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A number of peasants with market carts were waiting outside the gates, and for the first few miles of their ride the road was dotted with people making their way to the city. As they rode, Malcolm discussed the question of the best road to be taken. Ronald himself was still in favour of pushing straight forward, for he was not so convinced as his follower that a serious attempt would be made to interrupt their journey. He pointed out that the road, as far as Orleans at least, was one of the most frequented in France, and that in that city even the most reckless would hardly venture to assault them.
"I agree with you, Ronald, that the road offers less opportunities for ambushes than most others, for the country is flat and well cultivated; but after all a dozen men with muskets could lie in ambush in a cornfield as well as a wood, and the fact that people are going along the road counts for little one way or the other, for not one in fifty would venture to interfere if they saw a fray going on. But granting that so far as Orleans the country is open and cultivated, beyond that it is for the most part forest; but above all -- although they may regard it as possible that we may be on our guard, and may travel by other roads -- it is upon this direct line that they are sure to make the most preparations for us. Beyond that it can only be chance work. We may go by one road or by another. There may be one trap set on each road; but once past that and we are safe."
After riding for upwards of an hour they came, at the turn of the road, upon two carts. One had apparently broken down, and the other had stopped that those with it might give assistance in repairing it. One cart was turned across the road, and the other filled the rest of the space.
"Stop!" Malcolm exclaimed, checking his horse suddenly.
"What is it?" Ronald asked in surprise.
"Turn back!" Malcolm said sharply as he wheeled his horse round.
Ronald, without a word, did the same, and they galloped a hundred yards down the road.
"We were nearly caught there," Malcolm said.
"Why, how do you mean?"
"Never mind now, Ronald. Turn sharp to the right here, and make a detour through the fields. You will soon see whether I was right."
"It is a shame riding through this ripe corn," Ronald said, as without any further comment he leaped his horse over the bank and dashed off among the golden grain, which stretched far and wide on both sides of the road.
They had not gone fifty yards before they heard loud shouts, and as they came abreast of where the carts were standing several shots were fired, and ten or twelve men were seen running through the corn as if to cut them off. But although they heard the whiz of the bullets they were too far off to be in much danger, and the men on foot had no chance of cutting them off, a fact which they speedily perceived, as one by one they halted and fired. A few hundred yards farther the two horsemen came round into the road again and pursued their journey.
"Well, what do you think of that, Ronald?"
"It was an ambush, no doubt, Malcolm; but what on earth made you suspect it? I saw nothing suspicious. Merely two carts in the road, with three or four men doing something to one of the wheels."
"I am in a suspicious humour this morning, Ronald, and it is lucky I am. The sight of the two carts completely blocking the road brought me to a halt at once, and as I checked my horse I saw a movement among the bushes on the right of the road, and felt sure that it was an ambush. It was a well laid one, too, and had we ridden on we should have been riddled with bullets. No doubt there were men lying in the carts. They would have jumped up as we came up to them, and the fellows in the bushes would have taken us in the rear; between their two fires our chances would have been small indeed. No doubt they had a man on watch, and directly they saw us coming they got their carts across the road, and took up their positions. It was a well contrived scheme, and we have had a narrow escape."
"Thanks to your quickness and watchfulness, Malcolm, which has saved our lives. I admit that you are right and I was wrong, for I own that I did not share your apprehensions as to the dangers of our journey. Henceforth I will be as much on the lookout as you are, and will look with suspicion at every beggar woman that may pass."
"And you will be right to do so," Malcolm said seriously; "but for the present I think that we are safe. This, no doubt, was their main ambush, and they may reasonably have felt certain of success. However, we may be sure that they did not rely solely upon it. This, no doubt, is the unmounted portion of their gang. They were to try and put a stop to our journey at its outset; but mounted men will have ridden on ahead, especially as they couldn't have been sure that we should follow this road. We might have gone out by one of the other gates at the south side of the town, and they will have watched all the roads. Now I propose that we take the next lane which branches off to the right, and travel by byroads in future. Do not press your horse too fast. We have a long journey before us, and must always have something in hand in case it is necessary to press them to full speed."
Two miles further a road branched to the right. As they approached it Ronald was about to touch his horse's rein, when Malcolm said shortly, "Ride straight on."
Although surprised at this sudden change of plan, Ronald obeyed without question.
"What was that for?" he asked when he had passed the turning.
"Did you not see that man lying down by the heap of stones at the corner?"
"Yes, I saw him; but what of that?"
