Night had fallen and it had begun to rain when Garnache and Valerie reached Grenoble. They entered the town afoot, the Parisian not desiring to attract attention by being seen in the streets with a lady on the withers of his horse.

With thought for her comfort, Monsieur de Garnache had divested himself of his heavy horseman’s cloak and insisted upon her assuming it, so setting it about her that her head was covered as by a wimple. Thus was she protected not only from the rain, but from the gaze of the inquisitive.

They made their way in the drizzle, through the greasy, slippery streets ashine with the lights that fell from door and window, Rabecque following closely with the horses. Garnache made straight for his inn—the Auberge du Veau qui Tete—which enjoyed the advantage of facing the Palais Seneschal.

The ostler took charge of the nags, and the landlord conducted them to a room above-stairs, which he placed at mademoiselle’s disposal. That done, Garnache left Rabecque on guard, and proceeded to make the necessary arrangements for the journey that lay before them. He began by what he conceived to be the more urgent measure, and stepping across to the Palais Seneschal, he demanded to see Monsieur de Tressan at once.

Ushered into the Lord Seneschal’s presence, he startled that obese gentleman by the announcement that he had returned from Condillac with Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye, and that he would require an escort to accompany them to Paris.

“For I am by no means minded to be exposed to such measures as the tigress of Condillac and her cub may take to recover their victim,” he explained with a grim smile.

The Seneschal combed his beard and screwed up his pale eyes until they vanished in the cushions of his cheeks. He was lost in amazement. He could only imagine that the Queen’s emissary had been duped more successfully this time.

“I am to gather, then,” said he, dissembling what was passing through his mind, “that you delivered the lady by force or strategy.”

“By both, monsieur,” was the short answer.

Tressan continued to comb his beard, and pondered the situation. If things were so, indeed, they could not have fallen out more to his taste. He had had no hand in it, one way or the other. He had run with the hare and hunted with the hounds, and neither party could charge him with any lack of loyalty. His admiration and respect for Monsieur de Garnache grew enormously. When the rash Parisian had left him that afternoon for the purpose of carrying his message himself to Condillac, Tressan had entertained little hope of ever again seeing him alive. Yet there he stood, as calm and composed as ever, announcing that singlehanded he had carried out what another might well have hesitated to attempt with a regiment at his heels.

Tressan’s curiosity urged him to beg for the details of this marvel, and Garnache entertained him with a brief recital of what had taken place, whereat, realizing that Garnache had indeed outwitted them, the Seneschal’s wonder increased.

“But we are not out of the quagmire yet,” cried Garnache; “and that is why I want an escort.”

Tressan became uneasy. “How many men shall you require?” he asked, thinking that the Parisian would demand at least the half of a company.

“A half-dozen and a sergeant to command them.”

Tressan’s uneasiness was dissipated, and he found himself despising Garnache more for his rashness in being content with so small a number than he respected him for the boldness and courage he had so lately displayed. It was not for him to suggest that the force might prove insufficient; rather was it for him to be thankful that Garnache had not asked for more. An escort Tressan dared not refuse him, and yet refuse it him he must have done—or broken with the Condillacs—had he asked for a greater number. But six men! Pooh! they would be of little account. So he very readily consented, inquiring how soon Garnache would require them.

“At once,” was the Parisian’s answer. “I leave Grenoble to-night. I hope to set out in an hour’s time. Meanwhile I’ll have the troopers form a guard of honour. I am lodged over the way.”

Tressan, but too glad to be quit of him, rose there and then to give the necessary orders, and within ten minutes Garnache was back at the Sucking Calf with six troopers and a sergeant, who had left their horses in the Seneschal’s stables until the time for setting out. Meanwhile Garnache placed them on duty in the common-room of the inn.

He called for refreshment for them, and bade them remain there at the orders of his man Rabecque. His reason for this step was that it became necessary that he should absent himself for a while to find a carriage suitable for the journey; for as the Sucking Calf was not a post-house he must seek one elsewhere—at the Auberge de France, in fact, which was situate on the eastern side of the town by the Porte de Savoie—and he was not minded to leave the person of Valerie unguarded during his absence. The half-dozen troopers he considered ample, as indeed they were.

On this errand he departed, wrapped tightly in his cloak, walking briskly through the now heavier rain.

