soundly in their slumbers. Though, should there be signs of any one stirring even then, you had better wait till later. It were foolish to risk having our going prevented for the sake of leaving a half-hour earlier." "Depend upon me," Arsenio answered him. "When I open the door of your tower I shall whistle to you. The key of the postern hangs on the guardroom wall. I shall possess myself of that before I come." "Good," said Garnache, "we understand each other." And on that they might have parted there and then, but that there happened in that moment a commotion at the gate. Men hurried from the guardhouse, and Fortunio's voice sounded loud in command. A horseman had galloped up to Condillac, walked his horse across the bridge - which was raised only at night - and was knocking with the butt of his whip an imperative summons upon the timbers of the gate. By Fortunio's orders it was opened, and a man covered with dust, astride a weary, foam-flecked horse, rode under the archway of the keep into the first courtyard of the chateau. Garnache eyed him in surprise and inquiry, and he read in the man's appearance that he was a courier. The horseman had halted within a few paces of the spot where "Battista" and his companion stood, and seeing in the vilely clad Garnache a member of the Condillac household, he flung him his reins, then got down stiffly from his horse. Fortunio, bristling with importance, his left hand on the hilt of his rapier, the fingers of his right twirling at his long fair mustachios, at once confronted him and craved his business. "I am the bearer of letters for Madame the Dowager Marquise de Condillac," was the reply; whereupon, with an arrogant nod, Fortunio bade the fellow go with him, and issued an order that his horse should be cared for. Arsenio was speaking in Garnache's ear. The man's nature was inquisitive, and he was indulging idle conjectures as to what might be the news this courier brought. Garnache's mind, actuated by very different motives, was engaged upon the same task, so much so that not a word heard he of what his supposed compatriot was whispering. Whence came this courier? Why had not that fool Fortunio asked him, so that Garnache might have overheard his answer? Was he from Paris and the Queen, or was he, perchance, from Italy and Florimond? These were questions to which it imported him to have the answers. He must know what letters the fellow brought. The knowledge might guide him now; might even cause him to alter the plans he had formed. He stood in thought whilst, unheeded by him, Arsenio prattled at his elbow. He bethought him of the old minstrel's gallery at the end of the hall in which the Condillacs were dining and whither the courier would be conducted. He knew the way to that gallery, for he had made a very close study of the chateau against the time when he might find himself in need of the knowledge. With a hurried excuse to Arsenio he moved away, and, looking round to see that he was unobserved, he was on the point of making his way to the gallery when suddenly he checked himself. What went he there to do? To play the spy? To become fellow to the lackey who listens at keyholes? Ah, no! That was something no service could demand of him. He might owe a duty to the Queen, but there was also a duty that he owed himself, and this duty forbade him from going to such extremes. Thus spake his Pride, and he mistook its voice for that of Honour. Betide what might, it was not for Garnache to play the eavesdropper. Not that, Pardieu! And so he turned away, his desires in conflict with that pride of his, and gloomily he paced the courtyard, Arsenio marvelling what might have come to him. And well was it for him that pride should have detained him; well would it seem as if his luck were indeed in the ascendant and had prompted his pride to save him from a deadly peril. For suddenly some one called "Battista!" He heard, but for the moment, absorbed as he was in his own musings, he overlooked the fact that it was the name to which he answered at Condillac. Not until it was repeated more loudly, and imperatively, did he turn to see Fortunio beckoning him. With a sudden dread anxiety, he stepped to the captain's side. Was he discovered? But Fortunio's words set his doubts to rest at once. "You are to re-conduct Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye to her apartments at once." Garnache bowed and followed the captain up the steps and into the chateau that he might carry out the order; and as he went he shrewdly guessed that it was the arrival of that courier had occasioned the sudden removal of mademoiselle. When they were alone together - he and she - in her anteroom in the Northern Tower, she turned to him before he had time to question her as he was intending. "A courier has arrived," said she. "I know; I saw him in the courtyard. Whence is he? Did you learn it?" "From Florimond." She was white with agitation. "From the Marquis de Condillac?" he