"I have no doubt he was on the lookout for us. Yes, I thought so," he went on, as he stood up in his stirrups and looked back; "there, do you see that horse's head in that little thicket, just this side of where the road separates? I expected as much. If we had turned off, in another two minutes that fellow would have been galloping along this road to take the news to those ahead, and they would have ridden to cut us off further along. I have no doubt we shall find someone on watch at every turning between this and Orleans."
"But this is a regular campaign, Malcolm."
"It is a campaign, Ronald. The ruffians and thieves of Paris form a sort of army. They have heads whom they implicitly obey, and those who have money enough to set this machine in motion can command the services of any number of men. Sharp fellows, too, many of them are, and when they received orders to arrest our journey to Tours at any cost, they would not omit a single precaution which could ensure success. Their former attack upon you, and its result, will have showed them that we are not children, and that the enterprise was one which demanded all their efforts."
"What is our next move now, Malcolm?"
"We will turn off before we get to the next road. They can see a long way across these level plains; so we will dismount and lead our horses. The corn is well nigh shoulder deep, and if we choose a spot where the ground lies rather low, neither that scoundrel behind nor the one at the next road is likely to see us."
Half a mile further there was a slight dip in the ground.
"This is a good spot," Malcolm said. "This depression extends far away on our right, and although it is very slight, and would not conceal us if the ground were bare, it will do so now, so let us take advantage of it."
So saying he dismounted, and leading his horse, turned into the cornfield. Ronald followed him, and for two miles they kept straight on through the corn; then they came upon a narrow road connecting two villages. They mounted and turned their horses' heads to the south.
"It is as well that none of the peasants saw us making through their corn," Ronald said, "or we should have had them upon us with stone and flail like a swarm of angry bees."
"It could not be helped," Malcolm replied, "and we could easily have ridden away from them. However, it is just as well that we have had no bother with them. Now we will quicken our pace. We are fairly between two of the main roads south, and if we can contrive to make our way by these village tracks we shall at any rate for some time be free from all risk of molestation."
"I should think we should be free altogether," Ronald said. "When they find we do not come along the road they will suppose we have been killed at the first ambush."
Malcolm shook his head.
"Do not build upon that, Ronald. No doubt as soon as we had passed, some of those fellows mounted the horses we saw in the carts, and rode off in accordance with an agreed plan to give notice that we had passed them safely, and were proceeding by that road. In the next place the fellow we saw on watch would most likely after a time mount and follow us, and when he got to the watcher at the next crossroad and found that we had not come along there would know that we must have turned off either to the right or left. One of them is doubtless before this on his way to the next party with the news, while the other has set to work to find out where we turned off, which will be easy enough to discover. Still, we have gained something, and may fairly reckon that if we ride briskly there is no fear of those who were posted along the road we have left cutting us off."
They rode all day at a steady pace, stopping occasionally for a short time to allow the horses a rest and a feed. The people in the quiet little villages looked in surprise at the young officer and his follower as they rode through their street or stopped for a quarter of an hour while the horses were fed, for even Malcolm agreed that such pauses were unattended by danger. It was rarely, indeed, that a stranger passed along these bypaths, and the peasants wondered among themselves what could induce them to travel by country byways instead of following the main roads.
As they left the rich plains of the Beauce, the country was less carefully cultivated. The fields of corn were no longer continuous, and presently they came to tracts of uncultivated land with patches of wood. They now left the little road they had been following, and rode straight across country, avoiding all villages. They crossed several hills, and late in the afternoon drew rein in a wide spreading forest. They were, Malcolm thought, quite as far south as Orleans, and by starting at daylight would arrive at Tours by midday.
"Here at least we are perfectly safe," he said; "when we approach Tours our perils will begin again. When once they find that we have given them the slip they are not likely to try to intercept us anywhere along the route till we near the town, for they will know that the chances are enormous against their doing so, and the parties along the various roads will push on so as to meet us somewhere near that city. The river can only be crossed at certain points, and they will feel sure we shall go by one or other of them."
"And I suppose we shall," Ronald said.
"No, Ronald; my idea is that we turn west and ride to Le Mans, then take a wide detour and enter Tours from the south side. It will take us a day longer, but that is of little consequence, and I think that we shall in that way entirely outwit them. The only precaution we shall have to take is to cross the main road on our right at some point remote from any town or village."
"I think that is a capital plan. I do not mind a share of fair fighting; but to be shot down suddenly in an ambush like that of this morning, I own I have little fancy for it."
