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Title: In the Rue Monge
Author: Emmuska Orczy
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Language: English
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In the Rue Monge
Emmuska Orczy



I

The Professor swung himself round on the high stool on which he was
sitting, and blinked tired, watery eyes at his interlocutor.

"You were saying, milor'?" he asked in his shaky, high-pitched voice.

And the other resumed with exemplary patience:

"I was trying to explain to you, my friend, that no one is safe these
days, and that at any moment one of those devils on the Committee of
Public Safety might set your name down on the list of the suspects.
Now, I promised your daughter over in England that my friends and I
would look after you; but even without such a promise. . ."

He paused, for obviously the little man was not really listening. He
had begun by trying to be attentive, by trying to understand the
import of what his friend was saying; but his attention was already
wandering and his pale, tired eyes were turned longingly in the
direction of his test-tubes, his microscopes and other scientific
paraphernalia which littered his table. Now, when his friend ceased
speaking, he again tried to appear interested.

"Yes, yes, my daughter!" he murmured vaguely. "Pretty girl, she was.
Married that nice man Tessan; a prosperous farmer he was. They were on
their honeymoon in England when this awful revolution fell upon us
here. Lucky for them! They were never able to return to France."

He continued to ramble on in this vague, inconsequent way; his friend
listened to him with undivided attention. They were such a strange
contrast, these two: the powerfully-built Englishman, dressed simply
but with scrupulous care, a man with finely-moulded hands and lazy,
grey eyes that had at times marvellous flashes in them of enthusiasm
and command--a leader of men, obviously, a fearless sportsman and
daring adventurer--and his learned friend, a man with wizened body and
spine prematurely bent, with noble, thoughtful forehead and timid,
quivering mouth. A worse-assorted pair could not easily be found. But
they were friends, nevertheless. It was a friendship based on mutual
respect, even though there was on the one side a strong element of
protective affection and on the other a timid, almost childlike trust.

"I would like to go to England with you some day, milor'," the
professor went on with a yearning little sigh. "I believe I could do
great things in England. I could meet your famous Jenner and show him
some of my own experiments in the field of vaccine. These are not
altogether to be despised," he added, with a quaint chuckle of self-
satisfaction. "And, believe me, my friend, this Revolutionary
government is not made up of asses. They have a certain respect for
science, especially for the curative sciences; they know that sickness
stalks abroad in spite of all their decrees and their talk of a
millennium, and they are not likely to molest those of us who work for
the better health conditions of the people."

The Englishman said nothing for a moment or two. He regarded his
ingenuous little friend with a kindly, gently-mocking glance. At last
he said:

"You really believe that, do you, my good Rollin?"

"Yes, yes, I believe it. I had the assurance lately of no less a
personage than the great Couthon, Robespierre's bosom friend, that the
Committee of Public Safety will never touch me while I carry on such
important experiments."

"You could carry them on so much better in England, my friend. The
sense of safety would add zest to your work and you would spare your
daughter who loves you a cruel anxiety."

"Ah, yes, yes," Rollin murmured in a somewhat querulous tone. "Poor
little Marguerite! She was such a pretty girl! But I will come with
you, milor'! Be sure that I will come Only, just now--you understand--
I have this great work in hand--a work that would even interest the
great Jenner. Therefore," he added, with a bashful little smile, "I
will even ask you, milor', to excuse me. The light is growing dim, and
I ."

The Englishman rose, smothering a half-impatient sigh.

"You want me to go?"

"No, on no!" the other hastened to add. "Only, the daylight is--"

"More precious in this case than life," the other broke in, with his
engaging smile.

He stood up in the narrow, bare room, a giant in height and strength,
looking down with that kindly, all-understanding glance of his on this
tiny, wizened form of his friend.

"Do you know," he said lightly, "that I could pick you up now and
carry you in my waistcoat pocket straight to your daughter's arms?"

For the first time a look of terror crept into the Professor's eyes.