cried, and he knew not whether to hope or fear. "From Italy?" "No, monsieur. I do not think from Italy. From what was said I gathered that Florimond is already on his way to Condillac. Oh, it made a fine stir. It left them no more appetite for dinner, and they seem to have thought it could have left me none for mine, for they ordered my instant return to my apartments." "Then you know nothing - save that the courier is from the Marquis?" "Nothing; nor am I likely to," she answered, and her arms dropped limply to her sides, her eyes looked entreatingly up into his gloomy face. But Garnache could do no more than rap out an oath. Then he stood still a moment, his eyes on the window, his chin in his hand, brooding. His pride and his desire to know more of that courier's message were fighting it out again in his mind, just as they fought it out in the courtyard below. Suddenly his glance fell on her, standing there, so sweet, so frail, and so disconsolate. For her sake he must do the thing, repulsive though it might be. "I must know more," he exclaimed. "I must learn Florimond's whereabouts, if only that we may go to meet him when we leave Condillac to-night." "You have arranged definitely for that?"she asked, her face lighting. "All is in readiness," he assured her. Then, lowering his voice without apparent reason, and speaking quickly and intently, "I must go find out what I can," he said. "There may be a risk, but it is as nothing to the risk we run of blundering matters through ignorance of what may be afoot. Should any one come - which is unlikely, for all those interested will be in the hall until the courier is dealt with - and should they inquire into my absence, you are to know nothing of it since you have no Italian and I no French. All that you will know will be that you believe I went but a moment since to fetch water. You understand?" She nodded. "Then lock yourself in your chamber till I return." He caught up a large earthenware vessel in which water was kept for his own and mademoiselle's use, emptied it through the guard-room window into the moat below, then left the room and made his way down the steps to the courtyard. He peered out. Not a soul was in sight. This inner courtyard was little tenanted at that time of day, and the sentry at the door of the tower was only placed there at nightfall. Alongside this there stood another door, opening into a passage from which access might be gained to any part of the chateau. Thrusting behind that door the earthenware vessel that he carried, Garnache sped swiftly down the corridor on his eavesdropping errand. Still his mind was in conflict. At times he cursed his slowness, at times his haste and readiness to undertake so dirty a business, wishing all women at the devil since by the work of women was he put to such a shift as this. CHAPTER XIV FLORIMOND'S LETTER In the great hall of Condillac, where the Marquise, her son, and Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye had been at dinner, a sudden confusion had been spread by the arrival of that courier so soon as it was known that he bore letters from Florimond, Marquis de Condillac. Madame had risen hastily, fear and defiance blending in her face, and she had at once commanded mademoiselle's withdrawal. Valerie had wondered might there not be letters - or, leastways, messages - for herself from her betrothed. But her pride had suppressed the eager question that welled up to her lips. She would, too, have questioned the courier concerning Florimond's health; she would have asked him how the Marquis looked, and where the messenger had left him. But of all this that she craved to know, nothing could she bring herself to ask before the Marquise. She rose in silence upon hearing the Dowager order Fortunio to summon Battista that he might re-conduct mademoiselle to her apartments, and she moved a few paces down the hall, towards the door, in proud, submissive readiness to depart. Yet she could not keep her eyes from the dust-stained courier, who, having flung his hat and whip upon the floor, was now opening his wallet, the Dowager standing before him to receive his papers. Marius, affecting an insouciance he did not feel, remained at table, his page behind his chair, his hound stretched at his feet; and he now sipped his wine, now held it to the light that he might observe the beauty of its deep red colour. At last Fortunio returned, and mademoiselle took her departure, head in the air and outwardly seeming nowise concerned in what was taking place. With her went Fortunio. And the Marquise, who now held the package she had received from the courier, bade the, page depart also. When the three were at last alone, she paused before opening the letter and turned again to the messenger. She made a brave figure in the flood of sunlight that poured through the gules and azures of the long blazoned windows, her tall, lissome figure clad in a close-fitting robe of black velvet, her abundant