He was challenged over and over again in the same way, and so were his friends who were carrying papa and maman and the children; but they were always ready with a reply, ready with an invective or a curse; with eyes that could not see, one could imagine them as hideous, as vengeful, as cruel as the rest of the crowd.
I think that soon I must have fainted from sheer excitement and terror, for I remember nothing more till I felt myself deposited on a hard floor, propped against the wall, and the stifling piece of sacking taken off my head and face.
I looked around me, dazed and bewildered; gradually the horrors of the past hour came back to me, and I had to close my eyes again, for I felt sick and giddy with the sheer memory of it all.
But presently I felt stronger and looked around me again. Jean and Andre were squatting in a corner close by, gazing wide-eyed at the group of men in filthy, ragged clothing, who sat round a deal table in the centre of a small, ill-furnished room.
Maman was lying on a horsehair sofa at the other end of the room, with Marguerite beside her, and papa sat in a low chair by her side, holding her hand.
The voice I loved was speaking in its quaint, somewhat drawly cadence:
“You are quite safe now, my dear Monsieur Lemercier,” it said; “after Madame and the young people have had a rest, some of my friends will find you suitable disguises, and they will escort you out of Paris, as they have some really genuine passports in their possessions, which we obtain from time to time through the agency of a personage highly placed in this murdering government, and with the help of English banknotes. Those passports are not always unchallenged, I must confess,” added my hero with a quaint laugh; “but to-night everyone is busy murdering in one part of Paris, so the other parts are comparatively safe.”
Then he turned to one of his friends and spoke to him in English:
“You had better see this through, Tony,” he said, “with Hastings and Mackenzie. Three of you will be enough; I shall have need of the others.”
No one seemed to question his orders. He had spoken, and the others made ready to obey. Just then papa spoke up:
“How are we going to thank you, sir?” he asked, speaking broken English, but with his habitual dignity of manner.
“By leaving your welfare in our hands, Monsieur,” replied our gallant rescuer quietly.
Papa tried to speak again, but the Englishman put up his hand to stop any further talk.
“There is no time now, Monsieur,” he said with gentle courtesy. “I must leave you, as I have much work yet to do.”
“Where are you going, Blakeney?” asked one of the others.
“Back to the Abbaye prison,” he said; “there are other women and children to be rescued there!”