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HOME > Short Stories > Won by the Sword > CHAPTER XXI: THE DUKE'S REVENGE
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 The cardinal listened gravely to Hector's account of the duel, and of the circumstances that gave rise to it. “I will go at once to the Louvre and appeal to her majesty,” he said; “you know how warmly she spoke to you on the day when you saved my life. Still, I fear that the sternest reproof, or even an order to retire to his estates, would not turn him from his purpose.”
“I am sure of it, your eminence; still, as I have proved victor in the first battle in the campaign I will bide a second.”
“Mind that you do not get stabbed in the back, colonel.”
“I will beware of that, sir; whenever I walk the streets in future Paolo shall keep a pace behind me, and I warrant that he will protect me from any attempt of that sort.”
“At any rate remain here until I return from the Louvre.”
In an hour Mazarin returned. “The duke has been beforehand with us,” he said. “When I told the queen of what had happened, and why this quarrel had been fastened upon you, she sent at once for the duke, and drew out an order, which I signed, for him to retire at once to his estates; but the royal messenger returned with the news that he had half an hour before ridden away to visit his father at Vendome. A courier will start at once with the order, but I doubt whether he will be found there. It is probable that he has gone to one of his own estates, and it may be some time before we find out where he is. However, it is something that he has gone.”
On his return to the inn Hector told Paolo what had taken place.
“It is a pity that you did not kill them all, master.”
“Not at all, Paolo; had I done so every one of their friends would have been set against me. Both these men are of good families, and will doubtless report that I had their lives at my mercy and spared them, and after that no gentleman of reputation would take the matter up. I shall have to be very careful in future, but now that the duke has gone there is not likely to be any further trouble just at present.”
Paolo shook his head. “Nay, master, I think the danger all the greater. In the first place, we do not know that he has gone. I think it far more likely that he is hiding in the house of one of his friends. He has pretended to leave because he was sure the cardinal would take the matter up, and in order that, if he is absent from Paris when any harm befell you, it could not be brought home to him. I do not suppose that next time he will employ any of his own people. He is most popular among the mob of Paris, who call him the King of the Markets, and he will have no difficulty in getting as many daggers as he wishes from the scum of the faubourgs. It would be difficult in the extreme to prove that he had aught to do with it, for you may be sure that he would really go down into the country with all speed the moment the deed was done.
“In future, master, you must not go out without having me close behind you; as for the others, I would put them in ordinary citizen garb, and let them follow some twenty yards behind, so as to be in readiness to run up at once. They could carry swords openly, and have their pistols hidden under their doublets.”
“It might be as well, at any rate for the present. If, as you think, Beaufort is hidden in Paris, it is certain he will lose no time.”
Paolo nodded. “I will get the men disguises at once. They had better be different; Macpherson can be dressed as a soldier, Nicholl as a burgher, and Sandy Grahame and Hunter as rough mechanics. They, of course, could not carry swords, but might take heavy cudgels. They would not walk together, or seem to have any knowledge of each other. Sandy might be ten paces behind you, Nicholl twenty, and the others thirty, or where the street is wide they could keep abreast of you on the other side. Are you going to the Louvre this evening?”
“Yes, the cardinal said that the queen wished that I should appear there. I would much rather have stayed away, as doubtless the affair behind the Luxembourg will be generally known by this evening, and I shall feel my position a very unpleasant one, though I imagine that the queen intends, by her countenance of me, to show that I have not fallen into disgrace for duelling.”
Such was indeed the case. All eyes were turned upon Hector when he entered the royal saloon. Many of Mazarin's friends came up and shook hands with him warmly, while the adherents of Beaufort and Vendome stood aloof from him with angry faces. Presently the door opened, and the queen, closely followed by Mazarin and a train of ladies and gentlemen, entered.
As she passed Hector she stopped. “Monsieur le Baron de la Villar,” she said in clear tones, which were heard all over the apartment, “much as I object to duelling, and determined as I am to enforce the edicts against it, I feel that in the encounter this morning you were in no way to blame, and that it was forced upon you. It is scandalous that one who has so bravely shed his blood and risked his life in defence of France should be assailed in the capital, and for what reason? Because he proved faithful to the queen and her minister. You have punished the chief of the aggressors, and I shall know how to punish those who stood behind him;” and with a gracious bow in response to his deep reverence she moved on.
