16. A Huguenot Prayer Meeting
"That was a good shot, Pierre," Philip said, as they ran; "and has probably saved my life."
"I am accustomed to throw straight, sir. My dinner has frequently depended on my knocking down a bird with a stone, and it was not often that I had to go without it.
"They are making a rare hubbub, back at the inn."
Loud shouts were heard behind them.
"We have plenty of time," Philip said, as he moderated the pace at which they had started. "The men will be confused at first, knowing nothing of what it all means. Then they will have to get the horses out of the stables."
"And then they will have trouble," Pierre added.
"What trouble, Pierre?"
"I gave a hint to Eustace," Pierre said with a laugh, "that it would be just as well, before he mounted, to cut off all the bridles at the rings. A nice way they will be in, when they go to mount!"
"Did you cut their bridles for them, Eustace?" he asked, as they came up to the others.
"Ay, and their stirrup leathers, too, Pierre."
"Good, indeed!" Philip exclaimed. "Without bridles or stirrup leathers, they can scarce make a start; and it will take them some minutes to patch them up. We will ride hard for a bit. That will put us far enough ahead to be able to take any byroad, and throw them off our traces. I have no fear of their catching us by straight riding. The masters' horses may be as good as ours, but those of the men can hardly be so. Still, they might come up to us wherever we halted for the night."
They looked back, when they were some two miles from the village, and along the long straight road could make out some figures that they doubted not were horsemen, just starting in pursuit.
"They waited to mend their leathers," Pierre remarked.
"They were right, there," Philip said; "for a man can fight but poorly, without bridle or stirrups. The horses will not have been fed, so we have an advantage there. I do not think we need trouble ourselves much more about them."
"There is one thing, sir. They won't mind foundering their horses, and we have to be careful of ours."
"That is so, Pierre; and besides, at the first place they come to, they may send others on in pursuit with fresh horses. No, we must throw them off our track as soon as we can. There is a wood, a mile or so ahead; we will leave the road there."
They were riding on the margin of turf, bordering the road on either side, so as to avoid the dust that lay thick and white upon it; and they held on at an easy canter, till they reached the trees. Then, at Philip's order, they scattered and went at a walk; so as to avoid leaving marks that could be seen, at once, by anyone following them. A couple of hundred yards farther, they came upon a stream running through a wood. It was but a few inches deep.
"This will do for us," Philip said. "Now, follow me in single file, and see that your horses step always in the water."
He led them across the road, and on for half a mile. Then they left the stream and, soon afterwards, emerged from the wood and struck across the country.
"I should think they will have had pretty well enough of it, by the time they get to the wood," Philip said; "and at any rate, will lose a lot of time there. They will trace our tracks to the edge of the stream, and will naturally suppose that we will follow it up, as we struck it on the other side of the road. It is like enough they will be half an hour searching, before they find where we left the stream; and will know well enough, then, it will be hopeless trying to catch us."
"They saw we had good horses," Eustace said; "for as we led them out, one of them made the remark that they were as good looking a lot of horses as you would often see together. No doubt, at first, their leaders were so furious that they thought of nothing but mending the leathers and getting off; but when they get a check, in the wood, it is probable that someone will venture to tell them how well we are mounted, and that pursuit will be hopeless."
"Nevertheless, I think they will pursue, Monsieur Philip," Pierre said. "They did not look like men who would swallow an injury, and think no more of it. As long as there remains a single chance of discovering you, they will not give up pursuit. Of course, they have no reason for suspicion that you are anything but what you seem to be, a gentleman of the neighbourhood; and will consider that, at one or other of the towns or villages ahead of us, they are sure to hear of our passing through, and perhaps to learn who you are and where you reside. Doubtless they asked at the inn, before starting, whether you were known; and as soon as they find they are not likely to catch us by hard riding, they will make straight forward, dividing into several parties at the next place they come to, and scattering in order to obtain news of us."
"Which they will not get," Philip said, "as we will take good care to avoid passing through villages. For tonight we will sleep in the woods, as the weather is warm and pleasant."
