List Of Contents | Contents of The Suitors of Yvonne, by Rafael Sabatini
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the river bank."

"How long is it since she left you?"

"A quarter of an hour, perhaps."

"Something has happened!" cried Geneviève, and added more, maybe, but I
waited not to hear.

Muttering curses as I ran--for 't was my way to curse where pious souls
might pray--I sped back to the quadrangle and my horse.

"Follow me," I shouted to the groom, "you and as many of your fellows as
you can find.  Follow me at once--at once, mark you--to the coppice by the
river."  And without waiting for his answer, I sent my horse thundering
down the avenue.  The sun was gone, leaving naught but a roseate streak to
tell of its passage, and at that moment a distant bell tinkled forth the

With whip, spur, and imprecations I plied my steed, a prey to such
excitement as I had never known until that moment--not even in the carnage
of battle.

I had no plan.  My mind was a chaos of thought without a single clear idea
to light it, and I never so much as bethought me that single-handled I was
about to attempt to wrest Yvonne from the hands of perchance half a dozen
men.  To save time I did not far pursue the road, but, clearing a hedge, I
galloped ventre-à-terre across the meadow towards the little coppice by the
waterside.  As I rode I saw no sign of any moving thing.  No sound
disturbed the evening stillness save the dull thump of my horse's hoofs
upon the turf, and a great fear arose in my heart that I might come too

At last I reached the belt of trees, and my fears grew into certainty.  The
place was deserted.

Then a fresh hope sprang up.  Perchance, thinking of my warning, she had
seen the emptiness of her suspicions towards me, and had pursued that walk
of hers in another direction.

But when I had penetrated to the little open space within that cluster of
naked trees, I had proof overwhelming that the worst had befallen.  Not
only on the moist ground was stamped the impress of struggling feet, but on
a branch I found a strip of torn green velvet, and, remembering the dress
she had worn that day, I understood to the full the significance of that
rag, and, understanding it, I groaned aloud.



Some precious moments did I waste standing with that green rag betwixt my
fingers, and I grew sick and numb in body and in mind.  She was gone! 
Carried off by a man I had reason to believe she hated, and whom God send
she might have no motive to hate more deeply hereafter!

The ugly thought swelled until it blotted out all others, and in its train
there came a fury upon me that drove me to do by instinct that which
earlier I should have done by reason.  I climbed back into the saddle, and
away across the meadow I went, journeying at an angle with the road, my
horse's head turned in the direction of Blois.  That road at last was
gained, and on I thundered at a stretched gallop, praying that my hard-used
beast might last until the town was reached.

Now, as I have already said, I am not a man who easily falls a prey to
excitement.  It may have beset me in the heat of battle, when the fearsome
lust of blood and death makes of every man a raving maniac, thrilled with
mad joy at every stab he deals, and laughing with fierce passion at every
blow he takes, though in the taking of it his course be run.  But, saving
at such wild times, never until then could I recall having been so little
master of myself.  There was a fever in me; all hell was in my blood, and,
stranger still, and hitherto unknown at any season, there was a sickly fear
that mastered me, and drew out great beads of sweat upon my brow.  Fear for
myself I have never known, for at no time has life so pampered me that the
thought of parting company with it concerned me greatly.  Fear for another
I had not known till then--saving perchance the uneasiness that at times I
had felt touching Andrea--because never yet had I sufficiefltly cared.

Thus far my thoughts took me, as I rode, and where I have halted did they
halt, and stupidly I went over their ground again, like one who gropes for
something in the dark,--because never yet had I sufficiently cared--I had
never cared.

And then, ah Dieu!  As I turned the thought over I understood, and,
understanding, I pursued the sentence where I had left off.

But, caring at last, I was sick with fear of what might befall the one I
cared for!  There lay the reason of the frenzied excitement whereof I had
become the slave.  That it was that had brought the moisture to my brow and
curses to my lips; that it was that had caused me instinctively to thrust
the rag of green velvet within my doublet.

Ciel!  It was strange--aye, monstrous strange, and a right good jest for
fate to laugh at--that I, Gaston de Luynes, vile ruffler and worthless
spadassin, should have come to such a pass; I, whose forefinger had for the
past ten years uptilted the chin of every tavern wench I had chanced upon;
I, whose lips had never known the touch of other than the lips of these; I,
who had thought my heart long dead to tenderness and devotion, or to any
fondness save the animal one for my ignoble self.  Yet there I rode as if
the Devil had me for a quarry,--panting, sweating, cursing, and well-nigh
sobbing with rage at a fear that I might come too late,--all because of a
proud lady who knew me for what I was and held me in contempt because of
her knowledge; all for a lady who had not the kindness for me that one
might spare a dog--who looked on me as something not good to see.

