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Title: Sir Percy Hits Back
Author: Emmuska Orczy
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Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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Sir Percy Hits Back
Emmuska Orczy



Chapter 1

On the spot where the Hotel Moderne now rears its more ambitous head,
there stood at that time a cottage with sloping red-tiled roof and
white-washed walls. It was owned by one Baptiste Portal, an old
peasant of the Dauphine, who dispensed refreshments to travellers and
passers-by, as his father and grandfather had done before him, in the
shape of somewhat thin vin du pays and an occasional glass of eau-de-
vie, while he spent his slack time chiefly in grumbling at the fact
that the new posting-inn on the high road had taken all his trade
away. He did not see the necessity of the posting-inn, did not old
Baptiste, nor for that matter that of the high-road or the post-
chaise. Before all these new notions had come into the heads of the
government people up in Paris, travellers had been content to come
squelching through the mud on the back of a good horse, or come
ploughing through inches of dust in the old coche. So why not now? And
was not the old wine of Les Amandiers as good and better than the
vinegar dispensed at the more pretentious posting-inn? The place was
called Les Amandiers because at the back of the house there were two
anaemic almond-trees with gaunt, twisted arms which covered themselves
in the spring with sickly blooms, and in the summer with dust. In the
front of the house, up against the white-washed wall, there was a
wooden bench on which Baptiste's priveleged customers were wont to sit
on fine evenings, to drink their vin du pays and join the old man in
his wholesale condemnation of the goverment "up in Paris" and its new-
fangled ways. From this vantage-point a glorious view was obtained
over the valley of the Bueche, and beyond Laragne as far as the peaks
of Pelvoux: whilest to the right towered in the distance the grand old
citadel of Sisteron with its turets and fortifications dating from the
fourteenth century, and the stately church of Notre Dame. But views
and winding rivers, snowy peaks, and medieval fortresses did not
interest Baptiste Portal's customers nearly as much as the price of
almonds or the alarming increase in the cost of living.

Now, on this particular afternoon in May the mistral was blowing
mercilessly across the valley from over the snows of Pelvoux, and the
cold and the dust had driven all of good Portal's customers indoors.
The low-raftered room, decorated with strings of onions which hung
from the ceiling together with a bunch or two of garlic, of basil and
other pot-herbs, and perfumed also with the aroma of the pot-au-feu
simmering in the kitchen, had acquired just that right atmosphere,
cosy, warm, and odorous, beloved of every true man born in the
Dauphine. It was a memorable afternoon, remembered long afterwards and
retold by the gossips of Sisteron and Laragne in all its dramatic
details. But at this hour, nothing more dramatic had occurred than the
arrival of a detachment of soldiers, under the command of an under-
officer, who had come up from Orange, so they said, in order to fetch
away the young men who were wanted for the army. They had demanded
supper and shelter for the night.

Of course soldiers, as soldiers, were very much disapproved of by
those worthies of Sisteron who frequented Les Amandiers, more
especially now when what they did was to fetch away the young men for
cannon-fodder, to fight the English and prolong this awful war which
caused food to be so dear and hands for harvesting so scarce. But, on
the other hand, soldiers, as company, were welcome. They brought news
of the outside world, most of it bad, it is true--nothing good did
happen anywhere these days--but news nevertheless. And though at the
recital of what went on in Paris, in Lyons, or even as near as Orange,
the guillotine, the tumbrils, the wholesale slaughter of tyrants and
aristos, one shuddered with horror and apprehension, there were always
the lively tales of barrack-life to follow, the laughter, the ribald
song, and something of life seemed to infiltrate into this sleepy
half-dead corner of the old Dauphine.

The soldiers--there were a score of them--occupied the best place in
the room, as was only fitting; they sat squeezed tightly against one
another like dried figs in a box, on the two benches on either side of
the centre trestle table. Old Baptiste Portal sat with them, beside
the officer. Some kind of lieutenant this man appeared to be, or other
subaltern: but, oh dear me! these days one could hardly tell an
officer from the rag-tab and bob-tail of the army, save for the fact
that he wore epaulettes. Now this man--but there! What was the use of
comparing these ruffians with the splendid officers of the King's
armies in the past?

This one certainly was not proud. He sat with his men, joked, drank
with them, and presently he convened friend Portal to a glass of wine:
"A la sante!" he added, "de la Republique, and of Citizen Robespierre,
the great and incorruptible master of France!"

Baptiste, wagging his old head, had not liked to refuse, because
soldiers were soldiers and these had been at great pains to explain to
him that the reason why the guillotine was kept so busy was because
Frenchmen had not yet learned to be good Republicans.

"We've cut off the head of Louis Capet and of the widow Capet, too,"
the officer had added with grim significance, "but there are still
Frenchmen who are bad patriots and hanker after the return of the
tyrants."

Now Baptiste, like all his like in the Dauphine, had learned in
childhood to worship God and honour the King. The crime of regicide
appeared to him unforgiveable, like that mysterious sin against the
Holy Ghost which M. le Cure used vaguely to hint at, and which no one
understood. In addition to that, Baptiste greatly resented His late
Majesty King Louis XVI and his august Queen being irreverently
referred to as Louis Capet and the widow Capet. But he kept his own
counsel and silently drank his wine. What his thoughts were at the
moment was nobody's business.

After that, talk drifted to the neighbourhood: the aristos who still
clung to the land which by right belonged to the people. Neither
Baptiste nor his customers--old peasants from the district--were a
match for the lieutenant and his corporals in such discussions. They
did not dare argue, only shook their heads and sighed at the coarse
jests which the soldiers uttered against people and families whom
everyone in the Dauphine knew and esteemed.

The Frontenacs, for instance.

The talk and the jests had turned on the Frontenacs: people who had
owned the land for as long as the oldest inhabitant could remember and
God only knows how long before that. Well! it appeared that in the
eyes of the Republic the Frontenaces were bad patriots, tyrants and
traitors. Didn't Citizen Portal know that?

No! Portal did not--he had never been called "citizen" before, and
didn't like it: he was just Baptiste to those who knew him, quoi?--nor
would he admit that the Frontenacs were traitors. There was Monsieur,
who knew more about cattle and almonds than any man for leagues
around. How could he be a bad patriot? And Madame, who was very good
and pious, and Mademoiselle who was so ill and delicate. But on this
there followed an altercation--stern rebuke of Baptiste from the
officer for talking of "Monsieur", of "Madame" and "Mademoiselle".
Bah! there were no aristos left in these days.

"Aren't we all citizens of France?" the lieutenant concluded
grandiloquently.

Silence and submission on the part of all the groundlings which
followed the lieutenant's rebuke, somewhat mollified the latter's
aggressive patriotism. He condescended to relate how he had been
deputed to make a perquisition in the house of the Frontenacs, and if
anything was found in the least compromising, then the devil help the
whole brood: their lives would not be worth an hour's purchase. In
fact, in the lieutenant's opinion--and who better qualified to hold
one?--the Frontenacs were already judged, condemned, and as good as
guillotined. He held with the "law of the suspect" lately enacted by
the National Assembly, did Lieutenant Godet.

Again much wagging of heads! "The Committees in all Sections," Godet
now goes on airily, and proceeds to pick his teeth after that
excellently stewed scrag-end of mutton, "the Committees in all
Sections are ordered in future to arrest all persons who are suspect."

No one knows what is a Committee, nor yet a Section: but they are
evidently fearsome things. But no matter about them: the thing is, who
are the "suspect" who are thus arrestable?

"The Frontenacs are suspect," the lieutenant explains whilest sucking
his tooth-pick, "and so are all persons who by their actions--or--
their writings--have become--er--suspect."

Not very illuminating, perhaps, but distinctly productive of awe. The
worthies of Sisteron, those who are priveleged to sit close to the
centre table and actually to put in a word with the soldiers, sip
their wine in silence. Just below the tiny window at the end of the
room, two charcoal-burners, or wood-cutters--I know not what they
are--are lending an attentive ear. They dare not join in the
conversation because they are comparative strangers, vagabonds really,
come to pick up a few sous by doing menial work too lowering for a
local peasant to do. One of them is small and slender, but looks
vigorous; the other, much older, with stooping shoulders, and grey,
lank hair that falls over a wrinkled forehead. He is harrassed by a
constant, tearing cough which he strives in vain to supress out of
respect for the company.

"But," the worthy Portal puts in tentatively, "how does one know
Monsieur le--I mean, citizen officer, that a person is in verity
suspect?"

The lieutenant explains with a sweeping gesture of the tooth-pick: "If
you are a good patriot, Citizen Portal, you are able to recognize a
Suspect in the street, you can seize him by the collar then and there,
and you may drag him off before the Committee, who will promptly clap
him in prison. And remember," he added significantly, "that there are
forty-four thousand Committees in France to-day."

"Forty-four thousand?" somebody exclaims.

"And twenty three," Godet replies, gloating over his knowledge of this
trifling detail.

"Forty-four thousand and twenty three," he reiterates, and claps the
table with the palm of his hand.

"One in Sisteron?" someone murmurs.

"Three!" the lieutenant replies.

"And the Frontenacs are suspect, you say?"

"I shall know that tomorrow," rejoins the other, "and so will you."

The way he said those last three words caused everyone to shudder.
Over at the far end of the room, the charcoal burner, or whatever he
was, had a tearing fit of coughing.

"'Tis little Fluerette who will weep her eyes out," good old Baptiste
said with a doleful shake of the head, "if anything happens to Mad--to
the citizens up at the chateau."

"Fluerette?" the lieutenant asked.

"She is Armand's daughter--Citizen Armand you know--why---?"

He might well stare, for the officer, for some unaccountable reason,
had burst into a loud guffaw.

"Citizen Armand's daughter, did you say?" he queried at last, his eyes
still streaming with the effort of laughing.

"Yes, of course. As pretty a wench as you can see in Dauphine. Why
shouldn't Armand have a daughter, I'd like to know."

"Do tigers have daughters?" the lieutenant retorted significantly.

Somehow the conversation languished after that. The fate which so
obviously awaited the Frontenacs, who were known and loved, cast a
gloom over the most buoyant spirits. Not even the salacious stories of
barrack-life, on which the men now embarked with much gusto, found
responsive laughter.

It was getting late, too. Past eight o'clock, and tallow was dear
these days. There was a cart-shed at the back of the house, with
plenty of clean straw: some of the soldiers declared themselves ready
for a stretch there: even the voluble officer was yawning. The regular
customers of Les Amandiers took the hint. They emptied their mugs,
paid over their sous, and trooped out one by one.

The wind had gone down. There was not a cloud in the sky, which was a
deep, and intense saphire blue, studded with stars. The waning moon
was not yet up, and the atmosphere was redolent of the perfume of
almond blossoms. Altogether a lovely night, Nature in her kindest,
most gentle mood. Spring in the air and life stirring in the entrails
of the earth in travail. Some of the soldiers made their way to the
shed, whilest others stretched out on the floor, or the benches of the
room, there to dream perhaps of the perquisition to be made tomorrow
and of the tragedy which would enter like a sudden devastating gust of
wind into the peaceful home of the Frontenacs.

Nature was kind and gentle: and men were cruel and and evil and
vengeful. The Law of the Suspect! No more cruel, more tyrannical law
was ever enacted within the memory of civilization. Forty-four
thousand and twenty-three Committees to mow down the flower of the
children of France. A harvest of innocents! And lest the harvesters
prove slack, the National Convention has just decreed that a
perambulating army shall march up and down the country, to ferret out
the Suspect and feed the guillotine. Lest the harvesters prove slack,
men like Lieutenant Godet with a score of out-at-elbows, down-at-heels
brigands, are ordered to scour the country, to seize and strike. To
feed the guillotine, in fact, and to purge the Soil of Liberty.

Is this not the most glorious revolution the world has ever known? Is
it not the era of LIberty and of the Brotherhood of Man?



Chapter 2

The perambulating army had now gone to rest: some in the cart-shed,
some along the benches and tables or floor of the inn. The lieutenant
in a bed. Is he not the officer commanding this score of ardent
patriots? Therefore he must lie in a bed--old Portal's bed--whilst old
Portal himself and his wife, older and more decrepit than he, can lie
on the floor, or in the dog's kennel for aught Lieutenant Godet cares.

The two wood-cutters--or shall we call them charcoal-burners?--were
among the last to leave. They had petitioned for work among the
worthies here present: but money was very scarce these days, and each
man did what work he could for himself, and did not pay another to do
it for him. But Papa Tronchet, who was a carpenter by trade and owned
a little bit of woodland just by the bridge, close to Armand's
cottage, he promised one of the men--not both--a couple of hours' work
tomorrow: wood-cutting at the rate of two sous an hour, and then he
thought it dear.

And so the company had dispersed: each man to his home. The two
vagabonds--wood-cutters or charcoal-burners, they were anyhow
vagabonds--found their way into the town. Wearily they trudged, for
one of them was very old and the other lame, till they reached a
narrow lane at right angles to the riverbank. The lane was made up of
stone houses that had overhanging eaves, between which the sun
couldn't ever penetrate. It was invariably either as damp as the
bottom of a well, or as dry and wind-swept as an iron stove-pipe.
Tonight it was dry and hot: broken-down shutters, innocent of paint,
creaked upon rusty hinges. A smell of boiled cabbage, of stale water
and garlic hung beneath the eaves; it came in great gusts down pitch-
dark stairways, under narrow doors, oozing with sticky moisture.

The two vagabonds turned into one of these doors and by instinct
seemingly, for it was pitch dark, they mounted the stone stairs that
squelched with grease and dirt underneath their feet. They did not
speak a word until they came to the top of the house, when one of them
with a kick of his boot threw open a door; it groaned and creaked
under the blow. It gave on an attic-room with sloping ceiling, black
with the dirt of ages, and with dormer window masked by a tattered rag
that had once been a curtain. There was a wooden table in the centre
of the room, and three chairs, with broken backs and ragged rush-
seats, dotted about. On the table a couple of tallow candles guttered
in pewter sconces.

One of the chairs was drawn close up to the table and on it sat a
young man dressed in a well-worn travelling-coat with heavy boots on
his feet, and a shabby tricorne hat on the top of his head. His arms
were stretched out over the table and his face was buried in them. He
had obviously been asleep when the door was so unceremoniously thrown
open. At the sound he raised his head and blinked drowsily in the dim
light at the newcomers.

Then he stretched out his arms, yawned, and gave himself a shake like
a sleepy dog, and finally exclaimed in English! "Ah! At last!"

One of the vagabonds--the one namely who at Les Amandiers had appeared
with bent shoulders and a hacking cough, now straightened out what
proved to be a magnificent athletic figure, and gave a pleasant laugh.

"Tony, you lazy dog!" he said, "I've a mind to throw you downstairs.
What say you, Ffoulkes? While you and I have been breaking our backs
and poisoning our lungs with the scent of garlic, I verily believe
that this villain Tony has been fast asleep."

"By all means, let's throw him downstairs," assented the second
vagabond, now no longer lame, whom his friend had addressed as
Ffoulkes.

"What would you have me do but sleep?" Tony broke in with a laugh. "I
was told to wait, and so I waited. I'd far rather have been with you."

"No, you wouldn't," Ffoulkes demurred, "for then you would have been
dirtier than I, and almost as filthy as Blakeney. Look at him; did you
ever see such a disgusting object?"

"By Gad!" rejoined Blakeney, surveying his own slender hands coated
with coal-dust, grease and grime. "I don't know when I have been quite
so dirty. Soap and water!" he commanded with a lofty gesture, "or I
perish."

But Tony gave a rueful shrug.

"I have a bit of soap in my pocket," he said, and diving into the
capacious pocket of his coat he produced an infinitesimal remnant of
soap which he threw upon the table. "As for water, I can't offer you
any. The only tap in the house is in the back kitchen which Madame,
our worthy landlady, has locked up for the night. She won't have
anything wasted, she tells me, not even water."

"Fine, thrifty people, your Dauphinois," commented Blakeney, wisely
shaking his head. "But did you try bribery?"

"Yes! But Madame--I beg your pardon, Citizeness Martot--immediately
called me a cursed aristo, and threatened me with some committee or
other. I couldn't argue with her, she reeked of garlic."

"And you, Tony, are an arrant coward," Blakeney rejoined, "where
garlic is concerned."

"I am," Tony was willing to admit. "That's why I am so terrified of
you both at this moment."

They all laughed, and since water was not obtainable, Sir Percy
Blakeney, one of the most exquisite dandies of his time, and his
friend Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, sat down on rickety chairs, in clothes
sticky with dirt, their faces and hands masked by a thick coating of
grime. Down the four walls of the small attic-room fillets of greasy
moistures trickled and mingled with the filth that lay in cakes upon
the floor.

"I can't bear to look at Tony," Blakeney said with a mock sigh, "he is
too demned clean."

"We'll soon remedy that," was Ffoulkes' dry comment.

And behold Sir Andrew Ffoulkes at close grips with Lord Antony
Dewhurst, and this in silence for fear of disturbing the rest of the
house, and bringing attention on themselves. It was a sparring match
in the best style, Blakeney acting as referee, its object--to transfer
some of the grime that coated the clothes and hands of Sir Andrew on
to the immaculate Lord Tony. They were only boys after all, these men,
who even now were risking their lives in order to rescue the innocent
from the clutches of a bloody tyranny. They were boys in their love of
adventure, and in their hero worship, and men in the light-hearted way
in which they were prepared for the supreme sacrifice, should luck
turn against them.

The sparring match ended in a call for mercy on the part of Lord Tony.
His face was plastered with grime, his hands as dirty as those of his
friends.

"Tony," Blakeney said finally, when he called a halt, "if her ladyship
were to see you now, she would divorce you."

Vent having been given to unconquerable animal spirits, there was a
quick return to the serious business of the day.

"What is the latest?" Lord Tony asked.

"Just this," Sir Percy replied: "That these hell-hounds have sent out
detachments of soldiers all over the country to ferret out what they
are pleased to call treason. We all know what that means. Since their
iniquitous "Law of the Suspect", no man, woman, or child is safe from
denunciation: now with this perambulating army, summary arrests occur
by the thousand. It seems that at any moment any of those brigands can
seize you by the coat-collar and drag your before one of their
precious committees, who promptly sends you to the nearest
guillotine."

"And you came from a detachment of those brigands, I suppose."

"We have; Ffoulkes and I spent a couple of hours in their company, in
the midst of fumes of garlic that would have reduced you, Tony, to a
drivelling coward. I vow the smell of it has even infested my hair."

"Anything to be done?" Tony asked simply. He knew his chief well
enough to perceive the vein of grim earnestness through all this
flippancy.

"Yes!" Blakeney replied. "The squad of brigands who are scouring this
part of France are principally after a family named Frontenac, which
consists of father, mother and an invalid daughter. I had already
found out something about them in the course of the day, whilst I
carted some manure for a farmer close by. Beastly stuff, manure, by
the way! I tried to get into touch with Monsieur, who is a stubborn
optimist, and does not believe that any man could mean harm to him or
to his family. I went to him in the guise of a royalist agent,
supposed to have inside information of impending arrests. He simply
refused to believe me. Well! we've met that type of man before. He
will have a terrible awakening tomorrow."

Sir Percy paused for a moment or two, a deep frown between his brows.
His keen intellect, alive to all those swift tragedies which he had
devoted his life to countermine, was already at work envisaging the
immediate future, the personages of the coming drama, husband, wife,
invalid daughter; then the perquisition, the arrest, summary
condemnation and slaughter of three helpless innocents.

"I can't help being sorry for the man," he said after awhile, "though
he is an obstinate fool! but it is the wife and daughter whom we
cannot allow those savage beats to capture and to kill. I caught sight
of them. The girl is pathetic, frail and crippled. I couldn't bear--"

He broke off abruptly. No need to say more, of course; they understood
one another, these men who had braved death so often together for love
of humanity and for love of sport. Blakeney silent, one firm, slender
hand clutched upon the table, was working out a problem of how to
rescue three helpless people from that certain death-trap which was
already laid for them. The other two waited in equal silence for
orders. The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel! pledged to help the
innocent and to save the helpless! One to command, nineteen to obey:
the two who were here, in this filthy, dark attic-room, were the
chief's most trusted officers; but the others were not far away!

Seventeen others! scattered about the countryside, disguised, doing
menial work in order to keep in touch with the population, spying,
hiding in woods or huts: all of them under orders from their chief,
and prepared for the call from him.

"Tony," Blakeney said at last, "you'd better find Hastings and
Stowmaries at once and they must pass the word round to others. I want
three of them--they can draw lots for that--to go to the Four Oaks and
there to remain until I can send Ffoulkes to them with full
instructions. When you've done that, I want you and Ffoulkes to spend
the night in and about Les Amandiers, and gather what you can of the
projects of these brigands by keeping your ears open. I'll keep in
touch with you from time to time."

"You think," Ffoulkes put in, "that we'll have trouble with the
Frontenacs?"

"Not with the ladies, of course," Blakeney replied. "We'll get them
safely out of the way before the perambulating army of jackals
arrives. With God's help we ought to have enough time to gather a few
valuables together. The problem will be with that obstinate, tiresome
man. I feel sure he won't move until the soldiers are hammering at his
door. Anyway I shall know my way in and about the chateau by tomorrow
morning, and will then get into touch with you both at Les Amandiers."

He rose: a tall, straight figure on whom the filthy clothes of a
vagabond sat with strange incongruity. But even in this strange garb
which was grotesque as well as degrading, there was an extraordinary
dignity in the carriage of the head, the broad shoulders, the firm,
long Anglo-Saxon limbs, but above all in the flash of the eyes beneath
their heavy lids and in the quiet, low-toned voice so obviously
accustomed to be heard and obeyed. The two others were ready on the
instant to act according to instructions: to act without argument or
question. The fire of excitement was in their eyes: the spirit of
adventure, of sport for sport's sake, had them in its grip.

"Do I go with you now, Blakeney?" Ffoulkes asked, as his chief had
remained for a moment standing, as if following a train of thought.

"Yes," Blakeney replied. "And by the way, Ffoulkes, and you too, Tony,
while you are at Les Amandiers try and find out about this girl
Fleurette the old innkeeper spoke about. He said that the girl would
cry her eyes out if anything happen to the Frontenacs. You remember?"

"I do. He also said that she was as pretty a wench as could be found
in the Dauphine," Ffoulkes put in with a smile.

"Her father is named Armand," Blakeney rejoined.

"And the lieutenant called him a tiger, rather enigmatically I
thought."

"This Fleurette sounds like an engaging young person," Lord Tony
commented with a smile.

"And should be useful in our adventure," Blakeney concluded. "Find out
what you can about her."

He was the last to leave the room. Ffoulkes and Lord Tony had already
gone down the stone staircase, feeling their way through the darkness.
But Sir Percy Blakeney stood a minute or two longer, erect, silent,
motionless. Not Sir Percy Blakeney, that is, the elegant courtier, the
fastidious fop, the spoilt child of London society, but the daring
adventurer, ready now as so often before, to throw his life into the
balance to save three innocent people from death. Would he succeed?
Nay! that he did not for a moment doubt. Not for a moment. He would
save the Frontenacs as he had saved scores of helpless men, women and
children before, or leave his bones to moulder in this fair land where
his name had become anathema to the tigers that fed on the blood of
their kindred. The true adventurer! Reckless of risks and dangers,
with only the one goal in view: Success.

Sport? Of course it was sport! grand, glorious, maddening sport! Sport
that made him forget every other joy in life, every comfort, every
beatitude. Everything except the exquisite wife who in far-off England
waited patiently, with deadly anxiety gnawing at her heart, for news
of the man she worshipped. She, perhaps, the greatest heroine of them
all.

With a quick sigh, half of impatience, half of longing, Sir Percy
Blakeney finally blew out the tallow-lights and made his way out into
the open.



Chapter 3

The house where Fleurette was born and where she spent the first
eighteen years of her life, still stands about halfway down the road
between Sisteron and Serres and close to Laragne, which was then only
a village nestling in the valley of the Bueche. To get to it you must
first go cautiously down the slope at the head of the old stone
bridge, and then climb up another slope to the front door beside the
turbulent little mill stream, the soft gurgle of which had lulled
Fluerette to sleep ever since her tiny ears had wakened to earthly
sounds.

The house is a tumble-down ruin now, only partly roofed in: doors and
shutters are half off their hinges: the outside staircase is worm-
eaten and unsafe, the white-washed walls are cracked and denuded of
plaster; the little shrine above the door has long been bereft of its
quaint, rudely painted statue of St. Anthony of Padua with the Divine
Child in his arms. But the wild vine still clings to the old walls,
and in the gnarled branches of the old walnut tree, a venturesome pair
of blackbirds will sometimes build their nest.

A certain atmosphere of mystery and romance still lingers in the tiny
dell, and when we fly along the road in our twentieth-century motor-
car, we are conscious of this romantic feeling, and we exclaim: "Oh!
how picturesque!" and ask the chauffeur to halt upon the bridge, and
then get our Kodaks to work.

Perhaps when the plate is developed and we look upon the print, we
fail to recapture that sense of a picturesque by-gone age, and wonder
why we wasted a precious film on what is nothing but a tumble-down old
cottage, and why so many tumble-down old cottages are left to crumble
away and disfigure the lovely face of France. But a century and a half
ago, when Fluerette was born, there was an almond tree beside the
front door, which in the early spring looked as if covered with pink
snow. In those days the shutters and the doors and the outside
staircase were painted a beautiful green, the walls were resplendent
with fresh white-wash every year. In those days too the wild vine
turned to a brilliant crimson in the autumn, and in June the climbing
rose was just a mass of bloom. Then in May the nightingale often sang
in the old walnut-tree, and later on, when Fluerette was tall enough,
she always kept a bunch of forget-me-nots in a glass, in the recess
above the front door, at the foot of St. Antoine de Padoue, because,
as is well known, he is the saint to appeal to in case one has lost
anything one values. One just made the sign of the cross and said
fervently "St. Antoine de Padoue priez pour nous!" and lo! the kindly
saint would aid in the search, and more often than not the lost
treasure would be found.

All this was, of course, anterior to the horrible events which in a
few days transformed the genial, kindly people of France into a herd
of wild beats thirsting for each other's blood, and before legalized
cruelty, murder and regicide had arraigned that fair land at the bar
of history, and tarnished her fair fame forever. Fluerette was just
eighteen when the terrible events came to pass that threatened to
wreck her young life, and through which she learned not only how cruel
and evil man could be, but also to what height of self-abnegation and
heroism they could at times ascend.

Fluerette's birthday was in May, and that day was always for her the
gladdest day of the year. For one thing she could reckon on Bibi being
home--Bibi being the name by which she had called her father ever
since she had learned to babble. Fleurette had no mother, and she and
Bibi just worshipped each other. And of course Bibi had come home for
her eighteenth birthday, and had stayed three whole days, and he had
brought her a lovely shawl, one that was so soft and fleecy that when
you rubbed your cheek against it, it felt just like a caress from a
butterfly's wing.

Old Louise--who had looked after the house and watched over Fluerette
ever since Fluerette's mother had gone up to heaven to be with the bon
Dieu and all the Saints--old Louise had cooked a delicious dinner,
which was a very difficult thing to do these days when food was scarce
and dear, and eggs, butter and sugar only for the very rich who could
bribe M'sieu' Colombe, the epicier of the Rue Haute, to let them have
what they wanted. But no matter! Old Louise was a veritable genius
where a dinner was concerned, and M'sieu' Colombe, the grocer, and
M'sieu' Duflos the butcher, had allowed her to have all she asked for:
a luscious piece of meat, three eggs, a piece of butter, and this
without any extra bribe. Then there were still half a dozen bottles of
that excellent red wine which Bibi had bought in the happy olden days;
and he had opened one of the bottles, and Fluerette had drunk some
wine and felt very elated and altogether happy--but for this there was
another reason of which more anon.

Of course the latter part of the day had been tinged with sadness,
again for that one reason which will appear presently: but not only
because of that, but because of Bibi's departure, which it seems,
could not be postponed, although Fluerette begged and begged that he
should remain at least until tomorrow so as not to spoil this most
perfect day. Le bon Dieu alone knew when Fluerette would see Bibi
again, his absences from home had of late become more frequent and
more prolonged.

Mais voila! on one's eighteenth birthday one is not going to think of
troubles until the very last minute when it is actually on the
doorstep. And the day had been entirely glorious. Not a cloud: the sky
of such a vivid blue that the forget-me-nots that grew in such
profusion beside the stream looked pale and colourless beneath it. The
crimson peonies behind the house were in full bloom, and the buds of
the climbing rose on the point of bursting.

And now dinner was over. Louise was busy in the kitchen washing up the
plates and dishes, and Fluerette was carefully putting away the
beautiful silver forks and spoons which had been brought out for the
occasion. She was putting them away in the fine leather case with the
molleton lining, which set off the glistening silver to perfection,
and little Fluerette felt happy and very contented. She worked away in
silence because Bibi had leaned his darling old head against the back
of his chair, and closed his eyes. Fluerette thought he had dropped
off to sleep.

He looked thin and pale, the poor dear, and there were lines of
anxiety and discontent around his thin lips: his hair too had of late
been plentifully sprinkled with gray. Oh! how Fluerette longed to have
him here at Lou Mas. Always and always. It was the only home she had
ever known; dear, beautiful, fragrant Lou Mas. Here she would tend him
and care for him until all those lines of care upon his face had
vanished. And what more likely to bring a smile to his lips than dear
old Lou Mas with its white-washed walls and red-tiled roofs, with its
green shutters and little mill streams beside which, for nine months
of the year, flowers grew in such profusion; violets, forget-me-nots,
and lilies of the valley in the spring, and meadowsweet throughout the
summer until an early frost cut them down?

As for this room, Fluerette knew that there could not be in the whole
of France, anything more beautiful or more cosy. There was the
beautiful walnut side-board, polished until it shone like a mirror,
there were the chairs covered in crimson rap, rather faded it is true,
but none the worse for that, and there was Bibi's special armchair
adorned with that strip of tapestry which Fluerette had worked in
cross-stitch, expressly for his birthday the year of her first
communion. Never had there been such chairs anywhere. And that
beautiful paper on the walls, the red and yellow roses that looked as
if you could pick them off their lovely chocolate-coloured ground, and
the chandelier with the crystal drops, and the blue vases with the
gold handles that adorned the mantelpiece, not to mention the print
curtains and the pink and blue check cloth upon the table. Oh,
Fluerette loved all these things, they had been the playthings of her
childhood and now they were her pride. If only Bibi would smile again,
she felt that the whole world would be like heaven.

And then all at once everything went wrong. Fluerette had got her
beautiful new shawl out of its wrappings and draped it round her
shoulders and rubbed her cheek against it. Then she had said quite
innocently: "It is so lovely, Bibi, and the wool is so soft and fine.
I am sure that it came from England."

And it was from that moment that everything went wrong. To begin with,
and quite by accident, of course, Bibi broke the stem of the glass out
of which he had been drinking, and a quantity of very precious wine
was spilt over the beautiful tablecloth.

Whereupon, unaccountably, because of course the table cloth could be
washed, Bibi pushed his plate aside quite roughly and suddenly looked
ten years older; so wan and pale and shrivelled and old. Fluerette
longed to put her arms round him--as she used to do in the happy olden
days--and ask him to tell her what was amiss. She was grown up now--
eighteen years old today--quite old enough to understand. And if Bibi
loved her as she thought he did, he would be comforted.

But there it was! There was something in the expression on Bibi's face
that checked Fluerette's impulse. She went on quietly--very quietly,
like a little mouse--with her work, and for a while there was silence
in the cosy room with the beautiful roses on the wall that looked as
if you could pick them off their chocolate ground: a silence that was
unaccountably full of sadness.



Chapter 4

Bibi was the first to hear the sound of footsteps coming up to the
door. He gave a start, just as if he were waking from a dream.

"It's M'sieu' Colombe," Fluerette said.

At once Bibi reproved her, a thing he hardly ever did: "Citizen
Colombe," he said sternly.

Fluerette shrugged her plump shoulders: "Ah well---!" she exclaimed.

"You must learn, Fluerette," Bibi insisted, still with unwonted
severity. "You are old enough to learn."

She said nothing more; only kissed the top of his head, the smooth
brown hair, of late so plentifully tinged with grey, and promised that
she would learn. She stood by the sideboard intent on putting the
silver away, with her back turned to Bibi so that he could not see the
soft tone of pink that had crept into her cheeks, as soon as she
perceived that two pairs of feet were treading the path outside the
door.

Now there was a vigorous knock against the door, and a cheery, raucous
voice called out loudly: "May one enter?"

Fluerette ran to the door and opened it.

"But certainly, certainly," she said, and then added, seemingly very
astonished: "Ah! and M'sieu' Amd, too?" From which the casual
observer would perhaps infer that the pink colour in her cheeks had
been due to the arrival of M'sieu' Colombe, the epicier of the Rue
Haute, rather than to that of his son Amd. It was no doubt also that
worthy epicier with his round, florid face, dark, twinkling eyes, and
general air of ferocious kindliness that caused the pink colour to
spread from Fluerette's cheeks down to her neck and the little bit of
throat that peeped out above her kerchief.

The good Colombe had already stalked into the room and with a familiar
"Eh bien! Eh bien! We did contrive to come and drink Fluerette's
health after all?" had slapped Bibi vigorously over the lean
shoulders. But Amd had come to a halt on the mat in which he was
mechanically wiping his boots as if his very life depended on their
cleanliness. Between his fingers he was twirling an immense posy of
bright pink peonies, but his eyes were fixed on Fluerette, and on his
broad, plain face, which shone with perspiration and good temper,
there was a half-shy, wholly adoring look.

He gulped hard once or twice before he murmured, hoarse with emotion:

"Mam'zelle Fluerette!"

And Fluerette wiped her hot little hand against her apron before she
whispered in shy response:

"M'sieu' Amd!"

Not for these two the new fangled "citoyen" and "citoyenne" decreed in
far-off Paris. To their unsophisticated ears the clamour of a trumpet-
tongued revolution only came as an unreal and distant echo.

Amd appeared to have finished cleaning his boots, and Fluerette was
able to close the door behind him before she held out her hand for the
flowers which he was too bewildered to offer.

"Are those beautiful flowers for me, M'sieu' Amd?" she asked.

"If you will deign to accept them, Mam'zelle Fluerette?" he replied.

She was eighteen and he was just twenty. Neither of them had ever been
away more than a few hours from their remote little village of
Dauphine where they were born--she in the little house with the green
shutters, and he in the Rue Haute above the shop where his father,
Hector Colombe, had sold tallow-candles and sugar, flour and salt, and
lard and eggs to the neighbors, ever since he had been old enough to
help his father in the business. And when Amd was four, and
Fluerette two, they had made mud pies together in the village street
with water from the fountain, and Amd had warded Fluerette against
the many powerful enemies that sometimes threatened her and caused her
to scream with terror, such as M'sieu' Duflos, the butcher's, dog, or
Achille the garde-champetre with his ferocious scowl, or Ma'ame
Amelie's geese.

They had sat together--not side by side, you understand, but the boys
on the right side of the room and the girls on the left--in the little
class-room where M. le Cur taught them their alphabet and
subsequently the catechism; and also that two and two make four. They
had knelt side by side in the little primitive church at Laragne,
their little souls overburdened with emotion and religious fervor,
when they made their first communion: Fluerette in a beautiful white
dress, with a wealth of white roses on her fair hair, and a long tulle
veil that descended right down to her feet; and Amd in an exquisite
cloth coat with brass buttons, a silk waistcoat, buckled shoes and a
white ribbon sash on his left arm.

And when Amd had been old enough to be entrusted with his father's
errands over at Serres, a couple of leagues away, Fluerette had
climbed behind him on the saddle, and with her arms round his waist,
so as to keep herself steady, they had ridden together along the
winding road white with dust, Ginette, the good old mare, ambling very
leisurely as if she knew that her riders were in no hurry to get
anywhere that day.

And now Fluerette was eighteen and Amd twenty, and her hair was like
ripe corn, and her eyes as blue as the sky on a midsummer morn, whilst
her mouth was dewy and fragrant as a rose in June. No wonder that poor
Amd felt as if his feet were of lead and his neck too big for his
cravat, and when presently she asked him to fill a vase with water out
of the carafe so that she could place the beautiful flowers in it, is
it a wonder that he spilt the water all over the floor, seeing that
his clumsy hands met her dainty fingers around the neck of the carafe?

The good Hector pretended to be very angry with his son for his
clumsiness.

"Voyez-moi cet imbecile!" he said in that gruff voice of his which had
become a habit with him, because he had to use it all day in order to
ward off the naughty village urchins who tried to steal the apples out
of his shop.

"Mam'zelle Fluerette, why don't you box his ears?"

Which, of course, was a very funny proposition that caused Fleurette
and Amd to laugh immoderately first and then to whisper and to chaff
whilst they mopped the water off the tiled floor. And the good Hector
turned once more to Bibi, and shaking his powerful first at nothing in
particular, he brought it down with a crash upon the table.

"And now those gredins, those limbs of Satan are taking him away for
cannon-fodder! Ah! the devils! the pigs! the pig-devils!"

Bibi looked up inquiringly.

"Taking him away, are they?" he asked dryly. Then he added with an
indifferent shrug of the shoulders: "Amd is twenty, isn't he?"

"What's that to do with their dragging him away from me, when I want
him to help in the shop?" Hector retorted with what he felt was
unanswerable logic.

"What would be the good of keeping shop, my good Hector," Bibi
rejoined simply, "if France was invaded by foreigners as she is
already ruined by traitors?"

"Well! And isn't she ruined now by all those devils up in Paris who
can think of nothing better than war or murder?" growled Hector
Colombe, heedless of the quick gesture of warning which Bibi had given
him.

Adle, the girl from the village who gave old Louise a hand about the
house when Bibi was at home, had just come in from the kitchen with a
pile of plates and dishes which she proceeded to range upon the
dresser. Hector shrugged his big shoulders. Whoever would think of
taking notice of Adle? A wench who got five souls a day for scrubbing
floors! An undersized, plain-faced creature with flat feet and red
elbows. Bah!

But Bibi still put up a warning finger:

"Little pitchers have long ears," he said in a whisper.

"Oh! I know, I know," Hector rejoined gruffly. "It is the fashion
these days for us all to spy upon one another. A pretty pass they have
brought us to," he added, "your friends in Paris."

To this Bibi made no reply. No doubt he knew that it was impossible to
argue with Hector, once the worthy epicier was in one of his moods.
Adle had finished her task and glided out of the room, silent,
noiseless, furtive as a little rat, which she vaguely resembled with
small, keen eyes, and pointed nose and chin. In a corner of the room,
by the window, still busy with those flowers which seemingly would not
set primly in the vase, Fluerette and Amd were talking under their
breath.

"I'm going away, Mam'zelle Fluerette," said he.

"Going away, M'sieu' Amd? Whither? When?"

"They want me in the army."

"What for?" she asked naively.

"To fight against the English."

"But you won't go, will you, M'sieu' Amd?"

"I must, Mam'zelle Fluerette."

"Oh, but what shall I--I mean, what will M'sieu' Colombe do? You must
remain here, to help him in the shop." And fight against it as she
would, there was an uncomfortable little lump in her throat when she
pictured how terribly lost M'sieu' Colombe would be without his son.

"Father is very angry," Amd said rather hoarsely, because he too had
an uncomfortable lump in his throat now. "But it seems there's nothing
to be done. I have to go."

"When?" Fluerette murmured, so softly, so softly, that only a lover's
ears could possibly have caught the whisper.

"I have to present myself tomorrow," Amd replied, "before M'sieu' le
Commissaire de Police at Serres."

"Tomorrow? And I have been so happy today!"

The cry came from an overburdened little heart, brought face to face
with its first sorrow. Fluerette no longer attempted to keep back her
tears, and Amd, not quite sure whether he should cry because he was
going away or dance with joy because it was his going away that was
making Fluerette cry, but in time by wiping his face which was
streaming with perspiration and tears.

"I wish I could at least have seen those children wedded," the worthy
epicier muttered in the interval of blowing his nose with an noise
like a cloudburst. "At least," he added with the good round oath which
he reserved for occasions such as these, "before they take my Amd
away."

Bibi on the other hand appeared to be more philosophical.

"We must wait for better times," he said, "and anyhow Fluerette is too
young to marry."



Chapter 5

Parting is not such sweet sorrow as the greatest of all poets would
have us believe. At any rate Fleurette did not find it at all sweet,
on this her eighteenth birthday, which should have been a very happy
one.

It was bad enough saying "adieu" to Bibi. But Fleurette was accustomed
to that. Of late Bibi had been so often and so long absent from home:
sometimes weeks--nay! months---would elapse, and there would be no
Bibi to fondle Fleurette and bring life and animation within those
white-washed walls that held all that was dearest to her in the world.
It was undoubtedly heart-rending to bid Bibi adieu: but in a way, one
knew that the darling would come back to Lou Mas as soon as he was
able, come for one of those surprise visits that made Fleurette as gay
as a linnet all the while they lasted. But to say goodbye to Amd was
a different matter. He was going into the army. He was going to fight
the English. Le Bon Dieu alone knew if Amd would ever come back.
Perhaps he would be killed. Perhaps--oh! perhaps--

Never in her life had Fleurette been so sad.

And now the last of the goodbyes had been said. Bibi, accompanied by
M'sieu' Colombe and Amd, had walked away in the direction of the
village, where he would pick up his horse, and start along the main
road that led to Serres and thence to Paris.

Fleurette remained on the bridge for some time, shading her eyes
against the sun, because they ached so from all the tears which she
had shed. The three men had become mere specks, 'way down the road:
old Louise had gone back to her kitchen with Adle, only Fleurette
remained standing on the bridge alone. Tears were still running down
her cheeks, whilst with aching eyes she strove to catch a last sight
of Bibi as he and his two companions disappeared round the bend of the
road. Or was it Amd she was trying to see?

The afternoon sun had spread a mantle of gold over the snowy crests of
Pelvoux: on the sapphire sky myriads of tiny clouds seemed to hold
hearts of living flame in their fleecy bosoms. The wavy ribbon of the
Bueche was like a giant mirror that reflected a whole gamut of glowing
tints, blue and gold, and purple, whilst on the winding road, the
infinitesimal atoms of dust seemed like low-lying clouds of powdered
topaz. Suddenly in the direction of Sisteron those clouds rose, more
dense: something more solid than powdered topaz, animated the
distance: grew gradually more tangible and then became definite.
Fleurette now could easily distinguish ten or a dozen men coming this
way. They all wore red caps on their heads. Ahead of them came a man
on horseback. He wore a tricorne hat, adorned with a tricolour
cockade, and the sun drew sparks of flame from the steel bit in his
horse's mouth and from the brass bosses and buckles on the harness.

Now Fleurette could hear the dull stamping of hoofs on the dusty road,
and the tramping of heavy, weary footsteps: and she watched,
fascinated, these men coming along.

All at once the rider put his horse to a trot, and the next moment he
reined in on the bridge. He put out his hand and cried a sharp:
"Halte!" whereupon the other men all came to a halt. Fleurette stood
there wondering what all this meant. Vaguely she guessed that these
men must be soldiers, though, of a truth, with the exception of the
one on horseback and who appeared to be their officer, there was very
little that was soldierly about them. Their red caps were of worsted,
and adorned with what had once been a tricolour cockade, but was now
so covered with dust that the colours were well-nigh
indistinguishable. The men's coats, too, once blue in colour and
fitted with brass buttons, were torn and faded, with several buttons
missing: their breeches were stained with mud, they had no stocking
inside their shoes, and it would have been impossible to say
definitely whether their shirts had been of a drabby grey when they
were new, or whether they had become so under stress of wear and dirt.
Fleurette's recollection flew back to the smart soldiers she used to
see when she was a tiny tot and Bibi took her to Serres or Sisteron on
fte days when the military band would march past in their beautiful
clothes all glittering with brass buttons, and their boots polished up
so that you could almost see yourself in them.

But there! every one knew that these were terribly hard times and that
new clothes were very, very dear: So Fleurette supposed that the poor
soldiers had to wear out their old ones just like everybody else. And
her sensitive little heart gave an extra throb or two, for she had
suddenly remembered that M'sieu' Amd would also be a soldiers very
soon, wearing a shabby coat, and perhaps no stockings inside his
shoes. Still thinking of M'sieu' Amd, she was very polite to the man
on horseback, although he was unnecessarily abrupt with her, asking
her gruffly whether Citizen Armand was within.

Fleurette said "No!" quite gently, and then, choosing to ignore the
coarse manner in which the man uttered a very ugly oath, she went on:
"Father has been gone a quarter of an hour and more, and if you--"

"Citizen Armand, I asked for," the officer broke in roughly, "not our
father."

"Father's name is Armand," Fleurette said, still speaking very
politely. "I thought you were asking for him."

The horseman, she thought, realizing his mistake, should have excused
himself for speaking so rudely: but he did nothing of the sort. He
just shrugged his soldiers and said in a very curious way, which
sounded almost like a sneer:

"Oh! is that how it is? You are Citizen Armand's daughter, are you?"

"Yes! M'sieu' l'officier."

"Call me citizen lieutenant," the man retorted roughly. "Hasn't your
father taught you to speak like a good patriot?"

Fleurette would not have admitted for the world that she was half-
afraid of this unkempt, unshaved officer with the gruff voice, but she
felt intimidated, shy, ill at ease. She would have given worlds to
have some one friendly beside her, old Louise, or even Adle.

"Shall I call Ma'ame Louise," she suggested, "to speak with her?"

"No," the man replied curtly, "what's the use if your father isn't
there? Which way did he go?"

"To the village first, M'sieu'--I mean citizen, to pick up his horse
which he always leaves at M'sieu' Colombe's stables. He is going to
Paris afterwards."

"How far is it to the village?"

"Less than a quarter of a league--er--citizen."

"And the house," the officer asked again, "where the ci-devant
Frontenacs live, is that far?"

"About half a league by the road from here," Fleurette replied, "the
other side of the village. There is a short cut behind this house,
past the mill, but--"

The man, however, was no longer listening to what she said. He
muttered something that sounded very like an oath, and then turned to
the soldiers: "Allons! Marche!" he commanded sharply. The men appeared
terribly dusty and tired and hardly made a movement to obey: at the
first call of "Halte", some of them had thrown themselves down by the
edge of the road and stretched out full length on the heaps of hard
stones pile up there; others had wandered down the slope by the
bridge, and lying flat on the ground were slaking their thirst in the
cool, clear water of the stream. Fleurette was very sorry for them.

"May they wait a moment, M'sieu' le--I mean, citizen lieutenant," she
pleaded. "I'll get them something to drink. We haven't much, but I
know Louise won't--"

But the officer took no further notice either of her or of the men.
Having given his order to march, he had readjusted the reins in his
hands, and struck his spurs somewhat viciously into his horse's
flanks. The horse reared and plunged for a moment, then started off at
a sharp trot, clouds of dust flying out from under its hoofs.

The men made an effort to rise. Fleurette put up a finger and smiled
at them all.

"Wait one minute," she said, and ran quickly back into the house.

There was the best part of a bottle left of that good red wine: Bibi
had not touched it again after he broke the stem of his glass.
Fleurette had picked up the bottle and taken a tin mug from the
dresser and was about to start out again before Louise thought of
asking her what she was up to.

"There are some poor, tired soldiers outside on the bridge," Fleurette
replied, "I want to take them something to drink. There's not much of
it, and twelve of them to share it, but it will be better than
nothing, and perhaps le bon Dieu will make a miracle and make it be
enough. They seemed so thirsty, poor dears."

"Let Adle go," Louise said curtly. "I don't like you speaking with
those vagabonds."

And while Adle ran out, as she was bid, with mug and bottle, Louise
continued to mutter half under her breath:

"I can't abide these sans-culottes. Brigands the lot of them. What are
they doing in the neighbourhood, I'd like to know. Up to no good you
may depend. Let Adle talk to them. It is not fit for a well-brought-
up wench like you to be seen in such company."

Fleurette did not pay much attention to old Louise's mutterings. There
was plenty to do in the house with washing up and tidying things away.
And it was Louise's habit to grumble at anything that was in any way
unusual: a wet day in August, or a mild one in December, a caleche on
the road, a horseman, a soldier, or a letter for Bibi. She was always
called "old Louise" although, in truth, she had scarce reached middle
age; but her skin was dry and rough like the soil of her native
Dauphin, her face and hands were prematurely wrinkled, and her voice
had become harsh of late, probably for want of use, like a piece of
mechanism that has stood still and begun to grind for want of a
lubricant. In Armand's house, when he was absent, she ruled supreme.
Fleurette never dreamed of disobeying, and Armand's only peremptory
orders to Louise were never to mention politics or current events to
the child.

Louise had nursed Fleurette at her breast when Fleurette's mother died
in child-bed, and she had left her own baby in the care of her sister,
already a widow and childless. Considerations of money had prompted
her at the time, for Monsieur Armand, as he was then, had made her
liberal offers: afterwards, it was too late to regret. Her own
daughter, Adle, born of an unknown father who loved and rode away,
had been brought up to a life of drudgery by her aunt, who sent the
girl out to earn her own living as soon as she could toddle, whilst
Fleurette was brought up to have everything she wanted; petted and
idolized by a father plentifully supplied with money. Fleurette and
Adle were foster-sisters, but with destinies as wide apart as the
peaks of Pelvoux.

But Louise never spoke one bitter word when she saw Adle with toil-
worn hands scrubbing the kitchen floor on which Fleurette trod with
dainty, high-heeled shoes. Perhaps she loved her foster-child more
than she did her own; perhaps it was only the same considerations of
money that had already guided her conduct before, that prompted her
later to indulgence towards the rich mans' daughter, whilst reserving
her pent-up acrimony for the household drudge. No one knew what
Louise's feelings were toward Adle--Adle herself least of all. The
girl was silent, reserved, self-contained, very conscientious in her
work, but not very responsive to the many kindnesses shown her by
M'sieu' Armand or Mam'zelle Fleurette. She still lived with her aunt
who had brought her up, and she appeared to lay no claim to her
mother's affection: she had earned her own living ever since she was
ten years of age, and now, at eighteen, she looked more like a woman
than a girl: her little face was all pinched up, the lips thin, the
eyes either sharp as needless or expressionless like those of a
rodent. She hardly ever spoke and no one had ever seen her smile.

Old Louise's mutterings presently turned toward Adle's prolonged
absence:

"What is the girl about now, I should like to know? She is not a
gossip as a rule."

She went on with her washing up for a moment or two longer, and then
said sharply:

"Run along, Fleurette, and see what the wench is doing. Lazy baggage,
with all the work there's still to do."

Fleurette ran out at once. She too wondered why Adle was such a long
time. And there, sure enough, standing on the bridge, was Adle
talking to the soldiers. The officer was already out of sight. Adle
talking! and Fleurette even thought that she heard her giggle.
Incredible! The soldiers were all laughing, and one of them was in the
act of drinking the last drop out of the tin mug.

Fleurette stood for a moment on the doorstep, vaguely wondering what
in the world had come over Adle, when a rather curious incident
occurred: the soldiers were all laughing, jesting apparently with the
girl, and one of them, with head tilted back, was draining the last
drop out of the tin mug. Fleurette was on the point of calling to
Adle when her attention was arrested by the appearance of an old man
carrying what looked like a load of faggots tied up in coarse sacking.
He seemed to have climbed the slopes on the opposite side of the road;
at any rate there he was, all of a sudden, immediately behind the
group of soldiers.

He appeared to be drunk, for he staggered as he walked and leaned
heavily on a stout gnarled stick. Fleurette could not have told you
exactly how it all happened, but all of a sudden Adle's giggling and
the soldiers' jests were interrupted by the old faggot-carrier
tumbling down clumsily, right between them all.