"You would not do that, my friend," he ejaculated fervently; "not
until my experiments--"

"Nothing to do with your experiments, my good Rollin," the Englishman
replied. He went to the window and stood for a few seconds looking
down on the street below. Then he beckoned to the little man, who,
compelled somewhat against his will, stepped down from his high stool,
very much like a lean, long-legged stork getting off its perch. The
Englishman was pointing to a group of men in the street and Rollin
obediently looked down, too. The men wore tattered military tunics and
ragged breeches. Their bare feet were thrust into shoes stuffed up
with straw; they wore the regulation caps adorned with soiled tri-
colour cockades. Two or three of them were leaning against the wall of
the house opposite, the others stood desultorily about.

"They are always there," the little Professor remarked. "That is
because Citoyen Couthon lives next door. He is a great man, is Citoyen
Couthon, and these men are, I think, his bodyguard."

"Perhaps," the Englishman remarked drily. "But, anyway, they would
search my waistcoat pocket if they saw it bulging with you in it."

He gave a light laugh and then a sigh. Obviously there was nothing
more to be said. The old scientist was like a bewildered rabbit,
anxious to get back to its burrow. But there was astonishing courage
in that feeble body with a quiet philosophy which so gallant a
sportsman as Sir Percy Blakeney could not fail to admire.

With a final hasty good-bye he left Professor Rollin to his tubes and
retorts, and with a quick, firm step made his way out of the
laboratory and then down several flights of stairs to a dark and
disused cellar situated in the basement of the house.

The house itself was one of those vast tenements, which for the past
century and more had sprung up all over Paris. It had its inevitable
square courtyard, with a well in the centre and rows of iron balconies
overlooking it from every floor. Hundreds of lodgers in various stages
of poverty, mostly abject, dwelt in the tenements. Families of three
or four, or sometimes as many as seven, were herded in single rooms.
At each of the four angles of the courtyard there was a staircase,
dark, dank and unspeakably dirty, since it was no one's business to
keep them clean.

It was out of this rabbit warren that, an hour or two later, there
stepped into the street an ugly, misshapen creature in ragged shirt
and tattered breeches, wearing a knitted cap over a mop of unkempt and
mouse-coloured hair. He hobbled along on one leg and a wooden stump,
which he banged against the stairs as he came up from the basement
where were situated the most squalid of all the apartments, some of
them little more than unlit, unventilated cellars.

The group of men whom Professor Rollin had described as Couthon's
bodyguard scarcely glance at him. Their attention appeared to be
mostly taken up with a window on one of the upper floors, through
which could be perceived the wizened figure of Professor Rollin, busy
with his test-tubes and microscope.

II

The commissariat of police of the English Section was a low, narrow
building sandwiched between a couple of taller houses in the narrow,
ill-lit Rue Monge. It was not one of the busy commissariats of the
city, because, being situated in so poor and squalid a quarter, there
was not a great number of bourgeois and aristocrats to be hauled up
before the commissary in the course of the day. True that once or
twice proscribed aristos ahd been discovered lurking perdu in one of
other of the tenement houses where only the poor congregate but, on
the whole, the citizen commissary, by name Bossut, had mostly to deal
with malefactors, night birds and suchlike, not bad enough to send to
the guillotine, and thus obtain commendation for his zeal, or even
promotion such as came in the way of colleagues who were able to make
successful hauls of suspects and traitors.

Indeed, the citizen commissary felt distinctly depressed on this
evening. He had sent a couple of pilferers to gaol, three young
ruffians to the whipping-post and arrested a stupid old man named
Rollin, who styled himself professor and spent his time playing about
with glass tubes and instruments and all sorts of poisonous
concoctions. A harmless fool enough, but Bossut happened to catch a
rumour that this Rollin had a daughter married to an emigr--a rich
man, seemingly, who had lived all these years in luxury in England,
the arch-enemy of France. Now a man who had a son-in-law of that type
was clearly a traitor himself and Bossut, in ordering the arrest of
the Professor, had vague hopes that something out of the common would
come of it--a sensational trial, perhaps, that would bring in its
train that commendation from his superiors, or even that promotion
which was the dream of the obscure commissary.

But, alas, nothing so far had come of this arrest. Of course, the old
fool would be sent to the guillotine--that was a foregone conclusion--
but strive as he might, Bossut could not discover anything in the
Professor's dossier that would turn his trial into a sensation.