The little speech created a deep sensation among the courtiers. That the queen herself should so publicly give her countenance to this young Scottish gentleman, and should—for no one doubted to whom she alluded—even threaten one of the most powerful nobles in the land, showed how strongly she felt. No one, with the exception of half a dozen persons, understood her allusion to the service that he had rendered to her and the cardinal, but all felt that it must be something altogether exceptional. Many of the nobles who belonged neither to the party of Beaufort nor the cardinal came up and congratulated him.
He received these signs of the impression that the queens' words had conferred upon him quietly.
“I am very sorry for what has occurred,” he said. “I have killed many in battle, but this is the first time that I have killed anyone in a private quarrel. It was not one of my seeking, but I am none the less sorry.”
As he passed near Madame de Chevreuse, she made a gesture to him to come to her. “You did not accept my warning,” she said sadly. “Remember, a storm is not past because the first flash of lightning does not strike.”
“I am well aware of that, madam; I thank you for your warning, but I am bound here by my duties as a tree is bound to the earth by its roots, and neither can move at will to escape a storm passing overhead.”
“Should I hear of any fresh danger, Monsieur Campbell,” she said in a low voice, “I will have you informed of it, but it is more probable that I shall not know. Were it a state secret I should surely hear of it, but in a matter like this none save those concerned would be likely to know of it until it was over. Be always on your guard night and day, you cannot tell when the bolt may fall;” and she motioned to him to pass on again. As before, Hector accompanied the cardinal as far as his hotel, then he went towards his own lodgings, Paolo, with his hand on his dagger, keeping a pace behind him, while the four troopers followed one by one at a distance. The streets were almost deserted until, just as they approached the inn, a number of rough men rushed out from side alleys and doorways. Hector had just time to throw himself with his back to a house and draw his sword. Paolo's knife had levelled the first man who approached, and then drawing his sword he took his place by the side of his master. The ruffians stood round, each anxious to be the first to strike, and yet fearful of meeting the sword that had, as they had heard, mastered three gentlemen.
“Run in at him, fools!” a man in a cloak, with his hat pulled down over his eyes, and keeping in the rear of the others, shouted.
Before his orders could be carried out there was a sudden movement, and four men burst through them and joined Hector. The assailants hesitated.
But again the man behind shouted: “Cowards, there are but six of them, and you are five-and-twenty, are you such curs that you are afraid to attack when you are nigh five to one?”
Then, with a hoarse yell the crowd rushed forward. One was struck down by a heavy cudgel, three fell on the pavement, and another one tottered back disabled, but others took their places, and for a time the little band were hardly pressed. The four Scotchmen fought stoutly, but although fair swordsmen they gained no great advantage over their opponents until they betook them to their pistols, when several of their assailants fell, but not without inflicting wounds. Paolo also fought well, and brought three to the ground. Hector, however, took the offensive, and before his swift blade, with its deadly thrust, those opposed to him fell back as one after another dropped dead.
“Down with him! down with him!” the voice shouted; “are ye men thus to give way before a single blade?”
“And are you a man,” Hector shouted back, “to set on others to fight when you dare not fight yourself? Whoever you are, you are a coward!”
With a fierce oath the man pushed his way through those in front of him and drew his sword. He threw back his cloak to obtain the full use of his sword arm, and the rich gold braiding of his doublet confirmed the opinion Hector had already formed as to his identity.
“That is better, my lord duke; it is at least more honourable to fight in your own quarrels than to employ a band of assassins to do your work.”
With a roar of fury Beaufort rushed upon him. He was a good swordsman, and personally brave, but his rage neutralized his skill, and after parrying two or three of his lunges Hector repeated the thrust with which he had that morning disabled de Vipont, and ran his assailant through the shoulder. He fell back with a curse.
“Kill him! kill him!” he shouted. But at that moment there was a cry, “The watch! the watch!” Four of the fellows caught up the wounded man and carried him off, some of the others skirmishing with the watch to hinder their advance.
“To the inn!” Hector cried to his men, “leave the matter to the watch.”
And sheathing their weapons they ran on to the door of the hotel and obtained entry there before the watch came up. As soon as they had passed Hector said, “Come with me, Paolo, and see the cardinal; there is no fear of any renewal of the attack now.
“Do you know who it was I wounded, Paolo?” he asked as they hurried along.
“No, master, I was too busy myself to look round.”
“It was Beaufort himself; I ran him through, low down in the shoulder.”
Paolo uttered an exclamation of dismay.
“It cannot be helped now,” Hector went on, “but there will be no living in Paris or even in France after this!”
Mazarin had not retired to bed when they reached his hotel.
“What now, monsieur?” he asked.
