He turned to Juliette with an unexpressed query in his adder-like eyes. She shrugged her shoulders, and made a gesture as if pointing towards the door.
“There are other rooms in the house besides this,” her gesture seemed to say; “try them. The proofs are there, ’tis for you to find them.”
Merlin had been standing between her and Deroulede, so that the latter saw neither query nor reply.
“You are cunning, Citizen-Deputy,” said Merlin now, turning towards him, “and no doubt you have been at pains to put your treasonable correspondence out of the way. You must understand that the Committee of Public Safety will not be satisfied with a mere examination of your study,” he added, assuming an air of ironical benevolence, “and I presume you will have no objection, if I and these citizen soldiers pay a visit to other portions of your house.”
“As you please,” responded Deroulede drily.
“You will accompany us, Citizen-Deputy,” commanded the other curtly.
The four men of the National Guard formed themselves into line outside the study door; with a peremptory nod, Merlin ordered Deroulede to pass between them, then he too prepared to follow. At the door he turned, and once more faced Juliette.
“As for you, citizeness,” he said, with a sudden access of viciousness against her, “if you have brought us here on a fool’s errand, it will go ill with you, remember. Do not leave the house until our return. I may have some questions to put to you.”
Juliette waited a moment or two, until the footsteps of the six men died away up the massive oak stairs.
For the first time, since the sword of Damocles had fallen, she was alone with her thoughts.
She had but a few moments at her command in which to devise an issue out of these tangled meshes, which she had woven round the man she loved.
Merlin and his men would return anon. The comedy could not be kept up through another visit from them, and while the compromising letter-case remained in Deroulede’s private study he was in imminent danger at the hands of his enemy.
She thought for a moment of concealing the case about her person, but a second’s reflection showed her the futility of such a move. She had not seen the papers themselves; any one of them might be an absolute proof of Deroulede’s guilt; the correspondence might be in his handwriting.
If Merlin, furious, baffled, vicious, were to order her to be searched! The horror of the indignity made her shudder, but she would have submitted to that, if thereby she could have saved Deroulede. But of this she could not be sure until after she had looked through the papers, and this she had not the time to do.
Her first and greatest idea was to get out of this room, his private study, with the compromising papers. Not a trace of them must be found here, if he were to remain beyond suspicion.