Déroulède had spent the whole of this same night in a wild, impassioned search for Juliette.
Earlier in the day, soon after Anne Mie's revelations, he had sought out his English friend, Sir Percy Blakeney, and talked over with him the final arrangements for the removal of Madame Déroulède and Anne Mie from Paris.
Though he was a born idealist and a Utopian, Paul Déroulède had never for a moment had any illusions with regard to his own popularity. He knew that at any time, and for any trivial cause, the love which the mob bore him would readily turn to hate. He had seen Mirabeau's popularity wane, La Fayette's, Desmoulin's--was it likely that he alone would survive the inevitable death of so ephemeral a thing?
Therefore, whilst he was in power, whilst he was loved and trusted, he had, figuratively and actually, put his house in order. He had made full preparations for his own inevitable downfall, for that probable flight from Paris of those who were dependent upon him.
He had, as far back as a year ago, provided himself with the necessary passports, and bespoken with his English friend certain measures for the safety of his mother and his crippled little relative. Now it was merely a question of putting these measures into execution.
Within two hours of Juliette Marny's arrest, Madame Déroulède and Anne Mie had quitted the house in the Rue Ecole de Médecine. They had but little luggage with them, and were ostensibly going into the country to visit a sick cousin.
The mother of the popular Citizen-Deputy was free to travel unmolested. The necessary passports which the safety of the Republic demanded were all in perfect order, and Madame Déroulède and Anne Mie passed through the north gate of Pairs an hour before sunset, on that 24th day of Fructidor.
Their large travelling chaise took them some distance on the North Road, where they were to meet Lord Hastings and Lord Antony Dewhurst, two of The Scarlet Pimpernel's most trusted lieutenants, who were to escort them as far as the coast, and thence see them safely aboard the English yacht.
On that score, therefore, Déroulède had no anxiety. His chief duty was to his mother and to Anne Mie, and that was now fully discharged.
Then there was old Pétronelle.
Ever since the arrest of her young mistress the poor old soul had been in a state of mind bordering on frenzy, and no amount of eloquence on Déroulède's part would persuade her to quit Paris without Juliette.
"If my pet lamb is to die," she said, amidst heartbroken sobs, "then I have no cause to live. Let those devils take me along too, if they want a useless old woman like me. But if my darling is allowed to go free, then what would become of her in this awful city without me? She and I have never been separated; she wouldn't know where to turn for a home. And who would cook for her and iron out her kerchiefs, I'd like to know?"
Reason and common sense were, of course, powerless in face of this sublime and heroic childishness. No one had the heart to tell the old woman that the murderous dog of the Revolution seldom loosened its fangs, once they had closed upon a victim.
All Déroulède could do was to convey Pétronelle to the old abode, which Juliette had quitted in order to come to him, and which had never been formally given up. The worthy soul, calmed and refreshed, deluded herself into the idea that she was waiting for the return of her young mistress, and becamse quite cheerful at sight of the familiar room.
Déroulède had provided her with money and necessaries. He had but few remaining hopes in his heart, but among them was the firmly-implanted one that Pétronelle was too insignificant to draw upon herself the terrible attention of the Committee of Public Safety.
By nightfall he had seen the good woman safely installed. Then only did he feel free.
At last he could devote himself to what seemed to him the one, the only, aim of his life--to find Juliette.
A dozen prisons in this vast Paris!
Over five thousand prisoners on that night awaiting trial, condemnation, and death.
Déroulède at first, strong in his own power, his personality, had thought that the task would be comparatively easy.
At the Palais de Justice they would tell him nothing: the list of new arrests had not yet been handed in by the commandant of Paris, Citizen Santerre, who classified and docketed the miserable herd of aspirants for the next day's guillotine.
The lists, moreover, would not be completed until the next day, when the trials of the new prisoners would already be imminent.
The work of the Committee of Public Safety was done without much delay.
Then began Déroulède's weary quest through those twelve prisons of Paris.
From the Temple to the Conciergerie, from Palais Condé to the Luxembourg, he spent hours in the fruitless search.
Everywhere the same shrug of the shoulders, the same indifferent reply to his eager query:
"Juliette Marny? Inconnue."
Unknown! She had not yet been docketed, not yet classified; she was still one of that immense flock of cattle sent in ever-increasing numbers to the slaughter-house.
Presently, to-morrow, after a trial which might last ten minutes, after a hasty condemnation and quick return to prison, she would be listed as one of the traitors, whom this great and beneficient Republic sent daily to the guillotine.
Vainly did Déroulède try to persuade, to entreat, to bribe. The sullen guardians of these twelve charnel-houses knew nothing of individual prisoners.
But the Citizen-Deputy was allowed to look for rooms of the Temple, to the vast ball-rooms of the Palais Condé, where herded the condemned and those still awaiting trial; he was allowed to witness there the grim farcical tragedies, with which the captives beguiled the few hours which separated them from death.
Mock trials were acted there; Tinville was mimicked; then the Place de la Révolution; Samson the headsman, with a couple of inverted chairs to represent the guillotine.
Daughters of dukes and princes, descendants of ancient lineage, acted in these weird and ghastly comedies. The ladies, with hair bound high over their heads, would kneel before the inverted chairs, and place their snow-white necks beneath this imaginary guillotine. Speeches were delivered to a mock populace, whilst a mock Santerre ordered a mock roll of drums to drown the last flow of eloquence of the supposed victim.