But at the Auberge de France a disappointment awaited him. The host had no horses and no carriage, nor would he have until the following morning. He was sorrow-stricken that the circumstance should discompose Monsieur de Garnache; he was elaborate in his explanations of how it happened that he could place no vehicle at Monsieur de Garnache’s disposal—so elaborate that it is surprising Monsieur de Garnache’s suspicions should not have been aroused. For the truth of the matter was that the folk of Condillac had been at the Auberge de France before him—as they had been elsewhere in the town wherever a conveyance might be procurable—and by promises of reward for obedience and threats of punishment for disobedience, they had contrived that Garnache should hear this same story on every hand. His mistake had lain in his eagerness to obtain a guard from the Seneschal. Had he begun by making sure of a conveyance, anticipating, as he should have done, this move on the part of the Condillacs—a move which he did not even now suspect—it is possible that he might have been spared much of the trouble that was to follow.

An hour or so later, after having vainly ransacked the town for the thing he needed, he returned wet and annoyed to the Veau qui Tote. In a corner of the spacious common-room—a corner by the door leading to the interior of the inn—he saw the six troopers at table, waxing a trifle noisy over cards. Their sergeant sat a little apart, in conversation with the landlord’s wife, eyes upturned adoringly, oblivious of the increasing scowl that gathered about her watchful husband’s brow.

At another table sat four gentlemen—seemingly travellers, by their air and garb—in a conversation that was hushed at Garnache’s entrance. But he paid no heed to them as he stalked with ringing step across the rushstrewn floor, nor observed how covertly and watchfully their glances followed him as returning, in passing the sergeant’s prompt salute he vanished through the doorway leading to the stairs.

He reappeared again a moment later, to call the host, and give him orders for the preparing of his own and Rabecque’s supper.

On the landing above he found Rabecque awaiting him.

“Is all well?” he asked, and received from his lackey a reassuring answer.

Mademoiselle welcomed him gladly. His long absence, it appeared, had been giving her concern. He told her on what errand he had been, and alarm overspread her face upon hearing its result.

“But, monsieur,” she cried, “you are not proposing that I should remain a night in Grenoble.”

“What alternative have we?” he asked, and his brows met, impatient at what he accounted no more than feminine whimsey.

“It is not safe,” she exclaimed, her fears increasing. “You do not know how powerful are the Condillacs.”

He strode to the fire, and the logs hissed under the pressure of his wet boot. He set his back to the blaze, and smiled down upon her.

“Nor do you know how powerful are we,” he answered easily. “I have below six troopers and a sergeant of the Seneschal’s regiment; with myself and Rabecque we are nine men in all. That should be a sufficient guard, mademoiselle. Nor do I think that with all their power the Condillacs will venture here to claim you at the sword point.”

“And yet,” she answered, for all that she was plainly reassured, at least in part, “I would rather you had got me a horse, that we might have ridden to Saint Marcellin, where no doubt a carriage might be obtained.”

“I did not see the need to put you to so much discomfort,” he returned. “It is raining heavily.”

“Oh, what of that?” she flung back impatiently.

“Besides,” he added, “it seems there are no horses at the post-house. A benighted place this Dauphiny of yours, mademoiselle.”

But she never heeded the gibe at her native province. “No horses?” she echoed, and her hazel eyes looked up sharply, the alarm returning to her face. She rose, and approached him. “Surely that is impossible.”

“I assure you that it is as I say—neither at the post-house nor at any of the inns I visited could I find me a spare horse.”

“Monsieur,” she cried, “I see the hand of Condillac in this.”

“As how?” he inquired, and his tone again was quickened by impatience.

“They have anticipated you. They seek to keep you here—to keep us in Grenoble.”

“But to what end?” he asked, his impatience growing. “The Auberge de France has promised me a carriage in the morning. What shall it avail them at Condillac to keep us here to-night?”

“They may have some project. Oh, monsieur! I am full of fears.”

“Dismiss them,” he answered lightly; and to reassure her he added, smiling: “Rest assured we shall keep good watch over you, Rabecque and I and the troopers. A guard shall remain in the passage throughout the night. Rabecque and I will take turn about at sentry-go. Will that give you peace?”

“You are very good,” she said, her voice quivering with feeling and real gratitude, and as he was departing she called after him. “You will be careful of yourself,” she said.