Hobbling their horses, they turned them loose to pick up what they could in the forest, and then sat down to enjoy a good meal from the ample supply Malcolm had brought with him. When night fell they unstrapped their cloaks from their saddles and rolled themselves in them, and lay down to sleep. An hour later they were roughly awakened, each being seized by three men, who, before they could attempt to offer resistance, bound their arms to their sides, and then hurried them along through the forest.
"I have been a fool, Ronald," Malcolm said bitterly; "I ought to have kept watch."
"It was not your fault, Malcolm. One could never have guessed that they would have found us in this forest. Somebody must have followed us at a distance and marked us down, and brought the rest upon us; but even had you kept watch it would have been no good, for they would have shot us down before we could make any resistance."
"I wonder they didn't cut our throats at once," Malcolm said. "I don't know what they are troubling to make us prisoners for."
Presently they saw a light in the forest ahead of them, and soon arrived at a spot where a number of men were sitting round a fire.
"You had no trouble with them, Pierre, I suppose?"
"No, captain, they slept as soundly as moles. They have been speaking some strange language as we came along."
"Thank God!" Malcolm exclaimed fervently. "I think, after all, Ronald, we have only fallen in with a band of robbers, and not with our enemies."
"Unbind their hands," the captain of the band said, "but first take away their swords and pistols. Gentlemen, may I ask you to be seated; and then, perhaps, you will inform us what you, an officer in the Scotch dragoons, as I perceive by your uniform, are doing here in the forest?"
Ronald, to whom the question was principally addressed, replied frankly:
"We took to this forest, I fancy, for the same reason for which you use it, namely, for safety. We are on our way to Tours, and there are some people who have interest in preventing our arriving there. They made one attempt to stop us near Paris; fortunately that failed, or we should not be now enjoying your society; but as it was likely that another attempt would be made upon the road, we thought it better to leave it altogether and take to the forest for the night."
"What interest could anyone have in preventing an officer of the king from arriving at Tours?" the man asked doubtfully.
"It is rather a long story," Ronald said, "but if it is of interest to you I shall be happy to relate it; and I may mention that there are three bottles of good wine in the valise of one of the saddles, and a story is none the worse for such an accompaniment."
A laugh went round the circle at Ronald's coolness, and a man stepped forward with the two saddles which he had carried from the spot when the captives had been seized. The wine was taken out and opened.
"Yes," the captain of the band said, after tasting it, "the wine is good; now let us have your story."
Ronald gave them an outline of his history, told them how his father and mother had been for many years imprisoned for marrying contrary to the king's pleasure, and how he had at last obtained the royal order for their release, and how the enemies of his parents were now trying to prevent him from having those orders carried out. "There are the orders," Ronald said as he concluded, taking them from the inner pocket where he carried them. "You see they are addressed to the abbess of the convent of Our Lady at Tours, and to the governor of Blois."
"The story you tell us is a singular one," the captain replied, "and I doubt not its truth. What was the name of your father?"
"He was Colonel Leslie, and commanded the same regiment to which I belong."
"I remember him," one of the band said. "Our regiments were quartered together, nigh twenty years ago, at Flanders, and I was in Paris at the time when he was imprisoned. We were in the next barracks to the Scotchmen, and I remember what a stir it made. The regiment was very nigh mutinying."
"And I remember you too, though I cannot recall your name," Malcolm said, rising and looking hard at the speaker; "and if I mistake not we have cracked many a flask together, and made many a raid on the hen roosts of the Flemish farmers. My name is Malcolm Anderson."
"I remember you well," the other said, rising and giving him his hand. "Of course I met you scores of times, for the regiments were generally brigaded together."
"That confirms your story altogether, monsieur," the captain of the band said. "From this moment do not consider yourself a prisoner any longer. I may say that we had no expectation of booty in your case, and you were captured rather from curiosity than from any other reason. One of my men, this afternoon, happened to see you ride into the wood and then dismount and make preparations for passing the night there. He reported the matter to me. I know that gentlemen of your cloth -- I may say of mine, for I was once an officer of his majesty, though I left the service somewhat hastily," and he smiled, "on account of an unfortunate deficiency in the funds of the regiment in which I happened, at the time, to be acting as paymaster -- are seldom burdened with spare cash, but the incident seemed so strange that I determined to capture and question you. If you happen to have more cash on you than you care about carrying we shall be glad to purchase a few bottles of wine equal to that which you have given us. If not, I can assure you that I do not press the matter.".
