"Sh!... sh!... It's the Englishman. I'd know his footsteps anywhere-"
"God bless him!" murmured petite maman fervently.
Père Lenègre went to the door; he stepped cautiously and with that stealthy foot-tread which speaks in eloquent silence of daily, hourly danger, of anguish and anxiety for lives that are dear.
The door was low and narrow - up on the fifth floor of one of the huge tenement houses in the Rue Jolivet in the Montmartre quarter of Pairs. A narrow stone passage lead to it - pitch dark at all times, but dirty, and evil-smelling when the concierge a free citizen of the new democracy - took a week's holiday from his work in order to spend whole afternoons either at the wine-shop round the corner, or on the Place du Carrousel to watch the guillotine getting rid of some twenty aristocrats an hour for the glorification of the will of the people.
But inside the small apartment everything was scrupulously neat and clean. Petite maman was such an excellent manager, and Rosette was busy all the day tidying and cleaning the poor little home, which Père Lenègre contrived to keep up for wife and daughter by working fourteen hours a day in the government saddlery.
When Père Lenègre opened the narrow door, the entire framework of it was filled by the broad, magnificent figure of a man in heavy caped coat and high leather boots, with dainty frills of lace at throat and wrist, and elegant chapeau-bras held in the hand.
Père Lenègre, at sight of him, put a quick finger to his own quivering lips.
"Anything wrong, vieux papa?" asked the newcomer lightly.
The other closed the door cautiously before he made reply. But petite maman could not restrain her anxiety.
"My little Pierre, milor'?" she asked as she clasped her wrinkled hands together, and turned on the stranger her tear-dimmed, restless eyes.
"Pierre is safe and well, little mother," he replied cheerily. "We got him out of Paris early this morning in a coal cart, carefully hidden among the sacks. When he emerged he was black but safe. I drove the cart myself as far as Courbevoie, and there handed over your Pierre and those whom we got out of Paris with him to those of my friends who were going straight to England. There's nothing more to be afraid of, petite maman," he added as he took the old woman's wrinkled hands in both his own; "your son is now under the care of men who would die rather than see him captured. So make your mind at ease, Pierre will be in England, safe and well, within a week."
Petite maman couldn't say anything just then because tears were choking her, but in her turn she clasped those two strong and slender hands - the hands of the brave Englishman who had just risked his life in order to save Pierre from the guillotine - and she kissed them as fervently as she kissed the feet of the Madonna when she knelt before her shrine in prayer.
Pierre had been a footman in the household of unhappy Marie Antoinette. His crime had been that he remained loyal to her in words as well as in thought. A hot-headed but nobly outspoken harangue on behalf of the unfortunate queen, delivered in a public place, had at once marked him out to the spies of the Terrorists as suspect of intrigue against the safety of the Republic. He was denounced to the Committee of Public Safety, and his arrest and condemnation to the guillotine would have inevitably followed had not the gallant band of Englishmen, known as the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, succeeded in effecting his escape.
What wonder that petite maman could not speak for tears when she clasped the hands of the noble leader of that splendid little band of heroes? What wonder that Père Lenègre, when he heard that his son was safe, murmured a fervent: "God bless you, milor', and your friends!" and that Rosette surreptitiously raised the fine caped coat to her lips, for Pierre was her twin-brother, and she loved him very dearly.
But already sur Percy Blakeney had, with one of his characteristic cheery words, dissipated the atmosphere of tearful emotion which oppressed these kindly folk.
"Now, Papa Lenègre," he said lightly, "tell me why you wore such a solemn air when you let me in just now."
"Because, milor'," replied the old man quietly, "that damn concierge, Jean Baptiste, is a blackhearted traitor."
Sir Percy laughed his merry, infectious laugh.
"You mean that while he has been pocketing bribes from me, he has denounced me to the Committee."
Père Lenègre nodded: "I only heard this morning," he said, "from one or two threatening words the treacherous brute let fall. He knows that you lodge in the Place des Trois Maries, and that you come here frequently. I could have given my life to warn you then and there," continued the old man with touching earnestness, "but I didn't know where to find you. All I knew was that you were looking after Pierre."
Even while the man spoke there darted from beneath the Englishman's heavy lids a quick look like a flash of sudden and brilliant light out of the lazy depths of his merry blue eyes; it was one of those glances of pure delight and exultation which light up the eyes of the true soldier when there is serious fighting to be done.