After riding another fifteen miles, they halted in a wood. They always carried some food and wine with them, as circumstances might at any time arise that would render it imprudent for them to put up at an inn; and each also carried a feed of corn for his horse.
Leaving Pierre to unsaddle and rub down his horse, Philip walked to the farther edge of the wood, to view the country beyond. They were, he knew, not far from La Chatre; and he was not surprised to see the town, lying in a valley, to which the ground sloped down from the wood. It was about a mile and a half distant. Nearer the wood, but half a mile to the west, the towers of a fortified chateau rose from a clump of trees. The country was rich and well cultivated, and everything had an aspect of peace and comfort.
"What a hideous thing it is," Philip said to himself, "that in so fair a country people cannot live in peace together; and should fly at each other's throats, simply because they cannot agree that each shall worship God after his own fashion! It might be Canterbury, with the hills rising round it and the little river, save that it lacks the cathedral rising over it; and yet, I doubt not there are many there who live in daily peril of their lives, for there is not a town in France that has not its share of Huguenots, and they can never tell when the storm of popular fury may burst upon them."
The shades of evening were beginning to fall, when he rejoined his companions. They had already rubbed down their horses and replaced the saddles, and the animals were contentedly eating their corn.
"They look well," Philip said, as he walked from one to the other.
"Yes, sir, they are none the worse for their travel so far, and could carry us on a hard race for our lives. Shall we light a fire?"
"I do not think it is worth while, Eustace. The evening is warm, and we shall be off at daybreak. Someone passing through the wood might see the flames, and carry the news down to La Chatre, which is but a mile and a half away; and it is quite possible that those fellows we had to do with today may be there, if they are travelling the same way that we are, and may consider it likely we shall halt there for the night. At any rate, as we do not need the fire, we will run no risks."
They ate their supper and, an hour later, wrapped themselves in their cloaks and lay down. Philip was just dropping off to sleep, when Pierre touched him. He sat up with a start.
"There are some people in the wood," Pierre said.
Philip was wide awake now, and the sound of singing, at no great distance, came to his ears.
"It is a Huguenot hymn," he exclaimed. "There must be a meeting in the wood. No doubt it is some of the people from the town, who have come out to hold a secret meeting here. I will go and see it.
"Come with me, Pierre. We will go very quietly, for it would scare them terribly, did they hear anyone approaching."
Making their way noiselessly through the wood they came, after walking about three hundred yards, to the edge of an open space among the trees, where they halted. In the centre they could see, in the moonlight, a body of some seventy or eighty people gathered. Standing upon the trunk of a fallen tree was a minister who was addressing them.
"My brethren," he was saying, when they could catch his words, "this is the last time we shall meet here. We know that suspicions have already arisen that we are holding meetings, and that we do so at the peril of our lives. The search for me has been hot, for some days; and though I am willing enough to give my life in the cause of our Lord, I would not bring destruction upon you, at the present moment. Were the prospects hopeless, I should say, 'let us continue together here, till the last;' but the sky is clearing, and it may be that, ere long, freedom of worship may be proclaimed throughout France. Therefore it is better that, for a time, we should abstain from gathering ourselves together. Even now, the persecutors may be on our track."
"Pierre," Philip whispered, "do you go over in that direction, until you come to the edge of the wood. If you see any signs of men moving about, run quickly to the others, and bring the horses up here."
"I had better go back there first, had I not, Monsieur Philip, and bring the men and horses along with me to the edge of the wood? For I might lose a quarter of an hour in searching for them."
"That would be the best plan, Pierre. Should you hear a sudden noise here, hurry in this direction, and I will come to meet you. It may well be that, guessing the Huguenots would place someone on watch towards the town, the Catholics may, if they come, approach from the other side. Should you see anyone coming, give a loud shout, at once. It will act as a warning to these people, and enable them to scatter and fly, before their foes arrive."
For an hour the preacher continued to address his hearers, exhorting them to stand firm in the faith, and to await with patience the coming of better days. They were not more than twenty paces away from the spot where Philip was standing, and in the moonlight he could clearly see the faces of the assembly, for the preacher was standing with his back to him. From their dress, he judged that most of them belonged to the poorer classes; though three or four were evidently bourgeois of the well-to-do class.
