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An Historical Mystery by Honore de Balzac

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and stood firmly for the monarchy, militant and implacable. The four
old people, anxious that their present peaceful existence should not
be risked, nor their spot of refuge, saved from the furious waters of
the revolutionary torrent, lost, did their best to convert Laurence to
their cautious views, believing that her influence counted for much in
the unwillingness of their sons and the Simeuse twins to return to
France. The superb disdain with which she met the project frightened
these poor people, who were not mistaken in their fears that she was
meditating what they called knight-errantry. This jarring of opinion
came to the surface after the explosion of the infernal machine in the
rue Saint-Nicaise, the first royalist attempt against the conqueror of
Marengo after his refusal to treat with the house of Bourbon. The
d'Hauteserres considered it fortunate that Bonaparte escaped that
danger, believing that the republicans had instigated it. But Laurence
wept with rage when she heard he was safe. Her despair overcame her
usual reticence, and she vehemently complained that God had deserted
the sons of Saint-Louis.

"I," she exclaimed, "I could have succeeded! Have we no right," she
added, seeing the stupefaction her words produced on the faces about
her, and addressing the abbe, "no right to attack the usurper by every
means in our power?"

"My child," replied the abbe, "the Church has been greatly blamed by
philosophers for declaring in former times that the same weapons might
be employed against usurpers which the usurpers themselves had
employed to succeed; but in these days the Church owes far too much to
the First Consul not to protect him against that maxim,--which, by the
by, was due to the Jesuits."

"So the Church abandons us!" she answered, gloomily.

From that day forth whenever the four old people talked of submitting
to the decrees of Providence, Laurence left the room. Of late, the
abbe, shrewder than Monsieur d'Hauteserre, instead of discussing
principles, drew pictures of the material advantages of the consular
rule, less to convert the countess than to detect in her eyes some
expression which might enlighten him as to her projects. Gothard's
frequent disappearances, the long rides of his mistress, and her
evident preoccupation, which, for the last few days, had appeared in
her face, together with other little signs not to be hidden in the
silence and tranquillity of such a life, had roused the fears of these
submissive royalists. Still, as no event happened, and perfect quiet
appeared to reign in the political atmosphere, the minds of the little
household were soothed into peace, and the countess's long rides were
one more attributed to her passion for hunting.

It is easy to imagine the deep silence which reigned at nine o'clock
in the evening in the park, courtyards, and gardens of Cinq-Cygne,
where at that particular moment the persons we have described were
harmoniously grouped, where perfect peace pervaded all things, where
comfort and abundance were again enjoyed, and where the worthy and
judicious old gentleman was still hoping to convert his late ward to
his system of obedience to the ruling powers by the argument of what
we may call the continuity of prosperous results.

These royalists continued to play their boston, a game which spread
ideas of independence under a frivolous form over the whole of France;
for it was first invented in honor of the American insurgents, its
very terms applying to the struggle which Louis XVI. encouraged. While
making their "independences" and "poverties," the players kept an eye
on the countess, who had fallen asleep, overcome by fatigue, with a
singular smile on her lips, her last waking thought having been of the
terror two words could inspire in the minds of the peaceful company by
informing the d'Hauteserres that their sons had passed the preceding
night under that roof. What young girl of twenty-three would not have
been, as Laurence was, proud to play the part of Destiny? and who
would not have felt, as she did, a sense of compassion for those whom
she felt to be so far below her in loyalty?

"She sleeps," said the abbe. "I have never seen her so wearied."

"Durieu tells me her mare is almost foundered," remarked Madame
d'Hauteserre. "Her gun has not been fired; the breech is clean; she
has evidently not hunted."

"Oh! that's neither here nor there," said the abbe.

"Bah?" cried Mademoiselle Goujet; "when I was twenty-three and saw I
should be an old maid all my life, I rushed about and fatigued myself
in a dozen ways. I understand how the countess can scour the country
for hours without thinking of the game. It is nearly twelve years now
since she has seen her cousins, and you know she loves them. Well, if
I were she, if I were as young and pretty, I'd make a straight line
for Germany! Poor darling, perhaps she is thinking of the frontier,
and that may be the reason why she rides so far towards it."

"You are rather giddy, Mademoiselle Goujet," said the abbe, smiling.

"Not at all," she replied. "I see you all uneasy about the goings on
of a young girl, and I am explaining them to you."

"Her cousins will submit and return soon; they will all be rich, and
she will end by calming down," said old d'Hauteserre.

"God grant it!" said his wife, taking out a gold snuff-box which had
again seen the light under the Consulate.

"There is something stirring in the neighborhood," remarked Monsieur
d'Hauteserre to the abbe. "Malin has been two days at Gondreville."

"Malin!" cried Laurence, roused by the name, though her sleep was
sound.

"Yes," replied the abbe, "but he leaves to-night; everybody is
conjecturing the motive of this hasty visit."

"That man," said Laurence, "is the evil genius of our two houses."

The countess had been dreaming of her cousins and the young
Hauteserres; she saw them in peril. Her beautiful eyes grew fixed and
glassy as her mind thus warned dwelled on the dangers they were about
to incur in Paris. She rose suddenly and went to her bedroom without
speaking. Her bedroom was the best in the house; next came a dressing-
room and an oratory, in the tower which faced towards the forest. Soon
after she had left the salon the dogs barked, the bell of the small
gate rang, and Durieu rushed into the salon with a frightened face.
"Here is the mayor!" he said. "Something is the matter."

CHAPTER VI

A DOMICILIARY VISIT

The mayor, a former huntsman of the house of Simeuse, came
occasionally to the chateau, where the d'Hauteserres showed him out of
policy, a deference to which he attached great value. His name was
Goulard; he had married a rich woman of Troyes, whose property, which
was in the commune of Cinq-Cygne, he had further increased by the
purchase of a fine abbey and its lands, in which he invested all his
savings. The vast abbey of Val-des-Preux, standing about a mile from
the chateau, he had turned into a dwelling that was almost as splendid
as Gondreville; in it his wife and he were now living like rats in a
cathedral. "Ah! Goulard, you have been greedy," Mademoiselle had said
to him with a laugh the first time she received him at Cinq-Cygne.
Though greatly attached to the Revolution and coldly received by the
countess, the mayor always felt himself bound by ties of respect to
the Cinq-Cygne and Simeuse families. He therefore shut his eyes to
what went on at the chateau. He called shutting his eyes not seeing
the portraits of Louis XVI., Marie Antoinette, and the royal children,
and those of Monsieur, the Comte d'Artois, Cazales and Charlotte
Corday, which filled the various panels of the salon; not resenting
either the wishes freely expressed in his presence for the ruin of the
Republic, or the ridicule flung at the five directors and all the
other governmental combinations of that time. The position of this
man, who, like many parvenus, having once made his fortune, reverted
to his early faith in the old families, and sought to attach himself
to them, was now being made use of by the two members of the Paris
police whose profession had been so quickly guessed by Michu, and who,
before going to Gondreville had reconnoitred the neighborhood.

