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Title: The Camisade Author: Rafael Sabatini * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1700461h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2017 Most recent update: May 2017 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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The good folk of Niort had seen the Royalist army march out of their town in the rosy light of the midsummer dawn. A horde some six or seven thousand strong, they had presented a motley but inspiring spectacle to the moist, admiring eyes of the loyal inhabitants. Most of them in their peasant garb--a garb adopted indeed by many who were not peasants--they thundered along in their wooden shoes, all bearing the device of the red kerchief, the consecrated heart upon their breasts, and the white cockade in their round hats.
In quitting Niort they were falling back before the Republican army under Westermann, dispatched by the Convention to make an end of these brigands, these mutinous yokels who had rebelled against the sacred authority of the nation, and who had snatched up arms for God and King--both of which institutions the Republic had abolished.
So the good folks of Niort had crowded to windows and doorways to cheer and speed them, shouting "Vive le Roi!" until they were hoarse as crows.
That had been at dawn. Now, at sunset, they crowded again to the doors and windows, and again they grew hoarse with shouting. But this time the cry was "Vive le République!" and the army they cheered was a detachment of the Blues under General Canclaux which came swinging into the town to the tune of the "Marsellaise"--a martial, orderly legion, vastly different from that peasant horde. This was Westermann's vanguard, some five thousand strong, sent to hold Niort as an outpost of the main army which lay at Nantes.
In a white-panelled room in a substantial house in the Rue de l'Eglise, Maître Falgoux, the attorney, sat moodily listening to the distant shouts of the crowd; he was short of stature and very slim, and there was something austere in the clear-cut, ascetic, wax-like face, in the grizzled tie-wig, the plain suit of black and steel buckles of his shoes. With him, beyond the table which gleamed faintly in the fading light, sat a young girl, whose eyes, dilated now by a certain dread, were as dark pools in the white oval of her face.
"Canaille!" he said softly, but with unutterable malignity, through teeth that were tight clenched. "Who that had heard them this morning could now believe his ears? Ha!" He laughed short and bitterly. "Long live the King at dawn, and long live the Republic at dusk. The epitome of Frenchmen! Ready to dance to any tune that's piped, ready to feed from any hand, be it clean or dirty."
"It is fear makes them shout now," said the girl, defending them, "not loyalty, as was the case this morning."
But he was not appeased. "Which is to say that they are cowards. And from cowards what can you hope for?"
The door opened and a man entered. He was of middle height, broad, powerfully built and bull-necked, with a swarthy, masterful face that was not without a certain virile beauty.
Maître Falgoux sprang to his feet.
"Well?" he demanded very eagerly. "What news?"
The new-comer advanced. He set his heavy riding-crop and conical hat upon the table, and briefly announced the strength of this Republican detachment which had come to occupy Niort.
"I have all that I remained to learn," he said, "and I have but paused that I might take my leave of you before I rejoin M. de Lescure."
"And shall you tell him also, Cadouin, of the reception which these dogs have given the Republican rabble?" Anger throbbed in the old man's voice.
But Cadouin merely shrugged. "What does it signify? They shout 'Live the Republic!' that their homes may escape violation. In their hearts, maître, they are loyal to us, and when we return--as return we shall, and very soon, to sweep this Republican filth out of Niort--they will cry 'Live the King!' once more and with redoubled energy."
"That is what I have been saying," exclaimed the girl, glad to have her faith confirmed.
He turned to her, and his dark eyes smouldered. He made her a slight, deferentail inclination, which lent a certain courtier-like grace to his clumsy figure. "Then, mademoiselle," he said, "you have proved yourself as wise as you are lovely."
Her eyelids flickered and her glance fell away before his devouring gaze. She drew back a little, beset by a confusion that obviously was not pleasurable. The compliment was gross and clumsy; moreover, her attitude must have made it plain to any man of insight that compliments from this visitor were not desired. But there was no man of insight present. Her father turned slightly aside, as if not to intrude upon what he conceived to be a private matter between his daughter and Cadouin, and occupied himself with his snuff-box.
"I pray you may be right," he said. "But their vile behaviour savours of cowardice, and I do not like cowards."
"Oh, not cowardice, but a wise discretion," said Cadouin, smiling. "Just such a discretion as bids me not to linger here in obedience to my ardent wishes." And again his eyes sought the girl's face, but sought in vain, A slight frown drew his dark brows together. "Already I have perhaps been foolish," he added. "I have risked a deal to come to you, for these Republicans understand organisation, and when they occupy a town they make themselves masters of it indeed. The gates will already be in their hands, and none may pass out whose papers are not in order--who cannot display the civic card."
"Then--" began the other in some alarm,
"Oh, I know what I am doing, Monsieur Falgoux. I do not leave by any of the gates, but by way of your garden and the river. Blaise shall ferry me over, and I will swim my horse. They have not yet had time to post sentries on the farther bank, if, indeed, it has so much as occurred to them." He held out his hand. "Au revoir, then, maître. You shall see me soon again."
Maître Falgoux took the outstretched hand and pressed it warmly.
"Au revoir, my son," he said affectionately. "God guard you!" He turned to his daughter. "Summon Blaise, Madeleine, and then conduct Monsieur Cadouin."
She made no demur, although the task was one she willingly would have escaped. It was not only that Cadouin was himself so utterly distasteful to her, but that she feared how he might profit by this opportunity. Of intent her father did not accompany them; that, too, was plain; and so, having summoned Blaise, she set out across the garden with the old servant and the young Royalist. But this was not at all to the young Royalist's pleasure. He conceived that Blaise's society might very well be foregone, and, being by nature free from foolish hesitancy, he bade the servant go ahead and make ready the boat.
Thereafter he hung back a little, and the twain proceeded slowly through the twilit garden, Cadouin leading his horse.
"I hope, mademoiselle," he said, softly, "that you understand how impossible it would have been for me to have departed without coming to take my leave of you."
"It might have been wiser, monsieur," she replied, feeling that she must say something, and seeking for something that should be neither committal nor yet unkind.
"Wiser, perhaps. But would you have me wise to such a point as this?"
"I would not have you endanger your life unnecessarily, monsieur."
"You care, then, Madeleine? It would grieve you were my life cut short?"
"Naturally, monsieur," she answered, her tone so restrained as to forbid the further pursuit of this theme.
But it was not easy to restrain or rebuff Cadouin. "Yet to have gone without seeing you again merely out of consideration of my safety--why, faith, that were too high a price to pay for safety, I think."
His insistence upon the risks he ran disgusted her a little--and the more since she perceived his boastful hollowness. Yet she desired to be gentle with him.
"You should remember, monsieur, that you have a duty towards the Royalist army, and that to jeopardise your life is not quite to accomplish that duty."
"I was not thinking of duty," said he.
"Then I beg that you will, monsieur," she answered him, and this time there was no mistaking the forbidding asperity of her voice.
If Cadouin was not the man to shirk obstacles, neither was he the man to batter his head against a wall. He was not so unintelligent as not to perceive that the season was unpropitious to his wooing. He assured himself that there was nothing surprising, perhaps, in this, considering the state of nerves in which every woman must be who lives amid such constant marching and counter-marching. So he lapsed into silence, and in silence they came to the edge of the gleaming river where Blaise waited with the boat. Yet at the moment of departure he must revert to his frustrated courtship. He took her hand and held it a moment in his own, never heeding how limply it was surrendered.
"Mademoiselle," he said, insisting upon that note of pathos which he conceived must end by melting her reserve, "you know what the times are. We who part here this evening may never meet again. The countryside is infested by the agents of this execrable Republic. I ride amid danger."
"I will pray Heaven to watch over you, monsieur," she said, but so cold and formally that he dropped her hand, and with a short "Adieu," which sounded more like an expletive than a valediction, he stepped at last into the waiting boat.
She found her father waiting for her in the panelled room, where by now the candles had been set and the shutters closed.
"He got safely away?" he greeted her.
"No doubt," she answered shortly. She drew a chair to the table and sat down.
He raised his eyebrows and scanned her in silence for a moment. "No doubt?" he echoed. "But did you not wait to ascertain?"
"I did not think there was the need. I conducted him to the boat as you bade me."
He closed his snuff-box with a vicious snap. "And you had not the grace to wait to see that he crossed in safety?" he ejaculated with some heat.
"It did not occur to me that there was any danger."
"You exasperate me," he informed her. "This good Cadouin, who is devoted to you, tarries at the risk of his life in a town invested by the Republican rabble merely that he may come to take his leave of you--for you may be sure it was not of me that he was thinking. Just that he may see you again he endangers his neck, and all the gratitude you can find it in your heart to display--"
But she interrupted him. "Monsieur talks too much of his danger," she said. "Brave men do not talk of danger when it exists, still less when it does not."
"When it does not? How when it does not?"
A wan smile crossed her pale face. "The gates of Niort are in the hands of the Republicans. None may pass without presenting a civic card. But on the farther bank of the Sèvre there are yet no Republican sentries. I ask you, then, my father, what risk Monsieur Cadouin incurred in in choosing to come this way?" He was nonplussed for the moment, and she continued: "Yet Monsieur Cadouin, whose only safe way out of Niort lay through our garden and by the river, comes here vaunting himself of the risk he runs to come and take his leave of us."
"Why are you so set against him?" he asked her suddenly, shifting his ground without scruple.
"I am not set against him," she replied. "I am indifferent to him."
"Why?" he insisted, his mouth tight as a trap.
"Because he does not succeed in arousing my regard. Perhaps it is that he makes such clumsy endeavours, and thereby but succeeds in wearying me."
He snorted impatiently. "It is just feminine perversity," said he. "Women are all the same. Their regard is forever bestowed upon worthless good-for-noughts. Here is an honest, upright, God-fearing fellow, a man fairly well born and of some substance, who can give you a good position in the world. He loves you; he wishes to make you his wife. But since he has all the virtues that a woman could desire in a husband he fails to arouse your regard!" he added with infinite scorn, breathing noisily through his thin nostrils. "What is the worth of your regard? A graceless fellow like that sometime apprentice of mine, that good-for-nothing Babylas, aroused it without an effort--a fellow I was constrained to send away because of his idle habits."
She bridled and he perceived it, and perceiving it his anger increased.
"That is not true, my father," she returned. "You did not dismiss him because of his idle habits. You dismissed him because he was poor and because he and I--"
"How?" he stormed, then checked. "So?" he considered her. "And after three years, in which his name has never ben mentioned, it seems that you can still change colour at the sound of it. So! What constancy!" he sneered. Then his pale countenance momentarily flamed. "And that is why Cadouin cannot arouse your regard. Now the truth is out. Now I understand you. You have been deceiving me these three years. Your thoughts have been with that vagabond all the time. You have corresponded with him?" he demanded.
