Chambers' Journal, November 1903
The Siege of Savigny
by Rafael Sabatini
Heigh-ho! A man of twenty in love is a sad fool. Yet who would not be a sad fool that he might be twenty and in love?
I sat idling in the guard-room of the Castle of Nogent one July morning, my twenty-year-old mind running upon a lady who dwelt at Juvisy, whose very name was unknown to me, but whose eyesthe bluest that I ever looked intohad nathless made a fool of me. That pair of eyes had drawn me oft of late to ride across the league and a half that lay 'twixt Nogent and Juvisy, so that I might pass beneath her window, and earn for all reward perchance a glance, perchance not that. So, thinking of her, as had become my constant wont, sat I that July morning when one of M. de Crecqui's men came to bid me wait upon the Governor.
I was genially received by my kind patron with the intimation that a hazardous enterprise awaited me if I were minded to undertake it: the business being his own rather than the King's. The Château de Savigny, which lay some ten leagues distant from Nogent, and thirty leagues this side of Paris, and which was the property of M. de Crecqui, had been forcibly seized by his brother-in-law, M. de Monravel, upon the plea inaccurate, my patron saidthat the demesne formed part of his wife's marriage-portion.
M. de Crecqui had garrisoned the place pending the legal settlement of the business, confident in his influence with the King to bring it to the issue he desired; but the audacious Monravel, knowing how weighty an argument at law is the possession of the disputed ground, had duped my patron's men, and seizing the château, had set a slender garrison of his ownsix men, as I afterwards learntto hold it against M. de Crecqui. Monravel relied as much upon his influence with the Parliament to establish the justice of his pretensions as did Crecqui build upon his influence with our good King Henry the Fourth.
In such a pass stood matters now; and, piqued by the affront that had been put upon him, it was M. de Crecqui's desire that I should start forthwith for Savigny, taking half-a-dozen men-at-arms with me, and there by force or strategy oust Monravel's knaves, and at any cost regain possession of his castle, holding it as a place de guerre.
I liked the business much; yet I was not blind to the risk that I ran did the Parliament prove the place M. de Monravel's. But my patron promised me in all solemnity that he would sustain me against all risks, and himself answer to the King for all that I did as being done in his name and by his express commands.
Thus reassured, I picked my men, and with the six of them in back and breast plates and pots of burnished steel, I rode out for Savigny without more ado, and preserving the utmost secrecy as to our destination.
I went by way of Juvisy, and had for my reward a glimpse of my lady coming out of the Church of St. Jacques as we rode by. She was attended by an elderly waiting-woman, who came behind her at a respectful distance, and she walked with eyes demurely downcast and folded hands, as becomes a maiden fresh from her devotions; but the clatter my fellows made in passing caused her to lift her eyes. They met my impassioned gaze, and for a moment they were not withdrawn. Mayhap the ardour of my glance it was, mayhap the brave figure I cut in my glinting corslet and plumed hat: I know not which of these, but this I knowthat into her eyes, which hitherto had never bestowed upon me but an indifferent, almost contemptuous look, if they had looked at all, there seemed to leap a light of interest. Her lipssurely it was not my enamoured fancyassumed the faintest of smiles; a smile of kindliness methought it. The blood rushed to my head, and so far drowned my usual timidity that, bending low upon the withers, I doffed my hat in the courtliest fashion I was master of. Thus far did impulse bear me, but no farther. Draw rein I dared not, but passed on; and, growing presently conscious that my troopers' faces were all agrin, I swore softly to myself, and harshly bade them travel faster.
It is not my purpose to set down in detail how we took possession that very night of the Château de Savigny. The thing was accomplished with a simplicity rendered possible by the carelessness of the garrison and the unexpectedness of our attack. I turned all Monravel's creatures from the place, with the exception of an elderly dame who had charge of the kitchen, and whom we thought it convenient to keep with us. Four of our six troopers I sent back to Nogent, retaining but Barnave and Grégoire, for the place was of such strength that three men alert might hold it against an army.