He paused under the lintel, and turned, surprised. “It is a habit of mine,” said he, with a glint of humour in his eye.

But there was no answering smile from her. Her face was all anxiety.

“Beware of pitfalls,” she bade him. “Go warily; they are cruelly cunning, those folk of Condillac. And if evil should befall you...”

“There would still remain Rabecque and the troopers,” he concluded.

She shrugged her shoulders. “I implore you to be careful,” she insisted.

“You may depend upon me,” he said, and closed the door.

Outside he called Rabecque, and together they went below. But mindful of her fears, he dispatched one of the troopers to stand sentry outside her door whilst he and his lackey supped. That done, he called the host, and set himself at table, Rabecque at his elbow in attendance to hand him the dishes and pour his wine.

Across the low-ceilinged room the four travellers still sat in talk, and as Garnache seated himself, one of them shouted for the host and asked in an impatient tone to know if his supper was soon to come.

“In a moment, sir,” answered the landlord respectfully, and he turned again to the Parisian. He went out to bring the latter’s meal, and whilst he was gone Rabecque heard from his master the reason of their remaining that night in Grenoble. The inference drawn by the astute lackey—and freely expressed by him—from the lack of horses or carriages in Grenoble that night, coincided oddly with Valerie’s. He too gave it as his opinion that his master had been forestalled by the Dowager’s people, and without presuming to advise Garnache to go warily—a piece of advice that Garnache would have resented, to the extent perhaps of boxing the fellow’s ears—he determined, there and then, to keep a close watch upon his master, and under no circumstances, if possible, permit him to leave the Sucking Calf that night.

The host returned, bearing a platter on which there steamed a ragout that gave out an appetizing odour; his wife followed with other dishes and a bottle of Armagnac under her arm. Rabecque busied himself at once, and his hungry master disposed himself to satisfy the healthiest appetite in France, when suddenly a shadow fell across the table. A man had come to stand beside it, his body screening the light of one of the lamps that hung from a rafter of the ceiling.

“At last!” he exclaimed, and his voice was harsh with ill-humour.

Garnache looked up, pausing in the very act of helping himself to that ragout. Rabecque looked up from behind his master, and his lips tightened. The host looked up from the act of drawing the cork of the flagon he had taken from his wife, and his eyes grew big as in his mind he prepared a judicious blend of apology and remonstrance wherewith to soothe this very impatient gentleman. But before he could speak, Garnache’s voice cut sharply into the silence. An interruption at such a moment vexed him sorely.

“Monsieur says?” quoth he.

“To you, sir—nothing,” answered the fellow impudently, and looked him straight between the eyes.

With a flush mounting to his cheeks, and his brows drawn together in perplexity, Garnache surveyed him. He was that same traveller who had lately clamoured to know when he might sup, a man of rather more than middle height, lithe and active of frame, yet with a breadth of shoulder and depth of chest that argued strength and endurance as well. He had fair, wavy hair, which he wore rather longer than was the mode, brown eyes, and a face which, without being handsome, was yet more than ordinarily engaging by virtue of its strength and frank ingenuousness. His dress was his worst feature. It was flamboyant and showy; cheap, and tawdrily pretentious. Yet he bore himself with the easy dignity of a man who counts more inferiors than superiors.

Despite the arrogant manner of his address, Garnache felt prepossessed in the newcomer’s favour. But before he could answer him, the host was speaking.

“Monsieur mistakes...” he began.

“Mistakes?” thundered the other in an accent slightly foreign. “It is you who mistake if you propose to tell me that this is not my supper. Am I to wait all night, while every jackanapes who follows me into your pigsty is to be served before me?”

“Jackanapes?” said Garnache thoughtfully, and looked the man in the face again. Behind the stranger pressed his three companions now, whilst the troopers across the room forgot their card-play to watch the altercation that seemed to impend.

The foreigner—for such, indeed, his French proclaimed him—turned half-contemptuously to the host, ignoring Garnache with an air that was studiously offensive.

“Jackanapes?” murmured Garnache again, and he, too, turned to the host. “Tell me, Monsieur l’Hote,” said he, “where do the jackanapes bury their dead in Grenoble? I may need the information.”

Before the distressed landlord could utter a word, the stranger had wheeled about again to face Garnache. “What shall that mean?” he asked sharply, a great fierceness in his glance.

