"I don't see how I can be of any assistance to you, my good Monsieur Moulin. I quite agree with you that it would be a real calamity if a member of the ex-Royal family were to effect a landing in our province, but ----" And Monseigneur the Constitutional Bishop of Alençon shrugged his shoulders in token of his inability to deal with the matter.
He was sitting in a small room of his splendid private château, which was situated near Granville. Through the tall window on his left, the magnificent panorama of the rugged coast of Normandy and of the turbulent English Channel beyond was displayed in its limitless glory. The point of Carolles still gleamed beneath the last rays of the cold, wintry sun, but the jagged Dog's Tooth rocks were already wrapped in twilight gloom.
"And it is for our People themselves to realise," continued Monseigneur, with his slow, somewhat pompous delivery, "how much happier they would he if they discarded for ever their misguided allegiance to those degenerate Bourbons, and became law-abiding citizens like the rest of France."
"They'll have no chance to do that," growled the Préfet moodily, "once we get one of those Bourbons sowing rebellion and discontent all over the place. The landing of the Comte d'Artois must be prevented at all costs or we shall have the devil to pay. Those Chouans have been difficult enough to deal with, God knows, but hitherto their want of organisation, their lack of responsible leadership and of co-ordination have been our salvation. With the Comte d'Artois at their head, and a deal of fictitious enthusiasm aroused by him for the exiled Royal family over the water, we shall have bloodshed, misery, and civil war rife again in this corner of France."
"Monsieur le Ministre," rejoined Monseigneur blandly, "has plenty of spies here. Surely, even if the Comte d'Artois effect a landing, he cannot escape capture at the hands of your well-organised police. His death inside your circuit, my dear préfet, would be a fine feather in your cap."
"Oh, we don't want another martyred Bourbon just yet!" retorted the préfet gruffly. "He'd better die in England, or on the high seas rather than in this part of Normandy. We should be accused of murdering him."
M. le préfet was distinctly perturbed and irritable. A denunciation from some anonymous quarter had reached him that morning: a number of rough fellows -- marauding Chouans -- had, it appeared, halted at a wayside inn somewhere on the Caen road, and openly boasted that M. le Comte d'Artois, own brother to His Majesty the King, was about to land on the shores of France, and that a numerous and enthusiastic army was already prepared to rally round his flag, and to sweep the upstart Emperor from his throne, and all the myrmidons of the mushroom Empire from their comfortable seats.
The Bishop had listened to the story of the anonymous denunciation and to the préfet's wails of woe most benignly and untiringly for close upon an hour. But he was at last showing signs of growing impatience.
"I think, my dear Monsieur Moulin," he said with some acerbity, "you must yourself admit that this affair in no way concerns me. Granville is not even my official residence. I came here for a much-needed rest and, though my support and advice are always at your disposal, I really must leave you and the chief commissary of police to deal with these Chouans as best you can, and with any Bourbon prince who thinks of paying France an unwelcome visit."
He put up his delicate, beringed hand to his mouth, politely smothering a yawn. He appeared absent and thoughtful all of a sudden, bored no doubt by the fussy man's volubility. He was gazing out of the window, seemingly in rapt contemplation of the beautiful picture before him -- the setting sun over the Channel, the gorgeous coast scenery, the glowing splendour of the winter twilight.
The préfet felt that he was dismissed. Respect for Monseigneur warred with his latent irritability.
"I won't intrude any longer," he said ruefully, as he prepared to go.
The Bishop, much relieved, became at once more affable.
"I wish I could he of service to you," he said benignly; "but from what I hear you have a very able man at your elbow in the newly accredited agent of His Majesty's Minister. The préfet of Alençon has spoken very highly about him to me, and -- though he was unsuccessful in the matter of the burglary in my Palace at Alençon last October, I believe he has rendered very able assistance to the chief commissary of police in bringing some of those redoubtable Chouans to justice."
"He may have done that" quoth the préfet drily, "but I have not much faith in the little grey fellow myself. The problem confronting us here is a deeper one than he can tackle."
