Chance favoured the two members of the League
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, my Lord Hastings and Lord Anthony Dewhurst.
They had their orders from the chief and went straight to the
Levets' house, and it was Levet himself who opened the door to
them in answer to their ring at the outside bell. Briefly they
told him who had sent them and what their orders were, and the
old man went at once in search of his guest. The Abbé Edgeworth
had in the meanwhile enjoyed Charles Levet's hospitality: he had
had food, a little drink and a short rest, but he still appeared
dazed and aghast, as if moonstruck and awed by everything that
had happened to him since dawn the sudden call to attend
his King, that terrible drive through Paris with the population
silent and the clatter of thousands of armed men all around! Then
the supreme moment when he had seen his King strapped to that
hideous guillotine. He had made a crowning effort to smother his
own horror and indignation and to speak to the martyred King a
last word of encouragement: he had raised the crucifix and called
out in a loud voice: "Son of St. Louis, ascend to
heaven!" Nor had he faltered while that heinous crime was committed, which called to Heaven for vengeance, the crime that could never hope for forgiveness, the sin against the Holy Ghost!
After that everything had been turmoil and confusion: he had tried to concentrate on his devotions, to recite the Prayers for the Dead, but all round him men shouted and women shrieked, and sacrilegious hands were laid on the dead body of his King. He tried to pray, for he was not afraid, although there were shouts of "A la lanterne, le calotin!" He was not afraid. He was ready to follow the son of St. Louis on the path to heaven. Rough hands seized him, and dragged him down the steps of the guillotine. Hideous faces leered at him from above. He must have partly lost consciousness when he felt himself raised on powerful shoulders and thought that he was being taken straight to the nearest lamp-post with a halter round his neck.
The next thing he remembered was walking through the fog, in company with a man who held him up while he walked: the man, apparently, who had rescued him from the howling mob. And then the warmth and comfort of this hospitable house: kind voices uttering words of welcome, a warm drink, a bed on which to stretch his aching limbs. And now this kind old man telling him that all was well: powerful friends would take him to La Rodière where he would be received with open arms, and where he could remain until such time as a more permanent refuge could be found for him. The abbé was bewildered. Who, he asked, were those wonderful friends who had rescued him at peril of their own lives, and now continued their work of mercy? But Levet couldn't tell him. He spoke vaguely of a man who was professor at a university and seemed to have marvellous courage, and limitless resources. He himself had only known him a little while. Who he was, he couldn't say. He came and went mysteriously and equally mysteriously would invariably be on the spot when innocent men, women or children's lives were threatened. His dead wife had looked upon the man as a messenger from heaven. There was no time to say more just now. Old Levet urged the abbé to hurry.
A moment or two later he was standing once
again at the gate of his house, watching three figures move away
up the road. They looked like
shadows in the fog. One of them was the Abbé Edgeworth. Levet didn't know the others. They had spoken to him in French, bringing a message from that mysterious Professor whom his dead wife had looked on as a messenger from heaven.
"Be sure," the priest had said when he finally took leave of his kind host, "be sure that he has a mandate from God."
These two who were emissaries of the Professor, had spoken French with a foreign accent. Levet thought they must have been English. But then it seemed incredible that foreigners would take any interest in the sufferings of Frenchmen who were loyal to their King. Englishmen especially. Why should they care? This awful revolution over here had nothing to do with them. Some people went so far as to assert that the English would soon declare war against France that is to say, not against France but against this abominable Republic which had established itself on a foundation of outrage and murder. Anyway, it was all quite inexplicable. Old Levet went indoors, very perplexed and shaking his head. He went straight into the room where his wife lay dead. Earlier in the day he had helped his daughter to set lighted candles at the head and foot of the bed and to dispose sprays of some everlasting shrub round the inert body of her who had been his life's companion for twenty-five years. Her hands were now reverently clasped round a crucifix.
Augustin was still in the room when Levet entered. He was talking in a subdued tone to a tall young man who had a tablet in his hand on which he was apparently making notes with a point of black lead. He was dressed in black from head to foot, with plain white frills at throat and wrists: he wore high boots, and his own hair, innocent of wig, was tied at the nape of the neck with a black bow. Apparently Levet knew that he was there, for he took no notice of him when he entered the room.
The young man, however, at once put tablet and pencil into his pocket and turned as if to go.
