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NOBODY who had acquaintance with Victor de Montaiglon would call him coward. He had fought with De Grammont, and brought a wound from Dettingen under circumstances to set him up for life in a repute for valour, and half a score of duels were at his credit or discredit in the chronicles of Paris society.
And yet, somehow, standing there in an unknown country beside a brute companion wantonly struck down by a robber's shot, and the wood so still around, and the thundering sea so unfamiliar, he felt vastly uncomfortable, with a touch of more than physical apprehension. If the enemy would only manifest themselves to the eye and ear as well as to the unclassed senses that inform the instinct, it would be much more comfortable. Why did they not appear? Why did they not follow up their assault upon his horse? Why were they lurking in the silence of the thicket, so many of them, and he alone and so obviously at their mercy? The pistols he held provided the answer.
“What a rare delicacy!” said Count Victor, applying himself to the release of his mail from the saddle whereto it was strapped. “ They would not interrupt my regretful tears. But for the true élan of the trade of robbery, give me old Cartouche picking pockets on the Pont Neuf."
While he loosened his mails with one hand, with the other he directed at the thicket one of the pistols that seemed of such wholesome influence. Then he slung the bags upon his shoulder and encouraged the animal to get upon its legs, but vainly, for the shot was fatal.
“Ah!” said he regretfully, “I must sacrifice my bridge and my good comrade. This is an affair!”
Twice—three times, he placed the pistol at the horse's head and as often withdrew it, reluctant, a man, as all who knew him wondered at, gentle to womanliness with a brute, though in a cause against men the most bitter and sometimes cruel of opponents.
A rustle in the brake at last compelled him. " Allons !” said he impatiently with himself, “I do no more than I should have done with myself in the like case,” and he pulled the trigger.
Then having deliberately charged the weapon anew, he moved off in the direction he had been taking when the attack was made.
It was still, he knew, some distance to the castle. Half an hour before his rencontre with those broken gentry, now stealing in his rear with the cunning and the bloodthirstiness of their once native wolves (and always, remember, with the possibility of the blunderbuss for aught that he could tell), he had, for the twentieth time since he left the port of Dysart, taken out the rude itinerary, written in ludicrous Scoto-English by Hugh Bethune, one time secretary to the Lord Marischal in exile, and read :
... and so on to the Water of Leven (the brewster-wife at the howff near Loch Lomond mouth keeps a good glass of aqua), then by Luss (with an eye on the Gregarach), thereafter a bittock to Glencroe and down upon the House of Ardkinglas, a Hanoverian rat whom 'ware. Round the loch head and three miles further the Castle o' the Baron. Give him my devoirs and hopes to challenge him to a Bowl when Yon comes off which God kens there seems no hurry.
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By that showing the castle of Baron Lamond must be within half an hour's walk of where he now moved without show of eagerness, yet quickly none the less, from a danger the more alarming because the extent of it could not be computed.
In a little the rough path he followed bent parallel with the sea. A tide at the making licked ardently upon sand-spits strewn with ware, and at the forelands, overhung by harsh and stunted seaside shrubs, the breakers rose tumultuous. On the sea there was utter vacancy; only a few screaming birds slanted above the wave, and the coast, curving far before him, gave his eye no sign at first of the castle to which he had got the route from M. Hugh Bethune.
Then his vision, that had been set for something more imposing, for the towers and embrasures of a stately domicile, if not for a Chantilly, at least for the equal of the paternal chateau in the Meuse valley, with multitudinous chimneys and the incense of kind luxuriant hearths, suave parks, gardens, and gravelled walks, contracted with dubiety and amazement upon a dismal tower perched upon a promontory.
Revealed against the brown hills and the sombre woods of the farther coast, it was scarcely a wonder that his eye had failed at first to find it. Here were no pomps of lord or baron; little luxuriance could prevail behind those eyeless gables; there could be no suave pleasance about those walls hanging over the noisy and inhospitable wave. No pomp, no pleasant amenities; the place seemed to jut into the sea, defying man's oldest and most bitter enemy, its gable ends and one crenelated bastion or turret betraying its sinister relation to its age, its whole aspect arrogant and unfriendly, essential of war. Caught suddenly by the vision that swept the fretted curve of the coast, it seemed blackly to perpetuate the spirit of the land, its silence, its solitude and terrors.
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These reflections darted through the mind of Count Victor as he sped, monstrously uncomfortable with the burden of the bags that bobbed on his back, not to speak of the indignity of the office. It was not the kind of castle he had looked for; but a castle, in the narrow and squalid meaning of a penniless refugee like Bethune, it doubtless was, the only one apparent on the landscape, and therefore too obviously the one he sought.
“Very well, God is good!” said Count Victor, who, to tell all and leave no shred of misunderstanding, was in some regards the frankest of pagans, and he must be jogging on for its security.
But as he hurried, the ten broken men who had been fascinated by his too ostentatious fob and the extravagance of his embroidery, and inspired furthermore by a natural detestation of any foreign duine uasail apparently bound for the seat of MacCailen Mor, gathered boldness, and soon he heard the thicket break again behind him.
He paused, turned sharply with the pistols in his hands. Instantly the wood enveloped his phantom foes; a bracken or two nodded, a hazel sapling swung back and forward more freely than the wind accounted for. And at the same time there rose on the afternoon the wail of a wildfowl high up on the hill, answered in a sharp and querulous too-responsive note of the same character in the wood before.
The gentleman who had twice fought à la barrière felt a nameless new thrill, a shudder of the being, born of antique terrors generations before his arms were quartered with those of Rochefoucauld and Modene.
It was becoming all too awkward, this affair. He broke into a more rapid walk, then into a run, with his eyes intent upon the rude dark keep that held the promontory, now the one object in all the landscape that had to his senses some aspect of human fellowship and sympathy.
The caterans were assured; Dieu du ciel, how they
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ran too! Those in advance broke into an appalling halloo, the shout of hunters on the heels of quarry. High above the voice of the breakers it sounded savage and alarming in the ears of Count Victor, and he fairly took to flight, the bags bobbing more ludicrously than ever on his back.
It was like the man, that, in spite of dreads not to be concealed from himself, he should be seized as he sped with a notion of the grotesque figure he must present, carrying that improper burden. He must even laugh when he thought of his austere punctilious maternal aunt, the Baronne de Chenier, and fancied her horror and disgust could she behold her nephew disgracing the De Chenier blood by carrying his own baggage and outraging several centuries of devilishly fine history by running — positively running—from ill-armed footpads who had never worn breeches. She would frown, her bosom would swell till her bodice would appear to crackle at the armpits, the seven hairs on her upper lip would bristle all the worse against her purpling face as she cried it was the little Lyons shopkeeper in his mother's grandfather that was in his craven legs. Doubt it who will, an imminent danger will not wholly dispel the sense of humour, and Montaiglon, as he ran before the footpads, laughed softly at the Baronne.
But a short knife with a black hilt hissed past his right ear and buried three-fourths of its length in the grass, and so abruptly spoiled the comedy. This was ridiculous. He stopped suddenly, turned him round about in a passion, and fired one of the pistols at an unfortunate robber too late to duck among the bracken. And the marvel was that the bullet found its home, for the aim was uncertain, and the shot meant more for an emphatic protest than for attack.
The gled's cry rose once more, rose higher on the hill, echoed far off, and was twice repeated nearer hand with a dropping melancholy cadence. Gaunt