“That Grenoble may be witnessing the funeral of a foreign bully by to-morrow, Monsieur l’Etranger,” said Garnache, showing his teeth in a pleasant smile. He became conscious in that moment of a pressure on his shoulder blade, but paid no heed to it, intent on watching the other’s countenance. It expressed surprise a moment, then grew dark with anger.

“Do you mean that for me, sir?” he growled.

Garnache spread his hands. “If monsieur feels that the cap fits him, I shall not stay him in the act of donning it.”

The stranger set one hand upon the table, and leaned forward towards Garnache. “May I ask monsieur to be a little more definite?” he begged.

Garnache sat back in his chair and surveyed the man, smiling. Quick though his temper usually might be, it was checked at present by amusement. He had seen in his time many quarrels spring from the flimsiest of motives, but surely never had he seen one quite so self-begotten. It was almost as if the fellow had come there of set purpose to pick it with him.

A suspicion flashed across his mind. He remembered the warning mademoiselle had given him. And he wondered. Was this a trick to lure him to some guet-apens? He surveyed his man more closely; but the inspection lent no colour to his suspicions. The stranger looked so frank and honest; then again his accent was foreign. It might very well be that he was some Savoyard lordling unused to being kept waiting, and that his hunger made him irritable and impatient. If that were so, assuredly the fellow deserved a lesson that should show him he was now in France, where different manners obtained to those that he displayed; yet, lest he should be something else, Garnache determined to pursue a policy of conciliation. It would be a madness to embroil himself just then, whether this fellow were of Condillac or not.

“I have asked you, monsieur,” the stranger insisted, “to be a little more definite.”

Garnache’s smile broadened and grew more friendly. “Frankly,” said he, “I experience difficulty. My remark was vague. I meant it so to be.”

“But it offended me, monsieur,” the other answered sharply.

The Parisian raised his eyebrows, and pursed his lips. “Then I deplore it,” said he. And now he had to endure the hardest trial of all. The stranger’s expression changed to one of wondering scorn.

“Do I understand that monsieur apologizes?”

Garnache felt himself crimsoning; his self-control was slipping from him; the pressure against his shoulder blade was renewed, and in time he became aware of it and knew it for a warning from Rabecque.

“I cannot conceive, sir, that I have offended,” said he at length, keeping a tight hand upon his every instinct—which was to knock this impertinent stranger down. “But if I have, I beg that you will believe that I have done so unwittingly. I had no such intent.”

The stranger removed his hand from the table and drew himself erect.

“So much for that, then,” said he, provokingly contemptuous. “If you will be as amiable in the matter of the supper I shall be glad to terminate an acquaintance which I can see no honour to myself in pursuing.”

This, Garnache felt, was more than he could endure. A spasm of passion crossed his face, another instant and despite Rabecque’s frantic proddings he might have flung the ragout in the gentleman’s face; when suddenly came the landlord unexpectedly to the rescue.

“Monsieur, here comes your supper now,” he announced, as his wife reentered from the kitchen with a laden tray.

For a moment the stranger seemed out of countenance. Then he looked with cold insolence from the dishes set before Garnache to those which were being set for himself.

“Ah,” said he, and his tone was an insult unsurpassable, “perhaps it is to be preferred. This ragout grows cold, I think.”

He sniffed, and turning on his heel, without word or sign of salutation to Garnache, he passed to the next table, and sat down with his companions. The Parisian’s eyes followed him, and they blazed with suppressed wrath. Never in all his life had he exercised such self-control as he was exercising then—which was the reason why he had failed to achieve greatness—and he was exercising it for the sake of that child above-stairs, and because he kept ever-present in his mind the thought that she must come to grievous harm if ill befell himself. But he controlled his passion at the cost of his appetite. He could not eat, so enraged was he. And so he pushed the platter from him, and rose.

He turned to Rabecque, and the sight of his face sent the lackey back a pace or two in very fear. He waved his hand to the table.

“Sup, Rabecque,” said he. “Then come to me above.”

And followed, as before, by the eyes of the stranger and his companions, Garnache strode out of the room, and mounting the stairs went to find solace in talk with Valerie. But however impossible he might find it to digest the affront he had swallowed, no word of the matter did he utter to the girl, lest it should cause her fears to reawaken.

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