The corporal saluted and went.
Petite maman and Rosette the while were still standing quietly in the middle of the room, their arms folded underneath their aprons, their wide-open, anxious eyes fixed into space. Rosette’s tears were falling slowly, one by one down her cheeks, but petite maman was dry-eyed. She was thinking, and thinking as she had never had occasion to think before.
She was thinking of the brave and gallant Englishman who had saved Pierre’s life only yesterday. The sergeant, who sat there before her, had asked for orders from the citizen Commissary to search this big house from attic to cellar. That is what made petite maman think and think.
The brave Englishman was in this house at the present moment: the house would be searched from attic to cellar and he would be found, taken, and brought to the guillotine.
The man who yesterday had risked his life to save her boy was in imminent and deadly danger, and she—petite maman—could do nothing to save him.
Every moment now she thought to hear milor’s firm tread resounding on stairs or corridor, every moment she thought to hear snatches of an English song, sung by a fresh and powerful voice, never after to-day to be heard in gaiety again.
The old clock upon the shelf ticked away these seconds and minutes while petite maman thought and thought, while men set traps to catch a fellow-being in a deathly snare, and human carnivorous beasts lay lurking for their prey.
Another quarter of an hour went by. Petite maman and Rosette had hardly moved. The shadows of evening were creeping into the narrow room, blurring the outlines of the pieces of furniture and wrapping all the corners in gloom.
The sergeant had ordered Rosette to bring in a lamp. This she had done, placing it upon the table so that the feeble light glinted upon the belt and buckles of the sergeant and upon the tricolour cockade which was pinned to his hat. Petite maman had thought and thought until she could think no more.
Anon there was much commotion on the stairs; heavy footsteps were heard ascending from below, then crossing the corridors on the various landings. The silence which reigned otherwise in the house, and which had fallen as usual on the squalid little street, void of traffic at this hour, caused those footsteps to echo with ominous power.
Petite maman felt her heart beating so vigorously that she could hardly breathe. She pressed her wrinkled hands tightly against her bosom.
There were the quick words of command, alas! so familiar in France just now, the cruel, peremptory words that invariably preceded an arrest, preliminaries to the dragging of some wretched—often wholly harmless— creature before a tribunal that knew neither pardon nor mercy.
The sergeant, who had become drowsy in the close atmosphere of the tiny room, roused himself at the sound and jumped to his feet. The door was thrown open by the men stationed outside even before the authoritative words, “Open! in the name of the Republic!” had echoed along the narrow corridor.