Read CHAPTER XVI. AT CLOSE QUARTERS of Count Hannibal, free online book, by Stanley J. Weyman, on

Fear leapt into Mademoiselle’s eyes, but she commanded herself. She signed to Madame Carlat to be silent, and they listened, gazing at one another, hoping against hope that the woman was mistaken. A long moment they waited, and some were beginning to breathe again, when the strident tones of Count Hannibal’s voice rolled up the staircase, and put an end to doubt. Mademoiselle grasped the table and stood supporting herself by it.

“What are we to do?” she muttered. “What are we to do?” and she turned distractedly towards the women. The courage which had supported her in her lover’s absence had abandoned her now. “If he finds him here I am lost! I am lost!”

“He will not know me,” Tignonville muttered. But he spoke uncertainly; and his gaze, shifting hither and thither, belied the boldness of his words.

Madame Carlat’s eyes flew round the room; on her for once the burden seemed to rest. Alas! the room had no second door, and the windows looked on a courtyard guarded by Tavannes’ people. And even now Count Hannibal’s step rang on the stair! his hand was almost on the latch. The woman wrung her hands; then, a thought striking her, she darted to a corner where Mademoiselle’s robes hung on pegs against the wall.

“Here!” she cried, raising them. “Behind these! He may not be seen here! Quick, Monsieur, quick! Hide yourself!”

It was a forlorn hope the suggestion of one who had not thought out the position; and, whatever its promise, Mademoiselle’s pride revolted against it.

“No,” she cried. “Not there!” while Tignonville, who knew that the step was useless, since Count Hannibal must have learned that a monk had entered, held his ground.

“You could not deny yourself?” he muttered hurriedly.

“And a priest with me?” she answered; and she shook her head.

There was no time for more, and even as Mademoiselle spoke Count Hannibal’s knuckles tapped the door. She cast a last look at her lover. He had turned his back on the window; the light no longer fell on his face. It was possible that he might pass unrecognized, if Tavannes’ stay was brief; at any rate, the risk must be run. In a half stifled voice she bade her woman, Javette, open the door. Count Hannibal bowed low as he entered; and he deceived the others. But he did not deceive her. He had not crossed the threshold before she repented that she had not acted on Tignonville’s suggestion, and denied herself. For what could escape those hard keen eyes, which swept the room, saw all, and seemed to see nothing those eyes in which there dwelt even now a glint of cruel humour? He might deceive others, but she who panted within his grasp, as the wild bird palpitates in the hand of the fowler, was not deceived! He saw, he knew! although, as he bowed, and smiling, stood upright, he looked only at her.

“I expected to be with you before this,” he said courteously, “but I have been detained. First, Mademoiselle, by some of your friends, who were reluctant to part with me; then by some of your enemies, who, finding me in no handsome case, took me for a Huguenot escaped from the river, and drove me to shifts to get clear of them. However, now I am come, I have news.”

“News?” she muttered with dry lips. It could hardly be good news.

“Yes, Mademoiselle, of M. de Tignonville,” he answered. “I have little doubt that I shall be able to produce him this evening, and so to satisfy one of your scruples. And as I trust that this good father,” he went on, turning to the ecclesiastic, and speaking with the sneer from which he seldom refrained, Catholic as he was, when he mentioned a priest, “has by this time succeeded in removing the other, and persuading you to accept his ministrations ”

“No!” she cried impulsively.

“No?” with a dubious smile, and a glance from one to the other. “Oh, I had hoped better things. But he still may? He still may. I am sure he may. In which case, Mademoiselle, your modesty must pardon me if I plead urgency, and fix the hour after supper this evening for the fulfilment of your promise.”

She turned white to the lips. “After supper?” she gasped.

“Yes, Mademoiselle, this evening. Shall I say at eight o’clock?”

In horror of the thing which menaced her, of the thing from which only two hours separated her, she could find no words but those which she had already used. The worst was upon her; worse than the worst could not befall her.

“But he has not persuaded me!” she cried, clenching her hands in passion. “He has not persuaded me!”

“Still he may, Mademoiselle.”

“He will not!” she cried wildly. “He will not!”

