13. At Laville
The queen was standing at the door of the house where she had lain down for a few hours' rest, after her arrival. The prince was standing beside her.
"Here is our English friend, mother," he exclaimed, running forward to meet Philip.
"Welcome, Monsieur Fletcher. When we found that you were not here, on our arrival last night, we feared that some evil had befallen you."
"Monsieur Fletcher is well able to take care of himself, prince. He has been having adventures enough," Gaston de Rebers said.
"You must tell me about them as we ride," the prince said. "I love adventures, Monsieur Fletcher."
They had now reached the queen.
"I am glad to see you, Monsieur Fletcher. Of course, it was in one way a relief to us, when we crossed the river and did not find you there; for I was sure you would have been there to give us warning, had there been danger on the way; but I thought you might come in any case, and when we found that you had not arrived here before us, I was afraid that something might have befallen you."
"I have had some slight troubles, your majesty; and to my great regret, I was unable to meet you at the passage of the river. I should have been here long before daylight, but we were unable to find the road in the dark, and had to wait until we could inquire the way."
"Monsieur Fletcher is pleased to say that he has had some slight troubles, madame," Gaston said; "but as the troubles included the slaying in a duel of Raoul de Fontaine, one of the bitterest enemies of our faith, and moreover a noted duellist; and an escape from the castle of Agen, where he was confined as a suspected Huguenot and spy, the term slight does not very aptly describe them."
"What!" A tall soldierly old man, standing next to the queen, exclaimed. "Do you mean to say, De Rebers, that Monsieur Fletcher has killed Raoul de Fontaine in a duel?
"If so, I congratulate your majesty. He was a bitter persecutor of the Huguenots, and one of the hottest headed and most troublesome nobles in the province. Moreover, he can put a hundred and fifty men into the field; and although his cousin Louis, who is his heir, is also Catholic, he is a man of very different kind, and is honoured by Huguenot and Catholic alike. But how this gentleman could have killed so notable a swordsman is more than I can understand. He looks, if you will pardon my saying so, a mere youth."
"He rode beside Francois de la Noue in the battle of Saint Denis, seneschal," the queen said; "and as he was chosen by my cousin Conde, and Admiral Coligny, for the difficult and dangerous enterprise of carrying a communication to me, it is clear that, whatever his years, he is well fitted to act a man's part."
"That is so," the seneschal said heartily. "I shall be glad to talk to you again, sir; but at present, madame, it is time to mount. The troops are mustering, and we have a long ride before us.
"If you will lead the way with the infantry at once, Monsieur de Rebers, we will follow as soon as we are mounted. We must go your pace, but as soon as we start I will send a party to ride a mile ahead of you, and see that the roads are clear."
At starting, the queen rode with the prince and the seneschal at the head of the mounted party, some two hundred and fifty strong; and behind followed the noblemen and gentlemen who had come with her, and those who had accompanied the seneschal. Philip, who knew no one, rode near the rear of this train, behind which followed the armed retainers.
In a short time a gentleman rode back through the party.
"Monsieur Fletcher," he said, when he reached Philip, "the prince has asked me to say that it is his wish that you shall ride forward, and accompany him."
Philip turned into the field, and rode to the head of the party. The prince, who was looking round, at once reined in his horse and took his place beside him.
"Now, Monsieur Philip, you must tell me all about it. I am tired of hearing consultations about roads and Catholic forces. I want to hear a full account of your adventures, just as you told me the tale of your journey to Nerac."
During the course of the day, several parties of gentlemen joined the little force. So well organized were the Huguenots that, during the last two or three days, the news had passed from mouth to mouth throughout the province for all to assemble, if possible, at points indicated to them; and all knew the day on which the seneschal would march north from Villeneuve. Yet so well was the secret kept, that the Catholics remained in total ignorance of the movement. Consequently, at every village there were accessions of force awaiting the seneschal, and parties of from ten to a hundred rode up and joined them on the march.