Adle screamed. The soldiers swore, and one of them went to the length
of giving the old man a savage kick, whilst two others incontinently
picked him up between them and flung him over the parapet of the
bridge. Fleurette gave a cry of dismay and ran to the poor man's
assistance. She felt hot with indignation at such wanton brutality.
How right, she thought as she ran, had old Louise's estimate been of
these soldiers---little better than brigands they were, and cruel to
boot. The poor faggot-carrier, for such he seemed to be, was lying
half in and half out of the stream: the grass and sloping ground had
somewhat broken his fall, but nevertheless there he lay, motionless
and groaning piteously. Fleurette called peremptorily to Adle to come
and help her hoist up the poor man on his legs again. He was very
dirty, dressed in nothing but rags, his feet swathed in coarse bass
matting; he was stockingless, shirtless and hatless; but he appeared
to be powerfully built and Fleurette marveled how he could have
allowed himself to be thus maltreated without a struggle. No doubt he
was drunk or crippled with rheumatism.

Up on the bridge the soldiers were preparing to start once more on
their way. They took no more notice of their unfortunate victim nor of
Adle; but Fleurette looking up felt that their last glance was for
her; some of them were regarding her with a leer, others with more
pronounced malevolence. She distinctly saw one man nudge his neighbour
and point a finger at her: whereat both of them gave a mocking laugh.

She felt hurt and indignant: in her sheltered life she had never met
with malevolence before. However, for the moment, her first care was
for the poor faggot-carrier. Adle had come to her assistance, and
together the two girls succeeded in getting the old man on his legs
again. He appeared more scared than hurt, and with his big, toil-
stained hands, he felt himself all over to see, perhaps, if any bones
were broken; and all the while he kept on murmuring rather
pathetically: "Nom de nom, de nom de Dieu!" as if surprised that such
a tragic adventure should have happened to him.

Fleurette asked him if he were hurt, and he replied: "No,
Mam'zelle..that is citizeness," and he added: "Ah, I shall never get
used to these new ways. I am too old."

"Can you get on your way now?" Fleurette asked.

"Yes! yes, Mam'zelle, that is citizeness. But," he went on piteously,
"I am so hungry. I come from over Mison way and I have not had a bite
since seven o'clock this morning."

This naturally stirred Fleurette's kind, compassionate heart. She told
Adle to run into the house and ask Louise for a hunk of bread. Adle,
silent and self-contained once more, obeyed without comment. The
incident was closed as far as Fleurette was concerned. Her thoughts
flew back to Amd and to his last day and evening which he would be
spending in his cozy home. She wished she had been bold enough to ask
him to come and bid her a last adieu tomorrow morning before he went
away to fight the English.

And while she stood there gazing out over the valley where the metal
cross on the church steeple of Laragne glistened like gold in the
sunlight, a strange voice--soft yet firm--suddenly struck her ear from
somewhere close behind her.

"Papers and valuables are behind the panel in Madame's room."

She swung round terrified, so terrified that the cry she was about to
utter died away in her throat. She looked about her, scared, shivering
with that nameless dread which assails every mortal in face of the
supernatural. And yet everything seemed as peaceful as before: the
little mill stream splashed and gurgled with its soft, persistent
sound; in the old walnut tree a thrush was calling to its mate and the
old faggot-carrier was busy tying up his faggots into the sacking
again. Fleurette's eyes rested for an instant anxiously upon him. She
expected to see him raise his head, to look about him, to appear
scared as she was herself; but he gave no sign of having heard
anything of that mysterious voice, fresh and compelling like a command
from heaven. Oh no! Fleurette could not have screamed. She was too
panic-stricken just at first to utter a sound. And yet nothing had
really happened to alarm the most timorous. Only those few words
spoken by an unseen tongue. What did they mean? What could they mean?
They were simple and commonplace enough: Fleurette repeated them to
herself mechanically:

"Papers and valuables are behind the panel in Madame's room."

What did it mean? What papers? what valuables? and why should the
mysterious speaker have wished her to know that they were behind the
panel in Madame's room? Madame was, of course, Madame de Frontenacs
over at the chteau, and all of a sudden Fleurette remembered that the
mounted soldier had asked her the way to the chteau. Gradually she
was feeling less scared. Less scared but more excited. She looked
round at the statue of St. Antoine, at whose feet she had this morning
placed a fresh bunch of forget-me-nots. Somehow she associated the
mysterious voice with St. Antoine. Perhaps Madame had lost some
valuable papers, and the kind saint had chosen this means of letting
her know where her treasure was. Fleurette made the sign of the cross
on her bosom; she remembered the story of Jeanne d'Arc which M. le
Cur had used to tell her, of how the humble shepherdess of Domrmy
had been compelled by heavenly voices to go forth and deliver France
from her enemies and never rest until she had seen the King crowned in
his cathedral of Rheims.

Fleurette felt something of that same fervour which had animated
Jeanne d'Arc. She felt that she must go forth and tell Madame about
the valuables and the papers. The evening was warm and she would not
need her shawl. She could go just as she was as far as the chteau and
be back before the twilight had faded into night. Adle in the
meanwhile appeared at the front door, she had her shawl over her head,
and a hunk of bread in her hand. Then only did Fleurette remember the
old faggot-carrier. She turned in order to bid him "Godspeed." He
stood there quite motionless, leaning upon his stick, bending under
the weight of his load of faggots which he had hoisted upon his back.
His lank hair hung over his wrinkled forehead and half concealed his
eyes. But suddenly through the veil of lank grey hair Fleurette met
the mans' glance fixed upon her; and her heart gave a queer jump.
Those were not the eyes of a decrepit old man; they were young and
clear and bright: of a luminous grey-blue, with heavy lids that could
not wholly conceal the humorous twinkle in the eyes, nor yet the
kindly, searching glance which was fixed on Fleurette.

This was the moment when she really would have screamed. The sense of
something ununderstandable and unreal was more than she could bear,
she would have screamed, but those twinkly, searching eyes held her,
and at the same time seemed to reassure her, to tell her not to be
afraid. She felt as if she were in a dream: unable to do anything,
only to stare and stare at the old faggot-carrier, while gradually all
her terrors seemed to fall away from her, and she was filled with a
sense of courage and of determination. The whole incident, the voice,
the glance, her terror and reassurance had lasted less than five
seconds. Already Adle was close by. She was bringing the bread for
the poor, half-starved man, and Fleurette now watched him, fascinated,
as he took the bread with a humble: "Merci, Mam'zelle," and started at
once on it, like a man who has not tasted food all day. He was just a
decrepit old man, bent with rheumatism, dirty, unkempt, insecure on
his tottering limbs. He even raised his eyes once, and once more
looked at her; but the glance was dim like that of an old man; there
was no twinkle in the eyes, only the weariness of poverty and old age.

And Fleurette felt that she had dreamed it all: the voice, the glance,
the message from St. Antoine, just as her terrors had faded from her,
so now her excitement vanished too. It must all have been a dream. It
was a dream! Perhaps old Louise, who was versed in all kinds of
dreamlore, would know of an explanation for the whole mysterious
occurrence. Feeling very tired all of a sudden--for she felt the
reaction after the tenseness of the last few moments, she went back
into the house. In the doorway she turned to have a last look at the
old faggot-carrier; leaning heavily on his stick, he was making his
way along the bank of the stream. The last she saw of him was his big
bundle done up in sacking and his legs bending beneath the weight.

Adle wrapped in her shawl had gone the other way. She was already up
on the bridge. With a little sigh of disappointment Fleurette went
into the house. It had been such an exciting dream!

But she did not speak about it to old Louise; she just went quietly
about the house, doing one or two little bits of work that Adle had
left undone.

The slowly sinking sun had turned the gold on Pelvoux's snowy crest to
a brilliant rose, when Fleurette suddenly announced to Louise that she
was going over to the chteau. She often went there, and at all hours
of the day.

"So long as you are home before dark," was Louise's only remark. "I
don't like those down-at-heel soldiers being about."

Fleurette promised that she would not be late. She picked up her
beautiful new shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders. The chteau
was not far; over by the mountain track, it was not more than a
quarter of a league at most. Swiftly Fleurette ran out of the house
and then along the edge of the stream--the same way that the old
faggot-carrier had gone an hour so ago.

And now the mantle of twilight was falling over the valley; the jade-
coloured sky held myriads of tiny, fleecy clouds of a brilliant,
glowing crimson, which one by one faded into grey along the snow of
Pelvoux reflected the glory of the sinking sun, and in the old walnut-
tree the thrush's song was stilled.



Chapter 6

The place was always called le chteau for want of a more appropriate
name. As a matter of fact it was just a large, rumbling roomy
farmhouse with stables and stable-yards and sheds and outbuildings,
all built in a mass and at different times as necessity demanded, in
the midst of a really fine park, shady with century old trees and
fragrant with accacias and roses. Here for many generations the de
Frontenacs, father and son, had lived, toiled, and died, farming their
land, honouring their King and otherwise not troubling their heads
over much with politics or with art or literature. They were good,
kindly, honest folk, all of them, and if the light of their intellect
burned somewhat dim, that of their charity was always kept fed and
bright.

They belonged to that sturdy stock which had given France one of her
most valiant sons in Louis de Frontenac, the man who had made Eastern
Canada a jewel worthy of the crown of France. The jewel had been lost
since then, irretrievably lost to the English, and the crown of France
been dragged in the mire of a bloody revolution, its glory forever
overshadowed by the unforgivable crime of a purposeless regicide: but
the present holder of the ancient name and owner of the lands had kept
himself aloof from the awful dissension that raged in the big cities;
he had remained in his heart loyal to his martyred King, and though
shorn of most of his wealth, deprived of a great deal of his
inheritance, perpetually threatened with confiscation or attainder, he
continued to lead the simple life, hoping for better things, detached
as far as he was able from the turmoil that was ruining his country
and shaming her in the eyes of the world.

At all seasons of the year, and in all weathers, he could be seen out
on his farm, directing the work in fields or stables, clad in rough
boots and breeches, abrupt of speech, but kindly in deeds, beloved by
some, envied by others, hated only by those few who see in every noble
life a reproach to their own.

His wife was the daughter of an Admirable in the late King's navy, who
had thought it prudent to serve the Republic, as he had served his
King, with commendable detachment from his country's politics. Though
brought up in the midst of the gaieties and luxuries of Paris, Anne de
Grandville had been quite content to follow the husband of her choice
to the lonely house in the Dauphin, and to fall in with his bucolic
ways: she donned a cotton kirtle and linen apron as readily as she had
donned silken panniers in the past, and took as much pride in her
cooking now as she had done once in her proficiency in the dance.

At one time Charles de Frontenac had sorely grieved because he had no
son to whom he could bequeath his glorious name and fine inheritance,
but now he was glad. With France handed over to the control of
assassins, bandits, and regicides, the name of Frontenac might, he
opined, just as well die out. What was the use of toiling to improve
land which tomorrow might be wrested from its rightful owners: what
was the use of saving money which would probably on the morrow fall
into the hands of brigands? "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on
this earth where rust and moth doth corrupt and where thieves break
through and steal!" had never been so wise an admonition as it was
today.. All that Charles de Frontenac hoped to do was to put by a
sufficient competence to keep his wife and invalid daughter in comfort
once he was under the ground. That daughter was the apple of his eye.
Bereft of position and most of his wealth, all his thoughts and hopes
were centered on this delicate being who seemed like the one ray of
sunshine amidst thunder-clouds of disappointment and treachery.

Rose de Frontenac had been a cripple from birth, and it was her
delicacy and her helplessness that had so endeared her to her father.
He was a man resplendent with vigor and of herculean strength: one of
those bull-necked men who could have taken his place in an ox-team and
not proved a weakling. His hands were rough, his fist as hard as a
hammer. His clothes smelt of damp earth and of manure; the descendent
of a long line of aristocrats, Charles de Frontenac, was above all a
son of the soil. To him his pale-faced, fragile daughter seemed like a
being from another world; he hardly dared touch her cheek with his
thick, clumsy fingers, nor dared he approach her save after copious
ablutions and sprays of scent. His heart was as big as his body. He
adored his daughter, he loved his wife, he beamed with fondness for
Fleurette: Fleurette who was as gay as a linnet, who could always
bring a smile to the pale lips of his wan, white Rose: Fleurette, who
could sing like a lark, prattle like a young sparrow and whose corn-
coloured hair smelt of wild thyme and of youth.



Chapter 7

Fleurette had walked very fast. She was still tremendously excited and
would have ran all the way, only that the road for the most part led
sharply uphill and that her heart was beating and pumping wildly with
agitation.

Strangely enough the gates of the park were wide open, which was very
unusual, as they were always kept closed for fear of the foot-pads and
vagabonds. Old Pierre, who was in charge of the gate, was nowhere to
be seen. Fleurette ran along the sanded avenue which, bordered by
bosquets of acacia and elder, led in sharp curves up to the house.
Twilight was slowly fading into evening, but even through the
gathering darkness Fleurette noticed that the avenue, usually so
beautifully raked and tidy, was all trampled and knocked about as if
by the weight of many heavy feet. A minute later the main block of the
chteau stood out before her, like a solid mass silhouetted against a
jade-coloured sky. Just above the pointed roof of the turret at the
furthest angle above the faade, a star shone with a cold, silvery
radiance.

The entrance into the main building was under a broad archway which
intersected the faade and led into the great farmyard and to the
sheds and farm buildings. Fleurette felt vaguely conscious that
something unusual had occurred at the chteau; though the place looked
peaceful enough, it appeared strangely deserted at this hour, when
usually men and maids were still about their work. She slipped quickly
under the archway, and turning sharply to the left, she came to the
great paved hall where servants and farm hands sat at meals.

She found the place in a strange state of confusion: the men--they
were all old men these days, as all the young ones had had to go and
join the army and fight the English--the men were standing about in
groups, talking and gesticulating with their arms, after the manner of
the people of Dauphin, who are glib of speech and free with their
gestures; the maids were gathered together in the dark corner of the
room, holding their aprons to their eyes. The oil lamp which hung from
the whitewashed ceiling had not yet been lit: only one or two tallow-
candles on the table guttered in their pewter scones.

Old Mathieu, who was the acknowledged father of the staff and who was
affectionately called Papa by the maids, was the first to spy
Fleurette, who stood disconcerted in the doorway.

"Ah! Mam'zelle Fleurette! Mam'zelle Fleurette!" he exclaimed and
lifted his hands and cast up his eyes with an expression of woe: "Quel
malheur! Mon Dieu, quel malheur!"

He had on his bottle-green coat, his buckled shoes, and the white
cotton gloves which he wore when he served the family at meals
upstairs. They had just finished dinner, it seems, when the awful
calamity occurred.

"But what is it, papa?" Fleurette asked, feeling quite ready to cry in
sympathy. "What has happened?"

"The soldiers, Mam'zelle!" Papa replied, and a fresh groan went the
round of men and women alike, and one or two of the girls sobbed
aloud.

Now as far as Fleurette was concerned, as recently as this very
morning, the inner meaning of these words "the soldiers!" would not
perhaps have had much significance. In her own little home, by Bibi's
strict orders, politics and social questions were never discussed.
Fleurette was not supposed to know anything of the conflicts that were
raging in the great cities, in the name of liberty and of fraternity.
The horrors of summary arrests, of perquisitions, of sentences without
trial, of wholesale executions, of hatred and revenge and lust were
supposed to be beyond her ken; and knowing Bibi's abhorrence of those
subjects being broached, she kept her counsels and her knowledge to
herself. But Fleurette was not brainless, and she had a large heart.
With her brain she had noted many things which were willfully kept
away from her, and her kind heart had often been filled with pity at
many of the tales which she had heard in the village, tales of
suffering under this new kind of tyranny wielded, it seems, in the
name of liberty and of the brotherhood of man. She had heard many
things and had forgotten nothing; but somehow until this morning these
things had seemed remote, like the tales of ogres and demons which are
told to frighten children. She had not disbelieved them, but vaguely
she felt that nothing of the sort could possibly happen to people whom
she knew and loved.

But since this morning many things had occurred which had widened her
range of vision. Amd, who did not want to go away, was being dragged
from his home in order to be made into a soldier and to fight the
English. She had actually seen some of those soldiers, ragged, uncouth
and unkempt, with their officer, like a great bully, speaking to her,
as if she were a mere slut out of the streets. He had jeered when she
told him that she was Citizen Armand's daughter, and the soldiers had
nudged one another and seemed to mock her when she met their glance.
Then again she had heard the mysterious voices and seen something in
the person of a decrepit old faggot-carrier that had thrilled and
puzzled her. All these things had worked a subtle change in Fleurette.
The tales of ogres and demons no longer appeared quite so remote. The
fact that there were evil and sorrow in the world had in a vague kind
of way been brought home to her, and also that the spectre of death
and misery of which she had only heard was actually lurking in this
peaceful corner of Dauphin and had already knocked at this very door.

"The soldiers!" meant something to her now.

"What happened?" she asked, and a dozen tongues were ready to embark
on the telling of the tragic event. It was just after dinner. Madame
and Mademoiselle had retired to the boudoir, as usual, and monsieur
was sipping his wine in the dining room, when the great bell at the
gate clanged loudly. Pierre, who was still at work in the stables, ran
to open the gate: he was almost knocked down by two men on horseback
who, without a word or question, rode past him along the avenue up to
the house followed by a dozen men or more in tattered uniforms and
wearing dirty read caps on their heads. The sound of horses and of men
stamping the ground brought some of the maids and farmhands out into
the yard. The soldiers had come to a halt under the archway, the two
riders then dismounted and ordered Andr to take their horses round to
the stables. Andr, of course, did not dare disobey. Then, as the
entrance door was closed, one of the soldiers knocked loudly against
it with the butt-end of his musket, whilst one of those who had been
on horseback and who appeared to be in authority called out summarily:

"Open in the name of the Republic!"

Old Mathieu, who was upstairs clearing away the dinner things,
terribly scared, ran down to open the door. Again without a word or
question, the soldiers pushed past him until they came to the
vestibule where they demanded to know where were the ci-devant
Frontenacs. Old Mathieu here paused in his narrative and once more
threw up his hands and cast up his eyes in horror.

"Ci-devant, mam'zelle!" he exclaimed. "I ask you! Just as those devils
up in Paris talked of our poor martyred King and Queen!"

Of course he tried to stop the brigands from going up to see Madame
like that, in their dusty shoes and dirty clothes. But what could he
do alone among so many? Ah! if only Baptiste and Jean, Achille and
Henri had been there, as in the good old days, fine sturdy fellows of
the Dauphin: they would soon have got the better of these down-at-
heel bandits, and if it was a case of protecting Madame and
Mademoiselle, why! there would have been some broken heads, and the
soldiers of the Republic would have sung another song than they were
singing now, the muckworms! But there! Henri and Andr and the lot of
the young ones had all been taken for cannon-fodder, to fight against
the English, and there were only a few fogies left now like he--
Mathieu--and the women.

Anyway, poor old papa was helpless. All he could do was to precede
those hell-hounds upstairs, so that he might at least warn Monsieur of
what was coming. But even this they would not let him do; as soon as
he had reached the upstairs landing, the same man who had ordered him
to open the front door in the name of the Republic, and who wore a
tricolour sash around his middle, this same man grabbed him by the
shoulder and thrust him aside as if he were a bundle of faggots. And
without more ado, he just walked into the dining room where Monsieur
was still quietly sipping his last glass of wine.

From seeing Monsieur sitting there, the beautiful long-stemmed wine
glass in his hand, his face quite serene, you would have thought that
he had heard nothing of the turmoil on the stairs. But he had heard
everything, the tramping of feet, the rough voices, the curt command
to open in the name of the Republic. He knew what was coming. Perhaps
he had expected it long ago. It was well to be prepared for anything
these days. Anyway, there he sat, glass in hand, his elbow resting on
the table, where Mathieu had but a few minutes ago been engaged in
clearing away the dessert. At the rude entry made by all those
ragamuffins into his beautifully ordered dining room, he just turned
his head and looked at the men.

"In the name of the Republic," the man with the sash said curtly.

Monsieur put his glass down and rose slowly to his feet.

"What is it you want?" he asked quietly.

"The rest of the family, first of all," the man with the sash replied.
"I want you all here together."

"Madame de Frontenac and my daughter Rose are not at home," said
Monsieur, still speaking very quietly.

"That's a lie," the other retorted. "They were at meal here with you."

And with careless finger he pointed to the serviettes and plates which
still littered the table. Monsieur did not wince under the insult; nor
was the saying of such a brigand an insult to so high-minded a
gentleman as Monsieur. All he said was:

"That is so. Madame and Mlle. de Frontenac were at dinner with me,
until half an hour ago when they left the house together."

"Whither did they go?"

"That I do not know."

"Which is another lie."

"If I did know," Monsieur rejoined imperturbably, "I would not tell
you."

"We'll soon see about that," the man with the sash said grimly. He
then turned to the soldier who appeared to be in command over the
others: "Allons! citizen lieutenant," he said curtly, "the rest is
your business. The two women have got to be found. Thats the first
thing, after that we shall see."

The officer then ordered two of his men to stand on guard over
Monsieur, and since then the tramp, tramp of the soldiers' feet had
resounded throughout the chteau. Upstairs they went, and downstairs;
in Madame's room and in Mademoiselle's, in the kitchen, the stables,
the offices. They interrogated the men, they bullied the women; they
turned everything topsy-turvy; they raked about in the hay and the
straw of the stables, they scoured the park, they glued their ugly,
dirty noses to the sanded paths, trying to find the imprint of
footsteps. But neither of Madame or Mademoiselle had they yet found a
trace. They were still at it, raking and scouring and searching. In
the intervals they tried to browbeat Monsieur, threatening him with
summary shooting one moment, which only made him laugh and shrug his
shoulders, and promising immunity for his women-folk if he would say
where they could be found. But these promises only made Monsieur laugh
and again shrug his shoulders.

"Immunity?" he said. "They have that already, thank God! for they are
beyond your reach now. If they were not, do you think I would trust to
your promises?"

Old Mathieu paused. The story had neared its end:--this tale of woe
and anxiety and horror, such as the worthy old man had never thought
to see. The others had not much to say; the maids were still crying,
with excitement rather than grief, and the old men stared open-
mouthed, or sagely nodded their heads. "Then," Fleurette put in at
last, "Madame and Mademoiselle have gone. Really--really gone?"

Mathieu nodded with another sigh, half of perplexity, half of woe.

"But whither?" Fleurette insisted. "How? Why?"

"God alone knows, Mam'zelle," papa averred. "He has spirited Madame
and Mademoiselle away to save them from these brigands."

"Did anybody see them go?"

Men and maids shook their heads. No one had seen Madame or
Mademoiselle go. Old Mathieu was the last to have seen the ladies. He
had just begun to clear the table, when they rose, and, as was their
custom, went through to the boudoir. Mathieu had opened the door for
them. And now he came to think of it, the ladies had each kissed
Monsieur very tenderly before they went out of the room. Yes! the kiss
had seemed like a farewell. Mathieu shook his head dolefully: he
remembered it now, but hadn't thought anything about it at the moment.
Monsieur certainly appeared more thoughtful. Usually, while he drank
his last glass of wine and Mathieu was engaged in washing the silver
in the large copper bowl which he always brought into the room for
that purpose, Monsieur would chat with him, talk over the gossip of
the day. But tonight he had been unusually silent. Yes! Mathieu now
remembered quite distinctly about the kiss, and about Monsieur being
so silent. But he certainly had noticed nothing else unusual, until
the moment when those brigands banged at the door and demanded
admittance in the name of their godless Republic.

Mathieu was on the stairs at that moment, so he did not know how
Monsieur had looked when he heard all the tramping and the noise. But
Madame and Mademoiselle were gone, of that there could be no doubt.
The brigands had searched for them, like so many dogs digging for a
bone, and not a trace was there of the two ladies, for the bon Dieu,
no doubt, had made them invisible.

Of old Mathieu and the staff, the officer in command took no notice,
after he had summarily ordered them to muster up in the hall; he had
counted up the indoor servants and the farmhands; those who had their
homes outside the precincts of the chteau, he ordered roughly out of
the place.

"Get back to your homes!" he had said to them, after he had inspected
and questioned them; "and stay there quietly, if you value your
lives."

So there were only half a dozen old men, the four girls and the
staff's cook left in the chteau. All of them were scared, and as
Mam'zelle Fleurette could see, they just stood about and talked and
talked while the girls did nothing but cry. He--Mathieu--could do
nothing with any of them. The work of the house ought to be carried
on; none of them had had any supper yet. But there! young and old,
they were, all of them, too much upset to work or to eat; and the
tramp-tramp, upstairs and downstairs was nerve-shattering to
everybody.

Fleurette listened to the amazing story until the end. As Mathieu
said, there was the ceaseless tramping of feet still going on. They--
those horrible soldiers of the Republic, unworthy to be called
Frenchmen--were still searching for Madame and Mademoiselle in order
to drag them to Orange where the awful guillotine had been at work
these months past; or perhaps even to Paris--that den of horrors
beside which the stories of demons and ogres were but trivial tales.

Madame and Mademoiselle! who never in their lives had done harm to
anyone: but rather spent every hour of the day planning and executing
kind deeds! And Mademoiselle! so delicate and frail that even her
father, who idolized her, hardly dared touch her. And now these men,
these rough and uncouth soldiers, with their harsh voices and bullying
ways, to think of their approaching Mademoiselle, pushing her,
dragging her, it made Fleurette's blood boil even to think of such a
possibility. No wonder that the bon Dieu made them invisible to the
eyes of all those bandits.

Tramp! tramp! tramp! and now a loud banging as if pieces of furniture,
chairs, tables were being overturned, and then a crash, as of broken
china!

"Holy Virgin!" Papa Mathieu exclaimed with a loud groan; "to think of
Madame's beautiful things! Those brigands are furious at not finding
Madame and Mademoiselle, and are venting their wrath on inanimate
things."

It was these words of old Mathieu that sent Fleurette's thoughts
flying in another direction--back to the early afternoon of this
memorable day--back to the first visit of these awful soldiers, and to
the faggot-carrier with his bundle tied up in sacking. From thence to
the voice! The mysterious voice that had told her where valuables and
papers were to be found. It was such a flash of recollection that her
whole face became transfigured; anxiety and superstitious awe gave
place to that same fervour which had animated her when she met the
eyes of the faggot-carrier: eyes that conveyed a message, which at
last she was beginning to understand.

"Papa!" she cried impulsively.

"Yes, Mam'zelle?" Mathieu asked with another sigh.

"Did anything else happen--I mean anything unusual?--did Madame--or
Monsieur--receive a letter? a message? or--or did any other stranger
come to the chteau this afternoon?"

"Oh, think, Papa Mathieu, think," she implored with tears of agitation
choking her voice. "I cannot tell you how important it is. Try to
remember--was there anything?--anybody?--"

Papa persistently shook his head, until Pierre, who was the gate
keeper, reminded him that Monsieur had gone down the avenue as far as
the gate, just ten minutes before dinner was served.

"There's nothing very unusual in that," Mathieu retorted. "Monsieur is
often out just before dinner is served."

"Yes!" Pierre insisted. "But what did he do this evening? He walked
straight to the gate, which I had closed half an hour before. I saw
him. He walked straight to the gate, he did, and you know the old
acacia tree just the other side? Well! Monsieur put his foot on a bar
of the gate and reached over to the forked branch of the old tree. I
saw him quite plainly, I tell you. And when he walked back to the
house he had a piece of paper in his hand with some writing on it,
which he was reading. And I think, papa," Pierre concluded
triumphantly, "you'll have to admit that there was something unusual
in that ."

But Mathieu, with the obstinacy of old age and long service, would not
admit it, even now.

"Monsieur," he said, "met the mail-carrier at the gate, he often comes
at this hour. He gave Monsieur a letter. Monsieur often gets letters--
"

But here Andr interposed. Old Andr--they were all of them old--
worked in the stables, and it was he who had taken the two horses from
the soldiers when ordered to do so, and walked them around to the
stables. It was then that he noticed two beggars hanging about in the
yard: a man and a woman. He had peremptorily ordered them off the
premises.

"Beggars!" Fleurette exclaimed eagerly. "What were they like?"

Andr said that as the sun was in his eyes he couldn't see them very
well. There was a man and a woman. He was busy with the horses and
upset by the arrival of all these brigands. The woman he couldn't see
at all because of the shawl which covered her head, but he recollected
that the man was a big fellow, bent nearly double under a huge bundle
tied up in sacking.

"When I spoke to him," Andr went on, "he mumbled something or other,
but I just told him to clear out, he and his woman; we'd enough of
vagabonds, I said, in the place with all these soldiers."

"And did he go?" Fleurette asked.

"Yes! I must admit he went off quite quietly after that. I did not
think he meant any evil, because when he first caught sight of me he
did not attempt to hide or to run away."

"If he had," Andr went on after a moment or two, "I would have been
after him pretty quickly, and wanted to know what was in that big
bundle."

He paused, a look of perplexity and of shamefacedness came over his
wrinkled old face while he thoughtfully scratched his head: "Now I
think of it," he said, "I ought to have inspected that bundle. It
looked mighty heavy for faggots or for rags. Perhaps he had been up to
no good after all--and directly after I lost sight of him and his
woman I saw a whole lot of faggots lying in a heap close by the stable
door."

The other old men and the maids had gathered closer round Andr and
Fleurette. His was the first they had heard of the old vagabond and
his woman, and the bundle which appeared so heavy.

"You certainly ought to have inspected that bundle, Andr," Mathieu
said sententiously. He felt that there was a chance of recapturing his
dignity which seemed to have been slightly impaired through his
argument with Pierre. He could reassert his authority at any rate by
rebuking Andr. "It looks," he went on, "as if the old vagabond had
brought a lot of faggots with him, then turned them out of the sacking
and replaced them by God knows what valuables he may have stolen."

"I was so upset, you understand, papa!" Andr murmured ruefully.

"We were all of us upset, as you call it, Andr," papa rebuked
sternly, "but that is no excuse for neglect of duty."

"Don't scold Andr, papa," Fleurette broke in excitedly. "My belief is
that the old vagabond, as you call him, was a messenger from the Holy
Virgin, sent on purpose to get Madame and Mademoiselle safely out of
the way."

"Oh, Mam'zelle!"

"From the Holy Virgin!"

"Sainte Marie, mre de Dieu, priez pour nous!" came in chorus from the
maids. Even the cook, an elderly woman, jealous of her own dignity,
was unable to conceal her excitement. The old men shook their heads,
looked wise and skeptical.

"What makes you say that, Mam'zelle Fleurette?" Mathieu asked in an
awed whisper.

But Fleurette was silent now. Already she had repented of having said
so much. Discretion would have been so much wiser. That was the worst
of her: she always allowed her tongue to run away with her. She looked
eagerly from one anxious face to the other: well she knew that the
little she had said would be talked over and commented on and be made
the subject of gossip until it reached the village and possibly even
Serres and Sisteron; and God only knew what harm this might do to
Madame and Mademoiselle. She bit the tip of her tongue hard just to
punish it for having wagged too freely, and seized with a sudden
impulse, which she found irresistible, she snatched up a candle from
the table and incontinently turned and fled out of the hall, leaving
the others to gape and stare after her, to scratch their heads, and to
conjecture.

Aye! and to gossip, too.



Chapter 8

Perquisitions in those days of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality were
perhaps among the minor horrors that befell innocent and guilty alike,
at the behest of tyrants more implacable than the Inquisitors of
Mediaeval Spain, more cruel than the Borgias: but they were terrible
nonetheless. A perquisition meant, in most cases, the destruction of
every household treasure, every family relic cherished through the
generations, it meant the wanton smashing of furniture and mirrors,
the ripping up of valuable tapestries and of mattresses, the
defacement of priceless pictures, it meant prying, hostile eyes thrust
into receptacles, however secret, into private papers and even
letters. Nothing was sacred to men deputed to insult and to offend,
just as much as to search.

When Fleurette reached that part of the house which was occupied by
the family, she was confronted by the wildest, the most heart-stirring
confusion. The carpets had been torn off the floors, the furniture for
the most part lay in broken heaps about the room, mirrors and pictures
had been dragged off the walls, broken crockery and glass were
scattered everywhere, intermingled with horsehair and other stuffing
out of chairs and mattresses, whilst all the walls, the doors, the
window-frames bore traces of rude handling with bayonet or the heel of
a boot. Fleurette, wide-eyed and appalled, ran from room to room; the
uttering tallow-candle which she held threw flickering lights and
grotesque shadows on the scattered objects about her, made them seem
more weird, like the appurtenances of an abode of ghosts. Here in the
pretty boudoir Mademoiselle's embroidery frame lay smashed to tinder
wood with threads of the work still hanging to it, bits of rags,
pathetic in their look of abandonment and desolation. There in the
withdrawing room, the beautiful satin-wood spinet with its painted
panels and exquisite marqueterie was lying on its side, its body
gaping like a gigantic wound, the strings emitting a final vibration
like the last song of a dying swan.

From the direction of the dining room came the incessant murmur of
voices, but throughout the rest of the apartments, in the midst of all
the wreckage, a silence reigned as of the grave. The place now was
completely deserted. It seemed almost as if some terrible tornado had
swept through these living-rooms; some implacable forces of nature
rather than the hatred and cupidity of men. An earthquake could not
have been more devastating, a fire more destructive.

And now in the midst of it all Fleurette came to a standstill, candle
in hand: her breath came and went in quick short gasps, and her heart
was beating furiously. The silence in this semi-darkness with those
long, ghost-like shadows seemed to oppress her-; the broken bits of
beautiful things which she had known and loved ever since she
remembered anything, gave her an awful feeling of desolation and a
kind of foreboding of things, still worse, to come. It was instinct
which had brought her to a halt here in this one room amongst the
others. It was always known as Madame's room, for here Madame would
always sit when she gave her orders to various members of the
household, here that she would look through the household accounts
whilst Fleurette and Rose, when they were still children, would sit in
a corner of the sofa by the huge hearth, hand in hand, with a picture
book on their knees, silent like a pair of tiny white mice, waiting
until Madame had finished her, because then they would all go into the
garden to gather flowers for the rooms, and fruit for desert, or
perhaps go down into the kitchen and learn how to dress a chicken for
the table, or how best to mix a salad.

And Fleurette stood for a moment or two quite still, holding the
candle high above her head, contemplating this wreckage. Then, having
found a safe place in which to deposit the candle, she carefully
closed the door which gave, like several others, on a long corridor
that led to the main staircase at one end and to the service stairs at
the other. The time had come to cease contemplation, to drive away
superstitious fears and to act. Closing her eyes, Fleurette strove
first of all to recapture pictures of long ago, to recreate the scenes
enacted in this room, before this awful calamity had fallen on these
people whom she loved so dearly. Memory was not rebellious. She could
see the whole picture just as it had impressed itself on the tablets
of her mind when she used to sit here as a child. There by the window
Madame's desk used to stand. It was lying on its side now, the drawers
wrenched open, the handles broken, papers, pen and sand scattered
about; the ink had run out and stained the beautiful old Aubusson
carpet. But there Madame used to sit. Fleurette could almost see her
now, at the desk. Her big household books were open before her.
Writing, calculating, and putting her money by in a leather bag. And
presently she would rise, pick up her bag and books and carry them
across the room to a spot close to the wall, the other side of the
hearth. Here she would come to a standstill, and putting her beautiful
hand somewhere against the wall, she would turn to the girls--they
were mere children then--and smile at them in a mysterious way; and
they would say solemnly "Open Sesame!" just as they had heard in the
tale of Ali Baba and the forty robbers, which Monsieur de Frontenac
had often told them. As soon as they had said the magic words the wall
would open like the entrance of the robbers' cave in the tale of Ali
Baba, disclosing a recess into which Madame would put her books and
her bag of money. Then she would once more turn and give a sign to the
children and they would say: "Close Sesame!" and the mysterious door
would swing to again and no trace be left of the recess which lay
hidden somewhere behind the paneled wall.

The whole picture stood out before Fleurette's mental vision in every
detail; the exact spot where Madame used to stand, the way she put out
her hand and touched the paneled wall. Carefully picking her way
through the maze of broken furniture, Fleurette came to a halt on the
very spot where she had so often seen Madame standing, with her books
and money-bag in her arms. She put out her hand and touched the panel
as Madame had done: all over the carved panels she put her hand,
touching and pressing each bit of carving in its turn. Her heart was
still beating wildly, but not in any way with fear. In fact she was
surprised at herself for not being afraid. It was just the excitement
of this wonderful adventure! She, Fleurette, who had seen nothing of
the world beyond her own village of Laragne and an occasional glimpse
at Sisteron, suddenly found herself guiding the destinies of people
whom she loved--the messenger sent by the bon Dieu to help them in
their need. There is no young human creature living who would not
respond, heart and soul, to such a call, and Fleurette was of the
South, a child of that romantic land of Dauphin which had given so
many of her heroic sons to strive and work for France.

And suddenly, as Fleurette pressed her finger on every piece of carved
relief, one by one, she felt the centre of a dog-rose yield to the
pressure. Softly, noiselessly, the panel swung outwards, and there in
the recess were the familiar household books and the money-bag. Beside
them lay a leather wallet and a small casket fitted with a brass lock.
Without any hesitation Fleurette took the bag, the wallet and the
casket, leaving the books where they were. Never for a moment did the
thought occur to her that she might be discovered in what would be a
highly compromising position. She was too simple-minded, too innately
honest to think that she might be suspected of theft.

Having stowed the wallet and the bag in the wide pockets of her kirtle
and hidden the casket beneath her shawl, Fleurette picked her way back
across the room. She left the mysterious recess open because she did
not know how to close it, and did not want to waste any time trying to
find out. She found her way to the door and opened it, then she blew
out the candle and finally peeped out into the corridor.

It was deserted. The lingering evening light, pale and ghostlike, came
creeping in through the row of tall arched windows facing her. As
everywhere else in the chteau, the corridor bore the melancholy
traces of the soldiers' passage. It was the same devastation. The same
wanton destruction was only too apparent in the torn carpet and the
fragments of glass and broken sconces that littered the floor.
Fleurette, turning her back on the direction of the main staircase,
made her way to the back stairs which wound in a close spiral down to
the service door.

Fleurette descended with quick, furtive steps, until, past the first
curve of the spiral, the stairs were in total darkness. But she would
have found her way all about the chteau blindfold, so well did she
know its every nook and cranny. She came to the door and fumbled for
the bolts. She had drawn one and taken off the chain, when she heard a
measured tramp on the other side of the door. Steps were coming this
way along the flagged path; a moment or two later they came to a halt
close to the door. Fleurette hardly daring to breathe, listened. A
voice said: "Did you go in there?"

"No, citizen," replied another, "not by this door. The bolts are
fastened on the inside."

Something else was said which Fleurette did not catch, and the steps
receded in the direction of the front of the house. She waited a
minute or two longer, breathless and motionless, until she heard what
she thought was the tramp of feet in the corridor above her. The
soldiers had apparently been ordered to come round again, perhaps they
would be coming down those stairs. To hesitate now might prove fatal.
Fumbling once more in the gloom, Fleurette found the last bolt and
drew it, and the next moment was out in the open. The back door gave
on the yard. On the right were the stables, and facing the door, the
riding school and one or two sheds; on the left the kitchens and the
servants' quarters. In this direction too was the great archway and
the main entrance into the house. Past the archway was the park and
the avenue leading to the big gates.

After a moment's reflection Fleurette decided to avoid these main
approaches: there was another way across the park, past the stable
gate. Hugging the casket closely under her shawl, Fleurette set out in
the direction of the stables. There was no one about and she felt
comparatively safe. Night was now rapidly drawing in, and she
fortunately had on a dark kirtle and dark worsted stockings. The air
was very still and the waning moon not yet risen in the east. From far
away came the sound of the bell of Laragne church. It struck eight.
Fleurette felt a pang of anxiety. She had promised to be home before
dark and Louise would be anxious and cross: and there was still
something she wanted to do before she went home. Now she was past the
stable door where, in a heap, just as old Andr had said, there lay a
pile of faggots. The sight of them gave Fleurette a happy thrill. Was
she not obeying the dictates of the mysterious voice which had spoken
to her through the medium of the old faggot-carrier?

The next moment, a firm step resounded on the flagstones of the
stables, and a second later a man appeared under the lintel of the
door.

"Fleurette! what in God's name are you doing here?"

Smothering a startled cry, Fleurette turned and found herself face to
face with her father. He was standing at the stable door; his hands
were clasped behind his back, and he had a tricolour sash round his
waist. Now women, young girls, especially, those born and bred in
outlying country districts, are credited with being stupid, silly in
their fears, timorous like hens; and so no doubt would Fleurette have
been in ordinary circumstances. She may not have been either clever or
brave originally; she would perhaps have behaved in a silly, timorous
fashion but for this one fact, that she knew something terrible was
happening to the Frontenacs whom she loved, and that she had been
deputed by the bon Dieu, or merely by a human friend, to do something
important for them. In order to do this she must keep her head; and
trust any woman to keep her head if one she loves is in peril.

"What are you doing here, Fleurette?" Bibi reiterated rather sternly.

And Fleurette, with a well-simulated nervous little laugh, retorted
lightly:

"Why, Bibi chri, I might retaliate! What are you doing here? I
thought you were on your way to Paris."

"What are you doing here, Fleurette?" Bibi said once more, and
Fleurette thought that his voice had never sounded so harsh before.

"But, Bibi," Fleurette said simply, "I often come to see Madame and
Mademoiselle. And after you left this afternoon I felt so lonely and
sad, I thought I might seek Mademoiselle Rose for company."

"And have you seen her?"

"No. They told me Madame and Mademoiselle had gone."

"Who told you?"

"Papa Mathieu."

"What else did he tell you?"

"Only that there were soldiers come to the chteau, and that I'd
better go home again--and so I'm going."

"He didn't tell you anything else?"

"No," Fleurette replied innocently. "Was there anything else to say?"

"No--er--no," Bibi rejoined. "Of course not. But Fleurette--"

"Yes, Bibi darling?"

"How often must I tell you that you must not talk of "Madame" and
"Mademoiselle"? There are no Madames and Mademoiselles now; we are,
all of us equally, citizens of France."

"Yes, Bibi," Fleurette rejoined demurely. "And I really, really am
very careful when strangers are about. It doesn't matter what I say
before you, does it, chri Bibi?"

"No, no," Bibi muttered, seemingly without much conviction, and
Fleurette then went on quickly:

"I must run home now, chri Bibi, or Louise will be getting anxious.
You are coming too, aren't you? Louise will get you such a lovely
supper and then--"

"No, my little one," Bibi said. "I can't. Not tonight. I must be in
Orange tomorrow."

"But Bibi--"

"Run along, child," Bibi broke in almost fiercely. "It's a dark night,
and there are always vagabonds about."

"Ah well then, good night, Bibi," Fleurette murmured meekly.

And suddenly Bibi put out his hand and grasped Fleurette by the wrist.

"Are you not going to kiss me, Fleurette?" he asked with oh! such a
tone of sadness now in his voice.

It was a terrible moment. What a mercy that the darling had seized her
left wrist, rather than her right, because with her right hand
Fleurette was hugging the small casket under her shawl. There were
also the wallet and the moneybag in the pocket of her kirtle: oh! if
Bibi should knock against them! Fortunately it was dark, and he could
not see the bulge under her shawl. But, of course, she could not part
from Bibi chri without giving him a farewell kiss. He seemed sad and
unhappy, and there was something about his whole manner that Fleurette
did not understand.

At first, when he startled her by suddenly appearing at the stable
door, she had not even tried to conjecture what he was doing here; she
was too deeply absorbed in her own adventure for the moment to do more
than vaguely wonder what part Bibi was playing in the tragic events
that had wrought such desolation at the chteau. Bibi chri, who
worshipped his little Fleurette, who was always so kind, so gentle, a
slave to everyone of her whims; he must have been dragged into this
horrible affair, was perhaps an innocent tool of those cruel people in
Paris, who monopolized his time and kept him away from his home.

Indeed she had no mistrust in him whatever; but her trust in him did
not go to the length of telling him about the casket, or the
mysterious voice of the faggot-carrier; those were her own secrets,
secrets too which concerned the Frontenacs for whom Bibi had never
evinced a very great affection, and had even tried to dissuade
Fleurette from having too much intercourse with them. It was in fact
her love for Madame and Monsieur, and for Mademoiselle Rose, and
Bibi's strange dislike of them, which had brought the only clouds in
the sunshine of their affection.

But of this Fleurette was not thinking at the moment, her one thought
was of her secret and how best to guard it. All the same she would not
have denied Bibi chri the kiss he asked for. She must take the risk,
that was all, and once again trust to her wits. She allowed him to put
his arms round her neck and held up her fresh young face for his kiss:
she held the casket so carefully that he did not feel its sharp
angles. All was well, for now she was free from his embrace, but still
he had hold of her left hand, and drew her close to him.

"Fleurette, my little one," he said earnestly.

"Yes, Bibi."

"Do you know where the two Frontenac women have gone to?"

"No, Bibi, I do not," Fleurette was able to reply in all truthfulness,
and looked her father straight in the eyes. "They were gone before I
came."

"It is for their good that I ask you."

"I am sure it is, Bibi, but really, really I do not know."

Bibi gave a quick, impatient sigh.

"Ah, well! goodbye, my Fleurette."

"Good night, Bibi."

At last she was free. With her left hand she blew a last kiss to Bibi,
and then quickly sped across the yard. Her heart felt heavy and there
was an uncomfortable lump in her throat. For the first time she had
been brought face to face with the realities of life. Hitherto she had
lived in a kind of fairyland in which she was the carefully tended and
guarded queen, and Bibi the acknowledged king as well as slave.

Everything in the world was perfect, and lovely, and wonderful; the
men and women in it--not only Bibi, but Louise, and M. Duflos the
butcher, and M. Colombe the grocer, and--and M. Amd--they were all
kind and generous and gentle. But now cruelty and spite had come
within her ken. An ugly ghoul called "hatred" had passed by hand in
hand with his ugly brother "mistrust" and the latter had whispered
something in her ear just now, which had caused her to shrink within
herself when Bibi had kissed her, and to turn from him and to run away
with a strange sense of relief.

She did not look back as she sped across the yard, and when she came
to the small postern gate she was thankful to find it on the latch, so
that she could slip out unseen.



Chapter 9

Fleurette was too young, too ignorant for self-analysis. She could not
have told you what had made her act in the way she did, nor what had
caused her so to mistrust Bibi as not to share her precious secret
with him. All she knew was that she had had a wild desire to get away
from him.

A cart-track led from the postern gate across a couple of fields where
it joined the main road; one or two isolated farm buildings belonging
to M. de Frontenac, and the open fields on both sides, made the track
fairly safe from foot-pads. The main road too which led through the
village would be safer after dark, than the short cut over the
mountains. Fleurette hastened along, hugging her treasures, hoping
that she would not fall in with the soldiers on their return from the
chteau.

The weather had not fulfilled the promise made by the beauty of the
sunset: heavy clouds hung over the sky; only one or two streaks of
pale lemon-coloured light, like great gashes through the leaden
clouds, still lingered in the West. Through the gloom farm-sheds and
isolated trees loomed out like great immobile giants, and, on the
right, the dense mass of the avenue of acacias and elder and the great
gates of the chteau.

Fleurette was already well on her way along the high-road and in sight
of the first house of the village, the cottage where Adle lived with
her aunt, the widow Tronchet, when she heard the all too familiar
sound behind her of the heavy tramping of feet and of horses' hoofs
raising the dust of the road. The night was so still that the sounds
reached her ears distinctly. She heard the lieutenant's harsh voice
giving a brief word of command: the creaking of the chteau gates, as
they swung upon their hinges. Just then Roy, Monsieur's dog, set up a
dismal howl, and from one of the tall poplar-trees that bordered the
road an owl gave a hoot and fluttered out into the night.

Fleurette broke out into a run. She knew that she could ask for
shelter in the widow Tronchet's cottage and wait there until the
soldiers had gone by. Perhaps Adle would walk home with her after
that. Fortunately she could already perceive the light glimmering in
one of the tiny windows, and just at the moment Adle came out of the
front door, probably to see for herself what the unusual sounds were
about.

She was mightily surprised to see Fleurette come running along.

"They are the same soldiers, Adle," Fleurette explained breathlessly,
as she followed her foster-sister into the cottage, "who were at Lou
Mas this afternoon. Close the door, do, and I'll tell you all about
them."

The widow Tronchet came out of her kitchen, and looked disapprovingly
at Fleurette. She did not like the girl, and discouraged all
intercourse between her and Adle. She was a thrifty, hard-featured,
hard-hearted peasant--older than her sister Louise by a couple of
years---who had exacted every ounce of work and obedience from Adle
in payment for the shelter of her roof and for her daily bread. She
had never forgiven her sister for leaving Adle on her hands, though
the girl had always worked her fingers to the bone, grudgingly no
doubt, but diligently, in order to bring additional comfort into the
cottage. But it was a poor, ill-furnished cottage, wherein food was
none too plentiful, and beds hard, whereas Louise at Lou Mas lived in
the lap of luxury; and envy had fostered dislike until it had almost
become hatred.

She listened, with a frown on her hard wrinkled face, to Fleurette's
breathless tale of what had happened at the chteau. It would be the
gossip of the village by to-morrow, that the soldiers of the Republic
had arrested Monsieur, and that Madame and Mademoiselle had fled no
one knew whither.

"Oh,' Ma'ame Tronchet," Fleurette concluded, her fresh voice hoarse
with sobs, "dear Ma'ame Tronchet, you don't think they're really going
to harm Monsieur, do you?"

The widow Tronchet shrugged her shoulders and gave a short, harsh
laugh.

"I'm not thinking about it at all one way or the other," she said
drily. "What difference does it make to us poor people," she went on,
grumbling, while she busied herself about the room, "what happens to
all those aristos? They never cared what happened to us."

For the moment Fleurette could do no more than stare at the widow
Tronchet, in horror. Never had she heard anyone say anything so
wicked. She was quite ready to defend Monsieur and Madame against any
accusation of hard-heartedness, and would have done so at risk of
offending the disagreeable, ill-natured old woman, but for the moment
her attention, as well as that of Adle's, was riveted on the sounds
outside. The soldiers had just come round the bend of the road; they
were quite close to the cottage already, with the two horsemen walking
their mounts in the van.

"They are going on to Serres," Fleurette whispered. In her heart she
was wondering what Bibi was going to do. He was evidently not going to
Orange, as he had said he would. Would he spend the night at Lou Mas
after all? If he did, was there any danger of Fleurette's secret
leaking out? Of Bibi chri finding out something about the casket and
the precious wallet? Fleurette was still hugging the casket, she could
see the widow Tronchet's hard, steely eyes, gazing curiously at the
bulge underneath her shawl, and then at the fullness in her kirtle
where the wallet and the money-bag lay hidden in the pockets:
Fleurette felt the blood rush up to her cheeks, and then had the
mortification of seeing Adle's pinched-up little face break into a
smile. Of what were those two women thinking? Surely not that she,
Fleurette, had been stealing. Their faces were so inscrutable: the
older woman's hard and set, and Adle's rat-like and furtive, as if
determined to conceal her thoughts.

The next moment they all heard the horsemen go by. Adle ran to the
door and peered out into the night. Over her shoulder she said to
Fleurette:

"There's your father riding with the soldiers. Shall I shout to him
and tell him you are here?"

Instinctively Fleurette shook her head, and with that same inscrutable
smile still on her face, Adle deliberately closed the door again.

"They've got Monsieur walking between them," she commented drily.

"It would have been better," the widow said acidly to Fleurette, "for
Citizen Armand to know that you are here. It won't be safe for women
to be alone on the high-road this night, I am thinking."

Then, as Fleurette remained silent, debating within herself what she
had best do, the old woman went on curtly: "The sooner you get home
now, my girl, the better. Adle has got to put in an hour's work at
Citizen Colombe's up at the village: it is miserable pay enough," she
continued muttering to herself, "and a shame that one girl should have
to work so hard, whilst another lives a pampered life of luxury. But
anyway," she concluded abruptly, "I can't be wasting any lamp-oil on
you."

"No--no--of course not, Ma'ame Tronchet," Fleurette stammered. But the
widow, still muttering under her breath, was paying no more attention
to her. She had climbed on to a chair, and reaching up to the lamp
that hung from the ceiling, she turned out the light. The room was now
in darkness except for the light that came in through the open kitchen
door. The widow with a curt: "Don't be late, Adle," went off into the
kitchen, and a moment or two later could be heard busy with her pots
and pans.

Adle had picked up her shawl, and equally unceremoniously gone as far
as the door, when Fleurette called her shyly back.

