The demagogue held up his left hand—it was emaciated and disfigured by disease. A cheap-looking metal ring, set with a false stone, glistened upon the fourth finger.
“Take it off,” he said curtly.
The ring must have all along been too small for the bony hand of the once famous Court physician. Even now it appeared embedded in the flabby skin and refused to slide over the knuckle.
“The water will loosen it,” remarked Mole quietly.
Marat dipped his hand back into the water, and the other stood beside him, silent and stolid, his broad shoulders bent, his face naught but a mask, void and expressionless beneath its coating of grime.
One or two seconds went by. The air was heavy with steam and a medley of evil-smelling fumes, which hung in the close atmosphere of the narrow room. The sick man appeared to be drowsy, his head rolled over to one side, his eyes closed. He had evidently forgotten all about the ring.
A woman’s voice, shrill and peremptory, broke the silence which had become oppressive:
“Here, citizen Mole, I want you! There’s not a bit of wood chopped up for my fire, and how am I to make the coffee without firing, I should like to know?”
“The ring, citizen,” Mole urged gruffly.
Marat had been roused by the woman’s sharp voice. He cursed her for a noisy harridan; then he said fretfully:
“It will do presently—when you are ready to start. I said nine o’clock... it is only four now. I am tired. Tell citizeness Evrard to bring me some hot coffee in an hour’s time.... You can go and fetch me the Moniteur now, and take back these proofs to citizen Dufour. You will find him at the ‘Cordeliers,’ or else at the printing works.... Come back at nine o’clock. ... I am tired now... too tired to tell you where to find the house which is off the Chemin de Pantin. Presently will do....”
Even while he spoke he appeared to drop into a fitful sleep. His two hands were hidden under the sheet which covered the bath. Mole watched him in silence for a moment or two, then he turned on his heel and shuffled off through the ante-room into the kitchen beyond, where presently he sat down, squatting in an angle by the stove, and started with his usual stolidness to chop wood for the citizeness’ fire.
When this task was done, and he had received a chunk of sour bread for his reward from Jeannette Marechal, the cook, he shuffled out of the place and into the street, to do his employer’s errands.
Paul Mole had been to the offices of the Moniteur and to the printing works of L’Ami du Peuple. He had seen the citizen Dufour at the Club and, presumably, had spent the rest of his time wandering idly about the streets of the quartier, for he did not return to the rue des Cordeliers until nearly nine o’clock.
As soon as he came to the top of the street, he fell in with the crowd which had collected outside No. 30. With his habitual slouchy gait and the steady pressure of his powerful elbows, he pushed his way to the door, whilst gleaning whisperings and rumours on his way.