"I am obliged to you for your courtesy," Ronald said; "and as at present I really happen to be somewhat flush of cash I am happy to contribute ten louis for the laudable purpose you mention."
So saying he took out his purse, counted out ten pieces, and handed them to the captain.
The action was received with a round of applause, for the robbers had not, from the first, anticipated obtaining any booty worth speaking of, and the turn affairs had taken had altogether driven any idea of gain from their minds.
"I thank you warmly, sir," the captain said, "and promise you that I will tomorrow despatch a messenger to Orleans, which is but ten miles away, and will lay out the money in liquor, with which we will, tomorrow night, drink your health and success in the enterprise. Nay, more, if you like, a dozen of my men shall accompany you on your road to Tours. They have, for various reasons, which I need not enter into, a marked objection to passing through towns, but as far as Blois they are at your service."
"I thank you for your offer," Ronald replied, "but will not accept it, as we intend to ride tomorrow morning to Le Mans, and then to enter Tours from the south side, by which we shall throw our enemies completely off the scent."
"But why do you not go to Blois first?" the man asked. "It is on your way to Tours."
"I wish my mother to be present at the release of my father. So long a confinement may well have broken him down. Now that I see how obstinately bent our enemies are upon our destruction I will take with me two or three stout fellows from Tours, to act as an escort."
"What day will you be leaving there?" the man asked.
"Today is Tuesday," Ronald said; "on Thursday we shall be at Tours, on Friday morning we shall leave."
"Very well," the man replied, "we will be on the road. It is no difference to us where we are, and as well there as here. I will have men scattered all along in the forest between Blois and Amboise, and if I find that there are any suspicious parties along the road we will catch them, and if you are attacked you will find that we are close at hand to help you. You are a generous fellow, and your story has interested me. We gentlemen of the woods are obliged to live, whatever the law says; but if we can do a good action to anybody it pleases us as well as others."
"I am greatly obliged to you," Ronald said, "and can promise you, anyhow, that your time shall be not altogether thrown away."
Soon afterwards the whole band lay down round the fire and were sound asleep. In the morning Malcolm saddled the two horses, and after a hearty adieu from the captain and his followers -- all of whom were discharged soldiers who had been driven to take up this life from an inability to support themselves in any other way -- they started for Le Mans, which town they reached late in the afternoon, without adventure.
Deeming it in the highest degree improbable that any watch would be set for them at a place so far from their line of travel, they put up for the night at the principal inn. In the morning they again started, and after riding for some distance to the south, made a wide sweep, and crossing the river, entered Tours from the south, late in the evening. They again put up at the principal inn, for although they doubted not that their arrival would be noticed by the emissaries of the enemy, they had no fear of molestation in a town like Tours. And on the following morning Ronald presented himself at the entrance to the convent.
"I wish to see the lady superior," he said to the lay sister at the wicket. "I am the bearer of a communication to her from the king."
He was left waiting for a few minutes outside the gate, then the wicket door opened, and the sister requested him to follow her. Not a soul was to be seen as he traversed the gloomy courts and passed through several corridors to the room where the abbess was waiting him. In silence he handed to her the king's order. The abbess opened and read it.
"His majesty's commands shall be obeyed," she said; "in an hour the countess will be in readiness to depart."
"A carriage shall be in waiting at the gate to receive her," Ronald said, bowing, and then, without another word, retired.
Malcolm was awaiting him outside, and they at once went to the officer of the royal post and engaged a carriage and post horses to take them to Blois.
The carriage was at the door at the appointed time, and a few minutes later the gate opened, and the countess, in travelling attire, issued out, and in a moment was clasped in her son's arms. He at once handed her into the carriage and took his place beside her. Malcolm closed the door and leapt up on the box, the postilion cracked his whip, and the carriage moved off.
"Can it be true, Ronald, or am I dreaming? It is but a week since you were here last, and the news of my release came upon me with such a surprise that, do you know, I fainted. Am I really free? Is it possible that I have seen the last of those hateful walls? It seems like a dream. Where are we going?"
"We are going to Blois."
"To a prison?" the countess exclaimed. "But no, there are no guards or escorts. Are we going, oh, Ronald, are we going to see my husband?"
"Yes, mother, we are going, not only to see him but to release him. I have the king's order in my pocket."
