Valerie watched him agonizedly, leaning now against the wall, her hands pressed across her bosom, as if to keep down its tempestuous heaving. Yet her anguish was tempered by a great wonder and a great admiration of this man who could keep such calm eyes and such smiling lips in the face of the dreadful odds by which he was beset, in the face of the certain death that must ultimately reach him before he was many minutes older. And in her imagination she conjured up a picture of him lying there torn by their angry swords and drenched in blood, his life gone out of him, his brave spirit, quenched for ever - and all for her unworthy sake. Because she little, worthless thing that she was - would not marry as they listed, this fine, chivalrous soul was to be driven from its stalwart body. An agony of grief took her now, and she fell once more to those awful sobs that awhile ago had shaken her. She had refused to marry Marius that Florimond's life should be spared, knowing that before Marius could reach him she herself would have warned her betrothed. Yet even had that circumstance not existed, she was sure that still she would have refused to do the will of Marius. But equally sure was she that she would not so refuse him were he now to offer as the price of her compliance the life of Garnache, which she accounted irrevocably doomed. Suddenly his steady, soothing voice penetrated her anguished musings. "Calm yourself, mademoiselle; all is far, from lost as yet." She thought that he but spoke so to comfort her; she did not follow the working of his warlike mind, concentrated entirely upon the business of the moment, with little thought - or care, for that matter - for what might betide anon. Yet she made an effort to repress her sobs. She would be brave, if only to show herself worthy of the companionship and friendship of so brave a man. Across his barricade he peered into the outer room to ascertain with what fresh opponents he might ht have to reckon, and he was surprised to see but four men standing by Fortunio, whilst behind them among the thicker shadows, he dimly made out a woman's figure and, beside her, another man who was short and squat. He bethought him that the hour, and the circumstance that most of the mercenaries would be in their beds, accounted for the reinforcement not being greater. The woman moved forward, and he saw as he had suspected, that it was the Dowager herself. The squat figure beside her, moving with her into the shaft of light that fell from the doorway Garnache defended, revealed to him the features of Monsieur de Tressan. If any doubt he had still entertained concerning the Seneschal's loyalty, that doubt was now dispelled. And now the Dowager uttered a sudden cry of fear. She had caught sight of the fallen Marius, and she hurried to his side. Tressan sped after her and between them they raised the boy and helped him to a chair, where he now sat, passing a heavy hand across his no doubt aching brow. Clearly he was recovering, from which Garnache opined with regret that his blow had been too light. The Dowager turned to Fortunio, who had approached her, and her eyes seemed to take fire at something that he told her. "Garnache?" the Parisian heard her say, and he saw Fortunio jerk his thumb in the direction of the barricade. She appeared to forget her son; she stepped suddenly from his side, and peered through the doorway at the stalwart figure of Garnache, dimly to be seen through the pile of furniture that protected him to the height of his breast. No word said she to the Parisian. She stood regarding him a moment with lips compressed and a white, startled, angry face. Then: "It was by Marius's contrivance that he was placed sentry over the girl," he heard her tell Fortunio, and he thought she sneered. She looked at the two bodies on the floor, one almost at her feet, the other just inside the doorway, now almost hidden in the shadows of the table. Then she issued her commands to the men, and fiercely she bade them pull down that barricade and take the dog alive. But before they could move to do her bidding, Garnache's voice rang imperatively through the chamber. "A word with you ere they begin, Monsieur de Tressan," he shouted, and such was the note of command he assumed that the men stood arrested, looking to the Dowager for fresh orders. Tressan changed colour, for all that there was surely naught to fear, and he fingered his beard perplexedly, looking to the Marquise for direction. She flashed him a glance, lifted one shoulder disdainfully, and to the men: "Fetch him out," said she, and she pointed to Garnache. But again Garnache stayed them. "Monsieur de Tressan," he called impressively, " to your dying day - and that will be none so distant - shall you regret it if you do not hear me." The Seneschal was stirred by those words and the half-threat, half-warning; they seemed to cover. He paused a moment, and this time his eyes avoided the Marquise's. At last, taking a step