After marching twenty miles, they halted at the foot of a chain of hills, their numbers having been increased during the day to over twelve hundred men. The queen and her son found rough accommodation in a small village, the rest bivouacked round it.
At midnight three hundred cavalry and two hundred footmen started across the hills, so as to come down upon Bergerac and seize the bridge across the Dordogne; then at daylight the rest of the force marched. On reaching the river they found that the bridge had been seized without resistance. Three hundred gentlemen and their retainers, of the province of Perigord, had assembled within half a mile of the other side of the bridge, and had joined the party as they came down. A Catholic force of two hundred men, in the town, had been taken by surprise and captured, for the most part in their beds.
The queen had issued most stringent orders that there was to be no unnecessary bloodshed; and the Catholic soldiers, having been stripped of their arms and armour, which were divided among those of the Huguenots who were ill provided, were allowed to depart unharmed the next morning, some fifteen gentlemen being retained as prisoners. Three hundred more Huguenots rode into Bergerac in the course of the day.
The footmen marched forward in the afternoon, and were directed to stop at a village, twelve miles on. As the next day's journey would be a long one, the start was again made early; and late in the afternoon the little army, which had been joined by two hundred more in the course of the day, arrived within sight of Perigueux. Five hundred horsemen had ridden forward, two hours before, to secure the bridge.
The seneschal had, after occupying Bergerac, placed horsemen on all the roads leading north, to prevent the news from spreading; and Perigueux, a large and important town, was utterly unprepared for the advent of an enemy. A few of the troops took up arms and made a hasty resistance, but were speedily dispersed. The greater portion fled, at the first alarm, to the castle, where D'Escars himself was staying. He had, only two days before, sent off a despatch to the court declaring that he had taken his measures so well that not a Huguenot in the province would take up arms.
His force was still superior to that of the horsemen, but his troops were disorganized; and many, in their flight, had left their arms behind them, and he was therefore obliged to remain inactive in the citadel; and his mortification and fury were complete, when the seneschal's main body marched through the town and halted, for the night, a league beyond it.
The next day they crossed the Dronne at Brantome, and then turned to the west. The way was now open to them and, with two thousand men, the seneschal felt capable of coping with any force that could be got together to attack them. A halt was made for a day, to rest the men and horses and, four days later, after crossing the Perigord hills, and keeping ten miles south of Angouleme, they came within sight of Cognac. Messages had already been sent on to announce their coming and, five miles from the town, they were met by the Prince of Conde and the Admiral.
"Your first message lifted a load from our minds, madame," the Admiral said. "The last news I received of you was that you were still at Nerac, and as an intercepted despatch informed us that orders had been sent from the court for your immediate arrest, we were in great uneasiness about you."
"We left Nerac just in time," the queen said; "for, as we have learned, the governor of Agen, with a strong force, left that city to effect our capture at the very hour that we started on our flight."
"Did you know where you would find us, madame? We sent off a message by trusty hands, but whether the gentleman reached you we know not."
"Indeed he did, and has since rendered us good service; and Henri here has taken so great a fancy to him that, since we left Villeneuve, he has always ridden by his side."
After Conde had presented the gentlemen who had ridden out with him to the queen, and the seneschal in turn had introduced the most important nobles and gentlemen to the prince and Admiral, they proceeded on their way.
"Have you taken Cognac, cousin?" the queen asked Conde.
"No, madame; the place still holds out. We have captured Saint Jean d'Angely, but Cognac is obstinate, and we have no cannon with which to batter its walls."
As soon, however, as the queen arrived at the camp, a summons was sent in in her name and, influenced by this, and by the sight of the reinforcements she had brought with her, Cognac at once surrendered.
As soon as Philip rode into camp, he was greeted joyously by his cousin Francois.
"We did not think, when we parted outside Niort, that we were going to be separated so long," he said, after they had shaken hands heartily. "I was astonished indeed when, two days later, I met the Admiral outside the walls of the town again, to hear that you had gone off to make your way through to Nerac.
