“Anne Mie,” he said firmly, “what is it? Have those devils dared...”
In a moment reality had come rushing back upon him with full force, and bitter reproaches surged up in his heart against himself, for having in this moment of selfish joy forgotten those who looked up to him for help and protection.
He knew the temper of the brutes who had been set upon his track, knew that low-minded Merlin and his noisome ways, and blamed himself severely for having left Anne Mie and Petronelle alone with him even for a few moments.
But Anne Mie quickly reassured him.
“They have not molested us much,” she said, speaking with a visible effort and enforced calmness. “Petronelle and I were together, and they made us open all the cupboards and uncover all the dishes. They then asked us many questions.”
“Questions? Of what kind?” asked Deroulede.
“About you, Paul,” replied Anne Mie, “and about maman, and also about —about the citizeness, your guest.”
Deroulede looked at her closely, vaguely wondering at the strange attitude of the child. She was evidently labouring under some strong excitement, and in her thin, brown little hand she was clutching a piece of paper.
“Anne Mie! Child,” he said very gently, “you seem quite upset—as if something terrible had happened. What is that paper you are holding, my dear?”
Anne Mie gazed down upon it. She was obviously making frantic efforts to maintain her self-possession.
Juliette at first sight of Anne Mie seemed literally to have been turned to stone. She sat upright, rigid as a statue, her eyes fixed upon the poor, crippled girl as if upon an inexorable judge, about to pronounce sentence upon her of life or death.
Instinct, that keen sense of coming danger which Nature sometimes gives to her elect, had told her that, within the next few seconds, her doom would be sealed; that Fate would descend upon her, holding the sword of Nemesis; and it was Anne Mie’s tiny, half-shrivelled hand which had placed that sword into the grasp of Fate.
“What is that paper? Will you let me see it, Anne Mie?” repeated Deroulede.
“Citizen Merlin gave it to me just now,” began Anne Mie more quietly; “he seems very wroth at finding nothing compromising against you, Paul. They were a long time in the kitchen, and now they have gone to search my room and Petronelle’s; but Merlin—oh! that awful man!—he seemed like a beast infuriated with his disappointment.”
“I don’t know what he hoped to get out of me, for I told him that you never spoke to your mother or to me about your political business, and that I was not in the habit of listening at the keyholes.”
“Then he began to speak of—of our guest—but, of course, there again I could tell him nothing. He seemed to be puzzled as to who had denounced you. He spoke about an anonymous denunciation, which reached the Public Prosecutor early this morning. It was written on a scrap of paper, and thrown into the public box, it seems, and...”