For some time the countess was unable to speak, her joy was too great for words. Then tears came to her relief, and she sobbed out exclamations of joy and gratitude. Ronald said nothing until she had somewhat recovered her calmness, and then he told her the manner in which Marshal Saxe had obtained the two orders of release.
"I will pray for him night and morning to the last day of my life," the countess said. "God is indeed good to me. I had hoped, from what you said, that my term of imprisonment was drawing to an end; but I had looked forward to a long struggle, to endless efforts and petitions before I could obtain your father's release, with, perhaps, failure in the end. Not for one moment did I dream that such happiness as this awaited me."
Ronald now thought it wise to repeat the warning which the marshal had given him.
"Mother, dear," he said "you must be prepared to find that a total change will have taken place in my father. His imprisonment has been a very different one to yours. You have had companions and a certain amount of freedom and comfort. You have had people to speak to, and have known what is going on in the world. He has been cut off altogether from mankind. He cannot even know whether you are alive, or whether you may not have yielded to the pressure that would be sure to be brought upon you, and acquiesced in a divorce being obtained. He has, doubtless, been kept in a narrow cell, deprived almost of the air and light of heaven. He will be greatly changed, mother. He will not be like you; for it does not seem to me that you have changed much from what you were. I could not see you much that night on the terrace; but now I see you I can hardly believe that you are my mother, so young do you look."
"I am nearly forty," the countess said smiling. "I was past twenty-one when I married. Had I not been of age they could have pronounced the marriage null and void. But you are right, Ronald, and I will prepare myself to find your father greatly changed. It cannot be otherwise after all he has gone through; but so that I have him again it is enough for me, no matter how great the change that may have taken place in him. But who are these men?" the countess exclaimed, as, a quarter of a mile outside the town, four men on horseback took up their places, two on each side of the carriage.
"Do not be alarmed, mother, they are our escort. Malcolm hired them at Le Mans. They are all old soldiers, and can be relied on in case of necessity."
"But what need can there be for them, Ronald? I have heard that bands of discharged soldiers and others make travelling insecure; but I had no idea that it was necessary to have an armed escort."
"Not absolutely necessary, mother, but a useful measure of precaution. We heard of them as we came through from Paris, and Malcolm and I agreed, that as you would have with you any jewels and valuables that you took to the convent, it would be just as well to be in a position to beat off any who might be disposed to trouble us. As you see, they have brought with them Malcolm's horse and mine, and we shall now mount. The less weight the horses have to draw the better. I will get in and have a talk from time to time where the road happens to be good; but, to tell you the truth, the jolting and shaking are neither pleasant nor good for talking."
"You are expecting to be attacked, Ronald," the countess said. "I am sure you would not be wanting to get out and leave me so soon after we have met did you not anticipate some danger."
"Frankly, mother, then, I do think it is probable that an attempt may be made to stop us, and that not by regular robbers, but by your enemies. They did their best to prevent me from reaching Tours, and will now most likely try to prevent our arriving at Blois. I will tell you all about it when we get there tonight. Here is the order for my father's release. Will you hide it in your dress? I had rather not have it about me. And, mother, if we should be attacked, do not be alarmed, for I have reason to believe that if we should be outnumbered and hard pressed, help will speedily be forthcoming."
"I am not in the least afraid for myself," the countess said; "but be careful, Ronald. Remember I have only just found you, and for my sake do not expose yourself unnecessarily."
"I will take care of myself, mother," he said. "You know I have always had to do so."
Malcolm had already mounted his horse, and Ronald was really glad when he took his place beside him a few yards ahead of the carriage. The art both of road making and carriage building was still in its infancy. When the weather was fine and the ground hard a fair rate of progress could be maintained; but in wet weather the vehicles often sank almost up to their axles in mud holes and quagmires, and the bumping and jolting were terrible.
"Now we take up our work of looking out for ambushes again, Malcolm."
"It will not be quite the same thing now," Malcolm said. "Before, two or three men with guns behind a wall might do the business, now they will have to make a regular attack. I have no doubt that we were watched from the time we entered the town, and that the news that we are travelling with the countess in a carriage, and with an escort of four armed men, has been carried on ahead already. It is by horsemen that we shall be attacked today if we are attacked at all, and they will probably fall upon us in the forest beyond Amboise. They will know that with a vehicle we must keep the road, and that as we cannot travel more than six miles an hour at the outside, we cannot attempt to escape by our speed."
"Do you think we had better wait at Amboise for the night and go on to Orleans tomorrow?"