"La, man," he said gaily, "there was no cause to worry. Pierre is safe, remember that! As for me," he added with that wonderful insouciance which caused him to risk his life a hundred times a day with a shrug of his broad shoulders and a smile upon his lips; "as for me, I'll look after myself, never fear."
He paused awhile, then added gravely: "So long as you are safe, my good Lenègre, and petite maman, and Rosette."
Whereupon the old man was silent, petite maman murmured a short prayer, and Rosette began to cry. The hero of a thousand gallant rescues had received his answer.
"You, too, are on the black list, Père Lenègre?" he asked quietly.
The old man nodded.
"How do you know?" queried the Englishman.
"Through Jean Baptiste, milor'."
"Still that demmed concierge," muttered Sir Percy.
"He frightened petite maman with it all this morning, saying that he knew my name was down on the Sectional Committee's list as a 'suspect.'. That's when he let fall a word or two about you, milor'. He said it is known that Pierre has escaped from justice, and that you helped him to do it.
"I am sure that we shall get a domiciliary visit presently," continued Père Lenègre, after a slight pause. "The gendarmes have not yet been, but I fancy that already this morning early I saw one or two of the Committee's spies hanging about the house, and when I went to the workshop I was followed all the time."
The Englishman looked grave: "And tell me," he said, "have you got anything in this place that may prove compromising to any of you?"
"No, milor'. But, as Jean Baptiste said, the Sectional Committee know about Pierre. It is because of my son that I am suspect."
The old man spoke quite quietly, very simply, like a philosopher who has long ago learned to put behind him the fear of death. Nor did petite maman cry or lament. Her thoughts were for the brave milor' who had saved her boy; but her fears for her old man left her dry-eyed and dumb with grief.
There was silence in the little room for one moment while the angel of sorrow and anguish hovered round these faithful and brave souls, then the Englishman's cheery voice, so full of spirit and merriment, rang out once more - he had risen to his full - towering height, and now place a kindly hand on the old man's shoulder:
"It seems to me, my good Lenègre," he said, "that you and I haven't many moments to spare if we mean to cheat those devils by saving your neck. Now, petite maman," he added, turning to the old woman, "are you going to be brave?"
"I will do anything, milor'," she replied quietly, "to help my old man."
"Well, then," said Sir Percy Blakeney in that optimistic, light-hearted yet supremely authoritative tone of which he held the secret, "you and Rosette remain here and wait for the gendarmes. When they come, say nothing; behave with absolute meekness, and let them search your place from end to end. If they ask you about your husband, say that you believe him to be at his workshop. Is that clear?"
"Quite clear, milor'," replied petite maman.
"And you, Père Lenègre," continued the Englishman, speaking now with slow and careful deliberation, "listen very attentively to the instructions I am going to give you, for on your implicit obedience to them depends not only your own life but that of these two dear women. Go at once, now, to the Rue Ste. Anne, round the corner, the second house on your right, which is numbered thirty-seven. The porte cochère stands open, go boldly through, past the concierge's box, and up the stairs to apartment number twelve, second floor. Here is the key of the apartment," he added, producing one from his coat pocket and handing it over to the old man. "The rooms are nominally occupied by a certain Maître Turandot, maker of violins, and not even the concierge of the place knows that the hunchbacked and snuffy violin-maker and the meddlesome Scarlet Pimpernel, whom the Committee of Public Safety would so love to lay by the heels, are one and the same person. The apartment, then, is mine; one of the many which I occupy in Paris at different times," he went on. "Let yourself in quietly with this key, walk straight across the first room to a wardrobe, which you will see in front of you. Open it. It is hung full of shappy clothes; but these aside, and you will notice that the panels at the back do not fit very closely, as if the wardrobe was old or had been badly put together. Insert your fingers in the tiny aperture between the two middle panels. These slide back easily; there is a recess immediately behind them. Get in there; pull the doors of the wardrobe together first, then slide the back panels into their place. You will be perfectly safe there, as the house is not under suspicion at present, and even if the revolutionary guard, under some meddlesome sergeant or other, chooses to pay it a surprise visit, your hiding-place will be perfectly secure. Now is all that quite understood?"