"Adle!"

The girl turned without speaking, her hand on the door which she was
holding open.

"If you are going to M'sieur Colombe, could you--" Fleurette
stammered, "I mean, would you tell Monsieur Amd, that--that I am
here, and perhaps--"

"Why don't you come along with me?" Adle retorted drily, "and tell
him what you want."

Of course Fleurette could not tell her that she did not want Monsieur
and Madame Colombe to know that she had something important to say to
M'sieu' Amd. So all she said was: "Oh, Adle, please!"

Adle retorted with a shrug of the shoulders and an ugly little sneer:

"You don't want his papa and mama to know, I suppose."

Fleurette whispered: "No!"

"Very well!" was all that Adle said in reply. "I'll tell him."

And in her usual, furtive, noiseless way she went out of the house,
closing the door behind her.



Chapter 10

Fleurette remained in darkness, silent, motionless as a little mouse,
listening for the well-known footstep which in a few minutes, she
knew, would be at the door. It had perhaps been a rash thing thus to
give herself away to Adle, but the girl was uncommunicative and had
never been known to gossip. Between two risks Fleurette had chosen the
lesser one. If Bibi---as she feared---was going back to Lou Mas, there
would be no chance whatever of keeping the secret of Madame's casket
and valuables from him, and what Bibi's attitude would be towards
them, Fleurette could not guess. It was the great Unknown. For
Madame's sake and Mademoiselle's she would not risk it.

Like an inspiration the thought of M'sieur Amd had occurred to her;
of Amd who, when she was a little girl and he a growing lad, would
always take the blame on himself and know how to shield her when they
had got into mischief together. She felt now, especially since this
afternoon, that she could trust Amd in a way that she had never
trusted anyone else. Not even Bibi. Unfortunately Adle had to be made
a part confidant of the purpose: but after all what did Adle know?
She couldn't know anything about the casket and Madame's valuables:
and if she did sneer, or even talk to her aunt about this message sent
to M'sieu' Amd through her, well! Fleurette was prepared to face the
gossip---as long as her secret was safe.

She was counting the minutes---the seconds---Five minutes for Adle to
go to the Rue Haute: three and a half for Amd to run along here---
she did not doubt that he would run. Then there would be the
intervening time whilst Adle sought for an opportunity to speak to
him alone. But oh! how Time dragged on leaden-footed! Nearly fifteen
minutes must have gone by since Adle went away. The widow Tronchet
was still busy in the kitchen, rattling her pots and pans: but any
moment she might finish and perhaps come in here and find Fleurette
still waiting. Then there would be more acrimonious remarks,
questions, arguments---Had Fleurette known anything about nerves, she
would have said that hers were irritated to snapping-point; but there
was little talk of nerves in that year, 1794, and none in this remote
corner of Dauphin.

Fleurette found it very difficult even to sit still. Would Amd never
come! All sorts of possibilities occurred to her, bringing her to the
point of screaming with impatience. Perhaps he was from home, or
working in the shop under his father's eye. Perhaps the soldiers had
called at the picerie and taken him away, and Fleurette would never
see him again---Oh! if only time would stand still until Amd came!

Then at last, when she was on the point of bursting into tears with
disappointment, she heard the quick, familiar step. Amd!!! As
noiselessly as possible she opened the door and slipped out. There,
sure enough, was Amd coming along. Though it was very dark now,
Fleurette knew it was he because of the sound of his footsteps.
Hearing hers, he came to a halt, and she ran up to him, breathless
with excitement. All at once the enormity of what she had done struck
terror in her heart. She, Fleurette, whose reputation had stood
hitherto above all gossip, who for three years in succession had been
crowned Queen of the month of May, an honour only accorded to girls of
spotless character, she had actually given an assignation to a young
man---at night---far from her home and his!

And with the horror of what she had done came an intense shyness. What
would M'seur Amd himself think of her? Indeed, she had to evoke all
her fondness for Madame and all her fears for Mademoiselle before she
could summon enough courage to approach him, and to place a timid
little hand upon his arm. She felt it trembling at her touch, and
through the silence of the night came an answering timid sigh and
whisper:

"Mam'zelle Fleurette! What can I do in your service?"

His timidity gave her courage. Gently she led him to the edge of the
road where the tall poplar-trees cast long, impenetrable shadows.

"M'sieur Amd," Fleurette began, whispering low so that chance
eavesdroppers might not hear: "I don't know what you'll think of me. I
know I have done something which every one in the village would call
reprehensible. I sent for you in secret because---because, M'sieur
Amd, there is no one in the world I can trust, as I do trust you."

This time there came no sigh on the part of the young peasant, only a
quick intaking of the breath, as if he had suddenly been dazzled by a
wonderful light. His hard, rough hand crept up shyly and fastened over
the soft, quivering one that lay upon his sleeve just like a
frightened bird. But he was a man of few words, and therefore said
nothing: and Fleurette, encouraged by the pressure of that rough hand,
went on more glibly.

"It is about Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle," she said, "up at the
chteau. Soldiers have visited the place and they have broken the
furniture and torn the beautiful carpets and the curtains: why, I know
not. They have also called Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle traitors
and aristos, and they have seized Monsieur and dragged him away from
him home. By a miracle, M'sieur Amd, a miracle wrought by the bon
Dieu himself, Madame and Mademoiselle were able to escape out of the
chteau before those awful soldiers came. I know that they are safe,
but--"

"How do you know that, Mam'zelle Fleurette?" Amd asked also in a
whisper.

"Because, M'sieur Amd," she replied, "there is a mysterious
personage working for the safety of Madame and Mademoiselle, under the
direct guidance of the good God. I feel quite sure that Monsieur will
also presently be saved through him."

"A mysterious personage, Mam'zelle Fleurette?"

"Yes, a direct messenger from Heaven. He has come down to earth in the
guise of an old faggot-carrier. He looks old and decrepit and toil-
worn, but when he speaks his voice is like that of an archangel, and
if he looks at you his eyes give you the strength of giants and
celestial joy."

"But, Mam'zelle Fleurette--"

"His voice spoke to me this afternoon, M'sieu' Amd. All it said to
me was that papers and valuables were behind the panel in Madame's
room. At that time I knew nothing about the soldiers. I had seen them
but did not know that they were going to the chteau to arrest
Monsieur and Madame and Mademoiselle Rose. Nevertheless when that
voice spoke to me, I felt I must go over to the chteau as quickly as
may be."

"Why did you not send for me then, Mam'zelle Fleurette?"

"I seemed to be in a hurry, impelled to run along as fast as I could.
So I went by the mountain track. When I arrived at the chteau, the
soldiers had been there some time. They had turned the place topsy-
turvy, scared the servants and smashed and torn up everything, leaving
nothing but the walls intact. It seemed as if a great tempest had
swept by and wrecked everything. Monsieur was under arrest and Madame
and Mademoiselle had gone. No one knew whither. Then suddenly I
remembered that mysterious voice: I found my way to Madame's room, and
I found the panel, behind which Madame used to hide her household
books and her money. I had often watched her doing this when I was a
child. I tried to remember how to make the panel work and the good God
helped me. And behind the panel I found Madame's papers and her money,
and a small box which, I am sure, has precious things in it, or it
would not have been there."

"Then what did you do, Mam'zelle Fleurette?" Amd gasped under his
breath, his none too sharp wits slowly taking in the details of the
amazing adventure.

"I just took the wallet, M'sieu' Amd," she replied simply, "and the
money-bag, and the box. And here they are."

She tapped the pockets of her kirtle and made him feel the bulge
underneath her shawl.

"Oh, mon Dieu!" he exclaimed fervently.

And then she told him about Bibi, and how frightened she was lest when
she returned to Lou Mas she should find him there. Bibi's sympathies
seemed to be all with the soldiers, she explained, and he would for
certain make her give up Madame's papers and valuables to the
lieutenant.

"That is why," she concluded with a return to her first timidity, "I
wished to speak with you, dear M'sieu' Amd."

"The Eternal Eve!" It was the first time Fleurette had used an
endearing word when speaking to Amd. Born and bred in this remote
corner of Dauphin, unsophisticated, untutored in the ways of coquetry
and cajolery, she knew nevertheless, true daughter of the first mother
that she was, that after this he would be mere wax in her hands.

He was!

All that he wanted to know was what he could do for her. Had she asked
him to throw himself into the Buche, he would have done it: but all
that she wanted was for him to put her treasures in a safe place,
until such time as Madame required them.

"If Bibi knew what I was doing, M'sieu' Amd," she pleaded, "he would
order me to give up Madame's property. But I know that the bon Dieu
meant me to take charge of it, or why," she argued navely, "should He
have sent His messenger to me?"

Of course Amd was only too ready to share the burden of this
wonderful secret with Fleurette.

It was wonderful to share anything with this loveliest being in all
the world; and the thought that she trusted him more even than her
father, was sending him wellnigh crazy with joy.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Mam'zelle Fleurette," he said: "There's
an old tool-shed at the back of our house where all sorts of rubbish
are kept. It is an absolute litter now, and the back of it has not
been cleared or interfered with for years. But I know of a convenient
hole in the flooring, hidden well away in a corner. I'll put these
things there. They'll be quite safe---Mam'zelle Fleurette, you'll know
where to find them after I've gone away, if you want them."

"After you've gone away?"

For the moment she had forgotten. Of course he was going! How could
she forget? He was going to join the army--to fight the English--!
Perhaps he was never coming back--oh! How could she---how could she
forget?

Amd after the long speech which he had delivered in a whisper---his
longest speech on record---had remained silent. The tone of anguish in
Fleurette's voice, just now when he recalled the fact that he was
going away, had given him an immense thrill of joy. Altogether poor
Amd felt so happy that he was almost ashamed. The night was so
beautifully still: the wind had gone down, and slowly the great clouds
that had obscured the sky since sunset were rolling away over the
valley. Already overhead a patch of translucent indigo appeared, ever-
widening, and revealing one by one the scintillating worlds that are
beyond man's ken. Amd did not want to speak; he wanted it less than
he had ever done before. He just wanted to stand there beside this
exquisite creature, wrapped in the silence of the night, feeling her
nearness, hearing the gentle murmur of her breath come and go through
her perfect mouth. She had extracted the casket from under her shawl
and given it to him to hold, and she also gave him the wallet and the
money-bag; and as she did this, her little hand, so soft and so warm,
came in contact with his now and then--quite often---and poor Amd
was on the point of swooning with delight.

"I do trust you, M'sieu' Amd," she whispered in the end: "and you'll
do this for Madame's sake, will you not? and also for Mademoiselle's.
And also," she added softly, "for mine."

"Oh! Mam'zelle Fleurette," Amd sighed. What he had wished to say
was: "I would die for you, beloved of my heart: at a word from you I
would lay down my life, or barter my soul." But Amd had no command
of words, and was now cursing himself for being a clumsy fool. He
stowed away the wallet and the bag into the pockets of his breeches,
and tucked the casket underneath his blouse.

"And now I must go home, dear Monsieur Amd," Fleurette said. "As it
is, I am afraid Bibi will be anxious."

Her hand was on his arm: and with a sudden impulse he stooped and
pressed his lips against that exquisite little hand. Fortunately they
were still standing in the shadows cast by the poplar-trees, or Amd
must have seen the blush that rose to Fleurette's cheeks when she felt
the delicious thrill of that timid kiss. A soft breeze stirred the
branches above their heads, and through the quivering leaves there
came a sigh that was like an echo of their own. And above the crests
of Pelvoux the waning moon suddenly rent the last clouds that veiled
her mystery, and flooded the snowy immensitites with a shower of gold.
Slowly the shades of night yielded to the magic, and the high-road
glistened like a silvery ribbon winding, snake-like, toward Laragne.

Fleurette gave a sudden start of alarm.

"What is it, Mam'zelle Fleurette," Amd asked.

"Some one," she said. "I saw some one move there---furtively---among
the shadows."

He turned to look. A small figure wrapped in a shawl had just gone
past on the other side of the road.

"It is only Adle," he said carelessly. "She is going home."

Not altogether reassured, Fleurette peered into the shadows. She did
not think that it was Adle whom she had seen, or, if it was Adle,
there was some one else lurking in the shadows, she felt sure: and
though she was not altogether frightened, she felt herself trembling,
and her knees giving way under her. No doubt it was in order to save
herself from falling that she had leaned more heavily against Amd's
arm. Certain it is that he put that arm round her, only in order to
support her; but the contact of that warm, quivering young body
against his breast sent the last shred of his self-control flying away
on the evening breeze.

The high-road was bathed in honey-coloured light, but these two were
standing in the deep shadow cast by the poplar-trees; and the darkness
wrapped them round as in a velvety, downy blanket. His arm tightened
round her shoulders, pressed her closer and closer to his breast, held
her there so closely that she could scarcely breathe.

It was only in order to get her breath that she raised her face to
his; far be it from me to suggest that it was for any other motive;
but this proved the final undoing of poor M'sieu' Amd; for the next
moment his lips were fastened hungrily on hers, and her sweet young
soul went out to him, in a first, a most delicious kiss.



Chapter 11

It all seemed like a lovely dream after that: this walking together
arm in arm down the high-road with the waning moon throwing great
patches of silvery light to guide them on their way.

They went through the village, not caring whom they met. They belonged
to each other now; that wonderful kiss was a bond between them that
only death could sever. That was how they felt; supremely,
marvellously happy, thrilled with his new delight, this undreamed joy:
and with it all a cloud of measureless sorrow at the impending
farewell. The magic words had been spoken: "You love me, Fleurette?"
The eternal question to which the only answer is a sigh. No, they did
not care whom they met. They could laugh at gossip now: from this
night they were tokened to one another, and only M. le Cur's blessing
could make their happiness more complete.

As a matter of fact they met no one, for they avoided the main street
of the village and made their way to Lou Mas along narrow by-paths
that meandered through orchards of almond-trees heavy with blossom.
For the most part they were silent. Fleurette's little hand rested on
Amd's arm. Now and then he gave that hand a quick, excited squeeze
and this relieved his feelings for the time being. Under his other arm
he hugged the casket, the precious treasure that had been the mute but
main spring of his happiness. It represented Fleurette's trust in him:
that priceless guerdon he would not have bartered for a kingdom.

"You will not part with Madame's valuables, will you, Amd?" she had
enjoined him most solemnly. "Not to anyone?"

"Never, Fleurette," he had replied solemnly. "On my soul!"

When they were within sight of Lou Mas, they decided that it would be
best for him to turn back. She, Fleurette, was quite safe now, and of
course old Louise would be waiting for her--and perhaps Bibi. She was
not going to make a secret of her walk home with Amd. Indeed she
wished it proclaimed from the house-tops that they were tokened to one
another, and that they would be married as soon as this horrible war
was over. There was to be no secret about it, and Fleurette knew well
enough that neither Bibi nor M'sieu' Colombe would object; but because
of Madame's valuables, she did not want Amd to come to Lou Mas until
to-morrow. And so that first wonderful kiss found its successor in
another---one that was perhaps even more delicious, because it was
more poignant---the precursor of the last farewell.

Fleurette found Louise anxiously waiting for her. Bibi had not
returned and the old woman knew nothing, of course, of the tragic
events that had occurred at the chteau. Fleurette told her what had
happened, and while she was speaking Bibi came in. He looked tired and
anxious, but Fleurette thought it prudent not to appear to notice
anything unusual about him. He made no reference to the events at
Frontenac, and when nine o'clock came he kissed Fleurette as tenderly,
as unconcernedly as usual. Nine o'clock! What a lifetime, as far as
Fleurette was concerned, had been crowded into this past hour!

She went to bed as in a dream, partly made up of sorrow and partly of
great joy: even the excitement of her adventure at the chteau was
lost in the immensity of that joy. Fleurette fell asleep with her
cheek against the hand on which Amd had planted that first timid
kiss.

When she came down in the early morning Bibi had already gone.



Chapter 12

The soldiers of the Republic together with their officer had spent
half the night at Laragne in the tavern kept by the Pre Gramme,
drinking and jesting with the drabs of the village. Each man had a
tale to tell of his own prowess at the chteau, and how but for him,
the ci-devant Frontenac would have slipped through the fingers of
justice as readily as the two women had gone.

They were very proud of their prisoner, who sat lonely and silent in a
corner of the low-raftered room, foul with the odour of sour wine and
perspiring humanity. Monsieur de Frontenac---the ci-devant as he was
curtly termed---was apparently taking his misfortune calmly; neither
threats nor vain promises caused him to depart from his attitude of
quiet philosophy. The soldiers had, of course, made up their minds
that he knew well enough where his wife and daughter were in hiding,
but they had also realized by now that it was not in their power to
force him to divulge what he knew.

The lieutenant---a man who had begun life as a notary's clerk, and
therefore had some education---was content to shrug his shoulders and
to declare that the citizens of the nearest Committee of Public Safety
had plenty of means at their disposal for making an obdurate prisoner
speak. He recalled that at the trial of the Widow Capet she had been
forced into admissions which, before that, she would sooner have died
than make. Mocking glances, jeers and insults were thereupon cast on
the prisoner who remained as unconcerned, as serene as before.

The lieutenant had commandeered billets for his men in the better
houses of the village, and just before midnight the party broke up.
The prisoner was then conducted to the small, local poste de
gendarmerie and there incarcerated in the cell usually occupied by
vagabonds and cattle-thieves. Two or three of the soldiers remained at
the poste to reinforce the local gendarmes, in case some hot-heads in
the village meditated a coup to wrest the traitor Frontenac from the
clutches of justice. The lieutenant himself had selected the house of
Citizen Colombe the grocer of the Rue Haute for his night-quarters. To
say that the worthy picier did not accord this representative of his
country's army a warm welcome, would be to put it mildly. He was
furious, and showed it as plainly as he dared; but there is in every
French peasant a sound vein of common sense, and he knows---none
better---when submission to the ruling powers is not only the best
policy, but at the same time the most conducive to the preservation of
his own dignity.

Ma'ame Colombe--or rather the citizeness---made the lieutenant
comfortable and that was all; but at the bottom of her heart she felt
that she must do unto him as she would wish her own son to be done by
presently, when he too was a soldier in that army which she detested.
She fell asleep thinking of Amd tramping the high-road as these men
had done, stockingless, hatless, with unwashed shirt and a dirty
worsted cap on his head; and she dreamed all night of him, deprived
even of his weekly bath in the big tub, over in the wash-house. That
is what she objected to mostly in these men: the dirt. It was
wonderful, of course, their fighting for their country, now that all
the other countries in the world were attacking France, but Ma'ame
Colombe argued to herself that patriotism might just as well be allied
to cleanliness. Even the lieutenant, who was after all an officer, and
should be setting a good example to his men, would have looked much
more imposing if he had washed his face and taken the dust of the road
out of his hair.

Great, therefore, was Ma'ame Colombe's astonishment the next morning
when she, along with several of her friends, being at the market, saw
another detachment of soldiers marching into Larange from the
direction of Sisteron. Only eight of them there were, with one officer
and a wagon drawn by two splendid horses; but nom du ciel! what a
different set of men and horses these were. The men clean as new pins,
magnificently dressed in blue coats with white facings and belts,
white breeches---all spotless---and black gaiters that reached midway
up their thighs. Beneath their elegant chapeau-bras, each adorned with
a silk tricolour cockade, they wore their own hair, down to their
shoulders, unfettered by the old, ridiculous queue, and each man had
successfully cultivated a fierce and magnificent moustache. Everything
about them glistened with cleanliness, their boots, their buckles,
their muskets; as for the officer, never in all their lives had the
good ladies of Larange seen anyone so magnificent: tall, blond, with a
moustache that he could easily have tucked behind his ears, and a
little tuft of blond beard at the tip of his chin, he walked with
drawn sword at the head of his squad, a superb tricolour sash further
enhancing the glory of his attire.

Potatoes and eggs and butter were forgotten, while market-women and
customers stood gaping, open mouthed. Never had such beautiful
specimens of manhood been seen in Larange. By the time they reached
the Rue Haute all the village had turned out to have a look at them,
and heads appeared at every cottage window. The village urchins
followed the little squad, intoning the "Marseillaise" and giving vent
to their excitement by performing miracles of acrobatic evolutions.
Even Ma'ame Colombe, who was at the moment selecting a piece of meat
for Sunday's dinner, could not help but say to herself that she would
not mind Amd being in the army if he was going to look like that!

At that very moment one of the urchins paused in the midst of a
magnificently sketched somersault in order to run down the street and
back to the market-place, shouting excitedly:

"Ma'ame Colombe! Ma'ame Colombe! the soldiers are at the picerie."

And so they were! Ma'ame Colombe hastily straightened her cap and
snatching up her market basket, ran to the corner of the Rue Haute
just in time to see the soldiers with their officer and wagon come to
a halt outside her front door. The worthy Hector with his son Amd,
and the old man who helped in the shop, were busy taking down the
shutters and displaying the sacks of various kinds of haricots and
lentils in tempting array all along the shop front. Ma'ame Colombe
heard the magnificent officer give a quick order: "Halte!" and
"Attention!" and the next moment she saw him enter the shop followed
by his men, the wagon remaining drawn up a little further down the
street. The urchins and gaffers crowded round the doorstep open-
mouthed, and Ma'ame Colombe had some difficulty in pushing her way
through into her own house.

The officer began by asking Hector Colombe how many soldiers of the
Republic were still sleeping under his roof.

"Only the lieutenant and two men, M'sieu' l'officier," Hector replied.
Whereupon the officer broke in curtly:

"Call me citizen captain. This is the army of the Revolution and its
soldiers are not aristos meseems."

Which remark boded no good to Ma'ame Colombe's ears. Clean or dirty
they all appeared to be the same type of brigands; overbearing,
exacting and merciless! Ah that poor dear Amd!

The officer then demanded to see the lieutenant and the two soldiers.
Amd offered to call them, but was stopped by a brief command from
the captain:

"No, not you," he said curtly, "I want you here, the citizeness can
go."

Ma'ame Colombe, obedient and vaguely frightened, put down her basket
and went upstairs to fetch the lieutenant and the two men, who were
still in bed. But although she had only been gone a couple of minutes,
her sense of fear took on a more tangible form when she came down
again, for she found all the drawers of the counter open, and much of
their contents scattered about the floor. Some of the soldiers were
busy ferreting about, behind and under the counter. The officer stood
in the middle of the shop talking with Hector, who looked both
choleric and sullen; in the doorway, the crowd of gaffers were being
kept back by two of the soldiers, who were using the butts of their
muskets when some venturesome urchin tried to cross the threshold. But
what filled poor Ma'ame Colombe's heart with dismay was the sight of
Amd sitting in the parlour behind the shop, with two other soldiers
obviously on guard over him.

Her instinct prompted her to run first of all to her husband with a
quick whispered: "Hector, what does this mean?"

But the magnificent officer brusquely thrust himself between her and
Hector and said gruffly: "It means, citizeness, that not only treason,
but also theft has been traced to this house, and that it is lucky for
you that news of it reached the Committee of Sisteron in time, else,"
he added grimly, "it had been worse for you and your family."

"Treason and theft?" Ma'ame Colombe exclaimed in hot indignation. "You
must take it from me, young man, citizen, captain, or whatever you may
be, that I'll allow no one to--"

"Hold your tongue, woman," the officer broke in curtly; "you do
yourself no good by these protests. Obedience is your wisest course."

"Good or no good," Ma'ame Colombe persisted heatedly, "I won't have
the word theft used in connection with this house, and if--"

"Make your wife hold her tongue, citizen," the officer, now addressing
Hector once more, broke in curtly, "or I shall have to send her to the
poste for interfering with a soldier of the Republic in the execution
of his duty."

Poor Hector Colombe, whose choler was shrinking in inverse ratio to
that of his wife, did his best to pacify the worthy dame.

"It is all a mistake, Anglique," he said gently. "M'sieu' le
Capitaine---pardon! the citizen captain thinks that Amd has some
papers and valuables belong to Madame--I mean, to the Citizeness
Frotenac--"

"Are they calling my Amd a thief, then?" Ma'ame Colombe demanded
hotly.

"No! No!" Hector replied, trying to be patient and conciliatory. "Have
I not told you that it is all a mistake? Every one knows there are no
thieves in this house; but it seems the authorities think that Amd
may have hidden those valuables pour le bon motif."

"If he had," the mother retorted obstinately, "he would say so. Let me
just ask him--"

Hector had hold of her hand, but she wrenched it free, and before any
of the soldiers could bar the way, she had run into the back parlour,
shouting:

"Amd, my little one, have you told those soldiers that you know
nothing of Madame's valuables? Why, nom de Dieu!" she went on, hands
on hips, defiant and aggressive like the true female defending its
young, "look at the innocent. Is that the face of a thief?"

She pointed at Amd, who, however, remained strangely silent.

"Voyons, mon petit, tell them!" Anglique Colombe went on with perhaps
a shade less assurance than she had displayed at first. The next
moment, however, the captain had seized her unceremoniously by the
arm, and dragged her back into the front shop. Here he gave her arm a
good shake.

"Did I not order you to hold your tongue?" he demanded roughly.

Cowed, in spite of herself, not so much by the officer's tone of
command as by Amd's silence, Ma'ame Colombe did, in effect, hold her
tongue. A sense of disaster as well as of shame had suddenly descended
upon her. Her ample bosom heaving, she sank into a chair, and threw
her apron over her head. She was not crying, but she felt the need of
shutting out from her vision the picture of Amd looking so confused
and sullen, of Hector looking as perplexed as she was herself, as well
as of that magnificent officer with his fine clothes and his tricolour
sash. But chiefly she wanted for the moment to lose sight of that
crowd of gaffers and urchins and neighbours, all staring at her, with
that unexplainable feeling, not exactly of contentment for her
misfortune, but which can only be expressed by that untranslatable
word Schadenfreude. Thus shut out from the rest of her little world,
the poor woman slowly rocked herself backwards and forwards, murmuring
inaudible words under cover of her apron, until she heard the
captain's voice saying abruptly:

"Were you the officer in charge of detachment number ninety-seven?"

Curiosity got the better of sorrow, and Ma'ame Colombe peeped round
the edge of her apron. The picture which she saw made her drop her
apron altogether. The lieutenant who, the night before, had been so
overbearing and so hilarious, stood before his superior officer now, a
humble, dejected figure, dreading reprimand, like a schoolboy fearing
the cane.

"I am in charge of the detachment ninety-seven---yes, citizen
captain," he replied haltingly.

What a contrast these two! Ma'ame Colombe, in spite of her anxiety,
her indignation and what not, could not help but compare. Woman-like,
she had an eye for the handsome male, and what more gorgeous than this
captain of the Republican, or revolutionary army, as he apparently
liked to style his men, with his braided jacket and superb tricolour
sash, with his blond hair and fierce moustachios? He poked his tufted
chin out at the bedraggled-looking lieutenant before him, looked down
with obvious contempt at the latter's ragged coat and mud-stained
breeches. But he made no remark on the want of cleanliness and
decency, as Ma'ame Colombe expected him to do.

"Where do you come from?" he demanded.

"From Orange, citizen captain."

"What is your objective?"

"After this, Serres, citizen captain, and then Valence."

"And your orders are to arrest on the way every person suspected of
treason against the Republic?

"Yes, citizen."

"And how have you obeyed these orders, citizen lieutenant?" the
captain demanded sternly.

"I have done my best, citizen captain," the other replied with an
attempt at bluster; "at Vaison--"

"I am not talking of Vaison, which you know quite well, citizen
lieutenant. I wish to know how you obeyed the orders given to you to
arrest the ci-devant Frontenac, his wife and daughter?"

"Citizen--"

"Have you done it, citizen lieutenant?" the officer thundered, and all
of the bluster went out of the subaltern as he stammered meekly:

"When we reached the house of the ci-devant Frontenac, the two women
had gone."

"Gone?" and the captain's voice boomed through the low-raftered room
like a distant roll of cannon. "Gone? Whither?"

"Gone, citizen captain," the lieutenant murmured under his breath:
"spirited away. The devil alone knows how."

"Which means that there is a traitor among you."

"Citizen captain--" the other protested.

"A traitor I say. You had secret orders, and yet the women were
warned!" And once more the officer's glance flashed down with scorn on
his unfortunate subordinate. His blond hair seemed to bristle with
wrath; his moustachios stood out like spikes: he looked a veritable
god of vengeance and of wrath.

"Whence," he thundered, "is the ci-devant Frontenac?"

"At the commissariat, citizen captain, guarded by our men," the
lieutenant replied.

"And the rest of your detachment?"

"In billets in the village."

"And did you search this house when you entered it?"

"No--that is--no---I did not---that is--" stammered the wretched man.

"Or the other houses where you billeted your men?"

But this time the lieutenant only shook his head in dejected silence.

"Which means that you allowed soldiers of the Republic to sleep under
strange roofs without ascertaining whether they were safe. Why,
citizen lieutenant, this place might have been swarming with
traitors."

"The people here, citizen, are--"

"Enough. You are relieved of your command, and you will proceed now
with us to Sisteron where you will render an account of your conduct
before the Committee of Public Safety."

Ma'ame Colombe, who had watched the two men closely during this
exciting colloquy, saw an ashen hue spread over the lieutenant's face,
beneath the thick coating of grime. Though they did not know much in
this tucked-away corner of Dauphin, of what went on in the great
cities, they had vaguely heard how great officers of the army had been
deprived of their rank and sent to the guillotine for not doing their
duty by the army of the Republic. The crowd at the door had also
listened in silence; many a cheek turned pale at sound of that
thundering voice which held in its arrogant tone a menace of death.

And now the captain turned to the other two down-at-heels soldiers who
stood skulking behind their lieutenant.

"Go," he commanded, "round the billets where your comrades are. Bring
them hither. And one of you to the commissariat, and bring the ci-
devant here too. And no delay, remember. No gossip on the way as you
value your lives. I give you five minutes to have all the men and the
prisoner here."

The men went immediately to execute the peremptory order, while the
lieutenant remained in the shop looking the picture of humility and
dejection. Ma'ame Colombe who had a kindly heart inside her ample
bosom, felt almost sorry for the man, so miserable did he look.
Indeed, it seemed as if this squad of elegantly clad soldiers sowed
anguish and terror in their path.

But the worst was yet to come. Ma'ame Colombe thought that she had
probed the last depths of humiliation when she heard that gorgeous
officer call her Amd a thief. To such a pass had this so-called
revolution brought the respectable children of France, that they saw
themselves bullied and insulted, and held up to shame before their
neighbours. What was all that in comparison with the shame of seeing
Amd confronted with the proof that in very truth he was in
possession of papers and valuables which were the property of Madame
de Frontenac?

It all happened so quickly. Poor Ma'ame Colombe could scarce believe
her eyes. All that she saw was two soldiers guided by their sumptuous
captain go straight through the back parlour and out by the back door
into the yard. What happened out there she did not know, but a minute
or two later the three men were standing once more in the parlour, and
the captain had in his hand a small box, a thick leather wallet and a
bag which obviously contained money.

At sight of these Amd---her Amd---had jumped to his feet as if he
had been stung; all the blood rushed to his face, and made it crimson
with choler, and it looked for the moment as if he would hurl himself
on the officer of the Republican army--which would have meant instant
death for him, as the soldiers had already shouldered their muskets.
Ma'ame Colombe gave a terrified shriek, whereat Amd suddenly seemed
to realize his position, the flush died out of his poor face, and with
eyes downcast he resumed his former silent, constrained attitude.

The captain shrugged his shoulders and with a note of dry sarcasm in
his voice he said:

"I see you make no attempt at denial. You are wise, citizen. Try and
induce your mother not to shriek and you'll find that everything will
turn out for the best."

He did not say this unkindly, and poor Ma'ame Colombe even thought
that she detected an indulgent tone in his voice. She rose to her feet
and put her podgy hands together, and when the captain re-entered the
shop she looked up at him with tearful, entreating eyes.

"He did it with a good motive, M'sieu' le--I mean citizen captain.
Look at the innocent. He is no thief. I swear he is no thief. I'd
like," she went on, turning fiercely round and darting defiant glances
on the crowd of gaffers on the doorstep, "I'd like to see the man who
dared to say that my Amd is a thief."

The officer had handed the pices de conviction to one of his men,
with orders to put them in the wagon. Then he commanded Amd to stand
up before him.

"Thief or no thief," he said drily, "you are guilty of having acted
contrary to the interests of the Republic. You know what that means?"

Amd made no reply, only hung his head, and twiddled his hot fingers
together.

"It means," the officer continued, "that but for one thing, your life
would have had to answer for this act of treason."

A groan went round the crowd on whose ears those words had fallen like
the toll of a passing bell. But Ma'ame Colombe did not utter a sound.
She clung to her Hector and the two old people stood there hand in
hand, striving by this loving contact to conquer the icy fear that had
gripped their hearts.

"The one thing that will probably save you," the officer resumed after
a dramatic pause, "is that the Republic has need of you in her
revolutionary army. The enemy is at the gates of France, you are
young, healthy, vigorous; it is for you to show your mettle by
defending your country. Thus you will redeem the past. For the moment
it is my duty to take you before the Committee of Public Safety, whose
final word will dispose of your fate."

He spoke loudly so that all the listeners might hear. Gaffers and
urchins and market-women hardly dared to breathe. They felt awed, and
could only gaze at one another, as if trying to read each other's
thoughts. And while awed whispers still went the round, the down-at-
heels soldiers, who had spent the night in the village, came skulking
back in groups of two or threes. They pushed their way through the
crowd into the shop. One of the last to arrive was M. de Frontenac,
closely guarded by two of the men.

And there they all stood now in the shop, a dozen or so of them,
beside the sacks of haricots and button-onions and split peas; all of
them with the exception of the prisoner, looking dirty and bedraggled,
with their worsted caps covered in dust, bits of hay and straw
clinging to their coats and to their hair, bare-legged and grimy-
faced, the steel of their bayonets dull with sludge, their breeches
mud-stained. Such a contrast to their superb officer and his
splendidly attired squad. And they could hear the women drawing
humiliating comparisons, tittering and pointing fingers of scorn at
them, whilst even the drabs, with whom they had drunk and jested the
night before, turned contemptuous shoulders upon them now.

And thus they were mustered before the magnificent captain; all
soldiers together, shoulder to shoulder, the down-at-heel and the
grandees---aristos one would have called them, only that they were of
the revolutionary army, which set out to exterminate the very last of
the aristocracy, the hated tyrants and dissolute brood. And while they
stood there, under the eye of the officer, the crowd outside watched
them, and instinctively something of the spirit that animated the rest
of France, swept like a poisonous sirocco over these worthy villagers
of Laragne; the same spirit that in the great cities sent old women
knitting and gossiping at the foot of the guillotine and that prompted
young girls to dip their kerchiefs in the blood of its victims. A
poisonous wind like the breath of demons! Some of the men and women
had been to Sisteron and heard the hymn of hate, the Carmagnole! "a
ira! a ira! Les aristos  la lanterne!" One or two of them began to
hum it, stamping their feet to its rhythm.

Gradually the song swelled, one after another they took up the tune,
these village men and maids who, unbeknown even to themselves had
absorbed some of the insidious poison of hatred and black envy.

"Right! Turn!" the captain commanded, and marking time with their
feet, the little squad now over twenty strong, started on its way.
Ma'ame Colombe, now loudly moaning, still clung to her boy. He was
very brave and tried to reassure and to comfort her. Anyway, he would
have had to go to-day, he argued, his orders were to report himself at
Serres, to be drafted into the army. From the officer's attitude it
certainly seemed as if nothing more terrifying was to happen to him.
The boy was brave enough too not to let his mother know how doubly his
heart ached, because he was saying good-bye to his home, and could not
say good-bye to Fleurette. His heart was filled with the image of
Fleurette, but he would not add to his mother's sorrow by speaking to
her of his own. He was just an unsophisticated village lad, knowing
little, understanding less. His own life and comfort were nothing to
him, beside the sorrow which his mother felt and which, he knew, would
bring such countless tears in Fleurette's lovely blue eyes. The father
too tried to be brave; the effort to keep back his tears brought the
perspiration streaming down his round, kindly face. When the crowd---
his friends and neighbours some of them---intoned the revolutionary
song, his powerful fist was clenched, but he did not shake it at the
singers. His sound common sense had come again to his rescue, and
whispered to him that for Amd's sake, quiet submission was the
soundest policy.

While mother and son clung to one another in a last farewell, Hector
contrived to approach M. de Frontenac who, alone in the midst of such
excitement and such conflicting emotions, had remained perfectly calm.
The casual observer, not knowing him, might have thought that the fate
of his wife and daughter, his separation from them, and the blow that
destiny had dealt to these worthy folk here, whom he had known all his
life, had left him completely indifferent. He had spent the night in a
prison cell, under the eye of men--the local gendarmes---whose welfare
and whose families had been his care for years; but seemingly he had
slept peacefully. At any rate his face showed no sign of fatigue, or
his eyes of sleeplessness. He had dressed with scrupulous care; his
well-worn clothes, the ones he was wearing at dinner when the soldiers
made irruption into the chteau, were clean and tidily put on; his
cravat neatly tied, his hair smooth. When Hector Colombe approached
him, he gripped the worthy picier warmly by the hand.

And now the crowd parted to allow the soldiers to pass. Some of the
girls tried to ogle the handsome ones and to leer at the others, but
no one attempted to do more than stare in awe and admiration at the
magnificent officer. The two prisoners were ordered to mount into the
wagon; one of the soldiers took the reins and the next moment the
order, "Quick March!" was given.

The crowd broke into an excited "Hurrah!" and the little squad slowly
moved off, officer en tte, and the wagon in the rear, in the
direction of Sisteron. Then one of the villagers once more struck up
the Carmagnole, and the crowd took it up. "a ira! a ira!" they sang
gaily, and the men took the girls by the waist and twirled them round
in a gay rigadoon. Old men and young girls; for there were no young
men in the villages of France these days, when the army claimed them
all, they danced and twirled in the wake of the retreating squad, and
around them bare-footed urchins somersaulted along in the cloud of
dust raised by the horses and wagon.

And that was the picture that Amd Colombe and Charles de Frontenac,
sitting side by side in the wagon, saw gradually receding before their
eyes as they were driven away, prisoners from their homes.



Chapter 13

But in Lou Mas nothing was known of the tragic events that were
occurring at Laragne. Old Louise and Fleurette were busy with
housework, and if Fleurette went about the house, silent and wistful,
it was because presently she would have to say the inevitable farewell
to Amd.

It was Adle who brought the news. Young Colombe had been arrested by
soldiers of the revolutionary army, she said, and he and M'sieu' de
Frontenac had been taken to Sisteron. A superior officer of the army
had come in this morning and relieved the lieutenant of his command.
There had been great excitement in Laragne owing to the arrival of
this new detachment of soldiers who were as splendid as those of last
night had been travel-stained and bedraggled. The whole of the squad,
headed by that magnificent officer, had marched away in the direction
of Sisteron, the two prisoners sitting in the wagon in the rear.

It was only bit by bit that old Louise succeeded in dragging all this
news out of Adle. The girl's habitual reticence was put to a severe
test by all the questions and cross-questions, whilst Fleurette stood
by wide-eyed, distraught with the idea of these horrible complications
in which her poor Amd was being involved. But she would not show any
emotion before Adle, she felt vaguely that her foster-sister, never
very expansive towards her, had suddenly become almost inimical. So
she waited until Louise had extracted all the news she could out of
the taciturn girl, and curtly ordered her back into the kitchen; then
as the old woman was about to follow, Fleurette caught her by the
hand.

"Louise," she said in a tone of almost desperate entreaty, "dear, kind
Louise, I must go to Sisteron---at once."

"To Sisteron?" old Louise exclaimed, frowning. "Heavens alive, what is
the child thinking of now?"

"Of M'sieu' Amd, dear Louise," Fleurette replied. "You heard what
Adle said. They have taken him to Sisteron."

"And what of it?" Louise asked--but she asked for form's sake only,
she knew quite well what was going on in Fleurette's head.

"Only this, dear Louise," the girl said with a little note of defiance
piercing through her shyness. "We---that is Amd and I---are tokened
to one another."

"Tokened?" the old woman exclaimed with a gasp. "Since when?"

"Since last night."

"And without your father's consent? Well! of all the--"

"Chri Bibi would approve," Fleurette asserted, "if he knew."

Old Louise shrugged her shoulders. She would not trust herself to
speak because the child looked so sweet and so innocent, and her
pretty blue eyes were so full of tears, that Louise felt an almost
unconquerable desire to take hold of her and hug her to her breast.
Which act of weakness would have seriously impaired her authority at
this critical juncture. She was wondering what to say next---for in
truth she more than suspected that the child was right, and that
Citizen Armand would not object to those two young things being
tokened to one another, when Fleurette broke in gently:

"So you see, dear, kind Louise, that I must go to Sisteron--now---at
once."

"But Holy Virgin, what to do?"

"To see Amd and comfort him."

"They won't let you see him, child."

"Then I will find chri Bibi," Fleurette retorted calmly. "He has a
great deal more authority than you and I credit him with, Louise. He
can order whom he likes not only to let me see Amd, but even to set
him free."

"He would be very angry," Louise argued, "to see you wandering about
the high-roads alone, while all those soldiers and riff-raff are
about."

Fleurette gave a quaint little smile.

"Bibi's anger against me never lasts very long," she said. "Anyway, I
will risk it. Louise dear, will you come with me?"

"I?"

"Of course, you said that Bibi would be angry if I roamed about the
high-roads alone."

Louise stood squarely in front of Fleurette, looked straight into
those blue eyes, which never before had held such a determined glance.
Fleurette could not help smiling at the old woman's look of
perplexity; she was the typical hen seeing her brood of ducklings take
their first plunge in the pond.

"If you won't come with me, Louise dear," the girl said simply, "I
shall have to go alone."

"Get along with ye, for an obstinate wench," Louise retorted gruffly.
But the next moment she had already changed her tone. "Get on your
thick woollen stockings, child," she said, "and your buckled shoes,
and your brown cloak, while I put a few things in a basket for our
dinner. If we don't hurry, we shan't be in Sisteron before nightfall."

"M'sieu' Duflos will lend us his cart or a horse," Fleurette rejoined
gleefully, "but I won't be long, dear, kind Louise."

And swift as a young hare she ran out and then up the outside
staircase to her room under the overhanging climbing rose.

A few minutes later the two women started on their way. Fleurette had
on her dark kirtle, her thick stockings and buckled shoes; her fair
hair was tucked away underneath her frilled mob-cap. She carried her
own cloak and Louise's on her arm, whilst Louise tramped beside her,
carrying a basket in which she had hastily packed a piece of bread,
some cheese, and two hard-boiled eggs. If M'sieu' Duflos, the butcher,
would lend them his cart, they would be in Sisteron by mid-day; but in
any case they would be there before dark.



Chapter 14

But M'sieu Duflos had no cart to lend them--that is he had no horse.
Didn't Mam'zelle Fleurette and Ma'ame Louise remember? Some of those
brigands had been round the week before and requisitioned every horse
they could lay their hands on all over the country-side; old nags,
mares with foals, butchers' cobs, nothing came amiss to them, nothing
was sacred. Oh those soldiers! Were they not the curse of the country?
And what difference there was between the so-called revolutionary army
and a pillaging band of pirates, M'sieu' Duflos, the butcher, really
couldn't say.

All this he told the two women, to the accompaniment of wide gestures
of his powerful arms and much shrugging of his broad shoulders. It was
Fleurette who had put the question breathlessly to him, as soon as she
had caught sight of him standing on the door of his shop, blocking it
with his massive bulk.

"A horse? A cart? Alas! it was impossible! Ah! those brigands! those
brigands!"

Fleurette could not conceal her disappointment at first; but she was
so brave, so resolute; she was for making an immediate start so as to
get to Sisteron before dark. Perhaps they would meet horse and cart
belonging to some neighbour luckier than poor M'sieu' Duflos. But
Louise, more prudent, saw an opportunity for putting the mad adventure
off until the next day. A start in the early morning could then be
made, she argued, and horse or no horse, Sisteron might be reached
before the sun was low. A good project forsooth. Let Fleurette return
with her quietly now to Lou Mas and sleep on it. That was it! sleep on
it! If only Fleurette would do that she, Louise, felt quite sure that
counsels of prudence would prevail.

M. Duflos sagely nodded his head. Sisteron? He could not conjecture
why Mam'zelle Fleurette should wish to go to Sisteron. Without an
escort! And on foot! What would Citizen Armand say to it, if he knew?

Up to this point, you perceive, not a word about the exciting events
that had convulsed Laragne a little over two hours ago. M'sieu'
Duflos, watching Fleurette, marvelled how much the girl knew. She on
the other hand was longing to ask questions, whilst dreading to lose
time in unnecessary gossip. She looked about her at the familiar
objects: the pump, the shop fronts, the poste de gendarmerie, on the
other side of the square, and in the corner of this Rue Haute where
the soldiers must have stood this morning with Amd, a prisoner
amongst them.

Everything for the moment in Laragne appeared calm, not to say
commonplace. The women had all gone home to cook the midday dinner;
the men were at their work. Every moment she thought that she must see
Amd coming round the corner with his slow swinging steps, looking
for her! M'sieu' Duflos and Louise were talking together, not exactly
in whispers, but under their breath; the way people talk when the
subject is exciting and perhaps awe-inspiring. And suddenly M. Duflos
exclaimed with a great, big sigh of compassion:

"If it is not a misery! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! those poor Colombes!"

His kindly glance turned to Fleurette, and he saw her big blue eyes
fixed on him. And as he was a very worthy fellow this M. Duflos, with
a daughter of his own, he could not somehow return that glance; there
was something in it that reminded him of a young animal in pain. He
guessed that she had heard the news about young Colombe, and he knew,
as every one did in Laragne, that Fleurette, over at Lou Mas, and
Amd Colombe were fond of one another, and that they would be tokened
as soon as the girl had turned eighteen. This love-romance had been
part of the village life ever since the two children had made mud pies
together in the market square with the dust of the road and the water
from the fountain, and though Armand, over at Lou Mas had become very
queer of late, and no one knew anything about the mysterious business
which, of recent years, kept him away from home for months on end,
every one remembered the pretty Marseillaise whom nineteen years ago
he had brought to Lou Mas as a blushing bride, and no one had
forgotten the terrible tragedy of her death when she gave birth to
Fleurette. With the kindliness, one might say the indifference,
peculiar to the peasant, the neighbours put down Armand's growing
moroseness after that terrible event, and his secretive ways, to grief
over the death of his young wife; and then after a while, they ceased
to trouble about him at all, and almost forgot him as it were. But
Fleurette had grown up among them all, a true child of sunny Dauphin,
in spite of her fair hair and blue eyes. They all loved her because
she was so pretty, and though M'sieu' Colombe, the prosperous grocer
of the Rue Haute, might at one time have had more ambitious views for
his son, he and Ma'ame Colombe soon fell victims to Fleurette's charm,
her dainty ways, her quaint little airs, as if she were a lady strayed
into this remote village from some great city, and, above all, being
natives of the South, and children of France, they succumbed to the
fascination of her wealth; for there was no doubt that Armand was
rich, and no doubt that he had made a declaration both privately to
his friend Colombe and officially before the notary at Sisteron, that
he would give his only child a dowry of ten thousand livres tournois,
the day she married with his consent.

And here was this child now, whom every one knew and whom every one
loved, turning great, pleading eyes on M'sieu' Duflos until the worthy
fellow felt so uncomfortable that he had to clear his throat very
noisily and to expectorate on the sanded floor of his shop with a
sound like the falling of a shower of hailstones on a tiled roof. He
thought that Fleurette knew all the details of this morning's dramatic
story.

"Voyons, Mam'zelle Fleurette," he said with a rough attempt at
consolation. "They won't do anything to Amd. Really. The boy meant
no harm."

All then would have been well if that fool Aristide Sicard, who was
M'sieu' Duflos' errand-man, had not put in a word.

"No one," he said, "is going to believe that Amd Colombe is a
thief."

"A thief?" and Fleurette gave a funny little gasp. "Why should they
think that Amd is a thief?"

M'sieu Duflos, the butcher, had given his errand-man a vigorous kick,
but the correction came too late. And now Fleurette wanted to know
more.

"What is your meaning, M'sieu' Aristide?" she insisted with that funny
little air of determination of hers, whilst a frown appeared between
her brows.

As M'sieu' Duflos explained to the neighbours afterwards, Fleurette
looked as if she might be capable of anything at the moment. He was
quite frightened at the expression in her blue eyes. It was too late
to undo the mischief that that fool Aristide had done, so the butcher
took the matter into his own hands. He had a sound knowledge of human
nature, had M'sieu' Duflos, and he prided himself on his tact.

"You see, Mam'zelle Fleurette," he began, "it's this way. Those scurvy
knaves--I mean the soldiers of the Republic--were full of choler
because they had not found enough to steal at the chteau when they
arrested poor M'sieu' de Frontenac. At first, it seems, they thought
that Madame and Mademoiselle had taken their valuables away with them
when they ran away; but later on something must have aroused their
suspicions, or else the same kind of fool as Aristide here must have
got talking. Anyway, they seem to have got the idea that Amd Colombe
had hidden Madame's valuables away somewhere and--"

"Madame's valuables!" Fleurette exclaimed, trying to hide something of
the excitement which was causing her heart to thump furiously. "They
thought that Amd--?"

"Why, yes!" M'sieu' Duflos replied to her half-formulated query. "And
unfortunately---"

"What?"

"Well! They found Madame's valuables---"

But the worthy butcher got no further with his story. Without another
word and swift as lightning, Fleurette had turned on her heel, and the
next moment she was speeding across the market-place in the direction
of the Rue Haute, whilst M'sieu' Duflos was left gazing in ludicrous
perplexity at old Louise.

"What's the matter with the child?" he queried, and thoughtfully
passed his hand through his harsh, bristly hair. "I thought she knew."

Old Louise shrugged her shoulders.

"She only knew that the lad ahd been arrested," she said, "but she had
not heard about Madame's valuables being found in the Colombes' cart-
shed. I was just able to stop Adle telling her. She is so fond of
M'sieu' Amd." Louise added with a sigh: "Oh! how I wish her father
were here."

M'sieu' Duflos was watching Fleurette's trim little figure speeding
across the square and then disappearing round the corner of the Rue
Haute.

"She's run over to the picerie," he commented drily. "The Colombes
are fond of her. They'll be able to comfort one another. Come in and
have a petit verre, Louise. The child will be back soon."

But Louise would not come in, she did not want to lose sight of
Fleurette, so after thanking the kind butcher for his hospitality, she
too turned to go in the direction of the Rue Haute. But at the last
M'sieu' Duflos had one more word to say to her.

"There's one thing more, Ma'ame Louise," he said, with unwonted
earnestness in his round, prominent eyes. "If I were you I would look
after that wench of yours, Adle, a bit sharper. No offence, you know,
but people have been talking in the village. She was rather too
familiar with all those draggled-tailed soldiers last night."

Old Louise, with all a peasant's philosophy, shrugged her fat
shoulders.

"You may be right, M'sieu' Duflos," she said drily, "but the girl, you
know, is no care of mine. My sister Amlie looks after her."

After which she gave a friendly nod to the amiable butcher and made
her way up to the Rue Haute as fast as she could, though this was not
really so fast as Fleurette's nimble little feet had carried her.



Chapter 15

There had been no need for words. As soon as Fleurette had entered the
shop Ma'ame Colombe had stretched out her arms, and Fleurette ran to
her at once to be enfolded in a great maternal embrace. With her fair
hair resting on Ma'ame Colombe's ample bosom, the child began by
having a good cry. She had had none since she heard the fatal news,
for excitement had kept every other emotion in check. But now with
those motherly arms round her, she felt free to let her sorrow and
anxiety have free rein. Ma'ame Colombe's ample bosom heaving against
hers, and the older woman's tears wetting the top of her fair head,
Fleurette looked up, swiftly drying her eyes, and put on a reassuring
smile.

It was difficult to speak at first with all those sobs choking one's
voice; nevertheless, whilst mopping her eyes with her pocket-
handkerchief, Fleurette contrived to say:

"You know, Ma'ame Colombe, that it is all right, don't you? About
Amd, I mean."