The worthy described as the depositary of the best traditions of the
old police, and Corentin phoenix of spies, were in fact employed on a
secret mission. Malin was not mistaken in attributing a double purpose
to those stars of tragic farces. But, before seeing them at work, it
is advisable to show the head of which they were the arms. When
Bonaparte became First Consul he found Fouche at the head of the
police. The Revolution had frankly and with good reason made the
management of the police into a special ministry. But after his return
from Marengo, Bonaparte created the prefecture of police, placed
Dubois in charge of it, and called Fouche to the Council of State,
naming as his successor in the ministry a conventional named Cochon,
since known as Comte de Lapparent. Fouche, who considered the ministry
of police as by far the most important in a government of broad ideas
and fixed policy, saw disgrace or at any rate distrust in the change.
After Napoleon became aware of the immense superiority of this great
statesman, as evidenced in the affair of the infernal machine and in
the conspiracy with which we are now concerned, he returned him to the
ministry of police. Later still, becoming alarmed at the powers Fouche
displayed during his absence at the time of the affair at Walcheren,
the Emperor gave that ministry to the Duc de Rovigo, and sent Fouche
(Duc d'Otrante) as governor to the Illyrian provinces,--an appointment
which was in fact an exile.

The singular genius of this man, Fouche, which had the power of
inspiring Napoleon with a sort of fear, did not reveal itself all at
once. This obscure conventional, one of the most extraordinary men of
our time, and the most misjudged, was moulded, as it were, by the
whirlwind of events. He raised himself under the Directory to the
height from which men of genius could see the future and judge the
past, and then, like certain commonplace actors who suddenly become
admirable through the light of some vivid perception, he gave proofs
of his dexterity during the rapid revolution of the 18th Brumaire.
This man with the pallid face, educated to monastic dissimulation,
possessing the secrets of the /montagnards/ to whom he belonged, and
those of the royalists to whom he ended by belonging, had slowly and
silently studied the men, the events, and the interests on the
political stage; he penetrated Napoleon's secrets, he gave him useful
counsel and precious information. Satisfied with having proven his
capacity and his usefulness, Fouche was careful not to disclose
himself completely. He wished to remain at the head of affairs, but
the Emperor's restless uneasiness about him cost him his place.

The ingratitude or rather the distrust shown by Napoleon after the
affair at Walcheren, gives the key-note to the character of a man who,
unfortunately for himself, was not a great /seigneur/, and whose
conduct was modelled on that of Talleyrand. At that time neither his
former colleagues nor his present ones had suspected the amplitude of
his genius, which was purely ministerial, essentially governmental,
just in its forecasts and incredibly sagacious. To-day, every
impartial historian perceives that Napoleon's inordinate self-love was
among the chief causes of his fall, a punishment which cruelly
expiated his wrong-doing. In the mind of that distrustful sovereign
lurked a constant jealousy for his own rising power, which influenced
all his actions, and caused his secret hatred for men of talent, the
precious legacy of the Revolution, with whom he might have made
himself a cabinet capable of being a true repository for his thoughts.
Talleyrand and Fouche were not the only ones who gave him umbrage. The
misfortune of usurpers is that those who have given them a crown are
as much their enemies as those from whom they snatch it. Napoleon's
sovereignty was never convincingly felt by those who were once his
superiors or his equals, nor by those who still held to the doctrine
of rights; none of them regarded their oath of allegiance to him as
binding.

Malin, an inferior man, incapable of comprehending Fouche's hidden
genius, or of distrusting his own perceptions, burned himself, like a
moth in a candle, by asking him confidentially to send agents to
Gondreville, where, he said, he hoped to obtain certain clues to the
conspiracy. Fouche, without alarming his friend by any questions,
asked himself why Malin was going to Gondreville, and why he did not
immediately and without loss of time, give the information he already
possessed. The ex-Oratorian, fed from his youth up on trickery, and
well aware of the double part played by a good many of the
conventionals, said to himself: "From whom is Malin likely to obtain
information when we ourselves know little or nothing?" Fouche
concluded therefore that there was some either latent or prospective
collusion, and took care to say nothing about it to the First Consul.
He preferred to make Malin his instrument rather than destroy him. It
was Fouche's habit to keep to himself a good part of the secrets he
detected, and he thus obtained for his own purposes a power over those
concerned which was even greater than that of Bonaparte. This
duplicity was one of the Emperor's charges against his minister.

Fouche knew of the swindling transaction by which Malin became
possessed of Gondreville and which led him to keep his eyes so
anxiously on the Simeuse brothers. These gentlemen were now serving in
the army of Conde; Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne was their cousin;
possibly they were in her neighborhood, and were sharers in the
conspiracy; if so, it would implicate the house of Conde to which they
were devoted. Talleyrand and Fouche were bent on casting light into
this dark corner of the conspiracy of 1803. All these considerations
Fouche saw at a glance, rapidly and with great clearness. But between
Malin, Talleyrand, and himself there were strong ties which forced him
to the utmost circumspection, and made him anxious to know the exact
state of things within the walls of Gondreville. Corentin was
unreservedly attached to Fouche, just as Monsieur de la Besnardiere
was to Talleyrand, Gentz to Monsieur de Metternich, Dundas to Pitt,
Duroc to Napoleon, Chavigny to Cardinal Richelieu. Corentin was not
the counsellor of his master, but his instrument, the Tristan to this
Louis XI. of low estate. Fouche had kept him in the ministry of the
police when he himself left it, so as to still keep an eye and a
finger in it. It was said that Corentin belonged to Fouche by some
unavowed relationship, for he rewarded him lavishly after every
service. Corentin had a friend in Peyrade, the old pupil of the last
lieutenant of police; but he kept a good many of his secrets from him.
Fouche gave Corentin an order to explore the chateau of Gondreville,
to get the plan of it into his memory, and to know every hiding-place
within its walls.

"We may be obliged to return there," said the ex-minister, precisely
as Napoleon told his lieutenants to explore the field of Austerlitz on
which he intended to fall back.

Corentin was also to study Malin's conduct, discover what influence he
had in the neighborhood, and observe the men he employed. Fouche
regarded it as certain that the Simeuse brothers were in that part of
the country. By cautiously watching the two officers, who were closely
allied with the Prince de Conde, Peyrade and Corentin could obtain
precious light on the ramifications of the conspiracy beyond the
Rhine. In any case, however, Corentin received the means, the orders,
and the agents, to surround the chateau of Cinq-Cygne and watch the
whole region, from the forest of Nodesme into Paris. Fouche insisted
on the utmost caution, and would only allow a domiciliary visit to
Cinq-Cygne in case Malin gave them positive information which made it
necessary. By way of instructions he explained to Corentin the
otherwise inexplicable personality of Michu, who had been watched by
the police for the last three years. Corentin's idea was that of his
master: "Malin knows all about the conspiracy--But," he added to
himself, "perhaps Fouche does, too; who knows?"

Corentin, having started for Troyes before Malin, had made
arrangements with the commandant of the gendarmerie in that town, who
picked out a number of his most intelligent men and placed them under
orders of an able captain. Corentin chose Gondreville as the place of
rendezvous, and directed the captain to send some of his men at night
in four detachments to different points of the valley of Cinq-Cygne at
sufficient distance from each other to cause no alarm. These four
pickets were to form a square and close in around the chateau of Cinq-
Cygne. By leaving Corentin alone at Gondreville during his
consultation in the fields with Grevin, Malin had enabled him to
fulfil part of Fouche's orders and explore the house. When the
Councillor of State returned home he told Corentin so positively that
the d'Hauteserre and Simeuse brothers were in the neighborhood and
probably at Cinq-Cygne that the two agents despatched the captain with
the rest of his company, who, fortunately for the four gentlemen,
crossed the forest on their way to the chateau during the time when
Michu was making Violette drunk. Malin had told Corentin and Peyrade
of the escape he had from lying in wait for him. The two agents
related the incident of the gun they had seen the bailiff load, and
Grevin had sent Violette to obtain information as to what was going on
at Michu's house. Corentin advised the notary to take Malin to his own
house in the little town of Arcis, and let him sleep there as a
measure of precaution. At the moment when Michu and his wife were
rushing through the forest on their way to Cinq-Cygne, Peyrade and
Corentin were starting from Gondreville for Cinq-Cygne in a shabby
wicker carriage, drawn by one post-horse driven by the corporal of
Arcis, one of the shrewdest men in the Legion, whom the commandant at
Troyes advised them to employ.