"Don't go, Pradel," Levet said curtly; "supper will be ready directly."
"If you will pardon me, Monsieur Levet," the other responded, "I will just say good night to Mademoiselle Blanche. I have been summoned to the château, and am already rather late.
"Some one ill up there?" the old man queried.
"Who is it?"
"They didn't tell me. Monsieur le Marquis's pet dog perhaps," the young doctor added with stinging bitterness, "or his favourite horse."
Levet made no remark on this. He moved to his wife's bedside, and Simon Pradel after bidding him and Augustin good night, went out of the room.
Blanche was in the sitting-room, apparently waiting for him.
"You are not going, Simon?" she asked eagerly as soon as he came through the door.
"I am afraid I must, Mademoiselle."
"Can't you stay and have supper with us?" she insisted so earnestly this time, that her voice shook a little and a few tears gathered in her eyes.
"I am sorry," he replied gently, "but I really must go."
He gave a slight shrug. "Professional visit, Mademoiselle," he said.
"You are going to the château," she retorted.
"What makes you say that?" he countered with a smile.
"You have your best clothes on, and your finest linen."
His smile broadened. It was a pleasant smile, which lent to his somewhat stern face a great deal of charm. He looked down ruefully at his well-worn suit of black.
"I have only this one," he said, "and I have great regard for clean linen."
Blanche said nothing for a moment or two. She was very obviously fighting a wave of emotion which caused her lips to quiver, and tears to gather thick and fast in her eyes. And all at once she moved up, close to him, and placed a hand on his arm.
"Don't go to the château, Simon," she entreated.
"My dear, I must. Madame la Marquise might be ill. Besides . . ."
"Besides what?" And as Simon didn't reply to this challenge, she went on vehemently: "You only go there because you hope to have a word or two with Cécile de la Rodière. You, a distinguished medical man, with medals and degrees from the great universities of Europe, you demean yourself by attending on these people's horses and dogs like any common veterinary lout. Have you no pride, Simon? And all the time you must know that that aristocrat's daughter can never be anything to you."
Pradel remained silent during this vehement tirade. He appeared detached and indifferent, as if the girl's lashing words were not addressed to him. Only the smile had vanished from his face leaving it rather pale and stern. When Blanche had finished speaking, chiefly because the words were choked in her throat, she sank into a chair and dissolved in tears. She cried and sobbed in a veritable paroxism of grief. Pradel waited in silence till the worst of that paroxism had passed, then he said gently:
"Mademoiselle Blanche, I am sure you meant kindly by me, when you struck at me with so much contempt and cruelty. I assure you that I bear you no ill-will for what you said just now. With your permission I will call in to-night on my way back from the château to see how your dear father is bearing up. Frankly, I am a little anxious about him. He is no age, but he has a tired heart, and he has had a great deal to endure to-day. Good night, Mademoiselle."
After he had gone Blanche remained for quite a long while, as if prostrate with grief. She was not crying now, but sobs, the aftermath of a flood of tears, shook her shoulders intermittently. Her head ached furiously, and she lay back in the chair, with eyes closed, almost in a state of torpor. From this she was presently aroused by her brother Augustin who came out from his dead mother's room, and seeing the girl there asleep, as he thought he said with some acerbity:
"Have you forgotten that it is supper-time, Blanche?"
Blanche roused herself sufficiently to go into the kitchen and order supper to be brought in at once. They all sat down to table and the old man said grace before he served the soup. They had just begun to eat, when a cabriolet drove up to the grille. A vigorous pull at the outside bell caused old Levet to rise. The family only kept one maid of all work and she was busy dishing up, so he went himself to the door as he most usually did: before he had time to reach the grille, the bell was pulled again.
"I wonder who that can be," Blanche remarked.
"Whoever it is seems in a great hurry," observed her brother.
Old Levet opened the door. Louis Maurin stepped over the threshold. He appeared breathless with excitement. Before Levet could formulate a question he thrust the old man back into the vestibule, exclaiming:
"Ah! My good friend! Such a calamity! Thank God I am just in time."
"In time for what?" Levet muttered. He had disliked the lawyer at all times, for he looked on him as a traitor and now a regicide, but never had he hated him so bitterly as he did to-day.