It was hard luck. And now that the lamp was lighted and sent its
black, sooty smoke up to the ceiling, without shedding much light into
the room, Citizen Bossut felt that there was nothing else to do but to
drown his melancholy in a bottle of wine, the best that could be got
these hard times. He was just beginning to feel comfortably drowsy,
and sat stretched out in a rickety armchair in front of the iron
stove, toasting his legs, when his lieutenant, Citizen Grisar, came to
announce that a man, who wouldn't give his name, desired to speak with
the citizen commissary.

"What does he want?" the latter asked between two prodigious yawns.

"He wouldn't say, citizen," the lieutenant replied.

"Then tell him to go to the devil!"

"Yes, citizen."

Grisar slouched out of the room and the worthy commissary once more
tried to compose himself to sleep; but the next moment he was rudely
brought to his feet by the sound of loud altercation, much shouting
and swearing, and finally by the door of his own sanctum being
violently thrown open and a raucous voice shouting hoarsely:

"Ah a! What kind of a sacr aristo is the citizen commissary, that
honest patriots are denied access to his grandeur?"

An ugly, misshapen creature stood in the doorway, still hurling
anathemas over his shoulder at the unfortunate Grisar, whom he had
sent sprawling across the room with a vigorous play of his elbow. Now
he hobbled forward on one leg and a wooden stump, with which he banged
the floor until it shivered and shook, as without further ceremony he
entered the inner sanctum of Citizen Commissary Bossut.

Grisar had in the meanwhile sufficiently recovered his balance to call
for assistance from the men on duty, when the newcomer once more
raised his raucous voice. But this time he neither sore nor stormed.
His ugly face became distorted with an ugly leer; he put a grimy
finger up to his very red nose and winked--yes, winked at the
commissary himself.

"Do not let those fellows touch me, citizen," he said, "for, if you
do, you'll never know what I have come here on purpose to tell you.
And," he added, with another knowing wink, "there'll never be another
chance of promotion for you as long as you live."

The word promotion acted like magic on Bossut's temper. It was the
very breath of life to him: he thought of it all day, he dreamed of it
by night. He ordered Grisar and the men out of the room, sat down at
his desk, and demanded curtly:

"Well, what is it?"

These being the glorious days of fraternity and equality, the
miserable caitiff was not going to allow any commissary to order him
about. First, he made himself at home; sat down opposite the
commissary; poured out a glass of wine, which he drank down at a gulp.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, leaving a wide, sooty
streak right across his nose and chin. Finally, he disposed his wooden
leg as comfortably as he could, then only was he prepared to speak.

Bossut smothered his wrath, resolved not to lose his temper with a man
who had used the magic word, promotion.

"You see, citizen commissary," the man began at last, "it's like this.
The Committees have their spies, as you know, and I am one of them.
But they are hard task-masters, worse than any tyrant, and you may
take it from me that, all in good time, they will be sent to the
guillotine. Every one of them--Danton, Hbert, Robespierre--they'll
all go presently because--"

"Yes, yes! Never mind about that," the commissary broke in
impatiently. "My time is short. Get on with what you have to say."

"All right, all right! I'm coming to it. What I wanted to say was that
the Committees demand a lot of work and pay very little for it. I have
often brought them information worth the weight of a man's head in
gold. You think they would have given me something extra for my pains.
Raised my wages. Not a bit of it! I am sick of them. Sick, I tell you.
And, what's more, I told them--I told citizen Chauvelin--"

"No wonder that he wouldn't listen to you, my man, you talk too much,"
Bossut put in, in exasperation.

"He would have liked to know, though, what I alone can tell him about
the English spy, the Scarlet Pimpernel."

"What?"

Bossut had jumped to his feet. In a moment his excitement was at fever
point. The English spy! The Scarlet Pimpernel! There was no ambitious
height to which a man could not reach if he helped in the capture of
that poisonous enemy of the Republic.

The cripple contemplated him with a leer upon his ugly face, while
Bossut paced up and down the room in order work off his agitation. At
last he sat down again, put his elbows on the desk and gazed with
concentrated attention on the misshapen creature before him.

"Tell me!" he commanded.

But the other only grinned.

"What'll you pay me for the information?" he asked.

"One half of the reward offered for the capture of the English spy--if
I get him."

The caitiff nodded.

"Put that down in writing, citizen commissary," he said, "and the spy
is yours. My name's Goujon," he went on--"Amd Goujon, in the service
of the Committees. Put it down in writing, citizen commissary, that
you will give me one half of the reward offered for the capture of the
Scarlet Pimpernel."