"All right, my dear? All right?" the poor woman reiterated, and shook
her head with pathetic dubiousness. "How can it be all right, when my
Amd is accused of being a thief? And before the neighbours too!" she
added, whilst a deeper tone of crimson than her kitchen-fire had lent
to her kind old face, spread over her cheeks.

"That's just it, Ma'ame Colombe," Fleurette continued eagerly.
"Presently--to-night I hope--every one will know that it was not Amd
who took those things."

"Of course he didn't take them. But you know what village gossip is.
If Amd did not take Madame's valuables, they keep on saying, how
came they to be in our cart-shed? Oh, mon Dieu! mon Dieu!" she moaned,
"to think that my Hector and I should live to see such disgrace."

"But, Ma'ame Colombe," Fleurette put in, somewhat impatient with the
older woman's lamentations, "I am going to Sisteron to-night to tell
the gendarme how Madame's valuables came to be in your cart-shed, and
who it was that stole them."

"You, child? How should you know?"

"Because it was I who took the valuables out of the secret place in
Madame's room," Fleurette said glibly, "and I gave them to Amd to
take care of, and because it was I who gave them to him he hid them in
a corner of the cart-shed."

"Holy Virgin!" was all that Ma'ame Colombe was able to say in response
to this amazing story, "the child has taken leave of her senses."

"No, no, Ma'ame Colombe," Fleurette insisted earnestly; "it is just as
I have told you. I took the valuables out of Madame's room while the
soldiers were at the chteau, and I gave them to Amd to take care
of."

"But why?" the poor mother exclaimed, in an agony of bewilderment. "In
Heaven's name why?"

"Because---"

And suddenly Fleurette hesitated. A hot flush rose to her cheeks and
tears gathered in her eyes. She had felt Ma'ame Colombe's perplexed
glance on her, and for the time a stinging doubt gripped her heart and
made her physically almost sick. What views would other people--
strangers or even friends--take of her amazing story? of the heavenly
voice and the mysterious faggot-carrier with the wonderful twinkling
eyes? Would they believe her? or would they deride the whole tale? or
again, like dear, kind Ma'ame Colombe, would they just feel anxious,
perplexed, not wishing to condemn, and yet vaguely wondering what
could have induced a girl like Fleurette to go rummaging about among
Madame's things, and inducing young Amd to help her to conceal them.

An overpowering impulse prompted her to keep her beloved secret to
herself. The sight of Ma'ame Colombe's grief-stricken face almost
shook her resolution, but in the end it was that first impulse which
conquered. After all it was only a matter of a few days, hours
perhaps, and everything would become crystal-clear. Fleurette's little
handkerchief was now like a wet ball in her hot hands; she breathed on
it and dabbed her eyes; she straightened her cap and smoothed down her
kirtle.

"And so, dear Ma'ame Colombe," she said calmly, "I am just going to
Sisteron. Probably I shall find Bibi there; but even if I don't, I
shall go up to the Committee of Public Safety, and I shall tell them
the whole truth, so that there'll be no question of Amd going to
fight the English with the stain of theft upon his name."

It was impossible to say anything more just then, because Louise had
arrived at the epicerie, breathless, but happy to catch sight of
Fleurette looking quite calm and reasonable.

"I hope you gave the child a good scolding, Ma'ame Colombe," she said.
"The idea of her wanting to trapeze the high-road to-day when all
these ruffianly soldiers are still about."

But Fleurette only smiled. "Neither Ma'ame Colombe, nor anyone else,"
she said, "could dissuade me from going to see Bibi now."

"Why!" Louise exclaimed pettishly, "this morning it was M'sieu' Amd
you wanted to see."

"I do want to see Amd," Fleurette rejoined simply, "but I must see
Bibi first."

And Louise saw her exchange an understanding glance with Ma'ame
Colombe. It was all very bewildering and very terrible. Of course she
was terribly sorry for the Colombes, but, just for the moment, she
wished them all at the bottom of the sea. A little feeling of jealousy
had crept into her heart when she saw Fleurette clinging to Ma'ame
Colombe and whispering words into her ears which she, Louise, could
not hear, and this uncomfortable feeling added to her discomfort. What
could Ma'ame Colombe be thinking about to encourage Fleurette in her
obstinacy? Louise could only suppose that all common sense had been
drowned in an ocean of grief for the beloved only son.

Ah! if only Monsieur Armand were here!

And with a last sigh and a none too cordial farewell to Ma'ame
Colombe, Louise, dolefully shaking her head, followed Fleurette out of
the shop.



Chapter 16

It was long past sunset by the time the two women reached Sisteron.
Louise was dog-tired, for the day had been hot and the roads heavy
with dust. They had started from Lou Mas one hour before noon, and as
they left the first outlying houses of the city behind them, the clock
of the tower of Notre Dame was striking eight.

The road between Laragne and Sisteron goes uphill most of the way, but
withal, it is a beautiful road, winding through the wide valley of the
Buche, past orchards of grey-green olives and almond-trees laden with
blossoms. Once past the confluence of the Mouge with the Buche, it
rises in a gentle gradient and gradually reveals to the eye with
magnificent panorama of the Basses Alpes with their rocky crests and
wide flanks draped in the sombre cloaks of pinewoods: Mont de la
Baume, St. Gniez, Signal de Lure; as beautiful a picture as Nature
has to offer for the delectation of travellers, but possessing no
powers of fascination over the two women, who tramped along in
weariness and with anxious hearts.

The road was lonely. Scarce anyone did they meet on the way; no one,
at any rate, to inspire old Louise with alarm. Now and then, perhaps,
a group of labourers toiling homewards would cast a bold glance on the
pretty wench stepping it resolutely beside her old duenna. But after a
ribald word or two, or at worst a coarse jest, they would pass on and
the two women continued their way unmolested.

But the events of the day, subsequently those of the evening, were but
one long string of disappointments. As soon as the first outlying
houses of the city came in sight, Fleurette began inquiring pluckily
and determinedly.

"Citizen Armand," she would ask, "from Lou Mas, over beyond Laragne?"

"What about him?"

"He is an important personage in Sisteron, how could I find him?"

And because she was gentle and had pretty blue eyes, and because she
looked weary and anxious, people would do their best to help her. Some
suggested one place, some another; the posting-inn--he might be known
there, if he sometimes posted to Paris--or else the commissariat. This
latter place proved a danger spot. A ferocious-looking commissaire
very nearly detained the two women on a charge of vagabondage. His
ugly leers and unveiled threats nearly sent Louise off her head with
terror; Fleurette, however, kept up her courage nobly. The thought of
Amd drove every other terror out of her heart. She had vaguely heard
that her father had something to do with a certain Committee of Public
Safety. When she told this to the commissaire his manner immediately
underwent a complete change; he became almost obsequious, placed
himself entirely at the disposal of the citizeness for any inquiries
she might wish to make about her illustrious father. Unfortunately, he
said, the hour was late; the officers of the Committee of Public
Safety situated in the Town Hall were now closed for the night.
Citizen Armand had probably found shelter under the roof of a friend.
Until to-morrow morning nothing could be done.

One thing, however, appeared clear; the soldier who had created so
much stir in Laragne this morning had not come to Sisteron nor was
anything known of them. There was, the now servile commissary
explained, a detachment of the 87th regiment of the line in garrison
in the city and two days ago a squad of the revolutionary army lately
formed for the purpose of scouring the country for traitors and
aristos had passed through Sisteron and gone on in the direction of
Laragne. The commissary had heard something about a family named
Frontenac against whom there was a black mark for treason against the
Republic, but he did not know anything about the arrest of Monsieur or
the escape of Madame and Mademoiselle--whome he persistently referred
to as the ci-devants--nor did he know anything about the arrest of
Amd Colombe, citizen of Laragne.

It was all very disappointing. Fleurette, trying to be brave,
nevertheless felt at times an overwhelming inclination to cry. For one
thing she was very tired, and being young and healthy she was also
hungry. She and Louise had consumed the contents of their provision
basket when the day was still young. Now it was getting near bed-time
and the goal of her efforts not even within sight. The sullenness and
mistrust that seemed to hang over the whole city had the effect of
further damping her spirits. The echo of the terrible doings in
Orange, in Toulon, and Lyons had penetrated as far as this hitherto
peaceful little town. Tales of summary arrests, of death-sentences
without trial, of wholesale massacres were on everybody's lips.
Accusations of treason, it seems, were more frequent than daily bread.
The women looked harassed, hugged their children to their sides, as
they slunk down the ill-lit streets, whilst throwing furtive glances
over their shoulders. The men stood about in groups of three or four
in the dark angles of the streets of beneath the ill-lit doorways
until roughly ordered to go their way by men dressed in nothing but
rags, who wore a tricolour sash round their waist and a cockade on
their worsted cap.

And so ultimately to Les Amandiers, a quiet little inn off the main
streets of the town, that Louise knew of through the drovers from
Laragne who frequented the place when they were in Sisteron on market-
day. Baptiste Portal, the landlord, suspicious at first, not liking
the look of the two unprotected women seeking for lodgings at this
hour of the night, was mollified by seeing the colour of Louise's
money and the blue of Fleurette's eyes. His temper, it seems, had not
yet recovered from the assaults made upon it a couple of days ago by a
set of ragamuffins who called themselves soldiers of the Republic, and
by their loud-spoken and arrogant lieutenant; but he was willing
enough to make the two women welcome, and to give them supper and a
bed. Then only did they tell him who they were and what the purpose of
their journey: to seek Citizen Armand of Lou Mas, whose daughter
Fleurette had matters of the utmost importance to communicate to him.

"Qu' a ne tienne!" Baptiste Portal exclaimed. "Armand was here but a
couple of hours after noon. He was on his way to Orange."

"To Orange!" A cry of terror from Louise; one of excitement from
Fleurette. Orange, the tiger's den! How could two unprotected women
hope to enter it without being devoured? Orange where the guillotine
was at work night and day! where men and women and even children were
massacred in droves, where innocent people hardly dared to speak or
smile or pray, lest they be seized and thrown into prison, only to be
dragged out again to a horrible death.

Orange!

But Fleurette only smiled. What had they to fear seeing Bibi chri
would be there? Was not Bibi far, far more powerful than the whole of
the revolutionary army? Fleurette had seen him at the chteau, with a
great tricolour sash round his waist, giving orders, that the officer
in command of the soldiers dared not disobey.

Orange! She was not afraid of Orange! Even if the great Robespierre
was in Oragne she would not be afraid to go.

After all, what did it mean? Two or three days' journey in the old
coche which, it seems, left the Place d'Armes two days of the week, at
nine o'clock in the morning, and lumbering along through Peipin, and
Saint Etienne-les-Orgues, gave one the chance of getting a good bed
for the night at Sault, and again at Carpentras, if one was too tired
to continue one's journey then.

Orange indeed? Why should one fear Orange, when chance was all in
one's favour. As luck would have it, it was the very next day that the
coche would be starting from the Place d'Armes. All one needed was a
few things, a clean pair of stockings, a handkerchief or two, a bit of
soap and a towel, which dear, kind Ma'ame Portal was only too ready to
lend; these were tied in a bundle and formed the only indispensable
luggage which Fleurette and Louise would take with them. Fortunately
Louise had plenty of money in her pocket, being always well supplied
by Bibi, and then, of course, in Orange, Bibi would be there and he
would provide further as necessity arose.

And thus it came to pass that among the passenger who took their
places in the lumbering old vehicle that morning were two females, one
of whom had corn-coloured hair and eyes bluer than forget-me-nots.



Chapter 17

The Htel de Ville at Orange still stands, as it did then, in the
newly-named Place de la Rpublique; and if the tourist of to-day
mounts its steps, enters the building through its central portal,
crosses the wide vestibule and finally turns down a long corridor on
his right, he will, almost at the end of this, come to a door which
bears the legend: "Travaux Publics."

Should he be bold enough to push open the door, he will find himself
in a perfectly banal room, with white-washed walls covered with maps
and plans that are of no interest to him, a large desk at one end, and
a few wooden chairs. There is a thin carpet in the middle of the red-
tiled floor and faded green rep curtains temper the glaring ligh of
the afternoon sun. But on this day of May, 1794, there were no
curtains to the window, and not even a strip of carpet on the floor.
There was no desk either, only a long trestle table covered with a
tattered green cloth, behind which, on wooden chairs, sat three men,
dressed alike in dark blue coats tightly buttoned across the chest,
drab breeches and high topped boots, and wearing tricolour sashes
around their waist.

The one who sat in the centre and who appeared to be in supreme
authority rested his elbow on the table, and his chin was supported in
his hand. He was gazing intently on a man who stood before him, in the
centre of the room, the other side of the table; a man who looked
foot-sore and weary and who wore a military uniform all tattered and
covered with slime and dust.

The two others also kept their eyes fixed on this man. They were
listening with rapt interest to the story which he was relating. Early
this morning he and a dozen others also attired in tattered uniforms
had come into Orange in a state bordering on collapse. They had made
their way to the barracks where the officer in command had mercifully
given them food and drink. As soon as they had eaten and drunk, they
tried to tell their story; but this was so amazing, not to say
incredible, that the officer in command had thought it prudent to send
for the superintendent of gendarmerie, who in turn had the men
conveyed to the Htel de Ville, there to be brought before the
Representative of the Convention on special mission who sat with the
Committee of Public Safety. And now Lieutenant Godet stood alone to
face the Committee; the others had been handed back to the gendarmerie
to be dealt with later on. The representative on special mission who
sat with the two other Members of the Committee at the table covered
with the tattered green cloth, had questioned Godet, and he thereupon
embarked upon the story of this amazing adventure. He began by
relating the events which three days ago had set the quiet little
commune of Laragne seething with excitement. He told of the arrival of
the squad of soldiers in magnificent uniforms, under the command of an
officer more superb than anything that had ever been seen in the
countryside before. He told of the perquisition in the house of
Citizen Colombe the grocer, by those magnificent soldiers, of the
finding there by them of certain valuables belonging to the ci-devant
Frontenacs, valuables which he himself had vainly searched for in the
chteau, the evening before. He told of the arrest of young Colombe:
of the high-handed manner in which the superb officer had relieved
him, Godet, of his command, and ordered him and his men, together with
the ci-devant Frontenac, to join his squad, and to march with him out
of Laragne. He had told it all with a wealth of detail, and the
members of the Committee had listened in silence and with rapt
interest.

But now the man at the table who was the representative on special
mission, and who appeared chief in authority, broke in with an
exclamation that was almost one of rage.

"And do you mean to tell me, citizen lieutenant," he said in a harsh,
rasping voice, "that you could mistake a lot of English spies--for
that is what they were, you may take it from me--that you could
mistake them, I say, for soldiers of our army. Where wer eyour eyes?"

Lieutenant Godet gave a shrug which he hoped would pass for unconcern.
In reality he felt physically sick; a prey to overwhelming terror. At
first, when he and his men had come in sigh of the city, they had felt
nothing but relief to see the end of what had been almost martyrdom.
It was only afterwards, when he found himself in this narrow room,
with its white-washed walls and its silence, and face to face with
those three men, that fear had entered his heart. He felt like an
animal in a cage--a mouse looking into the pale, piercing eyes of a
cat. He passed his tongue once or twice over his parched lips before
he gave reply.

"I was not the only one, citizen," he said sullenly, "who was
deceived. The whole commune of Laragne was at the heels of those
soldiers. My own men were mustered before the pseudo-captain and heard
him give words of command."

"But Englishmen, citizen lieutenant," the man at the table argued;
"Englishmen! Their appearance! Their speech!"

"They spoke as you and I would, Citizen Chauvelin," Godet retorted,
still sullenly. "As for appearance, one man is like another. I could
not be expected to know every officer of our army by sight!"

"But you said they were splendidly dressed!"

"They were. I knew the uniform well enough. Had there been a doubtful
button or a galloon wanting I should have spotted it."

"But so clean!" one of the others at the table remarked with a sigh,
that might have been of envy, "so magnificent!"

"I knew that there were some compagnies d'lite," the lieutenant
rejoined, "attached to certain regiments. How could I guess?"

"It might have been better for you if you had," the man in the centre
remarked drily.

Godet's wan face took on a more ashen hue; again he passed his tongue
over his parched lips.

"Haven't we had enough of this?" one of the others at the table now
put in impatiently. "We are satisfied that those English spies, or
whatever they were, acted with amazing effrontery, which makes me
think that perhaps they are a part of that gang that we all know of,
and of which Citizen Chauvelin spoke just now. We are also satisfied
that Citizen Lieutenant Godet did not show that acumen which an
officer in his responsible position should have done. What we want to
know now is, what happened after the pseudo-captain of the so-called
33rd division had arrested that young Colombe and marched out of
Laragne?"

"And in your interest, citizen lieutenant," the man in the centre
rejoined sternly, "I advise you to make a statement that is truthful
in every detail."

"Had I wished to tell lies," the soldier retorted sullenly, "I
shouldn't be here now. I should have---"

"No matter," the other broke in curtly, "what you would have done. The
State desires to know what you did."

"Well!" Lieutenant Godet began after a moment or two during which he
appeared to collect his thoughts. "We marched out of Laragne in the
direction of Serres. The captain--I still, of course, looked upon his
as a captain--had so disposed us that I and my own men were between
two squads of his. We were footsore, all of us, because we had had
three days' tramping in the dust, one day battling against hard wind,
another with long hours spent in scouring the chteau of those
traitors Frontenacs; we were also very hungry. Remember that we had
been dragged out of our beds in the early morning, and not given a
chance of getting a bite or drink before starting on the march. But
they, the others, were fresh as if they had just come out of barracks
with their bellies full...They marched along at a swinging pace,
and it was as much as we could do to keep step with them."

The man's voice became somewhat more steady as he talked. The note of
terror which had been so conspicuous in it at first had given place to
one of dull resentment. Encouraged by the obvious interest which his
story had evoked in his hearers, he resumed more glibly:

"About half a league north of Laragne, a bridle-path branches off the
high-road; into this the captain ordered his company to turn, and we
continued to plod along through the dust and in the midday heat, till
we came to a tumble-down cottage by the roadside; a cottage flanked by
a dilapidated shed, and a bit of garden all overgrown with weeds. Here
a halt was called, and the prisoners were ordered out of the wagon. A
moment or two later a woman appeared at the cottage door, some words
were exchanged between her and the captain, and subsequently, when
order to march was given, the prisoners marched along with us; the
wagon and horses having been left behind at the cottage."

"Didn't you think this very strange, citizen lieutenant?" one of the
men at the table asked; "a wagon and horses which you would naturally
presume belonged to the State, being thus left at a tumble-down
roadside cottage?"

"Whatever I may have thought," the lieutenant replied, "it was not my
place to make observations to my superior officer."

"Superior officer!" the man in the centre remarked, with a gesture of
contemptuous wrath.

"I think, Citizen Chauvelin," the accused now put in a little more
firmly, "that you are unnecessarily hard on me. There was really
nothing to indicate---"

But the other broke in with a vicious snarl:

"Nothing to indicate--? Nothing? The eyes of a patriot should be sharp
enough to detect a spy or a traitor through any disguise--"

He paused abruptly, and cast a quick, inquisitorial glance at his two
colleagues first, then at the soldier before him. Had he detected a
trace, a sign, a flicker of the eyelid that betrayed knowledge of his
own past? of the times--numberless now---that he too had been
hoodwinked by those bold adventurers who called themselves the League
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and by their chief whose prowess in the art
of disguise had marked some of the most humiliating hours in
Chauvelin's career? Calais, Boulogne, Nantes, Paris; each of those
great cities had a record of the Terrorist's discomfiture when brought
face to face with that mysterious and elusive Scarlet Pimpernel. Even
now, crushed in the hot palm of his hand, he held a scrap of paper
which had revealed the author of the plot to which that fool
Lieutenant Godet had fallen a victim--just as he, himself, Chauvelin,
had done---just like that--and so many times---The penalty for him had
always been more humiliation, a further fall from the original high
place which he had once occupied in Paris: and with it the knowledge
that one day the masters of France would tire of his failures. Ah! he
knew that well enough, he knew that they would tire, and then they
would crush him as they had crushed others, whose only crime, like
his, had been failure.

His only claim to immunity, so far, had been the fact that he alone,
of all the members of the National Assembly, of all the members of the
Committees, or of the Executive, knew who the Scarlet Pimpernel really
was; he had seen him without disguise; he knew him by name, not only
him but some of his more important followers; and when some of the
ferocious tyrants, who for the time being were the masters of France,
did at times loudly demand the suppression of Citizen Chauvelin, for
incompetence that amounted to treason, there were always others who
pleaded for him because of that knowledge. Many felt that with the
death of Chauvelin, the last hope of capturing that band of English
spies would have to be abandoned; and so they pleaded for his
retention and their fellow-tyrants allowed him another few months'
grace so that he might accomplish that which they knew was the great
purpose of his life. And whenever in the opinion of those bloodthirsty
tigers, who held France under their domination, some outlying
provincial districts had need of what they called "purging from the
pestilence of traitors," whenever wholesale arrests, perquisitions,
wholesale death-sentences or brutal massacres were the order of the
day, Citizen Chauvelin was sent down with special powers, always in
the vain hope that the Scarlet Pimpernel, emboldened by success, would
fall into the trap perpetually set for him. The English spy's
predilection for aristos, his sympathies so quickly aroused when
traitors happened to be women or young children, was sure to draw his
activities to any region where prisons were full and the guillotine
kept busy.

Thus it was that Citizen Chauvelin had been sent to Orange. The
Southern provinces of France had been left far too long to welter in a
morass of treason; there were veritable nests of traitors in the
chteaux and farms of Provence and Dauphin. The country had to be
purged: the traitors extirpated; the magnificent Law of the Suspect be
set in motion to do this cleansing process. Any man who ventured to
criticize the government, who complained of taxation or restrictions
was a traitor; any man or woman who owned more than they needed for
bare subsistence, who refused to pour of their surplus into the lap of
patriots, was a traitor, and the country must be purged of them, until
the dictatorship of the proletariat was firmly established, until
every man, woman and child in the whole of France had been dragged
down to the same level of mental and physical wreckage.

There had been a dramatic pause after Chauvelin's outburst of
contemptuous wrath; for a minute or two, while the old clock up on the
wall ticked away with slow monotony, a strange silence remained
hanging over the scene. Whatever the other three men may have known or
remembered of the noted Terrorist's past history, they thought it
wiser to say nothing. In these days of universal brotherhood and
Liberty, every man in France was frightened of his neighbour. The time
had come when the lustful tigers, satiated with the blood of those
whom they deemed their enemies, had turned, thirsting, for that of
their whilom friends. The makers of the Terror had started digging
their fangs into each other's throats. The victory now was to the most
ferocious. After the Girondins, Danton, he, who had ordered the
September massacres, two and a half years ago, had had to yeild to a
more vengeful, more merciless power than his own.

Chauvelin knew that. The victory to-day was to the most ferocious. He
who would sacrifice friends, brother, sister, child, was the true
patriot; the man who stayed his hand in face of a revolting crime that
would put a wild beast to the blush, was unworthy the name of citizen
of France. Therefore death to him. Death to the weakling. To the
Moderate. This was the era of the Universal Brotherhood of Death.

What chance then had this unfortunate Lieutenant Godet now? brought to
justice---save the mark!--before a man who knew that to show weakness
was to court death. No wonder that all the swagger and the arrogance
which made him but a day or two ago the terror of a lot of peasants at
Sisteron or Laragne, was knocked out of him, by a mere glance from
those pale, piercing eyes. And he--a mere notary's clerk born and bred
in the depth of Dauphin, and thrust into the army, as a mule is
thrust into harness--knew nothing of Paris save from hearsay, and
nothing of the men whose word had even sent a king and queen to the
scaffold. He knew nothing of Citizen Chauvelin, save that he was a man
of power, before whose piercing glance and tricolour sash every man
instinctively cringed and trembled. He knew nothing of Chauvelin's
tussles with those same English spies who had so effectually led him,
Godet, by the nose; nothing of Citizen Chauvelin's past life, very
little of the present. He was just a mouse in the power of a cat;
allowed a little freedom just now, while he told his tale of failure.

"Continue, citizen lieutenant," Chauvelin now said more calmly. "We
are listening."

"Let me see," Godet rejoined vaguely, "where was I?"

"On the bridle-path off the main road," Chauvelin responded with a
sneer; "half a league north of Laragne. The wagon and horses
presumably belonging to the State left in a tumble-down cottage by the
roadside. A thrilling situation forsooth. An ordinary situation you
would have us believe. Pray continue. What happened after that?"

"We marched and we marched and we marched," the lieutenant resumed
sullenly. "We marched until we were ready to drop. We had had three
days of marching and had started in the morning without a bite,
hungry! Nom d'un nome! how hungry we were! and weak and faint! The
hours sped on; we could see the sun mounting the heavens and then
start on its descent. The heat was intense, the dust terrible. It
filled our eyes, our nostrils, our mouths. The soles of our feet were
bleeding, sweat poured down our faces and obscured our vision. We
marched and we marched, through two villages, the names of which I do
not know; then over mountain passes, across rocky gorges, stepping
over streams, climbing the sides of hills, the banks of rivers. I am a
stranger in these parts. And I was tired. Tired! I knew not where we
were, whither we were going. March! March! March! Ceaselessly. Even
had I dared, I would no longer have ahd the strength to ask questions
or to beg for mercy."

And at the recollection of those hours of agony, Lieutenant Godet
wiped the perspiration from his streaming brow.

"Well?" Chauvelin queried drily, "and the others, the Englishmen?"

"They marched along at a swinging pace," Godet replied, smothering a
savage oath. "Without turning a hair. They kicked up no dust. They did
not sweat. They just marched. No doubt their bellies were well
filled."

"And the prisoners?"

"They set to with a will. And I make no doubt but they had fed and
drunk while they sat in the wagon. At any rate they showed no
fatigue."

"How long did you continue on the march?"

"Till one by one we--my comrades and I--fell out by the roadside."

"And those who fell out were left, while the others went on?"

"Yes! We had gone through the second village, and were marching along
the edge of a stream, when the first lot of us dropped out. Three of
my men. They just rolled down the bank of the stream; and there lay on
their stomachs trying to drink. The captain--or whatever he was, curse
him!--called "Halt!" and one of his men ran down the bank and had a
look at those three poor fellows who lay there striving to slake their
hunger as well as their thirst in the cool mountain stream. But, nom
de nom! They--the miscreants!--had no bowels of compassion. I
believe--for in truth I was too tired to see anything clearly--that
one of them did leave a hunk of bread by the side of the stream:
perhaps he was afraid that those poor fellows would die of inanition
and then their death would be upon his conscience."

"Well! And did all the men fall out that way?"

"Yes! We were marching three abreast: and three by three we all fell
out. Always beside the stream, for we suffered from thirst as much as
from hunger. The stream seemed to draw us, and three of us, as if by
common understanding, would just roll down the bank and lie on our
stomachs and try to drink. The captain no longer called a halt when
that happened. One of his own men would just throw pieces of bread
down to the edge of the stream, just as they would to a dog."

"And you were the last to fall out?"

"The very last. I verily believe, when I rolled down the bank and felt
the cool stream against my face, that I had died and reached the
Elsyian fields. A piece of bread was thrown to me, and I fell on it
like a starved beast."

"And then what happened?"

"Nothing."

"What do you mean? Nothing?"

"Nothing as far as we were concerned. The bank of the stream, for a
length of two kilometres or more, was strewn with our dead--that is
not dead, you understand, but fatigued, and only half-conscious with
hunger: while those miscreants, those limbs of Satan, marched off
without as much as a last look at us! Gaily they marched away singing.
Yes, singing, some awful gibberish, in a tongue I did not understand.
That is," poor Godet went on ruefully, "when first I had an inkling of
the awful truth. That strange tongue gave it away. You understand?"

The others nodded.

"And then, by chance, I put my hand in the back pocket of my tunic,
and felt that piece of paper."

With finger that quivered slightly, he pointed to Chauvelin's hand;
between the clenched claw-like fingers there protruded the corner of a
scrap of paper. Chauvelin failed to suppress the exclamation of rage
which rose to his lips.

"Nom de nom!" he muttered savagely through his teeth, and with his
handkerchief he wiped the beads of moisture that had risen to the
roots of his hair.

"And so they marched away," one of the others remarked drily. "In
which direction?"

"Straight on," the soldier replied laconically.

"On the way to Nyons, I suppose, and Walreas?"

"I suppose so. I don't know the neighbourhood."

"You do not seem to have known much, Lieutenant Godet," Chauvelin put
in with a sneer.

"I come from the other side of the Drac," Godet retorted. "I could
not---"

But Chauvelin broke in with an oath:

"Wherever you come from, citizen," he said sternly, "it was your duty
to become acquainted with the country through which you were ordered
to march your men."

"I had no orders to take them through mountain passes," Godet remarked
sullenly. "We came through here a month ago and have kept to the high-
road. At Sisteron I had my orders to arrest the ci-devant Frontenacs.
You, Citizen Chauvelin, must know how conscientiously I did my duty.
All the orders you gave me I fulfilled. After Sisteron you ordered me
to go to Laragne, and thence to Serres. It was you ordered me to a
halt at Laragne for the night."

"All this is beside the point," one of the others broke in roughly.
"All we can gather from this confused tale is that all traces of the
English spies have completely vanished."

"For the moment," Chauvelin assented drily. "It is for Lieutenant
Godet to find those traces again."

He spoke now with extreme bitterness, and the glances which he
levelled at Godet were both hostile and threatening. It would be
curious to try and follow the mental processes which had given rise to
this hostility. Godet, after all said and done, had only failed in the
same manner as he himself, Chauvelin, had so often done. He had been
hoodwinked by a particularly astute and daring adventurer who was an
avowed enemy of France: and if being thus hoodwinked was a crime
against the State, then the powerful member of the Committee of Public
Safety and the humble lieutenant of infantry were fellow-criminals.
This, of course, Godet did not know. Not yet: or he would not have
been in such dread of this man with the pale eyes and the talon-like
hands. The others he did not fear nearly so much. No doubt they too
were cruel and vengeful these days. Strike or the blow will fall on
you, was the rule of every man's conduct. Pochart and Danou took their
cue from Chauvelin; his was the master-mind, his the more ruthless
nature, all they did was to try and show their zeal by saying Amen to
every suggestion, every sarcasm, every accusation put forth by their
colleague.

In fact the proceedings by now had developed into a kind of duel
between the accused and the principal judge; it was a duel made up of
acrimonious accusations on the one hand, and of defence that weakened
perceptibly as the accused became more and more confused through ever-
increasing terror. The other two only put in a word here and there.
They wished to know how the adventure had finally come to an end.

"In a long, weary tramp to Orange," Godet replied; "weary beyond what
words can describe, footsore, hungry and thirsty we tramped."

They had to cover three leagues. How they lived through it, they none
of them knew. At one or two villages which they encountered, they
obtained a little food, and some drink. For the space of a league and
a half, he, Godet, and two others got a lift in a farmer's wagon. On
the way they asked news of the English spies. They had been seen
marching merrily; but soon all traces of them had vanished.

"Had I been the traitor you say I am, Citizen Chauvelin," Godet said
in the end, "would I have come into Orange with my tale? I would have
tried to run away and to hide. Made my way to Toulons, what? and
joined the army there. You would not have found me then; months would
have gone by before you heard of my adventure."

"You underestimate the power which is in my hands, citizen
lieutenant," was Chauvelin's curt comment. "Only one thing could save
you from the consequences of your treachery, and that was to speak the
truth and to redeem your crime."

He paused a moment, and then addressing his two colleagues, he said
with slow deliberation:

"We all agree, I think, that Citizen Lieutenant Godet has been guilty
of gross negligence, which to-day, when France is threatened by
traitors within as well as by her enemies on her frontier, amounts to
treason against the State. Silence!" he went on, throwing a stern
glance on Godet who had uttered a violent word of protest. "Listen to
what hope of indulgence it is in my power to give you. The State
against whom you have sinned well grant you the chance of retrieving
your crime. We will grant you full powers under the new Law of the
Suspect. You shall go into the highways and the byways with full power
to seize any man, woman or child, whom you as much as vaguely suspect
of complicity in this affair. Do you understand?"

"I think I do," Godet replied dully.

"The State," Pochart put in sagely, "would rather have the English
spies than your head, citizen lieutenant."

"The State will have Citizen Godet's head," Chauvelin rejoined drily,
"or the English spies. The choice rests with Citizen Godet himself."

There was a moment's pause. The eyes of the soldier were fixed upon
the pale, determined face of his ruthless judge. He knew that his life
hung upon the decision uttered by those thin, bloodless lips. He was
in the grip of a white terror; his teeth were clenched and his tongue
clove, hard and dry, against the roof of his mouth. He was terrified,
and in his wildly beating heart there was an immense hatred for the
man who thus terrorized him. He longed to get at him, to grip him by
the throat, to scream out insults into that pale, stern, colourless
face. He longed to see that same fear of death which was paralysing
him, dim the light of those pale eyes. His own impotence made that
hatred more intense. It shone out of his eyes, and Chauvelin meeting
them caught the glance like that of an enraged cur, ready to spring.
Indifferent, he shrugged his shoulders and the ghost of a sneer curled
round his thin lips. He was accustomed to hatred and desire for
revenge.

"Citizen lieutenant," he said at last, "you have heard the decision of
the committee. It has been found expedient to withhold punishment from
you, because it is in your power to serve the State in a way that no
other man could do at this moment. You have seen the English spies
face to face; you know something of their appearance, something of
their mode of speech. Go then into the highways and byways, the men
who with you were guilty of negligence shall go with you. It is for
you to use the full powers which the Law of the Suspect has placed in
your hands. Go scour the country. Yours is the power to seize any man,
woman or child whom you suspect of treason to the State, make use of
that power in order to track down to their lair the English foxes who
have outwitted you. Only let me add a word of warning in your ear. Do
not be led by the nose a second time. If you are, no power on earth
will save you. The State may forgive incompetence once: the second
time it will bear the ugly name of treason."

He had risen to his feet, and just for a moment the muscles of his
hand relaxed, and the scrap of paper which he had crushed into a ball
rolled upon the table.

His colleague Pochart picked it up and idly opened and smoothed it
out: he studied for a moment or two the close writing upon it, then
looking inquiringly up at Chauvelin.

"Can you tell us what is written on this paper, citizen?" he asked.

And while he spoke he tossed the paper across to his colleague Danou.

"Is it English?" Danou asked, puzzled.

"Yes," Chauvelin replied curtly.

"It looks like poetry," Pochart remarked.

"Doggerel verses," commented Chauvelin.

"And you can't read it?"

"No!"

"I thought you knew English."

"Not I."

"Strange why a bit of doggerel verse should have been slipped into the
pocket of Citizen Godet's tunic," Pochart remarked drily. "And there's
your name, Citizen Chauvelin," he added, pointing to the words " mon
ami Chauvelin," which preceded the four lines of poetry written in
English, a language which, apparently, no one here understood.

But Chauvelin was at the end of his patience. He seized the scrap of
paper and tore it savagely into innumberable little pieces.

"Enough of this futility," he said, and brought his clenched fist down
with a crash on the table. "The English spies have been facetious,
that is all. We do them too much honour by attaching importance to
this senseless, childish verse. Lieutenant Godet," he went on, once
more addressing the accused, "you are dismissed, under the conditions
I told you of just now. When next we meet face to face, you will
either be the lucky man who has helped to lay these impudent English
adventurers by the heel, or you will stand before me arraigned for
treason and preparing for death. Now you can go."

Without another word Godet turned on his heel and went out of the
room. Past the guard at the door, he went with head erect, and with a
firm step he walked the whole length of the corridor. But there was
one moment when in the vestibule he found himself alone. Unwatched. At
any rate he thought so. So he paused and looked over his shoulder in
the direction of the room where he had just spent an uncomfortable two
hours. He paused and raising his fist, he shook it at the unseen
presence of the man who had so terrorized him, and whom he hated
because of the terror which he inspired.

"With a bit of luck," he muttered through his teeth, "we shall be even
yet, you and I, mon ami Chauvelin."

Then once more with a firm step he walked out of the Town Hall.



Chapter 18

It was on the following day that the coche from Sisteron was due to
arrive at Orange, and Lieutenant Godet, his mind set on the one
purpose, to find a clue to his mysterious adventure with the English
spies, hied him to the posting-inn which is situated in the Rue de la
Rpublique.

At noon the coche, covered with dust, unloaded its wearied passengers;
a farmer and his son come to negotiate a sale of stock; the wife of
Citizen Henriot, the lawyer, home from her annual visit to her mother;
two or three skilled artisans from the country, come to seek their
fortune in town, and so on; and finally there descended from the coche
two women, one of whom carried a small bundle, while the other--well!
at sight of the other Citizen Lieutenant Godet uttered such a cry of
surprise and of excitement that the crowd around him thought that here
was a poor soldier who had taken leave of his senses.

The woman who had caused Lieutenant Godet thus to lose his self-
control, was a perfectly self-possessed young woman wrapped in a cloak
and hood from beneath which peeped strands of golden curls that vied
in colour with the ripe corn of the Dauphin, and eyes bluer than the
sky that spread over Orange on this exquisite midday in May. The older
woman who accompanied her appeared travel-stained, weary and cross;
not so this beautiful girl, who tripped lightly from the coche towards
the parlour of the posting-inn and with a little air of triumph and
encouragement called gaily to her companion:

"The end of our journey, my Louise! And now to find Bibi!"

Even in these days of advanced democracy which in Orange had of late
reached its apogee, the shattering of ancient manners and customs had
not got to the stage where a beautiful woman would not command the
attention and services of impressionable males, to the exclusion of
others less favoured. And thus it came to pass that while the other
weary and travel-stained passengers were left to look after themselves
and their bits of luggage, and to wait their turn until such time as
the servants of the inn were pleased to get them refreshments, the
landlord himself, a florid man in shirt sleeves and baize apron,
bustled obsequiously around Fleurette and Louise, offering wine bread
and advice, polishing the chairs on which they were invited to sit,
and generally placing himself and his house at the disposal of this
attractive customer.

Fleurette took all these attentions as a matter of course. She was
accustomed to being the centre of attraction at Lou Mas or in the
house of M'sieu' and Ma'ame Colombe, and although her trust in the
good-will of men had received one or two somewhat rude shocks of late,
she still retained that self-possession and gentle air of mingled
modesty and graciousness which is the attribute of every pretty,
unspoilt woman. She asked for a room where she and her companion might
tidy their kerchiefs and caps, and use their precious piece of scented
soap, and she felt so triumphant and so elated that when she found
herself in the privacy of that room she took poor old Louise by the
waist and twirled her round and around in a mad dance.

"We are in Orange, Louise darling!" she cried. "We are here! here!
here! and in less than an hour we shall have found Bibi will have
commanded Amd to be set free! Just think of it, Louise," she went on
more seriously, "four whole days since he was arrested! Poor, poor
Amd, under a horrible accusation of a sin which he never committed!
What he must have suffered! What he must have thought of me who knew
the truth and did not at once set to work to obtain his freedom..."

Gradually her tone became more and more dull, all the excitement died
out of it. She saw Amd in prison, with irons round his wrists and
ankles, or else standing before stern judges who condemned him to a
terrible punishment, because he held his tongue, and would not accuse
the real delinquent, who was none other than she, Fleurette. She
sighed, and her eyes now were full of tears, while old Louise,
stolidly, and with much grumbling, got some water and proceeded to
wash her face and hands and to tidy her dress.

"Come, child," she said drily after a while, "we'll go down now and
get something to eat."

She had never ceased to protest against the madness of this adventure,
prophesying every kind of calamity for them both: but Fleurette with
the quiet obstinacy of the habitually meek had persisted. She had
begun by wheedling the money out of Louise, then obtained the passes
for places in the coche. Once on the way, it would of course have been
ridiculous to turn tail and go back, and Louise, led unconsciously by
a force of will stronger than her own, had found herself meekly
acquiescing in all the arrangements which Fleurette made on the way.
As a matter of fact she had not ceased to marvel at the child. Here
was this young thing, who had never travelled in a coche before, who
had never in her life been further than Serres and Sisteron, calmly
undertaking a three days' journey, sleeping and eating in strange
inns, and arriving at her destination unscathed. There certainly was a
miracle in all this good luck, for old Louise had heard many a tale of
what terrible adventures usually befell unprotected females upon the
high-roads. What she did not realize was that the miracle merely
consisted in the fact that in these outlying corners of beautiful
France, in Dauphin and in Provence, there was still plenty of the
good old kindly stock left, some of the chivalry, the warmth of heart,
the bonhomie, which all the tyranny and the cruelty perpetrated in the
great cities had not contrived to kill; and that there was something
in Fleurette's beauty, her simplicity as well as her determination,
which brought forth that chivalry and bonhomie and helped her to win
through.

When the two women returned to the parlour, where hot milk and country
bread awaited them, they were met by a young soldier, who very
politely and deferentially claimed acquaintance with them.

"You would not remember me, citizeness," he said, more particularly
addressing Fleurette, "but I and some very weary soldiers under my
command are deeply indebted to you for your kindness to us, when, like
a good Samaritan, you gave us food and drink, on the bridge near your
home. Do you remember?"

He looked very bedraggled and out-at-elbows, but frank and kind.
Fleurette raised shy, blue eyes up at his, and gave a little gasp of
recognition. She well remembered the soldier. She remembered how sorry
she had been for them all, in their shabby clothes and stockingless
feet, weary and thirsty, and how she had sent Adle out to them with
food and drink. She also remembered, though she would not remind him
of that, that he had been very curt and uncivil with her, had made a
sneering remark when she told him that she was Citizen Armand's
daughter, and also that the men under his command had been positively
cruel to a poor inoffensive old man whom she afterwards befriended.

However, for the moment, she was perhaps conscious of a slight feeling
of relief at sight of a familiar face; she had seen nothing but
strangers ever since she left Laragne four days ago. So when the
soldier, still speaking quite deferentially, reiterated his: "Do you
remember?" she replied simply: "Of course I do, citizen lieutenant."
Which goes to prove that Fleurette had learned a great deal in the
past three days, and the word "citizen" now came quite glibly to her
tongue.

Lieutenant Godet had told her his name, told her that he was a native
of Orange and was home on leave for a few days.

"A real piece of luck," he went on lightly, "seeing that perhaps I
might be of service to you."

The two women sat down at the table and he helped to wait on them,
brought them bread and cheese and a jug of hot milk, and bustled the
maid of the inn if the latter appeared to Louise, talked of his own
journey, and inquired after her adventures. Louise, despite her innate
suspicion of soldiers, gradually unbent to him. The warm food further
put her into a good temper, and presently the three of them were
conversing in the most amicable manner.

When the meal had been duly paid for, the soldier once more offered
his services. Could he pilot the citizenesses through the town?

"Well yes, you can," Louise said resolutely, "we want to find M'sieu'
Armand."

"Citizen Armand," Fleurette broke in, "my father. I think you know
him, citizen lieutenant."

"Know him?" he exclaimed, "of course I know Armand. Who does not know
Citizen Armand in Orange?"

"Then he is here now?" Fleurette cried eagerly.

"Of a surety he is."

"You know where he lodges?"

"Every one in Orange knows where Citizen Armand lodges."

"Then you can take me to him?"

"At your service, citizeness."

"Now?"

"When you wish."

With a little cry of delight Fleurette gathered up her cloak.

"Let us go," she said simply.

Louise sighing, but stolid, followed meekly. The thought that she
would soon relinquish her wayward charge into the keeping of M'sieu'
Armand was a comforting one; Fleurette was tripping it gaily beside
the soldier, but the latter's dirty clothes and bedraggled appearance
still filled old Louise with mistrust.

They crossed the river by the old bridge and then trudged along the
dusty streets to a great open place, now called Place de la
Rpublique. The soldier led the way across the square to a tall stone
building, flanked by a square tower, to which a flight of steps gave
access. He seemed to know his way about. At the top of the steps a
couple of soldiers in somewhat tidier uniforms than his own, were on
guard. They stood in what Louise, who had old-fashioned notions as to
the behaviour of soldiers on duty, put down as a slouchy and
disrespectful attitude. When Lieutenant Godet walked past them they
did not salute. This want of respect of the soldier for his officer
was another manifestation, it seems, of Equality and Fraternity.
Louise, with her nose in the air, sailed past in the wake of Godet and
Fleurette.

After crossing a wide vestibule and turning on the right into a long
paved corridor, Lieutenant Godet came to a halt before a door which
bore the legend: "Committee of Public Safety, Section III." Beside the
door another soldier, also in very shabby uniform, stood leaning upon
his bayonet. Fleurette, overawed by the vastness and silence of the
place, gazed with vague terror at this man who without uttering a word
had put his bayonet athwart the door and held it there, barring the
way, motionless as a statue. Lieutenant Godet then spoke to him:

"The citizeness," he said, "is the daughter of Citizen Chauvelin. She
desires to speak with him!"

The daughter of Citizen Chauvelin? What did the man mean? Fleurette,
puzzled and frowning, pulled him by the sleeve. She was the daughter
of Citizen Armand: she'd never heard the name of Chauvelin before.
Nevertheless the soldier on guard lowered his bayonet. Godet pushed
open the door and the next moment Fleurette found herself facing a
large desk which was covered with papers, and behind which Bibi was
sitting, writing. A voice said loudly:

"Citizen Chauvelin, here's your daughter come to see you."

Whereupon Bibi raised his head and looked at her, staring as if he had
seen a ghost.

Forgetting everything save the joy of seeing chri Bibi at last,
Fleurette gave a glad little cry, ran round the table, and came to
halt on her knees beside Bibi's chair, with her arms round his neck.

She felt so glad, so glad that she was ready to cry.

"Bibi," she said softly, whispering in his ear, "chri Bibi, are you
not glad to see me?"



Chapter 19

At sight of Fleurette, Chauvelin had stared as if he had seen a ghost.
He did not trust his eyes: they were obviously playing him a trick. It
was only a second or two later that he realized it was indeed the
child, come, Heaven only knew why or how, but here in this awful city
where treachery, hatred and cruelty were holding sway under his own
command.

Half-dazed, he yielded to the caresses of this one being the whole
wide world whom his tigerish heart had ever loved. His arms closed
round her beloved form, whose sweet breath as of thyme and violets
filled his soul with joy. Then, looking up, he saw Louise standing
there: silent, stolid, mutely accusing, and he asked roughly:

"How the hell did you both get here?"

Louise shrugged her shoulders.

"By the coche," she said, "from Sisteron."

"I know," he rejoined. "But why did you come?"

"Ask her," Louise replied curtly. "She would come. I could not let her
travel alone."

Bibi's two hands were clasped round Fleurette's head, his fingers were
buried in her hair: he pressed that dearly-beloved head closer and
closer to his breast; joy at sight of her had already given place to
terror. What was the child doing here? How and why had she come? He
had kept her so completely aloof from real life, that it seemed to him
that some awful cataclysm must have occurred over in that peaceful
home in Dauphin, else she were not here.

His pale, restless eyes searched Louise's impassive face:

"Who brought you here?" he reiterated roughly.

"An officer in a draggle-tailed uniform," Louise replied, still
speaking curtly, whilst with a glance that was distinctly hostile her
eyes swept round the room. "I thought," she added, "that he followed
us into the room."

"What was he like?"

She described him as closely as she could, and then added: "I don't
remember his name."

She too had heard the name "Chauvelin" spoken by the soldier and for a
moment had pondered. Marvelled. In her downright peasant mind vague
doubts, doubts that were eighteen years old now, turned to more
definite suspicions. She knew well enough that some kind of mystery
hung around the personality of Fleurette's father; she knew for
instance that he was really a wealthy and high-born gentleman; but
eighteen years ago, in the days of the old rgime, the fact that a
high-born gentleman chose to hide a love-romance from the eyes of his
equally high-born friends was not an infrequent occurrence. If at any
time during the past eighteen years she had learned that M'sieu'
Armand was really a great Duke or Prince or Ambassador, she would have
been neither surprised nor suspicious. But Chauvelin!!! For the past
three years whenever rumours of cruelty or ruthless persecution of
innocent men and women had penetrated to these distant corners of
Dauphin or Provence, the name of Armand Chauvelin had stood out as
the protagonist of these terrible tragedies; people spoke of Danton
the lion of the revolution, and also of Marat its tiger, of
Robespierre and of Chauvelin.

Chauvelin!!!

And he, meeting her glance, understood what went on in her mind. As to
this he was indifferent. What Louise thought of him was less than
nothing. It was the child that mattered now: the child who clung to
him quivering with excitement. The terror in his heart grew in
intensity: it gripped him till he felt physically sick. The mad dogs
of hatred and cruelty, which he himself had helped to unchain, seemed
to be snarling at him and threatening his Fleurette. With a hand that
trembled visibly, he stroked the pretty golden hair.

"Now, little one," he said, steadying his voice as much as he could,
"are you going to tell me why you've come?"

Fleurette struggled to her feet. Self-possessed she stood before her
father and said firmly:

"Chri Bibi, I came in order to right a great wrong. I believe that
you are strong and powerful and that you will help me to see justice
done. That is why I came to you."

He frowned, more puzzled than before, angered with himself for being
so dull-witted, for not making a guess at what had brought the child
along. His mind just before she came had been so completely absorbed
in the latest adventure of his arch-enemy the Scarlet Pimpernel, that
the presence of Fleurette, here and now, had been for him like a
sudden stunning blow on the head. He felt dazed and stupid: unable to
turn his thoughts into this fresh channel.

"Fleurette, my darling," he pleaded, "try and tell me more clearly. I
don't understand. What do you mean by righting a wrong? What wrong?"

"Why," she replied simply, "the arrest of M'sieu' Amd for a crime
which he did not commit.

"You knew M'sieu' Amd had been arrested?" she insisted.

Yes, he knew that. The mock arrest of young Colombe was one of the
tricks played on that fool Godet by those impuden English spies. But
what had Fleurette's presence here to do with that?

She was trying to explain.

"Then you know, chri Bibi," she was saying in that sweet, eager way
of hers, "that some valuables belonging to Madame over at the chteau
were found in the shed behind M'sieu' Colombe's shop?"

Yes, he knew that too. But what had she...?

"And that the soldiers accused M'sieu' Amd of having stolen them?"

A sigh of relief escaped him. He was beginning to understand. Nothing
to worry about apparently. Indeed he might have guessed. The child had
come to plead for that young fool Amd, and---

"And what I had come to tell you, chri Bibi," she went on glibly, "is
that it is not Amd who stole the things belonging to Madame."

She paused for a second or two. What she was about to say required
courage: and how Bibi would take it she did not know. But Fleurette
had come all the way from Lou Mas, had journeyed three days, so that
Bibi might right a great wrong, as only he could do, and, once more
sinking on her knees beside her father's chair, she added in a clear
voice, rendered somewhat shrill with excitement:

"I stole the valuables out of Madame's room, chri Bibi."

With a hoarse cry he clapped his hand against her mouth. My God, if
some one had heard! The guard outside, or one of these innumerable
spies whom he himself had set in motion, and whose ears were trained
to penetrate through the most solid walls.

His pale eyes in which now lurked a kind of vague terror, wandered
furtively round the room, whilst Louise, equally horrified and
frightened, exclaimed almost involuntarily:

"The child is mad, M'sieu', do not listen to her."

Fleurette alone remained self-possessed: she was still on her knees,
but at Bibi's rough gesture she had fallen back, steadying herself
with one hand against the floor. Slowly, noiselessly, Chauvelin had
risen and tiptoed across the room, Louise, wide-eyed and scared,
following his every movement. They were furtive like those of a cat on
the prowl, and his face was the colour of ashes. He went to the door
and abruptly pulled it open. Outside the soldier on guard was quietly
chatting with Lieutenant Godet; at sight of Citizen Chauvelin they
stood at attention and saluted.

"Go and tell Captain Moisson over at the barracks," Chauvelin said
curtly, addressing Godet, "that I shall want to see him here at two
o'clock."

"Very good, citizen."

Godet saluted again and turned on his heel. Chauvelin looked at him
closely, but his face was expressionless. He watched him for a moment
or two, as he, Godet, strode along the corridor. Then he closed the
door and went back to his seat behind the table.