"I want to hear all your adventures. We have not had much fighting. Niort made but a poor resistance, and Parthenay surrendered without striking a blow; then I went with the party that occupied Fontenay. The Catholics fought stoutly there, but we were too strong for them. Those three places have given La Rochelle three bulwarks to the north.
"Then we started again from La Rochelle, and marched to Saint Jean d'Angely, which we carried by storm. Then we came on here, and I believe we shall have a try at Saintes or Angouleme. When we have captured them, we shall have a complete cordon of strong places round La Rochelle.
"We expect La Noue down from Brittany every hour, with a force he has raised there and in Normandy; and we have heard that a large force has gathered in Languedoc, and is advancing to join us; and all is going so well that I fancy, if Monsieur d'Anjou does not come to us before long, we shall set out in search of him.
"So much for our doings; now sit down comfortably in my tent, and tell me all about your journey. I see you have brought Pierre and your two men back with you."
"You would be nearer the truth, if you said that Pierre and the two men had brought me back," Philip laughed; "for if it had not been for them, I should probably have lost my head the day after the queen left Nerac."
"That is a good beginning to the story, Philip; but tell me the whole in proper order, as it happened."
Philip told his story at length, and his cousin was greatly pleased at the manner in which he had got through his various dangers and difficulties.
The queen remained but a few hours with the army, after Cognac had opened its gates. After a long conference with the Prince of Conde, the Admiral, and the other leaders, she left under a strong escort for La Rochelle; leaving the young prince with the army, of which he was given the nominal command, as his near connection with the royal family, and the fact that he was there as the representative of his mother, strengthened the Huguenot cause; which could no longer be described, by the agents of the French court with foreign powers, as a mere rising of slight importance, the work only of Conde, Coligny, and a few other ambitious and turbulent nobles.
"I asked my mother to appoint you as one of the gentlemen who are to ride with me, Monsieur Fletcher," the young prince said to Philip, when he saw him on the day after the queen's departure; "but she and the Admiral both said no. It is not because they do not like you, you know; and the Admiral said that he could very well trust me with you. But when my mother told him that I had ridden with you for the last four days, he said that it would cause jealousy, when there were so many young French nobles and gentlemen in the camp, if I were to choose you in preference to them as my companion; you being only French on your mother's side, and having an English name. I begged them to let me tell you this, for I would rather ride with you than with any of them; and I should not like you to think that I did not care to have you with me, any more.
"I think it hard. They call me the commander of this army, and I can't have my own way even in a little thing like this. Some day, Monsieur Fletcher, I shall be able to do as I please, and then I hope to have you near me."
"I am greatly obliged to your Highness," Philip said; "but I am sure the counsel that has been given you is right, and that it is far better for you to be in the company of French gentlemen. I have come over here solely to do what little I can to aid my mother's relations, and those oppressed for their faith; and though I am flattered by your wish that I should be near you, I would rather be taking an active share in the work that has to be done."
"Yes, the Admiral said that. He said that, while many a youth would be most gratified at being selected to be my companion, he was sure that you would far rather ride with your cousin, Monsieur De Laville; and that it would be a pity to keep one, who bids fair to be a great soldier, acting the part of nurse to me. It was not quite civil of the Admiral; for I don't want a nurse of that kind, and would a thousand times rather ride as an esquire to you, and take share in your adventures. But the Admiral is always plain spoken; still, as I know well that he is good and wise, and the greatest soldier in France, I do not mind what he says."
Angouleme and Saintes were both captured without much difficulty; and then, moving south from Angouleme, the army captured Pons and Blaye, and thus possessed themselves of a complete semicircle of towns round La Rochelle.
A short time afterwards, they were joined by a strong force of Huguenots from Languedoc and Provence. These had marched north, without meeting with any enemy strong enough to give them battle; and when they joined the force under the Admiral, they raised its strength to a total of three thousand cavalry, and twenty thousand infantry.
