It was now broad day, and the clock had just struck seven.
“The masons will soon be here,” said Samuel, as he replaced the cedar-box in the iron safe, concealed behind the antique press. “Like you, Bathsheba, I am curious and anxious to know, what descendants of M. de Rennepont will now present themselves.”
Two or three loud knocks on the outer gate resounded through the house. The barking of the watch-dogs responded to this summons.
Samuel said to his wife: “It is no doubt the masons, whom the notary has sent with his clerk. Tie all the keys and their labels together; I will come back and fetch them.”
So saying, Samuel went down to the door with much nimbleness, considering his age, prudently opened a small wicket, and saw three workmen, in the garb of masons, accompanied by a young man dressed in black.
“What may you want, gentlemen?” said the Jew, before opening the door, as he wished first to make sure of the identity of the personages.
“I am sent by M. Dumesnil, the notary,” answered the clerk, “to be present at the unwalling of a door. Here is a letter from my master, addressed to M. Samuel, guardian of the house.”
“I am he, sir,” said the Jew; “please to put the letter through the slide, and I will take it.”
The clerk did as Samuel desired, but shrugged his shoulders at what he considered the ridiculous precautions of a suspicious old man. The housekeeper opened the box, took the letter, went to the end of the vaulted passage in order to read it, and carefully compared the signature with that of another letter which he drew from the pocket of his long coat; then, after all these precautions, he chained up his dogs, and returned to open the gate to the clerk and masons.
“What the devil, my good man!” said the clerk, as he entered; “there would not be more formalities in opening the gates of a fortress!”
The Jew bowed, but without answering.
“Are you deaf, my good fellow?” cried the clerk, close to his ears.
“No, sir,” said Samuel, with a quiet smile, as he advanced several steps beyond the passage. Then pointing to the old house, he added: “That, sir, is the door which you will have to open; you will also have to remove the lead and iron from the second window to the right.”
“Why not open all the windows?” asked the clerk.
“Because, sir, as guardian of this house, I have received particular orders on the subject.”
“Who gave you these orders?”
“My father, sir, who received them from his father, who transmitted them from the master of this house. When I cease to have the care of it, the new proprietor will do as he pleases.”
“Oh! very well,” said the clerk, not a little surprised. Then, addressing himself to the masons, he added: “This is your business, my fine fellows; you are to unwall the door, and remove the iron frame-work of the second window to the right.”