The old man made no immediate reply, but he came just a step or two closer to the citizen-deputy and, suddenly drawing himself up to his full height, he looked for one brief moment down upon the mean and sordid figure of the ex-valet. To Heriot it seemed as if the whole man had become transfigured; the shabby old scarecrow looked all of a sudden like a brilliant and powerful personality; from his eyes there flashed down a look of supreme contempt and of supreme pride, and Heriot—unable to understand this metamorphosis which was more apparent to his inner consciousness than to his outward sight, felt his knees shake under him and all the blood rush back to his heart in an agony of superstitious terror.
From somewhere there came to his ear the sound of two words: “I will!” in reply to his own defiant query. Surely those words uttered by a man conscious of power and of strength could never have been spoken by the dilapidated old scarecrow who earned a precarious living by writing letters for ignorant folk.
But before he could recover some semblance of presence of mind citizen Lepine had gone, and only a loud and merry laugh seemed to echo through the squalid room.
Heriot shook off the remnant of his own senseless terror; he tore open the door of the bedroom and shouted to Rondeau, who truly was thinking that the citizen-deputy had gone mad:
“After him!—after him! Quick! curse you!” he cried.
“After whom?” gasped the man.
“The man who was here just now—an aristo.”
“I saw no one—but the Public Letter-Writer, old Lepine—I know him well—–”
“Curse you for a fool!” shouted Heriot savagely, “the man who was here was that cursed Englishman—the one whom they call the Scarlet Pimpernel. Run after him—stop him, I say!”
“Too late, citizen,” said the other placidly; “whoever was here before is certainly half-way down the street by now.”
“No use, Ffoulkes,” said Sir Percy Blakeney to his friend half-an-hour later, “the man’s passions of hatred and desire are greater than his greed.”
The two men were sitting together in one of Sir Percy Blakeney’s many lodgings—the one in the Rue des Petits Peres—and Sir Percy had just put Sir Andrew Ffoulkes au fait with the whole sad story of Arnould Fabrice’s danger and Agnes de Lucines’ despair.
“You could do nothing with the brute, then?” queried Sir Andrew.
“Nothing,” replied Blakeney. “He refused all bribes, and violence would not have helped me, for what I wanted was not to knock him down, but to get hold of the letters.”
“Well, after all, he might have sold you the letters and then denounced Fabrice just the same.”
“No, without actual proofs he could not do that. Arnould Fabrice is not a man against whom a mere denunciation would suffice. He has the grudging respect of every faction in the National Assembly. Nothing but irrefutable proof would prevail against him—and bring him to the guillotine.”