I may confess that I think we had exaggerated our own importance over in England. We had thought that all France was wondering whether we should return, whereas in the quick march of events France had really almost forgotten our existence. This young General Savary was not in the least impressed by my aristocratic name, but he jotted it down in his notebook.
‘Monsieur de Laval has nothing whatever to do with the matter,’ said the spy. ’He has blundered into it entirely by chance, and I will answer for his safe keeping in case he should be wanted.’
‘He will certainly be wanted,’ said General Savary. ’In the meantime I need every trooper that I have for the chase, so, if you make yourself personally responsible, and bring him to the camp when needed, I see no objection to his remaining in your keeping. I shall send to you if I require him.’
‘He will be at the Emperor’s orders.’
‘Are there any papers in the cottage?’
‘They have been burned.’
‘That is unfortunate.’
‘But I have duplicates.’
’Excellent! Come, Lasalle, every minute counts, and there is nothing to be done here. Let the men scatter, and we may still ride him down.’
The two tall soldiers clanked out of the cottage without taking any further notice of my companion, and I heard the sharp stern order and the jingling of metal as the troopers sprang back into their saddles once more. An instant later they were off, and I listened to the dull beat of their hoofs dying rapidly into a confused murmur. My little snuff-coloured champion went to the door of the hut and peered after them through the darkness. Then he came back and looked me up and down, with his usual dry sardonic smile.
‘Well, young man,’ said he, ’we have played some pretty tableaux vivants for your amusement, and you can thank me for that nice seat in the front row of the parterre.’
‘I am under a very deep obligation to you, sir,’ I answered, struggling between my gratitude and my aversion. ’I hardly know how to thank you.’
He looked at me with a singular expression in his ironical eyes.
‘You will have the opportunity for thanking me later,’ said he. ’In the meantime, as you say that you are a stranger upon our coast, and as I am responsible for your safe keeping, you cannot do better than follow me, and I will take you to a place where you may sleep in safety.’
THE SECRET PASSAGE
The fire had already smouldered down, and my companion blew out the lamp, so that we had not taken ten paces before we had lost sight of the ill-omened cottage, in which I had received so singular a welcome upon my home-coming. The wind had softened down, but a fine rain, cold and clammy, came drifting up from the sea. Had I been left to myself I should have found myself as much at a loss as I had been when