"Absolutely, milor'," replied Lenègre, even as he made ready to obey Sir Percy's orders, "but what about you? You cannot get out of this house, milor'," he urged! "it is watched, I tell you."
"La!" broke in Blakeney, in his light-hearted way, "and do you think I didn't know that? I had to come and tell you about Pierre, and now I must give those worthy gendarmes the slip somehow. I have my rooms downstairs on the ground floor, as you know, and I must make certain arrangements so that we can all get out of Paris comfortably this evening. The demmed place is no longer safe either for you, my good Lenègre, or for petite maman and Rosette. But wherever I may be, meanwhile, don't worry about me. As soon as the gendarmes have been and gone, I'll go over to the Rue Ste. Anne and let you know what arrangements I've been able to make. So do as I tell you now, and in Heaven's name let me look after myself."
Whereupon, with scant ceremony, he hustled the old man out of the room.
Père Lenègre had contrived to kiss petite maman and Rosette before he went. It was touching to see the perfect confidence with which these simple-hearted folk obeyed the commands of milor'. Had he not saved Pierre in his wonderful, brave, resourceful way? Of a truth he would know how to save Père Lenègre also. But, nevertheless, anguish gripped the women's hearts; anguish doubly keen since the saviour of Pierre was also in danger now.
When Père Lenègre's shuffling footsteps had died away along the flagged corridor, the stranger once more turned to the women.
"And now, petite maman," he said cheerily, as he kissed the old woman on both her furrowed cheeks, "keep up a good heart, and say your prayers with Rosette. Your old man and I will both have need of them."
He did not wait to say good-bye, and anon it was his firm footstep that echoed down the corridor. He went off singing a song, at the top of his voice, for the whole house to hear, and for that traitor, Jean Baptiste, to come rushing out of his room marvelling at the impudence of the man, and cursing the Committee of Public Safety who were slow in sending the soldiers of the Republic to lay this impertinent Englishman by the heels.
A quater of an hour later half a dozen men of the Republican Guard, with corporal and sergeant in command, were in the small apartment on the fifth floor of the tenement house in the Rue Jolivet. They had demanded an entry in the name of the Republic, had roughly hustled petite maman and Rosette, questioned them as to Lenègre's whereabouts, and not satisfied with the reply which they received, had turned the tidy little home topsy-turvy, ransacked every cupboard, dislocated every bed, table or sofa which might presumably have afforded a hiding-place for a man.
Satisfied now that the "suspect" whom they were searching for was not on the premises, the sergeant stationed four of his men with the corporal outside the door, and two within, and himself sitting down in the centre of the room ordered the two women to stand before him and to answer his questions clearly on pain of being dragged away forthwith to the St. Lazare house of detention.
Petite maman smoothed out her apron, crossed
her arms before her, and looked the sergeant quite straight in
the face. Rosette's eyes were full of tears, but she showed no
signs of fear either, although her shoulder - where one of the
gendarmes had seized it so roughly - was terribly painful.
"Your husband, citizeness," asked the sergeant peremptorily, "where is he?"
"I am not sure, citizen," replied petite maman. "At this hour he is generally at the government works in the Quai des Messageries."
"He is not there now," asserted the sergeant. "We have knowledge that he did not go back to his work since dinner-time."
Petite maman was silent.
"Answer," ordered the sergeant.
"I cannot tell you more, citizen sergeant," she said firmly. "I do not know."
"You do yourself no good, woman, by this obstinacy," he continued roughly. "My belief is that your husband is inside this house, hidden away somewhere. If necessary I can get orders to have every apartment searched until he is found: but in that case it will go much harder with you and with your daughter, and much harder too with your husband than if he gave us no trouble and followed us quietly."
But with sublime confidence in the man who had saved Pierre and who had given her explicit orders as to what she should do, petite maman, backed by Rosette, reiterated quietly:
"I cannot tell you more, citizen sergeant; I do not know."
"And what about the Englishman?" queried the sergeant more roughly, "the man they call the Scarlet Pimpernel, what do you know of him?"
"Nothing, citizen," replied petite maman. "What should we poor folk know of an English milor'?"
"You know at any rate this much, citizeness, that the English milor' helped your son Pierre to escape from justice."
