“What are you going to do?” queried Lebel anxiously.
“Drop this letter into the hollow tree by the side of the stable gate at Montorgueil,” replied Chauvelin simply.
“What?” exclaimed the other. “Yourself?”
“Why, of course! Think you I would entrust such an errand to another living soul?”
A couple of hours later, when the two children had had their dinner and had settled down to play in the garden, and father been cosily tucked up for his afternoon sleep, Lucile called her brother Etienne to her. The boy had not spoken to her since that terrible time spent in the presence of those two awful men. He had eaten no dinner, only sat glowering, staring straight out before him, from time to time throwing a look of burning reproach upon his sister. Now, when she called to him, he tried to run away, was halfway up the stairs before she could seize hold of him.
“Etienne, mon petit!” she implored, as her arms closed around his shrinking figure.
“Let me go, Lucile!” the boy pleaded obstinately.
“Mon petit, listen to me!” she pleaded. “All is not lost, if you will stand by me.”
“All is lost, Lucile!” Etienne cried, striving to keep back a flood of passionate tears. “Honour is lost. Your treachery has disgraced us all. If M. le Marquis and M. le Vicomte are brought to the guillotine, their blood will be upon our heads.”
“Upon mine alone, my little Etienne,” she said sadly. “But God alone can judge me. It was a terrible alternative: M. le Marquis, or you and Valentine and little Josephine and poor father, who is so helpless! But don’t let us talk of it. All is not lost, I am sure. The last time that I spoke with M. le Marquis—it was in February, do you remember?—he was full of hope, and oh! so kind. Well, he told me then that if ever I or any of us here were in such grave trouble that we did not know where to turn, one of us was to put on our very oldest clothes, look as like a bare-footed beggar as we could, and then go to Paris to a place called the Cabaret de la Liberte in the Rue Christine. There we were to ask for the citizen Rateau, and we were to tell him all our troubles, whatever they might be. Well! we are in such trouble now, mon petit, that we don’t know where to turn. Put on thy very oldest clothes, little one, and run bare-footed into Paris, find the citizen Rateau and tell him just what has happened: the letter which they have forced me to write, the threats which they held over me if I did not write it—everything. Dost hear?”
Already the boy’s eyes were glowing. The thought that he individually could do something to retrieve the awful shame of his sister’s treachery spurred him to activity. It needed no persuasion on Lucile’s part to induce him to go. She made him put on some old clothes and stuffed a piece of bread and cheese into his breeches pocket.