A few minutes later the préfet had finally bowed himself out of Monseigneur's presence.
The Bishop remained seated at his desk, absorbed and almost motionless, for some time after his visitor had departed. He appeared to he still wrapped up in the contemplation of the sunset. The hurried footsteps of the préfet resounded on the great flagged hill below; there had been the usual commotion attendant on the departure of a guest: lackeys opening and closing the entrance doors, a call for Monsieur le Préfet's horse, the clatter of hoofs upon the stone-paved courtyard, then nothing more.
The dignified quietude of a well-ordered, richly appointed household again reigned in the sumptuous château. After a while, as the shades of evening drew in, a footman entered with a lighted lamp, which he set upon the table. But still Monseigneur waited, until through the tall window by his side there appeared nothing but an impenetrable veil of blackness. Then he rose, carefully re-adjusted the crimson shade over the lamp and threw a couple of logs upon the cheerful fire. He went up to the window and opened it and, stepping out on to the terrace, peered intently into the night.
The north-westerly wind was soughing
through the trees of the park, and not half a kilomètre
away the breakers were roaring against the Dog's Tooth rocks;
but, even through these manifold sounds, Monseigneur's keen ear
had detected a soft and furtive footfall upon the terrace steps.
The next moment a man emerged out of the gloom. Breathless and
panting, he ran rapidly across the intervening forecourt and,
almost colliding with the
Monseigneur received him in his arms, and with a swiftly murmured, "Thank God!" led him to a chair beside the hearth. Then he closed the window, drew the heavy damask curtains closely together and finally came up to the newcomer who, shivering with cold and terror, wet to the skin and scant of breath, was stooping to the fire, trying to infuse warmth into his numbed fingers.
"Someone is on my track," were the first words which fell from his quivering lips.
He was a man verging on middle age, short and stout of build, with a white, flabby skin and prominent, weak-looking eyes. been torn his clothes had almost off his back by the frolic of the gale; he was hatless, and his hair, matted and dank, clung to his moist forehead.
The Bishop had remained standing before him in an attitude of profound respect. "Will your Highness deign to come up to my room?" he said. "Dry clothes and a warm bath have been prepared."
"I'll go in a moment," replied His Highness. He had still some difficulty in recovering his breath, and spoke irritably like a wayward sick child. "But let me tell you at once that our movements have been watched from the moment that we set foot on these shores. The crossing was very rough. The gale is raging furiously. The skipper has put into Avranches. He put me off at the Goat's Creek and left me there with de Verthamont and du Roy. As soon as we started to come hither we realised that there was someone on our track. We consulted together and decided that it would be best to separate. De Verthamont went one way and du Roy another, and I ran all the way here."
"Was your Highness shadowed after that?" asked the Bishop.
"I think not. I heard no one. But then the wind kept up an incessant din."
"And did Sébastien meet your Highness?"
"Yes! In the Devil's Bowl. He followed me at a distance as far as your gates. He thought that he, too, had been shadowed all day. Early this morning he reconnoitred as far as Coutances, and there he heard that a couple of regiments of cavalry and a battery of artillery had arrived from St. Lô."
The Bishop made no further comment. His enthusiasm and excitement of a moment ago appeared to have fallen away from him; his finely chiselled face had become serene and pale; only in his deep-set eyes there seemed to smoulder a dull fire, as if with the prescience of impending doom.
A moment or two later he persuaded the Comte d'Artois to come up to his own private apartments. Here a warm bath, dry clothes and a well-cooked supper restored to the unfortunate Prince a certain measure of courage.
"What's to be done?" he asked with a querulous tone in his hoarse voice.
"For the moment," replied the Bishop earnestly, "I would respectfully beg of your Highness to remain in these apartments, which have the infinite advantage of a secret hiding-place which no police agent will ever discover."
"A hiding-place?" muttered the Prince petulantly.
"I loathe the very idea of lurking behind dusty panels like a sick fox."
