THEY brought the boy home, the three of them—his two friends and the doctor —brought him home to die, for the surgeon said he could only last an hour at most.
Juliette did not cry, did not even utter a sound. Her great eyes wandered from the inanimate form of her brother before her to that of her father, whose joy and pride the boy had been.
The lad had quarrelled with the young Baron Deroulède—as gallant and honorable a gentleman as could be found at the King’s Court.
The motive of the quarrel? Ah, who could tell? Ostensibly a dispute over a deal at cards. Probably the bright eyes of one of the Queen’s Maids of Honor might not be altogether out of the question.
And so this morning they fought, in a carrefour of the Bois de Vincennes. The Baron Deroulède was a noted swordsman, and the lad fell after the third attack with a thrust through his left lung. The doctor thought it best to bring him home—to die in his father’s, his sister’s arms.
Presently, when it was all over, when the young body lay in marble-like majesty, when the friends had departed, and the old Count Marny was alone with his daughter, face to face with his great grief, he took Juliette's hand, and placing it on her dead brother’s head, he spoke in tones that were almost those of a maniac, so wild and purposeless they seemed; though to her they had the solemnity born of unconquerable sorrow.
“Juliette, I may be too old to accomplish it, but you are young; swear, Juliette, swear that he will not remain unavenged.”
Juliette repeated the oath her father thus dictated to her.
“You will find him out, Juliette; remember, you must be cunning, but God will help you to track him, the murderer. And I too, Juliette, when I am dead, my spirit will help you. Swear, little one . . . swear, once more.”
And Juliette swore, as her father commanded. Then the old man seemed satisfied.
IT was never safe in that terrible year of 1793 for any woman of outwardly refined appearance to walk in the streets of Paris alone. Any passerby, therefore, would have wondered at what could have possessed that graceful young girl to walk down the Rue Taitbout alone in the middle of the afternoon, when there are more idlers than ever at the corners, more absinthe than at any other time of the day in the heads of the good citizens and citizenesses of Paris.
She walked rapidly the whole length of the street toward an imposing group of tall houses, where dwelt several well-known citizen-deputies. So far she had been left fairly unmolested, save for a few jeering remarks at her dainty appearance.
Doubtless the broad tricolor scarf the young girl wore tied round her waist had contributed in no small measure to her comparative safety. It seemed, therefore, an act of absolute folly on her part that, having reached a spot close to No. 25 of the Rue Taitbout, a handsome house inhabited by the popular Citizen-Deputy Deroulède, she should suddenly tear off the Republican badge, which had been her safe-conduct, and throw it ostentatiously in the mud.
This extraordinary overt act of anti-patriotism was the spark that set the pent-up tempers aflame. For one moment positive stupor petrified the lookers-on; but this only lasted a second. The next, twenty hoarse voices shrieked with frenzied passion:
“Down with the aristocrat!”
“To the lantern, to death with her who insults the Republic!”
Shrieking women, half-tipsy men, yelling urchins seemed to have sprung up from the very ground, for in less than a minute the foolhardy girl was attacked by a regular crowd of the lowest Paris mob, gesticulating, hooting, yelling, while those in the foremost rank had already snatched at her skirt, and were dragging her away from the porch of the house, to which, after her curious act of defiance, she now clung with the energy of wild terror and hopeless despair, her back against the door, facing the hideous crowd. In an agony of terror she gave forth one piteous shriek, hammering at the door with her small fists.
“Help, Citizen Deroulède! Help! murder! Here, at your very door.”
A long, mocking laugh from the mob greeted this piteous appeal. At that moment the door behind her was gently opened, a strong arm swiftly and suddenly encircled her waist, and in less than a second she felt herself dragged away from the mob.
Five minutes later the young girl, whose foolhardy and apparently purposeless action had so nearly proved her own undoing, was sitting comfortably installed before a gayly blazing fire, while an elegant and dignified-looking old lady leant over her, trying further to soothe her still agitated nerves.
Through the window, which was partially open, came the sound of a powerful voice, evidently accustomed to command and to be obeyed.
