Lebel said nothing more for the moment. Perhaps he was satisfied at the success of his taunt, even though the terror within his craven soul still caused the cold shiver to course up and down his spine. Chauvelin had once more turned to the window; his gaze was fixed upon the distance far away. The window gave on the North. That way, in a straight line, lay Calais, Boulogne, England—where he had been made to suffer such bitter humiliation at the hands of his elusive enemy. And immediately before him was Paris, where the very walls seemed to echo that mocking laugh of the daring Englishman which would haunt him even to his grave.
Lebel, unnerved by his colleague’s silence, broke in gruffly at last:
“Well then, citizen,” he said, with a feeble attempt at another sneer, “if you are not thinking of sending us all to the guillotine just yet, perhaps you will be good enough to explain just how the matter stands?”
“Fairly simply, alas!” replied Chauvelin dryly. “The two Montorgueils, father and son, under assumed names, were the Royalist agents who succeeded in suborning men such as you, citizen—the whole gang of you. We have tracked them down, to this district, have confiscated their lands and ransacked the old chateau for valuables and so on. Two days later, the first of a series of pestilential anonymous letters reached the Committee of Public Safety, threatening the publication of a whole series of compromising documents if the Marquis and the Vicomte de Montorgueil were in any way molested, and if all the Montorgueil property is not immediately restored.”
“I suppose it is quite certain that those receipts and documents do exist?” suggested Lebel.
“Perfectly certain. One of the receipts, signed by Heriot, was sent as a specimen.”
“My God!” ejaculated Lebel, and wiped the cold sweat from his brow.
“Yes, you’ll all want help from somewhere,” retorted Chauvelin coolly. “From above or from below, what? if the people get to know what miscreants you are. I do believe,” he added, with a vicious snap of his thin lips, “that they would cheat the guillotine of you and, in the end, drag you out of the tumbrils and tear you to pieces limb from limb!”
Once more that look of furtive terror crept into the commissary’s bloodshot eyes.
“Thank the Lord,” he muttered, “that we were able to get hold of the wench Clamette!”
“At my suggestion,” retorted Chauvelin curtly. “I always believe in threatening the weak if you want to coerce the strong. The Montorgueils cannot resist the wench’s appeal. Even if they do at first, we can apply the screw by clapping one of the young ones in gaol. Within a week we shall have those papers, citizen Lebel; and if, in the meanwhile, no one commits a further blunder, we can close the trap on the Montorgueils without further trouble.”
Lebel said nothing more, and after a while Chauvelin went back to the desk, picked up the letter which poor Lucile had written and watered with her tears, folded it deliberately and slipped it into the inner pocket of his coat.