me if you love me, Françoise," he said slowly.
"Gilles," she pleaded. "Gilles, have I not said it—what makes you doubt me?"
Again his free hand sought his breast and the action filled her with a strange terror, she knew not why. She rose, laughing nervously and began putting the flowers about the room.
"Why should I doubt you?" said Gilles, following her with his eyes. "As you say, why? You waited for me long and faithfully, Françoise."
For the third time his hand went up to his doublet and again her eyes followed fearfully—how changed he was—his very voice different, in an agony she wondered if he would ever be the old gay Gilles again. She could not look at him, but leaned over the violets, trembling.
"Montauban has twice the power, twice the wealth," went on Gilles. "You left him for me—why should I doubt you?"
The sunny air blew in strong and sweet, stirring the scent of the jasmine she held, lifting the black curls from her face, and showing a strange terror in her eyes.
"What makes you speak so strangely?" she said wistfully. "Why did you send for me, Gilles?"
"Besides, have I not had your word?" he continued, unheeding of her question. "Your vows, your kisses? It must be that you love me, Françoise?
"Am I not your wife?" she cried. "Gilles—your wife."
His hand rose to his breast and stayed there. There was a long silence that she found fearful.
"I'm maimed for life," He said at last, and Françoise winced and shuddered over her flowers as if he had called her murderess.
"O no!" she cried desperately, the primroses falling from her cold fingers. "That is not true!"
The cold horror of dreams seemed closing about her—she did not know this man she had maimed—he was not her husband but a ghost.
Gilles smiled bitterly.
"I shall never stand again," he said. "Never be anything—but—what I am."
His head dropped back as if he were exhausted, she could not guess his thoughts from his dull voice.
"Lift me up a little, my wife." Tenderly she raised him on the cushions.
"You cannot be sure of it," she said trembling. "But if it be true—I care not, Gilles."
She noticed with a dread she could not reason away he had his hand on his breast and kept it there. She laid her arms around him, beseechingly, she put her cheek next his, kissed his poor thin hands and sobbed. "I'll never leave you, Gilles, never." And she was sincere, for the moment she meant it. But he shuddered under her touch and turned his head away on the cushion, moistening his lips painfully.
"Do you love me so much?"
"Have I not said so?" she pleaded, her dark hair touching him, her face very close. "I love you, Gilles." She drew his hand down and kissed it, her soft eyes full of tears.
"Say that again," he said under his breath, and she noticed the veins were swelling round his forehead.
"I love you, Gilles," she whispered, shuddering at her lie.
With a sudden cry he flung her arms off and struggled half up on the couch, his face livid, and in a second she saw he knew and she screamed in a mad fear.
"Oh, you devil!" he gasped with straining eyes, "You—devil!"
She gazed back at him and crouched on the floor among the fallen flowers, speechless with terror.
"Did you think I did not know you—murderess?" whispered Gilles, drawn with passion, shaking in his fury, and at the sight of his cruel face she screamed aloud again, huddling on the floor beside his couch—she had nothing to say—nothing.
"Did you think I was fooled by you!" shrieked Gilles looking down at her, white and terrible. "Did you think I didn't know you tried to murder, me—even before I saw this."
He was transformed, his face fiend-like...he was thrusting something under her eyes, Kristopher's letter—he was printing his hot fingers in her flesh. "You're going to betray me," he panted, struggling between his weakness and his passion. "But you'd kiss—me—first."
"It's a lie," moaned Françoise. "He never wrote it."
But Gilles had drawn himself up as far as he was able and she shivered away in mortal fear from his distorted face.
"To strangle you now," he panted, his mad eyes on her. "To maul you till he turned from you—"
"Oh, heaven, hear me!" cried Françoise crouching along the floor. "I am innocent."
"When have I hated you the most?" continued Gilles, speaking in gasps.
"When you left me alone to be a mock—or when you—came and kissed me Françoise—with his love letters in your breast?"
"You do him bitter wrong," she cried. "I alone am what you think—and even I not wholly—" she staggered to her feet, her hands to her head desperately. "How did you get that letter?" she moaned. "I gave it back! It's a lie!"
"The punishment I have for you," gasped Gilles, struggling with his breath. "I'll see you worse than—die—I've been quiet so long—only till I was strong enough—to speak—all the world shall know of this—know what you are—what he is—my faithful friend."
He dropped back exhausted, choking, beating the pillows—he was terrible to look at.
"That letter's a lie," whispered Françoise, wildly. "Whoever gave it you—"
"It's the truth," he gasped. "The Count gave it—had it from your messenger—your go-between—you devil!"
The Count!—a fresh flood of thoughts rushed through Françoise's bewildered brain, she stood staring at Gilles' ghastly face, hardly seeing him, hardly hearing what he was choking out at her.
At first she had been too stunned by the sudden horror of it to even think—but now...
What if the letter was from Kristopher?
"Look what you've made of me!" cried Gilles. "Look what I am—less than a man—why didn't you kill me—ah—Mon Dieu! How I loved him—but I was a boy—a fool—was I to stand in the way of his man's love! And you—have laughed at me—you two—when he took your kisses—" He stopped, choking, his thin frame shaken, he might have been very old, his face was so wizen, his eyes so hollow. Françoise, erect, with clasped hands, stared at him dumbly, she was as deaf to what he said as if she had fainted.
"Oh, Dieu!" he cried in an outburst of bitter agony. "That I had found you in his arms and he had killed me then!"
He fell back groaning with pain, writhing in his anguish and fury.
"Hush!" said Françoise through white lips. "Do you want everyone to know—do you want to kill yourself?"
She hardly knew what she was saying; she stooped and picked up the letter.
"Everyone shall know," whispered Gilles. "I'll cast you off as a soiled rag—I'll brand you—falsehood—itself—traitress and—murderess!"
Her passions began to kindle at his deathly rage—in a quick flash she saw what it would be—the exposure—the shame—she was recovering slowly from her terror.
"If it comes, it comes from me!" she cried. "I would have served you to the end, Gilles—of half of what you think I am innocent and he—he was never false to you even in his thoughts!"
"He wrote that letter," muttered Gilles, pointing with shaking hand to the paper clasped in hers. "Your lover wrote it—there's his name—Kristopher Fassiferne. How I loved you both!" With a bitter cry he threw his hand over his face, sobbing in sheer weakness.
"Hush!" muttered Françoise again. "He's innocent I tell you—can't you understand—I don't think he wrote this—"
She seemed to see quite clearly, to feel quite calm, but she swayed forward across the end of his couch and slipped from there to the floor and could not rise.
Suddenly Gilles turned and seeing her so close gave a little cry and leaning from his bed clutched at her and dragged her close.
"If I had a knife," he whispered to himself. "I'd kill you now."
He was dizzy with a hate that gave him strength to hold her there, bruising her, shoulders with his tight fingers.
She was white and passive, and drooped against the scarlet bed, motionless in his clutch.
"My wife!" muttered Gilles hoarsely. "You—my wife!"
Then Françoise suddenly roused struggled to her feet.
"Yes, I am!" she shrieked. "And I've lied to you—and I've tried to murder you—and I would again for I hate you and I love him—though I've not sinned as you think I have—I would have done—mark you I would have done—but for his honour—I've done all this and I'll betray you now!" With a wild effort she flung him off and dashed him aside, and fled from the room.
"My lord is ill," she said in a wild voice to an attendant without. "Look to him—he knows not what he says."
And she went back along the corridors, her face as white and cold as marble, but her breast heaving hard and her eyes hot. She looked up from her agony to see Enguerrand de la Rose standing before her with his insolent smile, gay in his embroidered clothes, linked and laced with steel.
All her rage and scorn rose to her lips, she was not afraid of him now.
"Much was I mistaken in you!" she cried. "I knew you vile, Count—but not quite so vile as this—"
A noise and shouting from without interrupted her.
"The French!" said Enguerrand, looking from the window. "He has come."
"And he shall enter!" cried Françoise, superb in her passion, her white bosom heaving under the torn flowers, her eyes a madness.
Outside was the clatter of the soldiers, and La Rose Rouge's face lit and flushed with joy, he turned in an excitement as great as her own.
"Ma foi!—'tis the only way to silence Gilles—in Montauban's case," he said smiling.
"Come near me and I will strike you," said Françoise, with blazing eyes. "Silence him—no, I'll show to all the world who is my lover—take up shame, disgrace—and happiness."
She stood erect, proud, triumphant and when Sir Gregan Griffiths and the English officers entered, with them the seneschal of the château, she saw them through a red passion and laughed aloud.
"Who stands for the Prince here?" cried Gregan Griffiths. "Three hundred armed men without demand admittance in the name of the King and the Duke—how best may we answer such insolence?"
"You will admit them," cried Françoise recklessly, facing them. "I stand for the Prince, open the gates."
For a moment they looked at her in incredulous silence, then Gregan Griffiths spoke, slowly and meaningly.
"For a certainty Montauban is with these men," he said sternly. "If he is it is death to the Prince to admit him, Madame."
"Open the gates," she said, never blenching. "I am mistress here—" she turned to the horror-struck seneschal with a great colour flaming in her face. "You hear me—admit them!"
"Madame!" thundered Gregan Griffiths, "on your life you shall not—not a soul will obey you to do this thing!"
"Are you turned disloyal to your master's wife?" she cried. "Then with my own hands will I unbar the gates."
"It shall not need, Princess," said La Rose Rouge behind her. "I have men will obey."
"Count," cried Gregan desperately. "This will be betraying Guildo!"
"It will be obeying the Prince's wife who rules here," answered Enguerrand, and he whispered some orders to a man near him.
"I need you not for an ally," said Françoise wildly. "And you, Sieur, may leave Guildo an' you fear treachery."
"Treachery!" exclaimed Gregan, goaded beyond bearing. "Aye! what else from traitors—I have only a handful of men."
"I obey the Princess's orders," interrupted Enguerrand. "All the men save your few obey me—and so the gates open, Sieur."
With a cry of rage Gregan turned away and his men followed 'him, furious, down the hall.
Enguerrand laughed, his men were opening the gates, he could hear even the rattle of the chains of the portcullis, a fear and a confusion had come over Guildo, several people fled across the hall, Françoise stood motionless, her eyes on the door.
She seemed to have forgotten La Rose Rouge, when he spoke she started
"You have a splendid courage," he said smiling. "You will be free—"
"I shall be free of your toils!" she cried with burning eyes.
"You are so sure?" answered Enguerrand, and the little imp danced up in his eyes and his smile was cruel, but Françoise was lifted above all fear of him—her eyes were ever on the door, her ears straining for the sounds without—he had come—come—he loved her enough for that! And she, she would go to him before them all—she would be free of Gilles' hate.
The hall was filling with armed men who entered with little ceremony, sweeping all aside before them, the light in her eyes brightened, she stepped forward and Enguerrand laughed, leaning against the wall.
"Where is Gilles of Brittany?" demanded the leader of the soldiers.
"Ask the Princess whose orders admitted you," said La Rose Rouge.
"The Princess!—Françoise de Dinan!" said he who had spoken before, and raising his visor he showed the face of Guy de Montauban.
"You!" whispered Françoise. She glanced round the ranks of armed men. "You!"
"False, and ever false!" said Guy with a sour smile, motioning some of his men forward. "Go now and search for Gilles of Brittany," he said to them and as they left the hall she stepped forward impulsively looking at them wildly, like a prisoner before her judges, with Enguerrand's red eyes upon her the while, calmly through all the babble and confusion.
"Where is—" the name died on her tongue, she looked round again, the truth breaking in on her slowly, and Guy watched her, knowing whom she looked for, and finding a stern pleasure in the anguish dawning in her face. The chamber was full of distant noises, the men behind Guy looked at her curiously too—there was not one who did not scorn her.
"Oh!" she said at last. "Oh!" and fell back a pace, staring.
"The English have escaped," said another officer entering. "Shall they be pursued?"
"No," said Montauban, tearing his eyes from Françoise. "Let them carry the news of this to Dol. I meant they should."
Françoise turned her eyes on Enguerrand slowly, then on Guy and so from one to the other—as if she understood—at last.
She was quite quiet, not a sound escaped her as she watched Guy order his men over the château, as she saw her servants arrested—saw the keys given to Montauban—saw the scorn of all turned toward her, but Enguerrand who stood unnoticed in the shadow, saw the great tears were rolling down her cheeks.
"You are our prisoner, Madame," said Montauban. "I hold Guildo now—you will remain here as such till—"
"Such is the King's will," said the Frenchman beside him, in a gentler tone, moved to some pity by her beauty. "Even your present loyalty cannot atone your past disobedience."
Guy spoke again harshly. "Where is the Count Enguerrand? Is he our ally or no?"
La Rose Rouge spoke from where he stood, without altering his position. "Sieur, he and his men are in the Western tower."
"And you?" asked Montauban sharply.
La Rose Rouge answered without hesitating: "One who helped your spy."
"Some men to Hardouinaye with the Prince," ordered Guy, taking no more heed of him. "You, Sir Amedée, look to the Princess—I go to find La Rose Rouge."
In the confusion Enguerrand spoke to Françoise eagerly.
"Now," he whispered—"now—come with me to Bàrrès—I can free you." His hot hands held hers tightly—she looked up at him dully and silent, but he saw his chance—Sir Amedée was speaking to Guy.
"Quick!" he cried, but she resisted.
"No," she muttered. "I will not."
"Nay, but you shall," he whispered, looking over his shoulder. "Now—"
"I loathe you," she cried suddenly, her blood up, her hate of herself adding to her hate of him.
"And I," cried Enguerrand gaily—"I love you!"
He saw it was hopeless, the soldiers were closing round them, but he put his arm round her, he took her chin in his hand and kissed her tear-stained face; she winced as if his eyes that came so close had burned her, and shuddered, but he held her tight.
"Monsieur!" she shrieked in torture, and he let her so suddenly and faced those who came up, turning and swinging his sword out—his men were running into the hall, his men and his dogs. The French fell back a second, calling for help and in that second Enguerrand turned again and tried to drag Françoise from the tapestry where she clung, but his enemies were upon him and he was forced to defend himself, somewhat desperately. The hall was filled with fighting. Taken by surprise the French were driven back, Enguerrand's men outnumbered them, too—he would escape. In all her shame and misery somehow Françoise could feel glad of it, though a moment before she would have killed him herself—gladly. He fought magnificently, cutting his way to the door. She watched him, proudly; she almost forgave his shameful usage of her in the thought that he must love her enough to gain her anyway—he did not put her last—like Kristopher—Kristopher who had not come—Kristopher whom she almost hated now.
She stood alone, unheeded, they had left the hall, she could hear them fighting in the courtyard—the shouting, the clash, then more soldiers trooped past her and it struck her she was a prisoner—Montauban's prisoner. She wished she had gone with La Rose Rouge, she wished they had sent her with Gilles—she remembered his face. "They'll kill him—they'll kill him," she whispered—she tried to call out but her voice died away, she tried to go to the window but her limbs failed her, she stood motionless staring, her passion, utterly dead now, had left her very weak.
The French were pillaging Guildo, they paid no respect to the woman who had admitted them, she was no longer a Princess, a noble lady in their eyes, in her very presence they pulled the rich arras from the walls and quarrelled over the gold and silver vessels.
One of the men held a silver bowl against the light, it slipped from his hand, rolled to her feet and struck against her foot. It was the vessel she had filled with violets that morning in Gilles' chamber, the blood rushed to her white face and she found words to speak.
"Where is your lord?" she said. "Where is the commander of the French?" All eyes were turned on her. Some looked ashamed, some laughed, none answered.
"Know you who I am?" she cried, goaded almost beyond bearing, clenching her hands till the nails entered her flesh. "The mistress at least of Guildo." She came out farther into the room to find herself, as the door opened, face to face with Montauban.
"Am I your prisoner?" she cried with a desperate effort to look him in the face. "Do you want me to be insulted?" Montauban ordered his men away, and till the last had gone, said nothing, not looking at her, but when they were alone he raised his eyes and answered.
"Yes, you are my prisoner—do you remember our last meeting?"
She made no answer.
"Day and night since," continued Montauban, very quietly, "have I been praying for a chance to see you again."
"You meant to kill me?" cried Françoise desperately. "Spare what you have to say—I have no excuse—I wronged you bitterly."
"I am no murderer," smiled Guy. "Why should I wish you dead? I would make you feel what I have felt."
She interrupted him, turning quickly. "You sent that letter?"
"Ah! and—and he—-"
"Kristopher Fassiferne knows nothing of all this," said Montauban calmly. "He is with his wife—in Dol—now should I wish you dead? 'Tis harder to live, belike, Madame."
She went to the window seat slowly and sat there silent, a long while, the tender sunshine full over her bent figure, the hawthorn smiling behind her, the blossoms and the blue.
"I have received what I have given," she said at last, with a great effort. "I have deceived and been deceived and I have been—very—vile—but I am punished, you could wish no more than this."
She paused, struggling with her breath. "Would you leave—me—now, alone?"
Guy stood silent—he was thinking that the moment he had looked forward to so long was a poor triumph after all, but Françoise looking up at his dark figure, saw no pity there, and spoke again with trembling lips.