"If that is so," said petite maman quietly, "it cannot be wrong for a mother to pray to God to bless her son's preserver."
"It behoves every good citizen," retorted the sergeant firmly, "to denounce all traitors to the Republic."
"But since I know nothing about the Englishman, citizen sergeant-"
And petite maman shrugged her thin shoulders
as if the matter had ceased to interest her.
"Think again, citizeness," admonished the sergeant: "it is your husband's neck as well as your daughters and your own that you are risking by so much obstinacy."
He waited a moment or two as if willing to give the old woman time to speak: then, when he saw that she kept her thin, quivering lips resolutely glued together, he called his corporal to him.
"Go to the citizen Commissary of the Section," he commanded, "and ask for a general order to search every apartment in No. 24 Rue Jolivet. Leave two of our men posted on the first and third landings of this house and leave two outside this door. Be as quick as you can. You can be back here with the order in half an hour, or perhaps the committee will send me an extra squad; tell to citizen Commissary that this is a big house, with many corridors. You can go."
The corporal saluted and went.
Petite maman and Rosette the while were still standing quietly in the middle of the room, their arms folded underneath their aprons, their wide-open, anxious eyes fixed into space. Rosette's tears were falling slowly, one by one, down her cheeks, but petite maman was dry-eyed. She was thinking, and thinking as she had never and occasion to think before.
She was thinking of the brave and gallant Englishman who had save Pierre's life only yesterday. The sergeant, who sat there before her, had asked for orders from the citizen Commissary to search this big house from attic to cellar. That is what made petite maman think and think.
The brave Englishman was in this house at the present moment: the house would be searched from attic to cellar and he would be found, taken, and brought to the guillotine.
The man who yesterday had risked his life to save her boy was in imminent and deadly danger, and she - petite maman - could do nothing to save him.
Every moment now she thought to hear milor's firm treat resounding on stairs or corridor, every moment she thought to hear snatches of an English song, sung by a fresh and powerful voice, never after to-day to be heard in gaiety again.
The old clock upon the shelf ticked away these seconds and minutes while petite maman thought and thought, while men set traps to catch a fellow-being in a deathly snare, and human carnivorous beasts lay lurking for their prey.
Another quarter of an hour went by. Petite maman and Rosette had hardly moved. The shadows of evening were creeping into the narrow room, blurring the outlines of the pieces of furniture and wrapping all the corners in the gloom.
The sergeant had ordered Rosette to bring in
a lamp. This she had done, placing it upon the table so that the
feeble light glinted upon the belt and buckles of the sergeant
and upon the tricolour cockade which was pinned to his hat. Petite
maman had thought and thought until she could think no more.
Anon there was much commotion on the stairs: heavy footsteps were heard ascending from below, then crossing the corridors on the various landings. The silence which reigned otherwise in the house, and which had fallen as usual on the squalid little street, void of traffic at this hour, caused those footsteps to echo with ominous power.
Petite maman felt her heart beating so vigorously that she could hardly breathe. She pressed her wrinkled hands tightly against her bosom.
There were the quick words of command, alas! so familiar in France just now, the cruel, peremptory words that invariably proceeded an arrest, preliminaries to the dragging of some wretched - often wholly harmless - creature before a tribunal that knew neither pardon nor mercy.
The sergeant, who had become drowsy in the close atmosphere of the tiny room, roused himself at the sound and jumped to his feet. The door was thrown open by the men stationed outside even before the authoritative words, "Open! in the name of the republic!" had echoed along the narrow corridor.
The sergeant stood at attention and quickly lifted his hand to his forehead in salute. A fresh squad of some half-dozen men of the Republican Guard stood in the doorway; they were under the command of an officer of high rank, a rough, uncouth, almost bestial-looking creature, with lank hair worn the fashionable length under his greasy chapeau-bras, and unkempt beard round an ill-washed and bloated face. But he wore the tricolour sash and badge which proclaimed him one of the military members of the sectional Committee of Public Safety, and the sergeant, who had been so overbearing with the women just now, had assumed a very humble and even obsequious manner.
"You sent for a general order to the sectional
Committee," said the new-comer, turning abruptly to the sergeant
after he had cast a quick, searching glance round the room, hardly
condescending to look on petite maman and Rosette, whose very
souls were now gazing out of their anguish-filled eyes.