The Bishop did not venture on a reply. He went up to the fine mantelpiece at the opposite end of the room, and his hand wandered over the elaborate carving which adorned the high wainscoting. He pressed with one finger on a portion of the carving, and at once some of the woodwork moved silently upon unseen hinges, and disclosed a cavity large enough for a man to pass through.
"It would only be an hour or so at a time, your Highness," he said with respectful apology; "in case a posse of Police makes a descent upon the house."
He explained to his august visitor the mechanism of the secret panel. M. le Comte d'Artois, weary after a long sea journey, fretful and irritable, kept up a constant stream of mutterings sotto voce:
"You and the party wished me to come. I never thought that it would be safe, and if I have to remain in hiding in this rat hole, I might just as well be sitting comfortably in England."
Monseigneur, however, never departed for a moment from his attitude of almost reverential deference. With his own hands he ministered to even bodily comfort of the exalted personage who had found refuge under his roof and only left him when he saw the prince comfortably stretched out upon the bed, and was fully assured that he understood the working of the secret panel.
Then after a deep obeisance he finally bowed himself out of the room. Slowly he descended the dimly lighted stairs which led to his study on the floor below. The pallor of his face appeared more marked than before. A vague feeling of anxiety, not unmixed with disappointment, caused a deep frown to settle between his brows.
The situation, though tense always, had become well-nigh desperate now. With M. le Comte d'Artois under his roof and his movements known to a spy of the Imperial police, every hour, every minute had become fraught with deadly danger, not only to him but to every one of his adherents.
Hundreds of men and women around the neighbourhood at this hour were preparing to meet the Prince -- the brother of their uncrowned King -- for whose sake they were willing to risk their lives. One false move, one act of cowardice or carelessness, and the death of a Bourbon prince would once more sully the honour of France, whilst countless adherents of the Royal cause would again fall victims to their hot-headed loyalty.
And as the Bishop re-entered his study he gave a short bitter sigh, for memory had swiftly conjured up the vision of that unheroic figure which slept contentedly in the room above, and on whose energy and courage depended the lives of those who still believed in him, and who saw in him only the ideal of a monarchy, the traditions of old France and of the glorious days that were gone.
Monseigneur, on entering the study, saw a man standing there waiting for him.
"Sébastien!" he exclaimed eagerly.
The man had the bearing and appearance of a good-class domestic servant -- one of those who enjoy many privileges as well as the confidence of their employer. But to a keen psychologist it would soon become obvious that the sombre, well-cut clothes and stiff, conventional demeanour cloaked a more vigorous and more individual personality. The face appeared rugged even beneath the solid mask, and the eyes had a keen, searching, at times furtive expression in them. They were the eyes of a man accustomed to feel danger dogging, his footsteps, to hold his life in his own hands and to take risks which would make the pusillanimous quake.
"How long have you been here?" asked the Bishop quickly.
"Half an hour, Monseigneur. I did not dare follow His Highness too closely. The town and its neighbourhood are bristling with spies. I have had the greatest difficulty throughout the day in giving at least two prowlers the slip and drawing them off His Highness's tracks."
Monseigneur uttered an exclamation of horror.
"I thought I had one at my heels a moment ago," continued Sébastien; "just inside the gates. Someone, I felt, was dogging my footsteps. I fired a random shot into the night, and as luck would have it, I brought down my man."
"Brought down your man?" exclaimed Monseigneur eagerly. "Then ----"
"Unfortunately it was not a police spy whom I shot," said Sébastien carelessly, "but Grand-Cerf, one of your keepers."
Monseigneur uttered a cry of horror.
"Grand-Cerf! I had posted him just inside the gates to watch for possible prowlers."
"I didn't know that, and I shot him," repeated Sébastien grimly.
"You killed him?"
Sébastien nodded. The matter did not appear to him to have any importance.
"Now if it had been that accursed spy ----" he murmured. Then he added more earnestly: "You will have a posse of police over from Granville to-morrow, Monseigneur -- they'll search this house. Somehow or other someone has got wind of the affair -- I'd stake my life on it."