He saw a crimson stain spread from her brow to her neck.
"Not for two years," she answered him in a low voice.
But that her eyes were averted she might have seen the sudden tightening of his lips, the cunning narrowing of his eyes.
"And you don't know what has become of him, perhaps?"
"How should I?"
"I will tell you, then. The last news I had of him--over a year ago--he was a Jacobin, a sansculotte, one of the hungry valetaille that followed at the heels of that ranting rascal Desmoulins in Paris, one of the canaille who have robbed France of her King and seek to rob her of her God."
She rose suddenly, now very white, her eyes seeming larger and more sombre than ever.
"I don't believe it!" she cried out in horror. "Babylas could never have done that."
On the instant a sharp rattling knock fell on the door of the house. Living amid alarms they checked their dispute at once to listen. They heard the door opened, a sound of voices coming gradually nearer, then along the passage rang the jingle of spurs and the clatter of a sabre.
Madeleine clutched her breast in alarm. Her father squared his shoulders to the mantelshelf and faced the door, his head thrown back, his mouth tight.
The door was thrust open, and under the lintel, stooping slightly on account of his height, stood an officer of the Repiblican army in his blue coat with its white facings and crimson epaulettes. In his hand he carried a great cocked hat decked with a tricolour cockade; his black hair was tied in a stiff military club, and his handsome face was smiling gently upon Maître Falgoux and his daughter.
They stared at him oncredulously. The man within that uniform came so aptly upon their talk of him that they might well mistrust the evidence of their eyes.
It was Babylas!
He stood there while you might count ten, looking from one to the other with that faint and rather indefinable smile upon his lips, waiting, but in vain, for a word of welcome or recognition.
At length he advanced slowly into the room.
"Is it possible that you do not recognise me?" he asked. "Faith, I have grown a little in these last two years, and this uniform makes certain changes in my appearance akin to changes in my point of view. But at heart, and to you at least, I am always Babylas."
"I do not doubt it," snapped the attorney, his voice corrosive with the acid of sarcasm. He spoke with a great dignity, a trifle stilted and forensic in manner. "If we have been silent, sir, it is from amazement. Do not misunderstand me. Our amazement is not caused by the sight of you in this canaille livery, but by your effrontery in presenting yourself before us."
Babylas remained imperturbable under the insult. He had not been out into the great world, rubbing shoulders with history-makers and himself lending a hand in the making of it, to be hurt by the pin-pricks of this stiff little provincial attorney who had once been his master.
"You have not changed, maître," he answered tolerantly. "You are still the same--still unable to view a question from any point but your own. It is a failing fatal to success. You pronounce from your own side before you have heard the evidence for the other. You assume that it is pure effrontery has brought me here, whereas it is affection for you--the lingering affection of the pupil for his master--and the desire to serve you and to save you from unpleasantness."
"I fail utterly," was the stinging answer, "to see how your presence is to accomplish that. On the contrary--"
Babylas laughed, good-humouredly almost, and interrupted him. "Ah, wait!" he cried. "Let me explain. The Republic works with system and wisdom in all things. Gone are the slip-shod, untidy methods of the old regime. Thus when a couple of hours ago our General Canclaux dismounted at the Mairie, he was accompanied by his quartermaster. He summoned the maire, demanded a list of the inhabitants, and deputed me to assist the quartermaster in allotting billets to our detachment. It was impossible for me to be in Niort and not to think of you. Aware of what your feelings were in the old days, and knowing your stubbornness which would prevent you from marching with the times, I feared for you and for the citoyenne here should an officer of the Convention be billeted upon you. Moreover, apart from the trouble which your principles might make for you, all officers of the Convention--I regret to be compelled to make the confession--are not quite men at whose mercy I could bear to think of your being placed. Therefore, maître, that you might be spared unpleasantness, and perhaps worse, I took the resolve to billet myself upon you for the time that our detachment may be detained here in Niort."
There was something so frank and friendly in his bearing, something so overwhelmingly convincing in what he said, that Maître Falgoux was momentarily at a loss, deprived of his weapon of sarcasm. Moreover, Babylas had said enough to awaken prudence. It occurred to the attorney that to maintain his hostile attitude might be to anger Babylas, and that if Babylas were angered he might depart, exchanging his billet with some other officer who probably would not scruple to exercise the brutality peculiar to soldiers of the Convention towards the noblesse and the bourgeoisie with Royalist sentiments. All manner of evils might result from such an exchange. There would be danger, overwhelming danger, to himself and to his daughter. Whilst, on the other hand, not only did he not doubt that Babylas would treat them with consideration, but he further reflected in that brief moment that from Babylas he might even derive information concerning the Republican forces which might be useful to his friends.
He unbent then, but only in part. More his feelings would not permit.
"I appreciate the thought," he said, yet with a certain stiffness that robbed the words of most of their intrinsic graciousness. "You will forgive me if I judged rashly. Such judgment was based upon my feelings, upon my convictions."
"I should lock those convictions away in a cupboard for the present, citizen," replied Babylas with a smile. "It does no good to air them; indeed it has led many a fine fellow to sneeze his head into the National Basket. Mine is a friendly warning."
"I thank you. I shall endeavour to be guided by it. Do you look to make a long sojourn here?"
"Just as long as my regiment remains."
"You will have luggage?"
"A soldier's luggage is no great affair. My valise is below. I am free for the evening, and so, perhaps, whilst awaiting supper--and I confess that I am famished--perhaps the citoyenne will suffer me to sit?"
It was the first time he had directly addressed her. She started and flushed before his question and the lingering glance by which it was accompanied.
"I have been in the saddle since morning, citoyenne," he added, as if in apology--in reality to indulge himself in the luxury of speaking to her--"and, naturally, I am a little weary."
"O monsieur," she faltered. "Your pardon. Pray sit. I will see that supper is brought at once." And upon that she left them, eager to escape from the room and from the Colonel's presence, that she might have some moments alone in which to collect herself and school herself against the confusion and emotion astir in her.
He sprang to the door and held it for her with a courtliness that few of her father's Royalist friends had ever displayed. Rubbing shoulders with the great world had given Babylas a polish and an ease that had not been his in the days of his apprenticeship at Niort, in the days when he had captured her tender heart.
When she had departed he unbuckled his sabre and set it across a chair, together with his cocked hat. Then, forgetting his weariness and his expressed desire to sit, he crossed to the open casement, and with one knee upon the window-seat he leaned out, inhaling the cool fragrance of that garden. It was a garden very dear to him, a garden that had been constantly in his dreams these three years past, in all the murky turmoil and welter through which his career as a Revolutionist had led him. It was a garden that had begotten in him a sweet and very constant nostalgie, for to him it was inseparably associated with the thought of Madeleine. Now, at last, he beheld it again, breathed its perfume on this summer night, and felt as only those feel who, after weary waiting, come to realise a long-cherished dream. He sighed with a profound gratitude. In all his five-and-twenty years of life he had never been so glad to be alive.
Upon that sigh he turned, and found the attorney's sunken smouldering eyes fixed upon him in a brooding look. He dropped to the window seat, stretched his legs luxuriously before him, and flung an arm along the sill.
"Citizen," he said--and Maître Falgoux winced at the obnoxious title--"you made a Revolutionist of me when you drove me hence."
"If you speak with regret," said the attorney, "I welcome the access of grace in you, whilst disavowing your actual statement."
Babylas smiled, "Ever the same!" he said.
"I thank you for the unconscious compliment. Honest men do not change their views or turn their coats."
"Which is to say that honest men never reason, never question what is, never ask themselves if things might be better, that honest men are content to spend their lives in the iron cages of convention which their fathers wrought for them. That may be your conception of an honest man, citizen, but it is to say that an honest man is of necessity a fool."
"Since it is impossible that we should agree, I would suggest in our common interest that we do not discuss such matters during the brief season of your sojourn here."
But Babylas was irrepressible.
"You delude yourself, mon maître. You say that it is impossible that we should agree, but what you really should say is that you do not wish to hear any arguments that would move you from the opinions which you hold because your father held them before you. Believe me, citizen, it is such men as you have made the Revolution necessary, unavoidable."
"Such men as I!" It was a cry of indignation.
"Precisely. Men of inflexible rigidity of mind. Men who were impervious to reason, who refused either to think or discuss the questions that were set before them for the bettering of France, for the removal of all the injustice and cruelty that rendered progress impossible in this tortured land. Such men, I say, drove the reasoners to desperation, Where argument fails force must be resorted to. Your kind would not argue, would not even listen, and so it became necessary to sweep your kind away, to purge the land of you and the noblesse, your leaders, that through blood and sorrow and suffering a sweeter, purer France might come to be created."
"And you have created it?" sneered Falgoux.
"Not yet. The thing is in the doing. But it will be done, be very sure of that. The edifice your kind had built threw too great a shadow over the land; it shut out God's sunshine from the poor. We sought to show you this, we sought to convince you of the injustice of it, and to prevail upon you to make alterations in the structure which would have removed the evil. It was not that you refused. It was that you would not even listen to us; and so we have torn the building down as a preliminary to reconstructing it upon more equitable lines."
"Monsieur," said the attorney tartly, "when you talked thus to the Parisian rabble in the gardens of the Palais Royal no doubt you cut a very heroic figure. But I would remind you that neither place nor audience is quite the same at present. You waste your eloquence, monsieur."
"Alas!" said Babylas with a sigh, impervious ever to the other's sarcasm. "Yet, mon maître, I beg you to bear these things in mind."
"To what end?"
"To the end that you may come to understand that all men are not rogues who do not happen to think as you think. You see, mon maître, I do not wish you to think me a rogue."
"I judge your actions rather than your words."
"That is just what I would have you do. But judge my actions accurately. Consider that, had I chosen, I might even have lived in comparative ease in Paris as a smug attorney. Instead, because I had dreamt dreams, because I desired to see those dreams realised for this poor land of France, I starved, citizen. For a year I suffered penury. Gladly I flung away a livelihood, possibly a career, that I might follow whither the voice of conscience led me, that I might lend a hand to the regeneration of France, to the breaking of the fetters by which the poor were overburdened. You speak of honesty. That, citizen, is my conception of honesty. And however you may disagree with the principles that drove me, you must agree with the purity, the single-mindedness of my purpose. I say again, I desire that you should think well of me, which is why I have said so much." And he stood up, a fine commanding figure of a man.
"I fail, monsieur," replied the attorney, "to understand your desire to earn the good opinion of so insignificant a person as myself."
