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Title: In The Shadow of the Guillotine Author: Rafael Sabatini * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1400991h.html Language: English Date first posted: February 2014 Most recent update: February 2014 This eBook was produced by: Corrado Comini Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter I — Paris of
Chapter II — Chavalier de Seyrac
Chapter III — Before the Assembly
Chapter IV — A Note from Citizen Danton
Chapter V — De Seyrac's Base Ingratitude
Chapter VI — Through the Barrier
ANGÈLE made her way briskly through the by-streets of the section—the section called after Mucius Scaevola by those noisome patriots who dreamed of implanting the departed glories of old Rome on the bloody dunghill they had made of Paris.
She came out into the more spacious Rue Vaugirard and picked her way daintily through the unscavengered filth of it past the old seminary of St. Louis and the Luxembourg. The ancient and stately palace clanged and clattered now as if the forge of old Vulcan himself were at work within it.
To this she paid little heed, accustomed to it as she was, since she lived day and night within the radius of its unceasing and deafening activity.
It happened, however, that the wind was blowing from the south, so that the fumes of those four and fifty furnaces wherein cannon were being forged for the army of the republic swept, acrid and stifling, across the street. They caught her in the throat, set her coughing and impelled her to quicken her steps, so that she excited the mockery of a group of forgerons who lounged about the gate-posts.
They were brawny, shaggy men, unspeakably evil and savage of appearance, their bare and hairy arms and chests black with the grime of the forges, their garments foul, their matted heads crowned by the red bonnet of liberty. One, who pulled at a pipe, seeing her fastidious haste, deliberately blew a cloud of tobacco smoke in her face to increase her discomfort.
His apish fellows chuckled with malicious mirth. Sudden terror of them seemed to turn her feet to lead, and it was only by an effort of will that she held at unslackened pace upon her way.
Beyond that mischievous puff of smoke, however, they made no attempt to molest her. If they were patriots and looked savages, yet they were toilers. They were men who spent about the forges that were to give arms to the soldiers of France the energies of patriotism that many of their kind preferred to devote to the baiting of unfortunate men and women.
She hurried on, breathing more freely past the old stables of the Luxembourg, toward the Rue Pot de Fer.
She was young, of a good height, graceful of figure and carriage, and her face bore a stamp of nobility that in itself was a dangerous asset in Paris of Fructidor (in the calendar of the first French Republic, the last month) of the year 1 by the Jacobin calendar—or August of 1793 style esclave. Her dress was scrupulously simple, yet scrupulously neat, of a dark gray with a muslin fichu folded across the neck of the low-cut bodice and a muslin coif for head-dress; from which a heavy curl of bronze-colored hair escaped to lie upon her milk-white neck.
As if to counteract any impression of aristocracy that might be produced by her general air, she wore prominently displayed between her breasts an enormous tricolor cockade. She carried the daily ration of bread and meat doled out by the sections of that famine-threatened city in the napkin that the law required for the purpose—since the viragoes in their bestial fights for food were addicted to employing more substantial receptacles as weapons of offense to gain them an advantage of position in the waiting files.
She dreaded nothing in life so much as those daily visits to the baker and the butcher of the section; she dreaded insult in going, robbery and violence in returning: and such was her dread that on many a day she would keep the house and put her trust in some law-breaking accapareur who covertly hawked victuals in defiance of the convention's enactment, or else go hungry even, rather than venture forth to obtain the rations to which the law accorded her the right as a citizeness of Paris.
She was well-known in the section, this young wife of the stalwart soldier Vidal, just as it was known that her husband—a colonel, although barely thirty years of age, thanks to the rapidity of promotion possible in the army of the republic—was serving France in Holland with General Dumouriez.
But she built upon this fact no illusion or expectations of respect. Patriots, she knew, would brook no superiors. Their nightmare was the dread of militarism which by force of arms could, if it were so minded, set itself above them and hurl them back into that slavery from which they so fondly deluded themselves that they had escaped.
Hence a successful soldier was almost as much an object of suspicion as an aristocrat.
Realizing this she observed the greatest circumspection occupying a humble little house in the Rue Pot de Fer, where until lately she had had for companion a faithful old peasant woman named Leontine. But latterly Leontine had been ailing, and in the end she had been forced to leave Paris and return to the country.
Since then Angèle had been alone.
The republic had abolished servants—or at least it had abolished the term, for in reality the republic's enactments of this nature seldom went beyond the name by which a thing was called. It is true that domestic servants were still to be procured, but they were now called "officials," and for the most part they took the fullest advantage of this change in their designation.
In the main they were idle and insolent when they were not positively dangerous. To reprove them or dismiss them, no matter how richly they deserved it, was to run the risk of being denounced by them for incivisme; and to be denounced, however groundless might be the denunciation, however worthless the word of the denouncer, was to be half-way to the guillotine.
The republic was ready to believe all accused guilty until they established their innocence to the satisfaction of the Revolutionary Tribunal; and the Revolutionary Tribunal was as difficult to satisfy on the score of innocence as it was easy to convince on the score of guilt.
Realizing all this, Angèle had preferred not to fill the place left vacant by Leontine's withdrawal to the country.
She preferred to be alone in that modest little four-roomed dwelling—the home of some respectable artisan in prerevolutionary times. Its modesty in itself afforded her a certain security and a certain immunity from coming under the republic's ready suspicion.
But the loneliness of it was almost more than she could endure. And to this loneliness were added constant alarms and terrors. Letters from Vidal were few, and scanty when they came. It was not safe to write at length and the post was as disorganized as everything else.
But she bore it all with what fortitude she could, patiently waiting until Vidal should find an opportunity to come to her, and resolved that once he did so she would never consent to be left alone again in this nightmare city. Sooner would she go with him, following the army if that were permitted her.
She came at last to the Rue Pot de Fer. It was deserted, as all streets were deserted in those days when to linger out of doors was to attract the attention of the agents of the section.
She reached her own doorway, and there paused, suddenly taken aback, her heart flung into a wild gallop. She found the threshold occupied. Upon a bulging haversack deposited there sat a tall fellow in a military blue coat with white facings and the scarlet woolen epaulet of an officer—golden epaulets was another thing that the republic had abolished as aristocratically ostentatious.
White nankeens and Hessian boots encased his legs. His face was overshadowed by an enormous cocked hat decorated by the tricolor cockade.
But as she came to a standstill before him, he suddenly raised his head to confirm the identity that already she had apprehended. Then, with a cry joyously inarticulate, he leaped to his feet and caught her to him there in the open street, heedless of curious eyes that might find entertainment in the spectacle.
"Angèle, my little Angèle!" he murmured. "I have sat here for a full half hour, and I must have grown afraid of your absence but that a good neighbor here assured me that all was well with you, and that you had gone out but a little while before I came."
She lay against his breast, panting in the intensity of his joy, and finally, so immense was her relief, such a weight seemed lifted from her heart by his presence, that she began to weep.
"Oh, my dear, I am so thankful that you are come. You do not know how lonely I have been. Never leave me again! Ah, never leave me again, Jerome."
She clung to him, scarcely allowing herself to believe that he was really there, so unexpected was his coming, so miraculous in answer to her constant, silent prayer.
"Well, well, we will talk of it. Meanwhile, unless you propose to camp here in the street with me, let us in. Give me the key."
She surrendered it, willingly. Her hands trembled so that it is doubtful if, in the failing day, she could herself have unlocked the door. They went in together, his arm about her waist, his haversack on his shoulder, and his great saber clattering behind him. But since the crazy stairs were too narrow to permit the passage of more than one at a time, she was obliged to slip from his embracing arm that she might go on ahead of him.
Above in the single living-room that was plainly furnished to the point of meanness, but of scrupulous tidiness, eloquent of her wifely virtues, she set about reviving the fading embers of the fire, since the preparation of his supper was to be her first care. But when Vidal observed the slender allowance of bread and meat which she had obtained—the rations for one accorded her by the committee of the section—his rugged face grew overcast.
"Name of a name! Have you no more than this in the house? What? And how are two people to sup on it?"
"Not two, Jerome. It is all for you."
"Not a mouthful of it. These rations are your own, and meager in all conscience. They would leave a hungry sparrow with an appetite. Faith! Is food so scarce as this in Paris?"
"There are ways—illegal ways—of obtaining more. There is an accapareuse who comes this way each evening with eggs and butter and such provender. We must listen for her."
And she set the window wide that they might hear the hawker when she came. Then for a while she was busy with a stew-pot of baked earth, and only when this was set at last to simmer upon the reviving fire, only then, when provision had been made for Vidal's immediate comfort, did she turn to question him upon his coming.
"I am on mission, as the citizen-representatives say when they visit the army. General Dumouriez has charged me with two duties. The first is to collect the reenforcements that are urgently required in Holland and to conduct them back with me to the army.
"That will keep me here, perhaps, a week, The second is to lay an indictment before the National Assembly against a fraudulent dog of a contractor, who has been lining his pockets with the public money to the detriment of the soldiers of France. That I shall discharge to-morrow."
"And when you return to Holland, Jerome, you will not leave me here again?"
"Would you go with me, little one?" He took her by the shoulders and held her at arm's length before him, considering her with fond eyes in the failing light.
"I must, Jerome. I cannot remain here in this loneliness and terror.
"Poor child!" He drew her to him again and stroked her cheek. "It shall be as you wish. There is no difficulty save that you will find it a constantly moving, vagabonding life."
"Yet I shall know that I am near you, and I shall see you sometimes."
"Very well. If it is your wish, it is also mine; indeed, it is I who shall be the greater gainer."
He kissed her, and she broke from him, laughing. It seemed to her worthwhile to have endured so much for the sake of the happiness which this reunion afforded her.
While bending over the fire she stirred the contents of the stew-pot, he stalked to the open window and looked out.
"Pardi!" he swore. "The stench and noise of those forges at the Luxembourg make the place unbearable."
"That is the least of the things I have had to bear," she answered. Then suddenly she drew herself up, alert and listening, "There!" she cried.
Above the clang and clatter of the cannon-makers came a shrill voice:
"Linges et dentelles! Linges et dentelles!"
She opened a drawer and took from it a little roll of assignats, the paper-money of the republic. "That is the accapareuse," she informed him, and sped to the door.
"But she is crying 'Linen and lace!'" he exclaimed.
"Perforce! She would soon find herself at the conciergerie if she cried eggs and butter," laughed Angèle, departing.
She ran down-stairs, opened the door below, and from the threshold silently beckoned the woman, who was approaching down the street, carrying a long pannier balanced on her head. The hawker set down her basket on the doorstep.
It revealed a quantity of coarse linen and coarser lace. But she knew Angèle for a customer, and they passed to the real business without any of the usual dissimulation necessary between strangers. Under the thin layer of napery the precious contraband lay snug; there were eggs, a package of butter, even a couple of chickens today, by great good fortune, and some small loaves of newly baked bread.
Angèle's purchases were extensive. There was to be no republican carème that night. They would feast in honor of Jerome's return. A chicken, a half-dozen eggs, a package of butter, and a couple of the loaves were transferred to the ample napkin she had brought down with her.
The thing was done covertly—well within the porch, where they were secure from prying eyes, particularly since dusk was now deepening, the time preferred for this illicit trade.
Angèle tendered an assignat for ten francs. The woman paused first to rearrange her basket. Then, in the very act of taking the note with one hand, while with the other she was beginning to fumble for change, she suddenly paused, her ears straining to listen.
A sound had reached them both—a sudden savage muttering near at hand, no farther off than St. Sulplice, rising suddenly to a note that dominated the unceasing noise of the forges, which had masked it hitherto.
The accapareuse added to the treason of her illicit trade a still graver one of displaying adherence to a religion that was another of the institutions the republic had decreed out of existence. With the hand that should have been seeking the change she crossed herself hurriedly in her panic, and her lips mumbled a prayer to the Virgin.
