Five minutes later the soldiers, directed by petite maman, had reached No. 37 Rue Ste. Anne. The big outside door stood wide open, and the whole party turned immediately into the house.
The concierge, terrified and obsequious, rushed—trembling—out of his box.
“What was the pleasure of the citizen soldiers?” he asked.
“Tell him, citizeness,” commanded Rouget curtly.
“We are going to apartment No. 12 on the second floor,” said petite maman to the concierge.
“Have you a key of the apartment?” queried Rouget.
“No, citizen,” stammered the concierge, “but—”
“Well, what is it?” queried the other peremptorily.
“Papa Turandot is a poor, harmless maker of volins,” said the concierge. “I know him well, though he is not often at home. He lives with a daughter somewhere Passy way, and only uses this place as a workshop. I am sure he is no traitor.”
“We’ll soon see about that,” remarked Rouget dryly.
Petite maman held her shawl tightly crossed over her bosom: her hands felt clammy and cold as ice. She was looking straight out before her, quite dry-eyed and calm, and never once glanced on Rosette, who was not allowed to come anywhere near her mother.
As there was no duplicate key to apartment No. 12, citizen Rouget ordered his men to break in the door. It did not take very long: the house was old and ramshackle and the doors rickety. The next moment the party stood in the room which a while ago the Englishman had so accurately described to pere Lenegre in petite maman’s hearing.
There was the wardrobe. Petite maman, closely surrounded by the soldiers, went boldly up to it; she opened it just as milor had directed, and pushed aside the row of shabby clothes that hung there. Then she pointed to the panels that did not fit quite tightly together at the back. Petite maman passed her tongue over her dry lips before she spoke.
“There’s a recess behind those panels,” she said at last. “They slide back quite easily. My old man is there.”
“And God bless you for a brave, loyal soul,” came in merry, ringing accent from the other end of the room. “And God save the Scarlet Pimpernel!”
These last words, spoken in English, completed the blank amazement which literally paralysed the only three genuine Republican soldiers there— those, namely, whom Rouget had borrowed from the sergeant. As for the others, they knew what to do. In less than a minute they had overpowered and gagged the three bewildered soldiers.
Rosette had screamed, terror-stricken, from sheer astonishment, but petite maman stood quite still, her pale, tear-dimmed eyes fixed upon the man whose gay “God bless you!” had so suddenly turned her despair into hope.
How was it that in the hideous, unkempt and grimy Rouget she had not at once recognised the handsome and gallant milor who had saved her Pierre’s life? Well, of a truth he had been unrecognisable, but now that he tore the ugly wig and beard from his face, stretched out his fine figure to its full height, and presently turned his lazy, merry eyes on her, she could have screamed for very joy.