Oh! the horror of it all--the pity, pathos, and misery of this ghastly parody in the very face of the sublimity of death!
Déroulède shuddered when first he beheld the scene, shuddered at the very thought of finding Juliette amongst these careless, laughing, thoughtless mimes.
His own, his beautiful Juliette, with her proud face and majestic, queen-like gestures; it was a relief not to see her there.
"Juliette Marny? Inconnue," was the final word he heard about her.
No one told him that by Deputy Merlin's strictest orders she had been labelled "dangerous," and placed in a remote wing of the Luxembourg Palace, together with a few, who, like herself, were allowed to see no one, communicate with no one.
Then when the couvre-feu had sounded, when all public places were closed, when the night watchman had begun his rounds, Déroulède knew that his quest for that night must remain fruitless.
But he could not rest. In and out the tortuous streets of Paris he roamed during the better part of that night. He was now only awaiting the dawn to publicly demand the right to stand beside Juliette.
A hopeless misery was in his heart, a longing for a cessation of life; only one thing kept his brain active, his mind clear: the hope of saving Juliette.
The dawn was breaking in the far east, when, wandering along the banks of the river, he suddenly felt a touch on his arm.
"Come to my hovel," said a pleasant, lazy voice close to his ear, whilst a kindly hand seemed to drag him away from the contemplation of the dark, silent river. "And a demmed beastly place it is too, but at least we can talk quietly there."
Déroulède, roused from his meditation, looked up to see his friend, Sir Percy Blakeney, standing close beside him. Tall, debonair, well-dressed, he seemed by his very presence to dissipate the morbid atmosphere which was beginning to weigh upon Déroulède's active mind.
Déroulède followed him readily enough through the intricate mazes of old Paris, and down the Rue des Arts, until Sir Percy stopped outside a small hostelry, the door of which stood wide open.
"Mine host has nothing to lose from footpads and thieves," explained the Englishman, as he guided his friend through the narrow doorway, then up a flight of rickety stairs, to a small room on the floor above. "He leaves all doors open for anyone to walk in, but, la! the interior of the house looks so uninviting that no one is tempted to enter."
"I wonder you care to stay here," remarked Déroulède, with a momentary smile, as he contrasted in his mind the fastidious appearance of his friend with the dinginess and dirt of these surroundings.
Sir Percy deposited his large person in the capacious depths of a creaky chair, stretched his long limbs out before him, and said quietly:
"I am only staying in this demmed hole until the moment when I can drag you out of this murderous city."
Déroulède shook his head.
"You'd best go back to England, then," he said, "for I'll never leave Paris now."
"Not without Juliette Marny, shall we say?" rejoined Sir Percy placidly.
"And I fear me that she has placed herself beyond our reach," said Déroulède sombrely.
"You know that she is in the Luxembourg Prison?" queried the Englishman suddenly.
"I guessed it, but could find no proof."
"And she will be tried to-morrow?"
"They never keep a prisoner pining too long," replied Déroulède bitterly. "I guessed that too."
"What do you mean to do?"
"Defend her with the last breath in my body."
"You love her still, then?" asked Blakeney, with a smile.
"Still?" The look, the accent, the agony of a hopeless passion conveyed in that one word, told Sir Percy Blakeney all that he wished to know.
"Yet she betrayed you," he said tenatively.
"And to atone for that sin--an oath, mind you, friend, sworn to her father--she is ready to give her life for me."
"And you are prepared to forgive?"
"To understand is to forgive," rejoined Déroulède simply, "and I love her."
"Your madonna!" said Blakeney, with a gently ironical smile.
"No; the woman I love, with all her weaknesses, all her sins; the woman to gain whom I would give my soul, to save whom I will give my life."
"She does not love me--would she have betrayed me else?"
He sat beside the table, and buried his head in his hands. Not even his dearest friend should see how much he had suffered, how deeply his love had been wounded.
Sir Percy said nothing, a curious, pleasant smile lurked round the corners of his mobile mouth. Through his mind there flitted the vision of beautiful Marguerite, who had so much loved yet so deeply wronged him, and, looking at his friend, he thought that Déroulède too would soon learn all the contradictions which wage a constant war in the innermost recesses of a feminine heart.
He made a movement as if he would say something more, something of grave import, then seemed to think better of it, and shrugged his broad shoulders, as if to say:
"Let time and chance take their course now."
When Déroulède looked up again Sir Percy was sitting placidly in the arm-chair, with an absolutely blank expression on his face.
"Now that you know how much I love her, my friend," said Déroulède as soon as he had mastered his emotions, "will you look after her when they have condemned me, and save her for my sake?"
A curious, enigmatic smile suddenly illumined Sir Percy's earnest countenance.
"Save her? Do you attribute supernatural powers to me, then, or to The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel?"
"To you, I think," rejoined Déroulède seriously.
Once more it seemed as if Sir Percy were about to reveal something of great importance to his friend, then once more he checked himself. The Scarlet Pimpernel was, above all, far-seeing and practical, a man of action and not of impulse. The glowing eyes of his friend, his nervous, febrile movements, did not suggest that he was in a fit state to be entrusted with plans, the success of which hung on a mere thread.
Therefore Sir Percy only smiled, and said quietly:
"Well, I'll do my best."