He had made an almost superhuman effort to regain his composure. He
wanted to hear more, and did not want to scare the child. The sight of
Godet standing outside the door talking to the man on guard, had made
him physically sick, raised that same terror in his heart which his
presence and his glance were wont to raise in others. The expression
of his face must at one moment have been absolutely terrifying for
Fleurette could hardly bear to look at him; but when he sat down again
his face was just like a mask, waxen and grey. He turned to her, and
rested his elbow on the table, shading his eyes with his long, thin
hand. And Fleurette felt how dreadful it must be for him to think that
his daughter was a thief.

So before he had time to ask her any questions she embarked on glib
explanations.

"You must not think, chri Bibi," she said, "that I stole those things
for a bad motive. I did it because---"

She checked herself, and went on after a second or two:

"You remember, chri Bibi, that evening at the chteau when we met,
you and I, by the stable door?"

Yes, he remembered. "But speak softly, child! these walls have ears!"

"I had taken the things out of Madame's room then," Fleurette
continued, speaking in an agitated whisper, "and hidden them under my
shawl." She gave a nervous little laugh: "Oh! I was terrified, I can
tell you," she said, "that you would notice."

He had his nerves under control by now. His mind, keen, active, was
concentrated on her story, his indomitable will was slowly mastering
his terror. What had he to fear? Godet was out of the way, and the
child's whispers could not be heard outside these four walls. If only
that fool Louise did not look so scared: the sight of her face, open-
mouthed and with big, round eyes, got on his nerves. He tried not to
look her way. While his glance was fixed on Fleurette he felt that he
could think of her, scheme for her and above all protect her--he, so
important in the councils of State. So powerful. He could shield her
even against the consequences of her own folly.

Of course, he must make light of the whole affair. Oh! above all make
light of it. The child was silly, wilful and ignorant, but he would
know how to protect her, and how to make her hold her tongue. Louise
was a fool, but she was safe and these walls were solid, there was
really no cuase for this insane terror which had turned him giddy and
faint, and at first paralysed his brain.

So he forced his quaking voice into tones of gentle banter, forced
himself to smile, to tweak her cheek and to look gaily, almost
incredulously into her eyes.

"Allons, allons," he said lightly, "what story is this? My little
Fleurette taking things that belong to others? I won't believe it."

"Only pour le bon motif, chri Bibi," she insisted; "because you see
the soldiers were at the chteau, and they were ruining and stealing
everything they could lay their hands on...And also because---"

Once more she checked herself, loath to give away that one cherished
little secret: The mysterious voice at which perhaps Bibi would scoff.
But she did tell Bibi how with the precious burden under her shawl she
had hurried homewards until, fearing that she would be overtaken by
the soldiers on the road, she had sought refuge in the widow
Tronchet's cottage. She told him how she had watched him riding past,
heading towards Lou Mas, and how she had become scared lest, if he
spent the night at home, he would find out what it was that she was
keeping so carefully hidden underneath her shawl.

And then she told him how she had thought of M'sieu' Amd and has
asked Adle to tell him to meet her outside the widow's cottage, and
how she had entrusted him with the precious treasure and he had
undertaken to hide it in the shed outside his father's shop. But how
it came to pass that those other soldiers, who were as magnificently
dressed as anything Fleurette had seen in all her life, how they had
come to suspect M'sieu' Amd of the theft, she could not conjecture.
All she knew was that M'sieu' Amd was innocent and that he must be
proclaimed innocent at once. At once.

"I stole the things, Bibi," she concluded, "not for a bad motive, I
swear, but I did steal them and gave them to M'sieu' Amd to keep. If
anyone is to be punished, then it must be I, not he."

She was sitting on her heels, and looking up boldly, and with a little
wiful air at her father. Her dear little hands were resting on her
knees. She looked adorable. Chauvelin mutely put out his arms and she
snuggled into them, pressing her cheek against his breast with a
nervous little gesture, twiddling one of the buttons of his coat.

Old Louise, sitting at the far end of the room, had listened, open-
mouthed, wide-eyed, to the tale. Her furrowed face was a mirror of all
the different expressions with which Chauvelin regarded her from time
to time. Terror and slow reassurance. "If that is all, then I can deal
with it!" he seemed to be telling her now, when it was all over, and
he knew the worst. He held the child very close to him, and there was
a certain nervous terror still lurking in his eyes as he buried his
face in the soft waves of her hair.

"Bibi chri," Fleurette insisted, "I must find those who are going to
sit in judgement on M'sieu' Amd. And you will help me find them,
won't you? I must tell them the truth. Mustn't I?"

"You shall, child, you shall," he babbled incoherently. He was trying
to steady his voice, so as not to let her know how scared he had been.

"When Adle told us the next morning about the soldiers having found
Madame's valuables and arrested M'sieu' Amd, I knew at once that you
would help me to put everything right. So Louise and I just started
then and there, as I thought we would find you in Sisteron."

"The child told me nothing," Louise protested in answer to a mute
challenge from Chauvelin. "I only thought she wanted to see you in
order to plead for young Colombe."

"There is no need," he said steadily, "for me or anyone to plead for
him. Amd Colombe is a free man at this hour."

Fleurette's little cry of rapture gave him a short, sharp pang of
jealousy.

"Do you love him so much as all that, little one?" he asked almost
involuntarily.

She blushed, and without replying hung her head. For a second or two
he debated within himself whether he would tell her the whole truth,
then came to the conclusion that on the whole it would be best that
she should know. Doubtless she would hear the story, anyhow, from
others and so he told it her just as he had had it the day before from
Lieutenant Godet. The magnificent soldiers who had come that morning
into Larange were not real soldiers of the revolutionary army, they
were a band of English spies whose chief was known throughout France
as the Scarlet Pimpernel: a cyncial, impudent adventurer whose
business it was to incite French men and women to desert their country
in the hour of her greatest need, and who doubtless would incite Amd
Colombe to treachery and desertion. It was that chief, no doubt, who
had spied on Fleurette and seen her that night hand over Madame's
valuables to Amd Colombe. He had taken this means of obtaining
possession of the valuables, as well as of the persons of the ci-
devant Frontenac and Amd. Both men and money he would use against
France, for the English were great enemies of this glorious
revolution, the friends of all the aristos and tyrants whom the people
were determined to wipe off the face of the earth.

Wide-eyed and dumb, Fleurette listened to him. After the first moment
of intense joy, when she heard that Amd was safe, there had come a
sense of exultation that the mysterious voice which had urged her to
find Madame's valuables had spoken with a purpose and that that
purpose was now accomplished. Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle had
all been saved by what she believed was a supernatural agency--
whatever Bibi might say. No man who was a mere spy and an enemy of
France could have accomplished all that this mysterious being had
done, from the moment when disguised as a faggot-carrier he had
commanded her to look after Madame's valuables, until the hour when
clad in a magnificent uniform, daring and fearless, he had found such
glorious means of saving Amd and M'sieu de Frontenac too, from
prison and perhaps death.

And after the joy and the exultation there had crept into Fleurette's
heart a feeling of awe and dread for the father who apparently she had
never really known until this hour. She had only known him as kind,
indulgent, loving--loving in a kind of fierce way at times, snarling
like a wild cat if she thwarted him--but always indulgent and always
secretive. Now he seemed to lay his soul bare before her. His love of
France, of that revolution which apparently he had helped to make. His
hatred of those whom he called traitors and enemies of France, the
aristocrats, the men who owned land and property, who had ancestors
and family pride, and then the English who were the real enemies, who
worked against the people, against democracy, and against liberty, who
had harboured every traitor that plotted against France. Bibi hated
them all and Fleurette felt awed and chilled thus to hear him speak.
He, who was so gentle with her always, now spoke as if he approved of
all the cruelty perpetrated against those who did not think as he did,
and whom he hated with such passionate intensity.

Instinctively, and she hoped imperceptibly, she recoiled from him when
he once more tried to clasp her in his arms. This man with the pale
eyes and the cruel sneer was not the Bibi she loved. He was just a man
whom she feared. All she wanted now was to get away, to get back to
Lou Mas. Since Amd was safe, why should she stay any more in this
awful place where even Bibi seemed like a stranger?

Louise now was standing near her, and Bibi was giving Louise some
peremptory orders:

"You will go back now to the Chat Noir," he said, "the inn where you
were this morning. There you will wait quietly until I come to fetch
you. We will get on the way as early as we can, so as to get to Vaison
before dark."

"Vaison?" Louise asked, perplexed. "But the coche..."

"We are not travelling by the public coche," Bibi broke in
impatiently. "My private calche will take us as far as Lou Mas, and
I'll not leave you till I've seen you safely home."

"A calche!" Louise exclaimed. "Holy Virgin!"

"Silence, woman," Bibi cried with an oath. "There is no Holy Virgin
now."

Well! of course, Bibi had said that sort of thing before now, but
never in such a rough, almost savage tone. Slowly Fleurette struggled
to her feet. All of a sudden she was feeling very, very tired. For
four whole days excitement and anxiety had kept her up; but now
excitement had died down and dull reaction had set in. A sense of
unreality came over her: the voice of Bibi giving all sorts of
instructions to Louise came to her muffled as if through a thick veil.
All that she knew--and this was comforting--was that soon they would
all be starting for home: not in a crowded, jostling old coche, but in
a calche. What a wonderful man Bibi was: so grand and powerful and
rich, that he had a calche of his own and could come and go as he
pleased. She remembered how deferential the soldiers had been to him
that night at the chteau, and even now her eyes fastened on the
beautiful tricolour sash which he wore, the visible sign of his
influence and power.

When Bibi finally took her in his arms and kissed her as
affectionately, as tenderly as was his wont, she swayed a little when
he released her and the things in the room started to go round and
round before her eyes. Louise put her strong arm round her and
Fleurette heard her say: "Leave her to me, she'll be all right!" She
felt herself being led out of the room, past the sentry at the door,
and then along a corridor.

When she felt the soft, spring air strike her in the face she felt
revived, and walked steadily beside Louise as far as the inn.



Chapter 20

Bibi's orders to Louise had been to go back to the inn and there to
wait until he came in his calche to take them home to Lous Mas. And
the two women, ready for the journey home, so tired that only
excitement kept them from breaking down, waited for him patiently in
the parlour downstairs.

The travelers who had arrived in the early morning by the old coche,
had all disappeared by now, some had found accommodation at the Chat
Noir, others had gone to their homes or to friends in the city; the
hour for dinner was not yet, and the personnel of the inn was busy in
the kitchen.

The place was deserted and silent; the room self hot and stuffy. The
air was heavy with the mingled odour of dust, sale grease and boiled
food. Up on the wall a large white-faced clock tricked with noisy
monotony, and against the small window-pane a lazy fly kept up an
intermittent buzz. Now and again from a remote part of the house came
the sound of a human voice or the barking of a dog, or the rattling of
pots and pans.

Louise, sitting in a large, old-fashioned armchair by the side of the
great heart, had closed her eyes. The monotonous ticking of the clock,
the buzzing of the fly, the heat and the silence lulled her to sleep.
Fleurette, on a straight-backed chair, sat wide awake, unable to keep
her eyes closed even for a few minutes, although they ached terribly
and she was very, very tired. But there was so much to keep her brain
busy. In the past four days more exiting events had been crowded into
her life than in all the eighteen years that law behind her. And round
and round they went--these events--beginning with the first sight of
the squad of soldiers marching down the high road and coming to a halt
on the bridge, until the happy moment when Bibi had assured her that
M'sieu Amd was safe and free, under the protection of that
mysterious personage whom Bibi called an impudent spy and enemy of
France but whom she, Fleurette, believed to be an agent of the bon
Dieu Himself.

It seemed a part of her confused thoughts, presently, when she saw the
door of the parlour slowly open and the kind soldier who had conducted
her to Bibi standing in the doorway. He cast a quick glance all over
the room, and as Fleurette was obviously on the point of uttering a
cry of surprise, he put up a warning finger to his lips and then
beckoned her to come. She rose, eager as well as mystified, and once
more he made a gesture of warning, pointing to Louise and then raising
a finger to his lips. A warning it was to make no noise, and not to
waken Louise. Fleurette tiptoed across the room to him.

"Your father sent me round," he said in a whisper. He beckoned her to
come outside. She cast a last look at Louise who was obviously
peacefully asleep, and then slipped out past him into the street.

"There is something your father forgot to say to you," the soldier sad
as soon as she had closed the door behind Fleurette. "But he told me
not to bring the old woman along, and so as she was asleep--"

"But if she wakes and finds me gone--?" Fleurette rejoined, and turned
to go back to the inn. "I must just tell her--"

Immediately he seized hold of her hand.

"Your father," he said, "told me to bring you along as quickly as I
could. You know how impatient he is. It is but a step to the Htel de
Ville. We'll be there and back before the old woman wakes."

No one knew better than Fleurette how impatient Bibi could be. If he
said anything, it had to be done at once. At once. So, without further
protest, she followed the kind soldier down the narrow street. A few
minutes later she was back in the Htel de Ville, outside the door
which bore the legend: "Committee of Public Safety, Section III." The
same soldier in the shabby uniform was lounging, bayonet in hand,
outside the door, but at sight of Lieutenant Godet he stood up at
attention and made no attempt this time to bar the way. Godet pushed
the door open and at a sign from him Fleurette stepped into the room.
Of course she expected to see Bibi sitting as before behind the table,
alone, busy writing.

Bibi certainly was there, she saw that at a glance, also that at sight
of her he jumped to his feet with an expression on his face, far, far
more terrible than when she had told him that it was she who had
stolen Madame's valuables. But Bibi was not alone. To right and left
of him two men were sitting dressed very much like he was himself and
wearing the same kind of tricolour sash round their waist. There was a
moment of tense silence while Fleurette, a little scared, but not
really frightened, stepped further into the room. She could not take
her eyes off Bibi, whose dear face had become the colour of lead. He
raised his hand and passed it across his forehead. He seemed as if he
wanted to speak, yet could not articulate a sound. After a second or
two he looked down first at the man on his right, and then at the one
on his left, then back again at her, and over her head at Lieutenant
Godet.

It was Fleurette who first broke the silence.

"What is it, father?" she said. "You sent for me?"

She did not call him Bibi just then; he seemed so very, very unlike
Bibi.

But all he said was:

"What--is the meaning of--of this?" and the words seemed to come
through his lips with a terrible effort.

"It means, Citizen Chauvelin, that I am trying to do my duty, and
redeeming my faults of negligence and incompetence, for which you
passed such severe strictures on me yesterday."

The voice was that of Lieutenant Godet. Fleurette could not see him
because he stood immediately behind her, but she recognized the voice,
even though it was no longer amiable and almost servile as it had been
earlier in the day. It had, in fact, the same tone in it which
Fleurette had so deeply resented that day upon the bridge when first
she had told him that she was Citizen Armand's daughter.

"You ordered me," Godet went on deliberately, "to go into the highways
and the by-ways, and you gave me full power to arrest any man, woman
or child whom I suspected of connivance with the enemies of France.
This I have done. I have cause to suspect this woman of such
connivance, and in accordance with your instructions I have brought
her before you on a charge of treason."

Whereupon the man sitting on the right of Bibi nodded approvingly and
said:

"If indeed you have cause to suspect this woman, citizen lieutenant,
you did well to arrest her."

And the man on Bibi's left asked: "Who is this woman, citizen
lieutenant?"

Then only did Bibi appear to find his voice, and it came through his
lips just as if someone held him by the throat and were trying to
choke him before he had time to speak.

"My daughter," was all he said.

As a matter of fact Fleurette did not understand that something
terrible had occurred, she could see well enough, but for the moment
the fact that she was in any way involved had not reached her inner
consciousness. She did not realize that when Lieutenant Godet spoke of
having arrested a woman, he was referring to her. Thinking that she
was probably in the way amongst these seriously and busy men, she
asked timidly:

"Shall I go, father?" whereat the man on the left gave a short, dry
laugh.

"Not just yet, citizeness," he said, "we shall have to ask you one or
two questions before we let you go."

"Citizen Pochart," Bibi now rejoined somewhat more steadily, "there is
obviously some grave error here on the part of the citizen lieutenant
and.."

"Grave error," Pochart broke in with a sneer. "We have heard nothing
in the way of witnesses or details of the accusation so far, so why
should you think there is an error, Citizen Chauvelin?"

Fleurette could see the struggle on Bibi's face; she could see the
great drops of moisture on his face, the swollen veins upon his
temples; she saw his hands clenched one against the other, and how he
passed his tongue once or twice over his lips. "The citizen
lieutenant," he said with a marvelous assumption of calm, "has shown
too much zeal. My daughter is as good a patriot as I am myself--"

"How do you know that, Citizen Chauvelin?" the other man asked, the
one on the right of Bibi.

"Because she has led a modest and a sheltered life, Citizen Danou,"
Bibi replied firmly. "Knowing nothing of town life, nothing of
intrigues or plots against the State."

"It is impossible," Pochart put in sententiously, "for any man to know
what goes on in a woman's head. The soundest patriot may have a
traitor for a wife--or else a daughter."

Bibi was obviously making a superhuman effort to control himself. No
one knew better than Fleurette how violent could be his temper when he
was thwarted, and here were these two men, not to mention Lieutenant
Godet, taunting and contradicting him, and she could see the veins
swelling upon his temples and his hands clenched until the knuckles
shone like polished ivory under the skin.

"My daughter is not a traitor, Citizen Pochart," he said loudly and
firmly.

"Lieutenant Godet says she is," Pochart retorted dryly.

"I challenge him to prove it."

"You forget, Citizen Chauvelin," Danou put in suavely, "that it is not
for the citizen lieutenant to prove this woman guilty; rather it is
for her to prove her innocence."

"The Law of the Suspect," Pochart added, "has been framed expressly to
meet such cases as these."

The Law of the Suspect! Ye gods! He himself, Chauvelin, had in the
National Assembly voted for its adoption.

"Are we not ordered instantly to arrest all persons who by their
actions, their speaking, their writing or their connections have
become suspect?" This from Danou who spoke slowly, unctuously, without
a trace of spite or anger in his voice. And Pochart, more rough of
tone, but equally conciliatory added:

"The Law tells us that if suspect of nothing else, a man, or a woman,
or even a child, may be 'suspect of being suspect'. Is that not so,
Citizen Chauvelin? Methinks you yourself had something to do with the
framing of that law."

"It was aimed at traitors--"

"No! No! at the suspect--"

"My daughter--"

"Ah, a, Citizen Chauvelin," here interposed Pochart with an
expressive oath, "are you by any chance on the side of the traitors?
What has the State to do with the fact that this woman is your
daughter? A patriot has no relatives these days. He is a son of the
State, a child of France, what? Her enemies are his enemies, his
hatred of traitors should override every other sentiment."

"A patriot has no sentiment," Danou echoed suavely.

Chauvelin now looked like an animal at bay. Caught in net turning
round and round, wildly, impotently; seeking an egress and only
succeeding in getting more and more firmly enmeshed. But he kept
himself under control nevertheless. He felt the eyes of those three
men probing his soul. Exulting over his misery. Hatred all around him.
Cruelty. Godet openly hostile, vengeful, with a grievance for his own
humiliation; ready to hit back, to demand humiliation for humiliation,
and terror for terror. Revenge! My God! who but a fiend could dream of
such revenge. And the other two; that fool Danou and that brute
Pochart! No actual hostility about them. Only envy: a mad desire to
save their own skins, to purchase notoriety, advancement at any
price--even at the price of innocent blood.

And as a wild beast turning and turning in the trap will pause from
time to time and glare out into the open, which means all its life has
stood for until now, so did Chauvelin, with soul enmeshed in vengeance
and envy, pause a moment in his mad struggle for freedom. He paused
and with wildly dilated eyes gazed upon a swift, accusing vision of
all the innocent blood he himself had helped to shed. Those clenched
hands of his, on which his gaze for one instant rested, fascinated,
how many times had they signed the decree which had deprived a father
of his son, a wife of her husband, a lover of his mistress. And
through the meshes that tightened round him now, Chauvelin gazing into
space saw before his eyes the awful word "Retribution" written in
letters of fire and blood.

And seeing the writing on the wall, he felt an immense rage against
these men who dared to taunt him, who dared to hit at him, through the
one vulnerable spot in his armour of callousness and cruelty. How
dared they stand up to him, these miserable creatures whose existence
was of less account than that of a buzzing fly? And throwing back his
head he gazed upon them all, one after the other, meeting their
sneering glance with a bold challenge. How dared they defy him? Him,
Chauvelin? The trusted friend of Robespierre, one of the makers of
this glorious revolution; one of its most firm props? Now a
representative of the National Convention on special mission? There
stood the child, his daughter, his little Fleurette, silent, wide-
eyed, obviously not fully aware of the terrible position in which she
stood: and they dared to hit at her, to accuse her, without rhyme or
reason, just in order to hit at him through her. It was Godet, of
course, that vile, incompetent brute: savage and cruel like the fool
he was: vengeful for the bad half-hour he had been made to spend in
this very room. He must have heard something of what the child had
said. At one moment her sweet voice had risen to shrill tones. Oh!
what a senseless, mad confession! and he had seized upon it so that he
might hit back: have his revenge. But he could prove nothing. It would
be one man's word against another, and he, Chauvelin, representative
on special mission, with the ear of all the great men up in Paris,
would see to it, that his word carried all the weight. He would deny
everything, swear that Godet lied. His was the power, he was more
influential, more unscrupulous than most.

If only the child held her tongue! She would if she was assured that
her Amd was in no danger. How thankful he, Chauvelin, was that he
had told her the truth this morning. He couldn't bear to look at her
just at this moment, she looking so innocent, so unconscious of
danger, but nevertheless he tried to convey to her with eyes and lips
the warning to hold her tongue. Chauvelin had been silent for quite a
little while; the others thought they had cowed him. In their hearts
Pochart and Danou were not a little afraid of him. A representative on
special mission had unlimited power and this Chauvelin was always a
crouching beast, ready to snarl and to spring, and they knew well
enough how influential he was. But here was a double chance to show
their zeal, and to get even with the man whom they had always feared.
As for Godet, he had obviously staked everything on this throw. His
life was anyhow forfeit; Chauvelin's threats yesterday had left him no
loophole for hope. But here was revenge to his hand, and at worst a
powerful lever wherewith to force his enemy's hand.

Chauvelin's mind had been so busily at work that for a while he lost
consciousness of these men. After his rage against them he forgot
their very presence. Nothing mattered--no one--except the child, and
his own power to save her. Through that semi--consciousness he heard
only vague words. Snatches of phrases that passed rapidly between
those two men and Godet. "Proofs--" "Witnesses--" And then Danou's
voice, soft and unctuous as usual:

"Of course the more solid your proofs--"

And Pochart's, rough and determined:

"Why should we not hear that witness now?"

Godet replied lightly: "I have her here. Perhaps it would be best."

It seemed as if they were determined to ignore him, Chauvelin; to shut
him out of their counsels. He was so silent, so self-absorbed; they
thought that he was cowed, and dared not raise his voice in defense of
his daughter. They were all alike these men--these masters of France
as they liked to be called--overbearing, arrogant, always menacing,
until you hit back, when all the starch would go out of them, and they
would cringe, or else become surly and defiant like any aristo.

"Go and fetch your witness, citizen lieutenant," Pochart said in the
end.

Then Chauvelin woke, like a tiger out of his sleep.

"What?" he queried abruptly, "what is this?"

"A witness, citizen representative," came in unctuous tones from
Danou. "It will be more satisfactory in this case--the Law does not
demand witnesses--suspicion is enough--but--"

"Out of deference to your position, citizen," Pochart broke in with a
short laugh. "Go and fetch your witness, Citizen Godet," he added
dryly. Chauvelin brought his clenched fist down with a crash on the
table. "I'll not allow you--" he began in thundering accents, and met
Danou's sneering, inquiring gaze.

"Allow what, citizen representative?" Pochart asked roughly.

"Refuse to hear witnesses? On what grounds?" Danou put in in smooth,
velvety accents.

Godet said nothing. It was not for him to speak; but he met
Chauvelin's' glance just then, and almost drained his cup of revenge
to its dreg.

"No one," now put in Pochart significantly, "has more respect for
family ties than I have. But I am first of all a patriot, and then
only a family man. I happen to be a single man, but if I were married
and discovered my wife to be a traitor to the State, and an enemy of
the people, I would with my own hand adjust the guillotine which would
end such a worthless and miserable life."

"Now you, Citizen Chauvelin," Danou said, taking up his colleague's
point, "are doing your daughter no good by trying to shield her from
punishment if she be guilty."

"You would not dare--"

"Dare what, Citizen Chauvelin? Act up to the principles which you
yourself have helped to promulgate in France? Indeed we dare! We dare
strike at the enemies of the State whoever they may be. That woman,"
he added, indicating Fleurette, "is suspect; the Law of the Suspect
gives our Committee power to arrest her. If she be proved innocent,
she shall go free. IF she be guilty, you, by defending her, cannot
save her and do but condemn yourself."

And that was true! No one knew it better than Chauvelin, who but a few
weeks ago in Paris had helped Merlin and Douai to frame that
abominable Law. The heavy hand of Retribution was indeed upon him. The
voice of the innocent had cried out for Vengeance before the Lord and
Nemesis, hourglass in hand, had stalked him now at last. All that was
left him at this moment, out of all that arrogance which had imposed
his personality upon the masters of France, made them forget his
failures and fear him even in the hour of humiliation, was just a
shred of pride, which enabled him to hide his misery and his despair
behind a mask of impassiveness. He even succeeded in hiding his hatred
and contempt of these three curs who were yapping at his heels. And
when Pochart for the third time reiterated his order to Godet to go
and fetch his witness, Chauvelin made no further protest. He rose from
the table and went round to where Fleurette was standing, silent,
bewildered, with great tears, like those of a frightened child,
running down her cheeks. He held his hands tightly clenched behind his
back, to prevent himself from seizing her in his arms and raining
kisses upon her golden hair, letting those sneering men see how
terribly he had been hit and how he suffered. Godet had gone out of
the room to fetch the witness--what witness? and the other two were
sitting at the table, whispering together. Chauvelin through
compressed lips murmured in Fleurette's ears:

"Try not to be frightened, little one! Don't let them see you are
frightened. They dare not do anything to you."

"I am not frightened, chri Bibi," she replied, smiling at him through
her tears.

"And you will hold your tongue, Fleurette," he urged under his breath,
"about what you told me this morning. Swear to me that you will."

"If M'sieu Amd is safe--"

"I swear to you on my soul, that we do not even know where he is."

"In that case, Bibi chri.."

Quick footsteps outside the door. A challenge from the man on guard.
The opening of the door. Then Godet's voice saying loudly:

"The witness, citizens."

Chauvelin looked up and saw beside Godet woman with a shawl wrapped
round her head; she came forward boldly, then threw back her shawl.
Chauvelin uttered a savage oath, whilst Fleurette gasped in amazement:

"Adle!" she cried.



Chapter 21

It seemed almost the worst moment of this awful day to see Adle--
Adle!--standing there, like some sly and furtive rodent, snapping at
the hand that had fed and tended it. The lessons taught by all these
makers of a revolution which was going to be a millennium for the
people, and inaugurate an era of brotherly love, had been well learnt
by all those who had nothing to lose and everything to gain by
venality, by treachery and the blackest of ingratitude. And Chauvelin
himself had been head master in that school, where this wretched
little bastard had learned how to hate; she was the personification of
that proletariat which he had striven to exalt, of the low, mean mind
that never tries to rise and only strives to drag down others to the
level of its own crass ignorance. Adle was only a product of that
levelling process which was going to make of mankind one great family,
full of love for one another, of pity for the weak and contempt of the
strong, and which had only succeeded in arousing a universal hatred in
every breast and envy of everything that was lofty and pure. The
levelling process according to its early protagonists--idealists for
the most part--was destined to eliminate all tyranny and to protect
those who were too weak to protect themselves; but all it had
succeeded in doing was to substitute one tyranny for another; it had
not levelled the classes, made one man as good as another; what it had
done was to hurl down from his self-imposed altitude of nobility or of
virtue every man who was unwilling to step down of his own accord. It
had set every beggar on horseback who was a beggar by nature, and kept
him there by virtue of ruthlessness and of cruelty. None but a fellow-
beggar, more ruthless perhaps, and more cruel, could unseat him. Death
was the only real leveller, and this glorious revolution had become a
fraternity of death. The Republic of France must march to Liberty over
corpses, one of its makers had said, and another added sententiously
that no traitor failed to return; except the dead. Terror reigned now
everywhere, marching hand in hand with its hand-maiden the guillotine.

The time was no longer far distant when this titanic battle between
all these beggars on horseback would reach its fiercest struggle ere
it ended in a gigantic cataclysm, and when the gorge of all these
tigers would rise at last in face of the daily hecatombs which had
made a graveyard of the fair lands of France. But that time was not
yet. Men like Chauvelin had seen visions of Retribution like fiery
Fata Morgana pointing to the inevitable hour, but the Godets, the
Danous, the Pocharts and the Adles knew not the signs of the times.
They had learnt their lesson and were applying it for their own
advancement and above all for their own safety, destroying all that
was destructible, taking Earth and Heaven to witness that they whose
lives had been nought but misery and hunger would henceforth sweep off
the face of the earth all those who had only known ease and comfort,
who had practised virtue, and never known despair.

And Adle whose hatred of Fleurette had thriven all these years as in
a forcing-house, had learnt her lesson well. Fleurette to her meant
tyranny, the tyranny of riches over her poverty, of good food over her
empty stomach, of neat kirtle over her rags. Poverty and Hunger had
enchained her to Fleurette's wheel, had forced her to wash dishes, to
scrub floors, to sleep on a straw pallet. But now her turn had come.
Her very misery had put it in her power to drag Fleurette down to her
own level. She had imbibed the principles of this glorious revolution
until she felt herself to be one of its prophets. She had spied on
Fleurette and denounced her because she had seen at last a way to
satisfy her hatred and to lull her envy to rest.

She had plenty to say when questioned by Pochart and Danou; proud of
the fact that for over two years now she had supplied the Sisteron
section of the Committee of Public Safety with information about the
district. She had known the ci-devant Frontenacs and it was--she was
proud to state--chiefly owing to her that they came to be suspected of
treason. They used to turn one of their rooms into a chapel on Sundays
and a ci-devant priest, who was not Constitutional, performed there
rites and ceremonies with wafer and cup which had long since been
decreed treasonable against the State. Adle had been forced by the
ci-devant Frontenac women to be present at these treasonable
practices; she had even been made to scrub the floor of that temple of
superstition and to remove the dust from the so-called altar. Her
patriotic soul had risen in revolt and she had journeyed to Sisteron
one day when she was free and placed the matter before the Committee
of Public Safety who had commended her for her zeal.

"Adle!" Fleurette exclaimed involuntarily. "How could you? Indeed le
bon Dieu will punish you for this."

At which remark everybody laughed--except Chauvelin, who smothered a
groan. Oh! the child! the senseless, foolish, adorable child! She
seemed wilfully to run her darling head into the noose. Adle turned a
sneering glance on Fleurette.

"I'll chance a punishment from your bon Dieu," she said flippantly,
"for the joy of seeing you punished by the Revolutionary Tribunal."

And strange to say Chauvelin did not strike her, though she stood
quite near him, with only the width of the table between her and his
avenging hand. But he did not strike her, even though his muscles
ached with the desire to strike her on the mouth. It was pride that
held him back. How those men would have laughed to see him lose his
self-control with this wench who was only emitting principles that he
indirectly had taught her. Retribution! Nemesis at every turn.

And now Adle embarked upon her main story. Her spying on Fleurette.
Long, long had she suspected her, with her airs of virtue and bunches
of forget-me-nots in front of a statue representing a ci-devant saint.
"Saint Antoine de Padoue priez pour nous!" every time she placed a
fresh bunch of flowers before that statue. Bah! such superstition made
a patriot's gorge rise with disgust. But Adle had said nothing. Not
for a long time. She knew that citizen Chauvelin--he was known as
Armand over at Laragne--was a great patriot and an intimate friend of
Citizen Robespierre over in Paris. So Adle decided to bide her time,
and she did. Until that evening when at last the Frontenacs were
arrested and the chteau ransacked. That night Adle had had her
suspicions aroused by Fleurette's strange airs of mystery, her desire
to meet Citizen Colombe alone on a dark night. Fleurette had always
been such a Sainte Nitouche that Adle guessed that something serious
was in the wind.

Like a zealous patriot she had watched, and she had seen Fleurette
hand over a casket and a wallet to the young Colombe. She had heard
the two talk over the question of hiding these things in a shed behind
Citizen Colombe's shop, and finally seen them locked in each other's
arms, which confirmed her in the idea that Fleurette, with all her
appearances of virtue, was a woman guilty of moral turpitude.

And still Chauvelin did not strike her on the mouth. He fell to
wondering what crime he had committed that was heinous enough to
deserve this punishment of impotence.

The others listened for the most part in silence. Only occasionally
did one or the other break into a chuckle. Nom de nom, what an event!
Representative Chauvelin! the man of almost arrogant integrity, sent
to Orange to spy and report on the workings of the Committee of Public
Safety, one of the makers of the Terror, a man whose every glance was
a menace, and every word a threat of death! When Adele had finished
speaking, Pochart winked across at Danou. Here was a find that would
exalt them both, bring their names to the notice of the great men over
in Paris. All sorts of possibilities of reward and advancement loomed
largely before them. And Pochart rubbed his large, coarse hands
contentedly together and Danou poured himself out a glass of water and
drank it down. All these possibilities had made him thirsty.

Fleurette too was silent. For the first time in her life she had come
in contact with human passions of which hitherto she had not even
dreamed. Adle, the little maid of all work, with the coarse hands,
the red elbows and narrow rat-like face, who wore Fleurette's cast-off
clothes and worn-out shoes, had suddenly become an un-understandable
and terrifying enigma. Fleurette felt as if she could not utter a
sound, that any word of protest which she might raise would choke her.
The girl's words, her bitter accusations, spoken in an even monotone,
gave her a feeling as of an icy-cold grip upon her heart. Surrounded
from her cradle onwards with love and care, this first glimpse of
spite and hatred paralysed her. Only when Adle spoke of M'sieur Amd
and of that kiss which had tokened him to Fleurette, that delicious
kiss under the almond-trees, only then did a hot blush rise to her
cheeks, and tears of shame gather in her eyes.

Beyond that she felt like an automaton, while these four creatures who
hated her and who hated Bibi were discussing her fate. Bibi was
strangely silent and motionless although from time to time the others
referred a question or two to him in which case he replied in
monosyllables. There was much talk of "detention" and of
"revolutionary tribunal." Of course Fleurette did not understand what
these meant. Since Bibi appeared so indifferent, she supposed that
nothing very serious was going to happen to her.

Presently Adle and Godet were dismissed. Adle swept past her with
her shawl once more over her head hiding the expression of her face.
Her eyes did not meet Fleurette's as she glided past like a little rat
seeking its burrow. Perhaps she was ashamed. Godet was ordered to send
two men along--they would be wanted to take the citoyenne to the house
of detention. Godet gave the salute and followed Adle out of the
room.

Fleurette's feet were aching. She had been standing quite still for
over half and hour, and was longing to sit down. Bibi's eyes were upon
her now, and his long thin hands were fidgeting nervously with a
paper-knife. At one time he clutched it so tightly, and half raised
it, as if he meant to strike one or the other of his colleagues.
Fleurette tired and a little dizzy, only caught snatches of their
conversation. At one time Bibi said very quietly:

"You are very bold, Citizen Danou, to measure your influence against
mine."

And the man on Bibi's left retorted very suavely:

"If I have transgressed, citizen representative, I'll answer for it."

"You will," Bibi rejoined, and his words came through his thin,
compressed lips, harsh and dry like blows from a wooden mallet against
a metal plate. "And with your head, probably."

"Is that a threat, Citizen Chauvelin?" the other asked with a sneer.

"You may take it so if you wish."

The man on Chauvelin's right, Citizen Pochart, had in the meanwhile
been writing assiduously on a large piece of paper. Now he pushed the
paper in front of Chauvelin and said curtly:

"Will you sign this, citizen representative"

"What is it?" Chauvelin asked.

"Order for the provisional arrest of one Fleur Chauvelin, suspect of
treasonable connections with the enemies of France, pending her
appearance before the Revolutionary Tribunal."

Chauvelin raised the paper and read it through carefully. His hand
that held the paper was perfectly steady.

"Your signature," Pochart went on, and held out the quill pen
invitingly toward Chauvelin, "as Representative of the National
Convention on special mission is necessary on this order."

"You may take that as a threat too, Citizen Chauvelin," Danou added
with a sly wink directed at his colleague Pochart, "for if you do not
sign, there's others that will, and sign one too that will be even
more unpleasant for you."

Chauvelin took the pen, and the two men, Pochart and Danou, sprawling
over the table, had the satisfaction of seeing him sign the order for
the arrest of his own child--her death probably. Not the first time
either that something of the sort had occurred, that a man put his
seal on the death-warrant of his kith or kin. Had not Philippe
d'Orlans voted for the death of his cousin the King? Chauvelin signed
with a steady hand, his lips tightly pressed one against the other.
They should not see, these fiends, what torture he was enduring; they
should not see that at this moment he felt just like a brute beast
writhing in agony. Not that he had abandoned hope with regard to
Fleurette. He felt confident that he could turn the order into a mere
scrap of paper presently, and see those two snarling dogs fawning at
his feet once more, kicked with the toe of his boot and howling in
vain for mercy.

It was only from humiliation that, conscious of his power, he had
decided that silence and outward acquiescence were his best policy. He
had certain cards up his sleeve which the others wot not of, but he
could only play them if he succeeded in lulling them into a sense of
security by his obvious indifference. Fortunately his reputation stood
him in good stead. He was known by his enemies to be so ruthless and
so unscrupulous--such an ardent patriot, declared his friends--that
his indifference now where his own daughter was concerned, did not
even astonish Pochart and Danou. It was just like Citizen Chauvelin to
send his own daughter to the guillotine. And this estimate of his
character helped him to play the rle that would mean life to
Fleurette.

So there he sat for a few minutes, perfectly impassive, his face a
mask, his hand perfectly steady, perusing the paper, and then
deliberately drawing his pen through one of the words and substituting
another.

"We'll say the house of Caristie," he said drily, "the other is
already full."

Pochart shrugged his shoulders. Why not concede this point? It was so
fine to have the citizen representative under one's thumb. What matter
if his daughter was thrust into one prison rather than another?

"Is the guard there?" Danou asked. "We have plenty of business to see
to. This one has lasted quite long enough."

"There is still that report from Avignon to look through," Pochart
added. "It will need your attention, citizen representative."

"I'll be with you in one moment," Chauvelin replied calmly.

He rose and went to the door. Opened it. Yes! there was the guard sent
hither by Godet, two men to escort his Fleurette to the house of
Caristie the architect, now transformed into a house of detention.
Chauvelin did not even wince at sight of them. He closed the door
quietly and then approached Fleurette. He took hold of her hand and
drew her to the furthest corner of the room, out of earshot.

"You are not frightened, little one?" he whispered to her.

"No, Bibi chri," she replied simply. "If you tell me not to be."

"There is nothing to be frightened at, Fleurette. These brutes wish
you ill; but--"

"Why should they?"

"But I can protect you."

"I know you can, chri Bibi."

"And you won't see that wretch Adle again."

"I wonder why she hates me! I thought we were friends."

"There are no friends these days, little one," he said almost
involuntarily. "Only enemies or the indifferent---They are the least
dangerous."

"There are those whom we love."

"You are thinking of Amd?"

"And of you, chri Bibi."

"You believed me, didn't you, little one when I told you that young
Colombe is safely out of harm's way?"

"Yes," she said, "I believed you."

"Then you will hold your tongue about--about what you know?"

"I promise you, chri Bibi. But I won't allow Amd to suffer for what
I did," she added with that determined little air of hers, which
Chauvelin had learned to dread.

"He won't. He can't," he declared whilst an exclamation of impatience
at her obstinacy almost escaped him. "Have I not told you--"

"We are waiting, Citizen Chauvelin," Danou's unctuous voice broke in
at this point. "As you are near the door, perhaps you will call the
guard."

He did. And stood silently by, while Fleurette was ordered to follow
the men. She obeyed, after a last, smiling glance at Bibi. No! she was
not frightened; she felt sure that he could protect her, and so long
as M'sieur Amd was safe--

The last words she said before she finally passed through the door
were:

"Poor old Louise! You'll tell her, won't you, Bibi, not to fret for
me? and tell her to send me my crochet work if she can. I shall have
plenty of time on my hands to get on with it."



Chapter 22

At four o'clock that afternoon the President of the Revolutionary
Tribunal sitting at Orange received a summons to accompany Citizen
Chauvelin, Representative of the National Convention on special
mission, to Paris, there to present his last reports of the cases
tried by him since the beginning of the year.

Public Prosecutor Isnard received the same summons; he hastened all in
a flurry to the Htel de Ville to find Citizen Chauvelin.

"What does it all mean, citizen?" he asked.

Chauvelin shrugged his shoulders.

"I know not," he replied. "The summons came by courier an hour ago. I
have my calche here. We could start at daybreak to-morrow and be in
Valence before dark. The next day should see us in Lyons, and the
middle of next week in Paris."

"Can you not conjecture--?"

Once more Chauvelin shrugged.

"One never knows," he said. "There must have come some denunciation.
You and the President have your enemies, no doubt, as every one else."

Public Prosecutor Isnard's flabby cheeks were the colour of lead.

"I have always done my duty," he stammered.

"No doubt, no doubt," Chauvelin responded lightly.

"You'll be able to justify yourself, I feel sure, citizen. But you
know what these summons are. Impossible to argue--or to disobey."

"Yes, I know that. But the business here--"

"What of it?"

"Our prisons are full. A batch of twenty at least should be tried
every day. I have forty or fifty indictments ready now and we can keep
the guillotine busy for at least a week. All that business will be at
a standstill."

"You will have to work twice as hard on your return, citizen,"
Chauvelin retorted drily.

The arrival of the President of the Tribunal put a temporary stop to
the colloquy. He too was flurried and not a little scared. He knew
about these summonses that would come from time to time from Paris
without any warning. They meant reprimands of a certainty. Perhaps
worse. One never knows with leaders of the Government over there. One
moment they would shout: "Strike! Strike!" at the top of their voices,
"let not the guillotine be idle!" They would frame laws to expedite
the extermination of all the traitors and suspected traitors. The
next, they would draw back, accuse you of over-zeal, over-cruelty,
what not? See how Carrier had suffered! He had been sent to Nantes to
purge the city of aristos and bourgeois and calotins; he had done his
best; invented a new way of disposing of ninety priests all at once by
the mere unmooring of a flat-bottomed craft, laden with those
traitors, and on a given signal opening all the hatches and sinking
the whole craft with her cargo.

Well! Carrier had done that. He had effectually purged Nantes of
traitors. Nevertheless he was summoned to Paris, and his head rolled
into the basket on the Place de la Rpublique, just as if he had been
an aristo. Look at Danton, and at--but why recall it all? Anyhow, what
a week of desperate anxiety this would be until Paris was reached.
President Legrange had thoughts of flight, of taking refuge in the
mountains as others had done. But Public Prosecutor Isnard dissuaded
him. What was the good of running away? One always got caught, and
then it would of a certainty be the guillotine. Chauvelin too was for
immediate obedience.

"I too am summoned," he said. "We are all in the same boat. As for the
business here, it will have to wait until our return."

Public Prosecutor Isnard could not suppress a taunt.

"There's your daughter, Citizen Chauvelin," he said. "We were going to
make quick work of her. I had her indictment all ready. In fact the
chief witness--a wench who looks like an anmic rat--was in my study
when your summons came."

"I know, I know," Chauvelin said with perfect indifference. "Well! all
that can wait till our return."

After which he added lightly: "At daybreak, citizens, my calche will
be ready outside the Chat Noir. I await you then and advise you to eat
a good breakfast. Our first stop will be at Montlimar, where we can
get relays. In the meanwhile I bid you adieu. I still have much work
to see to before the close of day."

For the first time this day Chauvelin heaved a genuine sigh of
satisfaction when the two men had departed. His first maneuvre had
succeeded admirably. With the President of the Tribunal and the Public
Prosecutor out of the way, the business of the State would be at a
standstill in Orange and he would have at least three weeks of freedom
before him in which to act. He had planned this summons, and intended
to accompany the two men as far as Lyons. There he would find some
pretext for sending them on their way without him, whilst he returned
in secret to Orange. That was his plan, a risky one at best; but in
less than three weeks he would either have found a way of getting
Fleurette out of the clutches of these fiends, or he and she would
both be dead. Strangely enough at this moment he fell to wondering
what his arch-enemy, the Scarlet Pimpernel, would do under the
circumstances and he longed for the possession of that same
imaginative brain, that marvellous resource and unbounded pluck which
had foiled him, Chauvelin, at every turn.

The Scarlet Pimpernel! If that bold adventurer were to know that his
bitterest foe was now probing the lowest depths of sorrow, that this
cruel Nemesis had overtaken him at last, how he would exult, how jeer
at his enemy. And of the many pin-pricks which Chauvelin had had to
endure to-day, he felt that none could hurt him so deeply as the
thought that the Scarlet Pimpernel might hear of his trouble and hold
jubilee over his soul agony.



Chapter 23

That first night the party slept at Valence in the Maison de Ttes,
the quaint old house with its unique faade which stands to this day
in the Grand' Rue, and which in that year of grace 1794 had been
requisitioned by the Drme section of the Committee of Public Safety
for its offices. A concierge with wife and family were in charge of
the house and there were two or three additional rooms in it which
were often placed at the disposal of any official personage who
happened to be passing through Valence. Chauvelin had often stayed
there on his way through to Paris and was a familiar figure to the
concierge and his family; there was no difficulty whatever in finding
accommodation for himself and his two friends in the Maison des Ttes
for the night. Calche and horses, together with driver and postilion,
were put up in the stables at the back of the house.

Night had overtaken the party when some five kilometres outside
Valence, and this last part of the way had to be done at walking pace.
Thus it was nearly ten o'clock before the calche drew up in the
Grand' Rue outside the Maison des Ttes, and the concierge, hurrying
to greet the unexpected and important guest, had regretfully to inform
him that neither the President nor any of the officials were here to
welcome him as they had already gone to their respective homes. But
the rooms were there, quite ready, at the disposal of Citizen
Chauvelin and his friends, and supper would be got immediately for
them. The three travellers stepping out of the calche were more than
thankful to find shelter and food at this hour. Already at sunset the
sky had been threatening; great banks of cloud came rolling up from
the south-west, driven by tearing gusts of wind; by night-time a few
heavy drops were falling, presaging the coming storm. No sooner were
the travellers installed in the dining-hall in front of an excellent
supper, than the storm broke in all its fury. It was accompanied by
torrential rain and a tearing wind. Such wild weather during the month
of May was almost unparalleled in the valley of the Rhne, so the
concierge hastened to explain to the two strangers who accompanied
Chauvelin. The night was very dark too, the very weather in fact for
foot-pads and malefactors who, alas! infested the countryside more
than ever now.

"What would you do?" the man added with a shrug, "so many are starving
these days; they get their existence as best they can. Honesty is no
longer the best policy."

And then he caught Citizen Chauvelin's eye, and nervously clearing his
throat, began to talk of something else. It was not prudent to grumble
at anything, to make any remark that might be constructed into
criticism of the present tyrants of France.

Supper drew to an end, mostly in silence. Chauvelin was never of a
loquacious turn of mind, and neither of the other two were in a mood
to talk. After a curt good night the latter returned to the room which
had been assigned to them. Chauvelin before doing the same gave orders
to his driver and postilion to have the calche at the door by seven
o'clock on the following morning. Then he too went to bed, there to
toss ceaselessly through the endless hours of wakefulness, his mind
tortured with thoughts of his darling Fleurette, wondering how she
would bear this first night in prison, the propinquity, the want of
privacy, the lewd talk, perhaps, or coarse jests of some of her room-
mates. It was only in the early dawn that, wearied at last in body and
mind, he was able to close his eyes and snatch an hour or two's sleep.

When the concierge brought him a steaming mug of wine in the early
morning, his first inquiry was after the calche. Was it being got
ready?

Yes! the concierge had seen the driver and postilion at work this hour
past. Everything would doubtless be ready for a start by seven
o'clock. It was now half-past six. Chauvelin drank the hot wine
eagerly; his sleepless night and all his anxiety had produced a
racking headache and a state of mental inertia difficult to combat.
Slightly refreshed by the drink, he proceeded to dress. While he did
so he heard a great clatter of horses; hoofs striking the
cobblestones, a good deal of shouting and rattling of wheels. His
windows gave on the Grand' Rue, and looking out he expected presently
to see the calche being driven round from the stable-yard at the
back. But nothing came. He felt nervy and impatient, hoping that
nothing would go wrong. Angered too with himself for feeling so flat
on this very morning when he would need all his brain-power to carry
his scheme successfully to the end.

He intended journeying with the two men as far as Lyons, and there to
invent a pretext for separating from them, sending them on to Paris by
the stagecoach, and then returning quietly and secretly to Orange
alone. Already he was fully dressed and ready to go downstairs. He
heard the clock in the tower of St. Apollinaire, striking seven. A
minute or two later the concierge, wide-eyed and babbling
incoherently, came bursting into the room.

"Citizen! Citizen! Nom de nom, quel malheur!" These ejaculations were
followed by a string of lamentations, and a confused narrative of some
untoward event out of which the only intelligible words that struck
clearly on Chauvelin's ears were: "Calche," and "cursed malefactors!"
His questions remained unanswered; the man continuing to lament and to
curse alternately.

Finally bereft of all patience, Chauvelin seized him by the shoulder
and shook him vigorously.

"If you don't speak clearly, man," he said roughly, "I'll lay my stick
across your shoulders."

The man fell on his knees and swore it was not his fault.

"I could not be in two places at once, citizen," he lamented. "I was
looking after your two friends and my wife--"

Chauvelin raised his stick. "What is it that was not your fault?" he
shouted at the top of his voice.

"That your calche has been stolen, citizen!"

"What?"

"It is those cursed brigands! They have infested the town these past--
"

The words died in his throat in a loud cry of pain. Chauvelin had
brought his stick crashing upon his back.

"It was not my fault, citizen," he reiterated protesting. "I could not
be in two places at once--"

But Chauvelin no longer stayed to listen. Picking up his hat and coat,
he hastened downstairs, to be met in the corridor by the concierge's
wife and two sons all incoherent and lamenting. The whole house by now
was astir. Public Prosecutor Isnard came clattering down the stairs
followed by President Legrange, both in more or less hastily completed
toilette. And thus the whole party with Chauvelin en tte proceeded at
full speed to the stable yard, where the yawning coach-house and empty
stalls told their mute tale. Of calche, horses, driver or postilion
not a sign. The stable-man, an old fellow, and his aid, a very young
lad, were busy at the moment telling the amazing story to a small
crowd of gaffers and market-women who had pushed their way into the
yard from the back and were listening, open-mouthed, to a tale of
turpitude and effrontery, unparalleled in the annals of Valence.

At sight of Chauvelin and his tricolour sash, the crowd of gaffers and
women respectfully made way for him, and he, seizing the old stable-
man by the shoulder, commanded him to tell him clearly and briefly
just what had happened. Thus it was that at last he was put in
possession of the facts that touched him so nearly. It seems that his
own driver and postilion, up betimes, had got the calche and horses
quite ready and standing in the middle of the yard. They had in fact
just put the horses to, and the postilion and driver were standing by
the calche door drinking a last mug of wine, when the from the narrow
lane which connects the yard with the rue Latour at the back, a band
composed of four ruffians came rushing in. Before he, the stable-man,
could as much as wink an eyelid, three of these ruffians had seized
the driver and postilion round their middle and thrust them into the
calche, followed them in, banged the coach door to, whilst the fourth
climbed up to the box with the rapidity of a monkey, gathered up the
reins and drove away.

In the meanwhile the lad who had been at work in the stables and heard
the clatter came running out. Stable-man and lad then ran to the lane
and out into the rue Latour, only to see the calche rattling away at
breakneck speed. They shouted and strained their lungs to attract the
notice of passers-by, and they did attract their attention, but before
they could explain what had happened, the calche was well out of
sight. The lad ran as fast as he could to the nearest poste de
gendarmerie, but before the gendarmes could get to horse, no doubt
those ruffians would have got well away with their booty.

