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CHAPTER XVIII.

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    BARRAN was much delayed in his endeavors to obtain the money necessary for the ransoms, and he found a great deal of difficulty in collecting it at all at such short notice. And wearied with his unpleasant and annoying task, and with his mind full of doubts and anxieties regarding the obstacles and complications that might yet arise from the probable refusal of Sir Charles to surrender Jasto, he rode into his castle the day after the arrival of the Countess.

    His astonishment and delight upon finding the Countess and her family safe within his walls, and on hearing that Viteau was free from every robber and in the possession of its rightful owner, and that for all this no ransom or price of any kind was to be paid, can well be imagined. And when he and the Countess talked the matter over, it became evident to the lady that to repay the Count the sums he intended to advance—which payment she most certainly would have made—would have impoverished her for years.

    All was now happiness and satisfaction at the castle, but no one was happier or better satisfied than the ex-robber, Jasto. Now that his enemy, Michol, was dead, he felt that his own life was safe; for it would be no longer necessary to sacrifice him for the good of others. He sat down in a corner of the court-yard, and thought the matter over.

    "As to that ransom," he said to himself, "which was due me for returning the boy Louis to his sorrowing mother, I must make some proper settlement about it. Half of it I remitted when the boy saved me from the hands of the bloody-minded brabancois, and one-half of what was left I took off when these good people gave back to me again my brave and noble master, Sir Charles. And now that that great knight, Sir Hugo de Lannes, has killed Michol and saved my life, I do remit what is left, which is only a quarter of the whole sum—after all, hardly equal to the benefit received; for when a man's life is in danger as much from his friends as his enemies, it is a very great benefit, indeed, to have it saved. But, as I have no money with which to make up the balance, I will e'en call the account settled, and so it is."

    As Jasto took so much credit to himself for this generous determination, it was not to be expected he should keep the matter secret, and he therefore communicated it to Louis the first time he saw the boy, giving him in careful detail his reasons for what he had intended to do, and what he had done.

    All this Louis very soon told to his mother; and the Countess, remembering that she had promised Jasto a reward, and feeling a little ashamed that it had passed out of her mind, took the hint which Jasto had undoubtedly intended to throw out, and sent him a sum of money which, if used with ordinary economy, would make it unnecessary for him ever again to wear a suit of clothes resembling a map of a country with the counties and departments marked out with borderlines of red silk.

    A week afterward, when Jasto left the castle with Sir Charles, his education had progressed sufficiently to enable him, with the assistance of his alphabet and his little manuscript book, to write a short and simple message so that it could be read. But he intended to persevere in his studies until he had become as good a scribe as his master formerly supposed him to be.

    By the aid of some deserters from the band of cotereaux, who came over to him when they found out his object, Count Hugo soon discovered the encampment of the robbers, which he utterly destroyed, and then, following them to their several retreats, succeeded in breaking up their organization and in driving them from that part of the country.

    He then returned to the castle of Barran, where he was most warmly welcomed by everybody, and where his little daughter Agnes was prouder of her brave father than she had ever been before.

    In a few weeks, the Count de Lannes found himself obliged to return to his own castle, which lay several days' journey to the west; and he and Agnes took a regretful leave of all their dear friends, the little girl shedding tears of heartfelt sorrow as she shook her handkerchief for the last time to the boys and their mother, who stood watching her departure from the battlements.

    "I wonder," said Louis, "if we shall ever see them again."

    Nothing was said for a moment, and then his mother remarked: "I think—that is, I have reason to believe—that we shall soon see the Count and his daughter again."

    "Why do you think so, mother?" asked Raymond.

    The Countess did not answer him immediately, and just then they were joined by the Count de Barran, and no more was said on the subject.

    The Countess did not remain much longer at the castle. As soon as the squire Bernard had restored her chateau to its former orderly condition, she bade good-bye to her kind entertainer and friend, and departed with her boys for her own home.

    Nothing had been heard of the priests who were to be sent from Paris, but there might be many good reasons for their delay; and arrangements were made for a courier to be sent to Viteau as soon as they should arrive at the castle. The Countess would have been happy to have had her suspense in regard to this unfortunate affair set permanently at rest, but she knew the Inquisitorial party had gone back to Toulouse as soon as their leader was able to accomplish the journey; and having been assured of the protection of her King, she felt safe from unjust prosecution.

    On the morning after their arrival at Viteau, Louis, who was gladly wandering all about the house and grounds, went into a little room on the lower floor which was opposite the sleeping apartment of the squire Bernard. Here, by the light of a small window near the ceiling, he saw, upon a perch in one corner of the room, a falcon, secured by a string which was tied to its leg. Louis threw the door wide open in order to get a better light, and narrowly examined the bird.

    "Why, Bernard!" he cried to the squire, who just then entered the room, "this looks exactly like the falcon I took from this very perch the morning of the day I first went to De Barran's castle."

    "Of course it looks like it," said the squire, "for it is the same falcon."

    "The same falcon!" exclaimed Louis. "And on the same perch! Why, that is a miracle!"