Four days later an huissier sent from Paris by the Parliament presented himself at Savigny to demand of me that I should let down the drawbridge and deliver up the castle. I answered that I did not know him, and that I would obey nought but a written order from M. de Crecqui, who had entrusted his castle to my keeping. That black-coated rascal answered me with threats of the hangman; whereupon I bade Barnave open the postern beside the portcullis and throw a plank across the moat. This done, I invited the bailiff to enter. He came gingerly enough, for he was unaccustomed to such narrow bridges. Had he known what awaited him he had not come at all; for when he was midway across, the plank was suddenly tilted over, and he was flung headlong into the slimy water. With a rope we rescued him, and sent him, wet and sorrowful, back to Paris and his Parliament.
This outrage must have made a fine stir, for three days later Savigny was visited by no less a person than a councillor, who came with all the pomp of office and a guard of honour of six archers. He was prodigal in threatsso prodigal that, grown weary of them, I bade the plank to be thrust out to him; but, knowing what had befallen the bailiff, and deeming that I intended him a like affront, he grew purple with rage, and with a parting volley of threats, he rode off in high dudgeon. Had I been older it might have afforded me uneasiness to think that I had derided the Parliament, flouted its commands, and insulted its ambassadors.
It was on the morning of the second day after the councillor's visit that Grégoire brought me word that a lady was at the gates demanding speech of the master of the place. Now, if that information caused me some slight astonishment, it was as nothing to my amazement when, upon looking out from the postern, I beheld the very lady that was mistress of my thoughts: the lady of Juvisy. The horse she rode was bathed in sweat, flecked with foam, and breathing hard.
'Are you the master of this castle, monsieur?' was her panted greeting.
' I am in command here, madam,' I answered timidly.
'Then, monsieur, of your courtesy, of your chivalry, I crave shelter. I am being pursued.'
'Pursued, madam?' I cried, touched already by the distress in her voice. 'By whom?'
'Oh, what does it signify?' she cried, glancing fearfully behind her. 'By M. de Bervaux, my guardian. For Heaven's sake, monsieur, protect me!'
What answer could I make any woman who thus appealed to me? What answer could I make to her of all women?
'Holáthere!' I shouted. 'Barnave! Grégoire! Quick, let down the portcullis.'
Breathing a prayer of gratitude to the god of lovers for this signal favour, I went hat in hand to assist her to alight in the courtyard, the while a very torrent of thanks rained down upon me from her lips in a voice so rich and musical that I listened as one enthralled; and when presently she paused abruptly, I looked up to find her eyes riveted upon my face, and her brows knit, as though she looked on something that was puzzling her.
'Surely, surely, monsieur,' she said at last, 'we have met before?'
I went red from chin to hair. 'Indeedindeed, madam, I have seen you often,' I stammered.
'At Juvisy, was it not?'
'Yes, madam, at Juvisy.'
'Ah!' And with the utterance of that monosyllable, so kindly and so witching a smile lighted her face that I know not what folly I had wrought but that shouts sounded without at that moment.
Grégoire came up with the news that a party of mounted men stood before the castle.
'Monsieur!' cried the lady in high distress, 'you will not give me up? Pity me, monsieur! I am a poor defenceless maid, and there are those without who would force me into a hateful marriage for the sake of what little wealth I am possessed of.'
'Say no more, Mademoiselle.'
'Ah! but, monsieur,' she broke in tearfully, 'you must tell them that I am not here. In your mother's name, monsieur, I beg you, pity and help me!'
'I swear they shall go hence without you,' I answered firmly; whereupon she caught my hand and kissed it, blessing me for a brave and noble gentlemanmy lips envying my hand the while.
At length I bade one of my knaves call Catharine, the woman that had been left behind by Monravel's men, and to her care I consigned mademoiselle. That done, I approached the window and looked out. I beheld a very magnificent gentleman, bravely arrayed and well mounted, and with him two fellows whom at a glance I took to be serving-men.
'Holá, my master!' I shouted, 'what seek you?'
'I am in search of a lady,' he replied, with princely hauteur.
'Ohé! A lady? Has she fallen into the moat?'
'You are pleased to jest, Master Jackanapes,' quoth he with a scowl. 'I am in search of the lady who has sought shelter in this castle.'
'Jackanapes in your teeth, you dog!' I answered. 'Were I not'
'Answer me, sir,' he thundered, interrupting me. 'Are you harbouring a lady? I demand it.'
'Oui-da! You demand it? Monsieur, I would have you know that my name is Armand de Pontis, and that.'