Angèle stood tensely listening to that ominous hubbub, thanking Heaven that Vidal was with her.
She knew that baying of the mob too well. Of all the hideous sounds of terror-ridden Paris, it was the only one that had power to quicken her pulses with panic. She never heard it but she was assailed by a sense of choking and nausea, her mental vision tormented by the picture of a youth whose screams she had heard blending with it one night in the Rue Pot de Fer, when those human wolves dragged him to his doom—hanged him from one of the lantern cords.
The accapareuse hurriedly refused the assignat. "Keep it, citoyenne," she muttered. "You will pay me to-morrow, or next time I come this way. I dare not stay now to find the change."
But Angèle put the note into the others hand. "Do you keep it," she said; "You will owe me the change. Don't waste time."
The woman thrust her assignat into her bosom and snatched up her pannier. What imported was that she should go.
"Mon Dieu!" she panted. "If they should find me and discover what I carry, they would tear me to pieces!" She swung the pannier to her head again. "It is a dangerous trade, this, citoyenne. But we poor folk must do what we can. God guard you!" And without waiting further she made off quickly in the direction of the Luxembourg.
Meanwhile the raucous chorus was rapidly approaching the other corner of the street, coming from the direction of St. Sulpice:
"Ah, ça ira, ça ira, ça ira!
Les aristocrat' à la lanterne.
Ah, ça ira, ça ira, ça ira!
Les aristocrat' on les pendrà."
In the very act of turning to seek refuge within doors, Angèle paused.
But it was not the roar of that song, so frivolous and gay in tune, so dread and pitiless in meaning, that arrested her. Nearer at hand, her ears had caught a sound of pattering steps; and even as her conjecture was accounting for them, a panting figure flung across her threshold, hurtling against her violently that she must have fallen had she not clutched for support at the framework of the open door.
If that violent contact scared her, it scared the intruder no less. He shrank back with a quick gasp of terror. Then, seeing that he had to do with a woman, he flung himself instantly upon her mercy.
"Citoyenne, of your pity, of your charity!" he gasped, and held out hands in supplication. "Let me pass in; let me hide; at least let me crouch here until they have gone by! Take pity on me, in the name or the Piteous Mother of us all!"
Thus he pleaded, pitifully reduced and shaken by the terror that possessed him, while she, in a terror scarcely less than his own, stood there eying him, her ears straining at the sounds of the pursuit that came ever nearer.
She beheld a slim, tall figure of a man whom she supposed young, for his face was too deeply in shadow to be clearly seen. He wore white nankeens and Hessian boots and a long, biscuit-colored riding-coat. He was without hat, and his clubbed hair was in some disarray, long strands of it tumbled about his face, which gleamed lividly under its varnish of terror-sweat.
"They are coming," he whispered fearfully—so fearfully that his whisper almost sounded like a scream to her straining senses, and brought back to her mind a vision of that youth they had hanged from the lantern rope under her very window.
They were coming, indeed. They had seen him vanish round the corner of the Rue Pot de Fer, and they followed tumultuously, hot upon the scent. Thus the hoarse, obscene voices and the clatter of their clogs upon the cobbles rolled toward the doorway that sheltered the fugitives and Citoyenne Vidal.
"Dieu de misericorde!" he cried, "Will you see me massacred here at your feet! Pity, madame; pity!"
She half turned and flung an arm toward the door behind her, which she had pushed open.
"Allez!" she said in a whisper. "Quickly! Wait for me inside." And then, practical even in her terror: "Here!—Take this!" she bade him; and she handed him the napkin containing the provisions whose purchase accounted for her presence there.
He waited for no more, but, snatching the package from her hand, flashed through the black gap of the doorway, and so vanished, Softly she closed the door again after he had passed, and then, with a calm that almost surprised her, she turned on the threshold and leaned forward to look out.
At that moment the foremost of the pursuing pack came abreast of her doorway. Their pace had slackened a little, like that of hounds at fault, and they were questing this way and that. There would be close upon a score of them, and of these fully a third were women, the foul and unsexed viragoes of the Terror; a couple of urchins—weedy, half-starved, half-naked children of the kennels—hung upon the skirts of the pack, eager for such bloody entertainment as might be here toward.
At sight of the Citoyenne Vidal the faltering rabble came to a halt. The leader, a frowzy, bearded ruffian with a fur cap—such as gentlemen had been wont to wear when traveling—merged into his matted, unkempt brown hair, thrust an evil face into her own.
"Which way did he go?" he demanded fiercely, his blood-injected eyes intent upon her white face.
"Of whom do you speak, citizen?" she counter-questioned. "Whom are you seeking?"
"Of whom do I speak?" he echoed, mimicking her. "By St. Guillotine, here are pretty graces!"
But another, more impatient, shouldered him aside—"We are after an aristo who gave us the slip near the foire."
"Aye," shrieked a woman, flinging up a lean, bare arm to brandish a butcher's knife, "a dog of an aristo with powdered hair—powdered hair!" she screamed. "The good-for-nothing scatters flour of wheat upon his filthy head, while good patriots go hungry upon peas bread!"
"We'll give him flour of wheat, old mother," promised the first patriot. "We'll bake his wig for bread for the poor—dog of an aristo."
"First catch him." quoth the second, who was of a more practical mind. "Into what hole has he thrust himself?" And he swung again to Angèle, standing like a statue in her doorway. "Did you see him, or did you not?" he demanded. "He must have come this way. We saw him turn the corner, and he could not have gone out at the other end before we came round ourselves. You saw him, then?"
"I have but this moment arrived to see what was happening," she answered. "If he passed, he must have passed before I came."
There was a general growl of fury and disappointment. The maenad with the knife edged nearer to the doorway, and her fierce, hungry eyes considered the trim figure and white face of the Citoyenne Vidal with the hatred of her kind for any who preserved a trace of the grace and gentleness natural to her sex.
"You'll not be shielding him by any chance?" she shrilled with unutterable malice, "You'll not be an aristocrat yourself, perhaps, with your white face and white hands and mincing speech?" She turned to the others, and flung out the hand with the knife to point indictment to Angèle.
"She is lying to you, I say! Look at her! Does she look like a patriot? Does she look like a daughter of France—of this glorious new France that has risen upon the ashes of tyranny and vice?"
The crowd paused to obey her injunction, and the pause was ominous. Cheated of one prey, these sans culottes beheld here the chance to console themselves, to slake their awakened blood-lust upon another. And this woman looked soft and fair; she had the unpardonable, the anti-republican attributes of comeliness and cleanliness; and, failing the originally intended victim, it might be good to immolate her upon the altar of the nation.
Angèle, standing there, felt a cold, paralyzing fear creep over her at that ominous, pregnant silence, under the score of eyes that were turned to scan her at that fury's bidding.
She would have turned and fled into the house but that she seemed bereft of strength. Surely, she thought, Vidal would hear and come to her assistance. Then, in the crowd, a hoarse voice laughed, It belonged to a patriot, who, being still young and of a nature susceptible to feminine appeal, was moved quite differently from his fellows by this woman's beauty.
He thrust rudely forward, shouldering the maenad aside. "Bah!" he laughed contemptuously in her face. "Tu n'est qu'une femme! You are but a woman, and you have all a woman's inconsequence. Or perhaps you want to save that dog of an aristocrat who dusts his head with flour robbed from the bread of the poor."
"I?" she screamed at him. "I save an aristocrat? Do you say this to me? To me, who in September at La Force slit the throats of a round dozen of them? I say that she is a traitress, that she has given shelter to the dog we were pursuing, that she—"
"What is this?"
The voice that flung that question, sharp and metallic as a word of command, cut short the virago's tirade and stilled the noisy surge about that threshold. A patriot standing too near Angèle was cuffed aside, another was flung back into the arms of those behind him, and Vidal stepped forward, his trailing saber clanking after him. He took his stand beside Angèle, who greeted his advent with no more than a little gasp of relief.
"What's this?" he asked again, more sharply and truculently than before, eyes blazing upon the rabble.
The virago was the first to recover. She bared her yellow fangs in a leer of malice.
"What is it to you? Are you some aristocratic squire of dames, citizen-soldier?" And she laughed on a horrible shrill note "St. Guillotine!"
"It is something to me that you insult my wife—the wife of a soldier of France. Be off, or the committee of the section shall deal with you."
His firm air of authority, his uniform, the tricolor scarf about his waist, his height, and obvious strength imposed themselves upon the mob.
The maenad, however, was less easily daunted than her fellows. She brandished her knife under the colonel's very nose, treating him to the revolutionary cant that was common alike to scavenger and deputy. She reminded him that all were equals, and that he must not suppose that his officer's rank gave him any superiority other than a purely official one concerned solely with his regiment.
She poured out the tale of the aristocrat with the powdered head whom they had pursued and lost, and accused Angèle of having given him shelter.
"Bah!" he said. "A lie!"
"Ask her!" she screamed. "Ask her!"
But Vidal was as well stocked with revolutionary cant as any, and it was in that language that he chose to answer her.
"What need to ask her?—Was I not within? Do I not know for myself that no aristocrat has entered here? Besides, shall I insult my wife with such a question?"
His voice was fierce and impatient.
"Can any dream that while on the frontiers I am shedding my blood for liberty in battle against the tyrants, my wife could be capable of befriending enemies of liberty here in Paris? Then such a one knows neither Vidal nor Vidal's wife—Vidal's wife, who has more cause to hate aristocrats than any woman of you all. Were she capable of such a treason, these, my own hands, would crush the life from her; they would so, by the Goddess of Reason!"
That was the tone to take with them. Those were the well-worn phrases, ringing with a pseudo-classic nobility, in which the revolutionary doctrines had been preached to them. They were dominated at once, awed almost by this fervor of republicanism which dwarfed their own.
He turned to Angèle. "Go in," he bade her. "I will follow you."
Obediently she turned and left him there to give them their dismissal, none daring to protest at her departure.
At the foot of the stairs she leaned a moment against the wall to recover, shaken and trembling in the reaction from her late effort, her hands on her bosom, a sickness in her very soul. She peered into the gloom about her, looking for the fugitive, and then, crouching by the stairs, his face alone faintly discernible and gleaming ghostly white, she discovered him, and understood how Vidal, descending in haste, had overlooked him.
"Go up!" she whispered, and he came instantly forward and obeyed.
Beyond the half-closed door she could hear Vidal's voice, but not the words he uttered. Then came a laugh from the rabble, and at the sound of it she shuddered, and, clutching the baluster, she followed the fugitive up the crazy staircase, groping her way, for here the darkness was now almost complete.
HE paused on the landing until she came up to usher him into the living-room, where the fire, burning brightly now, warmly irradiated the deepening twilight.
She waved him to a chair, and he sank to it exhausted, mopping his brow. Then she crossed to the window and closed the shutters as a measure of precaution before proceeding to kindle a light.
As she struck flint with steel he spoke at last, sufficiently recovered.
"Mademoiselle, how shall I thank you?"
Though still breathing hard his voice was pleasantly modulated, and it reminded her of some one's, but she could not at the moment think whose.
"There is not the need to attempt it, citizen. I did but what any woman must do who has remained a woman amid all this. And I am not a demoiselle, citizen."
"Your pardon, madame." He rose that he might pay her the deference of not remaining seated while she stood, now that he was sufficiently recovered.
"Nor yet a dame," she corrected him again.
"Again your pardon, citoyenne," he said, understanding at last. "I had conceived since you gave me shelter."
"That I could not be a Republican, You were mistaken. I am the wife of a soldier of France."
She saw his courtly bow in the half light. She disliked it, and disliked still more the courtly formal speech that jarred upon her by its insincerity.
"Your husband, citoyenne, is lo be envied and congratulated."