And then, before Babylas could make any answer, the door opened and Madeleine re-entered, followed by Blaise's wife, who came with a laden tray to set the table for supper.
But Maître Falgoux was far from failing, as he had said, to pierce the other's motives. He suspected them, and, covertly watching the Republican now and observing how his eyes followed Madeleine as she assisted the elderly woman to prepare the table, his suspicions grew to certainty. This Babylas, it seemed, had the gift of constancy. He must keep a watch upon his daughter.
That was Falgoux's last thought as he fell asleep that night. It was his first upon awakening next morning. It drew him from his bed far earler than was his habit, and his intuitions sent him to scan the garden from his window. There he beheld what his intuitions had led him to expect. The Republican was walking with his daughter, talking earnestly, and she listening with drooping head and hands helplessly folded before her.
Maître Falgoux's eyes blazed as he watched them. He rapped out an oath--a thing extremely rare with him--and performed a hasty and untidy toilet that he might go and set a term to that communion.
It had happened that an hour ago Babylas, awakening in that room that had been his own in those happy days when he had been Falgoux's apprentice, and seeing the sunlight playing upon his whitewashed ceiling, had risen instantly, and, like the attorney an hour later, had gone straight to the window to behold that garden of his memories in the light of day.
Among the green of the apple trees he had detected a flutter of white muslin, and realising that opprtunity was now his friend he had determined not to waste it. He had dressed with speed, but without haste. Unlike the attorney, it was not his daughter that he went to interview. He gave a certain care to the arrangement of his stock and the clubbing of his hair. Yet he accomplished it with soldierly celerity.
He came to her through the grass that was a-sparkle with dew down to the gravelled walk by the gleaming river, and at his approach she stood still, with fluttering heart and trembling limbs, desiring at once to receive and to avoid him.
In silence he took her hand, and she relinquished it, desiring and yet not desiring this. A moment he held it, looking at her out of his deep blue eyes with such a curious humble hunger in his face as must have moved her had she but dared to raise her glance from the gravel path. Then, seeing that the hand was not withdrawn, he raised it to his lips, murmuring her name.
She awakened from her entrancement at the sound of his voice and drew her hand away sharply, so that his lips no more than brushed it. She looked at him at last, and there was a defiance in her eyes, a tumult in her bosom.
"For two endless years," he said, "I have hungered for this meeting, dreamt of it in a dream tortured by doubts since you left my last letter unanswered."
"I?" she cried, surprised out of the reserve she had been building up. Then she recovered. "Your memory tricks you, sir, I think; which is not surprising considering the turbulent life you have lived."
He frowned. "You mean?" he begged.
The question exasperated her. Womanlike, she leapt to bitter conclusions, founded upon her certainty that ignorance of her meaning was no more than an affectation, an imposture. There had been no room for thought of her in his life. But now that he was returned his memories reviving, he sought to bridge the hiatus by a contemptible pretence. She was "convenient"--that was the odious word she chose to describe his present attitude.
"There is really not the need to make a song about it, monsieur. It can matter little whether it was you or I who wrote the last letter."
"It can matter little to you, you mean?"
"That is what I mean."
"Ah!"--he caught his breath like a man who has suddenly been stabbed--"in that case I will but beg that you pardon me my intrusion here. Knowing your father as I do I have conceived it possible that he had confiscated the last letter that I wrote to you. A doubt lingered, and I came to set that doubt at rest."
She looked away across the river, her agitation increasing despite herself. The thought had occurred to her too.
"You might have written again," she said before she knew that she had said it, expressing a passing thought.
"That your father might again confiscate it? That his eyes might profane what was intended for no eyes but yours, that his lips might sneer over the heart that I opened to you? Clearly I could do only what I have done. Wait and trust to my faith in your sweet constancy. And now, Madeleine, you say it cannot matter?"
She believed him in the matter of the letters; she saw that she had done him a wrong in doubting him through these past two years, She was glad of that; perhaps because it was at least the affront to her vanity was removed. She was re-instated in her self-respect by the assurance that she was not a woman flouted, a passing fancy cast aside. But the assurance did not make her merciful.
"How can it matter," she answered him, "since you are become what you are--a sansculotte, one of the canaille, a murderer, a--"
"Spare me a little," he implored her, interrupting. "There may be something to be said on my side. God gave me a mind that I might reason, and I employed it. I made my talents fruitful, I think--indeed, I hope--that it must have happened in any case, but I know that if it did happen when and as it did, it was because of you."
"Because of me? Do you mock me, or do you insult me?"
"Listen, Madeleine. Because I was poor whilst your father had amassed himself a little fortune, he came to fear lest I should seek to become his son-in-law. To avert so monstrous an evil he perpetrated a mean injustice--"
"You must not speak of my father, monsieur."
"Let it pass; it is said. I shall not repeat it. Your father sought a pretext to be rid of me and dismissed me from my apprenticeship. It was an injustice that set me thinking of the thousand injustices that were daily being done by the noble and the wealthy. That he brought sorrow and despair upon me, and perhaps upon you, was naught to him. That I had gifts of mind and an application that should carry me far along the road of honest endeavour weighed for nothing with him. I was poor, therefore I was undesireable; I was to be cast out, broken if necessary. Then I considered all the thousands whose cases were no better than mine, who either because they could show neither lineage nor wealth were ground into the dust. And that was the spark from which I lit my revolutionary torch. God had given me a gift of speech, and I employed it so long as speech and argument were necessary. God had given me a gift of bodily strength, and I am employing this now that it is required to enforce the other."
"It is the common cant," she answered him, for, indeed, reared as she had been in an atmosphere of intensest loyalty to the old-established order of things, such heresies served but to arouse her resentment and disgust.
Until Babylas had voiced his sentiments she had been almost prepared to forgive him the uniform he wore, conquered by her feelings for him. But these feelings he was now stifling by his revolutionary eloquence.
"Cant?" he echoed. "Where is the cant? Are these things true or are they false? Ask yourself."
"Even if they were true, would they justify all the butchery you revolutionists have perpetrated? Do they justify the slaughter of women? The murder of the sacred person of the King himself?"
"The King?" His face flushed and sneered. "How well they conceal the truth from you. A king who plotted with Austria and Prussia that he might overrun France by German hordes and so support his tottering throne at the cost of the country he was sworn to defend. Is that a king to be handled tenderly?"
"You are blasphemous!" she cried, "I will not listen to you. You--you are vile!"
But he was not to be silenced. He reasoned on, he spoke much as he had spoken to her father last night, and the burning eloquence that had fired a Parisian mob began at last to have some effect upon the woman he loved. She was confused and bewildered by a lucid reasoning that was so subversive of all the things to which she had clung. So that in the end she begged him almost piteously to desist.
"Why? Oh, why do you tell me all this? Why do you seek to poison my mind with it?"
"I do not poison it. You have been so reared that you deem the very elixir of life a poison. I tell you this, not only to the end that you may know the truth, but to the end that you may know me, and know what forces have been at work to make me what I am. I tell you this because I cannot have you think me vile, since I love you, Madeleine."
"Oh!" It was a gasp, no more. And then she saw her father issuing from the house, and was thankful for the respite his coming brought her.
Later that morning the perturbed Maître Falgoux questioned his daughter closely and searchingly. The result almost satisfied him. She confessed frankly now that ever since Babylas had left them three years ago she had nourished a tenderness for him, but that this tenderness he had himself slain when he presented himself before her in the garb of a Republican, and by his speech insulted all the principles that she accounted sacred.
Falgoux did not for a moment doubt her sincerity. He knew her character too well, knew her loathing of deceit and subterfuge and her natural courage and intelligence which rendered falsehood unnecessary. It was very well, he assured himself. This visit of Babylas's, which he had accounted so very inopportune, was, it seemed, the very medicine needed to cure her of her obstinate attachment to his memory. A wise man would have been content to have left matters there for the present. But Maître Falgoux was not wise--at least, where women were concerned. In his unwisdom he deemed the season a timely one for advocating Cadouin's case.
He rubbed his lean hands together. "I am glad, my dear," he said, "glad both on your account and this good Cadouin's whose wishes you will no longer withstand."
But at that she stared at him in dismay.
"What has Monsieur Cadouin to do with it?" said she. "I beg that you will not press me further, my father." And upon that she left him that she might escape a recapitulation of all the arguments he was wont to employ in Cadouin's favour.
This troubled him. It shook his confidence in her sincerity. Ultimately it led him to dispatch Blaise to summon Cadouin.
Blaise, armed with a civic card which he had no difficulty in procuring, departed upon his errand, and as a result of it Cadouin himself made his appearance at the house in the Rue de l'Eglise that same evening.
He came, unannounced, upon father and daughter as they were sitting in that white-panelled room, and they started up with a cry of concern at sight of him.
"So soon," exclaimed the attorney. "How did you contrive it?"
"I came with Blaise's card, leaving Blaise at Fontenay to await my return," he answered.
"But the danger of it."
"Is none so great as you would suppose. The sentries cannot remember everybody who passes out. Moreover, I reckon that the guard would have been changed since Blaise left Niort, and no doubt it will be changed again ere he returns. Besides," he added, his dark eyes seeking Madeleine's, "I am not a man to be detained by dangers when inclination spurs me on. But you desire my presence, maître."
Falgoux looked at his daughter, hesitating. "Fetch wine, Madeleine," he bade her shortly.
Whilst she was gone upon that message the attorney succinctly related what had happened. The coming of Babylas, the avowed affect of his republicanism upon Madeleine's feeling towards him, his own lingering doubts.
Cadouin listened avidly with hunched shoulders, hands clasped behind him, and a dark scowl upon his broad face. Jealousy seethed within him, and the fires of it were not to be extinguished by the repetition of Madeleine's assurance that there was an end to any regard that ever she might have nourished for Babylas. Cadouin's jealousy was of that fierce quality which embraces the past as well as the present where the object of it is concerned. Whatever Madeleine might feel now for Babylas, she had practically confessed that once she loved him, and that was something which must be a thorn in Cadouin's very soul as long as Babylas lived.
"You did well to send for me," he said at last, speaking through clenched teeth. He moved to the window, deep in thought.
"What do you advise?" asked Falgoux.
Madeleine entered at that moment bearing a tray laden with a flagon and three tall, graceful glasses. Cadouin watched her as she poured the wine. He received from her hands the glass she brought him with a bow and a smile. He raised it and gave the toast:
"Live the King, and death to all Republicans!"
Her father repeated the words after him. Madeleine drank in silence, emptying the half-glass she had poured herself.
"I trust you approve the toast, mademoiselle," quoth Cadouin.
"With all my heart," she answered.