glossy black hair rolled back under its white coif, her black eyes and scarlet lips detaching from the ivory of her face, in which no trace of emotion showed, for all the anxiety that consumed her. "Where left you the Marquis de Condillac?" she asked the fellow. "At La Rochette, madame," the courier answered,' and his answer brought Marius to his feet with an oath. "So near?" he cried out. But the Dowager's glance remained calm and untroubled. "How does it happen that he did not hasten himself, to Condillac?" she asked. "I do not know, madame. I did not see Monsieur le Marquis. It was his servant brought me that letter with orders to ride hither." Marius approached his mother, his brow clouded. "Let us see what he says," he suggested anxiously. But his mother did not heed him. She stood balancing the package in her hand. "Can you tell us, then, nothing of Monsieur le Marquis?" "Nothing more than I have told you, madame." She bade Marius call Fortunio, and then dismissed the courier, bidding her captain see to his refreshment. Then, alone at last with her son, she hastily tore the covering from the letter, unfolded it and read. And Marius, moved by anxiety, came to stand beside and just behind her, where he too might read. The letter ran: "MY VERY DEAR MARQUISE, - I do not doubt but that it will pleasure you to hear that I am on my way home, and that but for a touch of fever that has detained us here at La Rochette, I should be at Condillac as soon as the messenger who is the bearer of these presents. A courier from Paris found me a fortnight since in Milan, with letters setting forth that my father had been dead six months, and that it was considered expedient at Court that I should return home forthwith to assume the administration of Condillac. I am lost in wonder that a communication of this nature should have been addressed to me from Paris instead of from you, as surely it must have been your duty to advise me of my father's decease at the time of that untoward event. I am cast down by grief at this evil news, and the summons from Court has brought me in all haste from Milan. The lack of news from Condillac has been for months a matter of surprise to me. My father's death may be some explanation of this, but scarcely explanation enough. However, madame, I count upon it that you will be able to dispel such doubts as I am fostering. I count too, upon being at Condillac by the end of week, but I beg that neither you nor my dear Marius will allow this circumstance to make any difference to yourselves, just as, although I am returning to assume the government of Condillac as the Court has suggested to me, I hope that yourself and my dear brother will continue to make it your home for as long as it shall pleasure you. So long shall it pleasure me. "I am, my dear marquise, your very humble and very affectionate servant and stepson, "FLORIMOND" When she had read to the end, the Dowager turned back and read aloud the passage: "However, madame, I count upon it that you will be able to dispel such doubts as I am fostering." She looked at her son, who had shifted his position, so that he was now confronting her. "He has his suspicions that all is not as it should be," sneered Marius. "Yet his tone is amiable throughout. It cannot be that they said too much in that letter from Paris." A little trill of bitter laughter escaped her. "We are to continue to make this our home for as long as it shall pleasure us. So long shall it pleasure him!" Then, with a sudden seriousness, she folded the letter and, putting her hands behind her, looked up into her son's face. "Well?" she asked. "What are you going to do?" "Strange that he makes no mention of Valerie" said Marius pensively. "Pooh! A Condillac thinks lightly of his women. What are you going to do?" His handsome countenance, so marvellously like her own, was overcast. He looked gloomily at his mother for a moment; then with a slight twitch of the shoulders he turned and moved past her slowly in the direction of the hearth. He leaned his elbow on the overmantel and rested his brow against his clenched right hand, and stood so awhile in moody thought. She watched him, a frown between her arrogant eyes. "Aye, ponder it," said she. "He is at La Rochette, within a day's ride, and only detained there by a touch of fever. In any case he promises to be here by the end of the week. By Saturday, then, Condillac will have passed out of our power; it will be lost to you irretrievably. Will you lose La Vauvraye as well?" He let his hand fall to his side, and turned, fully to face her. "What can I do? What can we do?" he asked, a shade of petulance in his question. She stepped close up to him and rested her hand lightly upon his shoulder. "You have had three months in which to woo that girl, and you have tarried sadly over it, Marius. You have now at most three days in which to accomplish it. What will you do?"
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