'I am answered,' he broke in angrily, 'And you shall smart for it, you knave. I am the lady's legal guardian, and deliver her to me you shall.'
'If you stay there another minute,' I answered, losing all patience, 'I'll deliver you a handful of carbine-shot.'
'I shall appeal to the Provost,' he threatened.
'Appeal to the devil, sir!' I retorted; and, slamming the window, I left him to his own devices.
As I turned I found mademoiselle standing behind me, her eyes alight with excitement.
'We have gained a respite, mademoiselle; but I fear that he will return, and the Provost with him.'
'What then, monsieur?' she cried in alarm. 'You will not abandon me to them?'
'Never, mademoiselle,' I answered resolutely. 'We shall fight this battle out together.'
To seal the bargainand deeming that I had earned a right to thisI gallantly raised her hand to my lips.
'And I warrant you we will prove good comrades,' quoth she with an arch coyness that made me dizzy with hope.
Now, albeit M. de Bervaux was gone, he had left behind him his two servants on guard in the clearance before Savigny. It occurred to me to make a sortie and scatter them, and I mentioned this to Grégoire in mademoiselle's presence.
'Twere easily done,' said he; 'but it would avail us little unless'His glance at mademoiselle completed the sentence.
'Mademoiselle remains here,' I answered, interpreting his glance.
That evening a letter reached me from M. de Crecqui.
He lauded in it my treatment of those whom the Parliament had sent to me, and urged me to stand firm and give way to no threats, since he would be answerable for all. He was on the point of setting out for Paris to lay the matter before His Majesty. He ended with some touching professions of friendship, and promises of future advancement did I continue in this matter to show myself as staunch and trustworthy as hitherto. That promise of his was a pretty thing to dwell upon, and with his letter for a foundation I built myself as glorious a 'castle in Spain' as ever sprang from the hopeful soul of an ambitious boy; and in that castle of fancy dwelt I and Henriette de Chandorafor such, she had told me, was her name. I pictured myself a knight of romance, and her the lady I had rescued in her hour of need; and as the days sped by this pleasant fancy grew and absorbed my every thought.
M. de Bervaux returned that night with the Provost and twenty men-at-armshalf of whom appeared to have been enlisted from the peasantry of the neighbourhood; and I was now called upon to give up the lady I had kidnapped. 'Kidnapped' was the word the Provost used, and 'tis small wonder I was out of temper at it. I was discreet, however, and did no more than swear by my honour that I had kidnapped no lady. He persisted that I held her a prisoner in Savigny; and, since I would not grant him leave to enter and search the place, he despatched a messenger to Paris to inform the King and the Parliament of what was passing. That done, and with wild threats of using cannon against me, he encamped his men in the clearance before the castle, and sat down to besiege me.
Four days went by ere the Provost's messenger returned, and were I minded to set down in detail all that had passed in those four days 'twixt mademoiselle and me, the thousand things we said, the million thoughts I kept for later utterance, I should fill a volume as copious as the Bible.
On the night before the messenger's return we were walking on the rampartsshe wrapped in a man's cloak, and trusting to this and to the darkness to screen her from any prying eyes of our besiegers. I stalked along, talking as only a man of twenty will talk when the stars are overhead, the air is warm, and the woman of his heart doth bear him company. She listened and answered, and was kind, and so the thing came about; and before I quite knew what had chanced I was on my knees holding her hand in mine, offering her myself and all that I owned, and bewailing that my offering was so poor a thingin which, in all truth, I did myself no more than justice. She said me neither yea nor nay, yet from her kindly tone and the touch of her sweet hand upon my head I gathered hope, and promised to wait, as she besought me, another day. She cried out that I bewildered her; that she must think at least until the morrow. And so we parted.
The morrow brought a more imperious summons from the Provost and M. de Bervaux. The Provost had word from the Parliament that I and those with me were to be held outlaws and taken dead or alive unless I could prove that Mademoiselle de Chandora was not in the château. The news staggered me. What was M. de Crecqui about that such a decree as this was passed? And then I bethought me that this matter of mademoiselle was a thing apart from the mere holding of Savigny against M. de Monravel, and beyond the pale of M. de Crecqui's influence. The fear of disaster loomed suddenly before me.
'What proof will satisfy you, Master Provost?' I demanded.