"It is well," he said, "it is well." He had taken his decision. He would here and now resolve Maître Falgoux's lingering doubt concerning her. "Hither into your house, mademoiselle, one of these slimy sansculottes has crawled to thrust himself." It was in vain that the attorney, who did not perceive the depth of Cadouin's purpose, flashed him warning glances. The Royalist pursued his theme. "He is included in the latter half of that toast, mademoiselle." He spoke with grim significance.
He saw her set down her empty glass and observed that her hand shook slightly; he observed, too, the sudden dilation of her eyes and the constrained expression of her face.
"But since the lives of our enemies are not to be toasted away," he continued, "we must devise other means to rid you of this incubus."
"Such as?" she asked him in a small voice.
He advanced to the table and set down his half-emptied glass.
"There is a way," he said, "which has done good service against some dozens of these upstarts. We who fight the King's battles must fight them as we can, and one method which has been widely employed is that of single combat. These ruffians, recruited from the rabble, know nothing of the gentleman's weapon," and he tapped the slender rapier at his side. "But in their self-sufficient arrogance they never shirk an engagement."
"But that is murder," she said, and sat down by the table and looked up at him.
"Murder?" he scowled. "Do you call it murder to kill a man in fair fight?"
"Do you call it fair fight in which only one of the combatants has knowledge of the weapons employed?" she countered.
He laughed, undismayed, amused, indeed, by the ingenuousness of her point of view.
"The fault is theirs, mademoiselle. If they set themselves up as equals of gentlemen, it is for them to make good their boast in all things. They must take the consequences. Indeed, many of them have already taken them. There is a little band of noble spadassins that is doing good work in France. To that band I have the honour to belong."
"I should not boast of it, Monsieur Cadouin," she said, and there was cold contempt in her voice.
It stung him. "Ha!" said he, with a catch in his breath. "What a sudden concern for the canaille!"
"Nay, sir, my concern is for the noblesse and its honour, which I would not see smirched by deeds more worthy of these revolutionary hinds."
"You are sure, mademoiselle, that these feelings are not dictated by concern for one of these revolutionary hinds of whom you speak?" His sneer was so malignant that it provoked Maître Falgoux himself into intervening. For although the attorney himself could be lavish in sarcasm where his daughter was concerned, he permitted it in no one else.
"Nay, Cadouin," he said sharply, "the girl is right. Such methods are entirely unworthy. They savour, indeed, of murder, and a cause does not prosper that needs to be supported by such deeds."
Cadouin looked at the attorney, flushing darkly. He was very angry, but before he could find expression for it the door was suddenly opened, and Blaise's wife came to warn them that the Colonel was riding down the street. She had seen him from one of the windows, and knowing Monsieur Cadouin to be there, she had taken the liberty of coming to warn them.
It was an announcement that scattered all Monsieur Cadouin's anger, and together with it all thought of his purpose of picking a personal quarrel with Babylas.
"I had best go at once then," he announced, obviously a little startled by the news.
Never had he seemed so contemptible to Madeleine as in this abrupt change from his recent blustering. It occurred to her that he was ever as eager to avoid danger as he was eager to boast of incurring it.
"If your haste is great, monsieur," said she, "the window is none so far from the ground."
He looked at her with anger flickering through the reproach of his glance. He checked and placed a hand on his heart, like a man who speaks from his inmost conscience.
"Mademoiselle," he replied gravely, "if I depart at all it is out of concern for you and your father. I would not be the means of bringing trouble upon this house; but I shall come again, and soon."
Upon that, with a last brief word of farewell he flung out, and went by way of the garden that he might be sure of avoiding the man he had proposed to eviscerate.
"I do not think, my father," said Madeleine, smiling a little sadly, "that I admire Monsieur Cadouin."
"You heard what he said," her father reproached her. "It was concern for us that prompted his departure, and perhaps respect for your opinions. You would not have him stay and beard this fellow, lest he should do murder. And now you imply that he should not have gone as he did. You are unreasonable. All women are unreasonable," he added querulously.
The Colonel entered, bowed gravely, and was as gravely greeted. He set down his sword and hat, and went to fling himself upon the window seat. He was weary, he announced. There had been much to do that day, so much that he had no time to breathe at ease until this moment.
"But why did your guest depart in haste, citizen?" he asked presently. "I trust it was not my coming drove him hence?"
They stared at him in sudden alarm. The Maître Falgoux drew himself up very erect and stiff. But it was Madeleine who challenged him.
"Do you spy upon us, Monsieur le Colonel?" she asked.
"Spy upon you? Name of a name! What a thing to impute!" he laughed. "It is not to spy to behold what is thrust under a man's very eyes. I observe, that is all. If you were to do as much," and his glance included both of them, "perhaps you would cling less rigidly to your old beliefs." He pointed to the table. "There are three glasses, therefore, three people were lately drinking here; one of those glasses is neither the one standing before you, citizen, nor before you, citoyenne; therefore it is a clear inference that it was your visitor's, and since it is still half full of wine it is equally clear that he departed without giving himself time to finish it."
Maître Falgoux laughed a little awkwardly. "I compliment you, sir, upon your acumen." he said.
"Yet you will not trust it, citizen," was the grave answer. "In a simple matter such as this I can perforce convince you that I reason clearly, But in graver and more far-reaching matters you not merely mistrust my conclusions, but you mistrust me for drawing them and detest me for holding them. Yet, I assure you, the signs are no less obvious than those three glasses to him who can see, the inferences no less inevitable."
"If we are to observe the amenities that are desirable among those whom chance has placed under the same roof," was the stilted answer, "your observation and unerring reason should warn you that it is expedient to ignore political differences."
But Babylas would be warned of no such thing. Not a day passed but that with Maître Falgoux, or with his daughter, or with both of them, he would draw the conversation to that dangerous topic, and sometimes he would harangue them as he had harangued the people in the Palais Royal in the old days, until there were moments when the force of his eloquence would touch the heart of one or the other of his listeners. But such moments were rare and evanescent. Prejudice was too deeply rooted in them both. Father and daughter alike were bigots in their royalism, and bigotry is a thing impervious to reason and to argument. Rob bigots of all arguments to bolster up their beliefs, and they will still cling to them in the conviction that although themselves they have no argument at hand wherewith to answer the assailant, yet such arguments must and do exist.
There was something almost pathetic in the attitude of Babylas, which entirely escaped them. They never realised that it was not their conversion that was the object of his harangues, but just his own reinstatement in their eyes, that what he really sought was to make them understand how he had seen things and how inevitable it was that he should so see them, to the end that they might forgive him beliefs that were so opposed to their own. Their goodwill was all he desired, not their conversion to the doctrines of the Revolution, however much he might be the apostle of the latter.
It was Cadouin himself who--upon his next secret visit--opened the attorney's eyes to his possible danger, and the attorney, stout-hearted as he was, grew chill with the shock of sudden apprehension.
"You are indiscret to reveal your views to him," was Cadouin's censure. "Consider that he is in love with Madeleine. He is a dog of a Republican. I know his breed. They stop at nothing. For a while he will fawn and gambol because he thinks it may serve his ends; let him once despair of that, and what is to prevent him sending you to the guillotine? Who is to save Madeleine from him then? Who is to prevent him from appropriating her?"
Falgoux uttered a groan, overwhelmed by sudden realisation of his position, but there was no cause for his despair. Cadouin had taken measures. It may have been just the consideration of this state of things, just the desire to serve his own ends that had spurred him to conceive and to advise M. de Charette, the Royalist leader, upon a certain course. Since alone he hesitated to tackle Colonel Babylas, he had resolved to employ to that end a portion of the Royalist army, and at the same time to strike a blow for the Royalist cause.
He had gone to Charette with his proposal, because Charette seemed the likeliest man to see eye to eye with him. It was a ruthless, murderous business, and Charette was become a ruthless, murderous fellow in the intensity of his hatred of the Republic. Not another of the Vendéen leaders would have listened to Cadouin's plan, but Charette absorbed it eagerly with eyes thatn glistened with hate and ferocity. He had commended Cadouin's shrewdness, and he had there and then announced that if Cadouin could complete the necessary preparations he would see the plan executed.
And this was the very business that had brought Cadouin once more in secret to Niort. Lacking a carte de civisme this time, he had come by way of the river; he had dodged the single and not too attentive sentry, and had swum across in the dusk. His clothes were drying in the kitchen below, and Blaise would ferry him back anon. Meanwhile, he had arrayed himself in some odd garments and a bed-gown borrowed from Maître Falgoux.
The Colonel, he had assured himself before seeking the attorney, was absent on duty, and would not return until ten o'clock that night, so that he had a good hour before him.
"Where is Madeleine?" he asked suddenly.
"In her room," replied Maître Falgoux. "Your apparel," he added, "is sufficient to ensure her absence. We can talk at our ease."
Nevertheless, Cadouin rose, crossed to the door, opened it, and looked out, to make quite sure that the coast was clear. Then he returned slowly to his chair.
"Monsieur," he announced, "there is a very glorious enterprise afoot to rid Niort of this pestilence and to strike a blow that may be far-reaching in its consequences, so far-reaching that it may replace the King upon his throne and restore to France her God."
"Tell me! Tell me!" said the attorney, leaning forward in his sudden eagerness.
"One thing is yet necessary to complete our preparations. We need a stout friend in Niort who will supply the missing link in our chain. Maître, the time has come when you can serve the cause you love. You are the friend we need--you and no other."
"Speak," said the attorney without hesitation; "and though my life should be demanded, I will give it joyfully to advance the cause of God and the King."
Had either of them observed the porcelain door-knob at that moment he would have seen that it turned, yet the door did not open. It was as if someone had paused in the very act of entering.
"Very well," said Cadouin. "Now listen." And the door-knob slowly and silently revolved back again to its original position.
"In their abject generalship," the Royalist pursued, "these Republicans have neglected to fortify themselves here on the side of the river. They consider that the river itself is a sufficient barrier; moreover, they are confident that they would have ample warning of any projected attack upon this side. They guard the bank adequately as they suppose for such a purpose, but in reality the guard is utterly inadequate, as witness my presence here. It is for us, monsieur, to take advantage of this state of things. The surprise is planned--a camisade, a night attack. All that we lack is the co-operation of a trusty Loyalist in Niort. What do you say, maître? Will you be that co-operator?"
"What do I say? What do I say?" faltered Maître Falgoux, rising in his agitation. "What do you expect me to say, Cadouin? All that I have, all that I am, is at the service of the King and his sacred cause."