"The surest way to seize them all is to warn them," said Peyrade to
Corentin. "At the moment when they are well frightened and are trying
to save their papers or to escape we'll fall upon them like a
thunderbolt. The gendarmes surround the chateau now and are as good as
a net. We sha'n't lose one of them!"

"You had better send the mayor to warn them," said the corporal. "He
is friendly to them and wouldn't like to see them harmed; they won't
distrust him."

Just as Goulard was preparing to go to bed, Corentin, who stopped the
vehicle in a little wood, went to his house and told him,
confidentially, that in a few moments an emissary from the government
would require him to enter the chateau of Cinq-Cygne and arrest the
brothers d'Hauteserre and Simeuse; and in case they had already
disappeared he would have to ascertain if they had slept there the
night before, search Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne's papers, and,
possibly, arrest both the masters and servants of the household.

"Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne," said Corentin, "is undoubtedly protected
by some great personages, for I have received private orders to warn
her of this visit, and to do all I can to save her without
compromising myself. Once on the ground, I shall no longer be able to
do so, for I am not alone; go to the chateau yourself and warn them."

The mayor's visit at that time of night was all the more bewildering
to the card-players when they saw the agitation of his face.

"Where is the countess?" were his first words.

"She has gone to bed," said Madame d'Hauteserre.

The mayor, incredulous, listened to noises that were heard on the
upper floor.

"What is the matter with you, Goulard?" said Monsieur d'Hauteserre.

Goulard was dumb with surprise as he noted the tranquil ease of the
faces about him. Observing the peaceful and innocent game of cards
which he had thus interrupted, he was unable to imagine what the
Parisian police meant by their suspicions.

At that moment Laurence, kneeling in her oratory, was praying
fervently for the success of the conspiracy. She prayed to God to send
help and succor to the murderers of Bonaparte. She implored Him
ardently to destroy that fatal being. The fanaticism of Harmodius,
Judith, Jacques Clement, Ankarstroem, of Charlotte Corday and
Limoelan, inspired this pure and virgin spirit. Catherine was
preparing the bed, Gothard was closing the blinds, when Marthe Michu
coming under the windows flung a pebble on the glass and was seen at
once.

"Mademoiselle, here's some one," said Gothard, seeing a woman.

"Hush!" said Marthe, in a low voice. "Come down and speak to me."

Gothard was in the garden in less time than a bird would have taken to
fly down from a tree.

"In a minute the chateau will be surrounded by the gendarmerie. Saddle
mademoiselle's horse without making any noise and take it down through
the breach in the moat between the stables and this tower."

Marthe quivered when she saw Laurence, who had followed Gothard,
standing beside her.

"What is it?" asked Laurence, quietly.

"The conspiracy against the First Consul is discovered," replied
Marthe, in a whisper. "My husband, who seeks to save your two cousins,
sends me to ask you to come and speak to him."

Laurence drew back and looked at Marthe. "Who are you?" she said.

"Marthe Michu."

"I do not know what you want of me," replied the countess, coldly.

"Take care, you will kill them. Come with me, I implore you in the
Simeuse name," said Marthe, clasping her hands and stretching them
towards Laurence. "Have you papers here which may compromise you? If
so, destroy them. From the heights over there my husband has just seen
the silver-laced hats and the muskets of the gendarmerie."

Gothard had already clambered to the hay-loft and seen the same sight;
he heard in the stillness of the evening the sound of their horses'
hoofs. Down he slipped into the stable and saddled his mistress's
mare, whose feet Catherine, at a word from the lad, muffled in linen.

"Where am I to go?" said Laurence to Marthe, whose look and language
bore the unmistakable signs of sincerity.

"Through the breach," she replied; "my noble husband is there. You
shall learn the value of a 'Judas'!"

Catherine went quickly into the salon, picked up the hat, veil, whip,
and gloves of her mistress, and disappeared. This sudden apparition
and action were so striking a commentary on the mayor's inquiry that
Madame d'Hauteserre and the abbe exchanged glances which contained the
melancholy thought: "Farewell to all our peace! Laurence is
conspiring; she will be the death of her cousins."

"But what do you really mean?" said Monsieur d'Hauteserre to the
mayor.

"The chateau is surrounded. You are about to receive a domiciliary
visit. If your sons are here tell them to escape, and the Simeuse
brothers too, if they are with them."

"My sons!" exclaimed Madame d'Hauteserre, stupefied.

"We have seen no one," said Monsieur d'Hauteserre.

"So much the better," said Goulard; "but I care too much for the Cinq-
Cygne and Simeuse families to let any harm come to them. Listen to me.
If you have any compromising papers--"

"Papers!" repeated the old gentleman.

"Yes, if you have any, burn them at once," said the mayor. "I'll go
and amuse the police agents."

Goulard, whose object was to run with the royalist hare and hold with
the republican hounds, left the room; at that moment the dogs barked
violently.

"There is no longer time," said the abbe, "here they come! But who is
to warn the countess? Where is she?"

"Catherine didn't come for her hat and whip to make relics of them,"
remarked Mademoiselle Goujet.

Goulard tried to detain the two agents for a few moments, assuring
them of the perfect ignorance of the family at Cinq-Cygne.

"You don't know these people!" said Peyrade, laughing at him.

The two agents, insinuatingly dangerous, entered the house at once,
followed by the corporal from Arcis and one gendarme. The sight of
them paralyzed the peaceful card-players, who kept their seats at the
table, terrified by such a display of force. The noise produced by a
dozen gendarmes whose horses were stamping on the terrace, was heard
without.

"I do not see Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne," said Corentin.

"She is probably asleep in her bedroom," said Monsieur d'Hauteserre.

"Come with me, ladies," said Corentin, turning to pass through the
ante-chamber and up the staircase, followed by Mademoiselle Goujet and
Madame d'Hauteserre. "Rely upon me," he whispered to the old lady. "I
am in your interests. I sent the mayor to warn you. Distrust my
colleague and look to me. I can save every one of you."

"But what is it all about?" said Mademoiselle Goujet.

"A matter of life and death; you must know that," replied Corentin.

Madame d'Hauteserre fainted. To Mademoiselle Goujet's great
astonishment and Corentin's disappointment, Laurence's room was empty.
Certain that no one could have escaped from the park or the chateau,
for all the issues were guarded, Corentin stationed a gendarme in
every room and ordered others to search the farm buildings, stables,
and sheds. Then he returned to the salon, where Durieu and his wife
and the other servants had rushed in the wildest excitement. Peyrade
was studying their faces with his little blue eye, cold and calm in
the midst of the uproar. Just as Corentin reappeared alone
(Mademoiselle Goujet remaining behind to take care of Madame
d'Hauteserre) the tramp of horses was heard, and presently the sound
of a child's weeping. The horses entered by the small gate; and the
general suspense was put an end to by a corporal appearing at the door
of the salon pushing Gothard, whose hands were tied, and Catherine
whom he led to the agents.

