I was still hugging the roast capon with one arm, with the other I clung to him as together we walked in the direction of the Rue des Pipots. On the way we halted at a respectable eating-house, where my protector gave me some money wherewith to buy a bottle of good wine and sundry provisions and delicacies which we carried home with us.
Never shall I forget the look of horror which came in Mme. la Marquise’s eyes when she saw me entering our miserable attic in the company of a stranger. The last of the little bit of tallow candle flickered in its socket. Madame threw her emaciated arms over her child, just like some poor hunted animal defending its young. I could almost hear the cry of terror which died down in her throat ere it reached her lips. But then, monsieur, to see the light of hope gradually illuminating her pale, wan face as the stranger took her hand and spoke to her—oh! so gently and so kindly—was a sight which filled my poor, half-broken heart with joy.
“The little invalid must be seen by a doctor at once,” he said, “after that only can we think of your ultimate safety.”
Mme. la Marquise, who herself was terribly weak and ill, burst out crying. “Would I not have taken him to a doctor ere now?” she murmured through her tears. “But there is no doctor in Lyons. Those who have not been arrested as traitors have fled from this stricken city. And my little Jose is dying for want of medical care.”
“Your pardon, madame,” he rejoined gently, “one of the ablest doctors in France is at present in Lyons—–”
“That infamous Laporte,” she broke in, horrified. “He would snatch my sick child from my arms and throw him to the guillotine.”
“He would save your boy from disease,” said the stranger earnestly, “his own professional pride or professional honour, whatever he might choose to call it, would compel him to do that. But the moment the doctor’s work was done, that of the executioner would commence.”
“You see, milor,” moaned Madame in pitiable agony, “that there is no hope for us.”
“Indeed there is,” he replied. “We must get M. le Vicomte well first— after that we shall see.”
“But you are not proposing to bring that infamous Laporte to my child’s bedside!” she cried in horror.
“Would you have your child die here before your eyes,” retorted the stranger, “as he undoubtedly will this night?”
This sounded horribly cruel, and the tone in which it was said was commanding. There was no denying its truth. M. le Vicomte was dying. I could see that. For a moment or two madame remained quite still, with her great eyes, circled with pain and sorrow, fixed upon the stranger. He returned her gaze steadily and kindly, and gradually that frozen look of horror in her pale face gave place to one of deep puzzlement, and through her bloodless lips there came the words, faintly murmured: “Who are you?”