forward, "Knave," said he, "I do not know you." "You know me well enough. You have heard my name. I am Martin Marie Rigobert de Garnache, Her Majesty's emissary into Dauphiny to procure the enlargement of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye from the Chateau de Condillac, where she is detained by force and for the serving of unscrupulous ends. Now you know me and my quality." The Dowager stamped her foot. "Fetch him out!" she commanded harshly. "Hear me first, Monsieur le Seneschal, or it will be the worse for you." And the Seneschal, moved by that confident promise of evil, threw himself before the men-at-arms. "A moment, I beseech you, Marquise," he cried, and the men, seeing his earnestness and knowing his quality, stood undecided, buffeted as they were between his will and the Marquise's. "What have you to say to me?" Tressan demanded, seeking to render arrogant his tone. "This: That my servant knows where I am, and that should I fail within a very few days to come forth safe and sound from Condillac to rejoin him, he is to ride to Paris with certain letters I have given him. Those letters incriminate you to the full in this infamous matter here at Condillac. I have set forth in them how you refused me help, how you ignored the Queen's commands of which I was the bearer; and should it be proved, in addition, that through your treachery and insubordination my life has been lost, I promise you that nothing in all this world will save you from a hanging." "Never listen, monsieur," cried the Dowager, seeing Tressan start back like a man in sudden fear. "It is no more than the ruse of a desperate man." "Heed me or not, at your choice," Garnache retorted, addressing himself ever to Tressan. "You have had your warning. I little thought to see you here to-night. But seeing you confirms my worst suspicions, and if I am to die, I can die easy in my conscience at the thought that in sacrificing you to Her Majesty's wrath I have certainly not sacrificed an innocent man." "Madame - " the Seneschal began, turning to the Dowager. But she broke in impatiently upon his intended words, upon the prayer that bubbled to his lips that she should pause a while ere she made an end of this Parisian. "Monsieur," said she, "you may bargain with him when he is taken. We will have him alive. Go in," she bade her men, her voice so resolute now that none dared tarry longer. "Fetch the knave out - alive." Garnache smiled at mademoiselle as the words were uttered. "They want me alive," said he. "That is a hopeful state of things. Bear up, child; I may need your help ere we are through." "You shall find me ready, monsieur," she assured him for all her tremors. He looked at the pale face, composed now by an effort of her will, and at the beautiful hazel eyes which strove to meet his with calm and to reflect his smile, and he marvelled at her courage as much as did she at his. Then the assault began, and he could have laughed at the way in which a couple of those cut-throats - neither wishing to have the honour of meeting him singly - hindered each other by seeking to attack him at once. At last the Dowager commanded one of them to go in. The fellow came, and he was driven back by the sword that darted at him from above the barricade. There matters might have come to a deadlock, but that Fortunio came forward with one of his men to repeat the tactics which had cost him a life already. His fellow went down on his knees, and drove his sword under the table and through the frame of the chair, seeking to prick Garnache in the legs. Simultaneously the captain laid hold of an arm of the chair above and sought to engage Garnache across it. The ruse succeeded to the extent of compelling the Parisian to retreat. The table seemed likely to be his undoing instead of helping him. He dropped like lightning to one knee, seeking to force the fellow out from underneath. But the obstacles which should have hindered his assailants hindered Garnache even more at this juncture. In that instant Fortunio whipped the chair from the table-top, and flung it forward. One of its legs caught Garnache on the sword arm, deadening it for a second. The sword fell from his hand, and Valerie shrieked aloud, thinking the battle at an end. But the next moment he was on his feet, his rapier firmly gripped once more, for all that his arm still felt a trifle numbed. As seconds passed the numbness wore away, but before that had taken place the table had been thrust forward, and the man beneath it had made it impossible for Garnache to hinder this. Suddenly he called to Valerie. "A cloak, mademoiselle! Get me a cloak!" he begged. And she, stemming her fears once more, ran to do his bidding. She caught up a cloak that lay on a chair by the door of her bed-chamber, and brought it to him. He twisted it twice round his left arm, letting its folds hang loose, and advanced again to try conclusions with the gentleman underneath. He cast the garment so that it enmeshed the sword when