That was in substance the story to which Chauvelin had to listen, and
through which he was forced to keep his temper in check. As soon as
the stable-man had finished speaking, the lad had put in his own
comments, whilst the gaffers and gossips started arguing, talking,
conjecturing, giving advice, suggesting, lamenting. Oh! above all
lamenting! That the high roads were not safe, every one knew that to
his cost. Masked highway robbers held up coaches, attacked
pedestrians, robbed and pillaged the countryside. That the streets of
Valence were not safe, was alas! only too true. The gendarmerie was
either incompetent or venal, and lucky the man who possessed nothing
that could be taken from him. But this outrage to-day in broad
daylight surpassed anything that had been seen or heard before. A
calche and pair, pardieu! was not like a purse that could be hidden
in one's waistcoat pocket. And so on, and so on, while Chauvelin,
still silent and curbing his impatience, went back into the house,
followed by his crestfallen friends and by the staff of the Maison de
Ttes still lamenting and protesting their innocence and withal
beginning to feel doubtful as to what the consequences might be to
themselves of this untoward adventure.

The stable-lad was then sent back to the poste de gendarmerie, with
orders from Citizen Representative Chauvelin that the chief officer in
charge present himself immediately at the Maison des Ttes. Whilst
waiting for this officer, Chauvelin, sitting in the small parlour, had
a few moments' peace in which to co-ordinate his thoughts. The inertia
which had weighed upon his spirits the first thing in the morning had
been suddenly dissipated. Already his keen, imaginative brain had
seized upon this catastrophe, and planned how to turn it to the
furtherance of his scheme. And while his friends, no whit less voluble
or more coherent than the concierge or his kind, were loudly
lamenting: "What a misfortune, citizens! What bad luck!" and throwing
up their arms in utter helplessness, Chauvelin broke in impatiently
upon their wailings:

"We must make the best of it, citizens," he said, "I shall certainly
be held up here a day or two, on this stupid business, but it
certainly need not detain you. The stage-coach leaves for Lyons at
half-past eight if I mistake not. As soon as my calche is recovered,
which I doubt not it will be in a couple of days, I'll follow you on.
You in the meanwhile can proceed to Paris all the way by stage-coach.
It will be perhaps not quite as comfortable as my calche, but it will
serve."

They demurred a little. The stagecoach would certainly not be as
comfortable as Citizen Chauvelin's luxurious calche, and perhaps a
day or two's delay would not be very serious.

"It would be fatal," Chauvelin said emphatically. Orders from Paris
such as they had received must be obeyed in the least possible delay,
a couple of days idling in Valence, when a stage-coach was available,
would certainly be put down to pusillanimity and want of zeal.

He could be eloquent when he liked, could Citizen Chauvelin, and on
this occasion he was determined to gain his point--to send these two
packing, post-haste, off to Paris, and leave himself free to return to
Orange immediately. As to what would happen presently, when those two
arrived in Paris and found that they had been hoaxed, that they had
not been sent for, and would have to return biting the dust and
chewing the cud of their wrath, as to that in truth, Chauvelin had not
given a thought. To save his Fleurette, to get her away out of the
country at the cost of his own life it need be, was all he thought
about, and while the business of trying and condemning prisoners was
at a standstill through the absence of these two men, there was a
hundred to one chance that he could accomplish his purpose.

Therefore he put forth all his powers of persuasion--and they were
great. He drew lurid pictures of what happened to those who were
thought to be guilty of dilatoriness or want of zeal. So much so that
he reduced President Legrange and Public Prosecutor Isnard--at no time
very valiant heroes--to a state of abject fear, and half an hour later
had the satisfaction of bidding them au revoir, in the yard of the
posting-inn, they having found seats in the stage-coach to Lyons.

As soon as he had seen the last of them, he made haste to requisition
a chaise and the only horses to be had in Valence, to take him
forthwith to Orange.

As for his own calche, he wished the foot-pads joy in its possession
and cared less than nothing what became of his driver or his
postilion.



Chapter 24

Could Citizen Chauvelin have seen his calche and horses a couple of
hours later on the road, he would perhaps not have been quite so
complacent as to its fate. After rattling over the cobble-stones of
Valence and tearing down the high road at maddening speed, it
slackened a little for the hill, and worked its way slowly up through
the small township of Livron. A quarter of a league or so further, it
turned off at the cross-roads in the direction of Cest and after
another half-hour came to a halt at that small cottage which still
nestles to this day, with its tumble-down roof and vine-covered
arbour, beside the celebrated Roman ruins at the foot of the hill, not
far from the banks of the Drme.

Three ruffians, grimy from the roots of their hair to their down-at-
heel shoes, jumped out of the calche, dragging after them in the open
the driver and postilion lately in the employ of Citizen Chauvelin,
Representative of the National Convention on special mission. Whilst
thus journeying between Valence and Livron these two poor wretches had
been securely pinioned with ropes, but they were not gagged, and they
used the freedom left to their tongues, by uttering oaths and protests
which appeared vastly to amuse their captors.

The fourth ruffian--for ruffian he was--despite the fact that he had
donned a bourgeois' dress, the better to carry out his coup and pass
unnoticed on the road, had in the meanwhile scrambled down from the
box.

"Quite successful so far," he remarked lightly, speaking in English,
and rubbing his hands, which were slender and long and firm,
contentedly together.

"What shall we do with these?" one of his companions asked, laughing
and pointing to the two woebegone prisoners, who had ceased to curse
and to protest, chiefly owing to want of breath, but also through
astonishment at finding themselves the victims of some kind of foreign
brigands whose language they did not understand.

"Poor beggars!" the other said lightly. "We'll place them in front of
an excellent breakfast and I'll warrant we need not as much as tie
their legs to their chairs. Get them inside, Ffoulkes, will you, and
I'll talk to them as soon as Tony and I have seen to the horses."

"You don't think the gendarmerie from Valence will be after us,
Blakeney, do you?"

"Not they," Sir Percy replied. "They are very short of horses in these
parts, and the best will, I doubt not, be requisitioned by my friend
M. Chambertin for his own use. I wonder now," he added musing, "what
he is after, taking those two ruffians with him to Paris; and whether
his errand is sufficiently urgent to cause him to travel in the stage-
coach, now that we have borrowed his calche...."

He paused, slightly frowning, evidently a little puzzled.

"I wonder," he added, "if our friend in there can throw some light
upon the matter."

After which Sir Percy Blakeney and Lord Anthony Dewhurst took the
steaming horses out of the shafts, relieved them of their harness and
gave them a good rub down, a drink and a feed, while Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes and Lord Hastings went into the cottage and busied themselves
with their prisoners.

My Lord Stowmaries was for the moment in charge of this untenanted
cottage, which was a stronghold as well as a rallying place of the
League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, as it lay perdu, off both the main
and the secondary roads. He it was who had prepared food for his chief
and his comrades with the assistance of one Amd Colombe. The cottage
consisted of four rooms; unsecurely sheltered against the weather by a
cracked roof, and against damp by broken floors. There were a few very
rare pieces of furniture in the place, abandoned there by the late
owner and his family, worthy farmers whom the League of the Scarlet
Pimpernel had conveyed safely out of France when their loyal adherence
to their exiled seigneurs had brought them under the ban of the
Revolutionary Government.

In one of the rooms the two prisoners were busy for the moment
pinching one another to see if they were really awake. After thinking
that they were within sight of death at the hands of a band of
malefactors, they found themselves sitting at a table in front of an
excellent plate of soup, some bread and cheese and a very large mug of
excellent wine, while the cords round their bodies had been removed.
Anyway, a very pleasant dream. Leaving conjecture to take care of
itself, they fell to on this welcome repast with a healthy appetite.
The door which gave on the larger room had been left open, and through
it the two men could see the band of malefactors falling to, just like
themselves, in front of an excellent meal, laughing and talking in
that same gibberish language which they did not understand.

"They don't look to me much like brigands," the driver remarked
presently, speaking with his mouth full, "in spite of their dirty
clothes."

"And that tall one," the postilion added thoughtfully, "he seems to be
their captain. If you ask me I think he is an aristo."

"Or an English spy."

The other shook his head.

"Not he. English spies would have murdered us."

"Then what in the name of hell--"

He got no further, the postilion had gripped him by the arm.

"Nom de nom!" the postilion exclaimed; and expressed further amazement
by a prolonged whistle. "If that is not Amd Colombe."

"Qui  Amd Colombe?" the other asked.

"The son of the grocer over at Laragne. I know, I come from those
parts. But what the hell is he doing here?"

Amd Colombe sitting at the table with his wonderful new friends,
caught the sound of his name, and gave an anxious start.

"Do not worry about them, my young friend," Sir Percy Blakeney said
reassuringly. "Before they could do you any harm we shall be many
leagues out of the way."

At which postilion and driver gazed at one another, more puzzled than
ever before. Were the really dreaming, or had they actually heard that
foreigner speaking their own language?--and perfectly. The driver was
inclined to think that the wine which they had been drinking was
potent enough to be the cause of the hallucination. Not that this
deterred him from pouring himself out another mugful, and drinking it
down with much smacking of the lips and sighs of contentment. It was
such very excellent wine. Didn't his friend the postilion agree with
him? Why of course, and the filing and refilling of the two mugs
continued apace and at a great rate.

"They'll be blind in a few moments," Lord Anthony Dewhurst remarked,
glancing over his shoulder at the two men.

And he was right in this surmise. In less than a quarter of an hour
driver and postilion were blind to the world with arms stretched out
across the table, their heads buried in the bend of their elbows,
breathing stertorously.

"You are not eating my friend," my Lord Stowmaries remarked to Amd
Colombe, who in truth had been sitting, silent, self-absorbed, neither
eating nor drinking.

"Friend, Amd does not appreciate your cooking, old man," Blakeney
put in lightly. "It is fairly bad, I confess. Is it not Monsieur
Amd?"

"It is excellent, milor'," the young man sighed, "but I ask you, how
can I eat or drink when I am in such terrible anxiety?"

"We were just going to discuss the best way--and the quickest--of
alleviating your anxiety, mon ami," Sir Percy rejoined, "all we were
waiting for was for these two amiable gentlemen over there to become
deaf temporarily as well as blind."

"It is not for myself that I am anxious, milor'," the young man said
timidly. He was over shy of these wonderful men, who had led him from
adventure to adventure, in a manner that had almost addled his poor
brain. His unsophisticated mind was still vibrating with the
excitement of the unforgettable hour, when throwing disguise aside
these strangers had revealed themselves not as revolutionary soldiers
at all, but as mysterious beings, whose actions had appeared to him to
savour of the supernatural. It took him a long time to understand the
situation. It seems that his being in possession of Madame de
Frontenac's valuables was known to the girl Adle who was nothing but
a spy in the pay of the Committee of Public Safety. She had that night
spied upon him and the girl he loved, seen the girl hand over the
valuables to him, and revealed the fact to the Committee. Had these
mysterious strangers not played the part of revolutionary soldiers and
got him, Amd, safely out of the way, before the real soldiers
appeared upon the scene, he would at this moment be languishing in a
prison at Sisteron or Orange preparatory to being sent either to the
guillotine or for cannon-fodder on the frontier.

All this Amd understood well enough, he cursed Adle a thousand
times in his heart for being such a snake in the grass. What he could
not understand was why these strangers should take an interest in him
and in his fate. When to his timid query on that subject their leader
laughingly replied: "Sport! mon ami, the fun, the excitement nothing
more philanthropic, I assure you, just sport!" he understood still
less.

No wonder that to him, Amd Colombe, the whole adventure had come as
a manifestation of something supernatural. As for M. de Frontenac, his
fellow-sufferer, on the other hand, he had apparently been prepared
for that manifestation. It appeared that Madame and Mademoiselle had
already been rescued from peril and taken to a place of safety, where
presently M. de Frontenac would be able to join them, always through
the instrumentality of these wonder-working strangers. The last thing
M. de Frontenac had said to him, Amd, when he took leave of him a
couple of days ago, somewhere in the lonely mountain paths where the
party had called a halt, was: "Trust these Englishmen Amd, trust
them with everything you hold dear. Look at me, had I not trusted them
with my wife and daughter, I should have seen my dear ones first, and
myself afterwards, facing the guillotine at this very hour!"

It was with these words ringing in his ears, that Amd, sitting now
amongst these men to whom he owed his life, had mustered up sufficient
courage to reiterate more firmly: "It is not for myself I am anxious,
milor'."

"I know that, mon ami," Sir Percy replied, "you are thinking of that
brave little girl--Fleurette. Isn't that her name?"

"Yes, milor'," Amd whispered timidly.

"Some of my friends and I are going straightway back to look after her
now."

"And you will hurry, milor', you will hurry, will you not? Every day
may be fatal for her."

"I think not," Blakeney said in that decisive way of his, which
carried so much conviction. "You told me she was the daughter of a man
high up in the councils of the revolutionary government."

"One Armand, milor'," Amd continued. "Little is known of him in the
neighbourhood, save that he is a widower and apparently has influence
with the government."

"Fleurette is an only child?"

"Yes. She has lived at Lou Mas all her life."

"If her father has influence he can protect her for a time."

"For a time--yes! But--oh milor'!" the poor young man suddenly burst
out with passionate vehemence, "if anything were to happen to
Fleurette, I would curse you for having saved my life."

Blakeney smiled at the young man's eagerness.

"Listen, friend Amd," he said lightly, "are you going to trust me
and my friends?"

And Amd, who remembered those last solemn words spoken by M. de
Frontenac, looked into those lazy grey eyes, meeting that half
earnest, half-humorous glance beneath the heavy lids, replied simply:
"Yes, milor'!"

"And you will accord me what my friends accord so ungrudgingly, bless
them, implicit obedience?"

Again Amd replied simply: "Yes milor'!" And then he added! "What am
I to do?"

"For the moment nothing," Sir Percy replied, "but remain here quietly
and alone until you hear from me again. Can you do it?"

"If you command."

"You won't mind the loneliness?"

"I shall be thinking of Fleurette and trusting you."

"Come, that's brave!" Sir Percy concluded lightly. "You will find some
provisions in the armoire in this room: but apart from that you will
find your way every day down to the river, and turning to your right,
you will walk along its bank till you come to a derelict shed hidden
from view by two old walnut-trees. In a corner of the shed, beneath a
pile of leaves, you will find something to comfort you, either a loaf
of bread, or a piece of cheese, sometimes a jug of milk or a bottle of
wine. Scanty fare probably, but it will suffice to keep the wolf from
the door. Those who supply it are poor and risk much to do it. They
owe my friends and me a debt which they pay in this fashion. Now are
you prepared to live this life of a lonely anchorite while my friends
and I return to Laragne and gather news of your Fleurette?"

"If I could only come with you, milor'!" Amd sighed.

"Tush, man, what were the good of that?" Sir Percy retorted with a
slight note of impatience in his pleasant voice. "You would only lead
us all--and your Fleurette into trouble."

"But you will bring me news of her soon?" Amd entreated with tears
in his kind, innocent looking eyes.

"Either news of her--or Fleurette herself."

Amd shook his head. "She would not leave her father," he said
dolefully.

"Then she will be safe with him, until better times come along, which
will be very soon, friend Amd, you may take that from me. Another
few months--very few--and the dragon's own teeth will be turned
against itself. This anarchy cannot endure for ever, because all evil,
friend Amd, is by the grace of God Infinite."

He spoke these last words with unwonted earnestness, and simple Amd
Colombe looked up to him with awe as to a prophet standing there,
magnificent in energy and strength, head thrown back, the lazy eyes
beneath their heavy lids flashing with unquenchable inner fire. And
suddenly he checked himself, laughter chased away earnestness, the
eyes twinkled with merriment like those of a care-free schoolboy,
rather than a seer.

"La!" he said lightly, "I verily believe we were waxing serious. No
cause for that, eh, friend Amd? My friends and I are off on a gay
adventure. To take a message of love from you to a brave little girl
who loves you, a shade better methinks, than she loves that mysterious
father of hers. Write your love letter, my friend, but be sure and
make it brief, and I'll deliver it myself in her own little hands. I
saw her, that sweet wench of yours, no woman ever showed more pluck
than she did when she went to seek Madame de Frontenac's valuables."

"You saw her, milor'!" Amd exclaimed wide-eyed. "Mon Dieu! is there
anything that you do not see?"

"There is, mon ami," Sir Percy replied gaily. "I have never seen your
pretty Fleurette's mysterious father. He must be a fine man to keep
the love of so sweet a daughter. So write your letter, my friend," he
went on, and pointing to an oaken desk at the further end of the room
on which were quill-pen, inkpot and sand, "and I promise you that I
will deliver it, if only for the pleasure of having a squint at the
mysterious owner of Lou Mas. Heigh-ho!" he added with a contented
sigh, "but this promises to be fine sport. What say you, Ffoulkes, or
you, Tony? We are going to put our heads into the wolf's jaws again,
eh? Stowmaries, you, too, and Hastings. But we'll do it, and I promise
you that the sight of pretty Fleurette will be a fitting compensation
for some very unpleasant half hours we may have to go through. Now
then, friend Amd! your love missive, and two of you put the horses
to, we'll have to make Montlimar by nightfall! there we'll either
abandon the calche, steal a couple of horses and cut across the hills
to Sisteron, or keep to the calche and the road as far as the
neighbourhood of Orange, where much information can always be gleaned
about the district. We'll make no plans now and trust to luck and
chance. What?"

Lord Tony then pointed, smiling, to the driver and postilion still
fast asleep in the adjoining room.

"What is to happen to those mudlarks?" he asked.

"We'll take them along, of course," Blakeney replied. "So thrust them
into the bottom of the calche, under the seat for choice, and those
who sit inside can use them as footstools. Where we leave the calche,
there we leave them too, to find their way back to the bosom of their
families in due course."

He looked so gay and so full of life and strength, so sure of himself,
such pure joy in this new adventure radiated from his entire person,
that some of that divine spark in him set Amd Colombe's blood
tingling through his veins. Anxiety, melancholy, doubt fell away from
him at a glance from those lazy eyes now twinkling with joy, at sight
of that firm mouth, ever softened by a smile; of those long, slender
hands, delicate as a woman's, firm as those of a leader of men. Poor
Amd was almost happy at this moment, feeling that he was one with
this band of heroes, that just by obedience and self-effacement, he
could feel that he was one of them.

In cramped schoolboy hand, he wrote a brief, very brief little line to
Fleurette, and told her how he adored her and longed for her nearness.
He also told her that whatever else happened he implored her to trust
the bearer of this note, who would be the means of bringing her back
one day to the shelter of her Amd's arms.

Less than an hour later he was all alone in the tumble-down cottage
that nestled against the ruins of a former, long-since-dead
civilisation. The late afternoon was soothing and balmy, the sky of a
pale turquoise, clear and translucent, and as Amd, standing somewhat
forlorn at the cottage door, watching the narrow road over which the
calche had lumbered awhile ago, bearing away his mysterious new
friends, the pale crescent of the moon appeared above the snow-capped
crest of La Lance, and Amd, remembering the old superstition, bowed
solemnly nine times to the moon.





Chapter 25

What irked Fleurette most in her prison life was the monotony of it:
the want of something to do. After she had cleaned out the room which
she shared with ten others, and put herself and everything tidy, the
day appeared interminably long. She did her crochet work while her
supply of thread lasted; old Louise had been allowed to make up a
bundle of some clothes for her, and in it she had also put the crochet
work and a few hanks of thread, but a few days saw the end of this
supply, after which there was nothing with which Fleurette could
occupy her fingers. Some of her fellow prisoners had needles, cotton
and thimbles, and presently Fleurette, always willing and always
smiling, was asked to darn and mend their clothes. She was glad enough
to do it, as a means of killing time.

They were a heterogeneous crowd these fellow-prisoners of hers, culled
from every social grade from the great lady to the troll out of the
street. Misfortune and the precariousness of existence had brought
these usually warring elements closely together: friendships sprang up
where in the past even a nod of recognition would have been grudged.
The Comtesse de Mornas, who belonged to the highest aristocracy of
Provence, would take her morning exercise with her arm round the waist
of Eugnie Blanc, daughter of a second-hand clothes dealer of Orange.
Hlne de Mornas's husband had been guillotined three months ago on
some trumped-up charge or other, and Eugnie Blanc's father, accused
of traffic with the enemy--whoever that enemy might be no one knew--
had perished in that awful wholesale massacre perpetrated in Orange
last month. Sorrow brought these two women together, as it did many
others, and when Claire de Chtelard, obviously a woman of evil
reputation, sought Fleurette's compassion with a tale of hunger,
misery and arrest, that compassion was freely given, and the girl who
had led such a sheltered life at Lou Mas, knowing nothing of
temptation or of evil, had for daily companion after that, one Claire
de Chtelard, the most notorious jade of Orange.

Thus the first few days went by. In the prison--it is architect
Caristie's house with all the furniture turned out of it and the rooms
left bare of everything save a few benches, a few paillasses, a table,
a wash-hand basin or two--in the prison great puzzlement prevails.
Hither-to every day, just before sunset, a captain of the guard with
half a dozen men would enter the courtyard and standing there, would
in a loud voice read out a list of names. That list was the Roll-call,
the decrees of the Revolutionary Tribunal condemning so many to the
guillotine on the morrow. And at all the windows of the house around
the courtyard, heads would appear: men and women--yes! and children
too--clutching their prison bars, and listening. Listening if their
name be upon that list. And then a sigh of relief if that name was not
called: another day's respite! another day in which to drag this
miserable, precarious existence. As for the others, the ones whose
names were read out in a loud voice by the captain of the guard, there
was nothing for it but to clasp their loved ones, or mayhap only the
newly-found friend, in their arms--for the last time. That same night
they were transferred to the prison of the Htel de Ville, and in the
morning the guillotine. Sometimes not that. Just driven like a herd to
the slaughter: on the bridge or the Place de la Rpublique. And there
the guns. And death pell-mell. Like cattle, with ne'er a grave nor a
prayer.

That was how it had been before Fleurette's arrival. That cinder-wench
Claire de Chtelard told her how it used to be. But Fleurette never
saw anything of that. The very day after her arrival was marked by the
non-appearance of the captain of the guard with his list. They all
wondered, put their heads together, and for an hour or two after the
usual time there was whispering, conjecturing going on. Respite for
everybody: that was of course what it meant. But why? Had that awful
Revolution really come to an end, as everybody had prophesied it
would? Had all those tigers up in Paris really devoured one another,
and was there no one left to carry on the infamy? Well! that was
perhaps how it was. But no one knew anything. Not the warders. Not the
prisoners. Not anybody. Inside these walls wherein news was wont to
penetrate with extraordinary precision and rapidity, nothing was
known. Nothing. Except that there was no list and that on the morrow
the guillotine was idle.

This new departure from regular routine was accepted with the same
stoicism as everything else. It was the stoicism of supreme
helplessness, or rather of despair, and it had engendered in all these
people, men and women, herded here together on the eve of death, a
kind of levity which it is difficult for modern thought to understand.
Death was so familiar to them, such a daily companion, that they had
ceased to think of him with awe. Familiarity had bred contempt. And
deriding Death, they turned him into ridicule. Made game of him,
defied him to break their spirit. It was a species of madness born of
intense horror and absolute despair. Fleurette at first felt sick and
wretched at sight of these people--proud countesses and high-born
seigneurs, as well as muckworms and jades--acting the guillotine, as
they called it, in the great hall of Architect Caristie's house, which
was assigned to them for recreation. She, poor little soul, had never
learned to envisage death as anything but awesome for which the Holy
Church was at pains to prepare doomed mankind with sacraments and
prayers.

The first time she saw them all in their gruesome mummery, she fled
affrighted back to the dark, noisome room where she slept, and
throwing herself on her miserable paillasse, she sobbed her little
heart out with horror and grief, stuffed her fingers into her ears so
as not to hear the voices and the laughter that came from the great
hall. Here Claire de Chtelard found her an hour later, and I think
this was the beginning of their friendship, for the wench found just
the right words wherewith to console this ignorant little country
mouse.

"Their one recreation," she urged. "They mean no irreverence. Just
think of them face to face with death. Always. Deprived of every
consolation: mocked, jeered at. This play-acting is only a blind to
hide their own misery, the despair which they are too proud to
display."

After a while Fleurette dried her tears. But she slept ill that night.
Nightmares pursued her. Visions of that mock tribunal, with the mock
prosecutor, and the mock culprit. And then the setting up of two
chairs, and draping them with bits of crimson rags to represent the
guillotine. Once or twice she sat up on her hard paillasse, hardly
able to smother a scream which would have aroused her room-mates from
their sleep. She had seen in retrospect one of the warders, who had
helped in the acting of the gruesome play, dressed as Satan with horns
and tail and entering the hall with a bound and a whoop. His rle was
to snatch the President of the Tribunal and the Prosecutor from their
seats and to drag them away with him into everlasting fire, while a
weird voice boomed the query: "What hour is it?" and another replied:
"Eternity."

Poor little Fleurette! It was her first experience of life. And what
an experience! Yet, it had only been one step from Lou Mas with its
almond-trees and rippling mill-streams, with Bibi and old Louise, one
step from there to this barrack of a house converted into a prison,
with all its humiliating propinquities, and all its horrors. Her
companions in misfortune were very kind to her. All of them. The men
as well as the women. Clair de Chtelard and the Comtesse de Mornas.
They all seemed to understand her position, her helplessness, her
ignorance. They were so kind! so kind! They admired her crochet-work,
and talked to her of Laragne, or the snows of Pelvoux, or the almond-
trees of the Dauphin. They thanked her and kissed her when she
offered to ply her needle for them: to mend their clothes or darn
their stockings. Within a few days she became one of themselves. A
younger sister in this family of the despairing. Within a week, or
mayhap ten days, she had lost her sense of horror at their mummeries,
could laugh at the antics of the mock Satan come to carry the mock
judges off to hell. The only thing to which she could not get
accustomed was the representation of the guillotine, the inverted
chairs and the bits of red rags, the cords, the victim, the basket and
the executioner. Oh! that executioner! He was terrible! Especially of
late. The rle, like that of Satan, had always been undertaken by one
of the warders; rough fellows these, culled from the lowest scum of
the city; men who delighted in all the physical and moral torture
inflicted on the aristos under their charge, who would gloat over the
sight of a father torn away from his children and led to the
guillotine, who would regale the unfortunate prisoners with tales
culled from the Moniteur of wholesale executions or brutal massacres.
The idea of acting the part of executioner to the mock representations
of the guillotine delighted a certain grim sense of humour which most
Southerners possess. There was one man in particular, lately come to
replace another who was sick, who threw himself into the gruesome rle
with zest. He would strip almost naked for the part, and then cover
his face and his large body with a mixture of soot and charcoal and
oil so that he looked like a huge negro, with gleaming teeth and long,
lank hair, of a pale blond colour speckled with dirt.

Poor Fleurette could not bear to look at him, nor at the mock
execution when one or other of her fellow-prisoners would allow
himself to be tied to the mock guillotine, amidst the well-acted
laughter and jeers of men and women who impersonated the awful rabble
that was always to be found around the real guillotine. It was
horrible, and Fleurette would run out into the corridor, or back to
her miserable paillasse, anywhere where she could shut her ears to
that gruesome mockery.

Unfortunately there came a day when the warder declared that an order
had come through, that prisoners must remain together in the hall
during the hour of recreation. He said it was so, and there was no one
to contradict him. Of all the tyrants that had been set over their
fellow-men, these days, none were more dreaded because more
autocratic, than prison-warders. As far as prisoners knew, these
tyrants' power over them was absolute. In any case they could, if
contradicted or thwarted, make it ten thousand times worse than before
for those who did not cringe. This order then had to be obeyed and
Fleurette, cowering alone in a corner of the hall, kept her eyes
tightly shut while the impish scene was being enacted.

Madame de Mornas, aristocrat, dignified, with her arm round Eugnie
Blanc's waist, spoke to her very kindly.

"My dear," she said in her gentle, well-bred voice, "if we did not
make a mockery of all these horrors we should brood over them, and
some of us would go mad."

And Eugnie Blanc, the "old clo" dealer's daughter, added with a
shrug: "You dear innocent! You have seen nothing of life as it is. You
don't know what it is when memory sets to work and you see things--you
see--" She gave a shudder and then a harsh laugh. "This at any rate
takes one's mind off memory for a time."

Clair de Chtelard's sympathy was too sincere, though rather more
grim: "We've all got to go through the real thing presently; the
mockery of it now will make the reality to-morrow more endurable."

"We must practice to-day," M. de St. Luce, the great scientist said
lightly, "our attitude of to-morrow."

That was the general tenor of every one's feelings upon the subject.
Fleurette, touched by so much sympathy, tried to smile through her
tears, and promised to school herself to the same philosophy. But as
soon as all these kindly creatures had left her, in order to join,
laughing, in the grim spectacle, she once more closed her eyes and sat
in the dark corner, quite still, hoping that no one would notice her.
But the laughter at one time was so loud, every one's mood so
hilarious, that involuntary she opened her eyes and looked. The mock
executioner had just completed his task. It seems he was complaining
that Madame la Guillotine was still unsatisfied: she was putting out
her arms, ready to embrace another lover. M. de Bollne--a minor poet
well known in Provence--was declaiming some verses of his own
composition, in praise of that promised embrace. The executioner's
coal-black face shone like polished ebony in the flickering light of
the tallow candles that guttered in their sconces. Madame de Mornas,
almost unrecognizable in ragged kirtle and with a crimson scarf tied
round her head, was flourishing her knitting and humming the tune of
the Carmagnole as an accompaniment to M. de Bollne's verses, whilst
Claire de Chtelard sprawled at the foot of the mock guillotine with a
red streak across her throat.

And suddenly, to her horror, Fleurette saw the executioner stride
towards her corner.

"What?" he cried aloud, "tears? Tears are for aristos. To the
guillotine with her!" or words to that effect. Fleurette did not
rightly understand what he did say, all she knew was that this
hideous, horrible man came striding towards her with hands
outstretched, and that every one was laughing or singing or clapping
their hands. The next moment she felt that horrible hand upon her
shoulder, on her kerchief, her breast. She gave a loud scream and
cowered further into the corner thinking the she would faint with
terror, until she heard a peremptory voice calling out loudly; "Leave
the child alone, man, can't you see she is frightened?"

"Frightened? Of course she is frightened," the loathsome creature
retorted with a laugh. "Did I not say that she was an aristo? Let me
just call the warder and--"

A woman's voice was raised in protest:

"No, no, don't call the warder. She's done nothing wrong--and he
might--"

And Madame de Mornas it was who added:

"You coveted this ring this morning, man, it is yours if you leave the
child alone and say nothing to the warder."

How kind people were! How kind! As nothing further seemed to happen,
Fleurette ventured to open her eyes: Claire de Chtelard was sitting
beside her, trying to comfort her. The gruesome play had apparently
come to an end; the prisoners in groups of three or more stood about
talking and laughing, preparatory to be driven back to the sleeping-
rooms for the night. The black executioner was no longer there.

"He is not a bad man really," Claire de Chtelard said to Fleurette,
fondling her hand and smoothing the golden curls that clung to her
moist forehead! "only very rough and coarse. Bah! these men!" she went
on with a shudder. "The warder is a veritable fiend: a genius in
inventing means to punish you if you do not bribe him or give in to
him. All my little treasures which I was able to bring here with me,
have gone into his rapacious hands. This man is not so bad, he is new
to his work, he came a day or two ago to replace one who was ill. But
he is only a scavenger. When the warder is dead drunk he takes his
place, the rest of the time he does all the dirtiest work in the
house. A loathsome creature, what? If he were not so big, we should
not be so frightened of him. But he is better than the warder."

Fleurette only listened with half an ear. She still felt bruised and
ill after the fright she had had. That horrible black hand touching
her breast. It was worse than any nightmare.

She was glad when the bell clanged and the warder accompanied by his
new aide---only partially relieved of the soot and the grime of his
rle--drove the prisoners like a herd of cattle back into their pens.
So many women in one room, so many men in another. He had his list,
and with a stout stick in his hand which he flourished as he read out
the names, he drove them all in, into their respective night quarters
and locked the doors upon them.

Fleurette shared her wretched paillasse with Claire de Chtelard.
There was no dressing or undressing in this overcrowded room. No
privacy. One just lay down in one's clothes and snatched what rest one
could. Oh! the horror of it all to these women, most of them
accustomed to dainty homes. Fleurette never knew which moment she
dreaded most, that of opening her eyes to another awful day, or trying
to close them in intermittent sleep.

Claire de Chtelard, less impressionable, was already asleep.
Fleurette slipped out of her kirtle which she laid tidily across the
foot of the paillasse; then she took off her muslin kerchief. As she
did so something fluttered to the ground. A piece of paper neatly
folded. Smothering an involuntary cry of surprise, she stooped to pick
it up. Yet she hardly dared to touch the thing at first. How had it
got between the folds of her kerchief? Who could possibly have put it
there unbeknown to her? This was the second time with in a very little
while that Fleurette had come in contact with something that savoured
of the supernatural. Still timorous, and with a trembling hand, she
picked the paper up. Claire was asleep and most of the others had
already stretched out their limbs upon their hard paillasses. No one
paid any heed to Fleurette.

There was no direct light in the room itself, but an oil lamp which
hung from the ceiling in the corridor threw a feeble ray of light
through the fan-light over the door. Fleurette unfolded the paper and
smoothed out its creases against her knee. She made her way to the
centre of the room where she could just contrive, by that dim light
from above, to decipher the handwriting upon the paper. But the first
word that caught her eye, nearly caused her to utter a cry of joy; it
was the signature: Amd.

Amd! At once her eyes grew dim with tears. Amd! Those five letters
in the clumsy, schoolboyish handwriting meant happiness and home.
Amd! Before trying to read further she pressed the paper against her
cheek, fondled it; laid it against her lips.

Amd! He had written to her. Where from? How? She did not care to
think. What did it matter after all? He was thinking of her. Had
written to her. And some divine messenger had conveyed his missive to
Fleurette. Though he was safe and well--Bibi had assured her that he
was--he had thought of her and sent her this letter through one of
God's own angels.

And then Fleurette dried her eyes, for she remembered that presently
the bell would clang again, when all the lights would be put out and
she might have to wait until to-morrow to read Amd's letter.

It was short, very, very short. Amd had never been a scholar, but in
it he told her how he adored his Fleurette and longed for her
nearness. He also told her that whatever else happened, he implored
her to trust the bearer of this note who would be the means of
bringing her back one day to the shelter of his arms.

The bearer of this note? Who was he? Surely, surely, one of God's
angels! and so of course she trusted him. And it was only le bon Dieu
who would so guide Bibi that all this trouble would come to an end and
she, Fleurette, would of a certainty find a shelter once more in her
Amd's arms.

She read and re-read the few brief lines over and over again, and
presently when the bell clanged, and she was forced to make her way
hurriedly to her paillasse before the room was plunged into utter
darkness, she laid down on the hard straw with a little sigh of
contentment and of peace. Her evening prayer was one entirely of
gratitude to le bon Dieu for His gift of Amd's love and Bibi's
protection. And that night Fleurette slept quite soundly, with her
cheek resting against the letter from Amd.



Chapter 26

For two whole days Citizens Pochart and Danou of the 137th Section of
the committee of Public Safety had been sorely puzzled. They had
received a curt note from Representative Chauvelin telling them that
he would be absent from Orange for a brief while, and bidding them
suspend all business until his return. Suspend all business? In very
truth all business was perforce at a standstill, not because of the
absence of the representative on special mission, but because of that
of two high officers of State; the President of the Tribunal and
Public Prosecutor.

Representative Chauvelin in his note had also alluded to this absence,
stating that by direct orders from the Central Committee of Public
Safety, President Legrange and Prosecutor Isnard had been obliged to
proceed to Paris.

It was all very puzzling, not to say suspicious. Pochart and Danou put
their heads together and came to the conclusion that here undoubtedly
were some machinations at work on the part of Representative Chauvelin
with a view to getting his daughter out of harm's way. The question
was how to make use of these machinations. Of their knowledge that
they were machinations. How in fact to turn them against the man who
hitherto had carried himself with such consummate arrogance, lording
it over every officer of State in Orange, with thinly veiled threats
that had roused ire, malice and hatred in these men, whose rule of
life was "strike ere you yourself be struck."

One thing, however, was crystal-clear. Representative Chauvelin was
hard hit. He put on an air of lofty indifference; he continued to
bluster and to threaten but he was hard hit by the arrest of his
daughter, as indeed any family man would be. Pochart and Danou did not
care one worthless assignat what became of the daughter, but they did
feel that the pleasure of threatening and terrorising the
representative on special mission, perhaps even of dragging him down
from his exalted position and sending him in his turn to the
guillotine, was not one to be missed. Up to the hour when Lieutenant
Godet had arrested the wench Fleurette on suspicion, Representative
Chauvelin had been a living threat to every patriot in Orange. He
seemed, as it were, to be always walking hand in hand with the
guillotine, or else in its shadow; sheltered himself, yet a menace to
others. But now the tables were reversed, and Pochart and Danou had in
one hour learned to substitute threats for soft words, arrogance for
servility. And they vastly enjoyed the substitution.

But the trouble was that they were void of imagination. Representative
Chauvelin could be brought down, they knew that. But how? Judging
other men by themselves, they quite envisaged the possibility of a
father sacrificing his own daughter in order to save himself. And
there was also the possibility that a representative on special
mission was powerful enough to save both his daughter and himself.
Strong forces would have to be marshalled against him. Pochart and
Danou with heads together passed these forces in review.

There was Lieutenant Godet who hated Representative Chauvelin with a
hatred born of fear--the deadliest hatred of all. There was that rat-
faced little spy, Adle, a mixture of petty spite and malice. She
would be useful. Others might be found, for Representative Chauvelin
had many enemies who had not until this hour dared to come out into
the open, but who would readily show themselves once the powerful
representative was attacked.

And in the meanwhile the business of purging the countryside of
aristos, suspects and traitors was at a standstill. With no Public
Prosecutor to frame indictments and no President to try the accused,
the order: "Que la Terreur soit  l'ordre du jour": "Let Terror be the
order of the day," had become a dead letter. This could not go on, of
course. Pochart and Danou, quite apart from their schemes against
Representative Chauvelin, felt that a solution must be found--and that
quickly--for this impossible situation. If allowed to continue they
stood in very great risk of a reprimand from Paris for allowing the
business of the State to be at a stand-still. They might be accused of
want of zeal. Those great patriots up in Paris were so unreasonable,
one never knew what they might do. Having sent for President Legrange
and Public Prosecutor Isnard, they probably expected "the order of the
day" to go on just the same. But how, nom de nom? How?

They were still seeking a solution, these two, Pochart and Danou, on
the third morning, when to their surprise Representative Chauvelin
walked in, as calm and indifferent as you please.

He had completed his business, he explained to them, sooner than he
had anticipated. President Legrange and Public Prosecutor Isnard on
the other hand had continued their journey to Paris.

Danou, suave as ever, expressed satisfaction in the return of the
citizen representative. It was indeed a matter of congratulation, he
added, for them all, seeing that the business of the State was so
completely at a standstill.

Pochart was somewhat more emphatic.

"There are at least one hundred and sixty traitors," he said, "who
should have been dealt with days ago. Your absence, citizen, and that
of two other public servants should not have occurred at this critical
hour--"

"It was inevitable, Citizen Pochart," Chauvelin broke in drily.
"Orders from Paris, you know--"

"I was just proposing to Citizen Pochart," Danou put in mildly, "that
we send a message to Paris by this new aerial telegraph to ask for
further orders. There is one installed at Avignon, and a courier---"

"The aerial telegraph is required for more important business than
yours, Citizen Danou," Chauvelin once more broke in, and this time
with some impatience.

"What can be more important than the suppression of traitors?" Pochart
argued with an obvious sneer. "I marvel at you, citizen
representative, that you should think otherwise."

"The very latest decree of the National Convention," Danou added, "was
that Terror be the order of the day. I too marvel at you, Citizen
Chauvelin."

"There is no cause for marvel," Chauvelin rejoined with well assumed
indifference. "I have not been in Orange more than a few hours. I have
not had time to devise for this new situation."

"Well, then, to-morrow, citizen," Danou suggested, "will you be ready
to consult with us on the best means of meeting this impossible
situation? Otherwise, I am still of the opinion that the aerial
telegraph, or perhaps a courier to Paris---"

He went on mumbling for a few seconds. His tone had been quite suave,
not to say deferential; but Chauvelin's keen ear had not failed to
detect the threat that lurked behind those smooth, velvety tones.

"To-morrow, as you say," he concluded dryly.

All through the wearisome journey back from Valence he had been busy
scheming and planning; alternately adopting and rejecting one plan
after another. He knew well enough that Pochart and Danou were
stalking him like wild beasts, ready to pounce on him, come to grips
with him in a life and death struggle in which his darling Fleurette
would also be involved.

Now after his interview with the two men, he knew that already they
scented victory, that they too were scheming and planning, planning
his overthrow, and using Fleurette as the deadliest weapon against
him. These last three years of titanic struggle of man against man, of
the strong against the weak, of the weak against the strong, had
taught him that he could expect nothing, neither mercy nor
consideration, from enemies whom he himself would never have hesitated
to sacrifice to his own whim or his own tyranny. His only hope lay in
his avowedly superior brain power. He no longer could dominate these
snarling wild beasts, now that they were showing their fangs, but he
could outwit them, before they sprang and devoured him. Brain-power as
against blind lust. And Chauvelin thought that he could win.



Chapter 27

Representative Chauvelin was quite calm, business-like, armed with
sheaves of papers and documents, when he met his colleagues the
following morning in the bureau of the Committee.

"I have found," he announced as soon as they were seated, "a solution
to our difficulty."

"Ah?" Danou ejaculated simply. And Pochart also said "Ah," but in a
different tone.

"I have here," Chauvelin continued, and selected and official document
from the pile which he had deposited upon the table. "I have here a
decree which exactly meets our case. It was promulgated by the
National Convention on the motion of Citizen Cabot on the 6th of
Brumaire last."

Leaning back in his chair, he began to read from the official document
in his hand. The others, elbows on the table, chin cupped in hand,
listened with what we might call mixed feelings.

   "Should it occur that through any cause whatsoever, one of the
chief officers of State be absent from duty for a period exceeding
seven days, the Representative on special mission shall then assume
his functions and continue to discharge them for as long as seems
expedient. And in the event of more than one important officer of
State being so absent, the Representative on special mission shall
himself appoint a substitute who will also discharge such duties as
the Representative on special mission shall have assigned to him for
the time being."

Having finished reading, Chauvelin put the document down, and with a
gesture of finality let his thin, clawlike hand rest upon it.

"The decree is clear enough, methinks," he said coldly.

There was a pause. A silence lasting perhaps thirty seconds; then
Danou said mildly:

"I have never heard of this decree."

"Nor I," Pochart echoed.

"The Central Committee in Paris," Chauvelin put in drily, "has often
remarked on the strange ignorance displayed by avowed patriots, of the
decrees promulgated for the welfare of the State. The Committee deems
that such ignorance amounts to treason."

"May I look at the document?" Danou rejoined simply, choosing to
ignore the reprimand--and the thin veiled threat.

"Certainly," Chauvelin replied, and handed the document over to his
colleague.

"Is it a copy?" Pochart asked, looking over his friend's shoulder.

"An attested copy, as you can see," Chauvelin replied. "It is
countersigned by Citizens Robespierre, Billaud, Couthon and Saint
Just. You are not thinking of disputing the order, Citizen Danou?"

Once more and still that arrogance, those veiled threats. The
situation being entirely different from what it was yesterday, Danou
and Pochart dared not persist in their mood of defiance. Not before
they had consulted one another, marshalled those forces--Godet, Adle,
the proofs against the wench Fleurette--and decided on the mode of
attack. Representative Chauvelin must have something up his sleeve,
some hidden power, or he would not be so arrogant, so threatening.

Danou wiped the sweat from his bald cranium and handed the document
back to Chauvelin. Pochart shaking himself like a wet dog, returned to
his seat.

"I'll take over the office of President Legrange." Chauvelin said
calmly, "and preside over the Tribunal until his return."

"Then I," Danou put in boldly, "had best take over the work of the
Public Prosecutor."

"Impossible, citizen," Chauvelin rejoined firmly; "I must have a
lawyer for that office."

"But--"

"You do not seem to have listened very carefully, Citizen Danou,"
Chauvelin broke in quietly, "to my reading of the decree, or you would
remember that it is for the representative on special mission to
appoint a substitute, in case of absence on the part of a second
important officer of State."

"And whom do you propose to appoint, citizen representative?" Pochart
inquired with a sneer.

"I will let you know my decision as to that to-morrow."

"The sooner the better, citizen representative," Danou concluded
unctuously. "Remember that it is my colleague and I of the 137th
section of the Committee of Public Safety who will have to collect the
evidence against the accused and place it before the Public Prosecutor
whom you will appoint. That is a duty from which only the Central
Committee can relieve us. There are one hundred and sixty prisoners,
arrested under the Law of the Suspect. Some of them gravely accused,
and by witnesses to."

"I am well aware of that, Citizen Danou," Chauvelin replied calmly.
Not by the quiver of an eyelid did he betray the fact that the shaft
had gone home. With a perfectly steady hand he collected his papers
and placed a weight upon them. After which he dismissed the others
with a curt nod.

"Your pardon, citizens," he said, "I have still work to do. You too
doubtless. I shall require your attendance here to-morrow at this same
hour."

When the door had finally closed behind the two men, the mask fell
from Chauvelin's face. Leaning his elbow on the table, he buried his
burning head in his hands; a heart-rending groan broke from his
parched lips, his eyes felt as if seared with glowing charcoal. Ah! if
he had not only forgotten these years past how to pray, what fervent
orisons would he not have sent heavenwards at this hour. Help! where
could he find help out of this web which his enemies had woven round
him? How he hated them! longed to smite them before they had time to
accomplish their fell purpose. They had determined on striking at
Fleurette. Out of revenge or hatred, or was it fear? they had
determined on striking at him, Chauvelin, through this being whom he
loved beyond everything in the world. And he who had been one of the
first protagonists of hatred and revenge and mutual distrust, he who
had the will and the power, seemed so inextricably enmeshed that he
could do nothing to save her. Fight? he would fight, inch by inch,
step by step. Fight to save his Fleurette. Fight while he had breath
in his body; fight until he fell vanquished by her side. For if he
failed he would not let her die alone. He could not think of her being
dragged through the streets in that awful tumbril which he himself had
so often helped to fill; could not--heavens above no--could not think
of her mounting the steps of the guillotine, which so many innocent
feet had mounted at his bidding. Retribution! It had come nearer, more
inexorable now! Death by his Fleurette's side seemed the only possible
issue.

And even as he sat there alone, in that room wherein the hatred of his
fellow-men seemed still to linger like noisome ghosts, a pale ray of
sunlight found its way through the closed window and played upon the
myriads and myriads of dust atoms that hovered in the air. Chauvelin's
hands dropped down upon the table. His weary eyes rested vacantly upon
that shaft of dust-laden light. And inside its very heart he saw a
face, smiling and debonair, with lazy eyes and smiling lips mocking
him in his grief. It was a vision, gone as soon as seen, but vivid
enough during that one brief second to bring a savage curse upon the
lonely man's lips. His claw-like hand clenched so tightly that the
knuckles shown like polished ivory.

"My evil genius!" he muttered through his teeth. "Had I succeeded in
bringing you down, had I seen that mocking head fall under the
guillotine, this devastating misery would never have come upon me. If
only I could be even with you, I would die happier---even now."



Chapter 28

Ever afterwards to Chauvelin, it seemed as if the Scarlet Pimpernel
had heard his challenge, and come in response to his thoughts: for
hardly had a couple of days gone before the first rumour reached him
of the nearness of his arch-enemy. Twenty-four hours later the hue and
cry was all over Orange after a gang of English spies who, it was
averred, made it their business to cheat Madame la Guillotine out of
her dues.

Citizen Pochart brought Representative Chauvelin the news which
already was over the town, namely that Architect Caristie and his
family, consisting of his wife and the small son now aged ten, who was
destined one day to become one of Orange's most distinguished
citizens, had unaccountably disappeared from their tumble-down
lodgings in the Rue de la Rpublique, where they had taken refuge
after their house had been requisitioned by the State and turned into
a prison-house.

For some time the sectional Members of the Committee of Public Safety,
Citizens Pochart and Danou, ardent patriots, had had their eyes on the
Caristie family. Aristos, what? Architect Caristie had designed and
built houses in the past for tyrants and ci-devants. The arrest of the
entire family had been decided on. It was to have taken place that
very evening. Orders to that effect were out, their place of
incarceration fixed in the very house where they had once sat in
luxury, whilst patriots had starved outside their gates.

And suddenly the news had spread like wildfire through the town that
Architect Caristie, his wife and son had disappeared. Disappeared?
Where? asked every patriot. But no one knew. One evening they had
still been seen, as usual, taking walking exercise on the river-bank,
and the next day when the soldiers of the revolutionary army presented
themselves at the door of their lodgings in the Rue de la Rpublique
and demanded admittance, lo! they received no answer: the lodgings
were deserted, the birds had flown from their nests. Nor could the
guard at any of the gates of the city throw light upon this mysterious
occurrence. No one had passed the gates without duly authenticated
passes. Pochart was at his wits end and asked counsel of
Representative Chauvelin. What was to be done in face of this mystery?
Exercise strict supervision at the gates, Chauvelin advised. All
passes in future to be signed by himself as well as by the Sectional
Members of the Committee of Public Safety.

The news of the presence of the Scarlet Pimpernel in Orange had acted
upon his nerves like a whiplash. Fate, it seemed, was hitting at him
from every side: and he felt like a fighter who has been downed once,
twice, and then suddenly felt the strength of giants in his blood; the
agility of a cat spurring him on to a new and stupendous effort. In a
vague, fatalistic kind of way the safety of Fleurette and the
destruction of the Scarlet Pimpernel appeared to him as inextricably
involved. If he allowed his arch-enemy to baffle him now and here, in
this city, then Fleurette was doomed and he himself must perish.

This was the immediate state of mind into which the news of the
Scarlet Pimpernel had thrown him. A wild desire to link the
destruction of his enemy with the safety of his child, to deserve so
well of the State, in fact, that the life of Fleurette would be ceded
to him as a reward. A drowning man will catch at a straw, and so did
Chauvelin catch at this hope, cling to it, turn the thought over and
over in his mind. With feverish activity then he spurred those about
him into additional vigilance, combated that superstitious terror with
which every official these days regarded the gang of English spies and
their mysterious chief. He brought to every man notice that the
handsome reward offered by the Revolutionary government for the
capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel, described the Englishman's
appearance, his methods, his motives, worked up every man in Orange,
aye, and every woman too, into a state of enthusiasm for the possible
capture of this inveterate and daring enemy of France.

But this particular frame of mind was not destined to endure. Soon
memory got to work, recalled unpleasant moments in Calais, Boulogne,
in Paris, in Nantes. What if here too, in Orange, the Scarlet
Pimpernel should triumph and he Chauvelin once more be forced to eat
the bread of humiliation? What if baffled once more, he should lose,
at one terrible swoop, both his revenge and his last hope of saving
Fleurette? And then it was that first the insidious, the stupendous
thought penetrated his brain. Was it Satan himself who had whispered
it into his ear? or some army of mocking imps intent upon torturing
him to madness? But heavens above, what a thought! The Scarlet
Pimpernel and Fleurette! Was that going to be the solution of this
terrible impasse? The thought feverishly driven back at first,
returned more insistent. Why not? And then again, why not? A young
girl, sweet, pretty, innocent, was she not one to arouse those
instincts of chivalry which Chauvelin had hitherto affected to
despise?