Since there was no one to whom I might tell my story that he might mock me,
I mocked myself--with a laugh that startled passers-by and which, coupled
with the crazy pace at which I dashed into Blois, caused them, I doubt not,
to think me mad.  Nor were they wrong, for mad indeed I deemed myself.

That I trampled no one underfoot in my furious progress through the streets
is a miracle that passes my understanding.

In the courtyard of the Lys de France I drew rein at last with a tug that
brought my shuddering brute on to his haunches and sent those who stood
about flying into the shelter of the doorways.

"Another horse!" I shouted as I sprang to the ground.  "Another horse at

Then as I turned to inquire for Michelot, I espied him leaning stolidly
against the porte­cochère.

"How long have you been there, Michelot?" I asked.

"Half an hour, mayhap."

"Saw you a closed carriage pass?"

"Ten minutes ago I saw one go by, followed by M. de St. Auban and a
gentleman who greatly resembled M. de Vilmorin, besides an escort of four
of the most villainous knaves--"

"That is the one," I broke in.  "Quick, Michelot!  Arm yourself and get
your horse; I have need of you.  Come, knave, move yourself!"

At the end of a few minutes we set out at a sharp trot, leaving the curious
ones whom my loud-voiced commands had assembled, to speculate upon the
meaning of so much bustle.  Once clear of the township we gave the reins to
our horses, and our trot became a gallop as we travelled along the road to
Meung, with the Loire on our right.  And as we went I briefly told Michelot
what was afoot, interlarding my explanations with prayers that we might
come upon the kidnappers before they crossed the river, and curses at the
flying pace of our mounts, which to my anxious mind seemed slow.

At about a mile from Blois the road runs over an undulation of the ground
that is almost a hill.  From the moment that I had left Canaples as the
Angelus was ringing, until the moment when our panting horses gained the
brow of that little eminence, only half an hour had sped.  Still in that
half-hour the tints had all but faded from the sky, and the twilight
shadows grew thicker around us with every moment.  Yet not so thick had
they become but that I could see a coach at a standstill in the hollow,
some three hundred yards beneath us, and, by it, half a dozen horses, of
which four were riderless and held by the two men who were still mounted. 
Then, breathlessly scanning the field between the road and the river, I
espied five persons, half way across, and at the same distance from the
water that we were from the coach.  Two men, whom I supposed to be St.
Auban and Vilmorin, were forcing along a woman, whose struggles, feeble
though they appeared--yet retarded their progress in some measure.  Behind
them walked two others, musket on shoulder.

I pointed them out to Michelot with a soft cry of joy.  We were in time!

Following with my eyes the course they appeared to be pursuing I saw by the
bank a boat, in which two men were waiting.  Again I pointed, this time to
the boat.

"Over the hedge, Michelot!" I cried.  "We must ride in a straight line for
the water and so intercept them.  Follow me."

Over the hedge we went, and down the gentle slope at as round a pace as the
soft ground would with safety allow.  I had reckoned upon being opposed to
six or even eight men, whereas there were but four, one of whom I knew was
hardly to be reckoned.  Doubtless St. Auban had imagined himself safe from
pursuit when he left two of his bravos with the horses, probably to take
them on to Meung, and there cross with them and rejoin him.  Two more, I
doubted not, were those seated at the oars.

I laughed to myself as I took in all this, but, even as I laughed, those in
the field stood still, and sent up a shout that told me we had been

"On, Michelot, on!" I shouted, spurring my horse forward.  Then, in answer
to their master's call, the two ruffians who had been doing duty as grooms
came pounding into the field.

"Ride to meet them, Michelot!" I cried.  Obediently he wheeled to the left,
and I caught the swish of his sword as it left the scabbard.

St. Auban was now hurrying towards the river with his party.  Already they
were but fifty yards from the boat, and a hundred still lay between him and
me.  Furiously I pressed onward, and presently but half the distance
separated us, whilst they were still some thirty yards from their goal.

