“How are the ci-devant aristos to get this letter?” the commissary asked.
“It must be put in the hollow tree which stands by the side of the stable gate at Montorgueil,” whispered Lucile.
“And the aristos will find it there?”
“Yes. M. le Vicomte goes there once or twice a week to see if there is anything there from one of us.”
“They are in hiding somewhere close by, then?”
But to this the girl gave no reply. Indeed, she felt as if any word now might choke her.
“Well, no matter where they are!” the inhuman wretch resumed, with brutal cynicism. “We’ve got them now—both of them. Marquis! Vicomte!” he added, and spat on the ground to express his contempt of such titles. “Citizens Montorgueil, father and son—that’s all they are! And as such they’ll walk up in state to make their bow to Mme. la Guillotine!”
“May we go now?” stammered Lucile through her tears.
Lebel nodded in assent, and the girl rose and turned to walk towards the door. She called to the children, and the little ones clustered round her skirts like chicks around the mother-hen. Only Etienne remained aloof, wrathful against his sister for what he deemed her treachery. “Women have no sense of honour!” he muttered to himself, with all the pride of conscious manhood. But Lucile felt more than ever like a bird who is vainly trying to evade the clutches of a fowler. She gathered the two little ones around her. Then, with a cry like a wounded doe she ran quickly out of the room.
As soon as the sound of the children’s footsteps had died away down the corridor, Lebel turned with a grunt to his still silent companion.
“And now, citizen Chauvelin,” he said roughly, “perhaps you will be good enough to explain what is the meaning of all this tomfoolery.”
“Tomfoolery, citizen?” queried the other blandly. “What tomfoolery, pray?”
“Why, about those papers!” growled Lebel savagely. “Curse you for an interfering busybody! It was I who got information that those pestilential aristos, the Montorgueils, far from having fled the country are in hiding somewhere in my district. I could have made the girl give up their hiding-place pretty soon, without any help from you. What right had you to interfere, I should like to know?”
“You know quite well what right I had, citizen Lebel,” replied Chauvelin with perfect composure. “The right conferred upon me by the Committee of Public Safety, of whom I am still an unworthy member. They sent me down here to lend you a hand in an investigation which is of grave importance to them.”
“I know that!” retorted Lebel sulkily. “But why have invented the story of the papers?”
“It is no invention, citizen,” rejoined Chauvelin with slow emphasis. “The papers do exist. They are actually in the possession of the Montorgueils, father and son. To capture the two aristos would be not only a blunder, but criminal folly, unless we can lay hands on the papers at the same time.”