"I chanced to be at the Town Hall," Maurin went on, still breathlessly, "and heard that there is an order out for your arrest and I am afraid that the order includes your family and your guest," he concluded significantly.
Levet appeared to take the news with complete indifference. The mock arrest of the Abbé Edgeworth by two emissaries of Monsieur le Professeur had assured him that the priest at any rate had nothing to fear. He gave a slight shrug and said quietly:
"Let them arrest me and my family, if they want to. We are willing to share the fate of our King."
"Don't talk like that, my dear friend," the lawyer admonished earnestly; such talk has become really dangerous now. And you have your son and daughter to think of."
"They are of one mind with me," Levet retorted gruffly, "and if that is all you have come to say . . ."
Instinct of hospitality, which with old Levet amounted to a virtue, did prevent his ordering this "traitor" summarily out of his house.
"I came from pure motives of friendship," the young man rejoined, in a tone of gentle reproach, "to warn you of what was impending. The matter is far more serious than you seem to realize."
"I needed no warning. Loyal people like ourselves must be prepared these days for any calamity."
"But there is your guest . . ." Maurin put in.
"My guest? What guest?"
"The man you brought to your house this afternoon. The authorities have got to know of this surreptitious visit. It has aroused their suspicion. Hence the order for your arrest and his."
Old Levet gave another shrug.
"There's no one here." He said coolly, "except my son and daughter and the maid."
"Come, come, my dear friend," the lawyer retorted, and his tone became more reproachful, and more gentle like that of a father admonishing his obstinate child, "you must not incriminate yourself by denying indisputable facts. I myself saw you introducing a stranger into your house, and your friend the professor can also bear witness to this."
"I tell you there's no stranger here," old Levet reasserted harshly. "And now I pray you to excuse me. My family waits with supper for me."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the sound of a rumble of wheels accompanied by the tramping of measured footsteps was heard approaching the house. There was a cry of "Halt!" outside the grille and then the usual summons: "In the name of the Republic!" The grille was thrust open, there was more tramping of heavy feet over the stone path to the house, and loud banging on the massive front door.
"What did I tell you?" Maurin queried. He pushed past old Levet and strode quickly across the vestibule to the dining-room, where at the sound of that ominous call Blanche and Augustin had jumped to their feet. The lawyer put one finger to his lips and murmured rapidly:
"Do not be afraid. I am watching over you all. You have nothing to fear. But tell me quickly, where is the stranger?"
"The stranger?" Augustin responded "What stranger?"
"You know quite well," the other retorted. "Your father's guest, whom he brought here this afternoon."
"There has been no one here all day," Augustin rejoined quietly. "My mother died. Docteur Pradel was here to certify. There has been no one else."
Maurin turned sharply to the girl.
"Blanche," he said earnestly, "tell me the truth. Where is your father's guest?"
"Augustin has told you, Louis," she replied, "there is no one here but ourselves."
"They will search the house, you know," he insisted.
"And question your maid."
"She can only tell them the truth."
The lawyer was decidedly nonplussed. Looking about him, he could not help noticing that only three places were laid round the table, and that there were only three half-empty soup plates, there, while the tureen stood on the sideboard.
Through the door, which was ajar, he could hear old Levet give categorical replies to the questions which the sergeant of the guard put to him.
"There is no one here."
"Only the doctor came this afternoon."
"He came to certify."
"My son and daughter are at supper. My wife is dead. You can question the maid."
Maurin spoke once more to Blanche.
"Mademoiselle," he entreated, "for your own sake, tell me the truth."
"I have told you," she reasserted, "there is no one here except ourselves."
The lawyer smothered the harsh word which came to his lips: he said nothing more, however, turned on his heel and went out of the room.
"What is all this?" he asked curtly of the sergeant.
"You know best, Citizen Lawyer," was the soldier's equally curt reply.
"I?" Maurin retorted unblushingly. "What the devil has it got to do with me?"
"Well! It was you, I understand, who denounced these people."
"That is a lie,"
"Who did then?"
"A friend of the family, Professor d'Arblay."
"Where is he?"
"He had an accident in the road. Sprained his ankle. He had to drive home."
"Where is his home?"
"I don't know. I hardly know him."
"But you were with him in the Town Hall. You were seen coming out of the Chief Commissary's cabinet."