Without answering she lighted the candles, then crossed to the hearth and gave her attention to the stew-pot.
"They have not yet gone, citoyenne?" he said, and there was a note of interrogation in the question.
"They will," she answered. "You have nothing more to fear." Then with a change of subject: "I gave you a napkin with some things in it."
"It is here upon the table, citoyenne."
She turned to look, saw the package, and from that shifted her glance to the face of the fugitive. Thus she and her guest stood eye to eye a moment in the yellow candle-light, each staring wide-eyed at the other in utter silence. At last both spoke at once.
"You!" she exclaimed,
"Angèle!" he cried.
And upon that they continued to stand at gaze, silent once more in their mutual stupefaction. She knew now what it was that had seemed so oddly familiar in his languorous tones. The sight of him now turned back the wheel of time.
He was scarcely changed from the youth of twenty who had persecuted her ten years ago, when she was a child of seventeen. In memory, as she continued to stare at him, she was back again at Beauvaloir in Normandy where this Chevalier de Seyrac had been almost as lord of life and death, a wolf who would have devoured her remorselessly, had not Vidal intervened and fled thence with her beyond the reach of the vengeance provoked in the seigneur by the frustration of his will.
Ten years ago, and deep though its impression had been upon her mind, significant though the event had been beyond any other in her life, yet in the storm and stress of the last luster, with the gigantic upheaval it had brought—an upheaval in which Vidal and his wife had played their part—that affair of ten years ago which had altered the whole current of her life and of Vidal's had faded into vaguest shadow, had lain almost forgotten until this poignant moment.
"You!" she said again after that long pause, and laughed to express her apprehension of the irony of fate which had contrived this meeting thus after all these years and under circumstances so grotesquely different from those which had marked their last parting.
In those departed days he had been the pursuer, the persecutor; she the fugitive who had fled for protection to the honest bourgeois she loved. Now it was he who was the fugitive, the persecuted, and it was to her of all living women that he was come for shelter and protection.
That laugh of hers, so discordant and sharp, touched by something of the mockery which she found in fate, grated upon senses that peril had rendered superacute. He moved uneasily, and his glance from one of amazement changed to one of a furtive watchfulness.
"You'll—you'll not betray me?" he faltered. "You'll not take vengeance upon me for the sin of having loved you, Angèle—for it was love that drove me—"
"Another word of this," she interrupted, her voice soaring in swift passion, "and I'll throw back the shutters and call up your friends below." She measured him with an eye of cold disdain. "I hold you in my power, Monsieur le Chevalier, as you sought to hold me once. If you would have me more generous, more merciful than you would have proved yourself, do not provoke my memory too far."
He cowered a little for a moment before that royal anger; then he shrugged and let his arms fall heavily in a gesture of helplessness.
At that moment the door below closed with a bang. A rattle of clogs upon the cobbles came up from the street, and then they heard the rabble break into chorus once more, indicating that the hunt was resumed.
"Ah, ça ira, ça ira, ça ira!
Les aristocrat' on les pendra!"
The voices receded, and faded, or rather became merged and lost in the ceaseless roar of the Luxembourg forges.
He sighed in infinite relief. "They have gone at last." he said. Then looked at her again, pausing an instant, "Since I am plainly unwelcome here, it but remains for me to thank you for what you have done for—an unknown man, and to depart in my turn." Again he paused, but again she made him no answer. He inclined his head slightly, like one who bows to the inevitable.
"Citoyenne." he said, "you know what may await me in the streets. I am not a coward. The mere instinct of self-preservation prompted my flight just now. But had flight failed me I could have died without bringing shame to the name I bear. I am as one in articulo mortis, perhaps. You'll understand my desire to make my peace with those I may have wronged in deed or in intention, I should go more easily were I assured of your forgiveness for what is past."
It touched her, of course. It melted all the hostility of her mood. And then before she could offer him any answer the door opened and Vidal stood at gaze upon the threshold.
Seyrac recoiled before that sudden and unexpected apparition, recognizing the man on the instant inevitably by association. Then he recovered and stood, faintly smiling, faintly scornful, a deadly weariness in his handsome eves.
"From Charybdis into Scylla," he said, almost cynically. "What matter? I am tired of it all, tired of the perpetual effort to keep a distracted head upon my shoulders."
Vidal advanced. He looked at Angèle with eyes of faint astonishment.
"So it was true, then?" he said, and laughed shortly at the memory of his vaporings to the rabble.
"As you see," she answered quietly. "But I did not then know who it was that I was sheltering."
"Who it was that you were sheltering?" Vidal echoed, clearly intrigued.
With puzzled eyes he looked again at the fugitive; looked at him more closely now, and at last recognition dawned upon his rugged face. He took up a candle from the table, and held it aloft so that its light might strike the other's features more directly. Then he made an odd grunting sound in his throat, and set the candle down again.
"Ha! God does not sleep. Chevalier de Seyrac," he said grimly.
The chevalier shrugged. All doors of escape being, as he conceived, now closed to him, he faced his doom with the proud indifference of his class.
"I imagined that the republic had contradicted that rumor," said he, sneering.
"But you afford me proof, I think, that it is none the less true," returned Vidal. "Do you know of any reason why I should not discharge the debt between us?"
"None, indeed," replied Seyrac, his tone indifferent to the point of being contemptuous.
"It but remains then, Angèle, to fling this pretty Christian to the lions."
"Jerome!" She clutched his arm, her face white.
"What now? Name of a name! You are not going to suggest that I should show him mercy?"
"The past is past. After all, he did no real harm. He was thwarted in the evil he intended. Let us show ourselves more merciful, Jerome, Let him go his ways in peace."
He glared at her. "Let him go?" he echoed, mocking. "Let him escape that he may play the wolf again! Surely that was never intended by the destiny that brought him to this of all houses in Paris." He flung her off, almost roughly. "He was guided hither that he might meet the reckoning long due. The will of fate is all too plain."
He considered Seyrac.
"What memories you revive in me!" he said, smiling bitterly. "I mind me of a stormy day in March—in Germinal, by the calendar of Liberty—ten years ago, when she and I fled from Beauvaloir pursued by your bullies. How would it have fared had they overtaken me? How would it have fared with her? Would you have spared us? Yet she bids me spare you!"
He laughed short and bitterly.
"That was in Germinal—Germinal, the month of the sowing. And this is Fructidor—the month of fruition and of the garnering. There is a humor in the Jacobin calendar most apt to your situation. As you sowed them, so shall you garner now."
"Anything to save me from your speechmaking," was the dry answer, and Seyrac bowed ironically.
Vidal swung round toward the window, but Angèle again barred his way.
"Ah no, Jerome! Reflect!" Her voice trembled with something akin to terror. "I have a superstition. Such pitilessness will bring us ill-fortune, Let him go, in Heaven's name! It is the nobler vengeance! What is he to us? Less than nothing. Spare him, Jerome! If you love me, do my will in this."
He looked at her, obviously shaken in his purpose.
"If I love you," he said softly, tenderly. "Why, since you ask it, so be it. After all, as you say, he is less than nothing." He turned to Seyrac "Citizen, your way is clear. You may depart."
"I thank you for the clemency," he said, but it was at Angèle that he looked. He bowed, advanced a step in the direction of the door, and on that step he suddenly faltered, staggered, and collapsed upon the floor.
Taken by surprise, Vidal stared at his wife. "What is to do now?" he asked.
She knelt beside the unconscious man, and set an arm about his shoulders so as to raise his head. Feeling a moisture upon her hand, she withdrew it suddenly.
"He is wounded!" she cried.
The access of weakness that had flung the chevalier into that swoon was no more than momentary. Even as Angèle spoke, he opened his eyes again—black pools in the ghastly pallor of his face.
For a moment they looked dull and dead; then gradually they quickened into that bewildered look of inquiry, betraying the ignorance of his surroundings which is inevitably the immediate sequel to unconsciousness. But when his vague glance fell upon Angèle, who was still supporting his head, he awakened fully.
"My regrets," he excused himself. "It grieves me to incommode you, but—" He smiled wanly.
Vidal went down upon knee beside him. "Let us look at your wound, citizen-chevalier."
"Tush! It is nothing. One of those dogs flung a knife after me as I was rounding the corner. It is a mere scratch, and I have paid no heed to it. I must have fainted from sheer weakness. I have not eaten since yesterday morning."
Now, in reality, Vidal was of a kindly and generous nature, and this glimpse of Seyrac's desperately reduced condition stirred in him a pity which eclipsed much of the memory of what the past had left between them. It scarcely needed the ready pleadings of Angèle to move him into playing the good Samaritan to his sometime enemy.
Between them, Vidal and his wife assisted the chevalier to his feet and supported him to a chair. Vidal laid bare the man's wounded shoulder, and Angèle herself bathed and tended the wound, which was in reality as slight as Seyrac himself had said.
Next Angèle made haste to prepare a meal, and very soon there was a steaming, odorous omelet before the fugitive. He fell to at once, and not all his dainty breeding could restrain him from eating ravenously. And he drank as greedily as he ate.
Vidal plied him with a rough, red wine of a fiery quality that in happier days the chevalier would have accounted sheer poison. But misfortune and privation had humbled at least his physical arrogance. He drank until the bottle was done, relishing that vitriolic fluid with a proper thankfulness.
Even as he was the first to begin his supper, so was he the last to finish. It was with a little sigh of utter satisfaction that he sank back into his chair, warmed and heartened by his food and exalted a little by the wine.
The friendliness toward him evoked by pity in his host and hostess set him completely at his ease.
"A man," he said, "is the creature of his own stomach. That is the whole philosophy of life. A half-hour ago I was weary of lurking and hiding to preserve a life that had grown empty simply because emptiness was my physical condition. I was ready to go and yield myself up to that canaille simply that I might make an end.
"But having eaten and drunk, I am as one born again. Revitalized, I desire, above all things, almost at any price, to prolong my life. By that, citoyenne, and you, colonel, may measure the depth of my gratitude."
They questioned him as to what he did in Paris.
"I came on a fool's errand," he informed them. "I have planned to cross to England. A friend in Nantes will help me to that whenever I say the word. Then, so that I should not go destitute in a foreign country, I came back to pay a visit to my hotel in the hope of recovering certain deeds and some jewels that were stored there.
"I might have known the futility of such a quest.
"Of course the mob had been through the place before me, and what the mob had left your friends of the convention had raked into the storehouse of the nation. I have had my journey for nothing, just as it is possible that you have but wasted kindness upon me, and that the trouble you took to revive me is just so much trouble thrown away.
"It is almost impossible that I should ever get out of Paris again with my head on my shoulders."
He fell into a gloomy abstraction again.
"When all is said," he resumed presently "I was a fool to have fled before that rabble this evening. The mere animal instinct of self-preservation conquered my reason for the time. I see now how much better it would have been to have quietly surrendered and let them finish me."
In kindness, as in all else, it is only the first steps that are difficult.
Once those are taken it is not easy to turn back. Angèle was moved to still greater depths of pity for the fugitive. His resigned despondency—and, who knows, perhaps also his good looks, for he was a handsome man, bearing upon him the stamp of distinction pursuant from his high breeding—completely effaced all that was past, and so stirred her compassion that she longed now to complete his rescue. She turned to Vidal.
"Can you not help him, Jerome?" she asked. "Is there no way you could smuggle him out of Paris?"
"I?" quoth Vidal, staring.
"No, no," said Seyrac. "You ask too much of him, citoyenne. Whatever I may be to-day, in my youth I was guilty of follies and worse, and in the course of those I would have wronged you both. It is not human to return good for evil."
"But it is Christian," said Angèle.
The chevalier smiled wearily, "Christian! Ah! But then the republic, you see, has proscribed Christianity. No, no; you are asking Colonel Vidal to do more than lies in his nature to perform—perhaps more than it lies in my nature to accept."