By this time the royal army of the Prince d'Anjou, having united with that raised by the Guises, had advanced to Poitiers. The season was now far advanced. Indeed, winter had already set in. Both armies were anxious to fight; but the royalist leaders, bearing in mind the desperate valour that the Huguenots had displayed at Saint Denis, were unwilling to give battle, unless in a position that afforded them every advantage for the movements of their cavalry, in which they were greatly superior in strength to the Huguenots.
The Admiral was equally determined not to throw away the advantage he possessed in his large force of infantry; and after being in sight of each other for some time, and several skirmishes having taken place, both armies fell back into winter quarters--the severity of the weather being too great to keep the soldiers, without tents or other shelter, in the field.
During these operations Philip and his cousin had again ridden with Francois de la Noue, who had rejoined the army after a most perilous march, in which he and the small body of troops he had brought from Brittany had succeeded in making their way through the hostile country, and in crossing the fords of the intervening rivers, after hard fighting and considerable loss.
As soon as the intense cold had driven both armies to the shelter of the towns, the count said to Francois:
"You and Philip had better march at once, with your troop, to Laville. It will cost far less to maintain them at the chateau, than elsewhere; indeed the men can, for the most part, return to their farms.
"But you must be watchful, Francois, now that a portion of Anjou's army is lying at Poitiers. They may, should the weather break, make raids into our country; and as Laville is the nearest point to Poitiers held for us, they might well make a dash at it."
The countess welcomed them back heartily, but expressed great disappointment that the season should have passed without the armies meeting.
"It was the same last time. It was the delay that ruined us. With the best will in the world, there are few who can afford to keep their retainers in the field for month after month; and the men, themselves, are longing to be back to their farms and families.
"We shall have to keep a keen lookout, through the winter. Fortunately our harvest here is a good one, and the granaries are all full; so that we shall be able to keep the men-at-arms on through the winter, without much expense. I feel more anxious about the tenants than about ourselves."
"Yes, mother, there is no doubt there is considerable risk of the enemy trying to beat us up; and we must arrange for signals, so that our people may have time to fall back here. Philip and I will think it over. We ought to be able to contrive some scheme between us."
"Do so, Francois. I feel safe against surprise here; but I never retire to rest, without wondering whether the night will pass without the tenants' farms and stacks being set ablaze, and they and their families slaughtered on their own hearth stones."
"I suppose, Francois," Philip said to him as they stood at the lookout, next morning, "there is not much doubt which way they would cross the hills, coming from Poitiers. They would be almost sure to come by that road that we travelled by, when we went to Chatillon. It comes down over the hills, two miles to the west.
"There it is, you see. You just catch sight of it, as it crosses that shoulder. Your land does not go as far as that, does it?"
"No, it only extends a mile in that direction, and four miles in the other, and five miles out into the plain."
"Are there many Huguenots on the other side of the hill?"
"Yes, there are some; but as you know, our strength is in the other direction. What are you thinking of?"
"I was thinking that we might make an arrangement with someone, in a village some seven or eight miles beyond the hills, to keep a boy on watch night and day; so that, directly a body of Catholic troops were seen coming along, he should start at full speed to some place a quarter of a mile away, and there set light to a beacon piled in readiness.
"We, on our part, would have a watch set on the top of this hill behind us; at a spot where the hill on which the beacon was placed would be visible. Then at night the fire, and by day the smoke would serve as a warning. Our watchman would, at once, fire an arquebus and light another beacon; which would be the signal for all within reach to come here, as quickly as possible.
"At each farmhouse a lookout must, of course, be kept night and day. I should advise the tenants to send up as much of their corn and hay as possible, at once; and that the cattle should be driven up close to the chateau, at night."
"I think that would be a very good plan, Philip. I am sure that among our men-at-arms must be some who have acquaintances and friends on the other side of the hill. It will be best that they should make the arrangements for the firing of the signal beacon. We might even station one of them in a village there, under the pretence that he had been knocked up with the cold and hardship, and was desirous of staying quietly with his friends. He would watch at night and could sleep by day, as his friends would waken him at once, if any troops passed along."