"Here are some prisoners," he said; "that little scamp was escaping on
horseback."

"Fool!" said Corentin, in his ear, "why didn't you let him alone? You
could have found out something by following him."

Gothard had chosen to burst into tears and behave like an idiot.
Catherine took an attitude of artless innocence which made the old
agent reflective. The pupil of Lenoir, after considering the two
prisoners carefully, and noting the vacant air of the old gentleman
whom he took to be sly, the intelligent eye of the abbe who was still
fingering the cards, and the utter stupefaction of the servants and
Durieu, approached Corentin and whispered in his ear, "We are not
dealing with ninnies."

Corentin answered with a look at the card-table; then he added, "They
were playing at boston! Mademoiselle's bed was just being made for the
night; she escaped in a hurry; it is a regular surprise; we shall
catch them."

CHAPTER VII

A FOREST NOOK

A breach has always a cause and a purpose. Here is the explanation of
how the one which led from the tower called that of Mademoiselle and
the stables came to be made. After his installation as Laurence's
guardian at Cinq-Cygne old d'Hauteserre converted a long ravine,
through which the water of the forest flowed into the moat, into a
roadway between two tracts of uncultivated land belonging to the
chateau, by merely planting out in it about a hundred walnut trees
which he found ready in the nursery. In eleven years these trees had
grown and branched so as to nearly cover the road, hidden already by
steep banks, which ran into a little wood of thirty acres recently
purchased. When the chateau had its full complement of inhabitants
they all preferred to take this covered way through the breach to the
main road which skirted the park walls and led to the farm, rather
than go round by the entrance. By dint of thus using it the breach in
the sides of the moat had gradually been widened on both sides, with
all the less scruple because in this nineteenth century of ours moats
are no longer of the slightest use, and Laurence's guardian had often
talked of putting this one to some other purpose. The constant
crumbling away of the earth and stones and gravel had ended by filling
up the ditch, so that only after heavy rains was the causeway thus
constructed covered. But the bank was still so steep that it was
difficult to make a horse descend it, and even more difficult to get
him up upon the main road. Horses, however, seem in times of peril to
share their masters' thought.

While the young countess was hesitating to follow Marthe, and asking
explanations, Michu, from his vantage-ground watched the closing in of
the gendarmes and understood their plan. He grew desperate as time
went by and the countess did not come to him. A squad of gendarmes
were marching along the park wall and stationing themselves as
sentinels, each man being near enough to communicate with those on
either side of them, by voice and eye. Michu, lying flat on his
stomach, his ear to earth, gauged, like a red Indian, by the strength
of the sounds the time that remained to him.

"I came too late!" he said to himself. "Violette shall pay dear for
this! what a time it took to make him drunk! What can be done?"

He heard the detachment that was coming through the forest reach the
iron gates and turn into the main road, where before long it would
meet the squad coming up from the other direction.

"Still five or six minutes!" he said.

At that instant the countess appeared. Michu took her with a firm hand
and pushed her into the covered way.

"Keep straight before you! Lead her to where my horse is," he said to
his wife, "and remember that gendarmes have ears."

Seeing Catherine, who carried the hat and whip, and Gothard leading
the mare, the man, keen-witted in presence of danger, bethought
himself of playing the gendarmes a trick as useful as the one he had
just played Violette. Gothard had forced the mare to mount the bank.

"Her feet muffled! I thank thee, boy," exclaimed the bailiff.

Michu let the mare follow her mistress and took the hat, gloves, and
whip from Catherine.

"You have sense, boy, you'll understand me," he said. "Force your own
horse up here, jump on him, and draw the gendarmes after you across
the fields towards the farm; get the whole squad to follow you--And
you," he added to Catherine, "there are other gendarmes coming up on
the road from Cinq-Cygne to Gondreville; run in the opposite direction
to the one Gothard takes, and draw them towards the forest. Manage so
that we shall not be interfered with in the covered way."

Catherine and the boy, who were destined to give in this affair such
remarkable proofs of intelligence, executed the manoeuvre in a way to
make both detachments of gendarmes believe that they held the game.
The dim light of the moon prevented the pursuers from distinguishing
the figure, clothing, sex, or number of those they followed. The
pursuit was based on the maxim, "Always arrest those who are
escaping,"--the folly of which saying was, as we have seen,
energetically declared by Corentin to the corporal in command. Michu,
counting on this instinct of the gendarmes, was able to reach the
forest a few moments after the countess, whom Marthe had guided to the
appointed place.

"Go home now," he said to Marthe. "The forest is watched and it is
dangerous to remain here. We need all our freedom."

Michu unfastened his horse and asked the countess to follow him.

"I shall not go a step further," said Laurence, "unless you give me
some proof of the interest you seem to have in us--for, after all, you
are Michu."

"Mademoiselle," he answered, in a gentle voice; "the part I am playing
can be explained to you in two words. I am, unknown to the Marquis de
Simeuse and his brother, the guardian of their property. On this
subject I received the last instructions of their late father and
their dear mother, my protectress. I have played the part of a
virulent Jacobin to serve my dear young masters. Unhappily, I began
this course too late; I could not save their parents." Here, Michu's
voice broke down. "Since the young men emigrated I have sent them
regularly the sums they needed to live upon."

"Through the house of Breintmayer of Strasburg?" asked the countess.

"Yes, mademoiselle; the correspondents of Monsieur Girel of Troyes, a
royalist who, like me, made himself for good reasons, a Jacobin. The
paper which your farmer picked up one evening and which I forced him
to surrender, related to the affair and would have compromised your
cousins. My life no longer belongs to me, but to them, you understand.
I could not buy in Gondreville. In my position, I should have lost my
head had the authorities known I had the money. I preferred to wait
and buy it later. But that scoundrel of a Marion was the slave of
another scoundrel, Malin. All the same, Gondreville shall once more
belong to its rightful masters. That's my affair. Four hours ago I had
Malin sighted by my gun; ha! he was almost gone then! Were he dead,
the property would be sold and you could have bought it. In case of my
death my wife would have brought you a letter which would have given
you the means of buying it. But I overheard that villain telling his
accomplice Grevin--another scoundrel like himself--that the Marquis
and his brother were conspiring against the First Consul, that they
were here in the neighborhood, and that he meant to give them up and
get rid of them so as to keep Gondreville in peace. I myself saw the
police spies; I laid aside my gun, and I have lost no time in coming
here, thinking that you must be the one to know best how to warn the
young men. That's the whole of it."

"You are worthy to be a noble," said Laurence, offering her hand to
Michu, who tried to kneel and kiss it. She saw his motion and
prevented it, saying: "Stand up!" in a tone of voice and with a look
which made him amends for all the scorn of the last twelve years.

"You reward me as though I had done all that remains for me to do," he
said. "But don't you hear them, those huzzars of the guillotine? Let
us go elsewhere."

He took the mare's bridle, and led her a little distance.

"Think only of sitting firm," he said, "and of saving your head from
the branches of the trees which might strike you in the face."

Then he mounted his own horse and guided the young girl for half an
hour at full gallop; making turns and half turns, and striking into
wood-paths, so as to confuse their traces, until they reached a spot
where he pulled up.

"I don't know where I am," said the countess looking about her,--"I,
who know the forest as well as you do."

"We are in the heart of it," he replied. "Two gendarmes are after us,
but we are quite safe."