"I was there on professional business," the lawyer retorted tartly, "and you have no right to question me like that. I had nothing to do with this denunciation, as I have the honour of being on friendly terms with this family. And I may as well tell you that I shall use all the influence I possess to clear the whole of this matter up. So you had better behave decently while you are in this house. It won't be good for you if you do not."
He raised his voice and spoke peremptorily like one accustomed to be listened to with deference. But the sergeant seemed unimpressed. All he said was:
"Very well, Citizen. You will act, no doubt, as you thing best in your own interests. I have only my duty to perform."
He gave a quick order to two of his men, who immediately stepped forward and took up their stand one on each side of Charles Levet. The sergeant then crossed the vestibule, and taking no further notice of the lawyer, he went into the dining-room. Blanche and Augustin had resumed their seats at the table. Blanche sat with her chin cupped in her hand. Augustin, his eyes closed, his fingers twined together, seemed absorbed in prayer. In the background Marie, the maid of all work, stood agape like a frightened hen.
The sergeant took a comprehensive survey of the room. He was a stolid-looking fellow, obviously a countryman and not over-endowed with intelligence, and he gave the impression that what he lacked in personality he strove to counterbalance by bluster: the sort of bumpkin, in fact, whom the Revolution had dragged out of obscurity and thrust into some measure of prominence, and who was determined to make the most of his unexpected rise to fortune. He took no further notice of the lawyer, cleared his throat, and announced with due pompousness:
"In the name of the Republic!"
He then unfolded a paper which he had in his hand, and continued:
"I have here a list of all the inmates of this house, as given to the Chief of Section this afternoon, either by Citizen Maurin or his friend the Professor with the sprained ankle, whose address is not known. I will read aloud the names on this list, and each one of you on hearing your name, say the one word. 'Present' and stand at attention. Now then!"
He then proceeded to read and to interpolate comments of his own after every name.
"Charles Levet, herbalist! We have got him safely already. Henriette his wife! She is dead, I understand. Augustin Levet, priest! . . . Why don't you answer?" he interposed peremptorily as Augustin had not made the required reply, "and why don't you rise? Have you also got a sprained ankle?"
Augustin then rose obediently and spoke the word:
"Blanche Levet, daughter of Charles," the soldier continued.
"Marie Bachelier, aide ménage."
"Here I am, Citizen Sergeant," quoth Marie, nearly scared out of her wits."
"And a guest, identity unknown," the soldier concluded. "Where is he?" He rolled up the paper and thrust it into his belt.
"Where is the guest?" he reiterated gruffly, and still receiving no answer, he asked once more: "Where is he?"
He looked round from one to the other, rolling his eyes and clearing his throat in a manner destined to impress these "traitors."
Augustin thereupon said emphatically: "There is no one here." And Blanche shook her pretty head and declared: "No one has been here all day except Citizen Maurin and the Citizen Doctor."
By way of a response to these declarations the sergeant of the Republican Guard turned on his heel and called to the small squad who were standing at attention, some in the vestibule, some outside the front door. To Blanche and Augustin he merely remarked: "We'll soon see about that." And to old Levet, who was standing patiently between the two soldiers, seemingly quite unmoved by what was going on in his house, he said sternly:
"I am about to order this house to be searched. So let me warn you, Citizen Levet, that if any stranger is found on your premises, it will be a far more serious matter for you and your family than if you had given him up of your own accord."
Old Levet merely shook his head and reiterated simply:
"There is no one here."
The sergeant then ordered his men to proceed with the search. It was thorough. The soldiers did not mince matters. They even invaded the room where Henriette Levet lay dead. They looked under her bed and lifted the sheet which covered her. Old Levet stood by, while this sacrilege was being committed, a silent figure as rigid as the dead. In the dining-room Augustin had once more taken refuge in prayer, while Blanche, half-dazed by all that she had gone through, sank back into a chair, her elbows resting on the table, and her eyes staring into vacancy.