"I did, citizen commandant," replied the sergeant.
"I am not a commandant," said the other curtly. "My name is Rouget, member of the Convention and of the Committee of Public Safety. The sectional Committee to whom you sent for a general order of search thought that you had blundered somehow, so they sent me to put things right."
"I am not aware that I committed any blunder, citizen," stammered the sergeant dolefully. "I could not take the responsibility of making a domiciliary search all through the house. So I begged for fuller orders."
"And wasted the Committee's time and mine by such nonsense," retorted Rouget harshly. "Every citizen of the Republic worthy of the name should know how to act on his own initiative when the safety of the nation demands it."
"I did not know - I did not dar-" murmured the sergeant, obviously cowed by this reproof, which had been delivered in the rough, overbearing tones peculiar to these men who, one and all, had risen from the gutter to places of importance and responsibility in the newly modeled State.
"Silence!" commanded the other peremptorily. "Don't waste any more of my time with your lame excuses. You have failed in zeal and initiative. That's enough. What else have you done? Have you got the man Lenègre?"
"No, citizen. He is not in hiding here, and his wife and daughter will not give us any information about him."
"That is their look out," retorted Rouget with a harsh laugh. "If they give up Lenègre of their own free will the law will deal leniently with them, and even perhaps with him. But if we have to search the house for him, then it means the guillotine for the lot of them."
He had spoken these callous words without even looking on the two unfortunate women; nor did he ask them any further questions just then, but continued speaking to the sergeant:
"And what about the Englishman? The sectional Committee sent down some spies this morning to be on the look out for him on or about this house. Have you got him?"
"Not yet, citizen. But-"
"Ah, ça, citizen," retorted the sergeant sullenly, "that I believe Lenègre to be still in this house. At any rate, he had not gone out of it an hour ago - that's all I know. And I wanted to search the whole of this house, as I am sure we should have found him in one of the other apartments. These people are all friends together, and will always help each other to evade justice. But the Englishman was no concern of mine. The spies of the Committee were ordered to watch for him, and when they reported to me I was to proceed with the arrest. I was not set to do any of the spying work. I am a soldier, and obey my orders when I get them."
"Very well, then you'd better obey them now, citizen sergeant," was Rouget's dry comment on the other man's surely explanation, "for you seem to have properly blundered from first to last, and will be hard put to it to redeem your character. The Republic remember, has no use for fools."
The sergeant, after this covert threat, thought it best, apparently, to keep his tongue, whilst Rouget continued, in the same aggressive, peremptory tone.
"Get on with your domiciliary visits at once. Take your own men with you, and leave me the others. Begin on this floor, and leave your sentry at the front door outside. Now let me see your zeal atoning for your past slackness. Right turn! Quick march!"
Then it was that petite maman spoke out. She had thought and thought, and now she knew what she ought to do; she knew that that cruel inhuman wretch would presently begin his tramp up and down corridors and stairs, demanding admittance at every door, entering every apartment. She knew that the man who had saved her Pierre's life was in hiding somewhere in the house - that he would be found and dragged to the guillotine, for she knew that the whole governing body of this abominable Revolution was determined not to allow that hated Englishman to escape again.
She was old and feeble, small and thin - that's why everyone called her petite maman - but once she knew what she ought to do, then her spirit overpowered the weakness of her wizened body.
Now she knew, and even while that arrogant member of an execrated murdering Committee was giving final instructions to the sergeant, petite maman said, in a calm, piping voice:
"No need, citizen sergeants, to go and disturb all my friends and neighbors. I'll tell you where my husband is."
In a moment Rouget had swung round on his heel; a hideous gleam of satisfaction spread over his grimy face, and he said, with an ugly sneer:
"So! you have thought better of it, have you? Well, out with it! You'd better be quick about it if you want to do yourselves any good."
"I have my daughter to think of," said petite maman in a feeble, querulous way, "and I won't have all my neighbours in this house made unhappy because of me. They have all been kind neighbours. Will you promise not to molest them and to clear the house of soldiers if I tell you where Lenègre is?"
"The Republic makes no promises," replied Rouget gruffly. "Her citizens must do their duty without hope of a reward. If they fail in it, they are punished. But privately I will tell you, woman, that if you save us the troublesome and probably unprofitable task of searching this rabbit-warren through and through, it shall go very leniently with you and with your daughter, and perhaps - I won't promise, remember - perhaps with your husband, also."
