“Are you going away then?”
“Not out of Paris altogether. I have accepted the post of Governor of the Conciergerie.”
“Ah!—where the poor Queen...”
She checked herself suddenly. Those words would have been called treasonable to the people of France.
Instinctively and furtively, as everyone did in these days, she cast a rapid glance behind her.
“You need not be afraid,” he said; “there is no one here but Petronelle.”
“Oh! I echo your words. Poor Marie Antoinette!”
“You pity her?”
“How can I help it?”
“But your are that horrible National Convention, who will try her, condemn her, execute her as they did the King.”
“I am of the National Convention. But I will not condemn her, nor be a party to another crime. I go as Governor of the Conciergerie, to help her, if I can.”
“But your popularity—your life—if you befriend her?”
“As you say, mademoiselle, my life, if I befriend her,” he said simply.
She looked at him with renewed curiosity in her gaze.
How strange were men in these days! Paul Deroulede, the republican, the recognised idol of the lawless people of France, was about to risk his life for the woman he had helped to dethrone.
Pity with him did not end with the rabble of Paris; it had reached Charlotte Corday, though it failed to save her, and now it extended to the poor dispossessed Queen. Somehow, in his face this time, she saw either success or death.
“When do you leave?” she asked.
She said nothing more. Strangely enough, a tinge of melancholy had settled over her spirits. No doubt the proximity of the town was the cause of this. She could already hear the familiar noise of muffled drums, the loud, excited shrieking of the mob, who stood round the gates of Paris, at this time of the evening, waiting to witness some important capture, perhaps that of a hated aristocrat striving to escape from the people’s revenge.
The had reached the edge of the wood, and gradually, as she walked, the flowers she had gathered fell unheeded out of her listless hands one by one.
First the blue lupins: their bud-laden heads were heavy and they dropped to the ground, followed by the white marguerites, that lay thick behind her now on the grass like a shroud. The red poppies were the lightest, their thin gummy stalks clung to her hands longer than the rest. At last she let them fall too, singly, like great drops of blood, that glistened as her long white gown swept them aside.
Deroulede was absorbed in his thoughts, and seemed not to heed her. At the barrier, however, he roused himself and took out the passes which alone enabled Juliette and Petronelle to re-enter the town unchallenged. He himself as Citizen-Deputy could come and go as he wished.