She rose from the sofa, and peeped through the door. The hall was now deserted; from the left wing of the house, on the floor above, the heavy footsteps of the soldiers and Merlin’s occasional brutish laugh could be distinctly heard.
Juliette listened for a moment, trying to understand what was happening. Yes; they had all gone to Deroulede’s bedroom, which was on the extreme left, at the end of the first-floor landing. There might be just time to accomplish what she had now resolved to do.
As best she could, she did the bulky leather case in the folds of her skirt. It was literally neck or nothing now. If she were caught on the stairs by one of the men nothing could save her or—possibly— Deroulede.
At any rate, by remaining where she was, by leaving the events to shape themselves, discovery was absolutely certain. She chose to take the risk.
She slipped noiselessly out of the room and up the great oak stairs. Merlin and his men, busy with their search in Deroulede’s bedroom, took no heed of what was going on behind them; Juliette arrived on the landing, and turned sharply to her right, running noiselessly along the tick Aubusson carpet, and thence quickly to her own room.
All this had taken less than a minute to accomplish. The very next moment she heard Merlin’s voice ordering one of his men to stand at attention on the landing, but by that time she was safe inside her room. She closed the door noiselessly.
Petronelle, who had been busy all the afternoon packing up her young mistress’ things, had fallen asleep in an arm-chair. Unconscious of the terrible events which were rapidly succeeding each other in the house, the worthy old soul was snoring peaceably, with her hands complacently folded on her ample bosom.
Juliette, for the moment, took no notice of her. As quickly and as dexterously as she could, she was tearing open the heavy leather case with a sharp pair of scissors, and very soon its contents were scattered before her on the table.
One glance at them was sufficient to convince her that most of the papers would undoubtedly, if found, send Deroulede to the guillotine. Most of the correspondence was in the Citizen-Deputy’s handwriting. She had, of course, no time to examine it more closely, but instinct naturally told her that it was of a highly compromising character.
She gathered the papers up into a heap, tearing some of them up into strips; then she spread them out upon the ash-pan in front of the large earthenware stove, which stood in a corner of the room.
Unfortunately, this was a hot day in August. Her task would have been far easier if she had wished to destroy a bundle of papers in the depth of winter, when there was a good fire burning in the stove.
But her purpose was firm and her incentive, the greatest that has ever spurred mankind to heroism.
Regardless of any consequences to herself, she had but the one object in view, to save Deroulede at all costs.