"Let them come," retorted the Bishop shortly. "Monsieur le Comte d'Artois will be safe behind the secret panel."
Sébastien shrugged his shoulders.
"For half an hour, yes! But if, as I believe, it is that confounded grey chap from Paris who has shadowed us, then no hiding-place or secret panel will screen us from his prying eyes. It is he who tracked down the Spaniard last November, who laid Monsieur de Saint-Tropèze low, who thwarted Mademoiselle Vaillant. Oh!" added the old Chouan, "if I only had him here between my hands ----"
His powerful fingers twitched convulsively. Monseigneur shrugged his shoulders.
"That miserable little Man in Grey," he said drily, "has had the luck so far, I own, but it was because his wits were only opposed to brute force. Monsieur de Saint-Tropèze was clumsy, the Spaniard reckless, the girl Vaillant hysterical. Now we have to defend Monsieur le Comte d'Artois himself -- but not with our lives, my good Sébastien -- 'tis our wits which are going to win the day, right under the very nose of the confounded Man in Grey."
An hour or two later, in a small dingy room in one of the most squalid portions of the town, the accredited agent of His Imperial Majesty's Minister of Police was hastily demolishing the remnants of a meagre, cold supper. He appeared footsore and cold. M. Moulin, préfet of St. Lô, sat opposite to him at the table. He seemed gravely agitated and anxious.
"We have done all we really could, Monsieur Fernand," he said fretfully, "with the material at our command. Monsieur le Duc d'Otrante's spies have been very active, and I don't think that we have any cause to complain of the results."
"Well, let's hear the results," said the Man in Grey curtly.
A sharp retort hovered on the préfet's tongue. He did not like the dictatorial ways of this emissary from Paris, and had it not been for M. le Duc d'Otrante's express orders, the Minister's secret agent would have fared ill at the hands of this hidebound official.
"There has been," he resumed with some bitterness, "great activity among the Chouans that are known to us in this neighbourhood. Our spies have discovered that the Comte d'Artois landed on this coast in the early dawn this morning. Unfortunately, they cannot be everywhere, and up to half an hour ago we had found no trace of him that we can rely on; at the same time we have intercepted a letter ----"
"Pshaw!" ejaculated the Man in Grey impatiently, "And did your spies inform you by any chance that three strangers were landed by the brig Delphine in the Goat's Creek at dawn this morning?"
"Our informant did not say," remarked the préfet drily.
"I dare say not," rejoined the Man in Grey. "Nor did he tell you, perhaps, that the three strangers were met at the Devil's Bowl by Sébastien, who is, if I mistake not, confidential valet to the Constitutional Bishop of Alençon."
"That is false!" broke in Monsieur le Préfet emphatically. "The loyalty of Monseigneur is beyond question."
"Perhaps," retorted the other with a grim smile. "At any rate, Sébastien guided the three strangers through intricate passes among the cliffs as far as the Dog's Tooth. Here the party separated: one man went one way, another the other. Sébastien and one of the strangers waited about the cliffs until dusk, then they made their way along as far as the outskirts of Monseigneur's property ----"
"I protest!" ejaculated the préfet hotly.
But the Man in Grey put up his slender hand with a commanding gesture.
"One moment, I beg," he said quietly. "The stranger lurked about on the outskirts of the park until it was quite dark, then he slipped in through the gates, with Sébastien close at his heels. The gates were at once drawn to and closed. The stranger disappeared in the night. A few minutes later the report of a musket rang out through the darkness, then the soughing of the gale drowned every other sound."
"Some thief," exclaimed the préfet gruffly, "lurking round the château. No doubt Sébastien suspected him, dogged his footsteps and shot him. It is all as clear as daylight ----"
"So clear, indeed," observed the Man in Grey calmly, "that you, Monsieur le Préfet, will at once communicate with the chief commissary of police. I want a squadron of mounted men to surround Monseigneur's château and a vigorous search made both inside and outside the house."