The picturesque spot to which the bailiff had guided Laurence was
destined to be so fatal to the principal personages of this drama, and
to Michu himself, that it becomes our duty, as an historian, to
describe it. The scene became, as we shall see hereafter, one of noted
interest in the judiciary annals of the Empire.

The forest of Nodesme belonged to the monastery of Notre-Dame. That
monastery, seized, sacked, and demolished, had disappeared entirely,
monks and property. The forest, an object of much cupidity, was taken
into the domain of the Comtes de Champagne, who mortgaged it later and
allowed it to be sold. In the course of six centuries nature covered
its ruins with her rich and vigorous green mantle, and effaced them so
thoroughly that the existence of one of the finest convents was no
longer even indicated except by a slight eminence shaded by noble
trees and circled by thick, impenetrable shrubbery, which, since 1794,
Michu had taken great pains to make still more impenetrable by
planting the thorny acacia in all the slight openings between the
bushes. A pond was at the foot of the eminence and showed the
existence of a hidden stream which no doubt determined in former days
the site of the monastery. The late owner of the title to the forest
of Nodesme was the first to recognize the etymology of the name, which
dated back for eight centuries, and to discover that at one time a
monastery had existed in the heart of the forest. When the first
rumblings of the thunder of the Revolution were heard, the Marquis de
Simeuse, who had been forced to look into his title by a lawsuit and
so learned the above facts as it were by chance, began, with a secret
intention not difficult to conceive, to search for some remains of the
former monastery. The keeper, Michu, to whom the forest was well
known, helped his master in the search, and it was his sagacity as a
forester which led to the discovery of the site. Observing the trend
of the five chief roads of the forest, some of which were now effaced,
he saw that they all ended either at the little eminence or by the
pond at the foot of it, to which points travellers from Troyes, from
the valley of Arcis and that of Cinq-Cygne, and from Bar-sur-Aube
doubtless came. The marquis wished to excavate the hillock but he
dared not employ the people of the neighborhood. Pressed by
circumstances, he abandoned the intention, leaving in Michu's mind a
strong conviction that the eminence had either the treasure or the
foundations of the former abbey. He continued, all alone, this
archaeological enterprise; he sounded the earth and discovered a
hollowness on the level of the pond between two trees, at the foot of
the only craggy part of the hillock.

One fine night he came to the place armed with a pickaxe, and by the
sweat of his brow uncovered a succession of cellars, which were
entered by a flight of stone steps. The pond, which was three feet
deep in the middle, formed a sort of dipper, the handle of which
seemed to come from the little eminence, and went far to prove that a
spring had once issued from the crags, and was now lost by
infiltration through the forest. The marshy shores of the pond,
covered with aquatic trees, alders, willow, and ash, were the terminus
of all the wood-paths, the remains of former roads and forest by-ways,
now abandoned. The water, flowing from a spring, though apparently
stagnant, was covered with large-leaved plants and cresses, which gave
it a perfectly green surface almost indistinguishable from the shores,
which were covered with fine close herbage. The place is too far from
human habitations for any animal, unless a wild one, to come there.
Convinced that no game was in the marsh and repelled by the craggy
sides of the hills, keepers and hunters had never explored or visited
this nook, which belonged to a part of the forest where the timber had
not been cut for many years and which Michu meant to keep in its full
growth when the time came round to fell it.

At the further end of the first cellar was a vaulted chamber, clean
and dry, built with hewn stone, a sort of convent dungeon, such as
they called in monastic days the /in pace/. The salubrity of the
chamber and the preservation of this part of the staircase and of the
vaults were explained by the presence of the spring, which had been
enclosed at some time by a wall of extraordinary thickness built in
brick and cement like those of the Romans, and received all the
waters. Michu closed the entrance to this retreat with large stones;
then, to keep the secret of it to himself and make it impenetrable to
others, he made a rule never to enter it except from the wooded height
above, by clambering down the crag instead of approaching it from the
pond.

Just as the fugitives arrived, the moon was casting her beautiful
silvery light on the aged tree-tops above the crag, and flickering on
the splendid foliage at the corners of the several paths, all of which
ended here, some with one tree, some with a group of trees. On all
sides the eye was irresistibly led along their vanishing perspectives,
following the curve of a wood-path or the solemn stretch of a forest
glade flanked by a wall of verdure that was nearly black. The
moonlight, filtering through the branches of the crossways, made the
lonely, tranquil waters, where they peeped between the crosses and the
lily-pads, sparkle like diamonds. The croaking of the frogs broke the
deep silence of this beautiful forest-nook, the wild odors of which
incited the soul to thoughts of liberty.

"Are we safe?" said the countess to Michu.

"Yes, mademoiselle. But we have each some work to do. Do you go and
fasten our horses to the trees at the top of the little hill; tie a
handkerchief round the mouth of each of them," he said, giving her his
cravat; "your beast and mine are both intelligent, they will
understand they are not to neigh. When you have done that, come down
the crag directly above the pond; but don't let your habit catch
anywhere. You will find me below."

While the countess hid the horses and tied and gagged them, Michu
removed the stones and opened the entrance to the caverns. The
countess, who thought she knew the forest by heart, was amazed when
she descended into the vaulted chambers. Michu replaced the stones
above them with the dexterity of a mason. As he finished, the sound of
horses' feet and the voices of the gendarmes echoed in the darkness;
but he quietly struck a match, lighted a resinous bit of wood and led
the countess to the /in pace/, where there was still a piece of the
candle with which he had first explored the caves. An iron door of
some thickness, eaten in several places by rust, had been put in good
order by the bailiff, and could be fastened securely by bars slipping
into holes in the wall on either side of it. The countess, half dead
with fatigue, sat down on a stone bench, above which there still
remained an iron ring, the staple of which was embedded in the
masonry.

"We have a salon to converse in," said Michu. "The gendarmes may prowl
as much as they like; the worst they could do would be to take our
horses."

"If they do that," said Laurence, "it would be the death of my cousins
and the Messieurs d'Hauteserre. Tell me now, what do you know?"

Michu related what he had overheard Malin say to Grevin.

"They are already on the road to Paris; they were to enter it
to-morrow morning," said the countess when he had finished.

"Lost!" exclaimed Michu. "All persons entering or leaving the barriers
are examined. Malin has strong reasons to let my masters compromise
themselves; he is seeking to get them killed out of his way."

"And I, who don't know anything of the general plan of the affair,"
cried Laurence, "how can I warn Georges, Riviere, and Moreau? Where
are they?--However, let us think only of my cousins and the
d'Hauteserres; you must catch up with them, no matter what it costs."

"The telegraph goes faster than the best horse," said Michu; "and of
all the nobles concerned in this conspiracy your cousins are the
closest watched. If I can find them, they must be hidden here and kept
here till the affair is over. Their poor father may have had a
foreboding when he set me to search for this hiding-place; perhaps he
felt that his sons would be saved here."

"My mare is from the stables of the Comte d'Artois,--she is the
daughter of his finest English horse," said Laurence; "but she has
already gone sixty miles, she would drop dead before you reached
them."

"Mine is in good condition," replied Michu; "and if you did sixty
miles I shall have only thirty to do."