“My son’s voice,” said the old lady with undisguised pride; “you need have no more fear now, mademoiselle; he is talking to the mob; you are under the protection and in the house of Citizen-Deputy Deroulède.”
A look of exultation and triumph crossed the girl”s eyes, but it was a momentary flash; the next instant she was thanking Citizen Deroulède, who had stepped into the room once more, for his timely aid in a moment of such deadly peril.
The girl looked very beautiful in her helplessness and gratitude. No wonder that the Citizen-Deputy, who was but a young man, after all, stooped and kissed the dainty hand that was stretched out toward him, forgetting that such customs would have been called “aristocratic,” and most unworthy of a representative of the people.
ABOUT a week after the events recorded in the last chapter, five men were sitting in Citizen Deroulède’s comfortably furnished study, round a table covered with a green cloth and encumbered with cards, counters, and the usual accessories that arc necessary for a game of hazard. Though each held in his hand a few cards, and from time to time made a jerky attempt at following some sort of game, it was nevertheless quite obvious that these five men were discussing other matters than the hazards of baccarat or the latest production at the “Molière.” The face of each looked anxious and careworn, and all of them started visibly at the slightest sound behind the heavily curtained door or closely shuttered windows.
The host himself, a powerful, well-built figure, with handsome, refined features, so well known in the assemblies of the “Convention,” seemed eager, alert, watchful, and his strong fist was doubled up on the table with a gesture of determination and energy.
“We must succeed this time,” he said. “I see no eventuality to stop us. We five who have planned this thing are alone to know of it. We cannot, we shall not fail.”
“At any rate, there is no chance of a traitor among us,” said one of the guests. “Money is plentiful; our measures are well taken. There is only the great, the difficult task of apprising the unfortunate Queen of the means we have devised for her escape, and of conveying to her the necessary funds.”
“As you all know,” said Deroulède, “fate has wonderfully favored us. I am on duty as governor at the Conciergerie after to-morrow, and though I can never have long talks with her Majesty—whom may God preserve and protect!—yet I can always slip money and letters into her hand.”
“In the meanwhile, are the letters and money safe in your house?”
“Safely locked up in that desk,” said Deroulède reassuringly. “My mother has our cause as much to heart as any of us, and our two Auvergnat servants, terrified though they are into a semblance of republicanism, are staunch to the holy cause, and devoted slaves to my mother and myself.”
“But, Citizen Deroulède,” said one of the guests, an oldish man, somewhat tentatively, “you have a visitor in your house. What of her?”
“The daughter of a good Royalist who died for his convictions,” said Deroulède rapidly; “a girl who nearly met with a terrible death through a foolhardy exhibition of her principles, in the open streets; moreover,” he added fervently, “one of God’s most beautiful creatures, full of guilelessness and innocence.”
A smile went round the faces of those assembled; but evidently Deroulède had succeeded in reassuring them. No doubt the girl was his fiancée, or almost so, and as such there would be no cause for the fear of her indiscretion.
The hour was getting late, and all that was necessary had been fully discussed. The four men prepared to leave, and were wrapping themselves in their mantles and cloaks while shaking hands with their host.
“Will you, for our own satisfaction,” said one, “let us assure ourselves with our very eyes that the letters and money are absolutely safe? It is a great responsibility on such young shoulders as yours, Citizen Deroulède, to conduct this great affair almost single-handed.”
“I know no fear,” said Deroulede proudly; “and here,” he added, taking a key from his breast pocket and unlocking his desk, “is the casket that contains all that is needed to place our beloved Queen out of the clutches of the bloodthirsty tigers who——”
He paused; the casket was still in his hand. All heads were turned, terror-stricken, toward the door, which had been gently and silently opened.
“Mme. Deroulède has desired me to ask monsieur if she should send in some refreshments for his friends before they leave.”
Juliette’s figure was standing in the doorway, one tiny hand holding back the heavy draperies that framed her like a picture. As well have suspected one of the saints of Notre Dame to harbor thoughts of treachery or even indiscretion, as this sweet face, all youth and girlishness.