'None but a search of the château,' he answered firmly.
'I have already told you, sir, that M. de Crecqui, my master, has forbidden me to open the gates to any one.'
'Have a care how you trifle, M. de Pontis,' he cried. 'I am empowered by the Parliament to proceed to extremities if you withstand me. M. de Crecqui's affairs are nought to me. Unless you admit me before sunset I'll send to Juvisy for cannon, and talk to you with them.'
Here was a pretty situation! And what would M. de Crecqui say if Savigny were demolished by cannon? I went over to the northern wing of the château, where mademoiselle had her apartments, and having found her, I told her what had passed.
'There is but one remedy,' said she, with a sigh.
'To hand me over to my guardian.'
'Were I minded to do so vile a thing, 'twould be too late; for if the Provost can prove that I have detained you I shall certainly be arrested.'
'Oh monsieur,' she cried, wringing her hands, 'is it for such a reward that you have befriended me? What can I do what sacrifice can I make to save you from the consequences of your generosity?'
'So that you love me'I began, when some one knocked. With an oath I strode to the door.
Barnave was there with a letter. It had been flung on to the ramparts with a stone attached to it from the eastern side, which was unguarded by our besiegers. Taking the package, I dismissed him, then eagerly tore it open. As I had already guessed, it was from M. de Crecqui, and dwelt at some length upon the charge which had ben preferred against me.
'I more than half suspect,' he wrote, that this is a trumped up lie of Monravel's, a pretext to gain admittance to the château and to overcome you. But the accusation is a serious one, and you must admit the Provost and one or two mennot moreto make their search. Keep close watch over them whilst they are in the place, and see that, as they enter and depart, your gates are not rushed. If by any chance the story be truewhich I canot bring myself to creditand you have a woman in the castle, we are all undone. I shall of a certainty lose Savigny, and as for youmay God have mercy on your soul!'
My heart sank at the last words, and in silence I handed the letter to Henriette. She took it, read, and fell to pondering with knitted brows. At length she looked up.
'If you were to get me secretly out of the château,' she said slowly, 'and then let the Provost make his search, would not the difficulty be overcome?'
'Ay, ma mie,' I answered, 'it would indeed. But how is it to be accomplished? The château is besieged.'
'On one side only,' she returned quickly. 'The eastern side is unguarded.'
'There are no gates,'
'But there are windows.'
'The lowest is thirty feet above the moat.'
'I might climb down a ladder.'
'Into the moat?' I asked. 'Child, the wall sinks sheer into the water.'
The information baffled her for a moment. 'I have it,' she cried presently. 'You have a rope-ladder in the château?'
I answered her that we had such rhings, and thereupon she suggested to me that after nightfall I should descend by it from the lowest window on the eastern side, and swim the moat, bearing the end of the ladder with me; then, having landed, I was to hold it taut, so that it sloped clear of the water. Down this she would descend; and, once she had reached the ground, it would be easy for me to re-enter the castle in the same manner I had left it.
'But you, mademoiselle!' I cried, 'Where will you go?'
'To the Carmelite convent at Bernault; it is a little more than half a league distant, and I know the way.'
I still protested that the descent would be fraught with peril; but she made light of my fears, and so the matter was settled, and the determination taken to carry out this plan of hers after midnightin the hours when nature would have set the vigilance of our besiegers at its weakest.
It wanted a little to two o'clock in the morning when, having assured myself that all was quiet in the Provost's camp, I made my way down to the courtyard by the light of a lanthorn. As I stepped into the quadrangle I came suddenly face to face with mademoiselle, who had been waiting for me by the door.
'Where are your men?' was the question wherewith she greeted me.
'My men?' i echoed. 'Why, asleep upstairs'; and with a jerk of the thumb I pointed over my shoulder up the steps that I had just descended.
'And the woman Catharine?'
'Is asleep also, I imagine.'
There was a pause. Then, laying her hands upon my arm, and bringing her face so close to mine that I could feel her breath upon my cheek, she said in a whisper, 'It had been better that you had brought Grégoire to guard that door. I am afraid of that woman. I mistrust her. She has been watching me all day, and I have begun to fear that she is spying upon me.'
'Par Dieu!' I gasped, 'tis possible. She was a creature of Monravel's.'