Then his two bravos faced round to meet me, and one, standing some fifty
paces in ad­vance of the other, levelled his musket and fired.  But in his
haste he aimed too high; the bullet carried away my hat, and before the
smoke had cleared I was upon him.  I had drawn a pistol from my holster,
but it was not needed; my horse passed over him before he could save
himself from my fearful charge.

In the fast-fading light a second musket barrel shone, and I saw the second
ruffian taking aim at me with not a dozen yards between us.  With the old
soldier's instinct I wrenched at the reins till I brought my horse on to
his haunches.  It was high time, for simultaneously with my action the
fellow blazed at me, and the scream of pain that broke from my steed told
me that the poor brute had taken the bullet.  With a bound that carried me
forward some six paces, the animal sank, quivering, to the ground.  I
disengaged my feet from the stirrups as he fell, but the shock of it sent
me rolling on the ground, and the ruffian, seeing me fallen, sprang
forward, swinging his musket up above his head.  I dodged the murderous
downward stroke, and as the stock buried itself close beside me in the soft
earth I rose on one knee and with a grim laugh I raised my pistol.  I
brought the muzzle within a hand's breadth of his face, then fired and shot
him through the head.  Perchance you'll say it was a murderous, cruel
stroke: mayhap it was, but at such seasons men stay not to unravel
niceties, but strike ere they themselves be stricken.

Leaping over the twitching corpse, I got out my sword and sprang after St.
Auban, who, with Vilmorin and Yvonne, careless of what might betide his
followers, was now within ten paces of the boat.

Pistol shots cracked behind me, and I wondered how Michelot was faring, but
dared not pause to look.

The twain in the boat stood up, wielding their great oars, and methought
them on the point of coming to their master's aid, in which case my battle
had truly been a lost one.  But that craven Vilmorin did me good service
then, for with a cry of fear at my approach, he abandoned his hold of
Yvonne, whose struggles were keeping both the men back; thus freed, he fled
towards the boat, and jumping in, he shouted to the men in his shrill,
quavering voice, to put off.  Albeit they disobeyed him contemptuously and
waited for the Marquis; still they did not leave the boat, fearing, no
doubt, that if they did so the coward would put off alone.

As for St. Auban, Vilmorin's flight left him unequal to the task of
dragging the girl along.  She dug her heels into the ground, and, tug as he
might, for all that he set both hands to work, he could not move her.  In
this plight I came upon him, and challenged him to stand and face me.

With a bunch of oaths he got out his sword, but in doing so he was forced
to remove one of his hands from the girl's arm.  Seizing the opportunity
with a ready wit and courage seldom found in women of her quality, she
twisted herself from the grip of his left hand, and came staggering towards
me for protection, holding up her pinioned wrists.  With my blade I severed
the cord, whereupon she plucked the gag from her mouth, and sank against my
side, her struggles having left her weak indeed.

As I set my arm about her waist to support her, my heart seemed to swell
within me, and strange melodies shaped themselves within my soul.

St. Auban bore down upon me with a raucous oath, but the glittering point
of my rapier danced before his eyes and drove him back again.

"To me, Vilmorin, you cowardly cur!" he shouted.  "To me, you dogs!"

He let fly at them a volley of blood-curdling oaths, then, without waiting
to see if they obeyed him, he came at me again, and our swords met.

"Courage, Mademoiselle," I whispered, as a sigh that was almost a groan
escaped her.  "Have no fear."

But that fight was not destined to be fought, for, as again we engaged,
there came the fall of running feet behind me.  It flashed across my mind
that Michelot had been worsted, and that my back was about to be assailed. 
But in St. Auban's face I saw, as in a mirror, that he who came was

"Mort de Christ!" snarled the Marquis, springing back beyond my reach. 
"What can a man do with naught but fools and poltroons to serve him? 
Faugh!  We will continue our sword-play at St. Sulpice des Reaux to-night. 
Au revoir, M. de Luynes!"

Turning, he sheathed his sword, and, running down to the river, bounded
into the boat, where I heard him reviling Vilmorin with every foul name he
could call to mind.

My blood was aflame, and I was not minded to wait for our meeting at Reaux. 
Consigning Mademoiselle to the care of Michelot, who stood panting and
bleeding from a wound in his shoulder, I turned back to my dead horse, and
plucking the remaining pistol from the holster I ran down to the very edge
of the water.  The boat was not ten yards from shore, and my action had
been unheeded by St. Auban, who was standing in the stern.

Kneeling I took careful aim at him, and as God lives, I would have saved
much trouble that was to follow had I been allowed to fire.  But at that

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