"What! Now?" gasped Monsieur Moulin.
"But it is past ten o'clock!" he protested.
"A better hour could not be found."
"But Monseigneur will look upon this as an insult!" exclaimed the préfet, who was deadly pale with agitation.
"For which we'll apologise if we have wronged him," retorted the secret agent quietly. "Stay!" he added, after a moment's reflection. "I pray you at the same time to tell Monsieur le Commissaire that I shall require a closed barouche, with a strong pair of horses and a mounted guard of half a dozen men, to be ready for me in the stable-yard of Monseigneur's château. Is that understood?"
It was. To have even thought of disobedience would have been madness. The very way in which the Man in Grey uttered his "I pray you" sent a cold shiver down M. Moulin's spine, and he still had in the inner pocket of his coat the letter written in the all-powerful Minister's own hand. In this letter M. le Due d'Otrante gave orders that his agent was to be obeyed -- blindly, implicitly, unquestioningly -- whatever he might command, whomsoever he might bid to execute his orders. One look in that pale, colourless face sufficed to show that he knew the power which had been placed in his hands and would use it to punish those who strove to defy his might.
M. Fantin, commissary of police of Granville, was preparing to execute the agent's orders as transmitted by the préfet. The whole matter was unutterably distasteful to him. Monseigneur the Constitutional Bishop of Alençon was a prelate of such high integrity and proven loyalty, that to put such an insult upon him was, in the opinion of the commissary, nothing short of an outrage. He was pacing up and down the uncarpeted floor of his office in a state of great agitation. In a corner of the room, beside the small iron stove, sat the secret agent of His Majesty's Minister. Calm, unperturbed by the mutterings of the commissary, he only exhibited a slight sign of impatience when he glanced at the clock and noted the rapid flight of time. The squadron of mounted police requisitioned by him was making ready to get to horse. It was then close on eleven o'clock.
A moment later one of the police sergeants entered the office with the news that a mounted courier had just arrived from the château, with a message from Monseigneur to the commissary of police.
"I'll see him at once," said the latter, half hoping that this fresh incident would even now prevent the abominable insult to the Bishop.
"What is it, Gustave?" he asked, for he knew the man as one of the grooms in Monseigneur's service. "An attempt at impudent robbery, Monsieur le Commissaire," replied the man, "which has resulted in a man's death. Monseigneur has sent me over to notify you at once and to ask what he should do in the matter."
M. Fantin threw a look of triumph at the little figure in grey that sat huddled beside the iron stove. The commissary had also advanced the theory of an attempted burglary at the château, and was highly elated to see his deductions justified.
"A robbery?" he exclaimed. "How? When?"
"An hour or two ago, Monsieur le Commissaire," replied Gustave. "Monseigneur will explain. I know nothing of the details except that the rascal overturned a lamp. He was burned to death and nearly set fire to the château. I was sent hither post-haste to see Monsieur le Commissaire ----"
"Very good," rejoined the commissary. "Ride straight back to the château and tell Monseigneur that I will be there anon."
As soon as the man had gone, M. Fantin turned complacently to the Man in Grey.
"As you see, my dear Monsieur Fernand," he began, "there is no need to ----"
"As your squadron is ready, Monsieur le Commissaire," quoth the agent quietly, "'twere a pity not to give them the exercise. And remember the barouche," he added sharply, "and the mounted guard. Do not on any account leave them behind. My orders are in no way modified."
The commissary swallowed the retort which was hovering on his lips; but he threw a look that was almost vicious at the meagre grey-clad figure.
"Do you accompany us?" he asked with a sneer.
"I will meet you at the château," replied the secret agent simply.
Half an hour later Monseigneur was making the commissary of police welcome at the château. He appeared more upset than he cared to admit by the tragedy enacted inside his house. He was not a young man, and his nerves were severely shaken. When his visitors entered, he was sitting in a large armchair beside the fire in his bedroom; he had a glass in his hand, half filled with some sweet-smelling restorative. One of his male servants was in attendance upon him, bathing his master's forehead with vinegar and water.
