“Did citizen Marat pay the Leridans for keeping the child?”
“Oh, no, citizen! The Leridans make a trade of the children by sending them out to beg. But this one was not to be allowed out yet. Citizen Marat’s orders were very stern, and he was wont to terrify the Leridans with awful threats of the guillotine if they ever allowed the child out of their sight.”
Chauvelin sat silent for a while. A ray of light had traversed the dark and tortuous ways of his subtle brain. While he mused the woman became impatient. She continued to talk on with the volubility peculiar to her kind. He paid no heed to her, until one phrase struck his ear.
“So now,” Jeannette Marechal was saying, “I don’t know what to do. The ring has disappeared, and the Leridans are suspicious.”
“The ring?” queried Chauvelin curtly. “What ring?”
“As I was telling you, citizen,” she replied querulously, “when I went to see the child, the citizen Marat always gave me this ring to show to the Leridans. Without I brought the ring they would not admit me inside their door. They were so terrified with all the citizen’s threats of the guillotine.”
“And now you say the ring has disappeared. Since when?”
“Well, citizen,” replied Jeannette blandly, “since you took poor Paul Mole into custody.”
“What do you mean?” Chauvelin riposted. “What had Paul Mole to do with the child and the ring?”
“Only this, citizen, that he was to have gone to Pantin last night instead of me. And thankful I was not to have to go. Citizen Marat gave the ring to Mole, I suppose. I know he intended to give it to him. He spoke to me about it just before that execrable woman came and murdered him. Anyway, the ring has gone and Mole too. So I imagine that Mole has the ring and—”
“That’s enough!” Chauvelin broke in roughly. “You can go!”
“You can go, I said,” he reiterated sharply. “The matter of the child and the Leridans and the ring no longer concerns you. You understand?”
“Y—y—yes, citizen,” murmured Jeannette, vaguely terrified.
And of a truth the change in citizen Chauvelin’s demeanour was enough to scare any timid creature. Not that he raved or ranted or screamed. Those were not his ways. He still sat beside his desk as he had done before, and his slender hand, so like the talons of a vulture, was clenched upon the arm of his chair. But there was such a look of inward fury and of triumph in his pale, deep-set eyes, such lines of cruelty around his thin, closed lips, that Jeannette Marechal, even with the picture before her mind of Jean Paul Marat in his maddest moods, fled, with the unreasoning terror of her kind, before the sternly controlled, fierce passion of this man.