As she opened the door there was a sudden draught, and the last flickering flame died out in the ash-pan. Juliette, seeing that Petronelle had gone, hastily turned over the few half burnt fragments of paper that were left. In none of them had the writing remained legible. All that was compromising to Deroulede was effectually reduced to dust. The small wick in the lamp at the foot of the Virgin and Child had burned itself out for want of oil; there was no means for Juliette to strike another light and to destroy what remained. The leather case was, of course, still there, with its sides ripped open, an indestructible thing.
There was nothing to be done about that. Juliette after a second’s hesitation threw it among her dresses in the valise.
Then she too went out of the room.
A happy moment.
The search in the Citizen-Deputy’s bedroom had proved as fruitless as that in his study. Merlin was beginning to have vague doubts as to whether he had been effectively fooled.
His manner towards Deroulede had undergone a change. He had become suave and unctuous, a kind of elephantine irony pervading his laborious attempts at conciliation. He and the Public Prosecutor would be severely blamed for this day’s work, if the popular Deputy, relying upon the support of the people of Paris, chose to take his revenge.
In France, in this glorious year of the Revolution, there was but one step between censure and indictment. And Merlin knew it. Therefore, although he had not given up all hope of finding proofs of Deroulede’s treason, although by the latter’s attitude he remained quite convinced that such proof did exist, he was already reckoning upon the cat’s paw, the sop he would offer to that Cerberus, the Committee of Public Safety, in exchange for his own exculpation in the matter.
This sop would be Juliette, the denunclator instead of Deroulede the denounced.
But he was still seeking for the proofs.
Somewhat changing his tactics, he had allowed Deroulede to join his mother in the living-room, and had betaken himself to the kitchen in search of Anne Mie, whom he had previously caught sight of in the hall. There he also found old Petronelle, whom he could scare out of het wits to his heart’s content, but from whom he was quite unable to extract any useful information. Petronelle was too stupid to be dangerous, and Anne Mie was too much on the alert.
But, with a vague idea that a cunning man might choose the most unlikely places for the concealment of compromising property, he was ransacking the kitchen from floor to ceiling.
In the living-room Deroulede was doing his best to reassure his mother, who, in her turn, was forcing herself to be brave, and not to show by her tears how deeply she feared for the safety of her son. As soon as Deroulede had been freed from the presence of the soldiers, he had hastened back to his study, only to find that Juliette had gone, and that the letter-case had also disappeared. Not knowing what to think, trembling for the safety of the woman he adored, he was just debating whether he would seek for her in her own room, when she came towards him across the landing.