While Bossut, with a hand that shook visibly, put the promise down in
writing, signed it and strewed sand over it, the cripple continued to
mutter under his breath:

"It'll want pluck. The Englishman is powerful--a giant, what? And
cunning! Sacr nom, but he has slipped through Citizen Chauvelin's
fingers more than once--just like an eel. Here to-day, gone to-morrow.
But there's one man knows just where and how he can be found."

"Tell me!" Bossut commanded.

"Over a bottle of wine, comrade," Goujon declared with a loud guffaw.
"Dash it, my friend, my throat is dry. How can I speak?"

Bossut sore, but he went to his locker, produced a fresh bottle of
wine with a second mug, and set the wine on the table.

"Now then," he said peremptorily.

"That old fool in the Rue des Pipots," Goujon said in a hoarse
whisper, leaning his grimy arms on the table and eagerly watching the
commissary as he filled the two mugs with wine, "he who plays about
with glass tubes and instruments, eh?"

"Rollin?"

"That's the man."

"But how do you know that Rollin-"

Bossut was so agitated that he could hardly speak.

"I have seen the old fool standing at his window in conversation with
the Englishman," Goujon asserted. "Have him arrested, I tell you."

"But I've got him," Bossut exclaimed. "He is in La Roche since this
morning."

"Send for him, then," the cripple retorted laconically. "Make him tell
you. He knows."

The order was at once given. Grisar and two men were dispatched to the
prison of La Roche, not very far distant, with orders to bring along
the prisoner, Rollin. Bossut by now was in a state bordering on
frenzy, pacing up and down the room like a feline waiting for its
food. Goujon, on the other hand, appeared entirely serene. His
misshapen body was sprawling on a rickety chair which threatened to
break down with every movement of his ungainly body; his wooden leg
was stretched out in front of him and he was snorting like a winded
nag while he read through, most carefully, the precious paper which
the commissary had given him. Satisfied that it was duly dated and
signed, he folded it and slipped it into the pocket of his tattered
coat, after which he gave himself over to the delight of finishing the
commissary's excellent bottle of red wine. He smacked his lips in
token of great apprecation.

"Ah!" he said. "It is not often a poor man gets such good wine these
days."

Half-an-hour later, Grisar and a couple of men returned with Professor
Rollin, who looked more like a scared rabbit than ever. Bossut had
resumed his seat behind the desk and Goujon was sprawling between the
desk and the prisoner.

"Now then, citizen," the commissary began in his most official tone,
"as I told you this morning, you are accused of trafficking with the
enemy, notably with your daughter, who is the wife of a traitor and an
migr to boot. What is your answer to that charge?"

"Marguerite," the old man murmured vaguely, blinking his eyes, "my
daughter. Yes--a pretty girl But she is not here--and I do not write
letters--"

"That is as it may be," the commissary retorted. "But I also happen to
know that you traffic not only with an migr over in England but with
the most poisonous enemy of our glorious Revolution, the English spy
who is known to our patriotic committees as the Scarlet Pimpernel."

Professor Rollin looked completely bewildered this time. He murmured
"Ah," and then again "Ah," and gazed at the commissary over his horn-
rimmed spectacles.

"Tell him," Bossut commanded, turning to the crippled loon--"tell him
what you saw, Citizen Goujon."

Goujon had drunk a good deal of wine; his speech by now was not very
clear.

"I said," he mumbled, "that I saw this old scarecrow at his window in
the Rue des Pipots, in conversation with an Englishman who, I say, is
none other than that accursed spy who is known as the Scarlet
Pimpernel."

"What have you to say to that?" the commissary demanded.

The little Professor had nothing very enlightening to say. He had
never heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel and, if he had been seen in
conversation with an Englishman, well, that was as it may be. But he
certainly didn't know where that Englishman was now. Whereupon Goujon
mumbled: "My belief is that if you searched the old scarecrow's nest
you would find that cursed spy hidden among the glass tubes."

