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The Suicide Club and Other Stories

The Sire De Maletroit's Door
Denis de Beaulieu was not yet two-and-twenty, but he counted himself a grown man, and
a very accomplished cavalier into the bargain. Lads were early formed in that rough,
warfaring epoch; and when one has been in a pitched battle and a dozen raids, has killed
one's man in an honourable fashion, and knows a thing or two of strategy and mankind, a
certain swagger in the gait is surely to be pardoned. He had put up his horse with due
care, and supped with due deliberation; and then, in a very agreeable frame of mind, went
out to pay a visit in the grey of the evening. It was not a very wise proceeding on the
young man's part. He would have done better to remain beside the fire or go decently to
bed. For the town was full of the troops of Burgundy and England under a mixed
command; and though Denis was there on safe-conduct, his safe- conduct was like to
serve him little on a chance encounter.
It was September 1429; the weather had fallen sharp; a flighty piping wind, laden with
showers, beat about the township; and the dead leaves ran riot along the streets. Here and
there a window was already lighted up; and the noise of men-at-arms making merry over
supper within, came forth in fits and was swallowed up and carried away by the wind.
The night fell swiftly; the flag of England, fluttering on the spire-top, grew ever fainter
and fainter against the flying clouds - a black speck like a swallow in the tumultuous,
leaden chaos of the sky. As the night fell the wind rose, and began to hoot under
archways and roar amid the tree-tops in the valley below the town.
Denis de Beaulieu walked fast and was soon knocking at his friend's door; but though he
promised himself to stay only a little while and make an early return, his welcome was so
pleasant, and he found so much to delay him, that it was already long past midnight
before he said good-bye upon the threshold. The wind had fallen again in the meanwhile;
the night was as black as the grave; not a star, nor a glimmer of moonshine, slipped
through the canopy of cloud. Denis was ill-acquainted with the intricate lanes of Chateau
Landon; even by daylight he had found some trouble in picking his way; and in this
absolute darkness he soon lost it altogether. He was certain of one thing only - to keep
mounting the hill; for his friend's house lay at the lower end, or tail, of Chateau Landon,
while the inn was up at the head, under the great church spire. With this clue to go upon
he stumbled and groped forward, now breathing more freely in open places where there
was a good slice of sky overhead, now feeling along the wall in stifling closes. It is an
eerie and mysterious position to be thus submerged in opaque blackness in an almost
unknown town. The silence is terrifying in its possibilities. The touch of cold window
bars to the exploring hand startles the man like the touch of a toad; the inequalities of the
pavement shake his heart into his mouth; a piece of denser darkness threatens an
ambuscade or a chasm in the pathway; and where the air is brighter, the houses put on
strange and bewildering appearances, as if to lead him farther from his way. For Denis,
who had to regain his inn without attracting notice, there was real danger as well as mere
discomfort in the walk; and he went warily and boldly at once, and at every corner
paused to make an observation.
 
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