“Yes; they await me hourly.”
“So soon as you are beyond the French boundary you may communicate with me in the way we have agreed upon. Until I hear from you I shall be in a terror of anxiety. I am sorry I cannot accompany you, but I am already suspected. You are, as yet, free from suspicion—are not yet registered in the black book!”
“You may trust my skill to evade pursuit,” said the young man, producing from a secret cupboard a casket richly ornamented with gold.
“I do not doubt your skill, or your ability to accomplish the undertaking; but the task is not a suitable one for so young a man. Have you considered the fate which awaits you?”
“I have considered everything.”
“You will be buried; and, what is worse, you will be the keeper of your own prison.”
“I shall be a severe jailer, I promise you,” with a grim smile responded the young man.
“Jester! You forget your twenty-six years! And who can tell how long you may be buried alive?”
“Have no fear for me. I do not dread the task. Those in power now will one day be overthrown.”
“But when the child, who is only twelve years old now, becomes in three or four years a blooming maiden—what then? Already she is fond of you; then she will love you. You cannot hinder it; and yet, you will not even dare to dream of returning her love. Have you thought of this also?”
“I shall look upon myself as the inhabitant of a different planet,” answered the young man.
“Your hand, my friend! You have undertaken a noble task—one that is greater than that of the captive knight who cut off his own foot, that his sovereign, who was chained to him, might escape—”
“Pray say no more about me,” interposed his companion. “Is the child asleep?”
“This one is; the one in the other room is awake.”
“Then let us go to her and tell her what we have decided.” He lifted the two-branched candlestick from the table; his companion carefully closed the iron doors of the fireplace; then the two went into the adjoining chamber, leaving the room they had quitted in darkness.
The elder gentleman had made a mistake: “this” child was not asleep. She had listened attentively, half sitting up in bed, to as much of the conversation as she could hear.
A ray of light penetrated through the keyhole. The little girl sprang nimbly from the bed, ran to the door, and peered through the tiny aperture. Suddenly footsteps came toward the door. When it opened, however, the little eavesdropper was back underneath the covers of the bed. The old gentleman entered the room. He had no candle. He left the door open, walked noiselessly to the bed, and drew aside the curtains to see if “this” child was still asleep. The long-drawn, regular breathing convinced him. Then he took something from the chair beside the bed, and went back into the other room. The object he had taken from the chair was the faded red shawl in which the stray child had been wrapped. He did not close the door of the adjoining chamber, for the candles had been extinguished and both rooms were now dark.