"No, no!" the Professor hastened to assert. "I assure you, citizen
commissary, that you wouldn't find anybody in my laboratory. And--
and--I have most valuable instruments there for my experiments. No one
must be allowed to touch them--"

"There, now!" Goujon exclaimed triumphantly. "What did I tell you? On
the face of it the old fool is lying, as I myself saw the Englishman
go into the house in the Rue des Pipots, just before I came on here."

"Why in the devil's name did you not tell me that before?" Bossut
exclaimed, bringing a heavy fist crashing down upon the table and
nearly upsetting the precious bottle of red wine.

"I did," Goujon asserted imperturbably, "but you were so excited, you
did not listen."

The commissary had once more jumped to his feet.

"Citizen Grisar," he demanded, "how many men have we on duty here?"

"Half-a-dozen, citizen."

"Very well. Let these two here remain with the prisoner, and you take
the others with you to Number Seventeen, Rue des Pipots, where you
were this morning. Search the house through and through. Every
apartment, every room, you understand? Make every man, woman and child
inside the house show you his card of citizenship, failing which,
bring them along here. And do not forget that not only for me, your
superior, but for you all there will be a handsome reward if you lay
hands on the English spy."

Grisar was keen enough. Indeed, he was only one of many corporals of
the National Guard who had seen visions of promotion and good money
for the capture of the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel. The two men who
had been ordered to remain on guard over the old scarecrow looked
glum, for they were longing to join in the chase. Grisar, on the other
hand, had already assembled his small squad and soon they were heard
to leave the dingy little building, and their measured tread rang out
on the cobblestones of the Rue Monge.

Bossut, who was making vigorous efforts to control his excitement and
thus preserving a semblance of dignity before his underlings, resumed
his seat and made pretence to busy himself with some papers. From time
to time he threw a glance on the prisoner, who stood with long lean
hands crossed before him and watery eyes blinking behind his
spectacles, his thoughts obviously detached from his surroundings. The
two men of the National Guard stood one on each side of him, stolid
and unperturbed. Bossut, whose nerves were exacerbated by the constant
shifting of their feet upon the creaking floor, curtly ordered the
three of them to sit down.

"One more glass, citizen commissary," the cripple said jovially. He
had filled the two mugs and drained the bottle of wine to its last
drop. Bossut drank, then sat down again to his papers. The air in the
narrow room had become overwhelmingly close, with the iron stove
roaring and the ceiling lamp sending forth its puffs of evil-smelling
odours. Above Bossut's head a white-faced clock ticked with
exasperating monotony. But little noise came from outside, only the
furtive footsteps of belated passers-by. These were days when it was
not good to be abroad after dark. The streets were ill-lighted and
Government spies lurked round every corner, stalking likely prey; and
one never knew, any chance word lightly uttered might mean summary
arrest, with its inevitable awful consequences.

Thus silence and the stuffy atmosphere were equally oppressive.
Bossut, despite his excitement, was feeling drowsy. He had great
difficulty in keeping his eyes open and his head erect. Now and then
he looked up at the clock and then sighed wearily. The cripple was
frankly snoring and even the men guarding the prisoner nodded from
time to time. Nothing happened, and the minutes passed by leaden-
footed. At one moment there was loud noise of altercation in the
street. Raucous voices shouting and swearing. Bossut ordered the two
soldiers to go and see what it was.

When they returned a few moments later they reported that two street
rowdies had come to blows just outside the commissariat, but had
already taken to their heels. The commissary himself had, during their
short absence, fallen half asleep. They found him still sitting at his
desk, but with his head buried in his outstretched arms. He raised his
head wearily when the men entered, and cast a bleary glance heavy with
sleep upon them. He asked them a question or two in a thick, halting
voice, and the next moment his head once more fell on his outstretched
arms. Goujon was snoring. Still unperturbed and stolid, the men sat
down again on the wooden bench, each side of the prisoner. Indeed, the
latter was the only man here who appeared wide awake and alert. His
spectacles had slipped down his nose and from over them his pale,
watery eyes wandered from one face to the other with a kind of
vaguely-scared expression.