"Very good, citizen," said petite maman calmly. "I am ready."
"Ready for what?" he demanded.
"To take you to where my husband is hiding."
"Oho! He is not in the house, then?"
"Where is he, then?"
"In the Rue Ste. Anne. I will take you there."
Rouget cast a quick, suspicious glance on the old woman, and exchanged one of understanding with the sergeant.
"Very well," he said after a slightly pause. "But your daughter must come along too. Sergeant," he added, "I'll take three of your men with me; I have half a dozen, but it's better to be on the safe side. Post your fellows round the outer door, and on my way to the Rue Ste. Anne I will leave word at the gendarmerie that a small reinforcement be sent on to you at once. These can be here in five minutes; until then you are quite safe."
Then he added under his breath, so that the women should not hear: "The Englishman may still be in the house. In which case, hearing us depart, he may think us all gone and try to give us the slip. You'll know what to do?" he queried significantly.
"Of course, citizen," replied the sergeant.
"Now then, citizeness - hurry up."
Once more there was trampling of heavy feet on stone stairs and corridors. A squad of soldiers of the Republican Guard, and two women in their midst, and followed by a member of the Committee of Public Safety, a sergeant, corporal and two or three more men, excited much anxious curiosity as they descended the steep flights of steps from the fifth floor.
Pale, frightened faces peeped shyly through the doorways at sound of the noisy tramp from above, but quickly disappeared again at sight of the grimy scarlet facings and tricolour cockades.
The sergeant and three soldiers remained stationed at the foot of the stairs inside the house. Then citizen Rouget roughly gave the order to proceed. It seemed strange that it should require close on a dozen men to gaurd two women and to apprehend one man, but as the member of the Committee of Public Safety whispered to the sergeant before he finally went out of the house: "The whole thing may be a trap, and one can't be too careful. The Englishman is said to be very powerful; I'll get the gendarmerie to send you another half-dozen men, and mind you gaurd the house until my return."
Five minutes later the soldiers, directed by petite maman, had reached No. 37 Rue Ste. Anne. The big outside door stood wide open, and the whole party turned immediately into the house.
The concierge, terrified and obsequious, rushed - trembling - out of his box.
"What was the pleasure of the citizen soldiers?" he asked.
"We are going to apartment No. 12 on the second floor," said petite maman to the concierge.
"Have you a key of the apartment?" queried Rouget.
"No, citizen," stammered the concierge, "but-"
"Well, what is it?" queried the other peremptorily.
"Papa Turandot is a poor, harmless maker of violins," said the concierge. "I know him well, though he is not often at home. He lives with a daughter somewhere Passy way, and only uses this place as a workshop. I am sure he is no traitor."
"We'll soon see about that," remarked Rouget dryly.
Petite maman held her shawl tightly crossed over her bosom: her hands felt clammy and cold as ice. She was looking straight out before her, quite dry-eyed and calm, and never once glanced on Rosette, who was not allowed to come anywhere near her mother.
As there was no duplicate key to apartment No. 12, citizen Rouget ordered his men to break in the door. it did not take very long: the house was old and ramshackle and the doors rickety. The next moment the party stood in the room which a while ago the Englishman had so accurately described to Père Lenègre in petite maman's hearing.
There was the wardrobe. Petite maman, closely surrounded by the soldiers, went boldly up to it; she opened it just as milor' had directed, and pushed aside the row of shappy clothes that hung there. Then she pointed to the panels that did not fit quite tightly together at the back. Petite maman passed her tongue over her dry lips before she spoke.
"There's a recess behind those panels," she said at last. "They slide back quite easily. My old man is there."
"And God bless you for a brave, loyal soul," came in merry, ringing accent from the other end of the room.
"And God save the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
These last words, spoken in English, completed the blank amazement which literally paralyzed the only three genuine Republican soldiers there - those, namely, whom Rouget had borrowed from the sergeant. As for the others, they knew what to do. In less than a minute they had overpowered and gagged the three bewildered soldiers.
Rosette had screamed, terror-stricken, from sheer astonishment, but petite maman stood quite still, her pale, tear-dimmed eyes fixed upon the man whose gay "God bless you!" had so suddenly turned her despair into hope.