The room was going round with her. The precipice yawned at her feet; its naked terrors turned her brain. She had been pushed nearer, and nearer, and nearer; struggle as she might, she was on the verge. A mist rose before her eyes, and though they thought she listened she understood nothing of what was passing. When she came to herself, after the lapse of a minute, Count Hannibal was speaking.

“Permit him another trial,” he was saying in a tone of bland irony. “A short time longer, Mademoiselle! One more assault, father! The weapons of the Church could not be better directed or to a more worthy object; and, successful, shall not fail of due recognition and an earthly reward.”

And while she listened, half fainting, with a humming in her ears, he was gone. The door closed on him, and the three Mademoiselle’s woman had withdrawn when she opened to him looked at one another. The girl parted her lips to speak, but she only smiled piteously; and it was M. de Tignonville who broke the silence, in a tone which betrayed rather relief than any other feeling.

“Come, all is not lost yet,” he said briskly. “If I can escape from the house ”

“He knows you,” she answered.


“He knows you,” Mademoiselle repeated in a tone almost apathetic. “I read it in his eyes. He knew you at once: and knew, too,” she added bitterly, “that he had here under his hand one of the two things he required.”

“Then why did he hide his knowledge?” the young man retorted sharply.

“Why?” she answered. “To induce me to waive the other condition in the hope of saving you. Oh!” she continued in a tone of bitter raillery, “he has the cunning of hell, of the priests! You are no match for him, Monsieur. Nor I; nor any of us. And” with a gesture of despair “he will be my master! He will break me to his will and to his hand! I shall be his! His, body and soul, body and soul!” she continued drearily, as she sank into a chair and, rocking herself to and fro, covered her face. “I shall be his! His till I die!”

The man’s eyes burned, and the pulse in his temples beat wildly.

“But you shall not!” he exclaimed. “I may be no match for him in cunning, you say well. But I can kill him. And I will!” He paced up and down. “I will!”

“You should have done it when he was here,” she answered, half in scorn, half in earnest.

“It is not too late,” he cried; and then he stopped, silenced by the opening door. It was Javette who entered. They looked at her, and before she spoke were on their feet. Her face, white and eager, marking something besides fear, announced that she brought news. She closed the door behind her, and in a moment it was told.

“Monsieur can escape, if he is quick,” she cried in a low tone; and they saw that she trembled with excitement. “They are at supper. But he must be quick! He must be quick!”

“Is not the door guarded?”

“It is, but ”

“And he knows! Your mistress says that he knows that I am here.”

For a moment Javette looked startled. “It is possible,” she muttered. “But he has gone out.”

Madame Carlat clapped her hands. “I heard the door close,” she said, “three minutes ago.”

“And if Monsieur can reach the room in which he supped last night, the window that was broken is only blocked” she swallowed once or twice in her excitement “with something he can move. And then Monsieur is in the street, where his cowl will protect him.”

“But Count Hannibal’s men?” he asked eagerly.

“They are eating in the lodge by the door.”

“Ha! And they cannot see the other room from there?”

Javette nodded. Her tale told, she seemed to be unable to add a word. Mademoiselle, who knew her for a craven, wondered that she had found courage either to note what she had or to bring the news. But as Providence had been so good to them as to put it into this woman’s head to act as she had, it behoved them to use the opportunity the last, the very last opportunity they might have.

She turned to Tignonville. “Oh, go!” she cried feverishly. “Go, I beg! Go now, Monsieur! The greatest kindness you can do me is to place yourself as quickly as possible beyond his reach.” A faint colour, the flush of hope, had returned to her cheeks. Her eyes glittered.

“Right, Mademoiselle!” he cried, obedient for once, “I go! And do you be of good courage.”

He held her hand: an instant, then, moving to the door, he opened it and listened. They all pressed behind him to hear. A murmur of voices, low and distant, mounted the staircase and bore out the girl’s tale; apart from this the house was silent. Tignonville cast a last look at Mademoiselle, and, with a gesture of farewell, glided a-tiptoe to the stairs and began to descend, his face hidden in his cowl. They watched him reach the angle of the staircase, they watched him vanish beyond it; and still they listened, looking at one another when a board creaked or the voices below were hushed for a moment.