"My husband has cursed me, with his hate, Sieur de Montauban. I am disgraced before all Brittany—am I not sunk to your pity—yet?"
"Before all Brittany," answered Guy torn between his pity and his hate. "Before Kristopher Fassiferne, Madame!"
"You'll tell—him?" she said, raising her head, and all Guy's fury rose at the horror in her face.
"It shall not need for me," he said bitterly. "Gregan Griffiths has ridden to Dol and Count Enguerrand—Tell him? what think you I did it for if not for this? The worst for—you—and for him."
"He'll understand," cried Françoise sharply.
"He'll never know," answered Guy, and he stooped and picked the crumpled letter from the floor where she had dropped it. "He will never know your treachery was for him."
"Think you I'll not tell how I was duped?" she said desperately.
"You will have no chance," said Montauban quietly. "You are a prisoner."
"The Prince—the Prince will tell."
"I have means of silencing the Prince, Madame. Gregan Griffiths doth not know—he thinks it wanton falsehood—my spy will not tell—his wife will not tell—nor, I think will the Count—"
Again Françoise was silent, twisting her fingers together, her head very low.
"You have indeed punished me," she said at last without looking up. "Almost—enough."
"You should be pleased," cried Montauban. "At least you bear all the shame—his name is untouched—for did it not suit me better this way he had been disgraced again as he was before."
"And as falsely," answered Françoise rising. "He did no deed in all his life a saint would shame to own."
"The greater fool you to think he sent that letter," said Guy, his rage rising. "Fool and shameless you, Françoise de Dinan—boasting in your disgrace—flaunting what you should hide—yes I you would have opened the gates to him under your husband's eyes—gone down to him before all Brittany."
"Yes," she said the quieter as he lost control of himself, able to face his insults better than his calm. "For I love him and it is the one true thing in all my life."
Montauban looked at her, baffled; he had torn her heart as a child the wings of a butterfly, he had taken all she valued in life from her, and her helpless quiet under it stung him with a sense of defeat, a bitterness near to tears.
"Why did you do it?" he cried. "Why did you deceive me so bitterly?"
"I don't know," she answered wearily with a restless movement of her hand. "You're avenged methinks—where is Gilles?"
"Gilles is my prisoner," said Montauban laconically.
"He could not stand," whispered Françoise. "He was carried, Madame, to Hardouinaye."
"Did he say anything—of me?"
"He was swooned when they took him hence," answered Guy sternly.
"Then was I spared his curses!" cried Françoise wildly and slipped on to her knees. "Leave me now, Montauban!"
"I too go to. Hardouinaye," said Guy. "You are a prisoner here and soon I shall come back to you."
Françoise did not hear him, her head had fallen on the window seat, her eyes were closed and hidden, she did not hear the door swung to on Montauban or the noises of the chateau coming through the open window, she was utterly regardless whether any watched her or not as she lifted her face for a second with a dismal little cry like a beaten animal.
"Kristopher will curse me—Gilles too—all will curse me—except—one—Enguerrand—Enguerrand!"
It was the morning after the fall of Guildo when Yvonne- Marie opened her window on to flowers and the unending quiet to watch the mists break before the sun.
It was May-day.
The memories of other May-days came back to Yvonne-Marie; she thought of London and the apple blossoms out along the meadows about Westminster; it was as if a sting had touched her to the heart as the keen feel of their scent came back to her.
She was alone, Kristopher had been abroad all night and when she heard the clatter of hoofs below, she looked down eagerly thinking it might be he returning. But it was a party of dishevelled torn horsemen who galloped up and Yvonne-Marie's heart stood still when she recognised La Rose Rouge in their leader.
Quickly she drew from the window with a sharp feeling that she was face to face with it at last—face to face with the moment that had been haunting her for days.
She gathered herself together a moment, then descended rapidly to the lower chamber.
"Where is the Count?" she demanded of the few English gathered there. "I saw him enter—but now."
"He is without, asking for my lord," was the anxious answer.
"Bid him come in to me," said Yvonne-Marie. "I fear some disaster."
And after they had gone she stood facing the door with bright eyes and parted lips, her head held high.
It was some moments before he entered, the confusion of his followers dismounting came to her; then careless laughter, the quick questions of the English, and the tramp of the tired horses; and while she waited Yvonne-Marie pulled the curtains back from the window and let the early sunshine in in sleepy patches of gold on the panelled walls and drew a deep breath of the fresh jasmine scented air that filled the chamber with sweetness.
Count Enguerrand's voice as he entered stirred all her control into fear, but she was silent till he had closed the door and come to the table, though her wide eyes were studying closely his embroidered clothes torn and bloodstained, his left arm in a bandage, his face white and his eyes heavy with fatigue. He sank into a chair with an air of utter weariness, but there was no mistaking the triumph in his bearing.
"Ah!" cried Yvonne-Marie, "you have succeeded!"
"She has betrayed Guildo," he answered, "and I have come to tell Captain Fassiferne."
"Alas! poor soul!"
Before he spoke she had known what he came to say, his words brought no shock or bewilderment, but a great added hatred of him of which her words were an expression.
"You should be pleased," said Enguerrand, frowning at her. "Think what this means to you—Morbleu! she is shamed before all Brittany."
She put her hand to her forehead a moment and sat down opposite him, her elbow on the table. His red eyes were watching her curiously.
"He won't believe you," she said at last.
"Maybe—Gregan Griffiths and his wife are following me—they bring the same tale—not assured he'll be convinced."
"What has happened to the Prince?" she asked in the same level contained voice.
Her colourless face betrayed neither horror nor delight but Enguerrand felt no fear of her, he looked upon her as false as her sister and far weaker.
"Gilles hath gone to Hardouinaye," he replied, "as Montauban's prisoner—thinking both his wife and his friend false—-"
"His friend!" cried Yvonne-Marie, looking up. "Did he too believe Kristopher sent that letter?"
"But when he saw it was Montauban who came?" she questioned.
La Rose Rouge shrugged his shoulders.
"Maybe he thinks your lord is leagued with the French. I only know that he is sure that he wrote that letter."
"Oh, Mon Dieu!" muttered Yvonne-Marie, "Mon Dieu!"
"Where is your husband?" demanded Enguerrand, turning impatiently. "Pardieu! how long he is!"
He began pacing the room and she turned slowly and watched him—with narrowing eyes.
"This seems to give you great delight, Count," she said at last. "It seems to give you great pleasure to give my husband pain—why?"
"Why will it please you?" he returned mockingly. "Both reasons lie equally deep."
And he turned to and fro the window again, savagely biting the ends of his curls with an impatient frown.
Yvonne-Marie's great gray eyes were still following him; she noticed the stains on the bandage of his arm and how he winced as he moved it.
"Are you hurt?" she said quietly.
"No, I thank you," he answered, and twisted the scarf tighter with a muttered curse at Kristopher's delay.
"You're weary," said Yvonne-Marie again. "Doubtless you rode fast to bring the news the first."
She went to the cupboard and brought out wine and glasses, quietly as if he had been the bearer of ordinary news.
"We're strange allies, you and I," laughed La Rose Rouge as he took the wine, and she shuddered and moved away.
"He is coming," she said quietly and moved away from her watch at the window.
Count Enguerrand pushed back his tangled hair from his flushed face eagerly and smiled to himself in pure triumph, but Yvonne-Marie was trembling with downcast eyes she hardly raised as her husband entered.
"Sure, it's early you are, Count," said Kristopher, with a glance at the other's clothes. "Hath there been fighting?"
Without waiting for a reply he went to his wife; he had a little piece of apple blossom in his hand that he gave her with a half-apologetic laugh.
"It was so pretty it looked," he said, "I picked it outside the gates, for sure, dear, it minded me of your face."
Yvonne-Marie murmured some reply and hid her face in the pink and white flowers, and Enguerrand could hardly forbear an open mock.
"Well?" said Kristopher, turning to him with a smile.
He flung his gloves and his cap on the table and
La Rose Rouge's exultation was heightened by his utter unconsciousness.
"Sure it's not ill news you're bringing?" asked Kristopher suddenly struck by something in the silence.
"Do I look like a bearer of good tidings?" answered Enguerrand, coming forward. "I bring bad news—the worst."
Kristopher stood gazing at him, arrested in his movement.
"What?" he demanded.
"Guildo hath fallen."
Kristopher made a sudden furious movement. "And you here to tell it!" he cried.
"Yes!" answered Enguerrand. "For Guildo fell by treachery!"
There was a second's silence, Yvonne-Marie shrunk closer to the wall, and Kristopher paused in his passionate outburst like a man dazed by a sudden blow.
"Whose treachery?" he asked slowly.
"There was only one in Guildo to profit by treachery—the Prince's wife—Françoise de Dinan opened the gates—"
"That's a lie," interrupted Kristopher haughtily, the blood rushing into his face. "A lie to shield your own black treachery!"
"It is the truth—she opened the gates to the French and Guy de Montauban."
"Stand back from me!" cried Kristopher furiously, his hand on his sword. "Or I'll put that across your face shall prevent your ever lying more!"
Enguerrand's sneering triumph changed into sudden wrath.
"It's true!" he cried. "As true as I'll make you feel it—"
"Hush!" interrupted Yvonne-Marie, coming forward. "Gregan Griffiths—I hear him without—"
"Ah!" said Enguerrand, dropping against the wall gain. "You'll listen to him belike?"
All the devil in him had sprung into his white face and there was such a note of conviction in his voice that a second time Kristopher paused.
"Oh, my lord," said Yvonne-Marie faintly. "The English are here to confirm or disprove this news!"
He did not seem to notice her but he wheeled round sharply to face the door, and as it opened, he sprang forward.
"Is it true! Is it true, Gregan Griffiths?"
Gregan Griffiths stopped startled in the doorway at the wild appeal and the mad horror in his brother-in-law's face.
"The saints help us!" he murmured, overcome with weariness. "It is true—"
And he sat down wearily, his wife hanging on him.
"We've been flying for our lives, Kit," she said, all trembling. "We are near dying!"
But Kristopher took no notice, he went up and shook Gregan by the shoulder, crying out for the truth—the truth!
"Aye, the truth," demanded Enguerrand imperiously. "Take the truth from there!"
"Hath not the Count told you?" cried Gregan. "We are undone—the Prince is in Montauban's hands—we are betrayed."
"By whom?" asked Kristopher heavily. "Will you drive me mad? Can't you answer me?"
"Alas!" moaned Kilda, frightened at his vehemence. "What ails you, Kit?"
"The Princess betrayed us!" exclaimed Gregan. "Françoise de Dinan!"
Enguerrand broke into immoderate laughter.
"Do you believe now?" he asked. "Have you come to the knowledge every camp follower owns that Françoise de Dinan is a traitress!"
Kristopher turned on him with a distorted face.
"Don't dare to call her that!" he shouted. "You who were there and could have prevented it!"
"She was the mistress in Guildo," flashed Enguerrand, coming nearer, and Gregan rose, startled at Kristopher's passion.
"She did it," he said, "I heard her orders—" Kristopher interrupted him with an imperious gesture, his face inflamed, his eyes blazing.
"Keep back from me!" he cried. "You who come to prate of what you watched! Just God! was there not one man there—not one to strike her down before she did this thing! To kill her before she damned herself to all eternity!"
He swung Gregan aside—he went leaving them staring at each other, too silenced to stop or follow him.
Enguerrand was the first to speak.
"Morbleu! this passionate gentleman hath uttered insults that must be answered—I did not betray Guildo!"
"Oh, be silent!" flashed Yvonne-Marie, moving for the first time since Gregan had entered. "If you had not goaded him, he had not insulted you—" she turned her white face to Gregan—"I pray you heed him not—he knows not what he says."
"Indeed, it is enough to craze any man," the English knight answered.
"It means the last of the war to us belike—and almost certain death to Gilles—"
"Yet is it rare for him to be so moved," said Kilda wonderingly, "I will after him—"
But Yvonne-Marie stepped in front with an imploring face.
"Let him be—his pain is greater than you guess," she said. "Exceedingly he loved the Prince."
"Yea," mocked Enguerrand, "Exceedingly he loved—the Prince, I doubt not!"
Yvonne-Marie turned her large clear eyes on him with an unfathomable look.
"What is there to mock at in a brave man's woe?" she asked; and La Rose Rouge shrugged his shoulders and admired her for the good face she put on it.
"I was wondering what the lady's motive was," he said slyly.
"Saints! what matter for the motive!" cried Gregan Griffiths miserably. "Her false heart alone knows—I ever hated her—she is false to her heart's core."
"Think no more of it now," said Yvonne-Marie gently. "You are weary—forgive me I thought not of it sooner—my lord will be better soon."
As she left the room to attend to them, Enguerrand looked after her with lifted brows and a little smile.
"Ma foi!" he said to himself, "she takes it well!"
The perfect day had faded into a perfect night, through the open windows of the commander's house came songs and laughter, lamplight and colour. Count Enguerrand and his men were feasting with little care for the news they had brought.
Hardly did La Rose Rouge try to veil his deep triumph—he had redeemed himself from Gregan Griffiths' suspicions by his fleeing from Guildo instead of joining with Montauban, and little it troubled him that any should think him careless of this disaster.
But, though the house was so gay, there was one chamber dark and quiet. And there Yvonne-Marie sat and looked out on to the torch-lit streets where soldiers and citizens were arming. She had been there all day and the hours had not seemed long to her. She had come to the moment—the test was before her—it was now or never that she must speak.
Chief of all her wild thoughts was that of Gilles in Hardouinaye, believing Kristopher a vile traitor—they had said that he was to die—if he died undeceived, cursing Kristopher—she felt her blood freeze as she thought of that.
And Kristopher believed Françoise had betrayed Guildo for Montauban—"And I," said Yvonne-Marie, "I know the truth."
She turned from the window and began pacing the room; there was no one to help her, she must decide for herself alone—if she did not tell no one would, Kristopher would not know Gilles' bitter woe. Gilles could not be undeceived, Françoise would go branded forever in her lover's eyes.
It was late already, early to-morrow Kristopher would leave Dol, she had little time to do the thing her soul shrank from as flesh does from fire.
She left her room and went on to the stairs, and hardly knowing what she meant to do, saw her actions no farther than the moment ahead and as if groping in the dark she went forward trembling.
"Where is my lord?" she asked a page who passed her, carrying wine to those who feasted below.
"Madame," was the answer, "he sits apart in the room above the hall."
Yvonne-Marie turned and went along down the passage.
The room where Kristopher sat was little used. Yvonne-Marie found the door as usual closed, and a dread seized her he was not there.
But when she entered softly, she saw him, a dim figure in the dark, outlined against the window.
His head hung down, he leaned heavily against the wall—there was something in his attitude that told her he was broken-hearted.
"Oh, Dieu!" whispered his wife through cold lips and she came forward swiftly.
Kristopher looked up and she stopped away a pace and spoke.
"Why do you sit so long?" she asked.
"Sure—it's only to think—" he answered, forcing a smile, and turned to her as she came up to him with tense eyes and gazed into the face that was revealed to her in the moonlight.
She quivered and blanched before the anguish she saw there and could not speak, but Kristopher took her hand gently.
"It's not grieving for me you must be," he faltered, "I'm—only weary—and the loss of Guildo—-"
He broke off abruptly, she had never seen such misery as lay in his blue eyes—it frightened her, she cowered back with a mad desire to rush away, and he seeing some of her dumb terror made an effort to speak again.
"Dear heart—it's not troubled you must be—" Yvonne-Marie sank down on the window seat beside him and stared into his face.
"Is there not any comfort I may give you?" she asked.
He moved from her scrutiny with a movement of uncontrollable agony.
"Neither in heaven nor earth is there any comfort for me!" he answered hoarsely. "Oh, leave me alone to get my strength back!"
It was the cry of a despair too deep to heed to whom it spoke, she saw his control was giving way, that his shoulders heaved, that he kept his face from her hidden in his hand.
She felt the awe and shame the sight of great pain always gives, but at the sight of him, she rose to the best that was in her for the first time in her life.
"Kristopher!" she said, "Kristopher!" and she leaned forward and caught his free heavy hand in hers, with the thought only of comforting him, and it seemed strange to her she had ever thought it would be difficult. Her words came simply as a child's.
"Kristopher—she was trapped—she did not open the gates to Montauban but to you—to you—they deceived her—she did not know what she did."
He turned and faced her so suddenly, seized her hands and stared at her so wildly, that she gave a little cry.
"What do you know?" he demanded; and she slipped down to her knees before him, looking white as a lily in the dusk.
"I know you love her!" she cried. "That she loves you—that for love of you she betrayed Guildo!"
"Oh, God!" broke in Kristopher, letting go of her hands suddenly. "You know all this—you!"
"Yea," she answered passionately. "Forgive me, I did not spy on you—or her—it came to me."
"Oh!" shuddered Kristopher, "you'll shame me to the dust!"
And he struggled to his feet but Yvonne-Marie clung to him and would not let him pass.
"This is not talk of me," she said. "Forget me—I come to tell the truth, to justify Françoise de Dinan—nay, you shall hear me—"
For in sheer horror and bewilderment he strove to stop her, but she sprang up from her knees and put herself in front of him.