Louis Maurin, as soon as the soldiers were out of the way, came and sat down opposite the young girl. He had remained silent and aloof while this last short episode was going on, but now he leaned over the table and began talking in an impressive whisper:
"Do not be afraid, Mademoiselle Blanche," he said. "I give you my word that nothing serious will happen to your father or to any of you, even if this meddlesome sergeant should discover your anonymous friend in this house. Please, please," he went on earnestly, as Blanche was obviously on the point of renewing her protest that there was no one here, "please say no more. I do firmly believe that you know nothing of what happened here this afternoon. As for your father Well! You know he is very silent and secretive. He may be sheltering some one who has come under the ban of the authorities. But I insist that you do not worry your pretty head about him, or about yourself and Augustin. I have a great deal of influence at the Commissariat and I give you my word that not later than to-morrow you will all be sitting having supper round this table. There now, let me see you smile. I tell you I can, and will, make the safety of those you care for a personal matter with the authorities. It might prove a little more difficult if your father has been sheltering some one surreptitiously instead of giving him up at once to the guard, but even so I can do it. My word on it, Mademoiselle Blanche."
He was very persuasive and very earnest. The ghost of a smile flitted round Blanche's pretty mouth.
"You are very kind, Louis," she said.
"I would do anything for you, Mademoiselle," the young man responded earnestly.
She sighed and murmured: "I cannot understand the whole thing."
"What can't you understand, Mademoiselle?"
"Monsieur le Professeur. He seemed such a friend. Do you really think that it was he?"
"Who caused all this trouble, you mean?"
"Well! I am not sure," Maurin replied vaguely. "One never knows. He may be a spy of the revolutionary government and he may have denounced your father. They are very clever, those fellows. They worm themselves into your confidence, and then betray you for a mere pittance. I wish your father had not made such a friend of him. But as I assured you just now, Mademoiselle, you have no cause for worry. While I live, no possible harm shall come to you or to your family. You do trust me, don't you?"
She murmured a timid "Yes!" and gave him her hand, which he raised to his lips.
The soldiers in the meanwhile had continued their search on the floor above. The noise of heavy footsteps, of furniture being dragged out of place, of banging on walls and cupboards, disturbed the serenity of this house which at the moment, with its mistress lying dead, should have been an abode of peace. Whilst this loud chatter went on overhead, Maurin shot searching glances at the young girl to see if she betrayed any anxiety for the guest whom he firmly believed to be still in the house. But Blanche remained seemingly unmoved and, much to his chagrin, Maurin was forced to come to the conclusion that he had brought a squad of Republican Guards out on a fool's errand and that his well-laid plan would end in a manner not altogether to his credit, and not in accordance with his hopes.
A few moments later the sergeant and his men came clattering downstairs again, all of them obviously ill-tempered at having been dragged out of barracks at this hour and in such abominable weather. The sergeant kicked the dining-room door open with his boot, and addressed the lawyer in a harsh, almost insulting tone:
"I don't know what you were thinking of, Citizen Lawyer," he said, "when you stated before the Chief of Section that a suspicious stranger was lurking in this house. We have searched it from attic to cellar and there's no one in it except the family, one of whom is dead, and the others seemingly daft. At any rate, I can't get anything out of them. I don't know if you can."
"It's no business of mine, as you well know, Citizen Sergeant," Maurin responded coolly, "to question these people, any more than it is your business to question me. I attend to my duties, you had better attend to yours."
"My duty is to arrest the inmates of this house," the soldier countered, "and if they are wise they will come along quietly. Now then you," he added, addressing them all collectively: "Charles Levet, Augustin and Blanche Levet, and Marie Bachelier, I have a carriage waiting for you. Go and get ready quickly. I don't want to waste any more time."
Obediently and silently Blanche and Augustin made for the door. Blanche called to the maid who seemed by now more dead than alive.
"But this is an outrage," Maurin suddenly interposed vehemently, "you cannot leave the dead un-guarded. Some one must remain in the house to prevent any sacrilege being committed."
The sergeant shrugged. "Sacrilege?" he put in with a sneer. "What is sacrilege? And why shouldn't the dead woman be alone in the house. She can't run away. Anyway, if you feel like that, Citizen Lawyer, why don't you stay and look after her? Come on!" he concluded roughly, addressing the others, "didn't you hear me say I didn't want to waste any more time?"
He marshalled the three out of the room. As Blanche went past the lawyer, she threw him an appealing glance. He murmured under his breath: "I will look after her. I promise you."
Ten minutes later Charles Levet with his son and daughter and the maid were seated in the chaise, and were driven under arrest to the Town Hall, there to be charged with treason or intended treason against the Republic.