Deroulède smiled, reassured, and with deliberation and calmness replaced the casket in his desk, and once more turned the key. The others seemed to have conquered their fright.
Juliette, after hearing Deroulède’s thanks, again retired, and the five men were once more alone.
Not one of them made any comment on the little incident that had so much disturbed them, and their host seemed anxious not to provoke any.
Ah! had they but been gifted with second sight, or had the bandage of wilful blindness been torn away from their host's eyes, the bandage placed there by the most beautiful hands in Paris, their quietude would not have been of long duration. Juliette had paused one instant outside the door, her hand pressed against her heart, as if to repress its very beating. A look of triumph, of exultation, aye, of vengeance satisfied, distorted for a moment those Madonna-like features.
THE next evening Deroulède was to leave his mother and his home for his new quarters within the Conciergerie, in his capacity as temporary lieutenant, which function he intended to utilize for the furtherance of the great plan he and his comrades had conceived, to effect the unfortunate Queen’s escape.
He had said good-by to his mother, who had already retired to her room, and now stood in his study, ready to go, the fateful casket in a small valise which he held in his hand.
“Tell Mlle. Juliette that if she will favor me with her presence, I would wish to bid her good-by,” he said to his servant, “and in half an hour see that a carriage is at the door, to take me and my luggage.”
Five minutes later she came in, tall and graceful. Her cheeks were very pale, her lips trembled slightly, and there was a wild, curious look in her large, wide-open eyes.
“It is kind of you, mademoiselle, to grant my request,” he said, with a timidity most unusual in this man accustomed to face and speak to the most unruly mob the world has ever known, “and to come to bid me godspeed.”
“You are not going for long, Citizen Deroulède?” she asked.
She seemed strangely nervous and agitated, and once almost seemed as if she would fall. He led her to the sofa, and took a low seat beside her.
“In these times, mademoiselle, any farewell might be forever. But I am actually going for a month to take charge of the unfortunate prisoner at the Conciergerie.”
“In anv case, then, Citizen Deroulède, the farewell I bid you to-night will be a very long one.”
“A month will seem a century to me, since I am destined to spend it without seeing you,” he said, as if involuntarily; “but——”
He paused, and looked long and searchingly into those eyes, that still wore that wild, haggard gaze. Then he whispered, almost inaudibly:
“But I should not dare to hope that the same reason would cause you to call that month a long one.”
She turned perhaps a trifle paler than before, and drew her hand hurriedly away, for he had tried to seize it.
“You misunderstand me, Citizen,” she said; “I meant that I cannot stay any longer under Mme. Deroulède’s hospitable roof. I have already trespassed too long on her kindness, and——”
“You have not been happy with us?” he said, half reproachfully, half sadly; “you wish to leave us?”
“For God’s sake, do not speak like that!” she said, almost wildly. “You do not know, you do not understand, or else——”
“Yes, I understand, Juliette,” he said, with the determination of the strong man wishing at any cost to know what fate has in store for him. “I understand your sweet, innocent nature, I understand your beauty, which God gave you as a mirror to your angelic mind. How could I have lived all these days under the same roof with you without learning the sweet lesson which the angels from heaven have taught me—to love you, Juliette?”
It was useless now for her to attempt to withdraw her hand, for he had seized it in both his, and was covering it and the tiny wrist with kisses, aye, and with hot tears, tears of an emotion so deep, and so pathetic to witness in a strong man.
Juliette had tried to rise, to tear herself away. In an agony of mind, she tried to stop her ears, tried not to hear this man’s voice telling her of his love, this man whom she had dogged, whose hospitality she had betrayed to serve her own vengeance. She tried to think of him only as the murderer of her brother, the guilty cause of her stricken father's early tragic death. She made every effort to conjure up the picture of the boy brought home on a stretcher to die, of the old man holding out a trembling hand toward her, and muttering feebly, “Juliette, live to avenge us both!” But oh! that picture would not stay before her throbbing eyes. Instead of it, she saw this man at her feet, telling her with a voice that forced its way in spite of all to her heart, “I love you, Juliette!”