"Listen to me!" she cried. "You shall, you must! She betrayed Guildo for your sake—she was deceived—as I stand here I know it!"
And standing before him, with her face uplifted, she poured out the whole story, and he listened, held silent by the force of her intense sincerity, for so eager was she to convince him, so utterly forgetful of herself, so lifted above all jealousies, all thoughts of anger or fear; that what she said became almost impersonal, she appeared to have no part in her own story, save where it touched him, her absolute single heartedness gave her a great power.
And Kristopher grew so intent on what she said, he almost forgot who it was spoke; and she did not care that he looked at her with unseeing eyes and gave no heed to what it cost her to raise his idol up again, she only waited eagerly for the horror to lift from his face, and for the misery in his eyes to fade.
"And you must forgive her!" she ended passionately. "I should have done it—any woman would have done it—she did not know what she did—put her back in your heart again—say I have made it right between you!"
But Kristopher's face did not alter, he stared at her as if he did not know her, she was expecting great rage against Enguerrand and Montauban who had used his name so vilely—or a burst of love for Françoise, but neither of these things came and she could not fathom his thoughts from his white face and fixed eyes.
Desperately she fell to pleading with him and dropped on her knees in an agony.
"Are you not comforted!" she cried. "Oh, have pity on her weakness and be comforted! for she loves you!"
Kristopher turned his head slowly, he did not seem to notice she knelt or yet to hear what she said.
"The Prince," he asked under his breath. "Did the Prince see that letter—does he think it's a traitor I am?"
"Alas! alas! I fear me so!" she answered, the tears rushing to her eyes.
"He believed!" cried Kristopher. "He believes it now!"
"But you must rescue him—and tell him the truth," said Yvonne-Marie eagerly, startled that this was all he seemed to understand or care for—"And she—"
"Who?" he interrupted, still staring down at her with that dazed look that made his face a mask.
"Françoise de Dinan," she answered with a sudden sob. "She was bitterly wronged!"
"What is Françoise de Dinan to me?" said Kristopher slowly. "I had forgot her—"
"But she did it for love of you!" implored Yvonne-Marie.
But the words seemed to mean nothing to Kristopher.
"The Prince!" he repeated wildly. "The Prince! He may die in Hardouinaye and never know!"
"Hardouinaye must fall!" cried Yvonne-Marie and the words called Kristopher to life like a trumpet call, his numb heart leaped and the hot blood rushed into his white face.
He was springing towards the door when she caught hold of his sleeve.
"Where are you going?" she cried.
"To Hardouinaye!" he answered, all on fire now. "To prove to Gilles I am not what he thinks!"
"You'll take the French?"
"Nay—not leagued with such as Enguerrand—I and the English ride now—alone to Hardouinaye! The Leopard of England—alone!"
And lifting her from his way as if she had been a child, without one look or thought for her, he dashed through the door and down the stairs and a second later she heard him shouting for his men.
"But he cannot take Hardouinaye with that handful!" she cried bitterly. "And Gilles will die without knowing!"
For well she knew neither Montauban's nor Enguerrand's hate of Kristopher would be content to let Gilles know the truth—he was utterly in Guy's power and Enguerrand had his spies in Hardouinaye.
"What if after Kristopher came beneath the walls they—murdered his friend?"
The thought came to her in a flash, she crouched down in the window seat, half deafened by the noises of the confusion without, and disturbance and clatter of Kristopher's sudden departure.
She felt no bitterness at the manner of his leaving her, she had expected no gratitude for what she had done—her one thought was how she might aid him. "The Prince must know!" she kept repeating to herself. "The Prince must know!"
A sudden quiet, broken only by the laughter of the still undisheartened revellers, told her that Kristopher had gone, and she rose with a sudden resolution that brought her great strength.
"I will go to Hardouinaye—I will tell Prince Gilles the truth."
It was some days later and things stood as they had done, Kristopher had arrived without Hardouinaye, but all his desperate purpose had not helped him to any success.
He was as far as ever from freeing Gilles and by no sign or message had he been able to communicate with the prisoner. His helplessness was near driving him mad, he hardly ate or slept, there was only one thought in his mind—to repair some of the wrong done Gilles of Brittany and to clear himself in his eyes.
All his other hates and loves faded into nothing beside this, there existed no soul in the world for him but the crippled prisoner of Hardouinaye who had once trusted him and called him friend.
Count Enguerrand hung back in Dol and would send him no aid, for more reasons than one he did not wish Kristopher to rescue his friend. On that point he and Montauban were one; both ardently wished the death of Françoise's husband and for the same reasons—because he was her husband and Kristopher's friend.
And if Gilles had been in Enguerrand's power he had died before this, but Montauban lacked courage, he could not face the thing so the prisoner lived.
But La Rose Rouge was not to be held long in check by Montauban's ineptitude; half his plot had been successful, the other should be so too. Kristopher's wild departure from Dol had roused his suspicion that Yvonne-Marie had played—as he termed it—false, and this suspicion grew a certainty when Kristopher's wife with her friend Héloïse disappeared from Dol, and no trace could be found of either.
It utterly surprised him to think she should, but there was no longer any doubt in his mind that she had—and bitterly he cursed Denise's thoughtlessness in confiding her secret to her sister. Yet he did not credit Yvonne-Marie with anything more than a wild setting out in disguise to join her husband and this was confirmed by the account of one of his men who had met them on the road to Hardouinaye dressed again as dancing women, riding their mules.
And on hearing this, Count Enguerrand shrugged his shoulders and magnificently dismissed a foolish woman from his mind; Yvonne-Marie had shown more spirit than he had given her credit for, but he was far from suspecting her of any determined action either of good or evil.
As passionately as Kristopher had vowed the Prince should live to know the truth he had vowed Gilles should die and his thoughts were all for that.
There was one in Hardouinaye whom he could trust—Denise; she was in Guy's confidence and had free access to the prisoner, and to please La Rose Rouge she would not stop at murder.
He was sure of her, but he waited, hoping Montauban would free him of Françoise's husband; it would suit him better if Guy branded himself as a murderer and left his hands clean.
Meanwhile the Duke had ordered his brother to appear at Rennes to answer a charge of treason before his peers, and Montauban could not long hold back, both his own side and the adherents of the Prince demanded an open accusation and an open hearing for Gilles.
There was little time; a few days would see Gilles in Rennes, out of reach of them all, beyond Kristopher's rescuing, beyond Guy's hate and Enguerrand's malice—he would be put on his open trial and before all Brittany the truth would be revealed.
Then, in a sudden flash, Enguerrand saw his last move plain before him. It had been one of his fears that Yvonne-Marie in telling the truth to Kristopher—as he made no doubt she had done—had justified Françoise de Dinan in her lover's eyes and put her back in her old place in his heart, and now he saw how he might a second time sunder these two, utterly and forever.
Acting upon this he wrote to Françoise, a close prisoner now in Guildo and, professing still he was her humble ally, put before her the state of things as he foresaw them.
By common consent of both parties, he wrote, a truce would soon be declared while Gilles was heard in Rennes.
There was little doubt that Kristopher would raise the siege of Hardouinaye for this; it was to his interest to have Gilles out of Montauban's power, it was to his interest to have an open hearing for the Prince and himself at Rennes—to tell Gilles that way, the truth.
And what is the truth they will both bruit abroad?
Enguerrand put this question to Françoise in his letter and then answered it thus:
"Gilles knows of what you tried and failed in, he is but waiting his chance for his revenge—Brittany and Kristopher Fassiferne know you a traitress now—if the Prince speaks they will know you—a murderess.
"Shall the Prince live to execute his revenge—shall he tell Kristopher Fassiferne that that shall make him treble his loathing of you?
"For the betrayal of Guildo you have your excuse—for the other deed—none.
"One you may so extenuate that he shall forgive—the other you can never. And if this man is nothing to you, Prince Gilles' words will touch you in other ways; all Brittany will hold you a by-word for shame, you will be undone, disgraced, all men will have nothing but fury for you, and if Gilles dies of his weakness, Kristopher Fassiferne's hate may drag you to the block to expiate your deed by a shameful death.
"Foreseeing all this, is it your will the Prince should go to Rennes or that Kristopher Fassiferne should rescue him?
"I am your friend, I have the means to serve you, a word from you and Gilles is silent forever and you are safe.
"Shall he before he leaves Hardouinaye?
"If you say so it is done and your secret safe with me.
"If you do not answer this, the Prince lives—haste, for the time is short."
This letter was sent to Françoise in Guildo; she was not kept so closely that she might not receive messengers or send them, and Enguerrand's temptation was delivered into her own hands. With some curiosity he awaited her answer, it would make no difference to his actions, Gilles must die, it was plain Montauban would not dare it, therefore he must and would, whether Françoise returned a yes or no.
He had already sent his instructions to Denise in Hardouinaye with many cajoleries and flatteries and he felt no fear he should not be obeyed. But he wanted Françoise to compromise herself—he wanted her name to a piece of paper ordering Gilles' death that he might show it to Kristopher, he wanted to put her in such a position that she had to turn to him in her desperate shame. He wanted Kristopher to scorn her so—to come to such an open voicing of that scorn, that all her love would turn to hate and she would turn from him in fury.
"I want no woman whose heart is with another man," he thought. "One way or another she shall hate him."
He was not going to run the risk of her thrusting him over a cliff for Kristopher Fassiferne or opening the gates of Bàrrès as she had those of Guildo.
He meant she should come whole-heartedly—with hate for all the world but him.
Therefore he waited eagerly for her answer, sometimes with hope, sometimes with fear. He had no clue to what her mood might be in her lonely prison, whether she had grown desperate or tame, bitter or humbled—he could only wait.
Outside Dol lay encamped his mighty army—to move to Hardouinaye soon, for Enguerrand intended to rescue Gilles—when he was dead.
Montauban had but a few men with him, if La Rose Rouge had joined Kristopher's little force he would have taken it days ago—now he meant to take it—to sweep Guy de Montauban from his way as he would Gilles and Kristopher.
All the war through he had played fast and loose, the balance of power was in his hands and he had used it skilfully for his own advantage—it had suited him so far Montauban should be successful, it suited him now he should be overthrown and he had the means to accomplish both wishes.
It was a fair afternoon when Enguerrand rode leisurely out from Dol to this camp to pass, in surveying his men, the time that might elapse before any answer came from Françoise.
As he left the town and came into the open country scattered thick with tents and huts, he lifted his eyes more than once to where the distant trees hid Guildo and the sea.
In the meadows where the tents were pitched, grew close daisies and anemones and in the hedge-rows and little woods near by the hawthorn was mingled with the elder that rose from fiery daffodils. But the spring beauty was in part despoiled; rough trenches had been dug in sweet grass, fires had scorched the young trees and the heavy iron wheels of cannon pressed dead flowers.
The air, that only the birds should have disturbed, was full of shouted commands, the ringing of armour, and the sound of the falling tents, and against the sky fluttered bright pennons and banners that waved from sharp spears. Enguerrand rode quietly in and out the tents and the long slanting shadows, stopping now and then to speak to one of the men, till he came to a quieter part of the field where a great bank of primroses sloped up to a little grove of beech.
Several ladies sat there, their stiff skirts spread about them, glittering little caps and nets on their bright hair and on their laps flowers they twisted into chains.
They were the wives and daughters of the Bretons that followed Enguerrand.
One was mending a great scarlet banner that trailed over her white dress into the primroses, and another, seated higher on the bank than the rest, was singing:
"The red may looks out in the garden,
The white may on the hill,
The spring is in the air, Anton,
And my heart will not be still."
Enguerrand drew his horse up and watched them, and they, noticing him, fell laughing among themselves, but she who sang continued with an affectation of unconsciousness:
"I am kissed by the youth of the morning,
The swallow bath brushed my breast,
I see no cloud on earth or sky
And yet I know not rest!
"Songs come up from the clover,
Where the milk-white sheep are laid,
Around my feet is the sunshine,
Around my heart the shade.
"The crocus hath jewelled the grasses,
Lilies my garden fill—
The spring is in the air, Anton,
And my heart will not be still!"
She ceased, and looking over her shoulder, laughed too, while Enguerrand rode nearer, smiling.
"So you are not afraid of us, mes dames?" he said. "Nor of the cannon or the swords or the prospect of fighting?"
The foremost lady tossed her head. "Of the first not at all," she answered. "Of the others, a little perhaps."
"But there'll be no fighting," said another looking up. "At least not here."
"Unless it be for your favours, demoiselle," said Enguerrand, at which she blushed and laughed again and the lady who had sung, a beautiful blonde in deep blue, flung her zither down and rose.
"You seem to something lack for work, Sieur," she said with a glance at the rider on the white horse. "But not for pleasure," he answered. "In this company—a monk might forget his missal."
As he finished he turned quickly, his ear caught by the sound of approaching footsteps.
It was the messenger he had sent to Guildo, with a packet in his hand.
The letter was from Françoise, her heavy seal was across the back, her fine writing across the front.
"How found you the Princess?" questioned Enguerrand and turned a flushed face to the messenger.
"Weary and bitter, Sieur, her women say she rails and frets against her jailers like a mad thing—she seemed pale too and wild-eyed."
"Now who bid you mark her pallor or her eyes?" interrupted Enguerrand imperiously. "Morbleu! when I send you on messages to dames I desire you not to lift your eyes higher than their feet."
And dismissing the man with the insolence that earned him universal hate, he rode to his tent and entering, broke the seal of her answer.
The evening sun fell through the open canvas pleasantly red and all the noises of the camp seemed mingled into harmony by the peace that surrounded them; Enguerrand was alone but he hesitated a little with the open letter in his hand, the light catching his tall figure and beribboned sleeves as he stood a second with his red eyes frowning. Then he opened the parchment out and read it word for word with a slow eagerness.
Thus it ran:
"Your letter findeth me lonely and weary—if they keep me here long I shall die—perhaps they mean that, sometimes I think so—I know nothing of what is said of me without these walls—I am utterly desolate. This is why I write to you, though you have once betrayed me and I should hate you—though you propose infamy and I should scorn to answer it—"
"Oh, m'amie!" exclaimed Enguerrand impatiently, "Your woman's parade of words."
"You put before me," the letter went on, "what the future holds and all you say I have already thought, and though not putting it so plainly I have considered it. You mention Kristopher Fassiferne—well! maybe that name does not weigh so dear with me as once it did—maybe I care not so much what he thinks of me, but yet I would not have him know me what I am—and I am of too noble blood to be shamed publicly before all France.
"You said you were my friend—see to it then I am spared this—Gilles must not live to speak openly in Rennes."
At this underlined sentence, Enguerrand stopped in bewildered delight and flushed warmly to see the words clear writ before him—he had credited her with more wit or less spirit than to send such words to him, he had not hoped for such good fortune, he could hardly read the rest for his eager satisfaction.
"I put it thus plainly that you may know my will and because all disguise is folly between us two now—
"I cannot feel any remorse or pain for Gilles—to you I cannot feign it—I would he had died when I meant he should—better for him than to come back to life a helpless cripple!—better for me—I had not then stained my soul for nought!
"All is black and dismal to me. I am so utterly alone—oh, my friend, save me from worse than this!—do what I failed in—Gilles must not live to shame me—come to me afterwards and ask what thanks you will.
"Now you are caught!" cried Enguerrand triumphantly. "As surely as you wrote this I have you now!"
And he read her letter over again, hardly able to tear his gaze from the words that put her in his power. It was not quite what he had expected, he had not thought she would so openly word her wish. He was a little surprised at his satisfaction.
"Does she think I'm a fool—that I will be her tool like Guy de Montauban?" he wondered, for reading between the lines he guessed she thought she might use him and discard him afterwards—that he would burn this letter at her bidding as he had the others.
Enguerrand smiled to himself as he put the letter carefully inside his doublet and if the prisoner in Guildo could have seen his face then she would have known she had not quite the devoted ally in La Rose Rouge she believed, that her influence was not so strong or his infatuation so deep as she thought.
While these things passed there was one who knew nought of any—Gilles of Brittany who lay in Hardouinaye and waited for his death.
He had no wish to live; his life had faded under his touch like a fingered rose leaf, all his gold had become brass, all his loves bitter hates; in the dawn of his youth and strength he had been struck down to worse than the helplessness of old age, the world had no recompense to offer Gilles save the quiet of his grave and for that he longed with a weariness too great for pain.
He had seen no one during his imprisonment save Montauban's servants and Denise and Eneth, who coming to and fro would look at him curiously, sometimes eagerly, never pityingly—yet he was not more lonely than he had been in Guildo in the midst of his splendour, not more neglected; he had grown used to the dull apathy of the long spring days when no one came near him, grown indeed to like better than the restless presence of Montauban's spies. His prison looked on to the steep rocks on which Hardouinaye was built and the one small window admitted the sunshine, though the patch of gold it made on the floor was lined across with the shadow of the heavy bars.
Yet Gilles, lying on his low bed, could sometimes see the herons that rested in the stonework fly past, and sometimes, as now, the summer wind would bring in the strong perfume of the wild thyme that grew without.