How was it that in the hideous, unkempt and grimy Rouget she had not at once recognized the handsome and gallant milor' who had saved her Pierre's life? Well, of a truth he had been unrecognizable, but now that he tore the ugly wig and beard from his face, stretched out his fine figure to its full height, and presently turned his lazy, merry eyes on her, she could have screamed for very joy.
The next moment he had her by the shoulders and had imprinted two sounding kisses upon her cheeks.
"Now, petite maman," he said gaily, "let us liberate the old man."
Père Lenègre, from his hiding place, had heard all that had been going on in the room for the last few moments. True, he had known exactly what to expect, for no sooner had he taken possession of the recess behind the wardrobe than milor' also entered the apartment and then and there told him of his plans not only for Père's own safety, but for that of petite maman and Rosette who would be in grave danger if the old man followed in the wake of Pierre.
Milor' told him in his usual light-hearted way that he had given the Committee's spies the slip.
"I do that very easily, you know," he explained. "I just slip into my rooms in the Rue Jolivet, change myself into a snuffy and hunchback violin-maker, and walk out of the house under the noses of the spies. In the nearest wine-shop my English friends, in various disguises, are all ready to my hand: half a dozen of them are never far from where I am in case they may be wanted."
These half-dozen brave Englishmen soon arrived one by one: one looked like a coal-heaver, another like a seedy musician, a third like a coach driver. But they all walked boldly into the house and were soon all congregated in apartment No. 12. here fresh disguises were assumed, and soon a squad of Republican Guards looked as like the real thing as possible.
Père Lenègre admitted himself that though he actually saw milor' transforming himself into citizen Rouget, he could hardly believe his eyes, so complete was the change.
"I am deeply grieved to have frightened and upset you so, petite maman," now concluded milor' kindly, "but I saw no other way of getting you and Rosette out of the house and leaving that stupid sergeant and some of his men behind. I did not want to arouse in him even the faintest breath of suspicion, and of course if he had asked me for the written orders which he was actually waiting for, or if his corporal had returned sooner than I anticipated, there might have been trouble. But even then," he added with his usual careless insouciance, "I should have thought of some way of baffling those brutes."
"And now," he concluded more authoritatively, "it is a case of getting out of Paris before the gates close. Père Lenègre, take your wife and daughter with you and walk boldly out of this house. The sergeant and his men have not vacated their post in the Rue Jolivet, and no one else can molest you. Go straight to the Porte de Neuilly, and on the other side wait quietly in the little café at the corner of the Avenue until I come. Your old passes for the barrier still hold good; you were only placed on the 'suspect' list this morning, and there has not been a hue and cry yet about you. In any case some of us will be close by to help you if needs be."
"But you, milor'," stammered Père Lenègre, "and your friends-?"
"La, man," retorted Blakeney lightly, "have I not told you before never to worry about me and my friends? We have more ways than one of giving the slip to this demmed government of yours. All you've got to think of is your wife and your daughter. I am afraid that petite maman cannot take more with her than she has on, but we'll do all e can for her comfort until we have you all in perfect safety - in England - with Pierre."
Neither Père Lenègre, nor petite maman, nor Rosette could speak just then, for tears were choking them, but anon when milor' stood nearer, petite maman knelt down, and, imprisoning his slender hand in her brown, wrinkled ones, she kissed it reverently.
He laughed and chided her for this.
"'Tis I should kneel to you in gratitude, petite maman," he said earnestly; "you were ready to sacrifice your old man for me."
"You have saved Pierre, milor'," said the mother simply.
A minute later Père Lenègre and the two women were ready to go. Already milor' and his gallant English friends were busy once more transforming themselves into grimy workmen or seedy middle-class professionals.
As soon as the door of apartment No. 12 finally closed behind the three good folk, my lord Tony asked of his chief:
"What about those three wretched soldiers, Blakeney?"
"Oh! they'll be all right for twenty-four hours. They can't starve till then, and by that time the concierge will have realized that there's something wrong with the door of No. 12 and will come in to investigate the matter. Are they securely bound, though?"
"And gagged! Rather!" ejaculated one of the others. "Odd's life, Blakeney!" he added enthusiastically, "that was a fine bit of work!"