“Better that than papers in these times, my friend: these papers, if found, would send you, untried, to the guillotine.”
“I am careful, and, at present, quite beyond suspicion. Moreover, among the papers is a complete collection of passports, suitable for any character the Queen and her attendant may be forced to assume. It has taken me some months to collect them, so as not to arouse suspicion; I gradually got them together, on one pretence or another: now I am ready for any eventuality...”
He suddenly paused. A look in his friend’s face had given him a swift warning.
He turned, and there in the doorway, holding back the heavy portiere, stood Juliette, graceful, smiling, a little pale, this no doubt owing to the flickering light of the unsnuffed candles.
So young and girlish did she look in her soft, white muslin frock that at sight of her the tension in Deroulede’s face seemed to relax. Instinctively he had thrown the papers back into the desk, but his look had softened, from the fire of obstinate energy to that of inexpressible tenderness.
Blakeney was quietly watching the young girl as she stood in the doorway, a little bashful and undecided.
“Madame Deroulede sent me,” she said hesitatingly, “she says the hour is getting late and she is very anxious. M. Deroulede, would you come and reassure her?”
“In a moment, mademoiselle,” he replied lightly, “my friend and I have just finished our talk. May I have the honour to present him?—Sir Percy Blakeney, a traveller from England. Blakeney, this is Mademoiselle Juliette de Marny, my mother’s guest.”
Sir Percy bowed very low, with all the graceful flourish and elaborate gesture the eccentric customs of the time demanded.
He had not said a word, since the first exclamation of warning, with which he had drawn his friend’s attention to the young girl in the doorway.
Noiselessly, as she had come, Juliette glided out of the room again, leaving behind her an atmosphere of wild flowers, of the bouquet she had gathered, then scattered in the woods.
There was silence in the room for awhile. Deroulede was locking up his desk and slipping the keys into his pocket.
“Shall we join my mother for a moment, Blakeney?” he said, moving towards the door.
“I shall be proud to pay my respects,” replied Sir Percy; “but before we close the subject, I think I’ll change my mind about those papers. If I am to be of service to you I think I had best look through them, and give you my opinion of your schemes.”
Deroulede looked at him keenly for a moment.
“Certainly,” he said at last, going up to his desk. “I’ll stay with you whilst you read them through.”
“La! not to-night, my friend,” said Sir Percy lightly; “the hour is late, and madame is waiting for us. They’ll be quite safe with me, and you’ll entrust them to my care.”