To-day it roused Gilles, he turned on his pillow and figured up by the square of sunlight what time of the day it might be.
"It must," he thought, "be afternoon," about the time some one usually came to him and he turned his eyes expectantly toward the door.
He was thirsty and the water they had left him was out of his reach, otherwise he would not have wished for the coming of any—he preferred to lie passive and silent—undisturbed. For a little while he was motionless, then the bitter-sweet odour of the thyme made him again restless and he tossed his head wearily on the pillow. He was thinking of nothing, his half-closed eyes looked out on a blank; there were neither memories nor foreseeings in his heart—he had grown as dull as an old man sleeping in the sun.
Presently his door opened and Montauban's page, Denise, crept in and stood looking at him with a strange hesitation and revulsion.
"Give me to drink," said Gilles, opening his eyes a little wider.
They were wonderful gold-brown eyes, utterly expressionless now, which made them fearful to look on by one who knew his story—by one who planned his death, and Denise's drawn face went whiter as she handed him the cup.
For she meant he should die, she had sworn it to Enguerrand and she had gathered her courage up to a pitch of desperate resolve that could not flinch. Now La Rose Rouge had intended she should with her own hands kill Gilles of Brittany, but this she could not bring herself to do; instead she had instilled into Montauban's timid heart that the Prince must not live, day and night she had goaded him, and now when he saw beneath Hardouinaye the advancing spears of the Bretons who came to aid Kristopher and knew that Gilles must be rescued soon, he consented.
Gilles must die.
She had accomplished it—he would not live to greet his friend when Hardouinaye fell—she had obeyed Enguerrand and thrust on to Montauban's fierce, weak soul half the guilt.
Yet she stood now in Gilles' little prison sick with a great fear and horror, and could not tear her eyes from his face.
He set the cup down, glanced up at her and suddenly smiled.
"When are they going to end this?" he asked.
"End it?" gasped Denise, stepping backwards.
"I wonder they have let me live so long," he answered and turned his face away from her.
"He guesses," thought Denise, "he knows," and her blood ran cold to her finger-tips, but she set her teeth firmly and dragged herself out of his prison without a glance backwards.
And Gilles did not move again, his blank eyes stared into the rough stone wall for a while, then he fell into a dull slumber, and the sun creeping farther round cast the shadowed bars over his face. And while he slept, his solitude was again disturbed—this time unheeded.
It was another of Guy's spies, Eneth, who entered and following him was a woman whose delicate face and dead ash-coloured hair was half concealed in a dark hood.
It was Yvonne-Marie.
In the guise of a dancing girl she had found her way to Hardouinaye and through her brother Eneth admittance into the chateau and the Prince's cell. Eneth was moved to pity of Gilles of Brittany. Despite the last trick she had played him, he was fond of his sister, and, though ignorant of Guy's intent and Denise's plot, he looked upon the Prince as little better than a dead man and was not unwilling he should die in what peace Yvonne-Marie could give him.
"It is strange you should leave your husband and travel in such a guise," he said to her when she first came to ask this favour of him. "To comfort a man you know nothing of."
He spoke part in wonder, part in admiration, for her deep sincerity and earnestness had moved him.
"I come to help right a deeply wronged man," she had said. "My wronged lord's friend—one half hour with the Prince, Eneth, and I will forgive you my wrecked life." And he had hidden her till he found this chance to slip into the Prince's cell unnoticed.
"Montauban'll never let him live," he said, with a glance at the sleeping man.
"Why?" whispered Yvonne-Marie, fearfully.
"For Françoise of Brittany's sake," he answered. "He wishes her—and her dowry."
"After all this!—but my lord will rescue him—I heard them say Hardouinaye cannot stand another day."
Eneth shrugged his shoulders; indifference was his ruling quality.
"I'll leave you now," he said. "You'll find me in the hall beneath this when you've done—no one will visit the prisoner to-day, I think."
He was almost gone, when she went after him and took his hand.
"God bless you, Eneth," she whispered. "And—thank you."
He laughed uneasily to hide his real feeling.
"I don't understand you," he answered. "If this makes you happy—ma foi! why not?"
Their whispered voices disturbed the prisoner. He turned on his bed and as the door closed on Eneth, he sighed in his sleep heavily—and turned; softly Yvonne-Marie came into the middle of the room and looked about her. It was a dismal place, ill-furnished and dark, the only colour Gilles' blue coverlet and a large painted crucifix that hung above his bed. Now Eneth had gone it was perfectly still and she grew frightened of the motionless figure before her.
He was a stranger to her, she had only seen him once and never spoken to him; till now all her energies had been employed in gaining admittance to him, now that end was accomplished, she felt she knew not what to say or do, as she crept nearer the bed and gazed down into his face. But as she looked such a burning pity and rage rose within her that all her fear passed like a breath.
She recalled him on his wedding day, flushed with pleasure, erect and handsome, she remembered his laughter, his gaiety, she saw him now white, crippled, wasted, and all her heart went out to him; with a little cry she went on her knees beside the bed and gathered his hand up in hers.
"Monsieur! Monsieur, the Prince!"
Gilles turned and opened his eyes on a fair face flushed with tears and heard a sweet voice broken with sympathy calling on him. It bewildered him.
"Ah!" he said. "Who have they sent now?"
"I come not from Montauban," she answered quickly, divining his meaning. "I come from outside—from your friends—" She had no lack of words, she quivered with her pain for him and her eagerness, but the apathy did not leave Gilles' face, his brown eyes had a little wonder in them, but neither expectation, hope nor fear.
"I have no friends," he said simply. "Will you leave me alone?"
A terror crossed Yvonne-Marie's feverish passion that she would not be able to rouse him; his dullness almost killed her energy, as if it had touched ice, her heart went cold.
"You have a noble friend," she shuddered. "Oh, Prince—"
"Not that now," he interrupted in the same level tone. "Only a cripple who'll be dead soon."
"No!" she cried. "You'll live! Oh, Mon Dieu! do you not feel—hope—?"
Gilles was silent awhile, he tossed his head as if her presence fretted him.
"No," he said at last, and his thin fingers clutched the coverlet impatiently. Yvonne-Marie drew herself up with a gasp of eagerness.
"Look at me," she said, "turn to me, Prince Gilles—I've risked everything to come to you."
He turned and looked at her curiously, her gray eyes were wide and dark in their intensity, her nostrils distended, her pale lips parted, her black gown strained over her heaving breast, her two hands that lay on his bed clasped so tightly together that the fingers made red marks in the flesh.
"Who sent you?" asked Gilles with some interest.
"No one," she answered.
"Who are you?"
His voice was still cold, unmoved.
Yvonne-Marie lifted her head with a look of despair.
"Oh! Do you not know me? I am Kristopher Fassiferne's most unworthy wife!"
As if she had thrust fire under his face, Gilles of Brittany drew back and a long shudder ran through his poor, maimed body.
"How dare you name him to me?" he whispered, and his eyes lit into fury.
"The truest friend you ever had!" cried Yvonne-Marie passionately. "The most loyal and the tenderest—I've come to tell you so—"
"Lies, lies!" interrupted Gilles impatiently "Get you gone—I'm a poor fool—but not fool enou' to be made his butt again!"
"God be my witness he did not write that letter!" she answered in an agony. "God hear me as I swear he was ever true to you—and she, Françoise—-"
With a sharp cry of bitter pain and fury the sick man half struggled up. "Why did you come to awake all the sleeping devils?" he demanded hoarsely. "I have been praying to die before any spoke that name to me!" And with a sound that was half sob, half cry he dropped back again and lay gasping for his breath.
"Then let her go!" cried Yvonne-Marie. "I come to justify Kristopher Fassiferne, why should I lie to you? I love him and he loves not me."
Gilles put out his hand with a sudden gesture that checked her.
"Poor soul," he whispered wistfully. "He does not love you—no—he loves—my wife—for she is my wife."
"Yes, he loves her," she answered, facing it boldly with a desperate courage. "And she loves him—could they help it? And she betrayed Guildo for him—but he did not write that letter—it was a plot, a forgery."
"You speak false," said Gilles kindling into a white rage again.. "He wrote it—he betrayed me in my absence."
"He was your true friend, pure in his loyalty to you! Will you not believe me?"
"If he was so true to me," demanded Gilles fiercely, "how came they to know of this great love of theirs? If this love was so pure how came she to try and murder me?" His voice was terrible and Yvonne-Marie quailed from his eyes.
"I loved him so you cannot dream," went on Gilles, staring down at her. "Yea, more than the woman I loved him—I was a boy, you see, and I think women cannot know how a boy may love and worship a man—as I did him!"
Yvonne-Marie, burning with the desire to clear Kristopher, the one object that had driven her to this, the one thought that filled her mind, the set purpose that was animating her to courage and strength, yet felt herself awed into silence before the horror of Gilles' tragedy. A sense of the hopelessness of any comfort, of a conviction of the weakness of anything she could say assailed her, she could find no words to interrupt him.
"I flung everything aside on his bare word," continued Gilles. "I risked all I had to come back to Brittany—to save her—and she tried to murder me."
Yvonne-Marie straightened with horror.
"You mistake," she said. "She could not—"
"She did!" he returned passionately. "She made me what I am—"
"Oh, Jesu, he did not know—he thought it chance."
"I will not hear speak of him," interrupted Gilles in a torment of passion. "Why have you come to speak of him? He has wronged you."
"No!" she answered, her head flung back. "I have wronged him—he is not a leader of mercenaries—but an Earl—lord of Coventry and Valance, and I—I—have dragged him down!"
Gilles paused in his fury at her intensity, as Kristopher had done, and she seeing her chance pleaded with him again as if it was life lay in the balance.
She told him everything in direct words that struck through the torpor of his misery, her own story, the story of the plot that had trapped Françoise, Enguerrand's share in it and Guy de Montauban's, Kristopher's agony and how he rested day nor night striving to free Gilles.
"He thinks of nothing but that—nothing," she ended with. "He would give his life for yours—his soul—he hath gone through temptation as the innocent through fire, unscathed! As he was noble to me he hath been to you—on High Heaven I swear—if your heart is not all withered, believe me—I can say nothing more!"
The strain and passion of her words was exhausted, she lowered her head in the coverlet of his bed and burst into wild tears; but Gilles was silent a long while; once or twice he made a movement of pain and at last he put out his hand and touched her bent hair.
"Oh, don't touch me!" she cried through her bitter tears. "If you can't believe—if you don't know when you hear God's truth—oh, don't you see I'm not lying?"
He drew his hand back at the sharp appeal and she lifted a face distorted with grief and stared at him.
Still he did not speak, and after a second she sprang to her feet.
"God forgive you, Gilles of Brittany!" she cried in her agony. "I never can—for you have slain my lord!"
"He'll not die," whispered Gilles through white lips, "he'll live to laugh at me—and you—"
Yvonne-Marie began walking up and down the narrow cell in a tempest of grief and Gilles' bright eyes watched her with no sign of relenting.
"You love him?" he muttered, "yea, he has the trick of it—she loved him and so did I—he has the tongue of the deceiver." And he put his hands to his faded hair and tore at it in a weak rage, muttering under his breath, and Yvonne-Marie seeing stopped suddenly before him with tight-locked hands and a drawn face.
"You'll not believe me?"
"I cannot," he answered wearily.
"Not if I swear on the Cross—on my soul?"
"She perjured her soul for him—why not you?"
"I am not a murderess!" cried Yvonne-Marie. "I love him—but not like that—I sinned, but not like that—let her go—but tell me you believe him!"
"I cannot," he repeated.
Yvonne-Marie turned away sharply and fell on her knees before the crucifix at the head of the bed in an ecstasy of appeal.
"Oh, Christ!" she cried, wringing her hands in the fervency of her distress, "open this man's eyes! Oh Thou who hast dealt too tenderly with me—punish me—take my life—take my soul—damn me for my sins as I deserve, but let this man believe! Oh, Jesu! Jesu have pity on me!"
A silence fell broken only by her sobbing breaths as she clung to the feet of the crucifix, then Gilles held his hand out and spoke—brokenly.
"Come to me again—come and look at me—I—I—come to me."
She rose and came to the bed shaking with the force of her tears, there was a moment's silence, then:
"I believe you," said Gilles of Brittany.
She was too spent to cry out, her voice had sunk to faltering whispering, her eyes were dim, she put her hand in his with a little sob and slipped on to her knees again.
"Oh, God be thanked!" she whispered, "God be thanked."
And she smoothed his tumbled pillow and laid the coverlet straight and put her cool hand on his hot forehead.
"He will save you," she breathed. "You shall hear this from his own lips."
"It matters not," he answered, "I believe you."
And he smiled, his eyes had grown soft, his whole face transfigured, despite his disfigurement he looked a boy, and he kept his gaze on her as if she soothed him like music or sunshine.
And she was silent in her gladness, the hand she held she caressed tenderly and she could not speak.
"You have healed my heart," he faltered at length. "I think—nothing matters—if he is true to—me."
The tears rushed to her eyes again and welled over; he had the pathos of an animal or a child—gentleness and tenderness is very terrible when it is wronged and helpless as he was now, and sick and dizzy as she was with her passion and her delight, she lifted her aching head to strive and comfort him.
A sound, slight yet very distinct in the stillness, made them both silent.
It was cautious footsteps without and presently whispered men's voices. Obeying a sudden impulse, Yvonne-Marie rose and bolted the door, then as she turned again, she saw the sick man had flushed with hot colour and that his eyes glittered.
"They have come to murder me," he said, under his breath.
By what intuition he had guessed it she could not tell, but she felt that the dread had come to her with that first sound without, and all her courage rose to meet the need.
"It must not be," she muttered, and put her ear to the door holding her very breath.
What she heard those without say left her in no doubt. They had come to murder the Prince. She felt no fear, rather an exaltation of courage and wrath. She went back to the Prince and put her arms about him and lifted him up tin his head touched her breast.
"You will not die alone," she said.
"Nor yet unhappy," he answered, "since I know the truth—an' I am not afraid to die, they say the very young never are—I'm only twenty."
The moment had not found either unprepared—he had been expecting it for days and the desperate terror that had driven her to see him was thought of this. She clasped him tight, her wide eyes on the door, she knew that bolt could not hold them long, she knew they might slay her too, but she did not care—Gilles believed.
"Curse on the cowards!" cried the Prince with a sudden flush of wrath, "I knew Montauban would not let him rescue me!"
"He cannot prevent it that you know," she answered triumphantly. "He cannot take your faith in Kristopher away!"
She did not falter or shudder, her tears were all dried, her face calm. Gilles looked at her in deep gratitude and admiration, her presence uplifted him, her arms about him was the sweetest thing he had ever known, he had been desolate, deceived so long, her companionship and truth inspired him like wine.
He heard the key turn in the lock, but it gave him no shudder.
"Have you no message for him?" she asked.
"Say I loved and believed," he answered simply, "and blessed you—his wife—that he should turn from you to her!"
Those without had found the inner bolt slipped and struck on the door heavily.
"Farewell," said Gilles of Brittany through set teeth. "They won't hurt you—when they come you'll leave me—"
"Never!" she cried proudly. "I came to make amends—"
The sun had left the cell entirely dark, the walls looked down on the man's gaunt figure held up on the woman's breast, on her proud face turned to the door and the light that leaped up into his eyes. They were struggling with the bolt violently, it could not hold much longer.
"If I could stand!" breathed Gilles. "I could have faced them all—once!"
With a last blow the heavy door swung back.
"Courage!" whispered Yvonne-Marie. "You shall be terribly revenged."
With her help he struggled up to face his enemies, and at the sight of him and the woman holding him up the three who entered fell back startled. They were brutal-looking men, common soldiers; Montauban had found difficulty in getting any for this service and these, degraded as they were, seemed to hesitate as if frightened.
"Well?" demanded Gilles. "You've come for me?—take this woman away—"
"No," said Yvonne-Marie. "I'll not go." And she turned her pale, proud face to the three halting by the door.
"Who sent you?" she said. "Where is he who admitted me—Eneth?"
For she had a hope her brother might prove a friend, a desperate hope that he could not have known of this, that he might come to her aid.
The name seemed to explain her presence to the new-comers: one of them advanced more boldly.
"He's safe from interfering," he said. "Come now—make away with you." He stamped his foot as he spoke and made an attempt to catch hold of her, but she shrank away and clung tighter to Gilles, and a flush leaped into the face of the doomed man.
"You dastards!" he said through his teeth. "Can't you see I can't strike a blow—are you come to murder me?"
"Where's Montauban?" asked Yvonne-Marie. "He cannot have sanctioned this—let me see him—"
"Par Dieu! he sent us—" was the rough answer. "Come away—he who let you in will answer for this—"
He caught hold of her arm savagely, but she shook him off desperately.
"Where is he? Eneth! Eneth!" she cried.
"Leave me," whispered Gilles. "I ask it."
"Never," she replied. "I stand for Kristopher—"
The men fell back again to the far end of the cell and whispered together, cursing Eneth for admitting this woman, nonplussed by her appearance and firmness.
And Yvonne-Marie held Gilles on her breast and watched them with dark, unflinching eyes.