The same afternoon, one of the men-at-arms prepared to start for a village, eight miles beyond the hill.
"There is no rising ground near it," he said to Francois, "that could well be seen from the top of the hill here; but about half a mile away from the village there is an old tower. It is in ruins, and has been so ever since I can remember. I have often climbed to its top, when I was a boy. At this time of year, there is no chance of anyone visiting the place. I could collect wood and pile it, ready for a fire, without any risk whatever. I can point out the exact direction of the tower from the top of the hill, so that the watchers would know where to keep their attention fixed."
"Well, you had better go up with us at once, then, so that I shall be able to instruct the men who will keep watch. We will build a hut up there for them, and keep three men on guard; so that they will watch four hours apiece, day and night."
The distance was too great to make out the tower; but as the soldier knew its exact position, he drove two stakes into the ground, three feet apart.
"Now," he said, "a man, looking along the line of the tops of these stakes, will be looking as near as may be at the tower."
The tenants were all visited, and were warned to keep a member of their family always on the watch for fire, or smoke, from the little hut at the top of the hill. As soon as the signal was seen, night or day, they were to make their way to the chateau, driving their horses and most valuable stock before them, and taking such goods as they could remove.
"You had better let two horses remain with their harness on, night and day; and have a cart in readiness, close to your house. Then, when the signal is given, the women will only have to bundle their goods and children into the cart; while the men get their arms, and prepare to drive in their cattle.
"The Catholics will show no mercy to any of the faith they may find; while as to the chateau, it can make a stout resistance, and you may be sure that it will not be long before help arrives, from Niort or La Rochelle."
Arrangements were also made, with the Huguenot gentry in the neighbourhood, that they should keep a lookout for the signal; and on observing it light other beacons, so that the news could be spread rapidly over that part of the country. As soon as the fires were seen, the women and children were to take to the hills, the cattle to be driven off by the boys, and the men to arm themselves and mount.
"Of course," the countess said, at a council where all these arrangements were made, "we must be guided by the number sent against us. If, by uniting your bands together, you think you can raise the siege, we will sally out as soon as you attack and join you; but do not attack, unless you think that our united forces can defeat them. If we could defeat them, we should save your chateaux and farms from fire and ruin.
"If you find they are too strong to attack, you might harass parties sent out to plunder, and so save your houses, while you despatch men to ask for help from the Admiral. If, however, they are so strong in cavalry that you could not keep the field against them, I should say it were best that you should ride away, and join any party advancing to our assistance."
A month passed quietly. Every day, a soldier carrying wine and provisions rode to the hut that had been built, on the crest of the hill three miles away.
Eight o'clock one evening, towards the end of January, the alarm bell rang from the lookout tower. Philip and his cousin ran up.
"There is the beacon alight at the hut, count," the lookout said.
"Light this bonfire then, Jules, and keep the alarm bell going.
"To horse, men!" he cried, looking over the parapet. "Bring out our horses with your own."
The men had been previously told off in twos and threes to the various farmhouses, to aid in driving in the cattle and, as soon as they were mounted, each party dashed off to its destination. From the watchtower four or five fires could be seen blazing in the distance, showing that the lookouts had everywhere been vigilant, and that the news had already been carried far and wide.
Francois and Philip rode up to the hut on the hill.
"There is no mistake, I hope," Francois said as, a quarter of a mile before they reached it, they met the three men-at-arms coming down.
"No, count, it was exactly in a line with the two stakes and, I should think, about the distance away that you told us the tower was. It has died down now."
The beacon fire near the hut had been placed fifty yards below the crest of the hill, so that its flame should not be seen from the other side. This had been at Philip's suggestion.
"If it is put where they can see it," he said, "they will feel sure that it is in answer to that fire behind them, and will ride at full speed, so as to get here before the news spreads. If they see no answering fire, they may suppose that the first was but an accident. They may even halt at the village, and send off some men to see what has caused the fire; or if they ride straight through, they will be at some little distance before Simon has got to the fire and lighted it, and may not care to waste time sending back. At any rate, it is better that they should see no flame up here."