“We have had our second battle, your eminence, and it has been a serious one. We were attacked by five-and-twenty ruffians; we slew some ten of them. Then their leader, who had been keeping in the rear shouting to them, seeing that his men were not likely to get the best of us, pushed through them and himself attacked me. I wounded him somewhat seriously, at least the thrust was just below the shoulder; and when I tell you that it was Beaufort himself you will see that the matter is serious indeed.”
“It could not be worse,” the cardinal said gravely; “you will have the whole of the adherents of the house of Vendome banded against you, and even your bravery could not long triumph over such odds. France is no longer a place for you. Neither the queen's protection nor mine would avail you aught.”
He took two or three turns up the room.
“In the first place, Monsieur Campbell, I will buy your fief back from you; there are plenty who would gladly purchase it, or I can bestow it, as it was bestowed upon you, upon someone who has served the crown well. I will send the price to the banker who already holds money of yours in his keeping. I should advise you to mount tonight and ride for the seacoast. Tomorrow would be too late.”
He opened a cabinet.
“Here are a thousand crowns for your present expenses. Which road will you take? I should advise you not to go to Calais; that is the line on which, as soon as it is known that you have gone, they will pursue you, and even did they not overtake you on the way they might reach Calais before you could obtain a ship for England, for at present there is but little trade between the countries, and that not openly.”
“I will make for Nantes, your eminence; there I can be joined by friends from my chateau.”
A slight smile passed over the cardinal's face.
“'Tis no time for jesting,” he said; “but in truth I had intended to find a rich heiress for you. But when I heard that two ladies were staying at the castle I laid the project aside; and 'tis as well that I did so, for, were you married to a princess, your life would not be safe in France. Farewell, Monsieur Campbell, I have not so many friends that I can afford to lose so true and stout a one, especially one upon whom misfortunes have come through his good services to myself. I will send a messenger to the governor of Nantes with orders that he shall in every way forward your wishes as to your departure, as it is with my consent and approval that you are sailing for England. Your devotion has brought you into the gravest peril, and now it forces you to relinquish your profession, in which you have so greatly distinguished yourself. Truly, my friendship for you is genuine, and it cuts me to the heart that, although I could uphold you against the most powerful nobles in open enmity, I can do naught to save you from assassination. I trust some day that I may see you again, but, should it not be so, remember that I shall always feel myself your debtor; and should you have friends for whom you may ask my protection be sure that I will for your sake do all in my power for them.”
There was no doubting the real emotion with which Mazarin spoke.
“There is one thing that I forgot,” the latter said; “here is a pass for you to leave the gates at once. You had better go out by the north, so that they may think that you have ridden to Calais, and then take a wide detour and ride for Nantes.”
Hector returned to the hotel.
“We must mount at once,” he said to the troopers; “my enemies have failed twice, but they might not fail the third time, and by tomorrow morning it is certain that the hotel will be watched. I have a pass to issue out through the gate at once.”
While he had been away the troopers had bandaged each other's wounds, and had packed their valises, for they thought it probable after what had happened that their master would be obliged to fly.
As the horses were being saddled and brought out Hector saw the innkeeper and paid him his bill.
“Monsieur,” he said, “I am going away on business of the cardinal's, and he desires that none shall know that I have left; therefore I pray you keep the matter secret as long as you can. It may be reasonably supposed that after the fray in which we have just been engaged, we might well keep our beds for a day or two.”
Going out in the courtyard, he gave a couple of crowns to the hostler.
“You are like to be asked tomorrow if we are still here,” he said. “Give such answers as to lead them to believe that our horses are still in the stalls.”
They mounted and rode rapidly through the streets to the northern gate, which was immediately, upon Hector's handing the guard the cardinal's pass, opened to them. To the surprise of the men, he turned off after riding a few miles.
“Are you not going to make for Calais, master?”
“No, I am bound for Poitou. We will cross the Seine by the bridge of boats at Nantes, ride down through Dreux and Le Mans. There we will separate. I shall follow the Sarthe, strike the Loire at Angers, and then go on to Nantes. You will cross the Loire at Tours, and then make for la Villar. I shall take you, Macpherson and Hunter, with me. Paolo will ride with the other two, and will be the bearer of letters from me.”
Daylight was breaking when they crossed the bridge of boats. Hector halted a mile from the river, keeping Paolo with him, and telling the others to pass at intervals of a quarter of an hour apart.
“You will go first, Macpherson. You will ride south for an hour, and then wait till the rest of us join you............
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