What a possibility! Heavens above, what a possibility! His very senses
reeled now at the thought. But he allowed his mind to dwell upon it,
to weigh his possibilities: to familiarise itself more and more with
it. At first it had seemed like madness, but no longer now! His
Fleurette! Already Amd Colombe was far away, under the protection of
the Scarlet Pimpernel, what more likely than that---No! no! it could
not be! His daughter! His, Chauvelin's! And in a swift vision he saw
himself luring Marguerite Blakeney, the beloved and beautiful wife of
the Scarlet Pimpernel to her death, holding her as a hostage,
threatening her, torturing her. His enemy's wife! What agonies she had
endured at his hands! And now Fleurette! Would not the Scarlet
Pimpernel, triumphant and revengeful, gloat over her death, rather
than raise a finger to save her life? Would he not gaze with joy on
the misery endured by his bitterest foe?

And then once more torturing thoughts would assail him: torturing
fears and torturing hopes, hopes? Yes, hopes! "Why should you not
hope, man?" Whispered an insidious demon in his ear: "the Scarlet
Pimpernel does not know, cannot know that Fleurette is your daughter;
the daughter of his enemy Armand Chauvelin. To him she is just the
sweet, pretty, innocent victim of a system of government which he
hates and which he combats. Then why not hope?" And the floating,
racking visions of Juliette Marny, and Yvonne de Kernogan, of the Abb
Foquet and Madeleine Lanoy, would once more haunt the day-dreams of
this man already steeped in misery, and hope insidious, ever-living
hope, would whisper in its turn: "To that long list of innocents
snatched from prison and from death by the insolent adventurer whom
you hate, why should not the name of Fleurette by added? Fleurette of
unknown parentage, just a sweet girl dwelling at Lou Mas, with old
Louise and a father known as Armand? Why not?"

And day after day, whilst presiding, self-appointed over a tribunal of
infamy, Chauvelin's mind became more and more familiarised with the
vision of his Fleurette snatched out of the jaws of death by the man
with the lazy eyes and the mocking lips, the demmed, elusive Pimpernel
of his day-dreams and his sleepless nights.



Chapter 29

Meanwhile in Architect Caristie's house, transformed for the
necessities of the State into a prison, the old routine is now
restored. Daily, once more, an hour before sunset, the captain of the
guard with his half-dozen men, enters the courtyard, and in a loud
voice reads the names that appear upon his roll-call. They are the
names of those who on the morrow are summoned before the Revolutionary
Tribunal, there to answer the charges that are trumped up against them
by the venal spies, who make their living out of the blood of innocent
men and women and children.

Impossible to refute those charges, since the law has decreed that it
is a crime to be merely suspected of treason against the State.
Foucquier-Tinville, the great Public Prosecutor in Paris, no longer
troubles, it seems, to prepare fresh indictments against every accused
in turn. He has a printed formula of accusation, with just the name
left in blank, presently to be filled in as convenience arises.
Therefore in other greater and lesser cities of France, patriots
desirous of showing their zeal, can do no better than emulate the
example set by so great a man. Local sections of the Committee of
Public Safety prepare the indictments--set formul with the names left
in blank. These they pass on to the Public Prosecutor who mumbles as
he reads them before the Tribunal with the President sitting up on the
dais, and the accused--names left in blank--brought up to the bar, not
allowed to say a word in their own justification, nor to question the
witnesses brought up to testify against them.

Abandon all hope then, ye whose names are upon that Roll-call! to-
morrow the Tribunal, the next day the guillotine! And once again now,
day after day, the captain of the guard comes to the house, late of
Architect Caristie, and reads; and at all the windows that overlook
the courtyard heads appear, men, women and little children--clutching
the bars and listening. Listening for their own name or that of one
who is dear. Sighing with relief if neither has been called, or with
resignation if to-morrow is destined to bring this miserable existence
to an end.

And day after day Chauvelin presides over this tribunal of infamy.
Self-appointed he sits upon the dais and sees before him pass a daily
file of doomed and dying. Sometimes ten, sometimes as man as twenty in
a day, and still the prisons are full--fresh arrests make up for those
whom the guillotine has claimed. Acquittals are rare, for moderation
now has become a crime. Danton--aye! even Danton, the lion, has
perished, he who ordered the September massacres, he who thundered
forth from the tribune, "Liberty! Fraternity! Equality! or Death!" he
has perished because he became guilty of the crime of moderation. The
glorious revolution has no use for such of its products as Danton and
Robespierre--for the reality of the one and the canting hypocrisy of
the other: so Danton it was who perished. "It is right," he had dared
to say once, "to repress Royalists: but we should not confound the
innocent with the guilty!"

"And who told thee," Robespierre retorted, sea-green with hatred,
"that one single innocent has perished by our hand?"

And because Danton had dared to raise his voice in the cause of the
innocent, Danton had perished.

What chance then has Chauvelin to defend his Fleurette? His power is
great. He can make your Pocharts and your Danous, our President
Legrange or Public Prosecutor Isnard, but he cannot accord special
privileges in prison for his own daughter. He cannot see her in
private, comfort her, warn her if need be, tell her not to be afraid
for Bibi chri is there, on the watch, ready to protect her with his
body, to stand by her in the last hour. He cannot. Pochart and Danou
are on the watch. "We must not confound the innocent with the guilty:"
Danton had dared to say. And for this he had perished: and though he
perished, could not save one single innocent.

And all evening, after the sittings of the Tribunal are over, and
ten--or mayhap fifteen or twenty--condemned to the guillotine,
Chauvelin like a pale, thin ghost haunts the purlieus of Architect
Caristie's house. On pretext of his office he enters the courtyard
with the captain of the guard and looks up at the windows to see if
she is there. Once he saw her. Just her little face peeping behind the
opulent shoulders of one Claire de Chtelard, the best noted strumpet
in Orange. The woman had one arm round Fleurette's waist and when the
captain of the guard read out the name of Clair known as Chtelard
upon his list, Fleurette threw her arms round her and laid her head
upon the trollop's breast.

Chauvelin turned away from the spectacle with a groan, and all night
he lay awake thinking of his sweet flower laying her head upon the
breast of a Claire de Chtelard.

Yet Claire de Chtelard bore herself bravely before him the next day,
and when, on the day after that, he watched her from the window of the
Htel de Ville mounting the steps of the guillotine, saw her standing
there, superb and defiant with a coarse jest upon her sensual lips, he
gloated over the thought that his Fleurette would no longer pillow her
innocent head upon that breast. He tried to picture her, grieving for
this friend, the propinquity, the squalor of that house of detention,
from which there was but one egress, that egress the gate of Death.
Claire de Chtelard to-day--Fleurette when? Every day the indictments
are sent up to him for examination, the printed forms of accusation
with the names left in blank, to be filled in as convenience demands:
and every day a list of ten, perhaps fifteen names are sent along with
these printed forms, and it is his business to direct the Public
Prosecutor, a man of his own choosing, which of these names are to be
inserted in the blank spaces, on the forms of accusation. Up to now he
has been able to keep Fleurette's name out, but it has been sent up to
him on two consecutive days. The fight then was getting at close
quarters, Pochart and Danou were pressing him, showing their teeth
like snarling dogs ready to spring. And time was hurrying on. Time
would presently bring back President Legrange and Prosecutor Isnard
from Paris, time would inevitably bring to light his machinations for
keeping those two men out of the way. Aye! time was hurrying on, and
Fleurette's name had twice appeared upon the list.

And for the past three days not a word in the town about the English
spies. After Architect Caristie and his family, it had been the widow
Colmars and her daughter, and then General Paulieu and his family.
Disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them up. Always traitors and
aristos whose arrest was imminent, whose subsequent condemnation
certain. But after that, three days' respite: the Scarlet Pimpernel
and his gang seemed to have disappeared in their turn.

The hopes which insidious demons had whispered in Chauvelin's ears
were once more merged in a sea of despair. He derided himself for
these hopes, lashed himself into a state of fury against himself for
having allowed his mind to dwell upon them.

One scheme after another now did he devise and then reject. He would
defy his enemies, the jury, the populace: loudly denounce the
witnesses against Fleurette as liars and perjurers, pronounce her
acquittal in the face of all opposition. Had he not made a point day
after day of pronouncing acquittal on one or the other of the accused?
just to test his power--to see how his enemies would behave? And he
saw them lying low. Sneering. Whispering. Ogling him and laughing.
They knew! They saw behind his schemes and his hopes. They reserved
their counter-attack. They could afford to wait, whilst he could not.

If only Fleurette bore herself well: did not allow herself to be
carried away with admissions or inconsidered words, out of sentiment
for that fool Amd Colombe. Chauvelin longed to see her, if only to
impress this one thing upon her; to say nothing. To admit nothing. To
hold her tongue and to trust chre Bibi. If only she did that, he felt
that he might save her yet. And obsessed by the idea, devoured with
the desire to convey this message to her, without compromising her or
giving yet another advantage to his enemies, Chauvelin at evening
would wander like a restless ghost through the city.

That afternoon after he watched Claire de Chtelard mount the steps
upon the guillotine, a joke upon her lips, this restlessness became
exquisite torture, and racked with tumultuous thoughts, wrapped in a
black mantle, he sallied forth into the streets. It was now early in
June: nearly three weeks since that last care-free day, Fleurette's
eighteenth birthday, spent with her over at Lou Mas, when the scent of
almond blossom had been in the air and the nightingale had sung in the
old walnut-tree. The day had been sunless and chilly, after sunset the
rain began to fall. But rain and weather held no terrors for Chauvelin
in his present mood. Holding his mantle tightly round his shoulders
and pulling his hat down over his eyes, he wandered aimlessly through
the streets, over the river and back again, down unpaved streets and
lonely lanes, now and then sitting down to rest in some obscure little
outlying caf, where no one knew or heeded him, and then starting off
again on his restless course. But always drifting back instinctively
to the purlieus of architect Caristie's house.

Almost opposite to it there was a small caf: no one sitting outside
because of the rain, but the interior lighted up, and sounds of
merriment proceeding from within. Chauvelin thought of going inside,
feeling that if he sat down there close to the window, he could watch
the walls behind which lived and suffered his little Fleurette. He did
not dare to go in for fear of being recognised. He was just debating
within himself whether he would go or stay, when he saw a man come out
of the house of architect Caristie, cross over to the caf, then
disappear behind its creaking door. A scavenger, no doubt, ragged and
dirty--not a warder, he was too ill-clad for that--just a scavenger--
but perhaps he had seen Fleurette. The thought fascinated Chauvelin.
His mind clung to it: turned it over and over. The thought that here
was a man who perhaps had seen Fleurette within the last few minutes,
had swept corridor or staircase when she was passing by. And with that
thought there was still the burning desire to send her a message, to
tell her to be brave and trust in Bibi, but above all, oh! above all,
not to be led into making any admission about those valuables
belonging to Madame de Frontenac, or about her association with Amd
Colombe.

Chauvelin, leaning against the wall which faced the little caf, dwelt
on his thoughts and his desire. He allowed the rain to drip upon his
hat and upon his shoulders from the roof above him. He no longer felt
restless. He just wanted to stand there and watch for the return of
the man, who perhaps would be seeing Fleurette again within the next
few minutes. He wondered if he dare approach him, always with the idea
of possibly conveying a message to Fleurette. But the fear that the
man might know who he was, deterred him from entering the caf
himself. He had been a fairly conspicuous figure in the courtyard of
Caristie's house, standing by the side of the captain of the guard: if
that scavenger was at work in the corridor, he might have looked out
of the window and seen him, learned who he was. All through he had
been at pains to show an indifferent attitude before his enemies: if
this man happened to be a spy, would the knowledge that he, Chauvelin,
was trying to establish communication with Fleurette compromise him
hopelessly and do no good to her?

As he stood there pondering and debating what he had better do, he saw
the scavenger come out of the caf. For a minute or two the man stood
at the door, his hands buried in the pockets of his ragged breeches,
contemplating the rain. The next moment another, equally dirty and
bedraggled ruffian came down the street, paused at the entrance of the
caf and passed the time of day with the scavenger. The two mudlarks
remained talking for a few moments, after which they parted, each
going his own way. The scavenger recrossed the road and entered the
Caristie House. The other passed on in the opposite direction and
Chauvelin, after an instant's hesitation, followed him. He came up
with the man at the angle of the rue Longue: and putting out his arm,
touched him on the shoulder. With a cry of terror the man fell on his
knees.

"Mercy! I've done nothing!" he babbled almost incoherently.

"I dare say not," Chauvelin said drily "but it will be to thine
advantage if thou'lt come along quietly with me."

He seized the man by the arm and dragged him up from his knees. The
poor wretch tried to wriggle himself free, but Chauvelin held him
tightly, and without another word drew him within the shelter of the
nearest doorway. Fortunately, though them and kept up a ceaseless
litany of lamentations and cries for mercy, he did so under his
breath, thus creating no disturbance nor exciting the attention of the
few passers-by who were hurrying homewards through the rain-swept
streets.

"Are you willing, citizen," Chauvelin began abruptly, as soon as he
had assured himself that the doorway was deserted and no eavesdropper
nigh, "are you willing to earn fifty livres tournoi?"

The man gave no immediate reply, it seemed as if he was shaking
himself free from his first terror and pondering over this
extraordinary proposal, so different to what he had anticipated. Then
he cleared his throat, expectorated, slowly repeated the magic words:
"Fifty livres tournoi!" and finally added in an awed whisper:

"I have not seen five livres tournoi for months."

"Fifty are yours, citizen, if you'll render me a service."

"What is it?"

"That friend of yours, to whom you spoke just now--outside the caf de
la Lune--"

"Citizen Rmi?"

"He works in the Caristie House?"

"Yes."

"In what capacity?"

"Cleaner," the man replied laconically. "Rmi hung about for days
trying to earn a bit of money. He hasn't a sou, you understand? Same
as me. A few days ago one of the inside men fell sick. Rmi presented
himself and got the work. I know him well."

"He has access to the prisoners?" Chauvelin asked.

"I suppose so."

"Then tell him that there will be fifty livres for him too if he will
convey a written message to number 142 in room 12."

Again the man seemed to ponder: weighing the risks probably, and also
the gain. Fifty livres tournoi! Immense! He had forgotten that there
was such a sum of money left in the world: and then for him to have
the handling of it! This led him once more to expectorate, which
action apparently had the effect of stimulating his brain-power.

"It could be done," he murmured at last.

"It can be done," Chauvelin asserted emphatically, "but must be done
quickly, or---"

"Rmi will be back at the Caf de la Lune soon after eight o'clock. He
always goes there for a sip of something after supper."

"Good! Then you can meet him at that hour and tell him to wait for
you, then come at once and find me here, under this doorway. I'll have
the letter ready---"

"The whole thing is very risky, citizen," the man demurred.

"If it were not," Chauvelin rejoined drily, "I would not spend one
hundred livres tournoi in the attempt."

"Fifty livres is not over much, when one risks one's neck."

"You are not risking your neck," Chauvelin retorted, "as you well
know. And you'll not get more from me than fifty livres each. Take it
or leave it."

He knew how to deal with these mudlarks, apparently, for the man after
he had spat once more once or twice, seemed satisfied.

"I'll be back here," he said laconically, "after I have seen Rmi
again."

Then Chauvelin let him go. The darkness and the rain soon swallowed
him up: but Chauvelin himself remained for quite a while standing
motionless under the doorway. He had not yet burnt his boats, was
still free, if he thought the risk too great, to fail in his
appointment. The man did not know who he was, had not seen him in the
darkness and under the wide brim of his hat: but there was the risk
that this Rmi might be a spy, who would take the letter intended for
Fleurette straightway to Pochart or Danou. The letter might thus
betray him and so minimise his power of saving Fleurette. He had to
safeguard himself against the merest breath of suspicion in order to
keep his power. The more irreproachable, detached, incorruptible he
appeared before the populace, the more Spartan in his attitude towards
his own child until the day of her trial, the greater his chance of
saving her at the last. But his desire to warn her against
unconsidered words or any kind of admissions outweighed for the moment
every other consideration. He hurried back to his lodgings through the
rain, and at once sat down to pen his letter to the child.



   "My beloved one," he began, "at last I am able to send a word to
you, which I hope and trust will reach your darling little hands.
Child of my heart, this is to entreat you to continue in your trust of
me, for I swear to you by the memory of your dead mother, that while
you trust me I can save you. I can save the man you love. Moreover, I
entreat you, beloved child of my soul, do not make any admission when
brought before the tribunal, as you must be shortly, alas! If
witnesses testify against you, just hold your peace; if others
question you, deny everything. This I entreat you to do for the sake
of the love I bear you, for the sake of the tears I have shed these
past weeks, ever since your folly hath brought you to this pass."

He signed the letter "Bibi." Thus he had mentioned no names and in
addition taken the precaution of disguising his writing as far as he
was able. After which he sealed the letter and slipped it in the inner
pocket of his coat. Time was now hanging heavily. Like a beast in its
cage, Chauvelin paced up and down the narrow room, his hands clenched
behind his back, a world of soul agony expressed upon his wax-like
face.

As soon as he heard the tower-clock of Notre-Dame strike eight, he
picked up his hat and cloak and once more sallied forth into the
streets.



Chapter 30

A quarter of an hour later two out-at-elbows ragamuffins met inside
the Caf la Lune. Out-side the rain had not abated, both the men, who
were clad in what were little more than rags, appeared soaked through
to the skin. At this hour the little caf was almost deserted. Citizen
Sabot, the proprietor, was sitting at one table with a couple of
friends; at another a couple of road-menders were sipping their
absinthe, when the scavenger from the prison house came slouching in.
He sat down on the bench against the wall in the darkest corner of the
room and ordered a bottle of wine for himself and a friend. Presently
the latter came and joined him and for a while the two men sat
drinking in silence. Soon an animated discussion arose between the
proprietor and his friends on the respective merits of Vouvray and
Beaujolais as a table wine.

This entailed much shouting and copious gesticulations. Sabot had a
deep-booming voice which reverberated from end to end of the room and
caused the window-panes to rattle in their frames.

The scavenger from the prison house had apparently drunk more during
the day than was good for him. His head leaned heavily on his hand,
his elbow resting upon the table, his eyes had become bleary, his
speech uncertain. His friend sat opposite to him, with his back to the
rest of the company, and when Sabot's voice roused the echoes in the
small stuffy room, he leaned forward and whispered in the other's ear:

"I had an adventure after I left you this afternoon."

"Eh?" the scavenger murmured incoherently. "Where?"

"At the angle of the Rue Longue I was pounced upon in the darkness and
dragged under the shelter of a door-way. A man had me by the shoulder.
He had seen me talking with you. He offered me fifty livres and the
same for you, if you will give a letter to a certain prisoner in
there."

And he nodded in the direction of the high walls of the Caristie
house. His friend's reply to this preliminary statement was a
prolonged snore.

"The prisoner to whom you are to give the letter is number 142 in room
12," the other went on, still speaking below his breath. "Who is that?
Do you know?"

The scavenger from the prison house waited for a moment or two until
the discussion at the next table was specially loud-tongued, then he
murmured:

"Yes! It is the girl Fleurette."

"Ah!" remarked his friend.

"Who was the man who spoke to you?"

"I don't know. It was pitch-dark. He wore a broad-brimmed hat and
spoke in a hoarse whisper."

"Her father, probably. The man Armand, I have marvelled why we did not
hear from him before. What have you arranged?"

"That I meet him under the same doorway, after I've seen you. He will
then give me the letter."

"We'll keep to that then. But try and see the man. I might recognise
him by your description."

He paused for a moment or two, yawned, stretched, emptied his mug of
wine and then went on. "If I went myself I might scare him off. So it
is best you should go. But try and see his face. I'll wait here till
you come."

After which he ordered another bottle of wine. Sabot broke away from
his friends in order to serve his customer.

"You've had about as much as you ought to have, citizen Rmi," he said
drily, as he uncorked the bottle and set it on the table.

"That is none of your business, citizen," Rmi retorted with a
bibulous laugh, "so long as I pay for what I drink."

He threw some coins on the table. Sabot picked them up with a shrug
and then rejoined his friends, and resumed the discussion with them on
the merits or demerits of Vouvray and Beaujolais. The other ruffian
took the opportunity of shuffling out of the caf, and the scavenger,
sprawling over the table, composed himself to sleep.

Hugging the walls, the other slunk through the street till he came to
the doorway, where effectively he had appointed to meet Chauvelin.

"Well!" the latter queried impatiently as soon as the other came in
sight. "Have you seen your friend?"

"Yes."

"Does he agree?"

"Yes."

With a sigh of relief Chauvelin drew the sealed letter from his breast
pocket.

"Fifty livres, remember," he said slowly, "for each of you, when you
bring me back the answer."

"Oh!" the man exclaimed, visibly disappointed. "There's an answer
then?"

"Yes! An answer. You friend will see to it that you bring me back
either an answer or some token which will satisfy me that the letter
is in the right hands."

The man gave a short laugh.

"You do not trust me, citizen," he said.

"No," Chauvelin replied laconically. "I do not."

"I do not blame you," the other retorted. "I do not trust you
altogether either. How do I know, when Rmi and I have risked our
lives in your service, that the money will be forthcoming?"

"You do know that, citizen," Chauvelin rejoined drily, "and anyway you
are bound to take that risk."

"Why should I?" the man retorted.

"Because you are more sorely in need of money than I of your
services."

This argument appeared unanswerable. At any rate the ruffian now said
with a light laugh:

"Have it your own way. Give me the letter. Number 142 in room 12 shall
have it, you can wager your shirt on that."

Without another word Chauvelin handed him the letter. It was so dark
under the doorway that it was only by groping that the other was able
to get hold of it. He drew so near to Chauvelin that the latter,
fearing that the man was trying to have a close look at him, pulled
his hat lower down over his eyes. The other resorted to his habitual
expression of indifference by spitting upon the floor; then he slipped
the letter underneath his ragged blouse.

"Where do I find you," he asked, "after Rmi has done your errand?"

"You will go into the Rue Longue," Chauvelin replied, "To the house of
citizen Amouret, the chandler. Up the first flight of stairs, on the
right-hand side, you will come to a door which is painted a slate-
grey. Knock at that door and you will find me within."

"At what hour?"

"At any time to-morrow after the executions in the Place de la
Rpublique," Chauvelin replied.



Chapter 31

To say that Fleurette had in the past few days become familiarised
with the grim mummeries that went on in the common room, would be
putting it rather strongly. But she certainly had no longer the same
horror of them as she had had at first. The presentment of the mock
guillotine still harrowed her, it is true, but she could not help
laughing when the antics of the mock Satan and his satellites when
they seized the President of the Tribunal and the Public Prosecutor
and dragged them off to an imaginary hell. There was that one man in
particular whom she had sometimes noticed before and who was aide to
one of the warders, and was very diverting. She used to watch him
turning and wriggling his huge body, which he had painted all over
with soot and draped in bits of red rags. He made an ideal Satan with
tail and horns complete, and sometimes it seemed to Fleurette as if he
went through all his antics for the sole purpose of bringing a smile
upon her lips. Moreover, in a vague kind of way, she associated him
with that lovely letter from Amd, which she had found inside the
folds of her kerchief one evening.

The death of so many who had been her prison-companions at first,
especially that of Claire de Chtelard had deeply affected her. The
want of fresh air, of exercise, and above all of love and joy, had
begun to affect her health: her cheeks had lost their freshness, her
eyes their lustre, her lips their smile.

It was only in the recreation hour that she would smile sometimes.
Always when that big, clumsy, hideous-looking fellow who was some kind
of aide to one of the warders, set himself the task of fooling for her
benefit. She came to look upon him as a friend, and remembering how
mysteriously that letter from Amd had come inside her kerchief, she
would look up whenever he came near her, wondering if he had another
such welcome message for her. And one evening--she really had not the
least idea how it happened--she found a sealed letter inside her work-
basket. And the letter was from chri Bibi. Oh! the joy of it! She
read, and re-read it, and kissed the paper whereon his dear hand had
rested. How she had missed Bibi all these days! How she longed to
reassure him that she was well and that she trusted and believed in
him! As to obeying him in all things, of course she would do it. To
begin with, she was not afraid, not the least bit in the world. He was
watching over her, and he was so great and powerful that no danger
could possibly assail her while he cared for her. She would indeed
obey him in all things, hold her peace while that wicked Adle tried
to do her harm; she would hold her peace before the Tribunal just as
le bon Jsus had done when he was questioned by his judges.

Oh! it was a dear, a comforting, an infinitely precious letter. And
beside it Fleurette had found a tiny little slip of paper on which
were scribbled the words: "Let me have something to take back to the
writer, to let him know that you are well. Leave it in your work
basket, and I will see to it that he gets it." And so Fleurette had
written a few lines to chri Bibi; told him that she was well, and
assured him that she was not afraid and would obey his commands in all
things. She would hold her peace and trust in him. This little note
she had hidden that evening in her work basket and by noon on the
following day it had gone.



Chapter 32

"But me no butts, my dear Tony, I am sick of all these filthy rags.
And if I am to see pretty Fleurette's papa then must I see him
decently clad and in my right mind."

So spake Sir Percy Blakeney to his friend, late the following evening,
it was in an attic under the roof of a half-derelict house in the Rue
du Pont close to the river-bank. The owners of the house had long
since disappeared, fled into the mountains or perished on the
guillotine; no one knew or cared. Blakeney, and those members of his
league who were with him, had hit upon it on their arrival in Orange,
had made the attic their head-quarters, whilst most of the vagabonds
of the city used the rest of the house as their lair. They too were
outwardly vagabonds, dressed in rags, appeared unkempt, unshaven, and
unwashed, when they sallied forth in the early mornings each on an
errand of mercy to succour those in need of help or those who were in
danger or distress.

It was only o' nights, sometimes, that an overwhelming desire for
cleanliness and nice clothes caused these English gentlemen to cast
aside their rags and to venture out into the open dressed in clothes
that would have caused the ragamuffins of Orange go snarl at their
heels like so many hungry curs.

They had been eight days in Orange now, and already architect
Caristie, with his wife and small son, the widow Colmars and her
daughter, and poor old General Paulieu with his family owed their
safety to this gallant League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. But there was
still more to do.

"We must get that child Fleurette out of that hell," the chief had
said, and since then brain and heart had been at work to find the
means to that end.

Later on Lord Tony had remarked: "I wish we could find out about that
father of hers; this man Armand. He seems to hold some kind of
position under this government of assassins, but I for one have tried
in vain to learn something more definite about him."

"I think," Sir Andrew Ffoulkes added, "that his position must be a
high one, or the girl would have been brought to trial before now."

"Unless our amiable friend, M. Chauvelin, has got this Armand under
lock and key somewhere else," was my Lord Stowmaries' comment upon the
situation.

Sir Percy was silent. Frankly the position puzzled him. He would have
liked to get into touch with the man Armand, but for once he and his
friends were baffled by this anonymity which appeared so closely
guarded. Great then had been the rejoicing in the attic of the
derelict house in the Rue du Pont, when Lord Anthony Dewhurst--a most
perfect type of ruffian in rags and a thick coating of grime--related
his adventure with the mysterious individual who, under cover of
darkness and rain, had offered him and his friend Rmi, fifty livres
each for delivering a message to a prisoner, who was none other than
little Fleurette.

"At last we'll get in touch with the mysterious Armand," they all
declared eagerly. It was arranged that the chief would himself take
Fleurette's reply to the house in the Rue Longue. But go on this
errand in the filthy rags of a scavenger he would not.

"The night is pretty dark," he declared, "and I would rather the
mysterious Armand saw me as I am. I may also have a chance," he added
with his merriest laugh, "of coming across my good friend M.
Chambertin. It is some weeks since last we met, and not to have had a
pleasant chat with him all these days, while we were within a stone's
throw of one another, has been a sore trial to me. I caught a glimpse
of him a day or two ago, in the courtyard of the Caristie House. He
looked to be sick and out of sorts. A sight of me might cheer him up."

"You won't take any risks, Blakeney," Sir Andrew Ffoulkes remarked.

"Any number, my dear fellow," Sir Percy replied laughing. "And you
know you envy me, you dog. But I feel thoroughly selfish to-night. I
mean to take the note to Armand myself, and I mean to take the
privilege of having a little chat with my friend Chambertin. And both
these things I am going to do as an English gentleman and not as a
mudlark in stinking, filthy rags."

He had completed his toilet now, looked magnificent in clothes cut by
the leading London tailor, which set off his splendid figure to
perfection, with snow-white stock and speckless boots.

"If a single pair of eyes should see you," Sir Andrew insisted, with
an anxious sigh.

"I should have a whole pack of wolves at my heels," Blakeney admitted.
"But that wouldn't be the first time any of us have had to run for our
lives, eh? nor the first time we gave an entire pack of them the
slip."

He picked up his hat and took a last look at Fleurette's little note
which he had to deliver at the house in the Rue Longue.

"This man Armand must be a very decent fellow," he mused, "his letter
to the child was really fine in spirit as well as in affection. Yes!
he must be a decent fellow and we must get the girl for his sake as
much as for that of our friend Colombe. What?"

On that, of course, they were all agreed. The activities of the
League, since the rescue of General Paulieu and his family, were
centered now on Fleurette. There were still one or two minor points to
discuss, arrangements of detail to complete, but the main project for
the girl's rescue could not be determined until it was definitely
known whether her father, Armand, was going to be a help or an
hindrance.

"Anyway I shall know more," Blakeney said finally, as he made for the
door, "when I have sampled this man."

It was then nine o'clock in the evening. The night was dark and
stormy. Gusts of wind alternated with sharp showers of rain--an
altogether unusual state of weather for the time of year in these
parts. The few passers-by of respectable appearance on their way home
from business or work did no more than throw a cursory glance on the
tall figure that passed hurriedly by. A few vagabonds clinging to
their rags which the wind threatened to tear off their meagre bodies,
did perhaps pause, cowering against a dark wall, murmuring a threat or
a curse against the aristo, but an unexpected coin slipped into their
grimy hands, quickly silenced both curse and threat.

Blakeney knew his way well through the streets of Orange. Having kept
along the river bank till he came to the bridge, he turned up the Rue
de la Rpublique. Glancing up at a house on his right, a smile of pure
joy lit up his anxious face. Three nights ago on this spot, he had
carried architect Caristie's small son in his arms, while Caristie and
his wife followed him down the street to the market cart which awaited
them at the top of the bridge. Three hours later an officer of the
revolutionary army was hammering at the door of Caristie's lodgings,
only to find that the birds had flown. It had been a merry night, and
merrier morning, while he, Blakeney, drove the market cart out of the
city with Caristie and his wife concealed amidst the sacks of haricots
and peas, and the boy thrust into an empty oil-jar.

Well! something equally daring would have to be devised for the girl
Fleurette, and perhaps for her father, the mysterious Armand.
Blakeney, throwing back his head in the teeth of rain and wind, drew a
deep breath of delight. This was life in very truth. To plan, to
scheme, to accomplish. Alternately hare and hound, to revel in this
case with human lives as the goal. And if at times the thought of
beautiful Marguerite, lonely and anxious in far-off England, caused a
pang like a knife-thrust to his heart, her soothing voice, her
reassuring smile came to him as a swift vision from the spirit-land to
encourage and console. In suffering and anxiety, as well as in the joy
of reunion, Marguerite always understood.

Now he turned from the Place de la Rpublique into the Rue Longue, and
the next couple of hundred yards brought him to the house of Lucien
Amouret, corn-chandler. The outside door was on the latch. Pushing it
open he found himself in a narrow hall, with an inner door leading
into the shop on his left and a staircase in front of him. A lamp hung
from the ceiling and shed a dim light on stair and hall. From the shop
came the sound of voices in conversation, but though the stairs
creaked under his tread, no one came out to see whose the step might
be.

Sir Percy ran lightly up the stairs, and on the fist landing came to
the door, painted a slate grey. This part of the house appeared silent
and deserted; the upper floors wrapped in dead gloom. A rusty bell-
pull hung beside the door. Sir Percy gave it a pull, and a discordant
clang roused the sleeping echoes of the chandler's house. A moment or
two later he caught the sound of shuffling footsteps, the door was
opened, an old woman in cap and shawl mutely inquired what the visitor
desired.

"Is citizen Armand within?" Blakeney asked.

The woman, he thought, looked at him rather curiously for a second or
two, then shrugged her shoulders. Without wasting words she shuffled
off down a dimly lighted passage, leaving him to enter or not, as he
pleased. The next moment he heard a woman's voice--the same woman
probably--say: "An aristo is asking to see Citizen Armand." Again a
moment's silence, then the woman came shuffling back, signed to him to
enter and closed the door behind him.

"In there," she said laconically, and nodded towards the end of the
passage where a half open door revealed a shaft of more brilliant
light. Then she shuffled off again, presumably to her kitchen, leaving
the visitor to his own devices.

Sir Percy took off his hat and coat and laid them down on a chair
close by; he then walked the length of the passage to the half-open
door, pushed it open and found himself in a small room, comfortably
furnished, lighted by a lamp which stood upon a centre table. The
table was littered with papers. Behind it sat a man writing. At sound
of Sir Percy's footsteps he looked up. The eyes of the two men met,
and it almost seemed to one of them at least that time for a few
seconds stood still.

And then a pleasant laugh broke the silence, and a gentle lazy voice
said slowly:

"Egad! if it is not my engaging friend M. Chambertin! The gods do
indeed favour me, sir, for there's no man in the world I would sooner
have seen at this hour than your amiable self."

After the first paralysing second, Chauvelin had jumped to his feet.
He had thought that once again his feverish fancy was playing his
senses a mocking trick, that the face which ever haunted his day-
dreams and his sleepless nights had only come to him on the wings of
imagination. But the merry laugh, the lazy voice were all too real.
His enemy was truly there, not a vision, but a cruel, mocking reality.
Swiftly his clawlike hand shot out, fastened on an object that lay
amidst a litter of papers, and would have lifted it, had not another
slender and firm hand shot out likewise and fastened itself upon his
wrist with a grasp like a vice of steel.

Chauvelin had the greatest difficulty in the world to smother a cry of
pain. His fingers opened, spread out fan-wise, the pistol which he had
seized fell back upon the litter of papers. With a soft laugh Sir
Percy sat down on the edge of the table, picked up the pistol,
withdrew the charge and swept it into the sand-box close to his hand,
the while Chauvelin watched him greedily, hungrily, as a caged feline
might watch a prey that was beyond its reach.

A white-faced clock on the wall struck the half-hour. Sir Percy laid
the pistol down upon the table, and flicked his fine, well-shaped
hands one against the other.

"There now, my dear M. Chambertin," he said gaily, "we can converse
more comfortably together. Do you think it would have been wise to put
a charge of powder through your humble servant? We should both of us
have missed much of the zest of life."

"It is always your pleasure to mock, Sir Percy," Chauvelin said with
an effort. "There are various popular sayings which I might recall to
your mind, such as that the pitcher went once too often to the well."

"And Sir Percy once too often to visit his friend M. Chambertin, eh?"

"I think you will find that this is so," Chauvelin rejoined trying,
none too successfully, to ape his enemy's easy familiarity. "Orange is
not a healthy place for English spies these days."

"Possibly not," Blakeney retorted lightly. "Nor for some unfortunate
children of France, I am thinking."

"Traitors and spies, you are right there, Sir Percy. We have no use
for them in Orange--or elsewhere."

"Or for honest men, eh, my friend? for chaste women and innocent
children. That is why your humble servant and the league of which
methinks you know a thing or two, propose to remove these from this
polluted soil."

Chauvelin had rested this elbow on the table. His hand shading his
face against the glare of the lamp, effectually concealed its varying
expressions from the keen eyes of his enemy.

"You have not told me yet, Sir Percy," he said after a few second's
silence, "what procures me the honour of your visit at this hour."

"Pure chance, my dear sir," Blakeney replied, "though the honour is
entirely mine. As a matter of fact I came to find one Armand."

Twice did the pendulum of the white-faced clock tick the seconds
before Chauvelin said quietly:

"My colleague? Have you business with him?"

"Yes," Blakeney replied slowly. "I have a message for him."

"I can deliver it."

"Why not I? since I came on purpose."

"My colleague is absent."

"I can wait."

"From whom then is the message?"

"From his daughter."

"Ah!"

Once more there was a pause. The white-faced clock ticked on but the
two men were silent. Chauvelin's face was shaded by his hand, and it
needed all the energy, all the strength of his will to keep that hand
absolutely steady, not to allow a finger to tremble. In the other hand
he held a long quill pen and with it he traced a geometrical pattern
upon a blank sheet of paper. Sir Percy Blakeney, still sitting on the
edge of the table watched him, motionless.

"Pretty drawing that," he said abruptly. And with a slender finger
pointed to the design that grew in intricate lines under Chauvelin's
aimless pen.

The other gave a start, the pen spluttered, scattering the ink in
spots all over the paper.

"There now, you have spoilt it," Sir Percy continued lightly. "I had
no idea you were such a master draughts-man."

Chauvelin threw down his pen. He had his nerves under control at last,
was able to drop his hand, to lean back in his chair, and with both
hands buried in the pockets of his breeches, to throw back his head
and look his enemy squarely in the face.

"About that message, Sir Percy," he said with well-feigned
indifference.

"What about it, my dear M. Chambertin?" Blakeney rejoined lightly.

"My colleague, Citizen Armand, has been called away--to Lyons on State
business."

"But how unfortunate!" Sir Percy exclaimed.

"I am sending a courier to Lyons this very night."

"Too late, my dear M. Chambertin! Too late, I fear!"

Chauvelin frowned. "What mean you by too late, Sir Percy?" he asked
slowly.

"Armand's daughter is sick, my dear M. Chambertin," Blakeney rejoined,
speaking very slowly, as if to weigh his every word. "Before your
courier can possibly reach Lyons, she will be dead."

"My God!---"

It was the most heart-rending cry that had ever come from a man's
throat. Chauvelin had jumped to his feet; his two hands, claw-like, as
if carved in marble, gripped the arms of his chair; his knees were
shaking, his pale eyes stared like those of a maniac, his cheeks were
the colour of lead.

For the space of ten seconds he stood thus, with his whole body
quivering, his senses reeling, his eyes fixed on those finely moulded
lips that had dealt this appalling blow. Then slowly consciousness
returned, a veil seemed to be lifted from before his eyes, knowledge
had entered his brain. He knew that he had fallen into the trap set
for him by this astute adventurer. He realised that he had betrayed
the secret which he would have guarded with his life.

"So," Sir Percy said at last very slowly, "'tis you are Citizen
Armand, and the sweetest flower that ever bloomed in this putrid
atmosphere has its roots in polluted soil?"

Still quite slowly and deliberately he drew Fleurette's note out of
the breast-pocket of his coat; for a second or two he held it lightly
between slender finger and thumb, then laid it on the table in front
of Chauvelin.

"She is not sick," he said quietly, "nor yet dying. If you have not
forgotten how to pray, man, pray to God now, pray with all your might,
that the same power which enabled you to torture my wife and wellnigh
to break her brave spirit, will aid you to save your daughter from
those tigers whom you have called your friends."

Chauvelin had sunk back in the chair. His head was buried in his
hands. Tumultuous thoughts rushed through his brain until he felt that
his reason must be tottering. A haze was before his eyes Perhaps it
was caused by tears. Who knows? Only the recording angel mayhap. Even
wild beasts cry in agony when deprived of their young.

Only after a few minutes did he become aware of the note penned by his
little Fleurette and laid in front of him by his bitterest foe. The
Scarlet Pimpernel! The only man in all the world who might perhaps
have saved Fleurette, who would have saved Fleurette, if he,
Chauvelin, had not betrayed the secret of his heart.

Like one waking from a dream, Chauvelin picked up the note, and looked
fearfully about him, dreading to meet those mocking lazy eyes, which,
no doubt, at this hour gleamed with malicious triumph.

But Sir Percy Blakeney was no longer there.



Chapter 33

The stage was now set for the last act of the tragedy, which the chief
actor himself knew could only end one way. He had schemed and planned
until he felt that his reason would give way, until he feared that he
would lose the nerve and the power of which he had such sore need. He
had thought of everything, weighed every possibility from the bribing
of prison warders, to the suppression--by murder if need be--of the
two witnesses Godet and Adle. He had thought of turning the tables on
Pochart and Danou, by launching accusations against them. But all
these plans had to be rejected one by one. Fleurette liberated to-day
through the success of one or the other of these schemes would only be
re-arrested on the morrow. The suppression of the witnesses, the
arrest of his more powerful enemies, would only rouse more bitter
antagonism against himself and failing in the end to save his
Fleurette, would end in precipitating her doom.

Driven by despair, he had at one time pinned his hopes of salvation
for the child on the possible interference of the Scarlet Pimpernel,
but even that fond and foolish hope had been shattered by his betrayal
of his jealously guarded secret. What was there left to hope for? That
his power was great enough at the Tribunal to force an acquittal in
spite of the witnesses, in spite of Pochart and Danou and all the mob
whom they had already gathered round them. The Public Prosecutor, a
man of his own making, would not dare to side against him. But there
was the populace, the rabble, the swinish multitude, who, now that
even the worst type of venal and corrupt jury had been abolished, were
judges and jury, advocate and prosecutor all in one. The last word
always rested with them, and Pochart and Danou, egged on by envy and
revenge, would know how to sway the rabble.

Chauvelin was not the man to indulge in illusions. He knew well
enough--none better--that the passions of hatred and of spite which he
himself had engendered and fostered in the hearts of his fellowmen,
were turned against him, as they had been turned on all the makers of
this bloody revolution, on your Brissots and your Carriers, your
Philippe d'Orlans, and your great Danton. They would destroy his
exquisite Fleurette as effectually as they had destroyed thousands of
others, equally innocent.

And now the end had come. No longer could the day be put off.
President Legrange and Public Prosecutor Isnard might be arriving in
Paris any hour when the new aerial telegraph might be set in motion,
or a courier sent down to Orange poste-haste and burst the bubble of
Chauvelin's machinations.

And then on that afternoon of the 15th of June two things occurred. To
begin with when the Public Prosecutor placed before him the printed
forms of accusation with the names left in blank, and with them a list
of the names of those awaiting trial, Chauvelin with a hand that
appeared quite steady, wrote in one blank spaces the name of Fleur
Chauvelin, nomme Armand. Secondly when, an hour later, the captain of
the guard stood in the courtyard of the Caristie house reading out the
names of those who were to stand their trial on the morrow, Fleurette
heard the sound of her own name.

She was not frightened, nor did she weep. Tears were a thing of the
past for her. Twenty days had gone by since she had been happy, more
than a fortnight since she had been brought into this house and
deprived of air and sunlight and joy. One by one those who had been
kind to her in this prison house had gone: Claire de Chtelard, Madame
de Mornas, poor Eugnie Blanc, and kind M. de Bollne. Their names had
been on the roll-call. The next day they were gone, and Fleurette
never saw them again. Lately she had been lonely too. No one had taken
the place in her unsophisticated heart of Claire de Chtelard. The
only friend she had left was the warder's aide, the rough scavenger
who had brought her the two welcome letters. Amd's and Bibi's. He
still continued his antics, joined in the gruesome mummeries which
still went on in the common room, and Fleurette somehow had a sense of
re-assurance when he was nigh. But this night of all nights, after she
had heard the captain of the guard read her name upon the roll-call,
her grimy friend was not there. Fleurette missed him, and
disappointment over his absence was the only sorrowful feeling of
which she felt conscious, when she realised that her fate would be
decided on the morrow.

She was not afraid. Had not Bibi enjoined her, begged her to trust him
and not to be afraid? She wondered when she would be allowed to see
Bibi, whether he would be there to-morrow, at her trial, encouraging
her with his presence and with his glance when she was made to stand
before the judge. She knew that in a sense she had done wrong. She had
taken Madame's valuables and handed them over to Amd. This she had
no right to do, and since Adle had seen her with M'sieur Amd that
evening, and spoken ill of her because of that, she supposed that she
would be punished. It was only vaguely that she marvelled what the
punishment would be. But she was not afraid because she trusted Bibi.
Nor did she regret her actions. If it had all to be done over again,
she would act in precisely the same way. The mysterious voice often
rang in her ear even now. She had obeyed the commands of le bon Dieu,
and it was le bon Dieu who had chosen a still more mysterious way for
saving M'sieur Amd from the consequences of her actions.

Thus did Fleurette envisage the day that was to come, with love and
trust in her heart for Bibi, and the certainty after all these trials
and tribulations of a happy reunion with him and old Louise at Lou
Mas.

Not to mention the reunion with M'sieur Amd.



Chapter 34

The first thing that struck Fleurette's perceptions when she entered
that huge room, was that up at the further end of it--upon a raised
platform and behind a tall desk, sat Bibi chri himself. Two other men
sat there with him, but Fleurette hardly saw them. It was on Bibi that
she looked. She had slept very little during the night. Excitement had
kept her awake, as well as the tears and lamentation of two of her
room-mates who were to appear with her this day before the tribunal.

And it was Bibi who was to be her judge. Well then obviously she had
nothing to fear. One of some fifteen of her fellow-prisoners, she was
bustled with them across the room to a wooden bench where they were
roughly ordered to sit down. As they crossed the room boos and hisses,
and one or two louder cries of execration, greeted them. A few
remarks, all of them malevolent, rose above the murmurs.

"That old man there, I knew him once. Old tyrant. He's getting his
deserts at last."

"Do you see the woman next to him? Five free-born Frenchwomen she had
at a time once, to wait on her and do her hair. Aristo, va! It won't
take long to do thy hair to-morrow. One snick with the scissors,
what?"

"That young wench too. Not much more than eighteen, I warrant."

"I hear she is a thief as well as a traitor."

"Pity they should have abolished the whipping-post. That would have
done the young traitors a world of good."

"Me, I prefer the guillotine; quickest work, eh?"

Fleurette had blushed with shame to the roots of her hair. She tried
not to look in the direction whence these voices, harsh and coarse had
come. She tried to think of M'sieur Amd and of the joy she would
have when she saw him again. But she could not shut the gates of her
consciousness against all these people who had gathered here for the
sole purpose of seeing their fellow-creatures suffer. Men and women
and even little children. The women for the most part had brought
their knitting, for every one was knitting socks these days for the
brave soldiers who were fighting against the enemies of France, and
through the murmur of voices, the monotonous click-click of the
needles acted as an irritant upon the nerves.

All around there appeared to be a sea of faces. And eyes. Innumerable
eyes that glared, and mouths that grinned and decided. And above the
faces, a sea of red caps with tricolour cockades. Fleurette tried hard
not to look. She closed her eyes and tried to murmur the prayers she
and M'sieur Amd used to say together when M. le Cure prepared them
for their first communion.

Bibi wore a hat with feathers. He had a bell in front of him, and this
he often tinkled, when the noise from the crowd all around became too
great. Once or twice he was addressed as "Citizen President."
Fleurette had never seen him look so stern. The words which he spoke
to the accused were not only bitter but terribly cruel. He seemed so
unlike her real chri Bibi, that she caught herself marvelling whether
her fancy was not playing her aching eyes some strange and horrible
trick.

One after the other the names of her fellow-prisoners were called, and
one by one they were made to stand up and then walk to the centre of
the room and up a couple of shallow steps to a small raised platform
round which there was a wooden railing. In every instance as soon as
the prisoner mounted this platform, and became as it were the centre
of attraction for all these innumerable eyes, he or she would be
greeted with groans and hisses and cat's calls, until Bibi tinkled his
bell and loudly demanded silence.

A man in a red cap who sat just below Bibi's desk then stood up and
read something out aloud, which Fleurette never understood, but which
the crowd apparently did, for the reader was frequently interrupted by
more boos and hisses and often cries of execration. After this reading
Bibi, or one of the two men who sat beside him, asked the prisoner
questions. These were sometimes replied to, but not always. The crowd
invariably threw in loud comments on both questions and answers, and
Bibi was then forced to tinkle his bell in order to demand silence.
And through the noise, the sound that was never drowned, and never was
still, was the click-click of hundreds of knitting needles.

The first batch of prisoners to face the Tribunal, were men and women
almost unknown to Fleurette. They had not long been brought into the
Caristie House, had replaced others who had been Fleurette's early
companions in prison. She had seen them in the common room, acting in
the grim farces that were the fashion there, but she had not made
friends with them as she had done with Claire de Chtelard or Madame
de Mornas. But when came the turn of a woman who had actually been her
room-mate, who had sat next to her on the bench of the accused, and
squeezed her hand ere she was led up to the raised platform with the
wooden railing, then, Fleurette felt all her resolution of bravery and
trust in Bibi, giving way.

The heat in the room had become unbearable. The stench of dank and
grimy clothes, of perspiring humanity, of hot breaths charged with
hate, acted as a pungent soporific. Fleurette's head fell forward once
or twice, her eyes involuntarily closed. For a time she lost
consciousness. It was her own name spoken in a stentorian voice that
brought her back to reality.

"Fleur Chauvelin, nomme Armand."

Some one nudged her elbow. An impatient voice rasped out a sharp:
"Allons! allons!" and she found herself dragged to her feet and led by
the arm to the raised platform, amidst a din which fortunately was too
great to allow her ears to catch individual sounds.

She looked straight across to Bibi, who was as pale as a waxen image.

"Fleur Chauvelin, nomme Armand."



Chapter 35

There is no doubt that everything would have gone well, had it not
been for Fleurette herself. Perhaps "well" is the wrong word:
"differently" would be better. Nothing could have gone "well," because
even though Chauvelin had succeeded in obtaining an acquittal, his
enemies would have returned immediately to the charge, and forced on
the girl's re-arrest even before she had left the Tribunal. There had
been cases during the past few weeks, in Paris, in Lyons and so on,
when prisoners were acquitted and re-arrested, re-tried, acquitted
again, and again re-arrested. A regular cat-and-mouse game, at which
Chauvelin himself was an adept. Nevertheless with a first acquittal
there might have been some hope. And he practically had obtained that
acquittal, when Fleurette herself ruined her chance and caused her own
condemnation. Chauvelin could have struck her for her folly. His love
for her always pertained to that of a wild beast for its young; the
instinct to devour in moments of peril. If she was destined to perish,
then it should be by his own hand, not as a spectacle for the rabble
to gloat on.

The Moniteur of the 22nd Messidor gives one or two interesting details
concerning the trial of a country girl named Fleur Chauvelin, daughter
of a Citizen Armand Chauvelin of the Central Committee of Public
Safety, and member of he National Convention, and relates at full
length the extraordinary incidents which marked its close. Looking
back upon that memorable day, and on the solemn hour which saw the
girl Fleur Chauvelin, nomme Armand called to the bar of the accused,
we visualise Chauvelin the father, presiding over that Tribunal of
infamy, and having sent within the last half-hour half a dozen fellow-
creatures callously to death, now seeing his own daughter, the only
being in all the world whom he had ever loved, standing there before
him, accused, condemned already in the eyes of the canaille.

There was no time wasted during the proceedings, wherein the accused
was allowed neither jury nor advocate. The State as represented by its
three nominees who sat as judges, was judge and jury and prosecutor
all in one. It was men like Chauvelin who had invented this travesty
of justice and eliminated all procedure devised by civilisation for
the protection of the accused.

The Public Prosecutor opened the proceedings by reading the indictment
in mechanical monotone; it was identically the same as that framed
against hundreds of others--guilty or innocent alike--the printed
formula invented by the odious Foucquier-Tinville in which the words
"Traitor" and "Enemy of the Republic" were alone intelligible. All
else was a jumble of words. The crowd was not listening. Their
attention was fixed on the accused whose modest bearing and spotless
attire seemed to arouse their spite and their derision, more than the
rags and filth displayed by a previous prisoner had done.

When the reading of the indictment came to an end, Pochart sitting
beside the Presiding Judge asked the usual question:

"Is the prisoner accused publicly or in secret?"

And the Public Prosecutor replied: "Publicly."

Danou, the third judge then asked: "By whom?"

And again the Public Prosecutor gave reply:

"By one Adle," he said, "of unknown parentage, and Citizen Lieutenant
Godet of the revolutionary army."

"And to what will these persons testify?"

"To the treason committed against the State by the accused and to her
connection with the enemies of the Republic."