"Nearer forty," she said, "they have been walking since dark. You will
overtake them beyond Lagny, at Coupvrai, where they expected to be at
daybreak. They are disguised as sailors, and will enter Paris by the
river on some vessel. This," she added, taking half of her mother's
wedding-ring from her finger, "is the only thing which will make them
trust you; they have the other half. The keeper of Couvrai is the
father of one of their soldiers; he has hidden them tonight in a hut
in the forest deserted by charcoal-burners. They are eight in all,
Messieurs d'Hauteserre and four others are with my cousins."

"Mademoiselle, no one is looking for the others! let them save
themselves as they can; we must think only of the Messieurs de
Simeuse. It is enough just to warn the rest."

"What! abandon the Hauteserres? never!" she said. "They must all
perish or be saved together!"

"Only petty noblemen!" remarked Michu.

"They are only chevaliers, I know that," she replied, "but they are
related to the Cinq-Cygne and Simeuse blood. Save them all, and advise
them how best to regain this forest."

"The gendarmes are here,--don't you hear them? they are holding a
council of war."

"Well, you have twice had luck to-night; go! bring my cousins here and
hide them in these vaults; they'll be safe from all pursuit--Alas! I
am good for nothing!" she cried, with rage; "I should be only a beacon
to light the enemy--but the police will never imagine that my cousins
are in the forest if they see me at my ease. So the question resolves
itself into this: how can we get five good horses to bring them in six
hours from Lagny to the forest,--five horses to be killed and hidden
in some thicket."

"And the money?" said Michu, who was thinking deeply as he listened to
the young countess.

"I gave my cousins a hundred louis this evening," she replied.

"I'll answer for them!" cried Michu. "But once hidden here you must
not attempt to see them. My wife, or the little one, shall bring them
food twice a week. But, as I can't be sure of what may happen to me,
remember, mademoiselle, in case of trouble, that the main beam in my
hay-loft has been bored with an auger. In the hole, which is plugged
with a bit of wood, you will find a plan showing how to reach this
spot. The trees which you will find marked with a red dot on the plan
have a black mark at their foot close to the earth. Each of these
trees is a sign-post. At the foot of the third old oak which stands to
the left of each sign-post, two feet in front of it and buried seven
feet in the ground, you will find a large metal tube; in each tube are
one hundred thousand francs in gold. These eleven trees--there are
only eleven--contain the whole fortune of the Simeuse brothers, now
that Gondreville has been taken from them."

"It will take a hundred years for the nobility to recover from such
blows," said Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, slowly.

"Is there a pass-word?" asked Michu.

"'France and Charles' for the soldiers, 'Laurence and Louis' for the
Messieurs d'Hauteserre and Simeuse. Good God! to think that I saw them
yesterday for the first time in eleven years, and that now they are in
danger of death--and what a death! Michu," she said, with a melancholy
look, "be as prudent during the next fifteen hours as you have been
grand and devoted during the last twelve years. If disaster were to
overtake my cousins now I should die of it--No," she added, quickly,
"I would live long enough to kill Bonaparte."

"There will be two of us to do that when all is lost," said Michu.

Laurence took his rough hand and wrung it warmly, as the English do.
Michu looked at his watch; it was midnight.

"We must leave here at any cost," he said. "Death to the gendarme who
attempts to stop me! And you, madame la comtesse, without presuming to
dictate, ride back to Cinq-Cygne as fast as you can. The police are
there by this time; fool them! delay them!"

The hole once opened, Michu flung himself down with his ear to the
earth; then he rose precipitately. "The gendarmes are at the edge of
the forest towards Troyes!" he said. "Ha, I'll get the better of them
yet!"

He helped the countess to come out, and replaced the stones. When this
was done he heard her soft voice telling him she must see him mounted
before mounting herself. Tears came to the eyes of the stern man as he
exchanged a last look with his young mistress, whose own eyes were
tearless.

"Fool them! yes, he is right!" she said when she heard him no longer.
Then she darted towards Cinq-Cygne at full gallop.

CHAPTER VIII

TRIALS OF THE POLICE

Madame d'Hauteserre, roused by the danger of her sons, and not
believing that the Revolution was over, but still fearing its summary
justice, recovered her senses by the violence of the same distress
which made her lose them. Led by an agonizing curiosity she returned
to the salon, which presented a picture worthy of the brush of a genre
painter. The abbe, still seated at the card-table and mechanically
playing with the counters, was covertly observing Corentin and
Peyrade, who were standing together at a corner of the fireplace and
speaking in a low voice. Several times Corentin's keen eye met the not
less keen glance of the priest; but, like two adversaries who knew
themselves equally strong, and who return to their guard after
crossing their weapons, each averted his eyes the instant they met.
The worthy old d'Hauteserre, poised on his long thin legs like a
heron, was standing beside the stout form of the mayor, in an attitude
expressive of utter stupefaction. The mayor, though dressed as a
bourgeois, always looked like a servant. Each gazed with a bewildered
eye at the gendarmes, in whose clutches Gothard was still sobbing, his
hands purple and swollen from the tightness of the cord that bound
them. Catherine maintained her attitude of artless simplicity, which
was quite impenetrable. The corporal, who, according to Corentin, had
committed a great blunder in arresting these smaller fry, did not know
whether to stay where he was or to depart. He stood pensively in the
middle of the salon, his hand on the hilt of his sabre, his eye on the
two Parisians. The Durieus, also stupefied, and the other servants of
the chateau made an admirable group of expressive uneasiness. If it
had not been for Gothard's convulsive snifflings those present could
have heard the flies fly.

When Madame d'Hauteserre, pale and terrified, opened the door and
entered the room, almost carried by Mademoiselle Goujet, whose red
eyes had evidently been weeping, all faces turned to her at once. The
two agents hoped as much as the household feared to see Laurence
enter. This spontaneous movement of both masters and servants seemed
produced by the sort of mechanism which makes a number of wooden
figures perform the same gesture or wink the same eye.

Madame d'Hauteserre advanced by three rapid strides towards Corentin
and said, in a broken voice but violently: "For pity's sake, monsieur,
tell me what my sons are accused of. Do you really think they have
been here?"

The abbe, who seemed to be saying to himself when he saw the old lady,
"She will certainly commit some folly," lowered his eyes.

"My duty and the mission I am engaged in forbid me to tell you,"
answered Corentin, with a gracious but rather mocking air.

This refusal, which the detestable politeness of the vulgar fop seemed
to make all the more emphatic, petrified the poor mother, who fell
into a chair beside the Abbe Goujet, clasped her hands and began to
pray.

"Where did you arrest that blubber?" asked Corentin, addressing the
corporal and pointing to Laurence's little henchman.

"On the road that leads to the farm along the park walls; the little
scamp had nearly reached the Closeaux woods," replied the corporal.

"And that girl?"

"She? oh, it was Oliver who caught her."

"Where was she going?"

"Towards Gondreville."

"They were going in opposite directions?" said Corentin.

"Yes," replied the gendarme.

"Is that boy the groom, and the girl the maid of the citizeness Cinq-
Cygne?" said Corentin to the mayor.

"Yes," replied Goulard.

After Corentin had exchanged a few words with Peyrade in a whisper,
the latter left the room, taking the corporal of gendarmes with him.

Just then the corporal of Arcis made his appearance. He went up to
Corentin and spoke to him in a low voice: "I know these premises
well," he said; "I have searched everywhere; unless those young
fellows are buried, they are not here. We have sounded all the floors
and walls with the butt end of our muskets."

Peyrade, who presently returned, signed to Corentin to come out, and
then took him to the breach in the moat and showed him the sunken way.

"We have guessed the trick," said Peyrade.