Seated on the trunk on which the preacher was standing, and looking up at him so that her profile was clearly visible to Philip, sat a young girl, whose face struck Philip as of singular beauty. The hood of the cloak in which she was wrapped had fallen back from her head, and her hair looked golden in the moonlight. She was listening with rapt attention. The moonlight glistened on a brooch, which held the cloak together at her throat. A young woman stood by her; and a man, in steel cap and with a sword at his side, stood a pace behind her. Philip judged that she belonged to a rank considerably above that of the rest of the gathering.
When the address had concluded, the preacher began a hymn in which all joined. Just as they began, Philip heard the crack of a stick among the trees. It was not on the side from which Pierre would be coming. He listened attentively, but the singing was so loud that he could hear nothing; except that once a clash, such as would be made by a scabbard or piece of armour striking against a bough, came to his ears.
Suddenly he heard a shout.
"That is Pierre!" he exclaimed to himself, and ran forward into the circle.
There was a cry of alarm, and the singing suddenly stopped.
"I am a friend," he exclaimed. "I have come to warn you of danger. There are men coming in this direction from the town."
"My brethren, we will separate," the minister said calmly. "But first, I will pronounce the benediction."
This he did solemnly, and then said:
"Now, let all make through the wood and, issuing from the other side, return by a circuit to the town.
"Mademoiselle Claire, I will accompany you to the chateau."
At this moment Philip heard horses approaching.
"This way, Pierre," he shouted, and ran to meet them.
Fifty yards away he came upon them, and leapt into his saddle.
"See to your weapons, lads," he said. "I believe there are others in the wood already."
He was within twenty yards of the clearing when he heard a sudden shout of:
"Down with the Huguenot dogs! Kill! Kill!"
He dashed forward, followed by his men. A mob of armed men, headed by two or three horsemen, had burst from the opposite side of the glade and were rushing upon the Huguenots, who had just broken up into small groups.
They stood, as if paralysed, at this sudden attack. No cry or scream broke from the women. Most of these threw themselves upon their knees. A few of the men followed their example, and prepared to die unresistingly. Some sprang away among the trees, and above the din the preacher's voice was heard commencing a Huguenot hymn beginning, "The gates of heaven are opened;" in which, without a moment's hesitation, those who remained around him joined.
In a moment, with savage shouts and yells, their assailants were upon them, smiting and thrusting. With a shout, Philip spurred forward from the other side. He saw at once that, against such numbers, he and his three followers could do nothing; but his rage at this massacre of innocent people--a scene common enough in France, but which he now for the first time witnessed--half maddened him.
One of the horsemen, whom he recognized at once as the man Pierre had knocked down with the plate, rode at the girl Philip had been watching; and who was standing, with upturned face, joining in the hymn. The man attending her drew his sword, and placed himself in the way of the horseman; but the latter cut him down, and raised the sword to strike full at the girl, when Philip shot him through the head.
Instantly another horseman, with a shout of recognition, rode at him. Philip thrust his still smoking pistol in his holster, and drew his sword.
"This is more than I hoped for," his assailant said, as he dealt a sweeping blow at him.
"Do not congratulate yourself too soon," Philip replied, as he guarded the blow and, lunging in return, the point glided off his adversary's armour.
He parried again; and then, with a back-handed sweep, he struck his opponent on the neck with his whole force. Coming out to take part in a Huguenot hunt, in which he expected no opposition, the knight had left his helmet behind him; and fell from his horse, with his head half severed from his body.
In the meantime the two men-at-arms and Pierre had driven back the mob of townsmen; who, however, having massacred most of the unresisting Huguenots, were surging up round them.
"Give me your hand, mademoiselle, and put your foot on mine," Philip exclaimed to the girl, who was still standing close to him.
"Pierre," he shouted as, bewildered by the uproar, the girl instinctively obeyed the order, "take this woman up behind you."