There was compassion now on Vidal's rugged honest face. "Whether it lies in your nature to accept it, citizen, it lies in mine to offer you a way out," he said. "One of my tasks here in Paris is to marshal the reenforcements for the army of General Dumouriez. Recruits are urgently wanted, and the rawest of material will go with me to the frontier when I leave Paris a week hence.
"Do you see the door I open for you?
"Recruit, citizen-chevalier. Come to me, and I will enroll you, and no questions asked. Once we have you in a blue coat, you will be immune from every peril. You march out of Paris in my ranks, and once outside it I can readily send you upon some special trumped-up mission that will give you an opportunity to desert and make your way to your friends in Nantes."
Angèle was warm and eager in her approval of the plan. As for Seyrac, he could only stare at the soldier, a great wonder in his somber eyes.
"You would do this for me?" he said at length, He had risen, and stood leaning across the table.
"If it lies in your nature to accept it," said Vidal, with faint irony.
"Citizen-colonel, you take a nobler vengeance. I have no words in which to—"
"No words are needed. For to-night you had best remain here. We have no bed to offer you, for our quarters, as you see, are limited. But if the floor and a rug will serve your turn, you will at least be secure, and you may sleep in peace. To-morrow, then, we turn you into soldier of the republic; one and indivisible!"
Seyrac sat down, and whether from emotion alone, or because he was physically reduced, he took his head in his hands and fell to weeping.
SOON after noon on the following day Vidal presented himself at the Tuileries on the business with which his general had charged him, and there he fell into the grave error of not only answering idle questions concerning the affair that had brought him to Paris, bur, further, of answering them truthfully.
Had he but used discreetness none would have known of it until he had delivered himself at the bar of the assembly to the representatives of the nation.
If St. Just had then resented the matter—as he must have done—at least he could have had no personal grievance against Vidal. He must have aimed all his resentment at General Dumouriez himself, passing over Vidal, who would have remained but the unconscious instrument of his superior officer.
By his talkativeness, however, the colonel brought himself into direct conflict with St. Just, and so thrust himself neck-deep into the peril that threatened to overwhelm and destroy him.
It was in the hall of the palace on that gusty day of Fructidor that the twain came into conflict. Vidal had swaggered up the steps with great click of spurs and rattle of trailing saber; he had taken a greasy usher by the shoulder in a grip that made the rascal squirm, and in that clarion voice of his he had announced himself.
"Go tell the representatives of the nation that Colonel Vidal, of the Army of Holland, has come to lay a plaint from General Dumouriez before that august assembly."
The hall was thronged with the usual mob of idlers and men of affairs; red-bonneted patriots of a truly patriotic uncleanliness lounged, smoking foul pipes; black-coated men of law flitted hither and thither in the quest for, or execution of, business; here and there a citizen-representative would be the center of a little crowd of clamant republicans of both sexes: blue-coated members of the national guard, a few soldiers, a plentiful sprinkling of spies and sectional agents, came and went or moved about the hall, passing from group to group.
But at the sound of Vidal's brazen voice a silence fell, as sudden as it was general, and the soldier found himself the focus of every eye.
It did not discompose him in the least. He had looked on war and death, and was not to be put out of countenance by the stare of a crowd of ragamuffins. Moreover, he was conscious that he was a fine figure of a man, some inches taller than the tallest present, and he was still young enough at thirty to be vain of his appearance and to relish attention to it.
He loosed his grip on the usher, who departed to carry his message, and stood there staring back over his tall, white stock, the least suspicion of haughtiness upon that rugged, not unhandsome face of his, and of rakishness about the angle at which he had set his enormous cocked hat.
A Captain of the national guard detached himself from a group of which he had formed a part.
"Why, Vidal, mon colonel!" he exclaimed, advancing, "You fall from heaven."
Vidal glowered down at him. "Most apt," said he, "I am an avenging angel."
Now, that was a promising preface, and many drew quietly near in the hope that there might be more to follow that would fulfil this promise.
Duchatel, the captain of the national guard, questioned our colonel in exclamations, and Vidal saw no reason for secrecy upon a matter that soon must be the common talk of Paris.
"A filthy dog of a shopkeeper has been fattening upon the blood of French soldiers,"—said he, "I am come to administer a pinch of snuff that will make him sneeze his head into the national basket."
The image was novel, and it was couched in truly patriotic vein. One or two guffaws applauded it.
A patriot in a cockaded red bonnet and garments that were unutterably foul removed a long-stemmed pipe from between his teeth and spat deliberately upon the gown of a lawyer that no doubt seemed to him too spruce for a good republican.
"Pig!" said the lawyer fiercely.
"Brother," replied the patriot, unruffled; "if you get in my way, such things must happen."
And he turned bloodshot eyes upon Vidal, clamoring in a hoarse voice to know the name and precise crime of the unutterable rogue concerned in the indictment.
Vidal complied without hesitation. As a soldier he was naturally filled with indignation by the crime he came to denounce, and he cared not how soon all the world were possessed of the infamous details.
"The traitor of whom I speak is a government contractor, paid by the nation to supply the army with boots. In his foul greed of wealth this unspeakable dog has sent us boots that are made more of paper than of leather, with the consequence that the soldiers of France go barefooted, and so, many a hundred lives have been lost—lives valuable to France in her hour of stress—sacrificed that this thief may enrich himself."
A murmur of indignation spread. "Name! Name!" clamored several.
Belatedly Vidal grew prudent. "I reserve his name for the citizen-representatives," said he; and as they pressed more closely about him, he set his elbows to his sides, exerted his great strength, and made a space clear about him. "St. Guillotine!" he roared. "Give me air."
Came the usher with the announcement that the assembly was in debate. The citizen-president desired Colonel Vidal to wait, holding himself in readiness. He should be informed when the national convention permitted him to be heard.
And then, before he could reply, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to confront a slender fellow with a white, freckled face and sneering mouth. He was bareheaded, and his hair was red as the coat of a fox. In dress, such was the scrupulous care bestowed upon it, he might have been an aristocrat.
"A word with you, Colonel Vidal," he said quietly, the sneering curl of his mouth becoming more pronounced.
"As many as you please," said Vidal, "though I know not who the devil you may be."
"My name is St. Just," the man replied. "I am the most obscure and insignificant of the representatives of the august people."
The description of himself was entirely superfluous. His name would have been enough for any man; it was more than enough for Vidal, who had been warned against him by Dumouriez, warned that St. Just was a friend of the fraudulent contractor Vidal was sent to denounce.
The soldier perceived that he had been indiscreet. But the perception left him undismayed and unruffled.
"I am listening," he invited the other.
"This way," said the representative, motioning him to step aside,
Vidal shrugged, almost contemptuously—he disliked this foxy-looking fellow with his foppish blue coat, his lacquered boots, and his immaculate buckskins that fitted him without a wrinkle. Nevertheless he obeyed the command of those hard, pale eyes and that white hand so languidly waved.
The crowd made way with alacrity, St. Just was credited with the most bloodthirsty nature, the bitterest tongue, and the fiercest eloquence in the assembly.
There was something of the wolf under that foxy exterior, and he was more feared, perhaps, than any man his day. It was notorious, too, that he stood high in the favor of the incorruptible Robespierre, that in matters of policy the twain had but one voice.
He drew Vidal apart, and paced with him near the door across the lozenge of sunlight that gleamed brightly one moment to be obscured the next as the gusty August wind drive its regiment of cloud-packs across the face of the sun.
"You were speaking of Lemoine, I think," said St. Just, softly.
"The readiness of your guess in itself confirms my accusation," was the uncompromising answer.
It staggered the deputy for a moment. He raised his eyebrows.
"You reason like a soldier, which is to say that you do not reason at all. Since Lemoine is the only contractor in the last three months who had been charged by the government with the supply of footgear to the army it inevitably follows that your accusation must be aimed at him." He paused a moment, and those inhumanely cold eyes scanned the face of the stalwart soldier, "Tell me, Colonel Vidal, is this accusation the only business that has brought you from the army?"
"It is the chief business?"
"What is the other?"
"My general is anxious to receive the reenforcernents promised him. I am charged to conduct the new levies back to Holland with me."
"Will you take a word of advice from me, colonel?"
"That," said Vidal, "will depend upon its nature."
"Turn your entire attention to what you deem—quite unjustly—the lesser part of your task. Obtain the assembly's sanction to conduct the recruits to the army. As for the affair of Lemoine and the boots—leave it alone. You can do no good by—"
Vidal impatiently broke in. "You are speaking to a soldier, citizen." he said, half angrily. "I have received orders from my general, and none but my general may relieve me of them. Do you realize that were I to do as you are suggesting, Dumouriez could have me shot for disobedience?"
"I will see to that," St Just assured him. "I speak not only with my own voice, but with that of the citizen Robespierre himself. You shall have complete immunity from any consequence of your omission, or rather, of your compliance with my—request."
Vidal stood still and squarely faced the representative, "Will you tell me what affair this may be of yours?" he asked so truculently that a faint flush showed in the other's pale cheeks.
"I am concerned with the interests of the nation," replied St. Just, and he made it plain that he kept his patience with difficulty under this opposition. "I am convinced that the best interests of the nation would not be served by your denunciation."
"That is not my affair." said Vidal, stubbornly disliking this fellow more and more. "My affair is to obey orders, I am an instrument; no more."
St. Just set his teeth, "You are receiving orders now," he said. "The army of France—your general himself, are subject to the representatives of the people—the sovereign people of France."
"Permit me to observe, citizen, that you are not the representatives of the sovereign people. You are only one of the representatives. The others are inside there.
"And my business is with them in collective assembly, not with any single member of them who obviously is endeavoring to serve ends of his own behind their backs. Aye, you may glare at me, ci-devant Chevalier de St. Just, who began life by rifling your own father's money-box. You're a thief, my friend, and the friend of thieves, as witness your concern for Lemoine."
"Citizen-soldier," said St. Just between his teeth. He was livid and his eyes blazed with fury. "You insult me!
"It is you who insult me by supposing that I am of your own dishonest kidney."
"Crédieu!" swore the representative. "You dog! A word from me can destroy you."
"Speak up," Vidal bade him now in a voice of thunder. "Let the people hear your threats that they may ask themselves whether we have returned to the days of Capet when any knave of a court flunky might threaten an honest nan. A word from you to destroy me! Bah!" he laughed.
"I should have something to say to that. I am a soldier, Cadedi. I have five wounds, all of them in front, made with clean steel. Do you think a stab in the back from the dirty tongue of a politician is going to trouble me?"
St. Just recoiled before the fierce vehemence of the man.
He was afraid. Not only physically afraid of Vidal, but far more afraid of the incendiary effect which his words might have upon the crowd. St Just knew well—none better—that the rabble was just so much anarchical tinder ready to be set in a blaze by the first fiery tongue that preached revolt against any authority whatsoever.
"Be silent, you fool!" he snarled.
The doors at the far end of the hall were thrown open at that moment. An usher's loud voice rang through the vast space.
"The Citizen-Colonel Vidal is awaited by the representatives of the august nation at the bar of the assembly."
"I come!" he trumpeted back, and half turned from St. Just. Then he paused, and considered the foxy fellow over his shoulder. "And when I have told the representatives I shall tell the people—all of it, my friend. They shall hear from me that St. Just the thief is the friend of thieves, and they shall draw their own inference from my tale. That is what you have earned by your attempt to pervert soldier's honesty. Much good may do you."
And he clanked off up the hall, his steps ringing through the silence that had fallen upon the crowd, stared at by the scared eyes of every man and woman present.
Beyond those double portals Vidal was detained for a moment by the usher, and when at last the small baize door leading into the chamber was opened, and he advanced to the bar of the assembly he found that St. Just was before him. Even as he stepped forward at one end, he beheld the deputy advancing with his graceful sauntering walk at the other to take his seat at the foot of the rostrum.