"The end hath come," breathed the Prince in the hush. "I pray you—go—"
But she only smiled; she was as steadfast in her resolve, as high in her courage as if she had greatly loved him; and when the three came again toward the bed she put herself between Gilles and them with a high lift of her head and a calm strength that a second time made them pause.
"God's curse is on you if you touch this man," she said. "Get you back—would you be a murderer's tools?"
For a second they stood still, then the foremost broke into a snarl.
"We're not to be threatened by a woman. Par Dieu!" he cried, "our business is with you, Monsieur le Prince!" And he made a lunge forward at Gilles, but Yvonne-Marie sprang forward and stood in front of him.
"We are helpless—" she cried. "Utterly helpless! As you are men you could not harm us!" But her cry only increased his fury.
"Maledicte!" he shouted. "Get you out of the way!"
"Alas! there is no help," breathed 'Yvonne-Marie, and she fell swiftly to her knees and put her arms about Gilles as a shield.
"I am not afraid," he said striving to put her aside. "God bless you—leave me—-"
They were dragging them apart and a frightful cry escaped Gilles to see her roughly handled, drops of sweat stood out on his forehead, his face was contracted with agony; but not for his own death so near, but for his lost strength, for the weakness that made him lie there helpless.
For one moment of his lost manhood—to be able to die standing, facing them, protecting her who had brought such hope to him.
"I overcame four as strong as you the time I won the tourney prize in Ghent!" he cried. "Oh, Dieu, that I might not die thus!" And the big tears ran down his white face.
"Courage!" cried Yvonne-Marie. "I am here—I will help you—even as he would have done!"
And she wrenched herself free and rushed to Gilles and with a sudden strength lifted him up as if he had been a child, raised him till his head reached her shoulder.
"Now come and kill him!" she cried.
A third time they hung back. They were terrible to look at, the slim woman who was all white and gray, clothed in black with wide strained eyes and the panting man whose bright gold hair lay over her shoulder, whose worn body she clasped tight so that he might face his foes.
At last one leaped forward, but with a sudden desperate force Gilles flung out his arms and tossed him off—so that he fell heavily on the stones.
"Ah!" cried Gilles staring down at him joyously. "I am not all useless yet!"
But the sight of their fallen comrade inspired the two others with new courage; with one impulse they flung themselves on Gilles, and he supported on the woman's shoulder met them with the bravery of a lion. And she held herself rigid, motionless, she did not wince or shudder, or once relax her hold.
The unequal struggle was brief, the foremost lifted Gilles by sheer force from Yvonne-Marie, twisted him savagely and dropped him back, limp and helpless on the bed, where he lay crushed and dying.
"Finish it! Finish it!" yelled the other hoarsely, but Gilles' murderer fled from what he had done as if from a plague: Yvonne-Marie's voice, sharp with agony, drove him back like a lead-tipped whip:
"Your work is done!" she wailed. She was on her knees by the bedside, she lifted Gilles' head and pillowed it on her arm, she stooped and kissed his damp, drawn forehead and panic seized on the three, he whom Gilles had thrown sprang to his feet, and they turned as one man and fled.
"Gilles! Gilles!" whispered Yvonne-Marie. "You'll wake in Heaven for this sleep of thine!"
He moved his hand feebly and tried to take hers, a faint smile crossed his distorted face.
"I believe," he whispered so low she could hardly hear. "You'll—mind—to—tell—him—that—"
"He shall know and he shall avenge you," she answered. "He shall cherish you forever, Gilles."
She lifted the strands of bright hair back, she stroked his hands and held him as he shuddered, her courage and sympathy were about him in his death as the perfume round a dying rose, all the deep, long-suppressed tenderness of her life found a vent. He was saying something, she could hardly hear what, his dimming eyes sought hers wistfully and she smiled down on him.
"Kiss me again," he muttered, and she heard now and put her lips to his cheek, and as they touched his flesh she felt his heart leap under her arm, then he gave a sigh and quivered into silence and stillness.
She had never looked on death before, she had always shuddered to hear of it; yet she made no mistake and felt no fear now.
She knew he was dead.
For a long while she knelt as motionless as he, suffering his head to lie on her arm; it was only footsteps entering hastily but rousing her to turn and—lifting his head tenderly—to rise.
It was two of the murderers who entered and her brother Eneth, white and fierce.
"I never knew of this!" he cried. "Come away—Yvonne-Marie."
But she looked at the two men behind him—"Oh, you cowards!" she cried in a wild fury at so base a thing. "To kill him—oh, you vile dastards!"
Then a complete reaction overcame her, the tension suddenly snapped; she threw out her hands to Eneth and fell forward at his feet unconscious.
With a muttered oath he picked her up, and began railing at the villainy of the other two—he had known nothing of this—they had taken good care he should not be in the way.
Without waiting for an answer to his anger lie snatched up Yvonne-Marie and carried her away.
Without Gilles' prison was confusion and hurrying to and fro; among others Eneth passed Denise who did not notice who he dragged along with him.
"Is he dead?" she asked, and he answered fiercely, thrusting her aside:
Then Denise turned and fled up file stone steps through the room where Montauban sat with his officers.
"The Prince hath died in his sickness," she cried, and Montauban looked at her and understood.
"Then is there no need for me," he said slowly, and a flush spread over his wan face. "I go tonight to Guildo—and at the first summons let the English be admitted."
Without waiting for the French that hurried up to join him Kristopher marched up for an attack on Hardouinaye; he wanted no help from Count Enguerrand, in his fiery impatience he vowed to save his friend alone, to capture the château that held Gilles of Brittany even if every stone was bolted with iron and every defender trebled in strength and number.
The days since he had left Dol had been terrible to him, the most terrible in his life; the sense of his friend, his bitterly wronged friend lying helpless behind these walls, believing him false was a keen torture, a bitter sting in his sore heart that those who followed him could not understand.
It was early on a fair morning when they rode up to the walls of Hardouinaye, so early the silver mists had not risen from the grass nor the birds grown tired of their first song.
There was no resistance from Hardouinaye, the walls were unarmed, and as the English neared a man bearing a white flag appeared on the drawbridge.
They were ready to open the gates he said, to lay down their arms, the Sieur de Montauban had abandoned the château and they could make no defence.
Kristopher listened, motionless, then he turned slowly to Gregan who rode at his right.
"What may this be meaning?" he asked. "Think you—they have—" He broke off and sprang to the ground, roused by the rattle of the opening portcullis, and they followed him into the château, held hushed by something indefinable in his utterly quiet manner.
When they clattered into the great empty hall, he turned with a visible effort and whispered something to Gregan, who stepped forward, while he leaned against the wall near the door, his breath coming unevenly, like some one panting for strength.
An officer stepped from the sullen ranks of Montauban's men and handed the keys to Gregan who took them sternly.
"Where is Prince Gilles?" he demanded. "In his prison, Sieur."
"And Montauban abandoned him—leaving the place defenceless?"
"Yes, Sieur," answered the Frenchman calmly.
"He left by the secret way—last night."
"If this is some trap," answered Gregan Griffiths, "you'll all hang for it—I command in Hardouinaye now, your men will march out when they've taken their standard down—and you'll take us to the Prince at once."
Kristopher came a little from the wall slowly, and his blue eyes seemed to discompose the officer, he glanced away before he answered.
"You have the keys of all the château, Sieur," he said.
"And the power to hang you," cried Gregan Griffiths. "Now the way to the Prince's prison—"
He was stepping forward impulsively, the soldiers pressing close behind, when the Frenchman put out his hand with a gesture that stayed them.
"Gilles of Brittany died yesterday," he said. And half timidly he drew his cap off and waited for the utter silence to break.
It was Kristopher who spoke first. "Take me to him."
Gregan, frightened at his voice, turned with some desperate attempt at comfort, but Kristopher stopped him.
"I guessed," he said. "The shadow of it—has been over me—don't speak to me—yet—take me to him—"
A low murmur rose from the English soldiers, the look on Kristopher's face touched all of them—he was greatly beloved—yet none, not even Gregan dared speak to him.
With an awkward gentleness Gregan drew him away as the Frenchman left the hall. Angry and silent the English followed their two leaders through the long dark passages that led to the prisons, with stern faces and eyes on the outlook for treachery.
Kristopher moved with a strange apathy that stirred his own wonder; he had felt so much, so terribly of late, it seemed curious that now when the worst had fallen, he should feel dull and passive.
He marvelled at it and wondered if his heart was dead or broken as he waited in a black lassitude while they unlocked the bars of Gilles' prison.
He caught himself thinking of other things, moments in his life that had been dead for years—the day his father died came back to him, the quiet horror of the sick chamber, the exhaustion of his bitter grief mingled strangely into one, with the look of the bed curtains and the faint perfume of incense burned round the dead.
It seemed a long time before some touch roused him and he entered the narrow door.
Four candles burned either side the bed and for the first time Kristopher noticed how strange candle light looks in broad day—how dim and ghastly.
The blue coverlet on the bed heaved over the stiff line of a figure and the rise of two still feet across which the shadow of the prison bars lay strong—the curtains were drawn back but the face was covered with a white cloth, outside which the little rings of hair showed golden.
Kristopher went up to the bed, still dully wondering at his own calm, marvelling that he did not swoon or die, and dropped on 'his knees and stared at the face cloth.
Gilles' thin hands were laid together and on them was a wreath of drooping flowers. Kristopher found himself kissing their faded leaves and blessing whoever had put them there.
Then his head sank forward on the coverlet and he became as motionless as Gilles—his strength of body and soul gone from him in that apathy that is called despair.
What came and went in the chamber he could not tell, what hurryings and whisperings there were, what new footsteps entered or the old ones left—he knew nothing till he felt a hand laid on his shoulder.
Through the thick leather he wore, he felt that hand printed cold on his flesh and he shuddered with a little moan and looked up. It was his wife.
She stood beside him as pale as the dead he knelt by and as their eyes met she gave a start hardly knowing him, for he too was terribly changed.
"Oh, don't grieve so," she murmured. "Don't grieve so—I was with him when he died—he knew the truth—"
Kristopher stared at her and his rigid face relaxed and moved.
"He believed!" said Yvonne-Marie brokenly. "He blessed you—and—and loved you to the last!"
Like a dreamer struggling back to reality he rose to his feet and the warm blood stirred about his frozen heart.
"It's not cursing me he died?" he faltered. "It's believing and trusting me he was—Oh, Jesu—if it might be!"
His face grew alive with yearning and hope, the hard stare left his blue eyes, he shook himself like a man awaking from a nightmare.
"It's true!" she cried, "I told him all and he believed me—I comforted him—I held him up when he died, I made what amends I could—"
He needed to hear no more, only now did he realise how tense had been his agony, her words refreshed his torn soul like wine the body, new life and strength ran through his veins.
Gilles had understood—believed—the sting and the horror had gone from his sorrow, the black despair was lifted.
He turned to the dead man and gathered him up in his strong arms as tenderly as a mother a tired child and kissed him with his blue eyes wet with tears and murmured endearments in his passionate sorrow and relief.
And Yvonne-Marie leaned faintly against the prison wall and watched him.
A second time he had forgotten her.
Gently Kristopher laid Gilles back, lingering over him, his lovable face grown soft and tender, then with a half sigh he straightened himself out and tore his eyes from the bed.
Gregan and a company of others entered the cell and he turned to them with shining eyes.
"You'll not help the dead this way, Kit," said Gregan. "Come up into the light—there—there's work to be done—Montauban—"
"Sure do you think he'll escape me?" answered Kristopher under his breath. "I'm coming, Gregan—e—"
"Count Enguerrand hath just arrived," said Gregan, surprised at the change in Kristopher's demeanour. "He—"
"Ah!" interrupted Kristopher flushing, "I'm coming, Gregan."
Then as they fell back to the door again he turned to the silent woman in the shadow and his face was tender and proud.
"My wife!" he said very low and reverently as he held out his hand.
"I shall come back."
He took her hand and drew her close and looked into her tear-stained eyes.
"My wife!" he said again, then turned abruptly and followed the others into the great hall.
With the lifting of his utter blind despair had come a sudden strength and calm; the blackness that had made everything distant and unreal was torn aside, he saw what he must do very clearly, without hesitation, faltering, or any sign of weakness he put the men round him back and stepped into the hall where Count Enguerrand waited.
The sun was already high and shining through the red quarterings on the long window before which La Rose Rouge stood; shining too, in a dazzling patch through the open door and on to the armour of the Bretons waiting without.
Kristopher stood a moment with a thoughtful face looking at the sunlight and the glitter, and Enguerrand came a step nearer drawing off his white gloves.
"So the Prince is dead?" he said slowly.
"How is it you know?" answered Kristopher, without moving or taking his eyes from the other.
"Because I met Guy de Montauban riding to Guildo—-"
"Was that your only reason?" asked Kristopher, still so quietly that Enguerrand grew puzzled.
"No," he answered. "There was this—"
He took a paper from his glove and handed it to Kristopher, who took it without a word.
It was Françoise's letter.
There was an utter silence while Kristopher read it, only Enguerrand made a movement of his hand to his sword and his face grew watchful as one in wait for a lion to turn.
But Kristopher read the letter from beginning to end, then folded it slowly and quietly.
"I'll keep this," he said, feeling for his words carefully. "I know of your last know of this too—if it is false—"
"Do you find it hard to believe?" demanded Enguerrand. "That twice she tried and once failed?"
"Never trouble for my belief—it's the truth I'll be knowing," answered Kristopher, lifting his eyes for the first time. "Who did she send this to?"
"To me," said Enguerrand insolently. "But there was no need of my service—Montauban saw to it she became a widow."
"You've played for her both of you—this way now is it?—Well—if she wrote this she'll be almost ignoble enough to be your mate, Count."
Enguerrand laughed to hide his anger.
"How will you find whether that be true or no?" he asked.
"I shall to Guildo," answered Kristopher quietly. "I shall ask her."
"Grand Dieu! And you think she'll tell you the truth?" cried Enguerrand.
"Oh, yes, it's the truth she'll be tellin'—to me!"
And Kristopher moved away with no more notice of La Rose Rouge than if he had been a dog.
"Look to Yvonne-Marie," he said to Gregan. "I'm goin' to Guildo."
It was what Enguerrand had intended and planned for; he meant Kristopher to show his open scorn to Françoise, yet something in Kristopher's quiet nettled him into a rage that could not allow the other to depart so easily.
Kristopher knew his treachery and took it with calm and the disdain of one discovering meanness in a churl, and Enguerrand, feeling it so, was goaded into following him to the door.
"My news does not seem to move you much, Monsieur," he said with an unmistakable challenge in his voice and bearing. Kristopher turned with a weary loathing.
"You! "'he said. "What can such as you be to me? Not even matter for scorn."
And he was passing on again when Enguerrand, fired and flushed, flung himself in front across the steps.
"Par Dieu! you don't leave like this!" he cried, and those who watched held their breath to see the two so close.
Kristopher looked at the other's inflamed features with no change in his own.
"Oh, get you away," he said indifferently. "It's hinderin' me you are."
And he lifted his gloves and struck Enguerrand across the face with them twice, as he might have whipped a cur from the way and never looked back as he descended.
The action was so sudden, so unexpected, so dispassionate that it left Enguerrand staring as if petrified, all his passion turned into amazement.
But some of his men who had witnessed the scene sprang forward to follow Kristopher and then he moved.
"Let him go!" he cried fiercely. "It suits me he should go."
He turned into the hall again with his hand over the dull red mark on his white face and Gregan grew fearful for Kristopher. "He is mad," he said. "His friend's death—"
"Yes," answered Enguerrand with a ghastly smile, "at least for the present we will think so."
He drew out a lace handkerchief and dabbed his smarting face, and the English watching with difficulty restrained a desire to cheer Kristopher's action; they had none of them heard the low conversation that had passed, they knew nothing of what lay behind Kristopher's blow but they bore a strong dislike to the painted Frenchman who led his soldiers perfumed like a woman.
Sending one to learn his wish from Kristopher who was gathering his men together without, Gregan went in search of Yvonne-Marie. Left alone with his own men Enguerrand still stood silent against the wall and made no attempt to follow Kristopher. When Gregan Griffiths came back he found him there, staring at the floor.
"Count," said the Englishman, "the war is near over now—it's each man for himself. We English are going to Dol—and the Prince—"
"The Prince!" broke in Enguerrand with a savage sneer. "Isn't the Prince carrion?—I shan't bury him—let your madman do that—and you—get you to Dol or get you to Hell—what care I? I stay here."
"As you please," answered Gregan fiercely and Enguerrand flung away up the stairs.
Another hour and the English had left Hardouinaye fortified by the Bretons and marched to Dol from whence they intended to disband and return to England.
With the Prince's death all motive or excuse had gone—it had become a confusion in which it was, as Gregan had said, each man for himself.
And out of all this broil and tumult Count Enguerrand intended to withdraw into his stronghold of Bàrrès—with the prize they had all been contending for—Françoise of Brittany and her dowry.
Half her estates he held already by force, he intended to hold them all by right as her husband—a position in which he could defy the Duke and the French—a position that would make him the most powerful and the richest man in Brittany or France position from which he could buy peace and alliance with whom he willed.