"I knew it, mon maître. It was the answer upon which I depended when I proposed this plan of mine to M. de Charette. All is in readiness. We shall muster secretly at Fontenay some two thousand strong; Niort itself should yield us another five hundred, and so we shall have all that we need, for our aim is to take these canaille by surprise and destroy them piecemeal. On Sunday night there will be no moon. Precisely at midnight we shall be on the opposite shore. We shall see to it that the sentry shall have been removed. A few of us will creep on in advance to attend to that. Then one of us will swim across bearing a cord with him. By means of this a half-dozen ropes are to be drawn across the stream, and one end of each will be tied to a tree, the other end we shall make fast on the other side. By these ropes to serve them as guides, our men will cross, wading and swimming, their powder in a bundle on their heads. The spot chosen is your own meadow-land down at Saint-Pré. The high walls enclosing it will screen our movements from any belated sansculotte. There we shall muster quietly, and then by the meadow gate--of which you will give me the key--we stream out upon Niort. Every loyal man in the town must be warned and ready to join hands with us. We want only those that are absolutely to be trusted. I have brought you a list of them. And even then none is to be informed of the way by which we are coming. That, monsieur, will be your task."
"Yes, yes," Falgoux nodded eagerly.
"We shall cross exactly at midnight, but to make quite sure the signal for them will be when the clock of St. Antoine chimes the hour of one. Upon the stroke of it let them issue quietly from their houses. Let every man wear a white shirt over his clothes, as we shall be doing. Thus we shall be able to distinguish friend from enemy in the dark. Bid all repair to the market square, where we shall join them. And I dare swear," he added, "that in half an hour the town will be in our hands and the Republicans annihilated. The rest that is to do can wait until that much is accomplished. The Republicans' own caution in billeting most of their men upon none but trusted patriots will assist us, the Royalists here, being in the main free of these unwelcome lodgers, will be free to make their preparations without fear of being surprised."
"I understand," said Maître Falgoux.
"And you will prepare the Royalists of Niort?"
"You can depend on me."
"Then you can depend on us to plunge these Republicans from one slumber into a deeper one." And he laughed, relishing his jest. "For our aim will be to take them in their beds. Be generous with your wine on Sunday night. See that your Colonel Babylas drinks his fill. We will do the rest."
Falgoux winced at that. He did not relish the thought of murder in his own house.
Then the door-knob turned again, and this time the door opened quite suddenly, although no steps had been heard to approach it. Both men started. In the doorway stood Madeleine, her face of the colour of granite. They might have noticed it, but that the message she delivered scattered all conjecture from their minds.
"Colonel Babylas has just returned. He is here,"
Cadouin twisted this way and that, seeking a nook in which he might conceal himself. But the white-panelled room offered him no slightest cover.
The attorney swore. "In Heaven's name, what brings him thus a good half-hour before his time?" he cried.
"That is of little consequence," snapped Cadouin, his face very grey. "What matters is that I am trapped, and my life is in danger."
At last it seemed that the danger which he boasted of loving had overtaken him.
"What matters even more--" the attorney was beginning, when Cadouin fiercely interrupted him. The Colonel's sword came clanking along the passage.
"Nothing matters more to a man than his life," said the Royalist in the fierce, futile assertion of despair.
And then Colonel Babylas stood at gaze in the doorway.
Beyond a slight elevation of his eyebrows the soldier permitted no indication of his surprise to appear. His wide-set, observant eyes took in the details of Cadouin's grotesque apparel, and his keen wits instantly supplied the reason of it.
He advanced a step, then checked, as if hesitating.
"Do I intrude?" he asked, looking from one to another, his manner charmingly deferential.
Cadouin made the fatal mistake of assuming this hesitation and deference to be based on fear. His own failing courage instantly revived. He was conscious, too, that it was imperative that he should acquit himself with valour and dignity in the eyes of Madeleine, that he should score an advantage over a man in whom he half-suspected a rival.
"What else can you suppose?" he answered, sneering.
"Let me make haste, then, to repair the fault," replied Baylas, half-turning as if to depart, his smoothness unruffled. "I had not expected the pleasure of seeing you, Citizen Cadouin," he added--for he had known Cadouin in the days of his apprenticeship. "I regret that our meeting should be so very brief and fugitive."
"It is a regret I do not share," said Cadouin, and flattered himself that he was cutting a fine figure, observed with satisfaction Madeleine's faint air of wonder.
"That I can understand," said Babylas, smiling with unruffled amiability. "As a soldier of the Convention," he added after a moment's pause, "let me apologize for the existence of conditions which impose upon you the necessity of swimming to pay your visits. I am desolated you should be so greatly inconvenienced, citizen."
And on that he would have quitted the room, but that Cadouin, more and more persuaded that the Republican went in terror of him, would not rest content.
"You are too cursedly polite," he grumbled.
"That, citizen," was the smooth answer, "is something with which I could never reproach you."
It was rank folly on the part of Cadouin, but, vanity and jealousy combining to urge him, he was not to be restrained.
"Sir, you are a scoundrel--a scoundrel, do you understand?"
"I understand perfectly, citizen."
"What do you understand?"
"Amongst other things that you are a fool, Citizen Cadouin. I have always suspected it. None but a fool would attempt to provoke a man who is master of the situation."
"You flatter yourself that you are master of the situation, do you?" snapped Cadouin, in spite of a warning tug at his sleeve from Falgoux.
"I assure myself of it without flattery."
"You are impervious, then, to insult?" roared Cadouin, the more infuriated by the other's calm.
"Oh, by no means! Alas! I am but human, Citizen Cadouin, and I would warn you not to test me too far. I think it is quite plain you desire to pick a quarrel with me. It is within your power to succeed. Others of our kind--one or two of your famous Royalist spadassins have succeeded. But I had a surprise in store for them. As the offended party I had the choice of weapons, and I chose sabres. Their ignorance of the ways of that weapon proved as profound as my ignorance of the small sword on which they had counted. But they were committed, and so forced to submit to let me carve them at my ease. If I spare you this surprise it is out of deference to our host, Maître Falgoux; I would not have him troubled to give an account of your presence here, for it is well known, citizen, that you are serving in Charette's army of brigands, and to harbour you is a grave offence. For the same reason I forbear from having you arrested. But there are limits to the extent to which I can neglect my duty, and I would advise you, citizen, to resume your own clothes without delay, whether they be wet or dry, and to disappear."
He walked calmly to the door. There he paused to look at his watch.
"I give you a quarter of an hour, citizen, in which to quit Niort. More I cannot do," And he went out, closing the door after him.
Cadouin stood livid with rage begotten of his utter defeat. He realised how pitiable a figure he had cut in that brief contest, how completely the honours were with the Republican--so completely that it was actually by his favour that Cadouin continued at liberty, and was at liberty to make his escape. That talk of sabres had sickened him, as it had sickened one or two others of his kidney, who, intent upon murder in the guise of a duel, had suddenly found the tables turned upon them.
"What was I to do?" he asked, appealing to father and daughter. "What was I to do with a fellow who talked of sabres? As well propose a combat with butchers' knives. Faugh! And yet," he added, on a sudden inspiration that should restore him in their esteem, "I should not have been deterred even by that if my own life had been all that was in jeopardy. I had to think of the cause I serve, and the thing that is even now to do. The King's service cannot spare me."
"In Heaven's name," cried Falgoux, "consider that now, and get you gone while there is time. Come, man, I will get your clothes for you. You shall have that key, too. And if there is anything else you have to say, you can say it whilst you are dressing. Come!"
For all his danger and the urgency of the case, Cadouin went reluctantly. He desired a word yet with Madeleine; but that word was denied him by the attorney, who hurried him away.
Left alone, Madeleine, very pale and thoughtful, sank to the window-seat. Cadouin had aroused her contempt by contrast with the dignified imperturbability and generosity of Babylas. She was not to know that it was chiefly consideration for herself that had dictated the Colonel's conduct, that the desire to appear heroically in her eyes had prompted him to keep a firm hand on his temper, and to display a twofold magnanimity towards Cadouin, of which, in different circumstances, the Royalist would certainly have seen no sign. After all, you see, Babylas was but human and a little of a self-seeker, at least where Madeleine Falgoux was concerned.
She found a certain disloyalty creeping into her thoughts. It is almost impossible to admire the member of one faction and despise the member of another without at the same time being drawn to sympathy and antipathy for their respective sides. Out of her deep-seated abhorrence of the revolution and all that it had bred, she reproached herself now for these mutinous feelings that were stirring in her.
She heard her father and Cadouin go down the garden in the dark, accompanied by Blaise, who would take Cadouin across the river in the boat.
Then the door opened and Babylas came in. Instantly she rose to depart, pursuing the course she had set herself since that first interview of theirs on the morning after his coming--never to permit herself to be alone with him.
But he detained her.
"A moment, citoyenne," he begged. "There is something I should like to say. It concerns your father, citoyenne, and yet I have thought that if you were to convey my warning, it might have greater effect. I should regret, too, if coming from me it should seem to have the air of a threat, or should be so construed by him."
"What is it, monsieur?" She was a little breathless.
"Warn him, citoyenne, that he is extremely unwise in the course he is pursuing, and counsel him to abandon it."
"What course is that, monsieur?"
"He will know better than I. I am not blind. It is quite obvious to me that your friend Cadouin's visits are more or less regular. There was the wine-glass the other day you remember. Now I am fully informed of the Citizen Cadouin's association with Charette and Cathelineau. I conclude, therefore, that he is a go-between--an agent--and that his visits here at the risk of his neck are concerned with some plotting into which he is inveigling your father. Bid your father wash his hands of plots, and leave politics alone as he loves his neck and as he loves you. The Republic has as many eyes as Argus. Tell him so, mademoiselle. Use persuasion with him, as you love him."
She was deathly pale and her bosom was in tumult, yet she looked him straight between the eyes.
"Monsieur," she answered, "you are quite at fault. Monsieur Cadouin is the future husband chosen for me by my father. Let that explain to you his frequent secret visits at the risk of his neck."
She saw the ripple of pain that spread across his face, leaving a shadow in his clear eyes. Then he bowed stiffly.
"The explanation is more than adequate," he replied. "I thank you for the confidence."
And upon that the interview ended, leaving her a profound feeling of dissatisfaction.
But that night, alone with her father after the Colonel had retired, she conveyed his warning, and added to it the most strenuous intercessions of her own. He listened gloomily, frowning.
"It is idle to counsel me against my duty," he said at last, but there was a lack of heartiness in the words. "Whatever the risk, whatever the cost, I must bear it for the sake of my faith and my principles."
"Then it is true you are plotting something?" she cried, as if until now she had possessed no knowledge of the fact.
"I did not say so much."
"But you don't deny it. Nor is there any need. But, father, do you intend to persevere?"
He looked at her, a faint smile on his thin-lipped mouth.