Pierre made his horse plunge, and so freed himself from those attacking him. Then, reining round, he rode to Philip's side, and helped the companion of the young lady to the croup of his saddle; Philip dashing forward, to free his two followers from their numerous assailants.
"To the left, Eustace;" and, cutting their way through the crowd, the three horsemen freed themselves and, as they dashed off, were joined by Pierre.
"We must work back by the way we came, Monsieur Philip," Pierre said. "There is another body coming up in front, to cut off fugitives; and that was why I shouted to you."
In a minute or two they were out of the wood. Men were seen running across the fields, but these they easily avoided.
"Now turn again, and make straight for La Chatre," Philip said. "We can cross the bridge, and ride through the place without danger. Those who would have interfered with us are all behind us."
As he had expected, the place was perfectly quiet. The better class of the bourgeois were all asleep, either ignorant or disapproving of the action of the mob. As soon as they were through the town, Philip checked the speed of his horse.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "I am as yet in ignorance of your name. I am the Chevalier Philip Fletcher, an English gentleman fighting for the cause of the reformed religion, under Admiral Coligny. I am on my way east, with important despatches; and I was bivouacking with my three followers in the wood, when I was attracted by the singing.
"Judging, from the words of the minister, that there was danger of an attack, I put one of my men on the watch; while I myself remained in the wood by your meeting place. Unfortunately, the sound of the last hymn you sang drowned the noise made by the party that assailed you. However, happily we were in time to save you and your servant; and our sudden appearance doubtless enabled many to escape, who would otherwise have been massacred."
The girl had burst into a fit of sobbing, as soon as the danger was over; but she had now recovered.
"My name is Claire de Valecourt, monsieur," she said. "My father is with the Admiral. He will be deeply grateful to you for saving my life."
"I have the honour of knowing the Count de Valecourt, mademoiselle; and am glad, indeed, that I have been able to be of service to his daughter. The count is one of the gentlemen who act as guardians to the Prince of Navarre, whom I have also the honour of knowing.
"And now, what are your wishes? It is not too late even now, should you desire it, for me to take you back to the chateau."
"I should be defenceless there, sir," she said. "There are but a score of men-at-arms and, though formerly a place of some strength, it could not be defended now. See, sir, it is too late already."
Philip looked round, and saw a bright light suddenly rising from the clump of trees on which the chateau stood. He gave an exclamation of anger.
"It cannot be helped," she said quietly. "It is but a small place. It was part of my mother's dower. Our estates, you know, are in Provence. My father thought I should be safer, here, than remaining there alone while he was away. We have always been on good terms with the townspeople here, and they did not interfere with those of our religion during the last war; so we thought that it would be the same now. But of late some people have been here, stirring up the townsmen; and some travelling friars preached in the marketplace, not long since, upbraiding the people with their slackness in not rooting us out altogether.
"A month ago, one of the persecuted ministers came to the chateau at night, and has been concealed there since. Seeing that there will be no minister here for some time, word was sent round secretly, to those of our religion in the town, and twice a week we have had meetings in the wood. Many of the servants of the chateau are Catholics, and of the men-at-arms, the majority are not of our faith. Therefore I used to steal out quietly with my attendant. We heard, two days ago, that a rumour of the meetings had got about; and tonight's was to have been the last of them."
"And now, mademoiselle, what are your wishes? Have you any friends with whom I could place you, until you could rejoin your father?"
"None near here, monsieur. I have always lived in the south."
"I should not have taken you for a lady of Provence," Philip said. "Your hair is fair, and you have rather the appearance of one of my own countrywomen, than of one born in the south of France."
"I am partly of northern blood," she said. "My mother was the daughter of Sir Allan Ramsay, a Scottish gentleman who took service in France, being driven from home by the feuds that prevailed there. I knew but little about her, for she died when I was a child; and my father, who loved her greatly, seldom speaks to me of her."
Philip rode for some time in silence.
"I feel that I am a terrible burden on your hands, monsieur," she said quietly, at last; "but I will do anything that you think best. If you set us down, we will try and find refuge in some peasant's hut; or we can dress ourselves as countrywomen, and try to make our way westward to La Rochelle."