And she—what had she done? She had forced her way into his house at peril of her own life, had dogged his footsteps, watched his every movement, and—oh, the horror of it!—finally denounced him to those who know no pity. And all in pursuit of the implacable vengeance that had seemed a sacred duty until, a few moments ago, she first had heard those words, and, womanlike, had begun to pity. And having pitied, hatred made way for its twin brother love, with whom it so often walks hand in hand. Ah! if she could but forget, could but undo what was irrevocably done, could but allow her hand to rest in his, her ears to listen to what he had to say! . . .
“Open, in the name of the Republic!”
Deroulède leapt to his feet as this ominous summons, the meaning of which he knew all too well, sounded outside his street door. A minute elapsed while the Auvergnat’s timorous hands were heard to fumble with the chain and bolts. Juliette had also jumped, horror-stricken, from her couch. Her eyes, dilated and haggard, were fixed with a look of terror on the door, which, in another moment, she knew would open before the members of the Committee of Public Safety, Marat and his fraternity, whom her own hand had summoned hither. Deroulède was now deathly pale. Like a wild animal at bay, he looked round at the walls of his study, up toward heaven, or down toward hell, to find some place to which to flee with his precious casket, that lay still there, in the valise close to his hand.
Already the sound of the heavy footsteps, the muttered curses and oaths, had filled the hall, and were now heard rapidly approaching the study door. One common terror for an instant now held these two enthralled. For a space of a minute their thoughts, their longings, and desires met over the safety of the precious casket. The next Juliette had seized the valise and thrown it on the sofa. Then reseating herself, with the gesture of a queen and the grace of a Parisienne she spread the ample folds of her skirts over the compromising bundle, and, as the door was thrown violently open, she said, in calm, somewhat haughty tones:
“How strange it is, Citizen Deroulède, that in the year 1793 Frenchmen so easily forget what is due to women, and interrupt a tête-à-tête without so much as saying ‘Gare!’ Your pleasure, citizens?”
Marat, followed by some half-dozen men, each wearing the red cap and cockade and tricolor sash, had entered the room, and the cunning eyes of the dreaded terrorist had wandered first ironically from one to the other of the two young people, then suspiciously to the desk and other furniture round him.
“What is the meaning of this strange visit, Citizen Marat?” said Deroulède, who had tried to recover his calm and self-possession.
“Information has been laid against you, Citizen-Deputy," said Marat, “by an anonymous writer, that you have just now in your possession correspondence intended for the Widow Capet; and the Committee of Public Safety has entrusted me and these citizens to seize such correspondence and make you answerable for its presence in your house.”
“Always supposing such correspondence to exist,” said Deroulède, sneeringly. “I should have thought my services to the Republic had been too widely known to allow a nameless enemy’s denunciations to weigh against them.”
“The Committee of Public Safety is bound to do its duty by the people whose representatives they are,” said Marat, doggedly; " but you know best, Citizen Deroulède, whether you have anything to hide. If the accusation prove a calumny, so much the better for you. I presume,” he added sneeringly, “that you do not propose to offer any resistance while these citizens and I search your house.”
Deroulède answered nothing, and quietly handed over a bunch of keys to one of the men, who, aided by the others, proceeded to unlock the desk and turn over every scrap of paper he came across.
Deroulède dared not turn toward Juliette; he felt that at this moment her life, as well as his own, lay in a look, in a quiver of the eyelid. The terrorist’s eyes were fixed unceasingly upon him, and he dared not attempt to read in Juliette's what was passing in her mind.
The girl, though very pale, seemed to have complete mastery over her nerves. She still sat on the sofa, enthroned queen-like, the folds of her silken gown hiding that which would have sent her enemy to the scaffold, him whom she hated so bitterly, whose hand had slain her brother, driven her father to despair, but whose voice had so strangely moved her just now when he said, “I love you, Juliette!”