"My child," he said in a voice of gentle remonstrance, "if I were indeed concerned in any plot for the greater honour and glory of our God and our King, you would not have me abandon it now?"
"Not after what has happened here to-day--after Colonel Babylas allowing Monsieur Cadouin to go free? Has Colonel Babylas not placed us under a debt? Can we in honour avail ourselves of his generosity to plot his ruin?"
He looked at her again, and his eyes now were hard and suspicious.
"You are pleading for the sansculotte, eh?"
"I am pleading for your honour and for your safety," she answered.
"The latter is of no account; of the former you must allow me to be the best judge, my girl," he said. "We must take what advantage we can of the canaille. Babylas was perhaps foolish to let Cadouin go free. But it would be illogical to argue that our hands are to be bound by his act of folly."
"His act of generosity, you mean, my father."
"That," was the shrewd answer, "is what he would have it appear. I see that it has some effect upon you, and so no doubt his purpose would be served were I a fool too. Peace, girl! Keep to your own affairs," he ended peremptorily, and thus brought the discussion to a close.
It was on a Monday--the last Monday in June--that Cadouin had paid that visit of his to Maître Falgoux. The camisade was planned, as we have seen, for the following Sunday, so that the attorney had the best part of a week in which to go about the task of preparing the Royalists of Niort to bear their share in the enterprise.
Notwithstanding the precautions that he used, his activities were necessarily such that of a certainty they must have aroused the suspicions of the Committee of Public Safety, but for the immunity from "observation" which he enjoyed, thanks to the sponsorship of that stalwart Republican, Colonel Babylas.
Returning more than once during that week at odd hours to the house in the Rue de l'Eglise, Babylas almost invariably found the attorney from home. Something was engaging him prodigiously. And Babylas, not without his suspicions that whatever the business might be it was not unconnected with Cadouin's surreptitious visits. He feared that some mischief might be brewing--that is to say, he feared for Maître Falgoux. To show the attorney that he was wide awake he dropped a word of warning on the Wednesday at the midday meal.
"I do not know, maître," he said, "whether you have means of communicating with Citizen Cadouin. If so, and lest he should not have taken my warning sufficiently to heart, you would do well to inform him that the guard across the river has been considerably increased, and that any further attempt to swim across will most certainly earn him a bullet through such brains as he possesses."
This news of the increase of the guard on the farther bank of the river brought Falgoux a pang of sudden anxiety. He must know how far this increased guard extended, whether it was merely to observe the spot where last Cadouin had crossed, or whether, indeed, it might not reach along the whole of the opposite bank as far even as Saint-Pré, which was to be the object of the first stage of the attempt on Sunday night.
"You have considered it necessary to watch the shore opposite my garden?" he inquired probingly, anxiously awaiting the reply to his inward doubts rather than to his spoken words.
"Can you blame me?" returned Babylas. "More than once a visitor from ouside has reached you, and with the best intentions towards you I must see that this does not continue."
The attorney was answered, and he breathed more freely; there was an almost perceptible relaxing of the tension of his ascetic face.
Then Babylas proceeded to elaborate what he had said.
"Because I do not believe, maître, that the Republic is in any serious danger from your friends, I can close my eyes to things for which the Republic would call you to account did evil follow, and call me to account, too, for not having observed them."
"I am profoundly indebted to you," said Falgoux, with such tart irony that Madeleine flushed and looked up quickly to see how the Colonel took the thrust.
"Your goodwill, mon maître, is all that I desire," he answered in a quiet, level voice that robbed his words of all suspicion of self-vaunting. "God knows I have done my best to earn it. But you will persist in treating me as an enemy in spite of all the proofs I give you that I am your friend. Why must political differences beget such bitterness towards me in your hearts?" And his appeal was to father and daughter alike.
"Sir, once already have I asked you to abstain from political questions," was the uncompromising answer.
"And I have abstained from them more than you have imagined, perhaps," replied the young man, stung into some slight show of heat for the first time. "More than once this week, for instance, I have on the point of speaking to you about the business that is engaging you so much these days."
The old man's jaw dropped, and a greyness overspread his face. It seemed to him in that moment that the Republic was indeed Argus-eyed, or else it was this soldier who enjoyed that all-penetrating vision.
"What--what do you mean?" he faltered.
"I did not touch upon the topic because it must have involved us in arguments that are disdainful to you. Yet, notwithstanding all your contempt and scorn for me, mon maître, it is I who have stood between you and the Committee of Public Safety. They might have asked you some awkward questions about all these comings and goings of your own and your friends in Niort--your rebel friends, mon maître, for the Republic is well-informed of whom to trust and whom to watch."
"I--I have been doing nothing, sir, for which any just tribunal could proceed against me."
"Perhaps not. But--name of a name!--the Republic does not wait for men to act. She judges them upon their intentions, and their intentions can be dragged to light by the sort of inquiries conducted by the Public Safety."
"Then--then my innmunity?" babbled the old man, very shaken.
"Is due to the fact that I, who am above suspicion, have guaranteed your good faith. If trouble were to arise from negligence pursuant upon my sponsorship"--the Colonel made a gesture with the edge of his hand across his throat--"I should have to pay. I mention this only that you may not continue to account me a fool, and that you may spare me your little forensic sarcasms at my opinions and your sneers at the respect and goodwill I profess to bear you." He paused a moment, looking squarely at his pale and shaken host.
Himself he led a change of conversation but with only indifferent success, and no sooner were father and daughter alone once more than they reverted to the topic. It was Madeleine who led the way to it.
"I spoke the other day," she said, "of the debt under which we stand to Colonel Babylas. I little knew at the time--nor did you, my father--the full extent of that debt. But we know it now."
"Yes," said Falgoux gloomily, "we know it now."
"It is plain from what the Colonel has said that if you succeed in your plot it is due solely to the immunity he has procured you from arrest, thanks to his having screened you from the suspicion that was already pointing to you."
"Well?" his voice was as harsh and irritable as hers was calm and judicial.
"It is no less plain that the Colonel's ruin, and no doubt his life, will be the price he will have to pay for his generosity. Can you consent to that?"
He rose in agitation. Two hectic spots were burning on his livid cheeks. He spoke in exasperation more bitter because he was conscious of the injustice of his only conceivable defence.
"What choice have I? Am I to sacrifice my King and my faith because the Colonel is a fool?"
"His only folly," she insisted, "is the folly of generosity."
"And nothing else?" he challenged her, glaring almost fiercely. "Say rather that it is the folly of love-sickness." He grew reckless in his frenzy to justify himself. "Is it out of consideration for me do you suppose, that Babylas has done what he has done? Heaven knows he has no reason for such self-sacrificing affection. I have no doubt he would have handed me over to the Committee of Public Safety a week ago but for the circumstance that I have a daughter--a daughter who is weak enough to urge me to be unfaithful to all that I hold sacred because--"
"Stop!" she bade him, rising in her turn. And stop he did, realising a little late that he was not taking the right tone, that in endeavouring to avoid the path of one danger he was plunging into that of another still more grave.
"You cannot," she said, "be unconscious of the injustice of your words. If you are, then I can prove it to you. Lest he should suspect that M. Cadouin's visits had a political significance, I informed him that M. Cadouin was the husband you had chosen for me, leaving him to assume that if M. Cadouin risked his life to get through the Republican lines it was simply through the impetuosity--of a lover--that he came to see me, in short."
Her father stared at her, a little bewildered.
"You let him believe that, and yet he--"
"And yet he bade me warn M. Cadouin that his duty had compelled him to increase the guard, lest others with other intentions should penetrate hither as M. Cadouin has done. You may conclude from that whether it is merely consideration for me, or the hope of winning me, that has dictated the generosity of his behaviour towards you."
But although she used the argument to convince her father, and did in part convince him, yet she did not convince herself. What Maître Falgoux had said she held to be the true explanation of the Colonel's conduct, an explanation that might never have occurred to her had he not rashly thrust it under her notice. It increased her loathing of the thing that was plotted.
Was Babylas' affection indeed so profound, sincere, and self-denying that for her sake he shielded not only her father who had ever been hostile to his wooing of her, but even the very man whom she had given him reason to suppose was her lover? And was his life to pay the price of his devotion to her?
The matter seemed whittled down to a personal one between herself and him. It was his affection for her--no less--that afforded the foundation upon which it had been possible to construct a conspiracy that must involve his ruin. The realisation of this filled her with horror. Her every instinct was to warn him. Yet she realised that to do so she must betray the cause which was her religion--indeed of which her actual religion was part--and must deliver up her father to the merciless tribunal of the Convention. If only she had been spared the knowledge of what was hatching. If only she had not had the mischance to stand outside that door whilst Cadouin had expounded the plot to her father and enlisted his co-operation. That was the idle wish that haunted her, driving her to the verge of distraction.
On the evening of Saturday she went to sit by the river, watching its smooth flow and wondering whether it did not offer her a way of escape from the mental torture with which she was afflicted. Her brooding was disturbed by the click of spurs and the clank of a sabre approaching from the direction of the house. She did not turn her head, however, until the Colonel stood beside her.
"Citoyenne," he said gently, "forgive this intrusion which common courtesy demands. It will be the last you have to endure from me. I have sought you that I might take my leave of you."
For a moment during which she weighed and realised the significance of his words, she sat quite still, her head forward, her whole attitude a little muddled as if under a blow. Then she looked up sharply, her heart leaping in this sudden and unexpected relief of an intolerable burden.
"You are departing?" she cried, and there was no mistaking the gladness that rang in her voice. It was eager and incredulous--incredulous that thus, as by a miracle almost, her agonising doubts were all resolved for her. She saw the deepening gloom of his overcast face, the sudden flicker of his eyelids and compression of his lips. She perceived how her obvious joy had wounded him. Pity stirred in her. Poor fellow! Did he but guess the true sources of that joy, how different might not his feelings be!
"In view of your satisfaction, citoyenne," he said, smiling a little bitterly, "it were almost ungracious to express my own regrets. It were more courteous of me to rejoice that I relieve you of a presence that is distasteful. Yet you will suffer me to thank you for the hospitality afforded me here. We are marching on Fontenay."
"When--when do you go?" she asked. "To-night or to-morrow?"
"On Monday morning, citoyenne. To-morrow I shall be fully occupied with measures that are to be taken, and I may not have another opportunity of seeing you."
Her heart had stopped again. She looked dully across the river, and it seemed to her that the sunlight had grown obscured. Not until Monday morning! All her satisfaction had been idle, then. Monday morning would be some hours too late. She spoke her thoughts aloud.
"Why not until Monday morning?" she asked, and there was a note of exasperation in her voice.