Thence St. Just's pale eyes met the soldier's with an air of contemptuous challenge, which even now might have deterred a man less bold. Vidal, however, calmly sent his glance sweeping round the silent multitude of representatives as he drew forth the notes with which he came provided.
He began by speaking of the glorious achievements of their fellow countrymen and the luster shed upon French arms in Holland, and went on, to urge the need of reenforcements against the mercenaries of foreign tyrants if the campaign were to be brought to a speedy and victorious close.
His martial figure and the ringing voice, addressing them as it might have commanded a squadron, made a profoundly favorable impression. Unconsciously he seemed to symbolize French military valor. To look at him was to gather a sense of confidence in the inevitable, ultimate prevailing of French arms.
He concluded that portion of his address with the information that he was deputed by his general to lead to the field of glory such recruits as might have been raised in Paris during the past month. Applause broke forth from the assembly, and found an echo in the gallery above, which was thronged with patriots of both sexes, many of them attracted thither by news of the scene between St Just and the soldier, and fully expecting it to be now succeeded by a scene of still greater intensity.
Vidal paused a moment. Then, fixing St. Just, he passed to the second part of his errand.
"So far, citizen representatives, I have spoken of French valor and French heroism, in which all Frenchmen may justifiably take pride. Alas, that I must abandon so inspiring and inspiriting a theme! But necessity demands that I speak to you now of French dishonesty. French chicanery, and French treachery. If we cannot avoid taking shame in this, at least we can remove that shame by punishing the deed that has evoked it."
He paused, and the expectant hush that followed was pierced by a short, thin laugh and the acid voice of St. Just, seeking to discredit the speaker by inviting contempt upon him.
"The citizen colonel is a maker of phrases!"
But no one heeded the sarcasm; not even Vidal, who now proceeded formally to lay his accusation against the contractor, Lemoine.
They heard him in utter silence to the end. When that was reached one or two deputies rose simultaneously in their places, each intending to make his way to the rostrum. But it was not for nothing that St. Just had taken his seat at the very foot of it. He anticipated the others, mounted the steps, claimed and was granted speech by the president.
But Vidal, clenching the bar with his great hand, threw back his head in rebellion at this interruption.
"Citizen president, I have not yet done," he roared. "Before you hear the citizen deputy St. Just I have yet to inform you of a sequel to this affair of Lemoine, from which you will gather that you may have to hear the citizen St. Just in a different sense."
"If the affair is to be discussed," said St. Just, dominating the assembly from the height of the tribune, impressing it by his sardonic calm, "it were well to take one thing at a time. And already we have one very grave statement that requires to be dealt with.
"What else the citizen colonel may have to add touching a matter which he says himself is but a sequel to that upon which you have heard him, must wait until we can find it expedient and convenient to hear him. You will uphold me, citizen president, in my suggestion that we proceed in order with our debates, and deal with matters singly as they arise."
"But—" began Vidal.
"Be silent, citizen colonel," the president commanded him.
Vidal shrugged, and leaned against the bar, content to await his turn,
St. Just dabbed his lips daintily with a flimsy handkerchief, and cleared his throat.
"We have heard a formidable accusation launched—" he began. "It is an accusation which if established against the person it incriminates will inevitably bring his head into the national basket. In the dark days of tyranny now overpast the lives of true men were ruthlessly sacrificed upon slight evidence. But in the new age of reason that has dawned upon France, in these glorious days of liberty and fraternity in which all men are equal in the eyes of the law, it would ill become us to form hasty judgments, or to—"
"Words, words!" bawled Vidal, interrupting the orator's harangue. And he flung back St. Just's own ungarbled gibe. "The citizen representative is a maker of phrases. But phrases are not wanted here. What are wanted are sound boots for French soldiers and the head of the man who—"
The president rose in wrath. "Will you be silent, citizen colonel?"
"How can I be silent while that fellow—"
Uproar followed to drown the remainder of his answer. The president clanged his bell and waved frantic arms to| restore order.
A thin man in black, with a very carefully tied wig and the face of a weasel rose in his seat, removing as he did so a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, through which he had been reading some notes. Order was instantly restored, and the assembly fell silent.
It was the citizen Robespierre, and Vidal, who knew the great deputy's reputation for incorruptibility, and in his innocence of politics nothing of Robespierre's attachment to St Just, conceived that now at last he would be heard upon the matter of the attempt to suborn him. But he was grievously disappointed.
"Now that the assembly has had an opportunity of hearing the citizen colonel, may not his attendance be dispensed with, citizen president, particularly as it tends to produce disorder?" And he sat down again.
The president—his puppet—instantly converted his suggestion into an order. A couple of men of the national guard who had been lounging by the baize door approached Vidal.
One of them touched him upon the shoulder. He raised his voice in protest. He would be heard. He had something to say that was of vital interest to all true patriots.
The disorder became general.
A section of the assembly—the Dantonists, the fearless, men of the mountain—clamored that the colonel should be heard; but the majority, faithful to the expressed will of Robespierre, demanded that the authority of the president should be respected. The people in the gallery joined in the dispute, some taking this side, some the other. In an instant the place was pandemonium.
But above the general din rang the trumpet voice of Vidal, who saw himself threatened with forcible eviction.
"Very well," he shouted. "I go! What I have to say can wait—But if you keep me waiting too long I shall go and say it to all Paris. If the representatives of the people will not hear me, the people themselves remain, and the people shall hear me."
He was gone at last, leaving that ringing threat behind him, and St. Just in the rostrum, waiting for silence to be restored and the gallery to be cleared, looked paler than his pale habit.
The debate that followed upon St. Just's speech when it was made proved a protracted one.
Vidal paced the hall outside for a full hour and more, heedless of the curiosity of which he was naturally enough the object. He burned with resentment and impatience, and he prepared the terrible phrases with which he would fulminate St. Just when at last he should be recalled to the bar of the assembly.
At long length a tap on the shoulder came to arouse him from his fierce absorption. A big man with a leonine head, plainly dressed to the extent of having discarded the fashionable cravat, slipped an arm through his own, and drew him down the hall toward the door that led to the open.
"My friend," he said, "you are too honest for this rascally world of ours in Paris. Will you be advised by me?"
Vidal scowled at him.
"What? Do you too offer me advice, Danton?" he asked.
The great man smiled tolerantly at this anticipatory resentment.
"You know that you can trust me, and I hope that you also know that I am the last man to urge a coward course upon any. But there is a point at which courage becomes madness, and whilst profiting none destroys him who displays it. That point you are reaching. You must avoid it, Vidal."
"Avoid it?" the soldier rebelled. "Let that dog St. Just dip his hands into the pockets of the people as he dipped them into his father's moneybox. Do you know that he came to me here to advise me, to attempt to suborn me into holding my tongue about the peculations of Lemoine?"
"I did not know. But the knowledge does not surprise he. He is all that, you say, and the truth shall be dragged into full daylight ere all is over. But you are not the man to do it. Not only will you fail in any attempt, but you will destroy yourself—irrevocably if you make it. St. Just is more formidable than a panther in its native jungle, and he had something of a panther's soft, sly ways."
"Maybe, But how can he hurt me?" quoth Vidal, more in scorn than question. "What accusation dare he lodge against me, how can he ever call me to account for what I may have said to him without submitting himself—"
But Danton interrupted, his great, solemn eyes upon the hot soldier's rugged face.
"Don't wait to ascertain what St Just can do. Accept my word for it that he can destroy you if he pleases, as easily as he would crack a flea."
He laughed shortly.
"My friend, if he finds that your speech can be hurtful to him he'll know how to procure your silence. You have threatened him. You have shown him that you can be dangerous to him, and men who are dangerous to St. Just usually ride down the Rue St. Honoré in a tumbrel to receive the attentions of the national barber."
"But I must first be tried," protested the trusting Vidal, "and I ask no better opportunity to be heard."
"You will be afforded no such opportunity. Tinville knows how to silence men whom it is not convenient to hear."
Stricken, Vidal stared at Danton, incredulous that such turpitude should have crept into a system which was to have been the purest the world had ever known. Had another than Danton told him these things he would not have believed them for a moment. But Danton's honesty he knew to be above suspicion.
"Leave this to me," the deputy pursued. "Leave it to me to obtain justice upon Lemoine. You can trust me. I have no interests to serve but the interests of France. And I shall not serve them thoroughly until I have pulled down this rascal St. Just, as pull him down I shall. You have put a weapon into my hand to-day, Vidal. Leave me to wield it."
"But my duty?" Vidal protested.
"You have discharged it honorably. The rest you can well leave to me, You will have to do so whether you choose or not, for from the temper into which St. Just's infernal tongue has molded the assembly you will not be given another occasion of addressing it.
"And since you have threatened that in such a case you will address the people themselves, I warn you plainly that if you linger now in Paris you may expect the worst. To that warning let me add a piece of advice—the advice of a sincere friend who wishes you well. Depart at once, this very day. Get back to Holland and the shelter of your bayonets, and stay there until St. Just has been disposed of, otherwise he will dispose of you."
But Vidal's stout heart was impermeable to fear. He resisted. He would remain. He would not be driven away with lambent tail by a red-headed fox like St Just. He was not to be browbeaten or intimidated. St. Just should reckon with him.
Dalton, however, was insistent, and gradually the wisdom of his words took effect upon the soldier, who knew and trusted him. But it was only the mention of Vidal's wife that finally conquered his reluctance to beating a retreat before so contemptible an enemy as he accounted St. Just.
"What of Angèle?" Danton asked him gloomily. "Would you leave her a widow?"
Vidal gasped. The picture of his sweet Angèle a widow, unprotected in this revolutionary welter proved irresistible.
"She wants to go with me when I return to Holland," he said slowly. "She is weary of Paris and her loneliness amid all the violence that is forever being wrought here."
"Set out with her to-day," said Danton solemnly. "Do it for her sake, if not for your own. And trust to me to see that vengeance overtakes St. Just and his thieving friend Lemoine."
Thus was Vidal gradually, reluctantly persuaded. "But my papers?" was his last protest. "They must be in order before I can set out, and if St. Just's attitude toward me is such as you represent, he will see to it that I—"
"Pish! I will provide you with a passport before St. Just can dream of your intentions to depart. And I can get the necessary signatures—Desmoulin's, Billaud's, and another's beside my own. Come, you shall have the thing at once, provided I have your promise that you will set out this very evening."
And to this in the end Vidal grudgingly consented.
THE Chevalier de Seyrac had spent the day pleasantly in Angèle's company.
It is the pessimist Schopenhauer who assures us that only pain is positive; that pleasure is an entirely negative condition consequent upon the absence of physical or mental affliction; that well-being is merely the absence of bodily ailments, and that happiness is no more that the freedom from mental distress. Whether there may be exceptions which the pessimist overlooked in his philosophy, Seyrac's case would come well within the rule, for never was there a happiness at once more complete and more negative.
He sat by the window throughout most of the forenoon, utterly idle, physically and mentally. And it was this secure idleness—which must in happier times have fretted him—that was in itself a source of supreme well-being to this man, who for days and nights had been hunted and afraid to sleep or rest.
The reaction from the horrors that had encompassed him was all his present happiness, and it was complete.
He was content to sit there, watching Angèle as she plied her needle. He talked a little, and in between his talks he would hum snatches of long-forgotten songs. The shadow of death in which so long he had moved, chilled and furtive, had been lifted from him.
Angèle had turned out the contents of Vidal's haversack. Among them she discovered a spare military coat, torn in the sleeve and the back, and she had set about repairing it at once.
Seyrac watched and admired the deftness of her fingers as they sent the needle flashing to and fro.