"That is not to be thought of," he replied gravely. "Were it not that my despatches may not be delayed, without great danger to our cause, the matter would be of no inconvenience; but we must ride fast and far. As to leaving you to shift for yourselves, it is impossible; but if we could find a Huguenot family with whom I could place you, it would be different. But unfortunately, we are all strangers to the country." "I can ride well," the girl said, "and if horses could be procured would, with my maid, try to reach La Rochelle; travelling by night, and hiding in the woods by day. We could carry food with us, so as not to have to enter any place to purchase it." Philip shook his head.
"We will halt at yonder clump of trees," he said. "It is not yet midnight, and then we can talk the matter over further."
As soon as they halted, he unrolled his cloak.
"Do you, mademoiselle, and your attendant lie down here. We shall be but a short distance away, and two of us will keep watch; therefore you can sleep without fear of surprise."
"This is an unfortunate business, Pierre," he said, after the latter had fastened the horses to the trees.
"I can understand that, monsieur. I have been talking to the maid, and it seems that they have no friends in these parts."
"That is just it, Pierre. One thing is certain--they cannot ride on with us. We must journey as fast as possible, and delicate women could not support the fatigue; even were it seemly that a young lady, of good family, should be galloping all over France with a young man like myself."
"I should not trouble about that, monsieur. At ordinary times, doubtless, it would cause a scandal; but in days like these, when in all parts of France there are women and children hiding from the persecution, or fleeing for their lives, one cannot stand upon niceties. But doubtless, as you say, they would hinder our speed and add to our dangers."
"I see but two plans, Pierre. The one is that they should journey to La Rochelle, in charge of yourself and Eustace. We have now twice crossed the country without difficulty and, as there would be no need of especial speed, you could journey quietly; choosing quiet and lonely places for your halts, such as farmhouses, or groups of two or three cottages where there is a tiny inn."
"What is your other plan, sir?"
"The other plan is that you should start forward at once, so as to enter Saint Amboise early. Stable your horse at an inn; and order rooms, saying that you are expecting your master and a party, who are on their way to join the army. You might also order a meal to be cooked. Then you could enter into conversation with stablemen and others, and find out whether there are any castles in the neighbourhood held for us by Huguenot lords, or by their wives in their absence. If not, if there are any Huguenot villages. In fact, try and discover some place where we may leave the young lady in safety. You can have three hours to make your inquiry.
"At the end of that time, whether successful or not, say that you are going out to meet your master and lead him to the inn. Give the host a crown, as an earnest of your return and on account of the meal you have ordered, and then ride to meet us.
"We shall start from here at daybreak. If you succeed in hearing of some place where, as it seems, she can be bestowed in safety, we will take her there at once. If not, you and Eustace must start back with them, travelling slowly. The horses will carry double, easily enough.
"Do not forget to get a cold capon or two, some good wine, and a supply of white bread, while you are waiting in the town."
"Which horse shall I take, sir?"
"You had best take Robin. He is the faster of the two, though not quite so strong as Victor."
"I understand, monsieur, and will carry out your orders. If there be a place within twenty miles--or within forty, if lying on the right road--where the young lady can be left in safety, rely upon it I will hear of it; for there is nought I would not do, rather than turn back at the outset of our journey, while you have to journey on with only Roger, who is a stout man-at-arms enough, but would be of little use if you should find yourself in difficulties; for his head is somewhat thick, and his wits slow."
Robin had already finished his scanty ration of food and, when Pierre tightened the girths before mounting, looked round in mild surprise at finding himself called upon to start, for the second time, after he had thought that his work was done.
"You shall have a good feed at Saint Amboise," Pierre said, patting its neck; "and beyond that, there will be no occasion, I hope, for such another day's work."
After seeing Pierre start, Philip threw himself down for two hours' sleep; and then went to relieve Eustace, who was keeping watch at the edge of a clump of trees. As soon as it was broad daylight, he went across to where Claire de Valecourt was lying down by the side of her maid, with a cloak thrown over them. She sat up at once, as his step approached.
"I am afraid you have not had much sleep, mademoiselle."