"No, I think we had better push straight on, especially as we told our friends in the forest that we should come today, and I feel sure they will keep their promise to be on the lookout to aid us. If it were not for that I should have said let us stay at Tours for the present, for we may expect to be attacked by a force much superior to our own."
"Why, they would not have sent down more than six men to attack us two, Malcolm?"
"No, if they had been sure which road we should travel; but as they didn't know that, they may have had small parties at half a dozen spots, and these will now be united. Probably there may be a score of them. However, I rely on the robbers. The captain meant what he said, and you won the goodwill of all the men. If there are a dozen horsemen anywhere along the road they are sure to know of it, and will, I have no doubt, post themselves close at hand so as to be ready to join in the fray as soon as it commences."
Amboise was reached without adventure. Here the horses in the carriage were changed, and the party proceeded on their way. Four miles further they entered a great forest. Ronald now ordered two of the men to ride a few yards in front of the horses' heads. He and Malcolm rode on each side of the coach, the other two followed close behind. He ordered the driver, in case they were attacked, to jump off instantly and run to the horses' heads, and keep them quiet during the fray.
A vigilant lookout was kept. Suddenly, when they were in the thickest part of the wood, a number of mounted men dashed out from either side. In obedience to the orders Ronald had given, the men in front and behind at once closed in, so that there were three on either side of the carriage. The assailants fired their pistols as they dashed down, but the bullets flew harmlessly by, while the fire of the defenders, sitting quietly on their horses, was more accurate, two of the assailants falling dead, while another was severely wounded.
A moment later swords were drawn, and a furious combat ensued. Ronald had told his men to keep close to the carriage, so that they could not be attacked in the rear, keeping just far enough out on either side of him to be able to use their swords. For a short time the defenders of the coach maintained their position, the number of their assailants giving them but slight advantage, as they were unable to utilize their force.
Ronald ran the first man who attacked him through the body, and laid open the face of the next with a sweeping blow from left to right. The men they had hired fought stoutly; but they were being pressed together as the assailants urged forward their horses, when suddenly a volley of firearms was heard.
Several of the assailants fell dead, and with a loud shout a number of men rushed out from the wood and fell upon them in rear. The assailants turned to fly, and it was now the turn of the defenders of the coach to attack, which they did furiously.
In two or three minutes all was over. Five or six only of the assailants cut their way through the footmen who had attacked them in rear, while twelve lay dead or dying on the ground. Ronald's first impulse was to ride up to the carriage to assure his mother of his safety, his next to leap off his horse and grasp the hand of the chief of the robbers.
"You have kept your promise nobly," he said, "and arrived at the very nick of time. They were beginning to press us hotly; and though I fancy we should have rendered an account of a good many more, we must have been beaten in the end."
"I was farther behind than I intended to be," the man said; "but we were obliged to keep in hiding some little distance behind them. There were four parties of them. We kept them in sight all yesterday, and last night they assembled a mile or two away. I had men watching them all night, and this morning we followed them here, and saw them take up their position on both sides of the road. We crept up as closely as we dared without being observed, but you had for a couple of minutes to bear the brunt of it alone."
"I thank you most heartily," Ronald said. "My mother will thank you herself" So saying, he led them to the door of the carriage, which he opened.
"Mother, I told you that if we were attacked I relied upon help being near at hand. We owe our lives, for I have no doubt that yours as well as mine would have been taken, to this brave man and his followers."
"I thank you most sincerely, sir," the countess said. "At present I feel like one in a dream; for I have been so long out of the world that such a scene as this has well nigh bewildered me."
"I am only too glad to have been of service," the man said as he stood bareheaded. "I am not a good man, madame. I am one of those whom the necessities of the times have driven to earn their living as they can without much regard to the law; but I trust that I have not quite lost my instincts as a gentleman, and I am only too glad to have been able to be of some slight assistance to a persecuted lady; for your son, the other night, related to us something of the treatment which you have had to endure."
With a bow he now stepped back. His followers were engaged in searching the pockets of the fallen, and found in them a store of money which spoke well for the liberality of their employer, and well satisfied the robbers for the work they had undertaken. After a few words with her son the countess opened a small bag she carried with her, and taking from it a valuable diamond brooch, called the leader of the band up and presented it to him.
Ronald and his party then remounted their horses -- the robbers had already overtaken and caught those of the fallen assailants -- the driver mounted the box, and after a cordial farewell to their rescuers the party proceeded on their way to Blois.
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