The men, after a fruitless search through the desk, had turned over every article of furniture that might have contained papers or correspondence, and were now preparing for their further search throughout the house.
“I shall have to ask you, Citizen Deroulède,” said Marat, with mock urbanity, “to accompany us while we execute our painful duty. I can assure you that if we find nothing compromising against you, we will soon restore you to a tête-à-tête which the citizeness is so wrathful at seeing interrupted.”
The request was practically a command, and Deroulède prepared to follow, vainly trying to force his brain to find a way out of the situation of deadly peril in which so many were now involved. Juliette’s impulsive act had merely succeeded in involving her into the tangled meshes, without saving the conspirators or the unhappy Queen. Marat and his men would surely return. The comedy could not be kept up through another visit from them. Discovery was imminent. What was passing in that young girl’s mind while Deroulède reluctantly followed the human bloodhounds out of the room?
She listened till the sound of their heavy footsteps died away down the passage, then she rose, and picked up the valise. Cautiously she opened the window, and peeped out. . . . Four more men were stationed outside in the street, guarding the exit. Escape, therefore, in that quarter was impossible. She hesitated for one brief instant, then she quietly slipped out of the door, down the semi-dark passage, up the carpeted stairs, still carrying the fateful valise in her hand.
HALF an hour later the Republicans, having fruitlessly searched throughout the house, were busying themselves on the floor above, terrifying almost beyond their wits the two Auvergnat servants, an occupation that seemed to afford them considerable amusement, for loud laughter was heard from time to time from that quarter.
Deroulède had been allowed to remain with his mother, guarded by two of the men, who watched his every movement, and listened to every word he said. The old lady sat rigid in her upright chair. There was a curious look in her wide-open eyes, fixed, and staring straight in front of her. It was a look more of suspicion than anxiety, more of wrath than of terror. Her son held her wrinkled hand in his, and was trying with soft, endearing words to soothe and reassure her.
The soft sound of a rustling gown made them both start. It was Juliette, pale still —from the emotions, no doubt, of the last half hour. Deroulède dared not ask her any questions. The men were there, close to him, ever watchful. He tried to read in her face, but it was almost sphinx-like in its impenetrability.
Mme. Deroulède had not turned toward the young girl; she still sat quite rigid, idly toying with a scrap of paper she held in her wrinkled old hands.
“My son,” she said suddenly, quite loudly, so that the men at the door might hear if they chose, “have you any idea as to who the dastardly, nameless accuser is, who has dared to frame the calumny that the Citizen-Deputy Deroulède is a traitor?”
The young man, wondering what his mother might possibly mean, did not answer; he had looked at Juliette and thought how pale she appeared, and his heart ached to see that wild, scared look in her eyes.
“Citizen Marat, from whom I vainly tried to obtain certainty on the subject,” continued the old lady in the same hard and dry voice, “could not himself tell me, but he had in his hand this letter, the anonymous denunciation that reached the Committee this evening, and he thought that perhaps I might know the handwriting, and——”
“Juliette, for God's sake, what is the matter?” here interrupted Deroulède, unable to understand, not daring to trust to his senses, as Juliette with a wild cry had thrown herself between mother and son, and seizing the letter from the old lady's hand began tearing it into shreds with the nervous gestures of one half-demented, while her trembling lips framed the half-incoherent words: “No! no!—you shall not read—not yet—Citizen Deroulède —not yet—wait—a little while longer—wait——”
And her haggard face, her appealing look turned upward toward Deroulède, spoke with pitiable clearness of her guilt and of her treachery.
“Fool!” laughed the old lady, shrugging her shoulders and looking contemptuously at the young, girlish form, so pathetic in its helpless confession of guilt. “Look at her, my son, as she stands self-accused, the vilest thing on earth, a snake in the grass, whom we both have loved and nurtured; aye, self-accused, for, fool that she is, that empty paper bore no witness against her till her own conscience changed it into a damning proof of her guilt.”