Preceded by Sébastien and accompanied by the secret agent and two men of the police, M. Fantin there went to view the scene of the tragedy. The two men remained on guard outside the dining-room, where the drama had taken place. The room still presented a disordered appearance; nothing had been touched, Sébastien declared, in view of M. le Commissaire's visit. But the lamp which hung from the ceiling had been lighted, and by its light the whole, extent of what might have been a measureless disaster was revealed to M. Fantin's horrified gaze.
In the centre of the room on the floor, close to, the large dining-table, there lay a shapeless mass, obviously a human body, charred beyond identification. Only the lower part, the heavy cloth breeches, and high leather boots, though badly scorched, were still recognisable. Beside the body, the rich damask table-cloth lay in a burned and tangled heap, where the wretched man had dragged it down in his fall; and a foot or so away was the heavy lamp which had caused the conflagration. It was lying on its side, with bowl, shade and chimney broken, just as it had rolled out of the man's hand. A narrow streak of oil ran from it to the edge of the mantel-kerb. The rich Oriental carpet was burned in several places, and the table itself was severely scorched, while heat and smoke had begun their work of destruction everywhere on the priceless furniture, until water had rendered their work complete.
Sébastien's account of the tragedy was brief and clear. He had had his suspicions aroused during the day by seeing an ill-clad ruffian sneaking around the park gates, and in the evening, feeling anxious, he made a special tour of the château to see that everything was safe. On entering the dining-room he saw a man standing beside the open window, through which he had evidently just made his way. He -- Sébastien -- at once drew his pistol, and the man turned to fly; but the aim was good and the man appeared to he hit. He gave a snarl like a wild animal, sprang back into the room, apparently with a view to throwing himself upon his assailant, when his strength failed him. With one hand he clutched at the table, but he tottered and fell, dragging with him both the cloth and the table-lamp, which came down with a crash on the top of him, scattering the oil all over his body. His clothing at once caught fire, and Sébastien, realising the danger to the entire house, instantly ran for the buckets of water, which were always kept in the passage for the purpose, and shouted for assistance.
Within a few moments he and another lackey got the fire under, and no great harm was done, save the shock to Monseigneur's nerves, damage to valuable furniture, and the complete obliteration of the felon's identity.
The commissary of police asked Sébastien a few questions for form's sake. He also took some perfunctory notes. He felt irritable and gravely annoyed with the secret agent for having placed him in such an awkward position vis-à-vis of Monseigneur.
"A squadron of police to investigate a common attempt at burglary," he growled savagely, as Sébastien finally showed him out of the room. "We shall be the laughing-stock of the countryside!"
"'Tis the Chouans who will be pleased, Monsieur le Commissaire," he said. "They have you safely occupied to-night and can go about their nefarious business unmolested, I am thinking."
The Man in Grey was about to follow, but turned for a moment on his heel.
"By the way, my good Sébastien," he said, "at what time did the tragedy take place which you have so graphically described to us?"
For a second or two Sébastien appeared to hesitate.
"Oh," he replied, "somewhere about six or seven o'clock, Monsieur. I couldn't say exactly."
"What made you wait so long, then, before you sent to Monsieur le Commissaire?"
"There was a little confusion in the house, Monsieur will understand. Monseigneur had given orders at once to send a courier over, but the grooms were at their supper, and it took a little time -- we meant to send at once -- the delay was unintentional."
"I am sure it was," broke in the commissary, who was still within earshot. "And now, Monsieur Fernand," he added, "I pray you excuse me. The hour is getting late, and I must make my apologies to Monseigneur."
"One moment, Monsieur le Commissaire," rejoined the Man in Grey. "Will you not at least question the other servants who came to Monsieur Sébastien's assistance?"
"No one came to my assistance," Sébastien assured him. "The whole affair was over in a moment."
"But when the shot was fired ----"
"By the time some of the domestics arrived upon the scene, I had put out the fire. Then I locked the dining-room door. I knew Monsieur le Commissaire would not wish anything touched."