    "It is no miracle at all," answered Bernard; "it is a very simple thing when you come to know all about it. After the rascally cotereaux had been driven out of this place, I found the falcon fastened to this perch, and, by marks I had filed upon his beak, I knew him for the same bird I had trained for your brother Raymond. Of course, I was astonished; but, on thinking the matter over, I supposed that this must be the bird which the robbers had stolen from you, and that, bringing it with them when they came here to live,—the rascally scoundrels!—they naturally put it in this room, which they could see had been planned and fitted for the keeping of falcons. Looking into the matter still further, I asked Orion, the chief falconer of Count Hugo, who was one of the men he had brought here with him, what kind of bird it was he had given to you when the Count desired that you should have one. Orion then told me it was a falcon which had come to him only the day before. He had been out hawking with his master, and was bringing down to him by means of a lure a falcon that had made an unsuccessful flight, when a strange hawk made its appearance and also answered his call, and came down to the lure. Knowing it to be a falcon which had been lost by some hunter, and to be a well-trained bird, he seized and hooded it and took it home with him. The next day, when he was ordered to give a bird to a boy, he much preferred to part with this one, which he had just found, to giving away any of the falcons he had reared and trained himself. And this is the whole of the matter."

    "You may think it a very simple story," said Louis, "but I think it is wonderful. I am ever so glad to have the falcon back again; and just think, Bernard, if it had not been for my losing that bird, ever so many troubles would not have happened, and those wicked thieves would never have come to this chateau!"

    The squire agreed that this was true, but he thought more than he said. He thought that if Louis's kind heart had not been anxious to repair the injury done his brother, he would not have been captured by the cotereaux; and that, if he had not been captured by the cotereaux, no ransom would have been demanded for him; and if no ransom had been demanded, the robbers never would have seized upon Viteau to enforce their claims; and if they had not been at Viteau, there would have been no place of refuge for the Countess when flying from the Inquisitors; and that, instead of the happiness which was now so general at the chateau, all might have been misery. But he said nothing of this to Louis, for he thought it not right that boys should take to themselves too much credit for what they might do.

    But although contentment seemed to reign at Viteau, this was not really the case. True, the chateau had been completely renovated, and all traces of its occupation by the cotereaux had been removed; but the Countess could not forget that it had been the abode of thieves, and that bloody and violent deeds had so lately taken place before its gates and within its very court-yard. Then, too, she felt that she must soon be separated from her boys. Raymond must go to school at Paris, and Louis must return to his duties as the page of the Count de Barran. And this separation seemed a very different thing to her now from what it did before these troubles came upon her.

    Louis was particularly discontented. "I do not want to go back to Barran," he said to his brother. "I do not believe he is a true knight."

    "What!" cried Raymond, in surprise. "You should not speak thus, Louis. No man has ever said such a thing of the Count de Barran."

    "I suppose not," said Louis, "but I am a boy, and I can say it. He stood still and did nothing when our mother had to fly for her life from his castle; and he wanted to buy us away from the thieves, instead of coming and taking us boldly, as a true knight should. Count Hugo is a different kind of a knight."

    "But you should not forget," said Raymond, "how kind and generous the Count de Barran has always been to us. He worked in his own way for our mother's good."

    "Oh, yes," said Louis, "I shall not forget that; but I do not want to go back to him."

    Matters were in this condition when, one beautiful day in autumn, Count Hugo came again to Viteau. This time he did not clamber over the wall, but rode in bravely at the front gate. He was not followed by a body of steel-clad soldiers, but he brought his daughter Agnes, with her attendants, and a company of followers in gay and bright array. He did not come to conquer, but he came because he had been conquered. He came to ask the lovely Countess of Viteau to be his wife.

    A few weeks after this, when the days were becoming clear and frosty, there was a wedding at Viteau. There were many guests; there was feasting, and music, and great joy. Little Agnes had now a mother, and Raymond and Louis a brave and noble father.

    And when the wedding was over, the Countess rode away with her husband to his castle of De Lannes, and her two boys went with her—Raymond, because it was on his road to Paris, and Louis, because he was to be taught to be a knight by Count Hugo, who had admired and loved the boy almost from the first time he had seen him.

    The priests from Paris never came to catechise the Countess. The truth was, that the young King was not so much of a king as he had supposed himself to be; for his mother, Queen Blanche, was not willing that the crown should interfere in any way with the operations of the Inquisition, and had not consented that the priests should be sent to the castle of Barran. But as it became known that the King had taken an interest in the matter, and as it was probably considered unwise to bring a religious prosecution against the wife of the Count de Lannes,—who was not only a powerful nobleman, but a warm supporter of both Church and state, and who was also known to have punished and exterminated the band of cotereaux who had attacked the Inquisitorial party,—the matter was suffered to drop, and nothing more was ever heard of it.

    Viteau was left in charge of Bernard, who would faithfully administer its affairs until Raymond should be of age to come and take possession of the establishment and the estates.

    And now, as our friends have left the chateau, with whose varying fortunes we have, for a time, been interested, we will leave it also; and the story of Viteau is told.

    The End
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