next it was advanced. Stepping briskly aside, he was up to the table, and his busy blade drove back the man who assailed him across it. He threw his weight against it, and thrust it back till it was jammed hard once more against the doorposts, leaving the chair at his very feet. The man beneath had recovered his sword by this, and again he sought to use it. That was the end of him. Again Garnache enmeshed it, kicked away the chair, or, rather, thrust it aside with his foot, stooped suddenly, and driving his blade under the table felt it sink into the body of his tormentor. There was a groan and a spluttering cough, and then before Garnache could recover he heard mademoiselle crying out to him to beware. The table was thrust suddenly forward almost on top of him; its edge caught his left shoulder, and sent him back a full yard, sprawling upon the ground To rise again, gasping for air - for the fall had shaken him - was the work of an instant. But in that instant Fortunio had thrust the table clear of the doorway, and his men were pouring into the room. They came at Garnache in a body, with wild shouts and fierce mockery, and he hurriedly fell on guard and gave way before them until his shoulders were against the wainscot and he had at least the assurance that none could take him in the rear. Three blades engaged his own. Fortunio had come no farther than the doorway, where he stood his torn cheek drenched in blood, watching the scene the Marquise beside him, and Tressan standing just behind them, very pale and scared. Yet Garnache's first thought even in that moment of dire peril was for Valerie. He would spare her the sight that must before many moments be spread to view within that shambles. "To your chamber, mademoiselle," he cried to her. "You hinder me," he added by way of compelling her obedience. She did his bidding, but only in part. No farther went she than the doorway of her room, where she remained standing, watching the fray as earlier she had stood and watched it from the door of the antechamber. Suddenly she was moved by inspiration. He had gained an advantage before, by retreating through a doorway into an inner room. Might he not do the same again, and be in better case if he were to retreat now to her own chamber? Impulsively she called to him. "In here, Monsieur de Garnache. In here." The Marquise looked across at her, and smiled in mockery. Garnache was too well occupied, she thought, to attempt any such rashness. If he but dared remove his shoulders from the wall there would be a speedier end to him than as things were. Not so, however, thought Garnache. The cloak twisted about his left arm gave him some advantage, and he used it to the full. He flicked the slack of it in the face of one, and followed it up by stabbing the fellow in the stomach before he could recover guard, whilst with another wave of that cloak he enmeshed the sword that shot readily into the opening he had left. Madame cursed, and Fortunio echoed her imprecations. The Seneschal gasped, his fears lost in amazement at so much valour and dexterity. Garnache swung away from the wall now, and set his back to mademoiselle, determined to act upon her advice. But even in that moment he asked himself for the first time since the commencement of that carnage - to what purpose? His arms were growing heavy with fatigue, his mouth was parched, and great beads of perspiration stood upon his brow. Soon he would be spent, and they would not fail to take a very full advantage of it. Hitherto his mind had been taken up with the battle only, and if he had thought of retreating, it was but to the end that he might gain a position of some vantage. Now, conscious of his growing fatigue, his thoughts turned them at last to the consideration of flight. Was there no way out of it? Must he kill every man in Condillac before he could hope to escape? Whimsically, and almost mechanically, he set himself, in his mind, to count the men. There were twenty mercenaries all told, excluding Fortunio and himself. On Arsenio he might rely not to attack him, perhaps even to come to his assistance at the finish. That left nineteen. Four he had already either killed outright or effectively disabled; so that fifteen remained him. The task of dealing with those other fifteen was utterly beyond him. Presently, no doubt, the two now opposing him would be reinforced by others. So that if any possible way out existed, he had best set about finding it at once. He wondered could he cut down these two, make an end of Fortunio, and, running for it, attempt to escape through the postern before the rest of the garrison had time to come up with him or guess his purpose. But the notion was too wild, its accomplishment too impossible. He was fighting now with his back to mademoiselle and his face to the tall window, through the leaded panes of which he caught the distorted shape of a crescent moon. Suddenly the idea came to him.
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