"Quite right! -- quite right!" said M. Fantin querulously. "Now, Monsieur Fernand, will you come?"
"One moment, Monsieur le Commissaire," said the secret agent, and suddenly his whole manner changed to one of commanding authority. "There will be plenty of time for excuses presently. For the nonce you will order your captain to make a thorough search of this château and of the grounds around. You will question every one of the domestics; and remember that I shall be about somewhere -- probably unseen -- but present, nevertheless, to see that the investigation is minute and thorough. Sébastien will remain in the meanwhile in the custody of these two men here, until I have need of him again."
"By Heaven!" protested the commissaire roughly.
"By Heaven!" retorted the Man in Grey loudly, "you'll obey my orders now, Monsieur le Commissaire, or I shall send you straight to Monsieur the Minister to report upon your own misconduct!"
M. Fantin, at the threat and at the manner in which it was uttered, became as white as a sheet. But he obeyed -- at once and without another word. Sébastien's rugged face had shown no sign of emotion as, at a curt word from the secret agent, the two men of the Police closed up on either side and marched him into an adjoining room.
The commissary had taken the threat
of the Minister's all-powerful agent very much to heart. His men
searched the château through and through, just as if it
had been the stronghold of some irreconcilable rebel. The secret
agent himself appeared and disappeared, while the search was going
on, like some grey will-o'-the-
When presently the police actually invaded his own bedroom, Monseigneur's attitude remained one of unapproachable reserve. Even when the agent passed his hands over the wainscoting and presently found the button that worked the secret spring, Monseigneur showed neither interest nor emotion. The hiding-place itself was found to be empty; the Man in Grey walked into it and out again, in a matter-of-fact, impassive manner, as if he were performing a mechanical and useless job. Neither here nor inside the house, nor in the grounds, nor in any other hiding-place was anyone or anything found to impeach Monseigneur's well-known loyalty.
The unfortunate commissary was covered with confusion. He would gladly have strangled the meddlesome official who had placed him in such an awkward position, or even have relieved his feelings by hurling anathema upon him. But the secret agent appeared indifferent both to the wrath of M. Fantin and to the silent disapprobation of the Bishop. When he was satisfied that the search was done, and well done, he took his leave, but not before.
Monseigneur did not vouchsafe him even a look. But he was quite affable with M. le Commissaire, when the latter finally was allowed to depart.
"Have you any further orders, Monsieur Fernand?" queried M. Fantin with bitter sarcasm, when he had bowed his way out of the presence of the outraged prelate.
"Yes," replied the other; "but I will give them to you outside. And stay," he added as the commissary turned on his heel, silent with pent-up rage, "take Sébastien with you and keep him at the commissariat until further orders."
No chronicler could make a faithful record of all that M. Fantin said to himself and to his sergeant even whilst he executed these orders punctually. Fortunately for his feelings on the way home, the Man in Grey did not elect to accompany him. After he had given his final orders he disappeared in the darkness, and M. Fantin was only too thankful to be rid of that unpleasant presence.
In and around the château again reigned that perfect silence and orderliness which pertain to an aristocratic household. The squadron of police had long since departed: even the sound of their horses' hoofs, the clang of metal and rattle of swords and muskets had ceased to echo through the night. For a little while longer soft murmurings and stealthy movements were still heard inside the house as the servants went to bed, and, whilst they undressed, indulged in comments and surmises about the curious happenings of the night. Then, even these sounds were stilled. Monseigneur, however, did not go to bed. He had risen from the armchair, and in it he had installed the man who, for several hours had been diligently ministering to him with vinegar and orange-flower water.
"Your Highness is none the worse for the experience, I trust," he said, as he stooped and threw a log or two into the blaze.
"Tired and anxious," replied the Comte d'Artois querulously.
"A night's rest will soon restore your Royal Highness," rejoined the Bishop with deep respect.
"It was a dangerous game to play," continued the prince peevishly. "At any moment one of those men might have suspected."