"And I'll tell you how it was done," added Corentin. "That little
scamp and the girl decoyed those idiots of gendarmes and thus made
time for the game to escape."

"We can't know the truth till daylight," said Peyrade. "The road is
damp; I have ordered two gendarmes to barricade it top and bottom.
We'll examine it after daylight, and find out by the footsteps who
went that way."

"I see a hoof-mark," said Corentin; "let us go to the stables."

"How many horses do you keep?" said Peyrade, returning to the salon
with Corentin, and addressing Monsieur d'Hauteserre and Goulard.

"Come, monsieur le maire, you know, answer," cried Corentin, seeing
that that functionary hesitated.

"Why, there's the countess's mare, Gothard's horse, and Monsieur
d'Hauteserre's."

"There is only one in the stable," said Peyrade.

"Mademoiselle is out riding," said Durieu.

"Does she often ride about at this time of night?" said the libertine
Peyrade, addressing Monsieur d'Hauteserre.

"Often," said the good man, simply. "Monsieur le maire can tell you
that."

"Everybody knows she has her freaks," remarked Catherine; "she looked
at the sky before she went to bed, and I think the glitter of your
bayonets in the moonlight puzzled her. She told me she wanted to know
if there was going to be another revolution."

"When did she go?" asked Peyrade.

"When she saw your guns."

"Which road did she take?"

"I don't know."

"There's another horse missing," said Corentin.

"The gendarmes--took it--away from me," said Gothard.

"Where were you going?" said one of them.

"I was--following--my mistress to the farm," sobbed the boy.

The gendarme looked towards Corentin as if expecting an order. But
Gothard's speech was evidently so true and yet so false, so perfectly
innocent and so artful that the two Parisians again looked at each
other as if to echo Peyrade's former words: "They are not ninnies."

Monsieur d'Hauteserre seemed incapable of a word; the mayor was
bewildered; the mother, imbecile from maternal fears, was putting
questions to the police agents that were idiotically innocent; the
servants had been roused from their sleep. Judging by these trifling
signs, and these diverse characters, Corentin came to the conclusion
that his only real adversary was Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne. Shrewd
and dexterous as the police may be, they are always under certain
disadvantages. Not only are they forced to discover all that is known
to a conspirator, but they must also suppose and test a great number
of things before they hit upon the right one. The conspirator is
always thinking of his own safety, whereas the police is only on duty
at certain hours. Were it not for treachery and betrayals, nothing
would be easier than to conspire successfully. The conspirator has
more mind concentrated upon himself than the police can bring to bear
with all its vast facilities of action. Finding themselves stopped
short morally, as they might be physically by a door which they
expected to find open being shut in their faces, Corentin and Peyrade
saw they were tricked and misled, without knowing by whom.

"I assert," said the corporal of Arcis, in their ear, "that if the
four young men slept here last night it must have been in the beds of
their father and mother, and Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, or those of
the servants; or they must have spent the night in the park. There is
not a trace of their presence."

"Who could have warned them?" said Corentin, to Peyrade. "No one but
the First Consul, Fouche, the ministers, the prefect of police, and
Malin knew anything about it."

"We must set spies in the neighborhood," whispered Peyrade.

"And watch the spies," said the abbe, who smiled as he overheard the
word and guessed all.

"Good God!" thought Corentin, replying to the abbe's smile with one of
his own; "there is but one intelligent being here,--he's the one to
come to an understanding with; I'll try him."

"Gentlemen--" said the mayor, anxious to give some proof of devotion
to the First Consul and addressing the two agents.

"Say 'citizens'; the Republic still exists," interrupted Corentin,
looking at the priest with a quizzical air.

"Citizens," resumed the mayor, "just as I entered this salon and
before I had opened my mouth Catherine rushed in and took her
mistress's hat, gloves, and whip."

A low murmur of horror came from the breasts of all the household
except Gothard. All eyes but those of the agent and the gendarmes were
turned threateningly on Goulard, the informer, seeming to dart flames
at him.

"Very good, citizen mayor," said Peyrade. "We see it all plainly. Some
one" (this with a glance of evident distrust at Corentin) "warned the
citizeness Cinq-Cygne in time."

"Corporal, handcuff that boy," said Corentin, to the gendarme, "and
take him away by himself. And shut up that girl, too," pointing to
Catherine. "As for you, Peyrade, search for papers," adding in his
ear, "Ransack everything, spare nothing.--Monsieur l'abbe," he said,
confidentially, "I have an important communication to make to you";
and he took him into the garden.

"Listen to me attentively, monsieur," he went on; "you seem to have
the mind of a bishop, and (no one can hear us) you will understand me.
I have no longer any hope except through you of saving these families,
who, with the greatest folly, are letting themselves roll down a
precipice where no one can save them. The Messieurs Simeuse and
d'Hauteserre have been betrayed by one of those infamous spies whom
governments introduce into all conspiracies to learn their objects,
means, and members. Don't confound me, I beg of you, with the wretch
who is with me. He belongs to the police; but I am honorably attached
to the Consular cabinet, I am therefore behind the scenes. The ruin of
the Simeuse brothers is not desired. Though Malin would like to see
them shot, the First Consul, if they are here and have come without
evil intentions, wishes them to be warned out of danger, for he likes
good soldiers. The agent who accompanies me has all the powers, I,
apparently, am nothing. But I see plainly what is hatching. The agent
is pledged to Malin, who has doubtless promised him his influence, an
office, and perhaps money if he finds the Simeuse brothers and
delivers them up. The First Consul, who is a really great man, never
favors selfish schemes--I don't want to know if those young men are
here," he added, quickly, observing the abbe's gesture, "but I wish to
tell you that there is only one way to save them. You know the law of
the 6th Floreal, year X., which amnestied all the /emigres/ who were
still in foreign countries on condition that they returned home before
the 1st Vendemiaire of the year XI., that is to say, in September of
last year. But the Messieurs Simeuse having, like the Messieurs
d'Hauteserre, served in the army of Conde, they come into the category
of exceptions to this law. Their presence in France is therefore
criminal, and suffices, under the circumstances in which we are, to
make them suspected of collusion in a horrible plot. The First Consul
saw the error of this exception which has made enemies for his
government, and he wishes the Messieurs Simeuse to know that no steps
will be taken against them, if they will send him a petition saying
that they have re-entered France intending to submit to the laws, and
agreeing to take oath to the Constitution. You can understand that the
document ought to be in my hands before they are arrested, and be
dated some days earlier. I would then be the bearer of it--I do not
ask you where those young men are," he said again, seeing another
gesture of denial from the priest. "We are, unfortunately, sure of
finding them; the forest is guarded, the entrances to Paris and the
frontiers are all watched. Pray listen to me; if these gentlemen are
between the forest and Paris they must be taken; if they are in Paris
they will be found; if they retreat to the frontier they will still be
arrested. The First Consul likes the /ci-devants/, and cannot endure
the republicans--simple enough; if he wants a throne he must needs
strangle Liberty. Keep the matter a secret between us. This is what I
will do; I will stay here till to-morrow and /be blind/; but beware of
the agent; that cursed Provencal is the devil's own valet; he has the
ear of Fouche just as I have that of the First Consul."