"No, indeed," she said. "I have scarce closed my eyes. It will be long before I shall sleep quietly. That terrible scene of last night will be before my eyes for a long time. Do you think that the minister escaped, Monsieur Fletcher?"
"I fear that he did not. I saw him cut down, by the fellow I shot, just before he turned to ride at you."
"How many do you think escaped?"
"A score perhaps, or it may be more. Some fled at once. Others I noticed make off, as we rode forward."
"Did not one of your men ride off, last night, soon after we lay down?"
"Yes, I sent off my servant."
And he told her the mission upon which Pierre had been despatched.
"That is a good plan," she said. "I would much rather hide anywhere, than that you should go forward on your long journey with but half your little force. Does it not seem strange, monsieur, that while, but a few hours ago, I had never so much as heard your name, now I owe my life to you, and feel that I have to trust to you in everything? I am quite surprised, now I look at you--I scarce saw your face, last night; and only noticed, as I sat in front of you, that you seemed very big and strong. And as you talked of what I must do, just as if you had been my father, I have been thinking of you as a grave man, like him. Now I see you are quite young, and that you don't look grave at all."
"I am young, and not very grave, mademoiselle. I am not at all fit to be the protector of a young lady like yourself."
"There I am sure you are wronging yourself, Monsieur Fletcher. The Admiral would never have sent you so far, with important despatches, had he not full confidence that you were wise as well as brave. And you said you were a chevalier, too. My cousin Antoine looks ever so much older than you do, and he has not been knighted yet. I know young gentlemen are not made knights, unless they have done something particularly brave."
"I did not do anything particularly brave, mademoiselle; but what I did do happened to attract the Admiral's attention.
"Now, here are the remains of a cold capon, some bread, and wine. You and your attendant had better eat something, while we are saddling the horses and preparing for a start."
Four hours later they halted, three miles from Saint Amboise; taking refuge in a wood near the road, where they could see Pierre as he returned. Half an hour later he rode up. Philip went down the road to meet him.
"Well, Pierre, what success?"
"I have heard of a place where I think Mademoiselle de Valecourt would be safe, for the present. It is the chateau of Monsieur de Landres. It lies some five-and-twenty miles away, and is in the forest, at a distance from any town or large village. It is a small place, but is strong. Monsieur de Landres is with the army in the west, but he has only taken a few of his men with him; and forty, they say, have been left to guard the tower. As most of the Catholics round here have obeyed the king's summons, and are either with the royal army in the west, or with the two dukes at Metz, there seems no chance of any attack being made upon Landres."
"That will do excellently, Pierre. No doubt the lady will be happy to receive Mademoiselle de Valecourt, whose father is a well-known nobleman and, at present, in the same army as the lady's husband. At any rate, we will try that to begin with."
They started without delay and, riding briskly, reached Landres in four hours; having had a good deal of difficulty in finding the way. As soon as they issued from the forests into a cleared space, half a mile across, in the centre of which stood the fortalice, a horn was heard to sound, and the drawbridge was at once raised. Philip saw, with satisfaction, that Pierre had not been misinformed. The castle was an old one and had not been modernized and, with its solid-looking walls and flanking towers, was capable of standing a siege.
Halting the others, when halfway across to the tower, he rode on alone. As he approached, a lady appeared on the battlements over the gate; while the parapet was occupied with armed men, with spears and crossbows. Philip removed his cap.
"Madame," he said, "I am a soldier belonging to the army of the Prince of Navarre, and am riding on the business of Admiral Coligny. On my way hither, I had the good fortune to save a Huguenot congregation, and the daughter of the Count de Valecourt, from massacre by the people of La Chatre. My business is urgent, and I am unable to turn back to conduct her to her father, who is with the army of the prince. Hearing that you are of the reformed religion, I have ventured to crave your protection for the young lady; until I can return to fetch her, or can notify to her father where he may send for her."
"The lady is welcome," Madame de Landres said. "In such times as these, it is the duty of all of our religion to assist each other; and the daughter of the Count de Valecourt, whom I know by reputation, will be specially welcomed."