"It was the only possible game to play, your Royal Highness," rejoined the Bishop earnestly. "The moment those spies were on your track and mine, the search was bound to follow. Think if the police had come here whilst you were in hiding in this room or even behind the secret panel! Nay! 'twas a mercy Sébastien shot Grand-Cerf in mistake for a spy. It enabled us to invent that marvellous comedy which so effectually hoodwinked not only the police but even that astute agent of the Minister himself. And now," added Monseigneur, as a deep sigh of exultation and triumph rose from his breast, "we can work with a free hand. After to-night's work, this house will never again be suspected. We can make it the headquarters of your Highness's staff. It shall be the stepping-stone to your royal brother's reconquered throne."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when, in an instant, he paused, his whole attitude one of rigid and terror-filled expectancy. Loud and firm footsteps had resounded upon the flagged terrace, though muffled by the heavy damask curtain which hung before the window. A second or two later the footsteps halted, the mullion was struck with something that clanked, and a voice called out loudly and peremptorily:
"Open, in the name of the law!"
The Comte d'Artois had smothered a cry of horror. He clung to his chair with hands that trembled as if with ague, his face became deathly white, and he stared with wild, wide-open eyes in the direction of the window, whence that peremptory call had come. He was in a state of acute physical terror bordering on collapse. Monseigneur, however, had not lost his presence of mind: "Quick, the secret panel!" he said, and already the slender hand was manipulating the hidden spring. The Comte d'Artois tottered to his feet; the next moment there was a terrific crash of broken glass, the damask curtain was roughly torn aside, and the agent stepped into the room.
"Resistance were futile, Monseigneur," he said quietly, for with a rapid movement the Bishop had reached the bell-pull. "I have half a squadron of police outside, and six men at my heels."
He came further into the room, and as he did so he called to two of his men to stand on either side of Monseigneur. Then he turned to Monsieur le Comte d'Artois:
"I have a barouche and a mounted guard ready to convey your Highness to Avranches, where the brig Delphine with her new skipper is at your disposal for an immediate return trip to England. His Majesty the Emperor deprecates revenge and, bloodshed. He might punish, but he prefers to put the culprit out of the way. If Monsieur le Comte d'Artois will offer no resistance, every respect will be shown to his person."
Resistance would, indeed, have been worse than useless. Even Monseigneur replied to his Highness's look of appeal with one of resignation. He picked up a mantle which lay upon the bed and silently put it round the Prince's shoulders, then he took the hand which His Highness held out to him and kissed it fervently. Half a dozen men closed in around the Prince, and the latter walked with a firm step over the threshold of the window, his footsteps and those of his escort soon ceasing to echo through the night.
"You have won, Monsieur," said the Bishop coldly, when he found himself alone with the Man in Grey. "I am in your hands."
"Did I not say, Monseigneur, that His Majesty deprecated revenge?" said the secret agent quietly. "You have an estate in the South, a château finer than this one, so I'm told. You are free to go thither for an indefinite period, for the benefit of your health."
"Exile!" said the Bishop bitterly.
"Do you not deserve worse?" retorted the Man in Grey coldly.
"I nearly outwitted you, though," exclaimed the Bishop.
"Very nearly, I admit. Unfortunately for your clever comedy, I happened to know that your valet Sébastien shot a man just outside your gates early in the afternoon. When he told me the elaborate story of the attempted burglary I knew that he lied, and, with that knowledge, I was able to destroy the whole fabric of your machinations. As you see, I bided my time. And the moment that you, thinking that you were alone with the Comte d'Artois, threw down your mask I was ready to strike. Let me bid you farewell, Monseigneur," he added in conclusion, and, without a touch of irony. "You can have twenty-four hours to prepare for your journey South, and you will remain in your château there awaiting His Majesty's pleasure."
The next moment the Man in Grey was gone, even as the Bishop's parting words struck upon his unheeding ear:
"Awaiting the return of His Majesty Louis XVIII, by the Grace of God, King of France," Monseigneur called out at the top of his voice.