He observed the delicate whiteness of the hand, and he admired that, too, marveling at its fineness in one so humbly born. And from admiration of that member he passed on slowly to admiration of her whole person. He considered the almost austere beauty of her pale face with its dark, lustrous eyes shaded by long, curving lashes, and he sighed for the lost opportunity of years ago.
Fatuity had ever been Seyrac's besetting sin, and fatuity set him wondering now whether her pleading for him last night had been entirely dictated by womanly compassion.
He wondered whether a man of less compelling and pleasing personality than his own would, in like case, have evoked from her the prayers by which she stayed Vidal when he would have thrust him out and those by which she had prevailed upon Vidal to exert himself to save him. His vanity answered that question in the negative.
Thence he went on to wonder if she were really happy with Vidal. He found it inconceivable that so coarse a brute—it was in such terms that he thought of the republican soldier—could hold the affection of one so full of grace.
He contrasted himself with Vidal, and found that it was like comparing a mettlesome Arab jennet with one of those lumbering Flemish horses that daily dragged the tumbrels through the streets of Paris.
Last night, under the stress of his emotions, Seyrac had wept at once in gratitude for the present and in repentance for the past.
This morning he could almost find it in his heart to weep at the thought that he should not have made better use of his opportunities in that same past. He wasted the day in vain speculation and idle talk; hut toward evening he at last determined to plumb the depth of her feelings for Vidal.
"No doubt, citoyenne," he said, "you will be thankful to leave this city of nightmares and the republican Lent that prevails here."
"I shall, indeed," she agreed with him, without looking up.
"Ah! And yet, when all is said, the exchange, Heaven knows, is none so delectable! To follow an army, and in Holland—a damp, uncouth country, by all I hear—br-r!" He shivered as if, in imagination at least, he felt the chill of it.
"I shall be with my husband, citizen," she answered.
"Faith, yes! And if you consider that an adequate compensation, there is no more to be said."
She raised her eyes from her work and slowly regarded him. "I will beg you, citizen, not to jest upon such a subject."
"I were incapable of jesting upon it," he assured her solemnly. "After all, your husband will be with the army itself; you will he somewhere in the rear, seeing him infrequently, constantly moving your quarters, and finding them, for the most part, trying to one who is unaccustomed to hardships."
"I am not unaccustomed to them." she said quietly. "And if I am in the rear, at least I shall not be so far in the rear as here in Paris; and I do not believe that the alarms of a campaign can compare in horror with the constant alarm amid which I have lived here."
He felt that his plummet had failed to touch bottom. He was swinging it again, for a more audacious cast this time, when a step sounded on the stairs accompanied by the clank-clank of a saber striking the balusters.
"It is Jerome," she said, and, rising, she flung the repaired coat over the back of a chair. Seyrac cursed the interruption and his own sluggishness, which had wasted yet another opportunity.
Vidal entered, and the first glance at his face told Angèle that all was not well.
"What has happened?" she cried, advancing to meet him.
He checked to stare at her, amazed by her quick perceptions. Then, with a laugh, he flung his great cocked hat into a corner, and closed the door.
"The worst has happened," he confessed. "I have been a fool. I have talked too much to the rabble of the convention."
Her fears rose quickly. That he should allude to the assembly in such disrespectful terms was in itself enough to warn her that the matter was grave.
"What is it?" she asked him breathlessly.
"This," he said, and drew from his breast-pocket the laissez-passer with which Danton had equipped him. He spread it, and smacked it down upon the table under her eyes.
She looked at it vacantly understanding nothing.
"We must pack, my girl; that is the long and the short of it. We must pack and see to it that we are out of Paris before the barriers close tonight or we may never leave it at all. My papers are ratified and in order, as you see. So that there is nothing to prevent our going, and no need for alarm so that we go at once. I have ordered a berlin to be here at eight o'clock. See that you are ready by then."
"But what has happened?" she insisted, coming up to him and setting her hands upon his shoulders.
In the background, near the window, stood Seyrac, who had also risen, filled with vague alarms by what he heard.
Vidal poured out the story of his indiscretion. "Say they I have been a fool," he ended irritably almost. "I know it. I have been a fool to believe in the uprightness of the national representatives, to have been deluded by their high-souled talk of liberty and honesty.
"And now I have publicly called St. Just a thief and threatened to press the matter until an inquiry is held into his conduct and that of his accomplice and tool Lemoine. I have done a service to the nation that any man less honest would have shrunk from doing. The representatives are aware of it. But how will they express their gratitude?
"By sitting still while St. Just, to silence me, will have me arrested and guillotined upon some trumpery charge of treason, against which I shall be given no opportunity to defend myself."
He snorted furiously. "That is this French Republic, one and indivisible, which I have served, which I have helped to establish and in the upholding of which I have shed my blood. St. Just, too, has shed blood, aye, and freely, but it has been the blood of others. Ah, name of a name!"
He sat down heavily.
"Jerome!" She came to him, flung an arm about his shoulder, and set her cheek against his. She was very white and cold in her great fear for him.
"Allons," he said gruffly. "There's nothing to fear, my girl. Indulge your disgust as freely as you please, but for alarm there is no occasion. Forewarned, forearmed. Danton opened my eyes to my danger, and obtained the ratification of my papers that will permit me to depart at once, before St. Just can strike. So that all is well." He patted her head. "And, anyhow, I have had the satisfaction of calling St. Just a thief. The name will stick; not all the blood in France will wash out that label."
There was a movement behind. Vidal looked sharply over his shoulder. He had almost forgotten the chevalier's presence.
"Ah, citizen." he said, "this will make a difference to you, too!"
"It is what I feared," said Seyrac.
"You will understand that there will be no more recruiting or marshaling of recruits for me this journey. Someone else will have to take charge of that business. I am sorry, citizen. I would help you if I could.
"But you see how I am placed. I have my wife to think of. I cannot jeopardize her happiness, perhaps her very life, for any man, and for you least of all men. I do not say it in any hostility, citizen-chevalier. All that is past and forgotten. As long as I deemed it possible to help you, I was ready to do so. But you will see that it is possible no longer, You must shift for yourself."
Seyrac stood there, sick at heart.
The shadow that had been lifted from his was returned, and it now seemed darker than before by virtue of that momentary glimpse of sunshine that had been vouchsafed him. He looked at Angèle, almost expecting to hear her protest again and plead for him.
But Angèle was silenced by her fears for Vidal—fears so engrossing that they left no room for any other thought.
"Very well," he said at last, in a choking voice. "It remains for me to thank you for what you have done, and—"
"There is no need for haste, at least," said Vidal, with gruff kindliness. "The berline will not be here until eight o'clock. No need, then, for you to forth until dusk. You may linger on even later if you like. You may spend the night here if you choose. But in that case I should recommend you to depart early to-morrow before St. Just's warrant arrives. Else they may find you when they search the house, and arrest you by way of consoling themselves to that extent at least."
He stood up "Come, Angèle; let us set about this packing."
"There is not much to pack, Jerome," she answered him. "It is soon done."
They departed together, leaving Seyrac alone with his despair. He stood by the window, staring out at the houses across the narrow street, and his heart was filled by a dull resentment against fate and Vidal. He felt that he had been ill used. He had been uplifted merely to be dashed down again with a violence that increased his suffering. His soul rebelled against such treatment, and from the depths of it he cursed Vidal as the author of his present despair.
Thus miserably waned for him the evening of a day that had dawned so gloriously.
A little after seven a man came down the street and knocked at the door of Vidal's house. That knock flung Angèle into alarm. What if already they should be too late? What if already this were an agent of the law? But Vidal reassured her. "St. Just can do nothing until he has denounced me tomorrow, if he so intends. Besides, when they come to arrest me, they will not send just a solitary fellow. There will be a file of national guards with fixed bayonets."
He went below to open the door to a shabby fellow who, upon assuring himself that he addressed Colonel Vidal, delivered a sealed note of which he was the bearer. Vidal tore it open there and then, scanned the contents, and dismissed the messenger.
"Say that I follow you at once," he announced. "That is, indeed, if you do not find me there ahead of you."
He returned up-stairs to get his hat and to show the note to Angèle. It contained but three lines above the sprawling signature of Danton:
"Come to me here at once.
I have news of the utmost urgency for you.
On your life do not fail."
"What does it mean?" she asked him.
"That is what I am going to ascertain," he answered. "But whatever it may be, it can be nothing to alarm you. What should there be? I shall go straight there and back, and I shall be here as soon as the coach arrives."
Yet, for all the confidence he displayed, Angèle remained vaguely uneasy after his departure. She stood a while by the window, looking after him as he went up the street, and continued there for some time after he had passed beyond range of her eyes, silently praying for his safe return.
She turned at last. "How thankful I shall be," she said, with a little catch in her breath, "when the barrier is behind us and we are clear of this terrible city."
And then, moved to concern for Seyrac, perhaps, because of his concern for Vidal:
"And you, citizen," she inquired—"what are your plans now?"
"My plans?" said he, with a wry smile. "What plans are possible to me? I must follow my destiny."
"Alas, citoyen! I would that we could help you."
Her concern for him revived his drooping coxcombry.
"If the worst befalls," he said, "I shall at least have the memory of our meeting to enhearten me. Until I met you again, citoyenne, I imagined that it was my evil star had guided me to Paris."
She looked at him, and he observed the slight frown, the slightly haughty stare of inquiry that warned him he was treading dangerous ground. His flash of courtliness awakened memories that slammed the door at once upon her concern. She turned from him and in silence moved about the room, gathering up a few objects here and there.
"I have yet to complete my packing, citizen, against my husband's return." she said, and upon that passed out with her arms full.
SEYRAC had watched her every movement with those dark, ardent eyes of his, and he sighed when the door closed after her. He flung himself into a chair by the table, and sat there a while absorbed in thought. When at last he stirred it was to take up a paper which lay there where Vidal had left it.
It was the laissez-passer that was to provide the colonel with the means of leaving Paris. He considered it, then dropped it, and rose, stretching himself as if to shake off the despondent lethargy that threatened him.
As his arms dropped back to his sides his glance settled upon that blue military coat, that spare coat of Vidal's, which Angèle had repaired, lying across the back of the chair where she had flung it. For an instant his face was blank.
It was a blankness that reflected the shock of astonishment which a sudden idea had wrought upon his mind. The next moment his brows were knit thoughtfully, his dark eyes gleamed, and a slow, cunning smile spiced with a touch of malice crept round his lips. He set his hands behind him and, with head sunk between his shoulders, he paced to the fireplace. He stood there staring at the fading embers, his eyes seeing nothing, but his every sense absorbed and concentrated upon this sudden notion that had smitten him, this door of deliverance that had so suddenly and unexpectedly been flung wide before him.
Be turned and came back to the table, passing now along the other side of it, and coming to a standstill beside that coat. Then he stirred out of his absorption to take stock once more of his surroundings. He stood listening. He could hear Angèle moving briskly in the next room about her task of completing the preparations for departure.
Satisfied that she was fully engaged, he moved abruptly to do the thing he had planned. With impatient hands he tore open his long fawn-colored riding-coat, and peeled it off, standing forth in white shirt, white nankeens, and Hessian boots.
Those nether garments of his were, after all, the garments of every officer of the convention: they did not materially differ from those worn by Vidal himself. He took up the military coat, slipped his arms into the sleeves, and drew it on.
Vidal was a bigger man with a greater breadth of torso and length of arm. Still the fit was none so bad as to be remarkable, and much of its general slackness was dissembled when he had drawn tight about his waist the tricolor sash that was attached to it.
Thus be stood forth now to all seeming an officer of the republic one and indivisible. He took up the passport and stuffed it into his breast-pocket, then looked about him for a hat. He failed in this quest, but his roving glance fell upon a brace of pistols which Vidal had left lying upon the dresser.
