His wounded leg was stronger and more flexible than on the day before; it burned and prickled less, and could be bent a little at the knee with small distress; so he led the old Michel at a good pace down the length of the enclosure, past the rose-gardens, a tangle of unkempt sweetness, and so to the opposite wall. He found the gates there, very formidable-looking, made of vertical iron bars connected by cross-pieces and an ornamental scroll. They were fastened together by a heavy chain and a padlock. The lock was covered with rust, as were the gates themselves, and Ste. Marie observed that the lane outside upon which they gave was overgrown with turf and moss, and even with seedling shrubs; so he felt sure that this entrance was never used. The lane, he noted, swept away to the right toward Issy and not toward the Clamart road. He heard, as he stood there, the whir of a tram from far away at the left, a tram bound to or from Clamart, and the sound brought to his mind what he wished to do. He turned about and began to make his way round the rose-gardens, which were partly enclosed by a low brick wall some two or three feet high. Beyond them the trees and shrubbery were not set out in orderly rows as they were near the house, but grew at will without hindrance or care. It was like a bit of the Meudon wood.
He found the going more difficult here for his bad leg, but he pressed on, and in a little while saw before him that wall which skirted the Clamart road. He felt in his pocket for the four sealed and stamped letters, but just then the old Michel spoke behind him:
“Pardon, Monsieur! Ce n’est pas permis.”
“What is not permitted?” demanded Ste. Marie, wheeling about.
“To approach that wall, Monsieur,” said the old man, with an incredibly gnomelike and apologetic grin.
Ste. Marie gave an exclamation of disgust. “Is it believed that I could leap over it?” he asked. “A matter of five metres? Merci, non! I am not so agile. You flatter me.”
The old Michel spread out his two gnarled hands.
“Pas de ma faute. I have orders, Monsieur. It will be my painful duty to shoot if Monsieur approaches that wall.” He turned his strange head on one side and regarded Ste. Marie with his sharp and beadlike eye. The smile of apology still distorted his face, and he looked exactly like the Punchinello in a street show.
Ste. Marie slowly withdrew from his pocket two louis d’or and held them before him in the palm of his hand. He looked down upon them, and Michel looked, too, with a gaze so intense that his solitary eye seemed to project a very little from his withered face. He was like a hypnotized old bird.
“Mon vieux,” said Ste. Marie. “I am a man of honor.”
“Surement! Surement, Monsieur!” said the old Michel, politely, but his hypnotized gaze did not stir so much as a hair’s-breadth. “Ca va sans le dire.”