And all at once it seemed as if a tornado had burst into the room for,
with a crash of broken glass, the lamp was suddenly extinguished.
There was a bang and a groan, and then a call: "A moi!" followed by
quick, light footsteps hurrying into the room from outside. The
soldiers had jumped to their feet, grasping their muskets. But the
place was now in pitch darkness and, before the two of them could even
in a small measure collect their senses together, heavy cloths were
thrown over their heads and wound tightly over their mouths and eyes.
The muskets were taken out of their hands, their arms were tied behind
their backs and their legs pinioned with cords to the wooden bench on
which they were forced to sit down--all in the space of three minutes.
Through the cloth over their heads they heard muffled sounds of words
they did not understand, but which one of them afterwards declared was
English. Then there was more tramping of feet, and finally silence.
The men could not move. They could hardly breathe. Soon they lost
consciousness.

When, an hour or so later, Grisar and his small squad returned from
their long and fruitless errand, after they had scoured the house in
the Rue des Pipots from attic to cellar and found no trace of any
English spy, they were appalled at the sight which met their gaze. To
begin with, the two rooms of the commissariat were in complete
darkness. That was astonishing enough, and a light was soon struck.
But it was the sight of the commissary's inner sanctum that was so
appalling. The commissary himself was sprawling across his desk in an
obvious state of collapse. To the wooden bench facing the desk the two
soldiers of the National Guard, comrades of Grisar, were securely tied
with ropes, their heads muffled in clothes, their hands tied behind
their backs. Bits of glass littered the desk and the floor, a chair
was overturned, and the ceiling lamp hung crooked from a single chain,
the others being broken. But the strangest sight of all was that a
wooden stump, such as were used by indigent cripples who had lost a
leg, was lying on the floor, with its leather straps cut, and in a
confused mass of rags and cloth of every description.

What in the world had happened? Grisar set his men to free their
comrades, to get them water and wine and generally to try to restore
them to consciousness, while he himself busied himself with the person
of his chief. After a time, all three came to, but when questioned,
not one of them knew exactly what had happened. Bossut was not yet
free of his drugged sleep, during which, apparently, he had been hit
violently on the head, which ached furiously. He knew nothing save
that a cripple named Goujon had visited him and had induced him to
send his subordinate and a small squad to search a certain house in
the Rue des Pipots, where the prisoner, Rollin, was supposed to have
held converse with the noted English spy known as the Scarlet
Pimpernel. By the way, where in the devil's name was the prisoner,
Rollin? Bossut remembered seeing him sitting quietly on the wooden
bench between the guard, and giving no trouble. He also remembered the
guard leaving the premises in order to ascertain what the noise of an
altercation in the street was about. But after that, complete oblivion
clouded his brain. Nor could the soldiers give any more lucid
explanation of the mysterious affair. One or two facts that certainly
were strange they did recall, namely, that after they had been out in
the street and seen the street rowdies take to their heels, they had
noticed that the light in the room was very dim and that the citizen
commissary seemed to be in an extraordinary state of somnolence. The
breaking of the lamp and the attack made on them in the dark had been
so sudden that their impression of it all was of the vaguest.

The matter had to be left at that for the moment. All six men who had
more or less suffered through the affair remained convinced that the
English spy was in one manner or other responsible for it. Although,
as he and his henchmen were known to be real aristos of imposing mien
and luxuriously dressed, it was difficult to determine what rle the
crippled caitiff, Goujon, played in the drama, and why he had been so
cruelly deprived of his wooden leg.

Since neither the English spies nor the prisoner, Rollin, were
possessed of identity papers, it would be impossible for them to leave
Paris, and their recapture was only a matter of time.

III

It was some three of four days later that the guard at the north-west
gate challenged a carrier who, in addition to two passengers, had
three large crates under the hood of his cart. The crates were
labelled "candles" and the bill of lading which the carrier presented
declared the goods to have been manufactured by the firm of Turandot,
of Paris. The passports and identity of the three men appeared to be
in perfect order, signed and countersigned by the Commissary of the
section and the chief commissary of the district, but as Citizen
Lebrun had been specially warned--along with the guard of every gate
in Paris--to be on the look-out for three fugitives of enemy
nationality and an escaped prisoner named Rollin, all of whom would
presumably be armed with forged passports, he had for the past three
days been more than usually careful in examining all identity papers
presented to him. Although the carrier and his two companions appeared
harmless enough, he was none the less careful this time. He took their
papers from them and ordered the three men to alight. Moreover, the
ordered the three crates to be taken down from the cart and opened so
that he might satisfy himself that no escaped prisoner was hidden
among the candles.