He picked them up and had just slipped them into his pocket when Angèle came in. She stopped short at sight of him, barely stifling a cry of astonishment, for at the first glance she had failed to recognize him. Then perceiving who it was and at once where he had procured the coat, she challenged his intentions.
"What are you doing?"
He was completely master of himself. Confident now to the point of jauntiness.
"To fool the canaille," he answered, "I have donned their livery. Vidal should be able to spare me this coat. Indeed, when you come to think of it, it is surely most unrepublican to be possessed of two coats. To the simple patriots, the disciples of Rousseau—that prophet of their new apocalypse—such an excess of garments must surely savor of ostentation, of aristocracy."
There was something bewildering in this flippancy, something that aroused Angèle's suspicions. Had his tone been more serious, it is probable that she would have approved the matter of his disguise and at once suffered him to depart in it, that thus he might attempt to win clear of Paris. But the sardonic note in his voice stirred her unaccountably to suspect that here was more than appeared.
"You will be stopped at the barriers," she said. "You have no papers to support your travesty."
"Be easy on that score," he answered "I—I shall take my chance of that with confidence."
She observed his air of assurance, his smile, faintly tinged with mockery; and her suspicions, far from being allayed, were on the instant quickened. A memory started up under the urgent spur of her wits. Her eyes flashed to the table and noted the absence of what they sought there. She flung out an arm to point to it.
"Citizen," she cried, "Vidal's passport? What have you done with it?"
"Faith, I have provided myself with it against precisely such a contingency as you were suggesting."
"You have provided yourself with it?" She advanced a step, and checked, staring at him with eyes in which indignation was slowly overcoming amazement. "Citizen! You jest!"
"A jest it is indeed." he agreed with her. "But I shall wait until I reach England before I laugh. It is unlucky to laugh too soon."
"But you are mad! Do you think you can pass the barriers with Vidal's papers?"
"Why not? What is there about me to advertise the fact that I am not Vidal? Does my coat fit indifferently? Faith, I have not noticed that such indifference is other than apt in a good republican."
She came forward now until she stood close before him, "If you take those papers, how is Vidal himself to leave Paris?"
"No doubt he will be able to procure others as readily as he procured these."
"But if he should not?"
He spread his hands deprecatingly. "Do not let us consider contingencies as unpleasant as they are unlikely."
"Citizen, you are frivolous," she rebuked him, "and this is not a matter for frivolity. Take the coat if you will; but restore me the papers."
"Now consider," he begged her, "that, as you yourself almost suggested, the coat without the passport is worthless. Of the two I would, indeed, sooner return you the coat; and I should not hesitate to do so were I not persuaded that Vidal can without inconvenience dispense with it."
She made an effort obviously to keep her patience.
"Citizen Seyrac, you heard Vidal himself say here not half an hour ago that he is in danger, and that his safety depends upon our quitting Paris at once; that he will be lost irrevocably if he is still here to-morrow."
"That is an excellent reason why I should depart to-night."
"But don't you understand that without that passport Vidal will be unable to leave; that if you take it you send him to his death?"
He considered her a moment, then a slow smile broke upon his face.
"You would make a charming widow," he declared.
She was within an ace of striking him: yet she retained her self-control, though her eyes blazed in her white face. At last she understood his incredible attitude.
"Canaille," she said; and no worse insult could she have flung at him. "Is that the return you propose to make Vidal for having given you shelter?"
At the opprobrious word "canaille"—that word which his class kept exclusively for those whom they considered the very scum of France—he had fallen serious and a little color had crept into his sallow face.
"It was not Vidal who gave me shelter." he replied, something sullen now in his demeanor. "Vidal would have flung me to the rabble; it was with regret and reluctance that he forbore. What, then, do I owe Vidal?"
She might have argued the point, but she swept impatiently on to lake her stand upon ground whose firmness was beyond all question.
"And what of me? Do you owe me nothing?"
He made her a leg in his courtliest manner.
"I recognize the full extent of my indebtedness. I ask nothing better of fortune than the opportunity to discharge it."
"Then, do you not see that if you rob Vidal of the means of saving his life, you deliver me up to death together with him? You may repudiate the debt I say you owe Vidal, but you cannot repudiate the debt you owe to me. You cannot deny that you owe me your life at this moment. Will you, then, destroy me in return for that?"
"How could you suppose me capable of it?"
"Ah!" she caught her breath in relief, misunderstanding him utterly. "Then you will return me the passport?"
"Now see how unreasonable you are. Why must we go back to that?"
She could only stare at him. She did not understand, and yet she suspected something vile under all this.
"But do you not see that there is no alternative; that if you take this passport you leave me to die?"
"Why?" he inquired, raising his eyebrows, his glance flaming suddenly and enwrapping her. "Why should I leave you to die? Why leave you at all? The passport is for Colonel Vidal and his wife Angèle Vidal."
She fell back before him, her eyes staring, her fingers plucking mechanically at her fichu, It was incredible, inconceivable!
Here in revolutionary Paris, slippery with the blood of aristocrats, at the very foot of the guillotine almost, these two had suddenly resumed their relations of ten years ago at Beauvaloir.
Just as he had persecuted her then when, lord of life and death, his will had been the paramount law, so did he persecute her when he was himself persecuted, a proscribed and hunted fugitive.
Encouraged by her silence, he advanced toward her and put out hands to seize her. But she shrank back before him in utter loathing and fear.
"No, no!" she moaned, her wits benumbed for the moment, her spirit paralyzed by the surprise of this.
But he—the fatuous fool dominated entirely by the idea that had so suddenly entered his mind—misunderstood that reiterated negative; conceived it to be the piteous appeal of failing strength, the last feeble outcry of a conscience and a sense of duty bidding her to resist the thing he was proposing.
That her inclinations were not at one with her duty in this he never doubted now. If she was indifferent to him, why had she pleaded for him with Vidal? To that question his vanity could find ever but one answer.
"I love you, Angèle," he cried hoarsely, overmastered now by his convictions and inflamed by them. "Quit all this, and come away with me, out of Paris—out of France—away from these republican sons of dogs. I will open for you the very gates of life. Angèle."
She had backed away before him until the wall made further retreat impossible. Her shoulders touching it, she stood there with white terror of him in her face.
Yet for all that her body might be paralyzed by dread, her wits were working quickly and with a shrewdness quickened by the circumstances. She realized that though she might express the loathing in her soul and lash such manhood as might still abide in him with the fiery scorn that filled her, yet she would be powerless to resist his departure.
Did she so much as attempt it he would have no scruple in using force against her. And if he went, taking with him Vidal's passport, he would thus cut off Vidal's only chance of escape from Paris, leaving him to fall a prey to the danger that threatened him.
Her resolve was soon taken, even as she stood cowering there under the chevalier's smoldering glance. Since she could not prevent his departure, at least she must delay him, and even as a last resource make the most of the chance he afforded her of accompanying him. At all costs must she cling to him until she found an opportunity to turn the tables upon him and to repossess herself of that sheet of paper that meant her husband's life.
Yet before her cowering attitude he hesitated.
She could not quite stifle all her loathing and contempt of him. Despite her, some of it must rise to stamp itself upon her face. And although he scanned it closely, his fatuousness again misled him and made him blind to that, which should have given him pause.
"Poor child." he murmured, his voice a caress. "Forgive me if I have startled you. Consider that I have waited ten years, and ask yourself whether my present impatience is unnatural."
She shivered slightly, and in her heart prayed frenziedly for Vidal's return. Where did he linger, and what kept him? Did no intuition warn him of her straits? At last, with obvious effort, she replied, intent only upon delaying Seyrac's departure.
"I have known so little love in all these years." she said in a quavering voice, "that I well might be startled by an expression of it, particularly at such a time and in such a place and from one in your straits. We are amid death, citizen-chevalier, here in Paris."
Joy and amaze at her confession almost turned his head completely.
He had not been oversanguine then. She had but waited for him to declare himself. Vidal then had been the brute he had supposed him; her late appeal on her husband's behalf had been uttered at the dictate, not of love, as he had momentarily supposed, but of that curious loyalty of such women for the mate whom circumstances have imposed upon them.
Thus his fatuous thoughts ran on a while.
Then he checked them. It might be as he supposed. Yet, watching her face, remembering how she had shrank and cowered before his advance, a lingering mistrust abode with him.
"Your words make me mad with hope, Angèle. Yet I will use no constraint with you. Unless of your own free will you determine to accompany me I go alone. But if you elect to bear me company in my exile, leaving this gross fellow upon whom the sweetness of your youth has been so shamefully wasted, I swear that never for an instant shall you know regret."
"You—you will be good to me?" she faltered, hating herself for the odious pretense, yet constrained to it for Vidal's sake. "You swear to it?"
"Good to you. Angèle?"
His face was aglow. He advanced again, and this time found no resistance. She shuddered as be touched her, but lay still when he took her to his arms.
For she was resolved in her loyal heart that whatever the sacrifice demanded, at least she must insure that Seyrac did not depart alone with that filched passport that was now Vidal's only plank of salvation.
But when he lowered his head, seeking to kiss her, she thrust him back a little. It was more than she could endure.
"No, no," she moaned, and then pleaded upon the moment's inspiration. "Not here: not in his house, not under his roof."
He would have struggled with her, but at that moment hoofs upon the cobbles and a rumble of wheels came down the street to attract his attention.
"Listen!" he cried, and held up a hand. "It will be the traveling carriage. We have not another moment to lose."
The vehicle came to a standstill, and a knock resounded through the house.
They fell apart, Seyrac still a little bewildered. A less fatuous man would have been mastered by his suspicions of this sudden acquiescence on her part; a more scrupulous one would have paused to consider the wrong he did in indulging a passing fancy—a fancy revived, it is true, but one that he recognized perfectly as ephemeral, and only capable of this revival because earlier it had been thwarted.
Scruples then he had none
Far from it. In the fate that must inevitably await her, if she were sincere, he beheld merely a poetic vengeance upon her for all that through disappointment she had made him suffer in his youth. As for suspicions, those that very naturally were uttered by his reason, his amazing vanity overbore.
He crossed to the window, thrust it open and looked out. Below he saw in the fading daylight the bulky traveling carriage standing before the door. A raucous voice hailed him with the announcement that this was the berlin for Colonel Vidal.
He closed the window and returned to Angèle.
"Come," he said. "There is no time to be lost. Let us be going."
The imminence of it staggered her a little. "But—but there is my luggage!" she said. "And I have to finish packing one of my boxes. I—"
"What does luggage signify in such a moment?" he interrupted impatiently. "Mon Dieu! am I to jeopardize our future for the sake of a bundle of old rags? We have our lives, and we have each other, Angèle, So in Heaven's name let us be gone! Come."
He seized her roughly by the arm, and almost dragged her from the room.
On the landing she resisted him a moment. "Wait! Ah, wait!" she cried.
"What is there to wait for?" he snapped. "Are we to delay until Vidal returns and finds us still here?"
He reminded her of a danger. But she imagined that he voiced a suspicion, and instantly became submissive that she might allay it, realizing that in the alternative he would leave her and depart alone, taking those precious papers with him.
"Yes, yes. You are right. Let us go," she panted.
But it was now his turn to check upon the sudden reflection that were she so disposed he would presently be placing it in her power to ruin him. Headlong almost had he dashed into a danger suddenly grown obvious.
"Angèle," he said, "forgive me if still finding my happiness incredible I take precautions, against betrayal." And in the hand which he drew from his pocket she caught the glint of a pistol-barrel.
"You do not trust me yet," she cried, and made her trembling voice express indignant pain.
"All my life," he answered, "I shall make amends for this mistrust born of my incredibility at my good fortune. See now that you say no word to betray me." And his faint gesture with the pistol made clear a threat which he was reluctant to utter. "Come now. Let us make haste."
