Suddenly a miserable harridan struck her straight in the face, with hard, grimy fist, and a long shout of exultation greeted this monstrous deed.
Then only did the girl seem to lose her self-control.
“A moi,” she shouted loudly, whilst hammering with both hands against the massive doorway. “A moi! Murder! Murder! Citoyen Deroulede, a moi!”
But her terror was greeted with renewed glee by her assailants. They were now roused to the highest point of frenzy: the crowd of brutes would in the nex moment have torn the helpless girl from her place of refuge and dragged her into the mire, an outraged prey, for the satisfaction of an ungovernable hate.
But just as half-a-dozen pairs of talon-like hands clutched frantically at her skirts, the door behind her was quickly opened. She felt her arm seized firmly, and herself dragged swiftly within the shelter of the threshold.
Her senses, overwrought by the terrible adventure which she had just gone through, were threatening to reel; she heard the massive door close, shutting out the yells of baffled rage, the ironical laughter, the obscene words, which sounded in her ears like the shrieks of Dante’s damned.
She could not see her rescuer, for the hall into which he had hastily dragged her was only dimly lighted. But a peremptory voice said quickly:
“Up the stairs, the room straight in front of you, my mother is there. Go quickly.”
She had fallen on her knees, cowering against the heavy oak beam which supported the ceiling, and was straining her eyes to catch sight of the man, to whom at this moment she perhaps owed more than her life: but he was standing against the doorway, with his hand on the latch.
“What are you going to do?” she murmured.
“Prevent their breaking into my house in order to drag you out of it,” he replied quietly; “so, I pray you, do as I bid you.”
Mechanically she obeyed him, drew herself to her feet, and, turning towards the stairs, began slowly to mount the shallow steps. Her knees were shaking under her, her whole body was trembling with horror at the awesome crisis she had just traversed.
She dared not look back at her rescuer. Her head was bent, and her lips were murmuring half-audible words as she went.
Outside the hooting and yelling was becoming louder and louder. Enraged fists were hammering violently against the stout oak door.
At the top of the stairs, moved by an irresistible impulse, she turned and looked into the hall.
She saw his figure dimly outlined in the gloom, one hand on the latch, his head thrown back to watch her movements.
A door stood ajar immediately in front of her. She pushed it open and went within.
At that moment he too opened the door below. The shrieks of the howling mob once more resounded close to her ears. It seemed as if they had surrounded him. She wondered what was happening, and marvelled how he dared to face that awful crowd alone.