Bowing to the lady, Philip rode back to his party.
"The matter is settled, mademoiselle. The chatelaine will be glad to receive you."
By the time they reached the castle the drawbridge had been lowered; and Madame de Landres stood at the gate, ready to receive her guest. As Philip, leaping off, lifted the girl to the ground, the lady embraced her kindly.
"I am truly glad to be able to offer you a shelter, for a time. You are young, indeed, to be abroad without a natural protector; for as I gather this gentleman, whose name I have not yet learned, rescued you by chance from an attack by the Catholics."
"God sent him to my succour, as by a miracle," Claire said simply. "The Chevalier Fletcher is known to my father. Had he arrived but one minute later, I should be one among seventy or eighty who are now lying dead in a wood, near La Chatre. My father had a chateau close by, but it was fired after the massacre."
"And now, mademoiselle, with your permission, and that of Madame de Landres, we will ride on at once. We must do another thirty miles before sunset."
Madame de Landres, however, insisted on Philip and his men stopping to partake of a meal before they rode on; and although they had breakfasted heartily, four hours before, upon the provisions Pierre had brought back with him from Amboise, their ride had given them an appetite; and Philip did not refuse the invitation. Madame de Landres expressed much satisfaction on hearing that the Huguenot army was likely to pass somewhere near the neighbourhood of the chateau, on its way to effect a junction with the Duc de Deux-Ponts; and promised to send one of her retainers with a message, to the count, that his daughter was in her keeping. The meal was a short one; and Philip, after a halt of half an hour, mounted and rode on again.
"My father will thank you, when you meet him, Monsieur Fletcher. As for me, I cannot tell you what I feel, but I shall pray for you always; and that God, who sent you to my aid, will watch over you in all dangers," Claire de Valecourt had said, as she bade him goodbye.
They halted that night at a small village and, as Philip was eating his supper, Pierre came in.
"I think, monsieur, that it would be well for us to move on for a few miles farther."
"Why, Pierre? We have done a long day's journey, and the horses had but a short rest last night."
"I should like to rest just as well as the horses," Pierre said; "but I doubt if we should rest well, here. I thought, when we drew bridle, that the landlord eyed us curiously; and that the men who sauntered up regarded us with more attention than they would ordinary travellers. So I told Eustace and Roger, as they led the horses to the stable, to keep the saddles on for the present; and I slipped away round to the back of the house, and got my ear close to the open window of the kitchen. I got there just as the landlord came in, saying:"
Pierre listens at the open window of the inn.
"'These are the people, wife, that we were told of three hours ago. There are the same number of men, though they have no women with them, as I was told might be the case. Their leader is a fine-looking young fellow, and I am sorry for him, but that I can't help. I was told that, if they came here, I was to send off a messenger at once to Nevers; and that, if I failed to do so, my house should be burnt over my head, and I should be hung from the tree opposite, as a traitor to the king. Who he is I don't know, but there can be no doubt he is a Huguenot, and that he has killed two nobles. I daresay they deserved it if they were, as the men said, engaged in what they call the good work of slaying Huguenots; which is a kind of work with which I do not hold. But that is no business of mine--I am not going to risk my life in the matter.
"'Besides, if I don't send off it will make no difference; for they told half-a-dozen men, before they started, that they would give a gold crown to the first who brought them news of the party; and it is like enough someone has slipped off, already, to earn the money. So I must make myself safe by sending off Jacques, at once. The men said that their lords had powerful friends at Nevers, and I am not going to embroil myself with them, for the sake of a stranger.'
"'We have nothing to do with the Huguenots, one way or other,' the woman said. 'There are no Huguenots in this village, and it is nothing to us what they do in other parts. Send off Jacques if you like, and perhaps it will be best; but I don't want any fighting or bloodshed here.'
"I slipped away then," continued Pierre, "as I thought the landlord would be coming out to look for this Jacques. If it had not been for what he said about the reward offered, and the likelihood that others would already have started with the news, I should have watched for the man and followed him when he started. I don't think he would have carried his message far. As it was, I thought it best to let you know at once; so that we could slip out of this trap, in time."