When it was near noon and hours since the English had left, he commanded his men to be ready for the march in two hours' time. He had calculated the distance to Guildo and the time, to a nicety, and now the final orders were given, he went to the chamber that had been Françoise's and sat there, waiting—looking out of that window Françoise had opened the night before she left for Rennes, and gazed on to the rain and the dark.
It was different now—there was a flowering almond outside and sunshine, a warm gold light that fell over Enguerrand's white velvet and his splendid hair. He took his watch off and hung it up opposite him, and gazed at the time impatiently, now and then putting his hand to his smooth cheek as if he still felt Kristopher's blow tingling there.
Presently a hurried footstep and one he had utterly forgotten entered—Montauban's page—his ally—Denise.
"Ah!" he smiled easily. "Denise!"
"Denise!" she echoed. She shut the door and leaned against it panting. "Is that my reward—after I've done—murder—for you, La Rose Rouge—Denise!"
Enguerrand smiled indulgently, though fretted by the distraction of her earnestness. He wished she had remained hidden till he had left.
"Ma foi, you proved a true friend, ma mignonne, as I knew—" he held his hand out. "Come and kiss me, Denise!"
But she did not move and the colour leaped up in her drawn face.
"What I've done can't be paid by a kiss—do you guess what it meant to me—to—to—kill that man—the torture it was—Mon Dieu!"
"Ma chérie," he answered, half contemptuous, half amused, "I asked it, and you did it—well! that's all, isn't it?"
"I did it for you, Enguerrand!"
His velvet eyes scanned her curiously as-she came and caught hold of his hand passionately.
"Could I do more!" she cried.
"Or I?" and he kissed her lightly.
"You didn't speak like that when you goaded me, to it," whispered Denise imploringly. "Your caresses were different—it seemed worth doing then—I've never forgotten when we first saw one another—oh, La Rose Rouge!"
"What memories women have for kisses! smiled Enguerrand, smoothing her hair elegantly.
"Your kisses burn to the heart," answered Denise. "They're lying on mine—as deeply printed there as that man's dead face—deeper!—for when you look at me I can forget even that—Oh, Enguerrand—say you love me!"
She was in deep, passionate earnest, her gray eyes swimming in tears, she drew nearer Enguerrand with trembling lips—he, biting his brilliant curls, looked at her, smiling, though there was weariness in his face.
"Ma foi—I do," he answered, "love you, Denise—" and his eyes roved to the watch opposite.
"What do you watch the time for?" she asked sharply. "Are you going after him—and her—?"
"Else what were all this for?" said La Rose Rouge. "Your service and all—m'amie—he'll kill Montauban."
"Maybe he'll kill her!" cried Denise furiously. "Pray God he'll kill her!"
Enguerrand sat upright, suddenly, and glowered down on her.
"Oh, you little devil!" he said. "You think he will!" and at the note in his voice the white dog beside him growled. "But he won't," he added. "He'll kill Montauban—not the woman—"
"You won't go after her—you don't want her, Enguerrand!" she cried, fallen to pleading again. "I—I've given my soul for you!"
"Madame the vagabond," said La Rose Rouge, easy now and smiling, "you never had one."
She was weeping real tears, the first for very long.
Ma mignonne, you're a mummer—an' over serious for the part.' He raised her head in his hand. "Ma foi—where's your indifference, ma chérie!"
"I never was—to you—vagabond—mummer. I always cared for you!"
Enguerrand's eyes turned from the tear-stained face to the watch.
"You can't guess what it means," she shuddered. "Murder I never was so bad as that—murder!"
"He does not live to avenge it, ma petite—and no one knows!"
There was a pause, she kneeling with her face buried in the folds of his velvet cloak, he thinking of other things, his eyes on the watch.
"There's—Heaven,' whispered Denise at last.
"Heaven'll get one victim for this sin," he answered. "Let Montauban bear it before Heaven as before Earth—Ma foi—if we can deceive Brittany we can deceive God—there ain't so many sharp eyes in Heaven," and he laughed with a flash of gleaming teeth and red eyes, but Denise shuddered.
"There's—Hell," she said.
"Where I'll be," he smiled, and she clung tight to his arm, but he rose and put her aside. "Buy an altar with your worn out bracelets an' you fear Heaven!" he laughed. "I must to Guildo," and he drew his sword, looked at it and slipped it back, turning to the door, but she sprang up desperately.
"Mon Dieu!" she shrieked, "you don't think of me!" She threw her arms about him desperately—she could not let him go.
"Think of you?" said Enguerrand. "Morbleu!—yes—but there are other things in life."
"You said it was her wealth," cried Denise, clinging close, "you said 'twas I alone you cared for—why must you go after her?"
"An' you remember and believe so well all I say, you must mind I said—'she will be my wife'—now let me go—Denise."
He was smiling, but not pleasantly, yet she took no warning from it, her face sank against his sleeve and she fell sobbing.
"You spoke false to me!"
"A miracle!" he said, "have you never heard that told of me before?" He put her away from him impatiently and whistled to his dog.
"Mon Dieu!" screamed Denise in an agony. "You love her I I've done murder for you—and you love her!" She was wringing her hands, gazing at him with a distorted face. Enguerrand looked at her, suddenly flaring from his tolerant indifference into fury.
"Yes! I love her!" he said fiercely. "Now—get out of my way—"
He had no need to ask twice, she crawled to the wall in silence, and dropped down, lying along it, with her face hidden, and he watched her and seeing her quiet and tumbled, spoke again with his velvet eyes veiled and the savagery gone from his voice.
"Ma petite—you ask so much—you are unreasonable, Denise."
He took his hat and mantle, tightened his sword belt and patted the dog.
"Farewell, Denise," he said, smiling at her, prostrate along the dusty arras, but she did not answer and he shrugged his shoulders. "As you will, ma mignonne."
He went to the door, the eager hound behind him, then suddenly stopped and took the red rose from his belt, throwing it back at the tumbled heap of blue and green—then to the dog:
"Come—St Anthony," he said very low, and the door closed on his magnificence.
Denise sat up and stared at the flower, brilliant on the dull floor, with her hands to her ears that she might not hear his footsteps going away. A red rose!—for murder, lies, devotion, great love—hope of heaven lost—this was her reward.
A long while she sat quite still with closed eyes shaping the picture of Enguerrand before her, in his jewels and his golden magnificence.
"Why did I demand so much?" she asked herself. "I could have better lived on his toleration, better than without him." She went to the window and stared out—but he had gone, the place was deserted, and seized with' a sudden terror she rushed wildly to the door; but as she opened it her flight was arrested; Eneth stood in front of her and caught her by the shoulders.
"What have you stayed behind for?" she gasped. "To see you safe out of this," he answered. "So he has left you, has he?"
"Ah! well, you'll come with me, Denise. Esper went with Montauban."
"And you?" she asked.
"I shall leave Brittany—"
"I have money—" she interrupted eagerly, "a fortune."
"Blood money!" he answered fiercely. "Think you I'll touch it? God forgive you for the taking of that fortune, Denise!"
When Guy de Montauban rode to Guildo he took few men with him and but one thought; to assure himself of Françoise de Dinan and her dowry—for now she was free again and in his power.
At first she refused to see him; it was close on noon before his threats and entreaties combined brought her down to the room where he waited in a fierce impatience. When she entered he was struck, almost startled, by a subtle change in her; she did not seem to be the same woman he had left here little over a month ago. She did not look ill, but she was very white and cold and her delicate cheeks slightly hollowed, her eyes slightly shadowed, her voice unnaturally level and colourless. And she was more elaborately dressed than he had ever seen her; her attire was usually splendid but simple, her hair dressed plainly, now she wore stiff satins and a gold corset laced across with jewels and for the first time there were pearls in her ears and in her curled hair which was gathered under a Princess's coronet and half concealed under a black veil, from her proud head to the tiny foot she glittered with gems, and the lines of a little song she used to sing occurred to Montauban and jingled in his ears.
Gold as the sun in Autumn,
In radiant jewels dressed
Yet white as the waxen Virgin,
With the fire swords through her breast.
For if Françoise was decked in splendour like a church image she might with much aptness have worn a bleeding heart on her breast, deep wounds she bore there, more than five, and all her magnificence seemed only the louder to proclaim them.
"Is the Prince dead?" she asked with quivering nostrils.
"Yes," answered Montauban, and for all the strange mar over her beauty he found her very fair as he studied her.
"I thought you had not come else," she said slowly. "You come now I suppose for—"
"You," he interrupted. "There is no need of words—you know it—"
"In what way for me?" she answered. "You mean you'd marry me now?"
"I mean I will."
Her coldness was stirred into surprise, she lifted eyes a little heavy and looked at him.
"Why not?" asked Guy de Montauban. "Has this not been my goal—"
"The lands of Dinan and Rohan," she interrupted. "You mean them?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"You may add some love for you, Françoise." She checked him with a quick gesture.
"It is terrible to hear you say that—it makes me feel vile indeed—my husband is scarcely dead."
"He died in his sickness," said Montauban, as if her words contained an accusation.
A deep flush spread over her face and she half rose up.
"Does that surprise you?" he demanded startled. "Did you think—"
"Mon Dieu! don't say any more," she cried. "I thought—"
"Our talk is not of him but of you—you were his wife only in name, you need not weep for him—I cannot dally long—I come to take you to Rennes."
Montauban spoke abruptly, and Françoise lapsed into her calm again.
"How if I refuse?" she asked.
"You are in the Duke's power," he answered. "Is it a question of refusal? Besides, it is your only chance."
"What do you mean?"
"Are there so many men of your own estate would marry you even for your dower? Do you want to sink lower and lower?"
A bright colour swept over her fair face.
"No," she said under her breath. "It is very terrible to be degraded."
"There is none other than I can save you from it," answered Montauban, stopping in front of her. "What you have done will be forgiven my wife—but not the Prince's widow."
She turned her face away and was silent a moment, while Montauban watched her keenly.
"There are others would take up my cause," she said at last. "Count Enguerrand."
Montauban made a movement of genuine horror. "Mon Dieu! You could think of him—you—a noble born at least—you could—"
"He holds half this unhappy fortune of mine," murmured Françoise, flushing crimson with shame. "He is nothing to me—yet he might save me."
"He is another tool of thine doubtless," said Montauban bitterly. "You're using him for your own ends—but what ends can you have now? Are you not utterly in my power—"
"You would seem to make me feel it," she answered, rising. "But I looked for nothing else from you." She stood erect with her back to him, and Montauban's dark eyes were fixed on her.
"Will you take me?" he cried. "It is your only chance, unless you care for such a life as Enguerrand can give you."
The sneer in his voice stung her to the quick.
"Oh, no!" she cried eagerly. "I am not sunk to that—I'll marry you, Montauban—and be grateful."
"I thought so," he answered quietly. "You were always clever enough to see your own advantage."
And he turned away and looked from the window into the smooth ring of sea, but Françoise swung round with a sudden change in her voice.
"Be gentle with me, Guy," she cried. "Oh, for heaven's sake be gentle with me!"
He looked over his shoulder at her a moment, then came up close with a sudden impulse.
"And if I am can you learn to love me a little?"
Françoise sat down heavily, staring into his earnest face: then she broke into a sudden uncontrollable laugh.
"You don't know what you're talking of," she said. "Love you? Don't you know I am here now at your mercy because I love another with my whole soul? Oh—you need not be angry, I am gone far beyond his ken—I shall never see him again—but I love him and shall—till I die."
She rose again with another laugh and shook her shoulders as if dismissing something.
"So there is an end of that, Guy—we'll never mention this subject again—but don't talk to me of—love!"
"Nor you to me of Kristopher Fassiferne," answered Montauban furiously. "If you dare—"
She turned with an impatient scorn that made him stop.
"Do you suppose you can frighten me?" she said. "Haven't I run the whole gamut for him? Wasn't I ready to go down to open shame—to him? And you threaten me."
"Still you shall not speak of him!" cried Montauban.
"Did I?" she answered proudly. "Did I not say the subject was over—closed?"
The glory of the sun in her hair showed like the red lights in wine and glittered on her many jewels and her eyes were weary beyond words.
Yet she gave no signs of tears or grief or even anger against Montauban, she seemed as far from sorrow as from joy, she had brought herself strangely under control since last he saw her.
He found it disconcerting and moved away from her to the other end of the chamber, painfully conscious of her dark eyes following him and the latent scorn in them.
"What was that?"
She spoke quietly but with a new note in her voice, and Montauban straining his ears caught a distant sound mingled with the beating of the sea—a sound like mingled voices and footsteps.
"Brought you many with you?" cried Françoise. "No," he answered, staring at her. "Not above twenty men."
"Oh—fool We're trapped—they are forcing an entrance."
"Who?" cried Montauban frantically.
"How can I tell—maybe—maybe—"
He read the unuttered name in her face and remembering Gilles guessed.
"If it is he—it is better we came to issues now—" and he drew his sword and flung himself forward on the door but in a few quick steps Françoise was beside him.
"Bolt the door," she said. "If it's he—he'll kill you—and I—I could not bear to see him."
"Do you think I'm a coward?" answered Montauban. "Whoever it is—there's fighting below."
And he seized the handle but she clung to him in a white terror.
"Hark!" she cried.
Outside they heard a voice that both knew very well: it cried:
"Which way? Which way?"—then—"Montauban! Montauban!"
"Don't leave me," whispered Françoise. "I'm—afraid."
But all Montauban's blood rose to answer and meet his enemy calling without, she could have checked him for only a second. The door was flung back in their faces and Kristopher stood facing them.
With a quick instinct Montauban stepped back, dragging her with him, and before Kristopher could move he had flung her into the window seat and stood in front with his naked sword over her.
He saw well enough what Kristopher had come for and he cursed the folly that had allowed himself to be trapped, yet his heart leaped to meet this man.
But Kristopher did not appear to notice him, he looked past his dark figure to Françoise.
"I have come to speak to—her—the woman," he said.
"I stand for her," answered Montauban fiercely, but she struggled up and tried to thrust him aside.
"Let him speak to me," she cried, and Kristopher came a step nearer, holding a paper out in his hand.
"Did you write this?" he demanded and at sight of it and his face above she gave a sudden shriek.
"So he has a second time betrayed me!"
"So it's you wrote it!" thundered Kristopher, "and it stamps you twice as a murderess!"
Again she shrieked in utter horror and Montauban flushed into a blind fury.
"What do you talk of, you coward!" he cried, and seized hold of Kristopher's arm to fling him back, but he found himself shaken off against the wall with a force that half stunned him.
"It's that woman I'm speaking of. That woman who murdered her husband—"
"There you lie," gasped Montauban, staggering up again. "I—I murdered Gilles of Brittany."
Kristopher turned from her white rigidity to his tense wrath: they were both of them furious beyond control, in the grip of blind passion, beyond the touch of reason or restraint.
"You murdered Gilles! But the first time—what she speaks of in this letter—it's she maimed him—she!"
"Oh, Jesu!" cried Montauban. "Is that another lie—Françoise?"
"I—I—don't know what you're saying," she faltered and her words were so slurred they could hardly understand her. "I suppose—it's true."
"It is not!" shouted Montauban, "and Gilles died by my orders—and I stand to answer it—and if you're not coward as well as liar you'll answer me!"
Then Françoise threw herself between them and clung to Guy, looking at Kristopher speechlessly, but he with an incoherent cry thrust her aside into the window embrasure, where, her foot catching in her dress, she fell across the window heavily with a sharp cry of pain, and Montauban with one glance at her tossed aside his sword and flung himself on Kristopher with his bare hands.
Then Françoise crouching silent behind them saw Kristopher lift Montauban up as if he had been a child, and shake him and fling him off so that he fell at her feet. But Montauban rose instantly and came at Kristopher with his dagger—only to have it wrested from him and tossed aside.
Françoise saw they were struggling together and she hid her face instinctively till a short desperate cry made her look up and echo it. Kristopher had Montauban in his arms and was bending him backwards over his bent knee with a terrific force that left the other as helpless as a babe in his grasp.
"Oh, pity I pity!" she wailed.
But Kristopher held him even as Gilles of Brittany had been held and did not turn or relax for her feeble cry, and Guy de Montauban gave a moan of mortal agony as he writhed impotently.
The next second Kristopher with a last effort bent him almost double and hurled him a second time at her feet.
"So is Gilles revenged!" he cried with a deep breath.
Françoise rose up by the window with a horrified face; the man at her feet was terrible to look on, he was trying to speak, but his teeth clicked meaninglessly, and his head rolled from side to side as he heaved up and down on the polished floor.
"Aye, squirm like the miserable worm you are!" said Kristopher with blazing eyes. "Die—you mean traitor and murderer, would I could give ten such as you to appease the soul of Gilles of Brittany!"
But Françoise bent down and half dragged up the dying man and stared into his twitching face, and a swift blackness seemed to fall over the rest of the room as she held him—only when his jaw fell loose and his eyes rolled stiff and the blood on his mouth glistened scarlet on a white face did she let him slip from her inert arms and rise to her feet to find the room full of scornful eyes, to see Kristopher pointing to her and thundering out hate.