"There are certain measures to be taken," he repeated. "The movement has only just been resolved upon. I trust your satisfaction is not diminished." There was a pause. Then he spoke again. "Citoyenne, forgive the liberty I am taking on the score of the good intentions by which I am prompted. Use your endeavours with your father to induce him to stifle the expression of his hostility to the Republic. Prevail upon him to be cautious. Let him harbour aristocratic feelings in his heart, but let him keep the expression of them from his lips; and let him keep himself clear of any plottings against the Convention. It is all worse than idle, and it can but bring him into the gravest peril. Lastly, citoyenne, if at any time you need a friend, pray do not scruple to use me. I command some little influence with the members of the National Convention, and I ask you to believe that I shall never be happier than when exerting it in your favour--although I pray that the need may not arise."
"You--you are very kind, monsieur." She spoke the words mechanically, and a silence followed.
He waited patiently a while. At last, seeing that he waited in vain--
"Adieu, citoyenne," he said gravely.
"Adieu, monsieur," she answered without looking up.
She heard his sigh, and then the crunch of the gravel, and the click-click of his spurs as he marched away. At last there was silence. She was completely alone. Huddled there by the river she sank her head to her arms and fell a-sobbing.
Throughout that fateful Sunday she was alone in the house--save, of course, for Blaise and his wife. The Colonel had gone betimes to his duties of preparation for the evacuation of Niort. Her father had followed very shortly after, and continued absent through that dreary summer day, no doubt equally busy with the final preparations for the camisade.
He returned towards sunset, jaded and worn, yet with a flush upon his prominent cheek-bones and a fanatical glitter in his little eyes.
His daughter stared at him out of her haunting eyes.
"Where have you been all day?" she asked him, lest from her silence he might suspect= the fullness of knowledge.
"Serving the King," he growled in answer. He hectored a little to cover his uneasiness before her.
She professed weariness and withdrew to her room.
Fully dressed as she was she flung herself upon her bed and lay staring up at the ceiling, faced ever by those two dread alternatives. However she decided she must loathe and abhor herself for a traitress all her life. It seemed inevitable to her that she must choose the alternative that meant passivity, since she felt that she could never exert the strength to positive action.
She stared at the white ceiling and watched the daylight gradually fade from it; at last it was no more than a faint grey blur, and she heard the clocks of Niort striking the hour of ten. Three more hours, and then--
Soon after she heard steps under her window, which overlooked the street; they were accompanied by the click of spurs and the trailing clank of a sabre on the cobbles. There was a knock at the door. It was Colonel Babylas returning. She heard him enter, and she reflected with another shudder that he would never leave that house alive again. The Royalists would come to butcher him in his bed. That was the return that was to be made for his shielding of her father. He was to be ruthlessly sacrificed, a victim of the generosity prompted in him by his love for herself. Yet, unless she could be false to the cause she honoured, unless she could become a traitress to her God and King, unless she was prepared to betray her father and her friends and all those loyal souls who strove to stamp out this revolutionary madness from distracted France, she must lie there and suffer this murder to be done, and so by her passivity become a traitress no less vile.
She heard in snatches, between the opening and closing of a door, the Colonel and her father in conversation. No doubt her father would be giving him wine and fair words to lull those watchful wits of his.
Later, she heard the Colonel coming up to his room--across the landing opposite to her own. She heard his door close softly, and the completest silence fell upon the house. Yet her father continued below. He would not seek his bed that night.
Eleven o'clock struck, and lastly twelve. She counted the strokes. The Royalists would even now be crossing the river opposite the meadows of Saint-Pré. She sat up and pressed her hands to her throbbing temples. After a little while she slipped from the bed. She crossed to the window, and thrusting it wide she leaned there listening. No faintest sound came to disturb the stillness of the summer night. The Republicans slept tranquil and unsuspicious.
She wondered how far it might yet be from the appointed hour. She groped her way to the table in the dark, found the tinder-box, and having kindled a light applied it to a candle. She inspected the little clock on the overmantel to find that it was exactly half-past twelve. In that moment inspiration came to her, pointing out a middle course, by which she might steer between the two odious alternatives that had tortured her.
She set the candle down upon the table, and stood there in thought a moment. Yes, the thing could be done. She could warn the Colonel--but warn him only when there could no longer be time for him to give the alarm. Thus, whilst he might save himself he would be too late to save the Republicans. Thus, she assured herself, she would be neither a traitress to him nor to the cause. Thus, whilst the cause would prevail he, at least, would not suffer.
In a great surge of thankfulness she hugged that inspiration to her soul. She went down on her knees by the chair and poured out her thankfulness in prayer. Then when she rose again it was to consider more precisely the moment at which it would be wise to rouse Babylas.
Ten minutes, she thought at first, would meet the case; then, lest ten minutes should prove too much, she reduced it to eight, and finally to seven. This would barely give him time. That the Royalists would not move an instant before the appointed hour she knew, since the agreement was that the signal should be the stroke of one o'clock.
She sat down to wait, and the next twenty minutes dragged slowly on, so slowly that it seemed to her a year before the longer hand of her little clock pointed to ten minutes to one. She rose, her heart beating as if it would stifle her. At nine minutes to one she suddenly grew afraid lest she were running the thing too closely. Best wake him at once.
She blew out the taper and groped her way to the door. Very softly she opened it and stood listening, hearing nothing but the drumming of her pulses. On tip-toe, in her stockinged feet, she crossed the landing to the door of the Colonel's room. A board cracked like a pistol shot, and she stood suddenly still with fluttering breath and straining ears.
But the silence of the house continued and she went on. She reached the door, and was then suddenly nonplussed. It had been her intention to wake him in the ordinary way, by knocking on the panels. Not until now did it occur to her that such knocks must rouse more than the Colonel.
She must go into the room. She turned hot and cold at the thought. Then steeled herself with the reflection that a man's life hung in the balance. Very softly she lifted the latch. The door yielded. Softly she crept in, her hand brushing the wall. Yet at the second step a voice challenged her out of the darkness.
"Who is there?"
The Colonel who had schooled himself to sleep on his back so that both his ears might be clear of the pillow, had awakened instantly.
"Sh--" she answered him in terror--terror of him and terror lest her father below should have heard his voice. "It is I--Madeleine--monsieur. Do not speak--do not make a sound."
She heard him stir, nevertheless, and his quick, "What is it?"
She advanced yet another step.
"Niort is to be taken by surprise at one o'clock this morning. A camisade is planned, and the Republicans are to be slaughtered in their beds. It is seven minutes to one, monsieur. I dared not warn you before. Escape!" she added. "Drop from your window to the garden, and go while yet there is time. In seven minutes it will be too late. Go!"
She turned and crept back to the open door. She heard him whispering something that she could not catch.
"I have told you all that matters," she muttered urgently. "Make your escape. You have barely time."
Outside his door she stood listening. Below all was quiet. Her father had not been disturbed. Behind her she heard soft, swishing movements, which announced to her that the Colonel was afoot.
She fled back to her own room and fell on her knees by the bed.
Babylas, wide awake at once, had dressed with the lightning speed of the campaigner. But there was no panic in his haste. If for a second under the shock of her news a chill of fear had struck him, it had quickly been quenched in the glow of the reflection that she was concerned for his life. Though she might hate the Republican in him, to the man himself, he argued, obviously she was not indifferent. He conjectured at once that she had delayed warning him until the last moment so that he should have no time in which to give the alarm, and he trembled lest such should indeed be the case.
It seemed to Madeleine that she had but gone down upon her knees when a faint but very urgent tapping fell upon her door. She sped to open, and guessed it to be the Colonel who stood there, although in the utter darkness she could see no one. His body brushed against hers as he entered and closed the door. His movements made no sound, for he carried his boots in one hand and his sabre in the other.
"What was the arrangement made, citoyenne?" he questioned urgently.
She gasped and clutched her bosom.
"Go, go!" she panted, whispering. "What can the arrangement matter now? Save yourself. You cannot hope to save the others."
"So I gather," he answered, glibly conveying the false impression that he was concerned but for himself. "Yet unless I know more precisely what is afoot I am likely to run into the danger in attempting to run from it."
Briefly she told him that Charette's men must already be within the town, that they would have gained their entrance by the river and the meadows of Saint-Pré, and that they were to join forces with the Royalist townsmen in the market-square on the stroke of one o'clock.
"How on the stroke of one?" he inquired. "Do you mean that the stroke is to be the signal for the citizens to make for the market-square?"
"That is it, yes, yes," she answered.
He reflected, then, that thus a few minutes might still be to his credit.
"Very well, citoyenne," he said. "From my heart I thank you for the warning and for your thought of me. By your leave, now, I shall drop from your window. It is not so high."
"But that is the way to the street," she protested.
"Of course. That is why I prefer it."
"Your way lies by the garden and the river. The boat--"
"I cannot gain the garden without being seen by your father who is below. The light from his window is still upon the lawn."
She drew a sharp breath.
"But this way--" she began.
"Is really the only way, citoyenne. The moments are flying," he reminded her, whereupon in a panic she swept a sheet from the bed, meaning to use it as a cord for him. But he never waited for it. Already he was astride the sill. The street below was utterly deserted.
He slipped down until he hung at full stretch from the sill. The distance from the window to the street was something under twelve feet.
He looked up at her before letting go. Her face was no more than a grey blur in the gloom. He breathed a word of thanks, and dropped lightly to the ground.
She leaned out to look after him, and beheld him running down the street like a hare in the direction of the market-place and the mairie, and making no sound as he ran, for his feet were still clad in stockings only.
It was a dishevelled figure, with hair hanging in wisps about his face and the military coat buttoned awry that burst into the desecrated church where half his regiment was quartered exactly as the clock in the belfry struck the hour of one.
Madeleine, still leaning from her window, heard that single stroke, sounding to her strained imagination as a note of doom, and her heart tightened with terror. Babylas had but vanished round the corner, it seemed to her. Inevitably he must run straight into the arms of the Royalists. She swayed and clutched at the sill for support. She was stifling, her senses were swimming. He was lost; her effort to save him had been in vain. And then, as she let herself drop upon the bed, she fell to reviling herself for her loyalty to the cause and to her father, which had led her to such excessive caution. She should have warned him in time, no matter the cause. What, indeed, mattered King or noblesse to her; what mattered anything if Babylas were slain?
Thus she came face to face with her real self, stripped of all pretence, and realised how her love for Babylas--the old love which she had pronounced dead--had survived his revolutionary apostasy, and was never more alive than in this hour when she believed him doomed.