They had often talked the matter over, and had agreed that, even if the column was composed only of cavalry, it would be from an hour and a half to two hours before it arrived at the chateau, as it would doubtless have performed a long journey; while if there were infantry with them, they would take double that time.
Directly an alarm had been given, two of the youngest and most active of the men-at-arms had set off, to take post at the point where the road crossed the hill. Their orders were to lie still till all had passed, and then to make their way back along the hill, at full speed, to inform the garrison of the strength and composition of the attacking force.
When they returned to the chateau, people were already pouring in from the neighbouring farms; the women staggering under heavy burdens, and the men driving their cattle before them, or leading strings of horses. The seneschal and the retainers were at work, trying to keep some sort of order; directing the men to drive the cattle into the countess's garden, and the women to put down their belongings in the courtyard, where they would be out of the way; while the countess saw that her maids spread rushes, thickly, along by the walls of the rooms that were to be given up to the use of the women and children.
Cressets had been lighted in the courtyard, but the bonfire was now extinguished so that the enemy, on reaching the top of the hill, should see nothing to lead them to suppose that their coming was known. The alarm bell had ceased sending its loud summons into the air; but there was still a variety of noises that were almost deafening: the lowing of cattle, disturbed and angered at the unaccustomed movement; mingled with the shouts of men, the barking of dogs, and the crying of frightened children.
"I will aid the seneschal in getting things into order down here, Francois," Philip said, "while you see to the defence of the walls, posting the men, and getting everything in readiness to give them a reception. I will look after the postern doors, and see that the planks across the moats are removed, and the bolts and bars in place."
Francois nodded and, bidding the men-at-arms, who had already returned, stable their horses and follow him, he proceeded to the walls.
"This is enough to make one weep," Pierre said, as the oxen poured into the courtyard, and then through the archway that led to the countess's garden.
"What is enough, Pierre? To see all these poor women and children, who are likely to behold their homesteads in flames, before many hours?"
"Well, I did not mean that, master; though I don't say that is not sad enough, in its way; but that is the fortune of war, as it were. I meant the countess's garden being destroyed. The beasts will trample down all the shrubs and, in a week, it will be no better than a farmyard."
"That is of very little consequence, Pierre. A week's work, with plenty of hands, will set that right again. Still, no doubt it will vex the countess, who is very fond of her garden."
"A week!" Pierre said. "Why, sir, it will take years and years before those yew hedges grow again."
"Ah well, Pierre, if the countess keeps a roof over her head she may be well content, in these stormy times. You had better go and see if she and her maids have got those chambers ready for the women. If they have, get them all in as quickly as you can. These beasts come into the courtyard with such a rush that some of the people will be trampled upon, if we do not get them out of the way."
"Most of them have gone into the hall, sir. The countess gave orders that all were to go in as they came; but I suppose the servants have been too busy to tell the latecomers. I will get the rest in, at once."
As soon as the farmers and their men had driven the animals into the garden, they went up to the walls, all having brought their arms in with them. The boys were left below, to look after the cattle.
"Nothing can be done tonight," Philip said to some of the men. "The cattle will come to no harm and, as the boys cannot keep them from breaking down the shrubs, they had best leave them alone, or they will run the risk of getting hurt. The boys will do more good by taking charge of the more valuable horses, as they come in, and fastening them up to the rings round the wall here. The cart horses must go in with the cattle."
Several gentlemen, with their wives and families, came in among the fugitives. Their houses were not in a condition to withstand a siege, and it had long been settled that they should come into the chateau, if danger threatened. The ladies were taken to the countess's apartments, while the gentlemen went to aid Francois in the defence.
An hour and a half after the lads returned to the castle, the men-at-arms who had been sent to watch the road came in. They reported that the column approaching consisted of about three hundred mounted men, and fifteen hundred infantry.