"Look at those two well!" he said. "The murderers of Gilles of Brittany! It's accursed they are—of God and man—it's only living she is because it's the bitterer part—living to face shame unutterable—to know her state beneath scorning as a street-whipped vagabond!"
The English fell back awed by his fierce bitterness and the sight of the wild-faced woman above the prone man.
"Look at her well!" continued Kristopher. "Sure, she's beautiful—but there's not a painted woman of the streets—not a dice-loading follower of the camps could not show a fairer soul than hers! Oh, surely as it's pitiful God can be—it's terrible he can be—as surely as I spare her wretched life now, she'll find it so!"
The blood flamed into Françoise's cheeks as she realised she was the centre of a crowd, pilloried for common scorn, and as the shame of it rushed on her so awful was the look on her face that the man next Kristopher was moved to pity.
"She is a woman," he whispered, but Kristopher's face was set in new lines of cruelty.
"Yea, she is a woman!" he answered bitterly. "She may still trade on that, buyin' toleration with her eyes an' protection with her lips—'tis her profession! But for us—"
"Don't curse me," said Françoise suddenly, her eyes roved round piteously. "Don't curse me!"
"Shall it need for my curse?" he answered stormily. "When it's Gilles of Brittany's soul'll bear witness against you?"
But her words had checked his outspoken wrath, he turned from her to the English behind him.
"We'll on to Dol now."
"You'll abandon Guildo?"
"As a place accursed—go—-"
The trumpets struck up into music; the men filed from the room with the clashing of pikes and halberts, and Kristopher leaning against the door watched them go with glittering eyes and his mouth set in a thin line. When the last had gone he made no movement to follow: his back was to Françoise, his face to the open door, he was silent with the exhaustion of the lull after great passion; only now and then he shook slightly, like the convulsion of sobbing strongly checked.
She spoke the name under her breath; she could not move from the window for Guy de Montauban lying across her path, but she leaned forward as far as she could.
"What is to become of me?" she continued in the same low voice.
He did not look round or answer, for all his inert figure showed he might not have heard her.
"What is to become of me?" she repeated. This time he answered, though still without turning.
"Can you think I care?"
"No—I don't suppose you do," she drew a deep breath and spoke very slowly. "You've killed the man who would have given me an honourable life you'd—let me go to the—gutter—I suppose—that's what I shall sink to—isn't it?"
Kristopher muttered the same answer.
"Do you think I care?"
Yet still he made no attempt to leave her, did not as much as change his weary position or lift his head.
"Do you know why I betrayed Guildo?" asked Françoise. "For you—"
His utter motionless silence answered her.
"And it makes no difference!" she cried sharply. "To me? No!"
"Then it's useless for me to tell you I wrote that letter that I might be spared in your eyes—"
"Everything is useless," broke in Kristopher,
"Don't you suppose I know it?" she cried. "I have done and you have spoken what has sundered us two—but—do you remember what you said—that nothing could make any difference—to love?"
The silence that followed her slow words lasted some seconds, then she spoke again.
He made a slight movement but no response, and she continued:
"You love me, Kristopher. As I love you, and ever shall—I've given my soul for you and you I think have given nothing for me—but you love me—I know it."
Suddenly he drew himself straight by the door post.
"It's Gilles—Gilles lying murdered—I stood by this mornin'," he said.
"Yes—I'm a murderess," she answered. "And you'll leave me and go back to—your wife—and I shall go downward—to—damnation."
With an uncontrollable movement of agony Kristopher turned and at sight of his face she gave a little cry.
"Yes! it hurts you—because you love me!"
He stood as he had turned and stared at her, the space of the room between, the dead unheeded, and she leaning toward him pressed her hands together and trembled. 6
"You can't give your soul away twice, Kristopher—you'll go back to her—but you'll give her nothing but cold respect—all you have of love and passion is mine—your very heart—Oh—my dear!"
Kristopher came a step nearer and she fell back behind Guy, all her jewels suddenly glittering in the sun as she moved; without any change in his white intent face, he stopped short.
"Sure, I'm mad I think," he said hoarsely. "To stay an' listen to you. I bear the Leopard on my coat—"
"You stay because you love me—haven't you vowed it?"
"Yea," he answered. "When you were pure—of crime—at least—but now—"
"Don't lie to your own soul," she broke in. "You love—me."
She put her arm up and hid her eyes.
"Why don't you go?" she, said faintly, then she looked up to see he stood close enough to touch her, only the body of Montauban dividing them.
In the bright sun his face looked distorted and strange and his wide eyes were fixed on her as if they knew of nothing else to gaze on.
Then he turned swiftly and walked steadily to the door and without looking back was gone.
The sunshine scrolled away from Françoise like a rose leaf before flame; she stood in a misty dark and heard steady footsteps going away from her and knew she was alone.
But she could not speak, a weight was over her tongue; she writhed mutely and tried to force the swirling darkness off with helpless hands, and desperately sought to find the window and the light, but that too had grown utterly black—she found herself both blind and dumb, only her ears were acute and they heard footsteps going—away.
For a long while she stood erect, enveloped in blackness, then she felt a little wind blowing on the back of her neck and the veil was lifted and she di stared out on dim objects.
The objects of a tomb, it was a tomb she stood in, utterly gray and damp and stifling, filled with thick air that stung in her nostrils—a burial vault, and in the centre lay a coffin with a prince's pall twitched aside.
"I'm going mad," choked Françoise, and tried to close her eyes but could not, they were fixed on the coffin till every nail in it was burned into her brain.
Under the lid hung out a golden curl and it was trailed over with blood.
"Oh, no!" shrieked Françoise, flinging out her arms. "Oh, no!"
Wildly she struggled for the possession of her senses and fumbled for some real object to steady herself by, but she groped in the dark and presently fell forward into what seemed a deep gulf where she lay prone and motionless. A perfume of limes and strong lilies smote her, she thought she could see the sun shining and feel the quiet of long shadows, the sense of splashing waters—she seemed back in Hardouinaye and Gilles of Brittany was riding toward her and he was young and strong and singing. Then as he came close enough to touch her he burst into a flame that scorched up the whole scene. Françoise shivered and moaned and dragged at the fastening of her dress in her stifling agony and strove to crawl forward, only to find herself held by something that gripped her dress.
In her delirium she thought it was Gilles who clutched her and she muttered entreaties and strove feebly with him, calling again and again on Kristopher to save her; and presently she saw a hand that she seized gladly and held to for all it was cold and damp, as some protection against the awful shadows that were bearing down on her, the stifling multitude of shapes she was struggling against—things that held her down and mocked and shrieked.
Suddenly something soft touched her cheek and the spell of her horror was broken, she looked up into reality.
It was a white sea-gull that had flown in through the open window and now circled the low room slowly.
With a shudder of exhaustion Françoise watched it and knew the nightmare had been snapped.
The sea was behind her, the darkening room in front, the jasmine struggled in the sea breeze and the sun, grown ruddy for its setting, flung light on the imprisoned gull's wings.
"I've been here a long time," moaned Françoise, "a long time."
Then she realised she was lying along the floor, close to Montauban, holding one of his stiff hands in hers, and with a shriek she dropped it and leaped to her feet to find what it was held her. The dead man, the fingers of his right hand were locked firmly in her gown, she could not move from the window embrasure for his body in her path and his clutch on her dress.
"Let me go!" she implored. "Let me go!"
And desperately she-tried to wrench herself free and when that proved vain she strove to loosen her dress—to escape that way, but her numb fingers struggled uselessly with the stiff fastening—she could not free herself.
The thought came to her to step over him and rush away, but she pictured him dragging along the floor after her as she ran through the château unable to shake him off and she could not face it.
The sea-gull found the window again and whirred past her head into the sun, and Françoise leaned back against the lattice and burst into sick sobbing and long stinging tears that choked her and made her struggle for her breath.
She was utterly forsaken—to the meanest servant, all had forsaken her—there was no one to come and see whether she was dead or alive—no one to care—no she was beyond the sympathy of a churl, the kindness of her own footboy.
A second time she made a desperate vain attempt to get free of Montauban and a second time she fell back—unable to weep now for sheer weariness and leaning her head against the open window stared on to the sea.
A distant noise of life and laughter, footsteps and voices made her turn and face the room again—she could not think who could be coming and as the noise grew louder she crouched farther away.
The footsteps of some one hurrying, the swinging open of doors—her name called loudly—and suddenly Françoise understood.
And with the impulse her knowledge gave her she faced the door as it was flung back and Count Enguerrand entered.
For a second they stood looking at each other, then he noticed Montauban at her feet and gave a little laugh.
"Parbleu! so he left you with that? Well, you hate him now—don't you, ma belle!"
She made no answer but as he came and kneeling before her wrenched Montauban's hand away she looked down at his handsome white face with a fury that made her own drawn and hard.
"Well?" said Enguerrand rising, "why don't you speak to me? I've come for you."
Now he was sure of her, his tone was insolent, he was weary too, and her silence chafed him, he had expected pleasure.
"Come," he said, with his red eyes grown impatient. "Give me a better welcome than this—my wife to be."
And catching hold of her he swung her over Montauban's body, but she writhed away and drew herself up against the wall and Enguerrand catching sight of her face stopped short.
"What is the matter?" he demanded, and the flush of his triumph deepened into anger. "You're coming with me now."
She spoke now, interrupting fiercely.
"So this was what you played for—beguiled me and betrayed me for—twice!"
"What else?" he answered. "You guessed it—Mon Dieu! you knew I loved you."
"Loved me!" she whispered. "Loved me!"
She turned her face to the wall and he could guess at nothing from her weary words and pose, so with an amused laugh he came nearer and put his hand on her shoulder.
"You'll not be sorry to come, mignonne," he said. "They've treated you badly—but I'll make amends—I'll set you up as a princess in the land again—as my wife—"
"Your wife!" ejaculated Françoise and her tone roused him into anger again.
"You should be pleased," he said insolently. "You're not my superior now, I think—they left you here for the first corner."
Françoise interrupted him with a little faint laugh of scorn.
"Your—wife!" she repeated.
"Parbleu!" cried Enguerrand furiously. "Be not so proud, my lady. Thank your dowry it is as my wife you'll come to Bàrrès, for come you will and—now!"
Françoise turned further away with a little shudder.
"How I do loathe you!" she whispered. "How I hate you, Count."
Enguerrand clenched his hand till the plundered rings he wore cut the flesh in the effort to control his wrath; this was not the welcome he had looked for.
"We'll make it no talk of love or hate, then," he said. "We'll say I'm taking you for the lands of Dinan, and you're coming because you must."
"Not now," she put in. "I'm tired unto death—and the sight of you sickeneth me."
"Make no words about it," he answered.
"You've fooled many but you've met your master now."
He caught hold of her wrist and dragged her into the light.
"Who've you been weeping for?" he demanded, his wrath rising higher. "Didn't you know I'd come—weren't you content to wait?"
"I never thought of you," she answered.
"Who did you think of then? Who killed Montauban? Was it he—your Englishman?"
"Yes," she cried proudly. "He slew him splendidly!"
"And you?" said Enguerrand, trembling with rage. "Didn't he throw you off?—Don't you hate him?"
She looked up squarely into his eager red eyes. "No, I love him."
At first she thought he was going to strike her with the little whip he carried and stood very still to meet it, but he turned away and began striding up and down the room while she sank on the window seat in an utter lassitude.
"I'll kill you for that if you speak it again—you dare to talk of loving him—my thing, you—if you hate me you may, either way you're mine." Françoise rose up with her white face held high. "No—his—always his."
Enguerrand stopped in his pacing and looked at her.
"Do you want me to strike you dumb?" he said passionately.
Françoise's head sank slowly till her chin touched her breast and he waited in vain for her answer.
She had nothing to say, she was completely conquered and after a while he laughed, and going to the door called the men who were plundering the château without.
As he stood there talking to them, Françoise glanced up covertly at his splendid presence and wondered how she could have felt even a faint liking for him.
For her hatred of him was now beyond all measure.
Presently he came back to where she sat and demanded the keys of her jewels and the gold vessels, and when she gave them dully he flung them to the man at the door and bade him bring everything of worth to Bàrrès. Françoise was still motionless, only as he came up to her and lifted the black curls from her cheek she shuddered.
"You're weary," he said, with a return of his elegant manner, a little moved too by the piteous droop of her figure, a little regretful of the passion that was needless when he had her so surely. "Françoise, bien-amie, look up at me—we'll not be unhappy." She did not change her posture of utter despair, but she answered very low.
"You think you can make me happy?"
"Ma foi, you'll be the first woman I've failed with if I don't," he answered smiling. "Only, ma petite, you must a little like me."
One of his soldiers struck on the door—they were ready to march.
"Now," said Enguerrand, and he held out his hand to Françoise, watching her keenly the while. For a second she was motionless; then she rose as one going reluctantly to death.
The thick trees round Count Enguerrand's encampment were powdered silver with moonlight that night and the colour of the heavens was scarcely visible for the thick stars.
So light it was that Françoise, standing at the entry of her tent and looking out on the night, could clearly distinguish the colours of the daffodils and violets in the long grass and count the men and horses under the trees.
And Enguerrand's men, looking up to the group of ash trees where her tent stood, could see her distinctly enough to be impressed, almost awed, by her motionless figure and her stormy face.
She had loosened her hair from its pins and combs; it fell straight to her waist obscuring the jewels on her bodice; her eyes were half closed through utter weariness, but very bright and restless.
Though she was the only woman in the camp every man save Enguerrand was afraid of her; as she stood there so still in the moonlight, and looked down on them they would not have dared come near, even her steady gaze made them uneasy.
Presently she turned back into the tent.
A lantern stood on the ground; in the square of yellow light it cast the thick grass was visible and a great trail of columbine visible with its striped flowers scrolled.
In one corner lay a pile of cloaks arranged as a rough couch, on them was flung a silver comb and mirror. Françoise stopped in the centre of the tent and pushed her hair back.
The air, confined in the close canvas, was oppressive; she drew a quick breath and began unclasping her stiff, heavy bodice.
With a sigh of relief she took off that and her thick trailing skirt, shook herself free of them and stood up straight and slender in her plain under garment, a gray kirtle that fitted tightly and bore her arms in the gold lilies on the breast. When she had done this she began walking up and down with purposeless words and gestures to herself.
Her mind was a confusion, she could not see clearly either backward or forward; she hardly knew what had happened to her, why she was here, yet the moment when Kristopher had flung her off was clear as a picture before her eyes.
Her right arm was so bruised and sore where he had flung her against the window that she could hardly lift it. Enguerrand had done this thing; he had been the means; he had trapped her and flaunted her shame before Kristopher—Kristopher—
She hated him so that when she Thought of him she uncontrollably shuddered as if at the remembrance of a leper.
Yet she was going with him passively, she had heard him give orders for Bàrrès; she had no plan of revolt in her mind, no purpose; she only sat staring at the daisies at her feet and trembled with her loathing of Enguerrand. She felt herself very weak and helpless; she felt no remorse either for Gilles or Guy, but a vast pity for Françoise de Dinan who had been trapped so miserably.
She began crying softly.
Surely no one was to be pitied as much as she was, no, not Gilles maimed and murdered, not Guy suddenly slain, not Kristopher with a lost country and a broken heart had tasted such bitterness as she; for all they had suffered she had suffered double; all three of them had cursed her—but there had been no need—she was paying—dear Lord I—she had paid!
She rocked herself to and fro; before her came the faces of those four men, two dead now, who had said "I love you!" and what had they done for her—nothing!
She had been deceived by all of them, even by Gilles who had made her lie while he held that letter, by Guy, who had sent his spy to tempt her, by Kristopher who loved her and denied her, most of all by Enguerrand who had triumphed now, Enguerrand whom she hated, hated.
And what was she to do?—how was she to get free of him?
What was she to do?
She slipped to her knees on the grass and caught hold of the columbine leaves, crushing them up in her hands; they were cool and fragrant to touch, the thick stalks were strong too; she could not have held herself up even on her knees without them.
Mingled with the beating of the ash bough came another sound; the gentle breaking of branches and the swish of tall grass bent back.
Françoise listened; it came from the side of the tent furthest from the entrance; some one was walking outside and stealthily, it seemed.
She drew herself upright on her knees and her eyes widened with expectancy, waited, holding herself alert.
There was a movement on the canvas without, then a sudden sharp rip of stuff and the gleam of a knife ran along from top to bottom. The taut canvas flew apart in a great slash and a bar of moonlight fell over Françoise's white face.
A boy whom she did not know stood in the aperture, gazing down at her and she spoke, faintly, from a cloud of bewilderment.
"What do you want?"
The newcomer stepped into the tent without a word and slipped the knife back into his waist-belt.
Françoise suddenly gave a little cry: "Oh! you are Montauban's spy!"
"Yes," said Denise, standing over her with a passionate face, "that and some other things—stand up and listen to me, Françoise of Brittany."
As she spoke she stepped back against the tent and leaned there, panting. Françoise rose, excitement lending her strength. "Now what have you come to say?" she asked. "Whose messenger are you now?"