'Hist! What was that?' and her fingers tightened on my arm.
'Behind you, on the stairs. Did you hear nothing?'
'No,' I answered. Then, smitten by a sudden thought, 'Wait,' I said, and, stepping back, I softly closed the heavy oaken door, and locked it.
'Now,' quoth I with a chuckle, 'she may follow us, but not beyond that door. She may knock or shout, but none will hear; the door is too solid. Come, mademoiselle!'
I drew her across the courtyard and through the narrow doorway leading to the eastern wing. We hurried up the flight of steps and along the corridor to the window upon which we had fixed. Softly opening it, I peered out. Nothing stirred; and, although the faintest of crescent moons hung in the sky, the night was dark enough to please and befriend us. Swiftly uncoiling the ladder, I made the hooks fast to the sill; then, drawing off my doublet and my boots, I set myself without more ado to climb down towards the water.
I had gone half-way, and hung but some fifteen feet from the moat, when of a sudden something gave way above me. It seemed to me that the thin streak of moon swept suddenly across the sky; nay, the whole firmament had shifted, and where it had been I now beheld the earth, then the still, black waters of the moat as I splashed into them.
Dazed by my fall, and understanding naught of what had chanced, but still clutching the ladder, I rose to the surface and spat the fetid water from my mouth, thinking that, albeit I was not drowned, 'twas odd I should be poisoned. Too bewildered than to act other than by instinct, I struck out for land. I stretched out my arms to catch at something that might help me from the water, when suddenly I felt it taken in a grasp and found assistance, as unwelcome as it was unlooked for; for as I was dragged out I realised with a shudder that the splash of my fall must have drawn the Provost's people.
Lanthorns began to gleam, and men seemed to spring up around me as by enchantment. I stood up at last with a little knot of fellows surrounding me, and more than one mocking laugh smote my ear. Facing me I beheld M. de Bervaux, and by his side the Provost I had derided. Apprehensively I glance up at the window; but the darkness left me in doubt if mademoiselle were still there or not.
With a laugh, M. de Bervaux inquired what fancy it was had led me to bathe in the moat at such an hour; and I will not dwell upon the score of jests wherewith this was followed by these merry gentlemen. Sick at heart, dripping, and shivering with coldin truth, very miserableI was led round to their encampment.
From the dejected state I had been in before, I went beside myself with rage as, upon coming into the clearance that fronts the castle, I beheld what was toward. The postern stood open, and up a plank that was stretched across the moat the Provost's men were filing into the château. How had this thing come to pass? Who had opened the postern? Nor Barnave nor Grégoire, nor yet Catharine, for I had locked them up in the northern wing of the building when I left it with mademoiselle. A light broke suddenly upon my mind, a light by which I saw things as they were; and in that hour I knew that I had been dupedthe hooks of my ladder had not slipped from the sill by accident. I bethought me of M. de Crecqui, of his faith and trust in me, and a groan burst from my lips.
They took me a prisoner to Paris, and in my company went Barnave and Grégoire, whose glances I could not bear to meet. Them they set free; but me they flung into the Châtelet, and there I lay for a week, bitterly reviling myself and my fortunes, and yet more bitterly dubbing the fair sex the 'infamous sex,' with the gallows of Montfauçon looming sinister on my mind's horizon.
On the eighth day of my captivity my sour-faced jailer bade me arise and follow him, saying that Madame de Monravel was come to visit me. He ushered me into a room where I beheld the woman who had brought me to this sorry pass. Beside her stood he whom I had known as M. de Bervaux. From her first words I gathered not only thatas already I suspectedshe was none other than Madame de Monravel herself, but also that the gentleman whom she had called her guardian was her guardian by right of wedlock.
I scowled fiercely upon the pair of them, whereupon she came forward with her sweet, scornful smile.
'Nay, not so glum, M. de Pontis,' she cried archly, 'I bring you news of your release and your free pardon for resisting the Parliament's authority. My brother, M. de Crecqui, has lost the Château de Savigny; but I think he recognises how desperate was his case, and I am sure that it will not be long ere he restores you to his favour. The Parliament would have made an example of you, M. de Pontis, but I insisted upon your unconditional pardon. I owed you that, methinks,' she added slyly, 'for the sakefor the sake of Henriette.'