At last, then, they went down the stairs together, and it seemed now to Angèle that her feet were turned to lead, that her pretense was all in vain. She had not reckoned upon his lingering mistrust and his precautions against betrayal.
She had even thought that her task would be ended when they reached the street, and she denounced him to the driver of the berlin.
Now she realized that at the first word she uttered he would silence her effectively. And at the barrier, when they reached it, her plight would be the same. For he was not likely to be taken off his guard so long as they were in Paris.
Yet she must cling to him, hoping and praying for the opportunity to recover that precious document. Unfaltering in this resolve, though well-nigh despairing, she went on ahead of him down the narrow stairs.
Seyrac was without hat or cloak. But he bethought him that in the coach these would not be missed, I was Angèle who unlatched the door that led into the street. The cumbrous coach stood there almost entirely blocking the narrow way, the driver pacing impatiently beside it. He turned as they came forth.
"You are come at last?" he growled with republican freedom of expression.
"As you see." said Seyrac gruffly.
He stepped forward to the door of the coach, which the driver sluggishly opened for him.
Then he turned to hand Angèle into the vehicle with his left hand. His right, she observed, was thrust into his bosom, and she never doubted but that it clenched the butt of the pistol in readiness for the worst.
She hesitated a moment, and then seeing no help for it, seeing that an appeal to the driver was out of the question, she stepped up into the coach, and Seyrac followed her. As he sat down the driver slammed the door.
"You know the way?" said Seyrac.
"Unless you've changed your mind." the fellow answered surlily, "Our first stage will be Beauvais. Is that so?"
"That is so." said Seyrac.
The driver climbed to his seat, flicked his whip, and they set out, up the street in the direction of St. Sulpice and the river.
The chevalier, as he had flung himself down beside Angèle, had slipped an arm about her waist, and now he drew her toward him. She suffered it in utter silence, quelling as best she could the physical sickness that beset her.
"We are but children in the hands of Fate," he said. "Children—what do I say? Puppets. Puppets without volition of our own. It was predetermined that we should belong to each other, you and I. And to fulfil that desire of Fate's I was hunted down the Rue Pot de Fer last evening, driven for shelter into your doorway, of all doorways, in Paris, and thus after ten years of waiting we are brought at last together."
She lay against his breast, mute and terror-stricken, striving in vain to think, to formulate some plan of action, and then quite suddenly the carriage came to a grinding halt with a jerk that flung them both forward.
The chevalier swore sharply as he recovered.
They heard voices, the driver's and another's, and their common thought was that the fellow had almost run over some careless wayfarer at the corner, and that the twain were now engaged in mutual recriminations. Seyrac was about to thrust his head from the window when suddenly he was spared the necessity by the appearance before if of a face surmounted by a conical black hat with a tricolor cockade.
A pair of keen eyes peering into the gloomy interior of the coach fastened upon Seyrac's pale face, and the chevalier heard himself challenged in a gruff voice:
"Who goes there?"
At his ease, and realizing that in the character of Vidal meekness would be out of place, he answered as gruffly:
"What affair is that of yours?"
The man's thin lips smiled faintly. "I am an agent of the committee of public safety." he said.
"Why didn't you say so at first?" grumbled the chevalier. "You are detaining me. I am Colonel Vidal, of the army of Holland."
"Your papers, citizen-colonel?" said the agent.
"My papers?" grumbled the chevalier, "I shall show them at the barrier."
"You will show them to me now, if you please," the agent insisted. "You know the law."
The chevalier expressed impatience, but drew the passport from his pocket and thrust it under the man's nose. His right hand, on the seat between himself and Angèle, gripped a pistol whose menace kept her silent.
The agent took the passport and unfolded it. And now a second fellow, also wearing a conical hat and girt by a tricolor sash, lounged forward into view and studied the document over the other's shoulder.
"So," he said, reading the signatures that ratified it, "Danton, Varennes and Desmoulins." And he uttered a short exclamation that sounded like a laugh.
"Quite in order," said the agent, almost elaborately.
Seyrac, who had experienced a moment's anxiety lest there should be any flaw in the passport, breathed freely once more.
"Quite in order," the agent repeated, folding the document again. But he did not offer to return it. Instead he stuffed it into his pocket with one hand, while with the other he flung open the door of the carriage.
"Colonel Vidal," he said in a formal voice, "I must trouble you to alight."
"To alight?" said the amazed Seyrac, suddenly afraid.
The opening of the door had increased his range of vision and Angèle's, and they now saw something that hitherto had been screened from them. By the corner of the street stood ranged six men and a corporal of the national guard with fixed bayonets.
"Alight?" Seyrac repeated. "To what end?"
"Alight, citizen-colonel," the man said sharply. "I command you upon the authority of the nation."
Understanding nothing save that to resist such a command were worse than futile, and still hoping that here was no more than some trumpery formality of this extremely formal government of rapscallions, the chevalier got down. But he still gripped his pistol, and the glance he flashed at Angèle was pregnant with bold significance.
Instantly, as he reached the ground and stood between the agents, he found his arms seized on either side, and the pistol was twisted out of his grasp.
"What's this?" he demanded, hectoring.
"Colonel Vidal, we arrest you in the name of the republic one and indivisible."
Dumfounded, he stared from one to the other of them.
"Ah, but wait!" he cried. "Wait! This is a mistake. I—I am not Colonel Vidal."
One of the agents laughed short and contemptuously at that denial, but disdained reply. He signed to the soldiers, who instantly clanked forward.
"Wait!" repeated Seyrac in a frenzy. "My God, I tell you I am not Vidal!"
He swung round to appeal to Angèle to confirm him in this. But the sight of her struck him dumb.
She was leaning forward, watching him with gleaming eyes and the ghost of a smile on her pale lips. He stared at her in horror, and the appeal he intended remained unuttered. Besides, to what end utter it? He was too utterly and hopelessly the victim of some extraordinary malignancy of circumstances.
The guards surrounded him,
"Take him away," said the agent "To the prison of the Abbaye."
Then hat in hand he turned to Angèle, who sat there still watching with those gleaming eyes and that faint smile, "My excuses, citoyenne, for having been forced thus to interrupt your journey. You had best get home again. I trust your husband will soon be restored to you." He closed the door, and linking arms with his companion moved away in the wake of the soldiers and their prisoner.
A dozen paces off he halted and after lustily slapping his companion across the shoulders, stood, arms akimbo, looking back. Then he laughed.
"By St Guillotine." he said, "there is a woman who takes her husband's arrest with singular philosophy."
"A stanch republican," said his companion, who was by much the younger man.
"A weary wife, more like." replied the agent, who knew his world.
ANGÈLE'S first feeling of thankful amazement at the escape which Seyrac had through his very treachery contrived for Vidal, passed quickly into one of utter despondency when she came to consider the position at closer quarters.
She saw clearly that after all there was no escape but merely a respite. Seyrac had plunged headlong to his own doom. His own baseness had enmeshed him with a justice truly poetic. But it was not to he supposed that the mistake which had occurred would long continue undiscovered.
To-morrow, no doubt, he would be haled before the revolutionary tribunal, and it would be revealed that he was not Vidal. They would not be long in discovering his true identity and in despatching him to the national razor, and meanwhile the agents of the committee of public safety would have sought out the real Vidal, that he might feel the weight of St. Just's vengeance, and that he might be silenced.
In answer to a question from the driver as to what he was to do now, she bade him drive her back to the house she had just quitted. There she alighted, and with trembling hands she unlocked the door. She bade the driver wait, and went in and up-stairs to sit down in the twilight and feverishly await Vidal's return.
Her patience was not greatly taxed. Within ten minutes Vidal himself arrived. He was short and brisk in manner, aye, sharp, like one with whom time presses.
"Come," he said. "Since the berlin is here let us be gone at once."
"A moment," she answered him, "A moment, Jerome. There is something I must tell you. We—we cannot go."
"Cannot? Name of a name!" he snapped. "There is no time to lose; not a minute."
He caught up his haversack which stood ready, unmoved from where he had left it.
"Where is the rest of the baggage?" he inquired.
"In there," she answered mechanically. "But—"
"And Seyrac? What has become of him?" His impatience was almost feverish.
"That's it." she said. "Seyrac has gone—in your coat and with our passport."
She saw him stiffen suddenly, and for all that it was become too dark to make out his expression she saw the stare of his eyes, and conceived him angry with herself.
"I did what I could to prevent it," she made haste to explain. "That I might recover it. I even pretended to go with him. Oh. Jerome, Jerome! We are ruined! You are lost!"
"Tell me what happened." he bade her, his voice very subdued and quiet. "But tell me quickly—in a word, if you can."
She told him of the manner of Seyrac's arrest in his stead. For a moment he was silent when he had heard, then he laughed, quite mirthlessly, grimly, an echo of the irony of fate that had been at work in this.
"Did I not say that God does not sleep?" quoth he. "Did not I remind the ci-devant chevalier that we are in Fructidor—the month of fruition? His deeds have borne him their natural fruit, I hope he will relish them."
She clung to him in fear and grief.
"But now, Jerome?" she asked him breathlessly. "What are we to do now? Your papers remained in the hands of the agent."
"He is very welcome to them, since as you see they were but a passport to the guillotine. At every barrier in Paris by now an agent will have been posted to look out for Colonel Vidal, and—in case those sent hither should have arrived too late—to effect his arrest should he attempt to leave. It was to warn me of this that Danton sent for me."
"But—" She paused, not understanding,
"He informed me that St. Just had moved sooner than was expected. Supported by the Robespierres and their following, he had decreed my arrest this very night, to make quite sure of my silence. His agents were on their way here when they met Seyrac.
"And but for his notion to impersonate me they must have come here to await my return and to arrest me the moment I appeared. Seyrac has served the turn for which fate used him when she despatched him hither. We are safe at least until they discover their mistake, and that should give us all the time we need to get out of Paris."
"But how can we leave, since we have no papers?" she cried.
"Be easy. Danton supplied me with another passport in which I go under another name."
When Vidal had bestowed their luggage at last in the berlin, and had handed up Angèle, he bade the driver to proceed by way of the Barriere d'Enfer.
It was not until they reached the barrier that the full irony of the evening's events was revealed to Angèle. When the carriage drew up there in the flare of the lights a cockaded officer of the guard rolled up to the door of the berlin.
"Who goes there?" he challenged.
"The citizen Dunoyer on urgent mission," replied Vidal,
"Your papers, citizen-traveler?" was the officer's curt demand.
Vidal thrust forth a document. The officer conned it a moment. Then read aloud—"Pass citizen Dunoyer on urgent mission, on behalf of the national convention, accompanied by his wife and secretary.' He considered the appended detailed description of the traveler, and scanned Vidal briefly to confirm them. Then he peered into the body of the carriage.
"Your secretary, citizen?" he inquired.
"He discovered at the last moment that his presence is required in Paris by the republic." said Vidal "And as my business is urgent, as you may readily see, I could not wait to fill his place."
"Very well," said the officer, and he handed back the passport. "Pass," he shouted to the driver. And then saluting one in whom he beheld a representative of the nation, "Bon voyage, citoyen." he said, and stepped back as the carriage rolled on and out of Paris.
"Your secretary?" said Angèle. "What did that mean?"
"Why, Seyrac, of course. Since matters had fallen out in this way it was an easy matter to obtain his inclusion in this document. Having befriended him. I thought it was our duty to complete the deed since it was placed within my power to do so without hurting you. It was my intention that he should be riding to Holland with us now. But since he has chosen instead to ride to the Greve in a tumbrel, there is no occasion to waste regrets upon him."
The driver of the berlin, profoundly intrigued hitherto by the evening's events, conceived that at last he had discovered the solution of them. He looked up at the stars as he flicked his whip. One of them seemed to wink at him, and he winked back quite solemnly.
"Now here," said he, "is a likely republican widow who is soon consoled."
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