"I stand for myself," answered Denise, "I have been following you—I came from Hardouinaye—"
"Yes?" breathed Françoise.
The two women faced each other—hardly a foot apart, Denise breathing hard, flushed and passionate, Françoise very white and quiet.
"Following me?" she said as the other did not answer.
"And—him," flung back Denise. "He loves you—doesn't he? Jesu I One might wonder why—I think you're no better now than I, Françoise of Brittany!"
She drew herself up defiantly and her gray eyes glowed fiercely.
"God he knoweth I am better than none," said Françoise quietly, "and if you speak of Enguerrand—"
"Yes," put in Denise, "Enguerrand."
The heavy eyes of Françoise lifted and measured her; took in her disguise, her face, her quality, something of her mission too.
"So—you are here—secretly?" she questioned. "Yes—I've been dismissed."
"Ah," said Françoise. "I understand."
She seated herself on the pile of cloaks and put her hand to her forehead, turning a dull face toward the other woman.
"I've been in the camp yonder," said Denise swiftly, "I've been gathering threads—and now I've—come to you—but—tell me, do you hate me, Françoise of Brittany?"
The slight gray-clad figure on the rich embroidery was shaken with a shudder.
"I hate him," she answered.
"And you have need!" cried Denise. "Even with what you know you have need—but—you do not know—or do you?—that he has planned to catch and slay—the Englishman—"
"Kristopher!" said Françoise—"To kill Kristopher!"
"He struck him," flashed Denise. "Full on the face—before all his men—"
"Thank God for that!" burst out Françoise hysterically. "My lord is magnificent—so he struck him—on the face!"
A smile curled Denise's hard mouth.
"Yes," she said. "I like your Englishman—I am greatly indebted to him for that blow—now what will you do to help me save him?"
Françoise tried to rise but at her first movement she grew so giddy that she fell back with a weak laugh.
"I'm ill," she whispered. "I cannot think—"
The hard-living, shameless vagabond whose nerves were of steel, whose body was inured to privation and fatigue, gave a curious glance at the broken figure of the great lady who was fainting under the burden of her shame.
Even in her present wild mood she was touched by the fact that Françoise accepted quietly that she had fallen to the other's level and made no sign of distaste at her company.
"You are very humbled, Françoise of Brittany," she said curiously. "You looked over my head once—I had thought you might be proud still."
Françoise said nothing; her fingers moved slowly through the shut daisies by her side and her eyes were vacantly on the lantern light.
"Listen," said Denise coming nearer, "The Englishman has been at Hardouinaye—burying the Prince—he leaves there to-morrow morning for Dol—he will have his wife with him."
"Yes?" said Françoise faintly.
"The way to Bàrrès passes Hardouinaye. Enguerrand will lie in wait for the Englishman—he has only a handful of English—do you understand?"
"Dear God!" whispered Françoise.
Denise laid a steady hand on her shoulder, looked eagerly down into the wild black eyes. "You and I, Françoise of Brittany, have been accomplices before—when the Prince died—"
"Dear God!" shuddered Françoise again.
"We've gone too far to go back—both of us," cried Denise wildly. "Don't you see what next there is to do—we are two women whom he has laughed at—but don't you see? And if you want to save the Englishman—"
"Well—well?" Françoise struggled to her feet. "You hate him—don't you?" breathed Denise. "And I also—that is why I came to you—he'll come to you I think—oh, yes, your lure is new enough—well then to-night—and there need be no ambuscade for your lover to-morrow—"
"No!" shrieked Françoise. "No! I cannot do it again!"
She wrung her hands and swayed forward. Denise caught her by the shoulder, supporting her.
"Has he tamed you then?" she cried fiercely. "He said he'd hold you in his hand—bring you to kiss his shoe—has he done it?"
Françoise lifted her head. "He said that of me?"
"Yes—and you—said you hated him."
Françoise, half slipping through the other's grasp, fell back against the canvas.
"Well, send for him," said Denise. "Ask him to come here now—"
She watched eagerly for the effect of her words; she felt Françoise quiver, then straighten under her grasp, saw how her breast was struggling under the gold lions of Brittany on her dress, saw at last her face lifted, struck into a passion as great as her own.
"So—we should kill him—with a lure—well, I have done worse things than that—in cooler blood too—I have a fever to-night." She brought the laboured words to an end and showed her bruised arm to the other. "See what my lord did to me!" she cried. "Is he not splendid—my lord? he spurned me royally—he put me to shame—but I have broken his heart!"
Denise was silent before her tumultuous words and distorted beauty; Françoise in a fever close on madness, began laughing.
"He struck Enguerrand I Across his hateful face—I would give my life to do the same—"
"Send for him," cried Denise—"Surely he will come?"
"Aye—he'll come—'I hate you as I love the other man,' I said to him—he cursed me but he has some pride—'you're free of me till we get to BArrês,' he said—'but you'll send for me before that.'"
"Yes, to-night—to meet me to-night!" Françoise suddenly caught her in a passionate embrace.
"Ah I did you not dream it all differently, long ago, I mean—when you were a child. I did—once—oh, you are a woman—and you will touch me still—put your arms round me—I've never loved a woman, but kiss me—you—"
Denise trembled under the soft, warm weight in her arms; she looked at the fever-flushed face and her own quivered.
"We have no time for tears," she said unsteadily. "And, sweetheart, you will make me cry—"
"I've been a hard cheat," shuddered Françoise, clinging to her. "I would to God I had died when—I dreamed it all so differently—you know—what I mean—I've gone beyond remorse now."
"But not beyond hate," said Denise hoarsely. "Think what he did to you—think of the Englishman trapped to-morrow—bring him here to meet me—now!"
"No!" cried Françoise. "No!—but I will go to—warn Kristopher—I can escape—I cannot look on blood again."
She shuddered her face on to the other's shoulder, clutching her fingers in the rumpled doublet.
"Stay with me," she said wildly. "Go with me—have pity on me—don't ask any more from me! Jesu! I have done enough!"
"You make a fool of me!" answered Denise with a hard catch in her voice; she lifted the head from her shoulder and with her fingers under the chin, stared down at the flushed face.
"You are very sweet, Françoise of Brittany," she said. "Why do you cling to me?—I came here to kill Enguerrand."
Françoise shook with a sob.
"I've been hard! hard!—I've been a liar, a—I meant to be—all because I loved my lord—and when I'd given my soul for him he flung me off—I want to die now—do you understand?—but I will go and warn him—"
"But the other man?" cried Denise. "The man we both hate?"
"May, I never see his face again," murmured Françoise, "but I cannot lure him to be slain—"
"Let me free then—let go of me!"
"No—stay with me—"
Denise tried fiercely to unlock her hands, but Françoise held her tight, her half-swooning face against the other's breast, and, at the feel of it there a wild tenderness distracted Denise; she tried to push her away, yet at the same time she supported her; she had not been sorry for herself, but she was bitterly sorry for Françoise, lying against her weak as a stricken doe.
"Sweetheart—you must not," she began—when suddenly Françoise unclosed her black eyes.
They drew themselves apart, erect, listening. There was a sound of singing without and it drew nearer.
"Now!" said Denise in a trembling whisper. "He comes—of himself—he comes!"
Swiftly she turned the lantern over; they were in the dark save for the drift of moonlight that came through the gash in the canvas.
Françoise stood with her finger-tips on her lips and no purpose in her mind; she felt Denise hold her arm and heard the singing of Enguerrand coming nearer, her eyes fell to the columbine flowers in the patch of moonlight and the crowds of little daisies about them.
He was very close now; she felt Denise's fingers tighten and put out her other hand to close it over hers; the companionship was very dear to her now.
The tent flap was lifted; Françoise saw him outlined against the dim trees beyond.
"Françoise," said the slow, insolent voice. "I grew weary of waiting for you—Françoise." He stooped and came into the tent, the two women clung together, silent, unseen.
"Françoise, I could not sleep to-night," he said. "We march in an hour's time—for Hardouinaye "—she spoke out of the shadows in a contained voice:
"Why to Hardouinaye?"
He turned to where the voice came from.
"To settle with the Englishman."
"Ah!" cried Françoise, "and I am to be there to see!"
"Yes," he said. "Where are you—Françoise?" He came full into the moonlight, straining his eyes into the corners.
"Françoise!" he said softly.
A woman's figure formed itself out of the darkness; a small hand was laid on his and drew him gently out of the moonshine.
"Enguerrand," said the voice of Françoise. "Will you slay him for love of me—or for that blow on the face?"
He started to think she knew; the darkness was confusing him, the hand had gone from his arm; he reached out and caught hold of some one who came unresistingly.
"Why, for both causes," he said, drawing her up to him—"and who told you, Françoise?"
She lay quietly in his arm; there was a sound like broken hysterical laughter from the corner of the tent; Enguerrand startled, lifted his head and for the first time noticed the torn tent.
"Morbleu!—now what is this!" he cried. "Françoise—-"
He felt the woman grow tense in his embrace and in a sudden terror let go of her; but she clung to him and he felt she was striking up at him with a bare knife.
With a passionate cry he felt for his sword, but some one was clinging to it; some one had him by the cloak, the knees, hampering him, and again the woman struck.
He felt his own blood run warm over his hand as he struggled to fling her off, but he laughed as he tugged at his sword.
"Who is the other one?—come into the light, sweetheart!" he called out.
His great strength wrenched him free of both of them, he staggered backward into the open and drew his sword at last. But as it flew out he fell heavily on to his knees and could not find voice to call out to his men.
For a moment his bleeding face was turned to the tent, the next instant he was prone on the grass with his sword snapped under him. He was aware of two women clinging together and laughing weakly, and he wanted to laugh too savagely; he struggled on to one elbow.
"Denise!" he smiled, "by Christ! Denise!" Then he fell over and lay still.
"Now he is dead," whispered Denise, "and—he knew me—run—you—before they find him."
Françoise was staring at him with dilated eyes.
"Why did you strike his face?" she breathed. "Look how—it runs—down his cheek—the blood, ah!—and your hands!"
"At least he will not ride in an hour's time to Hardouinaye!" cried Denise. "Kristopher is safe—and I have—"
"Come away!" shrieked Françoise. "There is blood on the grass and on my feet—God! why did you strike his face? you have blinded him—ah, curse the moonlight! I could have done anything in the dark!"
"You have roused the men!" said Denise. "Run—for your life!"
She turned herself and doubled through the trees like a hare; Françoise dropped to her knees beside Enguerrand and caught hold of his shoulder.
"Get up—" she said, "get up and kill me—"
A sound of distant shouting made her look up—
Enguerrand's men were running up the slope toward her.
Fear for herself, for her life seized her; she fled into the forest with her hands over her ears.
She ran for a while aimlessly, hardly conscious of her body; the slim trees raced by her, and sleeping birds, startled at her approach, fluttered dark into the moonlight; once a swift fox crossed her path and then a rabbit flying through the bracken.
She dropped on to her side at last, and lay panting on last year's leaves, starred With primroses, while she looked up at the silent trees.
It came to her as strange that she had not been caught yet; she would be caught she knew, and before long.
The strong, fragrant bracken half hid her; she laid her head on the ground among primroses and violets, the beech mast and dead leaves; the world seemed flying about her in shreds of darkness; she was drawn tense to hear the thud of hoofs nearing, the war cry of Enguerrand's men.
But there was a perfect stillness; she began to wonder what she should do; all her instincts cried out to her to hurry on—on—to plunge deeper and deeper into the forest, then she remembered she must be nearing Dol.
She sat up with the dead bracken in her hair.
Kristopher would ride by here—near, she knew where—she knew the road from Hardouinaye to Dol.
She would go and watch him pass; Enguerrand's men might find him—if need be she could warn him. She drew herself erect and set her face toward the highroad; she could find her way, she thought. The brambles and wild roses caught at her, tearing her dress; save for the gold lilies on her bosom she might have been a beggar wench.
It was the first time in her life that she had been alone in the woods at night; the sense of loneliness and freedom, the quiet, sleeping things about her made her feel disembodied; her wild life had fallen away utterly; she felt very sure this was the end.
She thought of nothing; only there came to her broken memories of the beginning of life, how she had gone nutting in these woods with her cousin, and how he had caught a squirrel for her which she had kept in a cage over her bed; she had been fond of it, she remembered, but one day she had given it cake to eat that killed it and her cousin had said she had done it on purpose because they had quarrelled.
She had always loved this forest; it was more beautiful now than she had ever seen it under the sun; honeysuckle and sweet briar were giving forth a pungent scent to right and left of her; anemones and primroses made the ground soft for her feet; she walked rapidly, feeling no longer fatigue or giddiness.
Presently she came to a little wooden bridge well known to her and stopped there staring down into the stream.
Now she was not far from where Kristopher must pass on his way to Dol.
As she leaned on the moss-grown rail, she grew aware of a change coming over everything; the stars she had seen reflected at her feet, began to get lost in the dark water, she looked up and saw that they were being absorbed into a silver sky; the moon was sinking like a great pearl behind the sharp-cut purple trees; it grew colder; there was a stir of birds in the leaves; Françoise looked again into the unfathomable water, and saw it faintly stained with red and orange; then she turned round and saw the sun was rising behind her; as she looked the lilies sparkled in their gold threads on her dress and liquid light began to run through the trees.
Then, all at once, it was day.
Françoise saw everything about her breaking into colour; the banks of the stream were turquoise with forget-me-nots and a little tree beside her showed itself a snowy hawthorn. Françoise hurried on; ran till her side hurt her and she had to hold it, panting. The smooth wide highroad showed at last; she lay down in the fern, with her eyes on it. As the sun grew brighter she could see the whole length of it, almost to the gates of Dol.
The sky was changing to a faint, cloudy blue; she strained her ears for the sound of pursuers—here Enguerrand was to have met and slain Kristopher—she had saved that, she thought, at whatever price to her, at least he would go free.
Presently she heard the bridle bells and dragged herself on her elbow to watch. It was he, riding from Hardouinaye. She struggled to her knees, filled with a wild desire to attract attention—she had saved him.
The little cavalcade came on at a smart trot, he had Gregan Griffiths with him, his sister and his wife; not above ten men-at-arms, on his surcoat she saw the English leopard.
The thought of her danger came to her—surely he could not leave her to die—if she stepped into the road before his horse and called to him?—surely if he knew she was there he must stop and save her!
She dragged herself nearer the road; she could not let him pass in silence—she could not let him go.
Eagerly she strained her eyes for a sight of his face.
It was turned from her toward his wife and he was smiling.
Françoise drew back into the fern with her fingers at her lips; she could not cry out.
She had a vision of Yvonne-Marie's sweet, contented face, of Kristopher's fresh-coloured and smiling, and they had swept past her, the Leopard of England glittering on the banners.
For a while she lay quite still, then she looked after them till they were lost in the distance.
"So," she said miserably, "you don't care—you will live—I think—to forget."
Aimlessly she turned back into the forest, numb at heart.
It was bright daylight now and the grass lay in an emerald slope before her; eased of a fear and a hope she felt tired and giddy again.
But a sudden sound roused her and sent the blood warm through her veins. The sound of horsemen galloping through the trees.
So—they had found her, but they had missed him—he was in Dol by now.
She turned at bay against a hawthorn tree with no attempt to fly.
They came fast through the bracken, fifty of them; they were on her before she had time to realise them, had seen her and burst into savage shouts.
At sight of their leader she shrieked too: "Enguerrand!"
He had drawn up his powerful horse within a few feet of her; his face was white and bandaged; but his red eyes and his laugh were the same.
"So I have found you!" he said fiercely.
"Enguerrand!" she cried again, "so you live!"
"Are you not glad of it?" he answered. "Morbleu! I do not think I shall die by a woman's spiteful tricks—but as for you—"
"As for me," she broke in wildly, "I have lived my life!—And he is safe!"
"The Englishman!" shouted Enguerrand.
"Yes," she flung back—"and so I care not if you die or live—he is in Dol by now!"
He swayed on his horse in a passion of wrath—she stepped to his stirrup and looked up at him.
"And he struck you—before these, she said.
"And you shall pay for it!" yelled Enguerrand. "Did I not say you had met your master in me? You shall stand proxy for him!"
He leaned down, caught her by the shoulder and flung her on the ground.
"Ride her down!" he thundered to his men. "Ride her down!"
Françoise shrieked out:
"No! not under the hoofs!"
But Enguerrand rose in his stirrup and struck at his plunging horse.
Françoise shrieked again and struggled to catch hold of him—to keep him off her.
"Ride her down!" shouted Enguerrand. "Ride her down!"
He dashed his whip into her face as his horse thundered over her and never looked back as his fifty men galloped after him, trampling her fair body beneath the iron hoofs.
Her face, her hair, the gold lilies of France were mangled together; her proud blood was beaten into the dirt and spattered over the horse's hoofs; as the last man passed her he looked down and cried out—so terrible was she to see; her black hair caught and clung to his stirrup, he stooped and freed himself with a wild curse.
"Ride on!" came Enguerrand's voice. "Ride on!"
And so they passed in a mad gallop through the forest of Hardouinaye, leaving the wolves to deal with Françoise of Brittany.
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