This 21st day of January had been one of unmitigated terror and despair for the inmates of the Levets' house at Choisy. Old Levet had gone out quite early in the morning. With snow on the ground and a fog lying thick over the river and the meadows he could not gather herbs and simples and follow his usual avocation. What he wanted above all, however, was to be alone, and then to wander into the town in search of news. News!! What this day and its destined terrible event meant to a man of Levet's convictions can scarcely be conceived. To him the execution of the King of France by the sentence of the people was nothing short of sacrilege, a crime only one degree less impious than that committed on Calvary. Old Levet wanted to be the first to hear the news. Unless a miracle happened at the eleventh hour he knew that it would surpass in horror anything that had ever occurred before in history. And he knew that he would have to break that news to his wife. If he didn't tell her, she would guess, and when she knew she would surely die.
And so the old man really old now though he was no more than fifty wandered out into the streets of Choisy alone, communing with himself, trying all in vain to steel himself against the awful blow that was sure to fall. All the morning he wandered aimlessly. But at ten o'clock he came to a halt. There was something in the air that told him that the awesome deed was accomplished: it was a distant rumbling that sounded like a roll of thunder; but Levet knew in his heart that it was the roll of drums, announcing to the world that the head of a King of France had fallen under the guillotine. And in his heart he felt acute physical pain, and a sudden intense hatred for the people all around him. They knew just as well as he did what had happened. Some of them had paused with finger uplifted, listening to that something in the air which was quite undefinable. There was a café close by. The proprietor had taken down the shutters a quarter of an hour ago. Customers had quickly flocked in. There was quite a crowd in there. And suddenly when that distant roll had died away, those inside set up a loud cheer. It was taken up by a few passers-by while others stood still, mute, as if awe had turned them to stone. Old Levet fled down the street. It led to the river and the bridge. At the bridge-head he stopped. There was a corner-stone there; he sat down on it and waited. He had risen very early in the morning, and when he opened the front door of his house, he saw a note weighted down with a stone lying on the doorstep. He stooped and picked it up and read it, well knowing where the note came from. He had had several like it before, usually giving him instructions how to help in a deed of mercy. He had always been ready to help and to obey those instructions, for they came from a man whom he only knew vaguely as a professor at some university, but whom he respected above all men he had ever come across. Charles Levet had always given what help he could, often at considerable risk to himself.
The note to-day also gave him instructions, very simple ones this time. All it said was: "Wait at the bridge-head from noon till dusk." It was only ten o'clock as yet, but old Levet didn't care. What were hours to him, now that such an awful calamity had sullied the fair name of France for ever? He was numb with cold and fatigue, but he didn't care. He just sat there, waiting and watching, with lack-lustre eyes, the stream of traffic go by over the bridge. Crowds were returning from Paris on foot, on horse-back or in cabriolets. They had been up in the capital "to see the show." They were talking and laughing quite naturally, as if they had been to a theatre or a race-meeting. Old Levet drew his cape closer round his shoulders, and closed his aching eyes. The cold had made him drowsy.
A distant church clock had struck four when out of the crowd of passers-by two figures detached themselves and made straight for the corner-stone where old Levet was sitting, waiting patiently. A tall figure and a short one: two men, both dressed in black and wrapped in heavy capes against the cold. Levet shook himself out of his torpor. The taller of the two men helped him struggle to his feet, and then said:
"This is the Abbé Edgeworth, Charles. He was with His Majesty until the last."
"We'll go straight home," Levet responded simply. "It is cold here, and Monsieur l'Abbé is welcome."
Without another words the three men started to walk back through the town. It was characteristic of Levet that he made no further comment, nor did he ask a question. He walked briskly, ahead of the other two, looking neither to right nor left. The priest appeared to be in a state of exhaustion; his tall friend held him tightly by the arm, to enable him to walk at all. At a distance of some hundred metres or so from his house old Levet came to a halt. He waited till the other came close to him, then he said simply:
"My wife is very ill. She knows nothing yet. Perhaps she guesses. But I must prepare her. Will you wait here?
It was quite dark now, and the fog very dense. Levet's shrunken figure was quickly lost to view.