After which Adle was called. Her small rat-like face looked wan and
pinched; her hands trembled visibly, and she wiped them continually
against the ragged apron which she wore. She was obviously very
nervous and never looked once in the direction of the accused, but she
spoke clearly enough in a shrill, high-pitched voice. Questioned at
first by the Public Prosecutor, she presently embarked more glibly
upon her story, relating the events which were intended to condemn
Fleurette. Chauvelin already knew the tale by heart. The soldiers on
the ridge. The raid on the chteau. Fleurette's halt that evening in
the cottage of the widow Tronchet. Her assignation, through Adle,
with Amd Colombe. The casket and wallet underneath her shawl, then
transferred into young Colombe's keeping.

Ofttimes Chauvelin tried to break into the girl's narrative; he put
stern questions to her, tried to intimidate her, to trip her into
misstatements or obvious contradictions. But Adle held her ground.
Informer, ingrate, wanton though she was, she was speaking the truth
and was not to be shaken. Hisses and boos from the crowd oft greeted
the President's cross-questionings, cries of approbation greeted
Adle's spirited rejoinders. In the wordy warfare between herself and
Chauvelin, she scored nearly every time. Encouraged by the sympathy of
the rabble, she lost her nervousness, whilst he gradually lost his
self-control. He had so much at stake, and she nothing but the
satisfaction of vanity and of spite.

"Be not intimidated, citizeness," Pochart put in forcefully at one
moment, "let not powerful influences sway you from your duty."

"Vas-y, Adle of unknown parentage!" one of the women shouted from
above. "'Twas some aristo doubtless who betrayed thy mother. Let this
aristo at least pay for her kind."

Amidst thunderous applause Adle stepped down from the bar. Chauvelin
tried in vain to command silence, he was shouted down by the crowd.

"Thou'rt a true patriot, Citizen Chauvelin," one woman called out
lustily. "To have a traitor for a daughter is a curse. Her death will
not be for thee a sacrifice."

He waited in seeming patience, white to the lips, until the tumult had
subsided, then calling all his reserves of strength, moral and mental,
to his aid, he said in a calm firm voice:

"The witness has lied. The events which she has described could not
have taken place in her presence seeing that on that day and at that
hour she was in my house, at Lou Mas, half a league away."

This pronouncement was greeted with mighty uproar. Derisive laughter,
cat's calls, whistling, strident shouts made riotous confusion. Only
two persons in the room appeared serene. One was the accused, the
other her judge. The Moniteur says that throughout the whole
proceedings the attitude of the accused was astonishingly calm: "d'une
srnit tonnante." She looked straight before her, sometimes at the
President, but more often her eyes appeared to be fixed on the
tricolour flag draped over the wall above his head, and ornamented
with a red cap and the words writ largely: "Libert, Egalit,
Fraternit ou la Mort."

And so too was the President equally serene. Outwardly. He stood
upright whilst the turmoil continued, with head erect and hands held
behind his back. Insults and jeers flew at him from every side. But he
never winced. The rabble called him, "Traitor, Liar, Tyrant!" and
various other names impossible to record. But he waited in seeming
patience, until the crowd, eager to hear more, fell to comparative
stillness once more. Then Pochart's rasping voice cut through the
silence, like the sound of a file against metal.

"You'll have to substantiate that statement Citizen President," he
said.

"My statements need no substantiation," Chauvelin retorted coolly.
"The word of a representative of the people is sufficient against any
witness."

And while Pochart was considering a suitable repartee, Danou put in
smoothly:

"Should we not hear the next witness, citizen Lieutenant Godet, before
we discuss the matter?"

"Yes, yes!" the crowd yelled in response.

Scenting the unusual, the crowd was more excited than was its wont. Of
late these hasty trials, six to the hour, with condemnation as a
foregone conclusion, had become monotonous. One condemnation had been
very much like another. But here was something novel. The rumour had
already spread like wildfire that the accused was no less than the
daughter of the President, Citizen Chauvelin, who was well-known in
the councils of State, a prominent member of many committees, and,
some said, a personal friend of the great Robespierre. Here in truth
was a test of supreme patriotism; a judge called upon to condemn his
own daughter if she be guilty. And of course she was guilty, or she
would not be here. There was no sympathy for either of them, only
interest in the issue of this amazing trial. The crowd did not like
the prisoner's attitude, what they called her aristocratic airs and
disdainful ways; even the children pointed grimy little fingers at her
and hurled the poisonous darts of loathsome epithets at the aristo.

Thus was the scene prepared for the entrance of Lieutenant Godet, who
stepped up to the witness' platform with a display of self-assurance
and a swagger that charmed the women. He was a man after their own
heart, a real sans culotte in grimy rags, unkempt, un-shaved,
unwashed, the type of which the martyr Jean Paul Marat had been the
most perfect exponent.

Conversations, objurgations, murmurs even were stilled; the click-
click of knitting needles alone made a soft accompaniment to Citizen
Godet's replies to the Public Prosecutor's preliminary questions. It
was indeed a remarkable, an amazing, an almost unbelievable tale,
which he had to tell. And gradually as he unfolded the various details
of this extraordinary adventure a hush fell over the crowded room,
very like the calm which nature assumes ere she sends forth the
thunders of her wrath.

Godet, still with this air of self-assurance, related how he and the
soldiers under his command, as well as the whole commune of Laragne
had been tricked by a band of English spies whose actions proved them
to have been in league with Amd Colombe and with the accused. He
told of the magnificently dressed soldiers. Their raid on the premises
of Colombe the grocer of the Rue Haute. Their march through the
village. Their captain's swagger. His orders to himself, Godet, and to
the real soldiers of the revolutionary army.

Still the crowd gave no sign of approbation, or disapprobation. Only
that ominous, expectant hush which presaged a storm. The accused
always serene, smiled--so the Moniteur avers--as she encountered the
President's glance. Smiled cheerfully and trustfully. But the
President's face was inscrutable, and the colour of wax.

And then Godet went on to relate the long, weary tramp along the
mountain roads. The dust. The fatigue. The want of food. He told how
the ci-devant Frontenac and Amd Colombe wrested from the hands of
justice, were presently taken to some unknown place of safety, while
the soldiers of the Republic were left by the wayside to perish of
fatigue or inanition.

He had finished speaking, and still the click-click of the knitting
needles was the only sound that broke the silence. The witness,
sensing this silence, feeling its menace, had lost something of his
arrogance; the hand with which he stroked his shaggy moustache
trembled perceptibly. The accused, overcome by the heat, wiped her
forehead with the corner of her apron, then she smiled once more
across at her father.

And suddenly through the solemn stillness a woman's shrill voice was
raised:

"Those English spies did make a fool of thee, I am thinking, Citizen
Godet!"

This suddenly relieved the tension. It was like a dam let loose. In a
moment every kind of call and of cry of laughter and of groan rang
from end to end of the room.

"The English have made a fool of thee!"

Within a minute or two this became a general cry, accompanied by the
stamping of feet, and loud and prolonged laughter, both malevolent and
derisive. Godet, ludicrous in his bewilderment, rolled terror-filled
eyes, whilst vainly trying to raise his voice above the din. The
Moniteur says definitely that the accused put her hands to her ears.
The uproar was in truth deafening.

A few moments of this confusion, and the next, Chauvelin was on his
feet clanging his bell. His stentorian voice rose above the tumult,
demanded silence, and in the lull that presently ensued, that same
voice now subdued to a lower, though no less impressive key, rang
clear and calm.

"Is it not an insult, citizen patriots to ask you to listen to the
words of a fool, when the life of a French girl is at stake?"

The passionate earnestness with which he spoke, the burning
indignation expressed in that calm, subdued voice, had the effect of
awing the screaming rabble. They turned to gaze on him, as he stood
there, facing them all, calm, proud, almost majestic, despite his
small stature. Seizing this sudden advantage he began to speak.
Without a gesture, hardly raising his voice, he began quietly, not
choosing his words, or striving after eloquence, but only as a man
speaking to his friends. And by one of those inexplicable reactions
which will so often change the temper of a crowd, men, women and
children ceased to curse and to deride. The innumerable eyes were
fixed with more curiosity than malevolence upon him, the mouths,
agape, uttered no further groan, and once more the click-click of
knitting needles was momentarily stilled.

"Citizens," he said, "you have heard two witnesses against the
accused. One of these, the wench Adle I myself, representative of the
people, have convicted of deliberate falsehood, spoken to the
prejudice of a French patriot. The other your own words have condemned
for a fool, and an easy tool in the hands of English spies. You called
him a fool, citizens, but I call him a traitor. Lieutenant Godet was
not a tool in the hands of the English spies, he was their
confederate, their help. Can you bring yourselves to believe,
citizens, that a loyal soldier of the Republic could be deceived by
false uniforms, by French words spoken by alien lips? Can you believe
this story of a forced march, of starvation by the wayside in the
company of English spies whose every action, every word, every gesture
almost, must have betrayed them as the foreigners they actually were.
Citizens, I appeal to that reputation for clear thinking and for
logic, for which French men and women are famous throughout the world.
At this hour when our beloved country is threatened on every side, is
this the time, I say, for allowing yourselves to be duped by traitors
who would sell you and your land, your dues and your liberty for
English gold---?"

"No! no!" came a lusty shout in response. And the crowd took up the
cry. "No! We'll not sell our liberties for English gold."

"Say on, citizen representative."

Pochart had jumped to his feet; once or twice he had tried to break in
on Chauvelin's peroration, with cries of: "Thou'rt slandering a
soldier of the Republic!" or: "Traitor! thou'rt in league with thy
daughter!"

But he was not listened to. There was something about Chauvelin which
fascinated the mob. His white, calm face, his pale, piercing eyes, his
voice, dull, even monotonous, but penetrating to the most distant
corners of the room. And there was also that welcome element of
novelty. This pleased the women. Trials and condemnations in incessant
routine had begun to pall. Here was something new. Witnesses summoned,
then discredited, and finally accused. Such a thing had never been
witnessed before in Orange.

And so the crowd would not listen to Pochart or Danou, they wanted to
hear Chauvelin; they did not particularly wish to see Fleurette nomme
Armand acquitted, but they did relish the prospect of the two
witnesses being sent to the bench of the accused. That was novelty for
them, and it was what they wanted for the moment. Moreover they did
think that the citizen lieutenant with all his swagger had been such a
consummate fool, if no worse, that it would be distinctly amusing to
see that stupid head of his roll down into the basket of the
guillotine.

Neither Pochart nor Danou, however, were men to give up the struggle
quite so easily. In the fight against the representative on special
mission, who had threatened them and lorded it over them for so long,
they only contemplated one issue: victory. Victory! which would mean
satisfaction of pride and of revenge. They had set out to win and did
not consider themselves beaten. Not yet. Already Pochart was on his
feet, and his rasping voice rose booming above the tumult. As soon as
a slight lull gave him an opportunity he seized it, and cried in
thunderous accents:

"Citizens! Frenchmen! French women! All of you!" And then again:
"Citizens all! Let me put the same question to you, that the President
asked you just now: will you allow yourselves to be duped? Will you go
like sheep whithersoever traitors may lead you?"

The crowd murmured and shrugged shoulders, would have shouted Pochart
down only that the rasping voice of his rose above the cry of: "A la
lanterne, all traitors and fools!"

Pointing an accusing finger at Chauvelin, Pochart took up the cry.

"So say I," he roared in a terrific straining of his powerful lungs:
"A la lanterne all the traitors who try to throw dust in your eyes.
Have you forgotten that the citizen President is the father of the
accused? And that he knows well enough that if the child be guilty,
then is the parent guilty too? To save himself he is trying to shield
a traitor. Do not allow yourselves to be duped by him. Look on the
citizen President, my friends, and ask him how it comes about that he
lavished all the treasures of his eloquence upon this one traitor,
when yesterday and the day before that, he sent to the guillotine
every man, woman and child who came before the Tribunal, and on a mere
suspicion of treason."

A dull murmur greeted this peroration. There had been something in
Pochart's eloquence which caused the crowd not to veer round just yet,
but at an rate to look on the President of the Tribunal with rather
less awe, and something approaching suspicion.

"That is true," a woman said loudly. "The President showed no mercy to
traitors yesterday. And it is treason now to be as much as suspected
of treason, we've been told."

"It is my duty to protect the innocent," Chauvelin retorted firmly,
"as well as to punish the guilty."

"Methinks," Danou now broke in, and his slow, and suave tones came in
strange contrast to the clamorous eloquence of his colleagues:
"methinks that the traitor Danton made some such remark too, ere
justice put her hand on him."

"Danton was a traitor, and thou too, Citizen Danou, art a traitor for
speaking his name in this hall of justice."

"Justice!" Pochart cried, pallid with rage, for he had felt that the
word "traitor" hurled at Danou was meant to strike him also. "Justice!
hark at the traitor, who should be standing in the dock beside his
brood."

"Vas-y, Citizen President," the woman cried excitedly. "It is thy turn
now."

They had cast aside their knitting, so palpitating had this duel
become between these three men. Insensate, doltish as they were, they
scented the tragedy that underlay this wordy warfare; they guessed
that the man who presided over this infamous tribunal and who with a
casual stroke of the pen had sent hundreds indiscriminately to death,
had one soft corner in his callous heart, and that his colleagues,
consumed with envy and hatred were hitting at that vulnerable spot and
had already succeeded in making him writhe in agony.

At the same time, such is the psychology of a multitude as against
that of individuals, there was still a wave of sympathy tending in the
direction of this father fighting so desperately for the life of his
child. Strictly speaking it was not sympathy, rather was it mere
instinctive understanding of family ties. Five years of this awful
revolution, during which every cruel lust in man or woman had been
sedulously fostered, every softer mood repressed, had not yet
succeeded in crushing altogether that feeling for family solidarity
which is the most distinctive characteristic of the French nation. And
this spectacle of a father sitting in judgment over his own child,
actually expressed to pronounce the death-sentence over her, did
undoubtedly for the time being sway the crowd in his favour. He was
given a more respectful hearing than either of his colleagues or
either of the witnesses, and when Godet's name recurred on the tapis,
it was greeted with derisive cries of "Cet imbcile!" and when Adle
was mentioned, most of the women shouted spitefully: "Liar!"

Chauvelin, sensitive of course to the slightest wavering in the temper
of the populace, felt his advantage and strained every nerve to press
it home. The whole situation was of course terribly precarious. At any
moment a look, a word, a false move on his part, might cause the crowd
to veer right over against him. Even after an acquittal sometimes, the
populace would suddenly demand that the accused be re-arrested: a
second trial, more of a mockery and a travesty of justice than the
first, would be insisted on, after which condemnation was a foregone
conclusion. All this Chauvelin knew, none better, and there were
moments when he felt as if madness or death were preferable to this
terrible fight that in the end could have but one issue. And yet fight
he must, fight for every inch of ground, fight with the last breath in
his body, and with it silence the vituperations of those fiends who
had raised their noisome voices against his Fleurette.

Even now Pochart was on his feet again, shouting, gesticulating,
banging his fist upon the table.

"Citizens," he reiterated for the third time, "do not let yourselves
be duped by men who are ruining your country by pandering to traitors.
Look at the accused! I say she is nothing but a wanton, who should be
tied to the whipping-post ere she be sent to the guillotine. Look at
the aristocrat, I say, with the demure airs and the folded kerchief;
she, forsooth, goes forth o' nights to meet her lover under the
almond-trees, there to concoct treason with her lover against the
Republic. She was seen, remember, seen, I say, in spite of what
interested parties may aver. You have heard the witness, a humble,
simple girl, the victim of aristocratic lust and of tyranny. That
witness spoke the truth. She saw the accused and her lover at dead of
night whispering and embracing. I ask you, does a clean-minded,
respectable woman, citizen of our glorious Republic, spend her nights
in the company of her lover? Rather is it not the wanton, the traitor,
who shuns the light of day and seeks the darkness, for the hatching of
treasonable plots against the State? Look at the witness, citizens.
Humbly and simply did she speak the truth---"

"She lied as well you know it, Citizen Pochart," Chauvelin broke in
forcefully. "Liar, forger and thief, I decree her accused and command
that she stand her trial for these offences against the Republic. Look
at her, my friends, citizens all," he went on, and pointed an accusing
finger at Adle whose pinched little face had become the colour of
lead, and who sat in a corner of the witness; bench, cowering within
herself, her trembling hands, now and then, lifting a handkerchief to
wipe the sweat of terror that had risen to her brow. "Look at her,"
Chauvelin continued, appealing to the sea of faces before him: "And
now look at the accused. She is serene, because she is innocent;
whilst the guilty trembles because she knows her treachery has come to
light at last. Look at those two women, citizens, and yourselves
pronounce which is the traitor and which is the stainless."

Of a truth all would have been well after that. Chauvelin passed a
quivering hand across his brow. It was streaming with moisture. The
strain had been immense. Mentally he felt broken by the effort. But he
also felt that for the moment at least he had won the day. The
Moniteur states definitely that: "il y et tout lieu de croire qu'un
acquittement et t applaudi." At any rate the applause at the moment
was deafening, and if Chauvelin could have obtained a hearing for
another sixty seconds he would have put the acquittal to the populace
vote, and, as the Moniteur says, it would have been carried.

What would have happened afterwards nobody can say. The most fickle
entity in the world is a multitude, and of all the multitudes, an
audience watching the suffering of a fellow-creature is the most
fickle and the most callous. For the next two or three minutes at any
rate, Chauvelin held the sympathy of the crowd. Fleurette did not
count either way. For the spectators of this heart-rending pageant she
was just a thing, an insentient object placed there for their
entertainment, the pivot round which circled their excitement. But
Chauvelin, the father pleading for his daughter's life had won their
sympathy--the sympathy of tiger-cats, satiated for the moment and
licking their chops in the intervals of snarling.

All then would have been well but for the action of one of the
sympathisers who stood leaning up against the wall in the crowd; a
giant he was, coated with grime--coal heaver or scavenger probably,
only half clad in ragged shirt and torn breeches, with dirty feet
thrust stockingless into sabots, a red worsted cap over his unkempt
hair, his face streaked with sweat and coal-dust. In one hand he held
a large raw carrot which he was munching with loud snapping of the
jaws and smacking of the lips. He was one of the noisiest in his
approval of the President's peroration.

"Vas-y, President," he shouted. "A la lanterne, the fools and
traitors. Where is that trollop? Let her stand up. We want to look at
her, eh, citizens?"

"Yes! Yes! we want to see her! Stand up, Adle of unknown parentage!
Let's look at you."

The women, or course, were the loudest in their demand for the
unfortunate Adle. Bred by misery, often out of degradation, trained
by five years of an execrable revolution, the women of France were not
fministes these days. The spectacle of one of their own sex on the
guillotine gave them more satisfaction than that of a man. Now they
wanted to see Adle of the pinched, rat-like face, Adle with the
trembling hands and the shrinking shoulders, they wanted to see her
squirm before their wrath, they wanted to see her wriggle like a worm
prodded with a pin. Incidentally they had almost for gotten Fleurette.

Louder and even louder they clamoured for Adle, and at an order from
the President, two soldiers of the National guard did presently drag
Adle from the corner of the witness' bench where she was cowering
like a frightened rodent, and dragged her--or rather carried her--to
the bar of the accused. The crowd seeing that its dictates were being
obeyed, restrained its frenzy for an instant and, through the
comparative stillness that ensued, a piercing shriek rang out from the
unfortunate Adle.

"Mercy! Mercy!" she cried, and struggled fiercely to free herself from
the men's grasp. "I am innocent! I spoke the truth."

A thunderous shout of derisive laughter greeted her cry. The women,
with their hands on their knees, were literally rocking with laughter.
They thought that Adle with a face like a rat, wisps of lank hair
poking out from underneath her cap which sat all awry, with mouth wide
open uttering shrieks which no one could hear through the deafening
tumult, was supremely funny.

The President made no attempt to quell the disturbance. It was all to
the good. The greater the hatred against Adle, the greater his
chance, not only of forcing wave of sympathy for himself at full-tide,
until he had the opportunity of getting Fleurette out of Orange. He
was striving with all his might to catch his darling's eye. But
Fleurette's glance was fixed on Adle. She seemed to him to be
fascinated with horror, mute and paralysed. She was looking on Adle,
and her dear little hand was fidgeting the corner of her kerchief.

Through the ear-splitting uproar led by the women, Pochart and Danou,
their sympathisers, men of their own choosing, vainly tried to get a
hearing. As well try to shout down a tempestuous sea as these hundreds
of women gloating over the spectacle of one of their own sex writhing
in an agony of terror.

"Hein!" came in a stentorian shout from the grimy giant in the rear of
the crowd; "thou wouldst slander the innocent girl with lies. Take
that for thy pains."

And he hurled the remnant of his raw carrot over the head of the
intervening crowd at the unfortunate Adle.

It missed her by a hairbreadth, but the action delighted the crowd.
They took up the cry: "Take that for thy pains!" and sent various
missiles flying at the girl, who, crouching down on her knees, lay
there like a bundle of goods just below the bar of the accused where
Fleurette stood, gazing down at her, fascinated with horror.

Looking back later on that terrible moment, Chauvelin felt that it was
the action of the grimy coal-heaver--or scavenger, whatever he was--
that precipitated the catastrophe. He it was who egged on the rabble
to virulent hatred against Adle. It was he who by hurling that first
missile at the girl brought in a further, more immense element of
cruelty and horror into the situation. Certain it is that up to that
moment Fleurette had appeared more dazed than horrified. She must even
in her own gentle heart have felt a burning indignation against Adle
for the treacherous part which she had played, and if the girl's
arrest had been effected outside the Tribunal, she would perhaps never
have actually realised what had brought it about. But with that shout
of "Thou wouldst slander the innocent girl with thy lies," full
consciousness returned to her, and with it the recollection of
everything that had gone before. Chauvelin, who watched her with the
devouring gaze of his love, saw as in a flash, through the quick
glance which swept form Adle to himself and thence over the sea of
perspiring faces, the full workings of her mind.

He tried to keep the tumult going; he hoped that Fleurette would
faint, so that she might be carried out of court. He prayed that the
roof of the gigantic building would come crashing down and bury him
and Fleurette and all that swinish multitude in its ruins ere she
spoke the words which he saw hovering on her lips.

But none of these things happened. Rather by that perversity which is
peculiar to Chance, a sudden lull broke in on the mighty uproar, a
lull through which Fleurette's calm voice rang clear as water poured
into a crystal glass.

"Adle was not lying, nor did she slander me, I did give some valuable
articles into the keeping of my beloved M'sieur Amd Colombe, at the
hour spoken of by her, and I have no doubt that she did see me, as she
says."



Chapter 36

One must of necessity turn once more to the Moniteur of the 22nd
Messidor year II of the Republic One and Indivisible. There in the
Choix des Rapports XXV. 516-17, despite its sobriety of language and
paucity of detail, there is ample proof that throughout the
proceedings it was the action of one unknown that precipitated the
final catastrophe. "Un gant," we are told, "ft le premier  lancer
l'accusation fausse contre le Prsident du Tribunal, et on tumulte
irrpressible s'ensuivit."

"False," you observe. But on that 16th day of June, 1794, Chauvelin of
the National Convention, member of committees and confidant of
Robespierre, did, we know, stand in danger of being dragged out into
the open and hung on the nearest lamp post. The crowd was in no mood
even to wait for the paraphernalia of the guillotine. They wanted to
see the arch-traitor, the perjurer, who had sworn false oaths and lied
in order to save himself and his brood, hang then and there. The giant
spoken of in the Choix des Rapports had, it seems, hardly waited till
the words were out of Fleurette's mouth, before he pushed his way to
the forefront of the crowd, with vigorous play of his powerful elbows.
Down he was now, in the body of the court. In the struggle, his ragged
shirt had been half torn off his shoulders, and his broad chest and
sinewy arms could be seen, nude and immense, and coated with grime.
Out of one of the pockets of his tattered breeches he produced another
uncooked carrot, and into this he bit lustily, then with a wide sweep
of the arm he launched one by one against the President of the
Tribunal the damning invectives which the Moniteur has characterised
as false. "Traitor!" he cried. "Liar and perjurer! Citizens all, have
you in all your lives ever witnessed such infamy?"

The Choix des Rapports describes the tumult as irrepressible. Indeed
at that moment it would have been easier to dam a raging torrent with
one pair of hands, than to suppress the riotous confusion that ensued.
Fleurette of a truth stood there forgotten, so did Adle and Godet.
All eyes were fixed on the President, every menacing gesture tended in
his direction, all the strident cries, the insults, the varied and
foul epithets were hurled against him. There were but few sober
tempers in that crowded room at the moment. A dozen perhaps; no more.
Older men, one or two women who watched rather than yelled. And what
they saw interested and puzzled them, so much that, when the time
came, when everybody else was shouting themselves hoarse to the verge
of mania, they still kept cool and silent.

Like everybody else these few were gazing on the President. They saw
him standing there on the bench like a figure carved in stone, and,
like a stone, his face was of a grey, ashen colour. His eyes looked
dim and colourless as if a hand had drawn a film over them; his lips
were parted, his nostrils distended. The breath seemed to come with
difficulty out of his lungs. A figure, in truth of terror and despair.
But calm and still. Motionless as a stone. The giant munching his
carrot had waved his huge arms about and yelled himself hoarse until
he had lashed all the spectators into a state of frenzy. Finally he
strode across the room, and came to a halt close to the judges; bench
facing the President.

The three judges had been watching him all along: Pochart and Danou
with undisguised glee, and President Chauvelin with that stony stare
out of his colourless eyes. But even as the giant approached,
Chauvelin though apparently motionless, seemed inwardly to sink within
himself, to crouch as a hunted beast in face of the menacing enemy.
And suddenly like that of an automaton, up went his arm. With finger
outstretched he pointed at the giant and one word escaped his
trembling, rigid lips.

"You!"

Those who were watching him could not understand the word, for it was
spoken in an alien tongue. Nor could they understand what happened
afterwards. But what actually did happen was that the grimy giant
threw back his head and gave a quaint and altogether pleasant laugh.

"Why yes!" he said in the same alien tongue, which no one present
understood. "At your service, my dear M. Chambertin."

And Chauvelin murmured almost under his breath:

"You have your revenge at last, Sir Percy."

"Hitting back as you see, my friend."

It all passed unperceived in the midst of the irrepressible tumult,
save by those few who sober-tempered chose to watch rather than to
yell. It is doubtful whether even Pochart and Danou, who sat close by,
saw anything of this brief, this mysterious scene.

The very next moment the grimy giant, this time with a hoarse and not
at all a pleasant laugh, had hurled his half-munched carrot straight
into the President's face. Then facing the crowd once more he threw up
his great arms high above his head.

"Why should we wait, citizens?" he shouted louder than the rest of the
yelling crowd. "A la lanterne, I say, the traitor and his brood. The
guillotine is ready outside the Place. The executioner is to hand. Why
wait?"

Nothing could have pleased the crowd better. They were all like tigers
scenting blood, demanding it, licking their jaws in anticipation.

"Who is for a front place for the spectacle?" a man shouted from the
rear of the crowd.

"A moi! the front place," a woman cried in response.

"A moi! A moi!" came from every side.

Then the general scramble began. A stampede down the gradients. The
clatter of wooden sabots against the floor. The screams of women and
children pushed and squeezed by the crowd. The grounding of arms, the
click of bayonets, the words of command from the officer in charge of
the guard, who were here to maintain order and who were quite
powerless. The did of a truth try to stem the mob, to prevent the mad
rush, the trampling, the stampede. But there were in reality too few
of them for the task. All available fighting men being required for
the army abroad, these were for the most part too inexperienced and
too incompetent; raw recruits, half-trained for a wholly inadequate
corps of gendarmerie. The officers did what they could, but the men
themselves were soon caught in the vortex. Having no idea of
discipline or duty, they soon became just a part of the mob, allowed
themselves to be carried along by the crowd. They were just as
excited, just as eager to see the President of a revolutionary
tribunal sent summarily to the guillotine, as anyone else. Their lust
for the spectacle was as keen as that of any ragamuffin in the place.
They were but half-trained ragamuffins themselves, and as every man
these days was at least as good as his officer and owed him neither
obedience nor respect, it was small wonder that in emergencies like
these, the soldiers got out of hand, whilst the officers, shrugging
their shoulders, viewed the scene with indifference.

In the meanwhile the grimy giant had effectually fought his way along
the floor of the house as far as the bar of the accused, where
Fleurette, wide-eyed, deathly pale, half-crazy now with terror, had
just fallen forward unconscious across the railing, drooping like a
lily that is battered by the storm.

"And  moi the traitors," the giant shouted, and it was marvellous how
his booming voice rang above the uproar and the confusion.

He dragged Fleurette's inanimate body from the bar and flung it over
his shoulder, as if it were a bundle of goods. Then with two huge
strides he was right in front of the judges; bench, and there turned
back to face the crowd again.

"Take your places for the spectacle," the Titan shouted, "and I'll
bring along the actors for you."

And so they rushed out in a compact, struggling mass, hurrying,
scurrying, fighting and pushing and struggling. Out in the open, in
the Place de la Rpublique, into the sunshine and under the blue vault
of heaven they rushed. The guillotine was set up there ready for its
afternoon work, but, as the grimy giant had said, "Why wait?" Why
indeed. No one was in a mood for waiting. The blackest traitor this
town had ever seen had tried to save himself and his brood by
slandering worthy citizens of the Rpublique. By the by, where were
they? Adle of unknown parentage and the swaggering Lieutenant Godet?
Ah bah! they were forgotten. Lost in the crowd. Who cared? Time enough
to cheer them when the traitors and slanderers were punished. Who
cared indeed? For the moment the most important thing in the world was
to secure a place of vantage for witnessing the wonderful spectacle.
The President of a revolutionary tribunal, a representative of the
people in the National Convention, was not often to be seen in Orange
mounting the steps of the guillotine. That spectacle was reserved for
the Parisians--lucky people!--who saw the heads of ci-devant kings and
queens, of generals and dukes and duchesses and of countless other
aristos roll into the basket. Therefore every one scrambled for a good
seat. The houses all round the Place were invaded by the mob; windows
and balconies were soon filled with eager faces; boys and men swarmed
on the roofs, clung to the rain-pipes, the gargoyles on the Htel de
Ville, the guillotine reared its gaunt arms, painted a vivid red. The
officers of the gendarmerie had succeeded by dint of threats, in
restoring some semblance of order in the tenue of their men. They now
stood at attention round the guillotine on the platform of which the
executioner was busy with his grim task.

The crowd around was very still. Something oppressive, unconnected
with the heat of midday sun, seemed to hang in the air. People were
still pouring out of the Htel de Ville, though not in such compact
numbers. Gradually these numbers too were thinned. Those that came out
last appeared more sober, less excited than the mob that had spread
itself all over the Place shrieking and gesticulating in the manner
habitual to these natives of the South. Some of the last to come out
were a group of men well known in Orange, one was the butcher from the
rue Longue, another the innkeeper of Les Trois Abeilles, a third kept
the haberdashery shop over the bridge. Citizens Pochart and Danou were
with them. They were all talking eagerly together as they came down
the steps. A group of women were standing close by.

"Are they bringing the traitors?" they asked.

"Yes Citizen Tartine," the butcher replied, "that fine patriot Rmi,
one of the scavengers at the Caristie house is close behind us, with
some of his mates. They've got the traitors between them. We are to
give the sign by firing this pistol when the executioner is ready."

He showed the women the pistol which he said Rmi himself had given
him.

"The executioner is ready now," the women said, three of them speaking
at once.

Citizens Pochart and Danou and the others then walked across the Place
to the foot of the guillotine, one of them spoke a few words with the
executioner. The crowd of spectators watched with feverish excitement.
And presently Citizen Tartine, the butcher, raised his arm and fired a
pistol in the air. A number of women shrieked. The excitement was so
tense that the loud report sent the others into hysterics. Soon,
however, the rumour went round that the pistol-shot was the signal
that everything was ready for the spectacle and for the entrance of
the chief actors in the play. After which every noise subsided. The
multitude held its breath; a thousand pairs of eyes were fixed on the
wide-open portals of the Htel de Ville waiting for the grandiose
appearance of Rmi the scavenger and his mates bearing the traitors
upon their shoulders.

Up, on the platform of the guillotine, the executioner was giving a
last look to the pulleys. The soldiers stood at attention.

The huge crowd waited.



Chapter 37

The Moniteur does not say much about what happened afterwards. "La
foule attendit avec assez de patience," is all it says, "mais personne
ne vint."

The portals of the Htel de Ville which should have been a frame for
the entrance of the principal actors in the last act of the drama,
showed nothing but the yawning black emptiness beyond. The crowd
waited, says the Moniteur, with sufficient patience. They did wait
quite happily for ten minutes, agitatedly for twenty. But nobody came.
Citizens Pochart and Danou, also Citizen Tartine, the butcher, and
three or four others, were seen to make their way back across the
Place, to run quickly up the steps of the Htel de Ville and
subsequently disappear inside its portals. Still the crowd waited,
very much as a crowd will wait in a theatre when the entr'acte is too
long; some of them hilariously, others with impatient yawns, others
again with tapping of feet and presently with murmurs of: "La Lan-
terne! La Lan-terne!"

The next thing that happened was the reverberating clang of the
portals of the Htel de Ville being suddenly closed. Then only did the
crowd realise that they were being cheated of the spectacle. Murmurs
were loud, and there were some hisses and boos and cat's calls. But on
the whole they took the event with extraordinary calm. There was no
rioting as indeed might have been expected. A few hot-heads tried to
create a disturbance demanding that the executioner be given something
to do. Madame la Guillotine should not be cheated of her dinner.

"She's hungry, give her something to eat," was the catchword these
hot-heads used in order to excite the rest of the crowd. Somehow it
did not work. There certainly were a few bouts of fisticuffs, one or
two broken heads, the soldiers round the guillotine and those on guard
at the street corners did use their bayonets with some effect, but on
the whole the crowd was strangely subdued, more inclined to whisper
than to shout.

For quite a little while after the portals of the Htel de Ville had
been closed, they still waited, thinking that perhaps something more
was being devised for their entertainment. But as time went on and
nothing happened, they thought they might as well get home. It was
dinner time. The children were hungry, and though there was little
enough in the larders these days, one had to get home and give them
what there was. The whole thing had been strange. Very strange. As men
and women wended their way homeward, their thoughts reverted to that
titanic figure with the grimy face and the huge bare chest, one sinewy
arm encircling the body of the wench Fleurette nomme Armand, which
hung limp across his massive shoulder. He was no mere mortal, that was
certain. And though the Government up in Paris had abolished le bon
Dieu, and declared that it was Citizen Robespierre who was the "tre
Suprme," something of the old superstitions imbibed at their mothers'
knees, still lingered in these untutored, undisciplined minds. That
the Titan with the flashing eyes and grimy face should have vanished
with the traitors whom he and his satellites had seized, was but the
fitting ending to his meteoric appearance. The Government might forbid
belief in God and the Devil, in heaven and in hell, but here was proof
positive that the Devil did exist. He was black and he was of abnormal
stature, he had a great bare chest and strong muscular arms, and--
clearest proof of all--he had before the very eyes of the citizens of
Orange seized upon two traitors and carried them away with him to
limbo.

Nothing would take that idea out of the people's mind, and long after
these horrible days of the revolution had passed away and men and
women had returned to sanity, those who were present on that day in
June at the trial of one Fleur Chauvelin nomme Armand, would recount
the marvellous story of how the devil had entered the court-house and
spirited the accused away. Only a few knew the true facts of the case,
and even so a great deal was left to surmise. Among those who knew was
Citizen Tartine, the butcher. And this is what he told his friends
when they pressed him with questions. It seems that when the crowd
stampeded out of the Htel de Ville, he, Tartine, together with
Citizens Pochart and Danou who had stepped down from the judges'
bench, and three or four other notabilities of the city among whom was
Motus, the chief warder of the Caristie House, put their heads
together for moment or two, wondering if something could not be done
towards sending the wench Fleurette and her father by a back way to
one or other of the prison houses, with a view to bringing them up for
formal trial on the morrow. They did feel, however, that given the
present temper of the populace, such a move might prove dangerous to
themselves. "The people will demand a victim, two victims, perhaps
more," Danou said with a doubtful nod of the head. "They might vent
their wrath on us."

That was sound logic, and the project was abandoned almost as soon as
it was formulated.

Motus, it seems, then turned familiarly to the giant and said:

"Tiens, Rmi, is it thou?"

"Myself, citizen," the giant replied.

In response to inquiries from the others, Chief Warder Motus then
explained that Rmi was a scavenger whom he himself had taken on in
the Caristie House for extra work when the regular man fell sick. A
splendid patriot, Motus averred. There was, therefore, not the
faintest cause for suspicion.

"Come along, all of you," Pochart now said addressing Rmi and is
mates. "Bring along the prisoners. The people are waiting."

"Give them time to settle down," Rmi replied with a shrug and laugh.
"We are the chief comedians in this play. Do you all go and prepare
everything for our entrance."

"You won't tarry?" Danou admonished.

"Not we," Rmi replied. "We're as eager as you for the spectacle, eh,
citizens?" he added, turning to his mates who had the President of the
Tribunal still between them.

Rmi then took a pistol out of his ragged breeches and handed it to
Citizen Tartine.

"When the executioner is ready," he said, "and everything prepared for
our entrance, just give us the signal by firing the pistol. We'll be
with you a few minutes after that. We've yet another surprise for the
spectators," he added with another laugh, "which will delight them and
you."

Tartine vowed that not the slightest suspicion entered his head or
that of his companions. How could one suspect a patriot vouched for by
no less a person than Motus the chief warder? In the end, however,
Pochart decided that two men of the gendarmerie, one of whom was a
sergeant, who were still standing at attention below the judges'
bench, should remain with Rmi and his mates and escort them when the
time came, on to the Place.

After which the group of notabilities followed the rest of the crowd
out into the open. When looking back upon what followed, they all
agreed that some fifteen minutes must have gone from the time when
they finally left the court-house and took their last look at Rmi and
his mates, to that when they returned and found the place empty. They
all said that even then, at first glance, no suspicion entered their
minds and they stood about for a few minutes talking together,
thinking that Rmi was preparing the surprise spectacle which he had
promised them. Thinking too that every moment would bring the
scavenger back with his mates and the prisoners. Tartine, the butcher,
was the fist to suspect that there might be something wrong. He
crossed the floor of the room, and made his way to the private door
which was at the back of the judges' bench and led to some corridors
and private rooms, and also to the back of the premises of the Htel
de Ville, and to a back door which gave on a narrow street that ran
parallel with the faade.

The private door was locked, with no key to be seen. But even then, so
remote was suspicion from their minds that Tartine and the others
hammered away on the door and called loudly to Rmi. The door was made
of solid oak, but Pochart and Tartine were both of them powerful men.
Receiving no answer to their call, they searched amidst the litter
left pell-mell by the crowd upon the gradients, and found an axe and a
leaded stick. Thus armed they attacked the panels of the door, whilst
Danou and one of the others wisely thought of closing the portals of
the Htel de Ville. The oak panels yielded after awhile. The door
battered in, fell under the heavy blows dealt by Tartine the butcher
with the axe. He and Pochart and two or three of the others striding
over the debris, found themselves in a dark corridor.

Some twenty paces down the corridor on the right, they came to another
door. It was locked, but behind it came a vigorous sound of banging
and the door shook now and again as if under heavy blows. Once more
the axe was brought into play, the door was smashed in and as it fell
in with a crash, it revealed the two men of the gendarmerie, with arms
and legs securely pinioned, and their crimson caps stuffed into their
mouths. One of them had succeeded in rolling along the floor, near
enough to the door to kick against it with his otherwise helpless
feet.

There could no longer be any doubt. The public had been hoaxed either
by an impudent imposter, or by a traitor, bribed to aid the prisoners
to escape. The words: "English spies," soon cropped up as did those of
Amd Colombe and architect Caristie and a host of others. This too,
no doubt, was their work. At least this was the opinion of some,
whilst others, headed by Danou, shook their heads dubiously. Citizen
Chauvelin was known to be the sworn enemy of those English spies--
weren't they called the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel?--and it was
Citizen Chauvelin and his daughter Fleur who had been so insolently
spirited away.

Having hastily released the men of the gendarmerie, they all ran down
the length of the corridor as swiftly as they could, chiefly because
one of the soldiers said that this corridor led ultimately to a back
entrance of the Htel de Ville. But the building itself was something
of a maze, the passages were dark and narrow, it took them all some
time to find that back door, and when at last they came upon it, they
found it locked.

Once more the axe had to come into play, and time had in the meanwhile
slipped by to the tune of some twenty minutes. Nor did the narrow back
street reveal any of the secrets of this amazing adventure. Impostors,
traitors or English spies, Rmi the scavenger and his mates had
disappeared with the two prisoners and taken their secret with them.
On the other side of the road there was a row of one-storied, tumble
down houses, inhabited by some of the poorest families in the city.
Inquiries at each house in succession revealed but little. Nearly all
the inmates had spent their morning as usual watching the trials in
the Htel de Ville and were not yet home; but in one of the houses a
sick woman had, it seems, been standing at the window when she saw
four or five men come out of the building opposite. One of them, she
said, was very tall and was carrying what she thought was a large
bundle on his shoulder. The others were hustling a short, thin man who
wore a blue coat and had on a tricolour sash round his waist. They
turned sharply to their right and she soon lost sight of them. She
thought nothing about the incident, one saw so many strange things
these days.

In the meanwhile the crowd on the Place had begun to disperse, the
first stragglers were wending their way to their homes. Pochart and
Danou holding high functions in the administration of justice, did not
feel that it was incumbent upon them to go hunting for spies. That was
the business of the gendarmerie, and they parted presently from their
friends, declaring their intention of sending immediately for the
Chief Commissary of Police. The others, feeling that it was not part
of their duty either to run after escaped prisoners, found that they
had pressing business to see to at home.

As far as Citizen Tartine, the butcher, was concerned, the incident
had no further interest for him save for the pleasure of recounting
his share of the adventure to his numerous friends. A couple more
traitors escaped from the clutches of justice, a few more English
spies when already the country swarmed with them, was nothing to worry
one's head about.

Pochart and Danou did, on the other hand, worry their heads
considerably about it all. They had a burning desire to know just what
the English spies did ultimately do with their colleague Chauvelin.
They hoped--oh! very ardently--that as soon as the much-vaunted
Scarlet Pimpernel discovered that it was his inveterate enemy whom he
had rescued from the guillotine, he would either hand him back
straightway to the tender mercies of justice, or simply murder him in
some convenient and out-of-the-way corner of the district. Pochart and
Danou would have preferred the former alternative as being more
satisfactory to their wounded vanity and their baffled spite.

Unlike Tartine, they seldom spoke of their experiences in connection
with the affair. But their hopes did rise to their zenith when a week
or so later President Legrange and Public Prosecutor Isnard returned
from their fool's errand to Paris; there could be no doubt that even
Robespierre, friend of Chauvelin though he be, would order the
punishment of such a consummate liar and traitor.



Chapter 38

An immense lassitude had held Fleurette in a kind of semi-
consciousness, a dreamless sleep from which she woke at intervals,
only to open her eyes for a moment, and immediately let the lids,
heavy with sleep, fall over them again. It was the reaction insisted
on by health and youth against the terrible nerve-strain of that awful
day.

During the brief intervals while she had a certain consciousness of
things about her, she found herself nestling against chri Bibi's
shoulder! And when, with half-dimmed eyes she looked up at him, and
tried to smile between two yawns, she always saw his pale, grave face
turned away in profile, gazing straight out before him into the dark
recess of the post-chaise, in which apparently they were travelling.
She called softly to him once or twice, but he never turned to look at
her, only his hand, which felt cold and clammy, would gently stroke
her hair.

How long all this lasted, what happened to her in the intervals of
sleep, Fleurette never knew, but there came a time when the chaise
rattled unpleasantly over the cobble-stones of a city, and lights
darted to and fro through the darkness as the vehicle lumbered along
through fitfully lighted streets. Fleurette sat up straight; all the
sleep suddenly gone out of her eyes.

"Where are we going, chri Bibi?" she asked. "Do you know?"

"No! I do not," Bibi replied, and his voice sounded hoarse and hollow.
"Would to God I did."

Fleurette had never heard him invoke le bon Dieu before, and she tried
through the gloom to peer into his face.

"But we are out of danger now, chri?" she asked wide-eyed, the old
terror which had caused her to lose consciousness in that awful court-
house, once more clutching at her heart.

"I do not know," he murmured mechanically; "would to God I did."

And then as if recalled to himself by the half-drawn sigh of terror
from Fleurette, he seized hold of her, and pressed her head against
his breast.

"No! No!" he said hastily, "they cannot harm you whilst I'm here to
guard you."

Just then the coach came to a halt, and a moment later the door was
thrown open and a gruff voice said:

"Will you descend, citizeness?"

Fleurette, frightened, clung to Bibi. She made no attempt to move.
Whereupon the gruff voice resumed:

"If you don't come willingly, I shall have to send some one to fetch
you."

Fleurette buried her face against Bibi's coat. His arms held her
tightly. A minute, perhaps less, went by, and then--suddenly--she
heard a voice--a very gentle, very timid voice this time, saying:

"Mam'zelle Fleurette! Oh, Mam'zelle Fleurette, I pray you to turn to
me. It is I--Amd."

What had happened? Was she dreaming? Or had she died of fright and
gone straight up to heaven? Certain it is that she felt a timid hand
upon her shoulder, whilst Bibi's hold upon her relaxed.

"Hold up the lantern, man," the gruff voice now broke in upon the
delicious silence that ensued, "and let her see that she is not
dreaming."

The light of a lantern flashed across Fleurette's eyes, she opened
them and turned her head, and found herself gazing on M'sieur Amd's
pink and moist face, into his kind eyes full of anxiety and of
tenderness, upon his mouth which had taught her how to kiss. Gently,
slowly, she extricated herself from Bibi's embrace. Gently, slowly she
seemed to glide into Amd's arms.

He carried her whither she knew not. All she knew was that presently
she found herself snuggling in a deep, cosy arm-chair, and that Amd
was kneeling beside her, with his eyes fixed ecstatically upon her as
if she were la sainte Vierge herself.

"Where am I, dear M'sieur Amd?" she asked.

"At Ste. Csaire, Mam'zelle Fleurette," he replied.

"Where is that?"

"Just outside Nimes. Your chaise passed through the streets of Nimes."

"I daresay," she said with a tired little sigh. "I was so sleepy; I
didn't know where we were."

"We are under the protection of the bravest men that ever lived,"
Amd said slowly. "They saved me from death. They have saved you,
Mam'zelle Fleurette."

A shudder went through her. She closed her eyes as if to try and shut
away the awful visions which his words had conjured up. But his kind,
strong arms encircled her closer, and she nestled against him and once
again felt comforted and safe. He told her the entire odyssey of his
rescue, from the hour when the mock soldiers entered his father's shop
at Laragne, until when his brave rescuers took leave of him outside
the derelict cottage by the banks of the Drme, and he, seeing the
pale crescent of the moon rise above the snow-capped crest of La
Lance, had solemnly bowed nine times, praying for that joy which to-
day was his at last.

He had spent a few very lonely days in the cottage after that,
devoured with anxiety as to the fate of his beloved. He could not eat,
he could not sleep. For hours he would watch the filmy crescent of the
moon, whose pale light mayhap illumined the window behind which his
own Fleurette would also be watching and praying. And three days ago
he received the message which he was waiting for. It appeared
mysteriously early one morning outside the cottage door. A missive,
with a stone put upon it to prevent its being blown away by the wind.
How it got there Amd never knew. It came from the leader of that
gallant little league of Englishmen who devoted their lives to helping
those in distress. In it he, Amd, was ordered to walk as far as
Crest, to the house of Citizen Marcor the farrier, where he could hire
a horse. And then to hie him straightway hither to Ste. Csaire, not
sleeping in any wayside inn, but rather in the fields, under shelter
of hedges of forest trees, getting food for himself and his horse as
best he could. The missive further directed him, on arriving at Ste.
Csaire, to seek out an empty house situated in the Rue Basse, and
there to wait, for of a surety within two days he would hold his
beloved Fleurette in his arms. Amd had obeyed these commands to the
letter. This very morning he had arrived at Ste. Csaire and found the
house in the Rue Basse. It was neither empty nor uninhabited. There
was furniture in the house, and what's more there were two friends,
two fine English heroes, who had been expecting Amd and who made him
welcome when he arrived. Oh! and didn't Mam'zelle Fleurette think that
these Englishmen were the finest and bravest men that ever lived? As
for their chief who was known amongst them as the Scarlet Pimpernel
(le mouron rouge, M'sieur Amd called it), he surely was more like
one of the mythological gods rather than a mere mortal.

M'sieur Amd seemed very anxious to know what Mam'zelle Fleurette
thought about all these marvellous adventures, but how could she tell
him, how could she talk at all when every time she raised her blue
eyes to him, he broke off in the midst of a most exciting narrative in
order to ask her in a voice vibrating with passion: "Tu m'aimes
Fleurette?"



Chapter 39

Chauvelin, after he had seen Fleurette safely carried away in her
lover's arms, sat for awhile in the dark interior of the coach,
starting into the gloom, his folded hands clasped between his knees.
His thoughts were in such a whirl that it almost seemed as if he were
unconscious. He certainly was insentient; he neither saw, nor heard,
nor felt anything save the joy of knowing that his Fleurette was safe.
It was only a few minutes--fifteen perhaps--later that a pleasant
laugh broke in on his riotous thoughts, and that he became aware of a
tall figure sitting beside him in the coach.

"You see, my dear M. Chambertin," the voice which he dreaded most in
all the world said suddenly in his ear, "I would not forgo the
pleasure of bidding you au revoir."

Chauvelin half turned to his enemy, the man whom he had so
persistently wronged, so persistently pursued with hatred and with
spite. Through the gloom he could just see the outline of the massive
figure, wrapped in a dark, caped coat, and of the proud head so nobly
held above the firm, somewhat stiff neck.

Did all that this man stood for in the way of heroism and
selflessness, strike a chord of shame in the heart of this callous,
revolutionary tyrant? Why shall say? Certain it is that for the moment
Chauvelin felt awed, and sat there in the gloom, silent, motionless,
staring into the black vacancy. But after a second or two his lips
uttered mechanically the name that was uppermost in his mind:

"Fleurette?"

"She is under my care," Blakeney said slowly. "To-morrow at break of
day she and her sweetheart will set sail for England with some of my
friends. There she will be under the care of the noblest woman in the
world, Lady Blakeney, who will take her revenge on you for all the
wrong you did her, by lavishing the treasures of her sympathy upon
your child."

"Then Fleurette will be happy?" Chauvelin murmured involuntarily.

"Happy, yes! she will soon forget."

"Then I am ready, Sir Percy."

"Ready? For what?"

"My life is at your service. My enemies are waiting for me over in
Orange. You have but to send me back thither and your own vengeance
will be complete."

For a second or two after that there was silence in the old post-
chaise; only Chauvelin's laboured breathing broke the utter stillness
of the gloom. Until suddenly a pleasant, mocking laugh struck upon his
ear.

"Egad man, you are priceless," quoth Sir Percy gaily. "You must indeed
credit me with a total lack of the saving grace, if you think it would
amuse me to hand you over to your genial friends over in Orange."

"But I am at your mercy, sir."

"As I and my beloved wife have been once or twice, eh? Well! I am
hitting back now. That's all."

"Hitting back?" Chauvelin exclaimed. "You have the power now. I admit
it. I am in your hands. My life is at your command."

"La man!" Sir Percy retorted lightly, "what should I do with your
worthless life? For the moment all I want is to make that sweet child
up there completely happy by telling her that you are safe and well.
After that you may go to the devil for aught I care. You probably
will."

"Then," Chauvelin murmured aghast, "you grant me my life, you---"

"I am sending you back safely as far as Nimes. What happens to you
after that I neither know nor care. You have tried to do me such an
infinity of wrong at different times, you still hate me so cordially,
you---"

He paused for a moment with firm lips tightly pressed together and
slender hand clutched upon his knee.

"You are right there, Sir Percy," Chauvelin murmured between his
teeth. "God knows how I still hate you, even after this. You have the
power to hit back. Why the devil don't you do it?"

Whereupon Sir Percy threw back his head and his merry, infectious
laugh woke the slumbering echoes of the sleepy little town.

"La, man," he said, "you're astonishing. Can't you see that this is my
way of hitting back?"


THE END





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