Louise de Croissy lay on the narrow horse-hair sofa like a log. Since Josette had broken the terrible news to her, more than twenty-four hours ago, she had been almost like one dead: unable to speak, unable to eat or sleep. Even Charles-Léon's childish cajoleries could not rouse her from her apathy.
For twenty-four hours she had lain thus, silent and motionless, while Josette did her best to keep Charles-Léon amused and looked after his creature comforts as best she could. She adored Louise, but somehow at this crisis she could not help feeling impatient with the other woman's nervelessness and that devastating inertia. After all, there was Charles-Léon to think of; all the more now as the head of the family had gone. Josette still had her mind set on finding the Scarlet Pimpernel, who of a truth was the only person in the world who could save Louise and Charles-Léon now. Josette had no illusions on the score of the new danger which threatened these two. Bastien had been murdered by Terrorists because he would not give up the letters that compromised them without getting a quid pro quo. They had killed him and ransacked his rooms. They might have ordered his arrest - it was so easy these days to get an enemy arrested - but no doubt feared that he might have a chance of speaking during his trial and revealing what he knew. Only dead men tell no tales.
But the letters had not been found, and at this hour there was a clique of desperate men who knew that their necks were in peril if those letters were ever made public. Josette had no illusions. Sooner or later, within a few hours perhaps, those men would strike at Louise. There would be a perquisition, arrest probably, and possibly another murder. She wanted Louise to destroy the letters, they had been the cause of this awful cataclysm, but at the slightest hint Louise had clutched at her bosom with both hands as if she would guard the letters with her life. The next evening when Josette came home she found Louise already in bed; it was the first time she had moved from that narrow horse-hair sofa since the girl had broken the news to her. She had laid out her clothes on a chair, with her corsets ostentatiously spread out on the top of the other things as if to invite attention. The packet of letters was no longer inside the lining. Josette noticed this at once, also that Louise was feigning sleep and was watching her through half-closed lids.
With well-assumed indifference Josette went about her business in the house, smoothed Louise's pillow, kissed her and Charles-Léon good-night, and then got into bed. But she did not get much sleep, tired to death though she was. She foresaw the complications. Louise had some fixed idea about those letters, the result of shock no doubt, and was clinging to them with the obstinacy of the very weak. She had hidden them and meant to keep their hiding-place a secret, even from Josette. No doubt her nerves had to a certain extent given way, for in spite of her closed eyes as she lay on her bed there was that expression of cunning in her face which is peculiar to those whose minds are deranged.
Josette and Maurice had spent most of that day at the Commissariat of Police. It was a terrible ordeal from the first to last. The airless room that smelt of dirt and humanity, the patient crowd of weary men and women waiting their turn to pass into the presence of the Commissary, the suspense of the present and the horror of the past nearly broke down Josette's fortitude. Nearly, but not quite; for she had Maurice with her, and it was wonderful what comfort she derived from his nearness. She had always been so self-reliant, so accustomed to watch over those she cared for, and cater for their creature comforts, that Maurice Reversac's somewhat diffident ways, his timid speech and dog-like devotion had tempered her genuine affection for him with a slight measure of contempt. She could not help but admire his loyalty to his employer and his disinterestedness and felt bound to admit that he was clever and learned in the law, else Bastien would not have placed reliance on his judgement, as he often did, but all the time she had the feeling that morally and physically he was a weakling, the ivy that clung rather than the oak that supported.
But since this awful trouble had come upon her, how different it all was. Josette felt just as self-reliant as in the past, for Louise and Charles-Léon were more dependent on her than ever before, but there was Maurice now, a different Maurice altogether, and he had become a force.
When their turn came to appear before the Commissary, Josette, having Maurice at her side, did not feel frightened. They both gave their names and address in a clear voice, showed their papers and identity, and gave a plain and sincere account of the terrible events of the day before. Citizen Croissy, the well-known advocate, had been foully murdered in his office in the Rue de la Monnaie. It was their duty as citizens of the Republic to report this terrible fact to the Commissariat of the section.
The Commissary listened, raised his eyebrows, toyed with a paper-knife; his face was a mask of complete incredulity.
"Why should you talk of murder?" he asked.
Maurice mentioned the crowbar, the ransacked room, the scattered papers, the broken strong-box. It was clearly a case of murder for purposes of robbery.
"Any money missing?" the Commissary asked.
"Eh bien!" he remarked with a careless shrug. "You see?"