Her anguish made her unconscious of the flight of time. It was with a shock that presently she recovered from it, aroused by the sudden realisation that everything continued quiet in the town, that was yet no sign of the invading party. In a fever of excitement she returned to the window and looked out. Niort was apparently all wrapt in slumber.
What had happened? She bethought her that her father still sat below. Why had he not gone forth?
She kindled a light and consulted her clock to find to her amazement that already it was half-past one.
She drew a chair to her window and sat down, She would keep vigil there until it was daylight, and she would pray.
In the blackness of a doorway at one of the corners of the market-place leaned Colonel Babylas, invisible, waiting and doubting now. Across the mouths of three streets that debouched into the market-place he had posted his men in files, each detachment in command of an officer to whom briefly but unmistakably he had given his orders of what was to be done. And there the men waited silent, immovable.
He had acted with all speed, yet it was ten minutes past one before he had disposed his forces. He had been thankful then for the slight--but to his own mind entirely typical--lack of punctuality on the part of the Royalists. Later, he had become impatient. Now, at last, he was beginning to doubt whether something altogether other than unpunctuality were not the explanation, whether Madeleine had been mistaken, almost whether he were not the victim of some ruse.
It would be a few minutes before two o'clock when at last he heard a sound to reward him for his patience. Madeleine heard it too. Indeed, as a preliminary to it, she had heard her father stirring in the house. She heard him go to the front door, open it and stand there, looking out. Almost at once one or two other doors in the street had opened, and, peering from her window, she saw shadowy forms steal out and slink silently away. Then almost at once she caught a sound as of water rolling continuously upon a shore. She recognised it quickly for the muffled marching of the multitude.
A wild terror seized her then. Had she been mistaken in the time? Impossible. Were they, then, an hour too late? That, too, was impossible, for the citizens of Niort, who were acting in concert with them, were even then in the act of slipping from their houses to lend a hand in the organised massacre.
And then she understood. The original arrangement had been altered. Cadouin had found a way to send word that the blow was to be delivered at two o'clock instead of at one o'clock.
She heard that oddly muffled marching pass down the main street to the market-square. Then suddenly and sharply upon the night came the two strokes of the hour, and she wondered, agonisedly, what would follow. Had Babylas taken her advice and made himself safe, or had he risked all upon rousing his men?
Her knowledge of him and her very faith in him increased her terrors. He was not the man to fly. He would never have escaped and left his men to perish.
And then, as if to confirm these belated, agonised reflections, she heard shouts in the distance, followed almost immediately by a crackling, rolling volley of musketry. At that point her senses, strained beyond their capacity for endurance, forsook her, and she sank down in merciful unconsciousness upon her bed.
Babylas had seen that shadowy horde of men, still dripping from their immersion and marching barefooted that they might make the less noise, come swinging into the market square, their weapons gleaming lividly in the night. He had heard whispered commands and had seen them drawn up there awaiting the citizens who were to join them, but who had already been quietly seized by the Republicans holding all the avenues of approach save that of the main street which was the way of Saint-Pré--the way into the trap.
Then Babylas had raised his voice, and it rang out with a brazen note to startle those conspirators.
"Vive le République!"
It was the signal. On the words, even as the shock of them was stirring that massed multitude, from each of the three streets leapt long, jagged lines of fire, and a hail of musketry tore bloody gaps in that too solid human mass. With cries and oaths the Royalists broke apart, turning this way and that to seek their assailants. They formed hastily, automatically, into groups, and each flung itself towards one of the streets where the marksmen lurked.
But the soldiers of the Republic had their orders. The men in the front rank knelt immediately after firing their volley, and over their heads the second rank emptied their muskets at the advancing groups, and then knelt in their turn and began to reload whilst the third rank continued the entertainment. They worked with the precision of a machine, and scarcely had the third ranks fired than the first were up again with reloaded muskets, ready to begin all over again.
It was not, however, necessary. The third volley poured panic as well as death into the tattered ranks of the rebels.
"Throw down your arms!" Babylas commanded, and down they came with a rattle, all save a few defiant ones who preferred to die sword in hand rather than to trust themselves to the mercies of the Convention.
Torches were quickly kindled, and the soldiers now advanced to hem in their prisoners.
A few who flung themselves forward found upon the Republican bayonets the death they sought. But one desperate fellow there was who, breaking past the soldiers, hurled himself upon Babylas.
It was Cadouin--an infuriated, desperate Cadouin, who had caught sight of the man he deemed his personal enemy, and sought with fury to make an end of him before he fell himself. He swung a heavy sabre in a cutting stroke at the Colonel's head. Babylas, almost taken by surprise, was no more than in time to deflect the descending blade. As in his turn he instinctively cut back, he recognised Cadouin, and sought to arrest the stroke midway. He robbed it of half its force by that sudden effort, but it was beyond him altogether to arrest its impetus. So the keen blade cut through Cadouin's felt hat and stretched him upon the cobbles.
Babylas paused a moment, looking down at him. He uttered a sigh of regret, and then passed on to attend to the matters that awaited him.
Thus was Cadouin left to lie among dead and wounded. But he was not dead and only very slightly wounded. The blow had partially stunned him, and he was bleeding profusely from a nasty scalp-wound. But that was the full extent of his injury.
In a very few moments he revived sufficiently to look about him. The torches shed a lurid light upon that shambles, and to these were now added the lights of windows overlooking the square. Yet where Cadouin had fallen he lay in shadow. He took advantage of it to glide snake-wise towards the mouth of one of the streets. The distance was short and he covered it unobserved. In the street, after a careful survey, and seeing that it was clear, he rose under the shadow of a wall and set off at a trot.
Thus he came panting and almost exhausted to the house of Maître Falgoux. He found the door open, and reeling across the threshold he advanced into the house. He passed into room after room, but found all empty until he came to Madeleine's. He thrust open the door and there paused, a ghastly, terrific figure.
Maître Falgoux was seated near the bed, his face as hard and livid as granite. On her knees beside him was his daughter, who had just made full confession of her deed. With his own hands he who had given her life would have deprived her of it, but for her appeal that she had intended no betrayal. And she made the appeal not that she might save her life from his blind anger, but that she might save herself from his contempt, that he might think her no viler than she was.
Having heard all he understood, and, understanding, he sat there, stricken and hesitating yet upon his course, weighing and balancing and unable to decide.
To help him in this now came Cadouin.
"God!" he ejaculated. "We have been betrayed. They have mowed us down, and those that survived are taken. We have been betrayed."
"Yes," said the attorney, his voice hard. "Yes, we have been betrayed."
"But by whom, monsieur? By whom?" The other advanced, waving his arms in his fury, and Madeleine instinctively shrank back before him.
"How was it possible that they should have had word of it? How comes it that Colonel Babylas was--" Suddenly he checked. His eyes, riveted upon something near the window, dilated suddenly. A suspicion that had been steadily growing in his mind was suddenly turned to certainty.
He strode across the room and picked up a pair of spurred boots and a sabre lying there, where the Colonel had left them when he dropped from the window.
"How come these here--here in Madeleine's chamber?" he inquired, livid, ferocious, his eyes ablaze.
It was in that moment that Maître Falgoux took at last his decision. The father in him overcame the politician, the Royalist. He beheld in Cadouin's face and glaring eyes the danger that now threatened his daughter, and he rose to shield her.
"How come you here yourself?" he asked, with sudden and unexpected heat. "Do you make so free of my house that no room is sacred from you? And by what right do you dare challenge my daughter's--"
"Oh, have done, fool!" roared Cadouin. "Do you not see how betrayal came? Do you not see that this shameless woman--"
"Leave my house," the attorney commanded him.
Cadouin stood still, staring in amazement. He passed a heavy hand across his face to wipe away the blood that was trickling down across it.
"Leave your house?" he echoed dully. "Bon Dieu! Are you, too, a party to this infamy? By Heaven I'll leave your house, and next time we come this way in force I'll see that this nest of treason is razed to the ground." He was in a cold rage now, deadlier far than his erstwhile blind passion. "I'll leave your house," he ran on, nodding his head with sneering menace. "I'll leave your house. I go by the river, in the boat, but I take this infamous traitress with me to teach her what is due to the King's cause. I'll keep a watch on her hereafter, to see that she betrays us no more."
Maître Falgoux with an oath stepped between his daughter and the man whom he desired for her husband.
"You are out of your senses, monsieur. You had best go at once, I think." His old eyes were flashing, and there was a glow on his sallow cheeks. "At once!" he repeated and pointed to the door.
"Would you resist me?" Cadouin laughed. "Stand aside, fool. I should regret to hurt an old man. But--nom de Dieu!--stand aside."
He flung forward, to be checked suddenly by a voice from the threshold.
"Really, Citizen Cadouin, you try my patience too far."
He spun round to behold Colonel Babylas--rather untidy and with his toes peeping out of stockings that had been reduced to tatters by the night's work, but nonetheless imperturbable.
He stood arrested, and fear crept gradually into his face and it turned grey under its smears of blood.
"Once already I have warned you that it is not wise of you to come a-visiting Maître Falgoux. Still," he ended with a shrug, "since you are a friend of his--"
"No friend of mine, by Heaven!" cried the attorney.
"No longer, eh? Ha! Still, lest Maître Falgoux should be asked awkward questions if you were found here--dead or alive--I think you had better go at once, citizen. I should advise you to go by the garden, take the boat, and pray for luck to avoid the sentry's vigilance. You are used to it."
He stood away from the door, and waved a hand towards it in dismissal of the Royalist. Cadouin stood hesitating a moment, scarce believing that he was to be allowed to escape with his life. Then he shuffled forward.
"I should not plan any more camisades, Citizen Cadouin," the Colonel admonished him. "It's a form of attack that savours more of murder than of war, and, as you perceive, it is apt to be unlucky to the camisaders. Bon voyage, citizen."
Cadouin departed, and the Colonel looked about the chamber.
"You'll forgive my intrusion, mon maître," he said, "but I am looking for my boots."
"You--you came very opportunely, sir," said the attorney, still shaken from the encounter with Cadouin.
The Colonel looked up with a quick smile. "It is the first time that it has had the good fortune to happen to me in this house, ardently though I have desired it."
"I have been a little slow to understand things, perhaps," said Falgoux. "It has taken me some time to perceive that it is possible for a gentleman to serve the Republic and for a--a canaille to serve the King."
"You are very kind, citizen," said the Colonel.
Then he looked at Madeleine, "Have you nothing to say to me, now, citoyenne?" he permitted himself to wonder.
"Nothing," she answered, sobbing. "Nothing." And then as if to prove it she rose and flung herself weeping upon his breast. And the odd thing is that Maître Falgoux turned aside his head lest he should intrude upon a matter that was clearly private.
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