Roger had, all this time, been standing by the side of his saddled horse. Philip hurried to him, as soon as the men came in.
"Three hundred horsemen and fifteen hundred foot! Ride at full speed to La Rochelle. Tell the Admiral the numbers, and request him, in the name of the countess, to come to her assistance. Beg him to use all speed, for no doubt they will attack hotly, knowing that aid will soon be forthcoming to us."
Roger leapt to his saddle, and galloped out through the gate. A man had been placed there to mark off the names of all who entered, from the list that had been furnished him. Philip took it, and saw that a cross had been placed against every name. He therefore went up to the top of the wall.
"The tenants are all in, Francois!"
"Very well, then, I will have the drawbridge raised and the gates closed. I am glad, indeed, that we have had time given us for them all to enter. My mother would have been very grieved, if harm had come to any of them.
"I have everything in readiness, here. I have posted men at every window and loophole, where the house rises from the side of the moat. All the rest are on the walls. I will take command here by the gate and along the wall. Do you take charge of the defence of the house, itself. However, you may as well stay here with me, until we have had our first talk with them. Pass the word along the walls for perfect silence."
In another half hour they heard a dull sound. Presently it became louder, and they could distinguish, above the trampling of horses, the clash of steel. It came nearer and nearer, until within two or three hundred yards of the chateau, then it ceased. Presently a figure could be made out, creeping quietly forward until it reached the edge of the moat. It paused a moment, and then retired.
"He has been sent to find out whether the drawbridge is down," Francois whispered to Philip. "We shall see what they will do now."
There was a pause for ten minutes, then a heavy mass of men could be seen approaching.
"Doubtless they will have planks with them, to push across the moat," Philip said.
"We will let them come within twenty yards," Francois replied, "then I think we shall astonish them."
Believing that all in the chateau were asleep, and that even the precaution of keeping a watchman on the walls had been neglected, the assailants advanced eagerly. Suddenly, the silence on the walls was broken by a voice shouting, "Give fire!" And then, from along the whole face of the battlements, deadly fire from arquebuses was poured into them. A moment later half a dozen fireballs were flung into the column, and a rain of crossbow bolts followed.
Shouts of astonishment, rage, and pain broke from the mass and, breaking up, they recoiled in confusion; while the shouts of the officers, urging them forward, could be heard. The heavy fire from the walls was, however, too much for men who had expected no resistance, but had moved forward believing that they had but to sack and plunder; and in two or three minutes from the first shot being fired, all who were able to do so had retired; though a number of dark figures, dotting the ground, showed how deadly had been the fire of the besieged.
"They will do nothing more tonight, I fancy," one of the Huguenot gentlemen standing by the two friends remarked. "They expected to take you entirely by surprise. Now that they have failed in doing so, they will wait until morning to reconnoitre, and decide on the best points of attack. Besides, no doubt they have marched far, and are in need of rest before renewing the assault."
"Well, gentlemen," Francois said, "it would be needless for you all to remain here; and when they once begin in earnest, there will be but slight opportunity of rest until relief reaches us. Therefore, I beg you to go below. You will find a table laid in the hall, and two chambers roughly prepared for you; and you can get a few hours' sleep.
"I myself, with my own men, will keep watch. Should they muster for another attack, my horn will summon you again to the wall.
"Philip, will you go down and see that these gentlemen have all that they require? You can dismiss all save our own men from guard, on the other side of the house. The tenants and their men will all sleep in the hall."
Philip went down, and presided at the long table. The gentlemen were seated near him while, below them, the tenants and other followers took their places. There was enough cold meat, game, and pies for all; and when they had finished, the defenders of the wall came down, half at a time, for a meal.
When the gentlemen had retired to their apartments, and the farmers and their men had thrown themselves down upon the rushes strewn on each side of the hall, Philip went up to join Francois.
"Any sign of them, Francois?"
"None at all. I expect they are thoroughly tired out, and are lying down just as they halted. There is no fear that we shall hear any more of them, tonight."