"The murder had a political motive, Citizen Commissary," Josette put in impulsively, "the assassins were not after money, but after certain papers..."
"Now you are talking nonsense," the Commissary broke in curtly. "Murder? What fool do you suppose would resort to murder nowadays?" He checked himself abruptly, for he was on the point of letting his tongue run away with him. What he had very nearly said, and certainly had implied, was that no fool would take the risk and trouble of murder these days when it was so easy to rid oneself of an enemy by denouncing him as "suspect of treason" before the local Committee of Public Safety. Arrest, trial, and the guillotine would then follow as a matter of course, and one got forty sous to boot as a reward for denouncing a traitor. Then why trouble to murder?
No wonder the Commissary checked himself in time before he had said all this: men in office had been degraded before now, if not worse, for daring to criticise the decrees of this paternal Government.
"I'll tell you what I will do, Citizeness," he said, speaking more particularly to Josette because her luminous blue eyes were fixed upon his, and he was a susceptible man; "I don't believe a word of your story, mind! but I will visit the scene of that supposed murder, and listen on the spot to the depositions of witnesses. Then we'll see."
"There were no witnesses to the crime, Citizen Commissary," Josette declared.
Whereupon the Commissary swore loudly, blustered and threatened all false accusers with the utmost penalties the law could impose. Witnesses? There must be witnesses. The concierge of the house... the other lodgers... anyway he would see, and if in the end it was definitely proved that this tale of assassination and political crime was nothing but a cock-and-bull story, well! let all false witnesses look to their own necks... that was all.
"You will appear before me to-morrow," were the parting words with which the Commissary dismissed Maurice and Josette from his presence.
No wonder that after that long and wearisome day, Josette should have lain awake most of the night a-thinkin-g. It was very obvious that nothing would be done to bring the murderers of Bastien to justice. Perhaps she had been wrong after all to speak of "political motives" in connection with the crime: she had only moral proofs for her assertion, and those devils who had perpetrated the abominable deed would be all the more on the alert now, and Louise's peril would be greater even that before.
"Holy Virgin," she murmured naïvely in her prayers, "help me to find the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
On the following morning, Louise, though still listless and apathetic, rose and dressed herself without saying a word. Josette with an aching heart could not help noticing that her face still wore an expression of cunning and obstinacy, and that her eyes were still dry: Louise indeed had not shed a single tear since the awful truth had finally penetrated to her brain, and she had understood that Bastien had been foully murdered because of the letters.
With endearing words and infinite gentleness Josette did her best to soften the poor woman's mood. She drew her to Charles-Léon's bedside and murmured some of the naïve prayers which when they were children together they had learned at the Convent of the Visitation. Her own soulful blue eyes were bathed in tears.
"Don't try and make me cry, Josette," Louise said. These were the first words she had spoken for thirty-six hours, and her voice sounded rasping and harsh. "If I were to shed tears now I would go on crying and crying till my eyes could no longer see and then they would close in death."
"You must not talk of death, Louise," Josette admonished gently, "while you have Charles-Léon to think of."
"It is because I think of him," Louise retorted, "that I don't want to cry."
But of the letters not a word, though Josette, by hint and glance, asked more than one mute question.
"Bastien would rather have seen your tears, Louise," she said with a tone of sad reproach.
"Perhaps he will - from above - when I stand by his graveside... but not now - not yet."
Louise, however, never did stand by her husband's graveside; that morning when Maurice and Josette went to the Commissariat in order to obtain permission for the burial of Citizen Croissy, they were curtly informed that the burial had already taken place, and no amount of questioning, of entreaty and of petitions elected any further information, save that the body had been disposed of by order of what was vaguely designated as "the authorities"; which meant that it had probably been thrown in the fosse commune of the Jardin de Picpus - the old convent garden - the common grave where no cross or stone could mark the last resting-place of the once brilliant and wealthy advocate of the Paris bar. The reason, curtly given, for this summary procedure was that it was the usual one in the case of suicides.
Thus was the foul murder of the distinguished lawyer classed as a case of suicide. It was useless to protest and to argue; only harm would come to Louise and Charles-Léon if either Maurice or Josette entered into any discussion on the subject. As soon as they opened their mouths they were roughly ordered to hold their peace. Maurice Reversac was commanded to accompany the Citizen Substitute to the office of the Rue de la Monnaie, there to complete certain formalities in connection with the goods and chattels belonging to "the suicide," and then officially to give up the keys of the apartment.