Deroulède had stood all this while as if paralyzed. His mind seemed unable to grasp the hideous truth that would force itself into his aching brain, and instinctively he shut his eves, that they at least might not see this fearful vision of the terrible downfall of one of God's purest angels.
Thus a few minutes sped rapidly by. Mme. Deroulède had sunk back exhausted in her arm-chair, and naught was heard now save the low mocking comments made by the men, who had looked on without interfering at the curious scene which had been enacted before them.
It was almost a relief to Deroulède to hear Marat and his companions once more descending the stairs, and the terrorist's sarcastic laugh and coarse jests, when the men told him of the short drama they had just witnessed, seemed even more endurable than the sight of this girl whom he had so deeply loved, and who had waited all these days to repay him—thus.
“Citizen-Deputy,” said Marat, “we are all glad to say that we have found nothing in your house that in any way can place your loyalty to the Republic in doubt. At the same time, it is my duty to ask you to follow me to-night, for there are several questions the Committee of Public Safety will desire to ask you to-morrow. They can but lead to your more complete justification.”
Deroulède, as if in a dream, prepared to follow the men. What cared he what happened to him now, since the one idea of his life, his faith, his hope, his love had been so completely shattered? Forgotten were his plans, his friends, the unhappy royal prisoner in the Conciergerie. All had vanished before this picture of the fallen angel at his feet. He kissed his mother, bidding her good-by, not heeding the old lady's sorrowful agony and terror for her only son, and forcing himself not to look once more at the young face he had so dearly loved, he walked out of the room escorted by two of Marat's men.
His footsteps, and those of his escort, were heard echoing down the staircase. Then the hall door was heard to open and to shut with a loud bang. Mine. Deroulède had at last given way to tears, and sat in her great arm-chair, weeping piteously. Marat's eyes were fixed with a mixture of sarcasm and contempt on Juliette, who had recovered her self-possession, and stood erect, calmly awaiting the final dénouement of the drama she had written with her own hand.
Two of the men, who on Deroulède’s departure had withdrawn, after a whispered order from their chief, now returned. One of them carried the casket containing the fateful papers; these he placed on the table close to Juliette.
“You recognize this casket?” asked Marat, pointing to it, and speaking to the young girl, who nodded in reply.
“I suppose you know where it was found?”
“Yes,” she answered quietly.
“Hidden underneath your mattress. What have you to say?”
“I will answer when I am on my trial,” she said mechanically.
“You acknowledge, then, that they are yours?”
“Yes,” she again asserted, this time defiantly.
“Then your denunciation of Citizen-Deputy Deroulède ——“
“Was a lie to screen myself.”
She spoke quietly now, without hesitation.
Mme. Deroulède gazed at the young girl, trying to understand the enigma that her feeble brain still refused to grasp.
Marat cared little for enigmas. He had not wasted his evening. Here was a most interesting capture, a delightful victim, such as he and his followers loved to see on the tumbrils; a head refined, sweet, aristocratic, such as they loved to see falling under the guillotine.
She was quite prepared to follow the men, prepared to leave this house whose hospitality she had so cruelly betrayed, for that dark, crowded prison at the Conciergerie, from which there was but one exit—the one that led to the guillotine.
But before going she seemed to hesitate a moment, and looked appealingly at Mme. Deroulède. The old lady made no sign, only sitting with her hands clasped, her face averted.
The girl turned to Marat.
“May I—may I speak one word to her? Only a last message. I understand quite well that it is the last time I shall see her.”
Marat paused, then he nodded assent. She went up to madame, and whispering so low that even Marat's inimical ears could not hear:
“Will you tell him—presently—when it is all over—in about two days—that when I sinned so deeply against him—I did not guess—what he told me to-night —did not know—did not realize. My name is Marny—and he killed my brother —he will remember. I thought only of vengeance—while he dreamt of love. But to-night I understood him—I learnt to know myself—and—tell him—madame, that it was Juliette who saved him—by giving her life for his—but remember—only afterward—promise.”
And with a firm, quiet step she followed Marat and his men out of the room.
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