The carrier protested as vigorously as he dared. He and his two sons,
he declared, were honest citizens and would know how to avenge this
insult that was being put upon them. As for the candles, they were a
consignment which he had to deliver to a grocer at Meaux.

Lebrun, undaunted by threats, stood by with the papers in his hand,
superintending the opening of the crates, when there came riding from
the city a mounted squad of the National Guard, with an officer in
command. Lebrun was quite thankful to see them. The officer could but
commend him for his zeal and relieve him of ultimate responsibility.

The small squad drew rein and the officer, in response to Sergeant
Lebrun's salute, asked him the meaning of the empty cart, the broken
crates and the three wildly-gesticulating citizens.

"You have done well, citizen sergeant," the officer said as soon as
Lebrun had put him in possession of the facts, "and the authorities
shall hear of your zeal. Let's have a look at those papers," he went
on, "and also at this mysterious cart."

Lebrun handed him the papers and could not help noting that he frowned
in obvious doubt and suspicion while he scanned the signatures upon
them.

"You had better write out your report at once and I myself will take
it to the proper quarters. This is a very curious and a serious case
Silence!" he thundered, for the carrier and his two sons had again
begun to protest vigorously. "Citizen sergeant, have them taken into
the guardroom with you. I want to have a closer look at this
mysterious cart."

Lebrun then turned into the guardroom, taking the three civilians and
one or two of his men with him. The broken crates remained out in the
road, as did the cart, round which the mounted squad had now
assembled. The guard of the gate stood by at attention.

And suddenly there was a quick word of command, "En avant! Bride
abattue!" which means, "Hell for leather!" and the whole squad, led by
their officer, thundered past the bewildered guard through the gate
and up the country road which leads straight as an arrow to the north.

The noise had brought Sergeant Lebrun out of the guardroom. Half-a-
dozen excited and confused voices told him what had happened.

"They seemed to be examining the cart--"

"And then suddenly--"

"They were gone--"

"It was like a thunder-clap--

"And a flash of lightning--"

"Stay!" Lebrun thundered loudly through the din. "Was the gate open?"

"Why, yes, citizen sergeant," one of the men said. "It was opened at
nine o'clock, as usual. You were there when--"

"Did nothing happen just before they rode away?"

"Nothing, citizen sergeant. They were all round the cart and suddenly
they rode away."

"Well, I suppose," Lebrun said slowly, "that they had their orders."

He felt bewildered and was vaguely anxious. He had heard tales--but
no, no, of course it could not be!--tales of English spies--surely
they were old wives' tales!

"I suppose they really were troopers of the National Guard?" one of
the men suggested.

"Name of a dog!" remarked another. "I remember now--"

"What?" Lebrun demanded shakily.

"That one of the troopers had another riding pillion behind him."

"A smallish man," he added. "I didn't see his face, but he didn't look
at home in the saddle. I thought he was a recruit--or a deserter, may
be, poor devil. One often sees them these days. A youngster, probably,
for he was small and thin. And, anyway, it was not my place to ask
questions."

Lebrun by now was in a state of collapse. What the whole thing meant
he couldn't say; what he should do now was more bewildering still. It
took time before his men had reported at headquarters and a squad of
genuine National Guard got to horse and went in pursuit. But of the
other squad who had a smallish man with them riding pillion behind one
of the troopers there was no longer a trace upon the great north road
which runs straight to the sea.

Vatour, the carrier, and his two sons always declared that the episode
was a punishment on Sergeant Lebrun for the insult which he had put on
those three honest patriots.

As for professor Rollin, he never knew exactly what happened to him
after he found himself summarily lifted off the wooden bench in the
dingy room of the commissariat of police. For three days he had lived
in a dank and disused cellar, waited on by his English friend. Then
there were days when he was hoisted into a saddle and ordered to cling
to the rider in front of him, which he did with a strength born of
despair; days which he spent in the open, in forest or cavern; an
awful day when he was very seasick on an English ship; and finally
there was the happy day when he was delivered like a limp bundle of
goods into the arms of his loving daughter in London. Bruised in body,
but not in spirit, he returned with zest to his experiments, and, I
believe it to be a fact that in due time he had a personal interview
with the great Jenner himself.



THE END



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