"If the Messieurs Simeuse are here," said the abbe, "I would give ten
pints of my blood and my right arm to save them; but if Mademoiselle
de Cinq-Cygne is in the secret she has not--and this I swear on my
eternal salvation--betrayed it in any way, neither has she done me the
honor to consult me. I am now very glad of her discretion, if
discretion there be. We played cards last night as usual, at boston,
in almost complete silence, until half-past ten o'clock, and we
neither saw nor heard anything. Not a child can pass through this
solitary valley without the whole community knowing it, and for the
last two weeks no one has come from other places. Now the d'Hauteserre
and the Simeuse brothers would make a party of four. Old d'Hauteserre
and his wife have submitted to the present government, and they have
made all imaginable efforts to persuade their sons to return to
France; they wrote to them again yesterday. I can only say, upon my
soul and conscience, that your visit has alone shaken my firm belief
that these young men are living in Germany. Between ourselves, there
is no one here, except the young countess, who does not do justice to
the eminent qualities of the First Consul."

"Fox!" thought Corentin. "Well, if those young men are shot," he said,
aloud; "it is because their friends have willed it--I wash my hands of
the affair."

He had led the abbe to a part of the garden which lay in the
moonlight, and as he said the last words he looked at him suddenly.
The priest was greatly distressed, but his manner was that of a man
surprised and wholly ignorant.

"Understand this, monsieur l'abbe," resumed Corentin; "the right of
these young men to the estate of Gondreville will render them doubly
criminal in the eyes of the middle class. I'd like to see them put
faith in God and not in his saints--"

"Is there really a plot?" asked the abbe, simply.

"Base, odious, cowardly, and so contrary to the generous spirit of the
nation," replied Corentin, "that it will meet with universal
opprobrium."

"Well! Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne is incapable of baseness," cried the
abbe.

"Monsieur l'abbe," replied Corentin, "let me tell you this; there is
for us (meaning you and me) proof positive of her guilt; but there is
not enough for the law. You see she took flight when we came; I sent
the mayor to warn her."

"Yes, but for one who is so anxious to save them, you followed rather
closely on his heels," said the abbe.

At those words the two men looked at each other, and all was said.
Each belonged to those profound anatomists of thought to whom a mere
inflexion of the voice, a look, a word suffices to reveal a soul, just
as the Indians track their enemies by signs invisible to European
eyes.

"I expected to draw something out of him, and I have only betrayed
myself," thought Corentin.

"Ha! the sly rogue!" thought the priest.

Midnight rang from the old church clock just as Corentin and the abbe
re-entered the salon. The opening and shutting of doors and closets
could be heard from the bedrooms above. The gendarmes pulled open the
beds; Peyrade, with the quick perception of a spy, handled and sounded
everything. Such desecration excited both fear and indignation among
the faithful servants of the house, who still stood motionless about
the salon. Monsieur d'Hauteserre exchanged looks of commiseration with
his wife and Mademoiselle Goujet. A species of horrible curiosity kept
every one on the qui vive. Peyrade at length came down, holding in his
hand a sandal-wood box which had probably been brought from China by
Admiral de Simeuse. This pretty casket was flat and about the size of
a quarto volume.

Peyrade made a sign to Corentin and took him into the embrasure of a
window.

"I've an idea!" he said, "that Michu, who was ready to pay Marion
eight hundred thousand francs in gold for Gondreville, and who
evidently meant to shoot Malin yesterday, is the man who is helping
the Simeuse brothers. His motive in threatening Marion and aiming at
Malin must be the same. I thought when I saw him that he was capable
of ideas; evidently he has but one; he discovered what was going on
and he must have come here to warn them."

"Probably Malin talked about the conspiracy to his friend the notary,
and Michu from his ambush overheard what was said," remarked Corentin,
continuing the inductions of his colleague. "No doubt he has only
postponed his shot to prevent an evil he thinks worse than the loss of
Gondreville."

"He knew what we were the moment he laid eyes on us," said Peyrade. "I
thought then that he was amazingly intelligent for a peasant."

"That proves that he is always on his guard," replied Corentin. "But,
mind you, my old man, don't let us make a mistake. Treachery stinks in
the nostrils, and primitive folks do scent it from afar."

"But that's our strength," said the Provencal.

"Call the corporal of Arcis," cried Corentin to one of the gendarmes.
"I shall send him at once to Michu's house," he added to Peyrade.

"Our ear, Violette, is there," said Peyrade.

"We started without getting news from him. Two of us are not enough;
we ought to have had Sabatier with us--Corporal," he said, when the
gendarme appeared, taking him aside with Peyrade, "don't let them fool
you as they did the Troyes corporal just now. We think Michu is in
this business. Go to his house, put your eye on everything, and bring
word of the result."

"One of my men heard horses in the forest just as they arrested the
little groom; I've four fine fellows now on the track of whoever is
hiding there," replied the gendarme.

He left the room, and the gallop of his horse which echoed on the
paved courtyard died rapidly away.

"One thing is certain," said Corentin to himself, "either they have
gone to Paris or they are retreating to Germany."

He sat down, pulled a note-book from the pocket of his spencer, wrote
two orders in pencil, sealed them, and made a sign to one of the
gendarmes to come to him.

"Be off at full gallop to Troyes, wake up the prefect, and tell him to
start the telegraph as soon as there's light enough."

The gendarme departed. The meaning of this movement and Corentin's
intentions were so evident that the hearts of the household sank
within them; but this new anxiety was additional to another that was
now martyrizing them; their eyes were fixed on the sandal-wood box!
All the while the two agents were talking together they were each
taking note of those eager looks. A sort of cold anger stirred the
unfeeling hearts of these men who relished the power of inspiring
terror. The police man has the instincts and emotions of a hunter: but
where the one employs his powers of mind and body in killing a hare, a
partridge, or a deer, the other is thinking of saving the State, or a
king, and of winning a large reward. So the hunt for men is superior
to the other class of hunting by all the distance that there is
between animals and human beings. Moreover, a spy is forced to lift
the part he plays to the level and the importance of the interests to
which he is bound. Without looking further into this calling, it is
easy to see that the man who follows it puts as much passionate ardor
into his chase as another man does into the pursuit of game. Therefore
the further these men advanced in their investigations the more eager
they became; but the expression of their faces and their eyes
continued calm and cold, just as their ideas, their suspicions, and
their plans remained impenetrable. To any one who watched the effects
of the moral scent, if we may so call it, of these bloodhounds on the
track of hidden facts, and who noted and understood the movements of
canine agility which led them to strike the truth in their rapid
examination of probabilities, there was in it all something actually
horrifying. How and why should men of genius fall so low when it was
in their power to be so high? What imperfection, what vice, what
passion debases them? Does a man become a police-agent as he becomes a
thinker, writer, statesmen, painter, general, on the condition of
knowing nothing but how to spy, as the others speak, write, govern,
paint, and fight? The inhabitants of the chateau had but one wish,--
that the thunderbolts of heaven might fall upon these miscreants; they
were athirst for vengeance; and had it not been for the presence, up
to this time, of the gendarmes there would undoubtedly have been an
outbreak.

"No one, I suppose, has the key of this box?" said the cynical
Peyrade, questioning the family as much by the movement of his huge
red nose as by his words.

The Provencal noticed, not without fear, that the guards were no
longer present; he and Corentin were alone with the family. The
younger man drew a small dagger from his pocket, and began to force
the lock of the box. Just then the desperate galloping of a horse was
heard upon the road and then upon the pavement by the lawn; but most
horrible of all was the fall and sighing of the animal, which seemed
to drop all at once at the door of the middle tower. A convulsion like
that which a thunderbolt might produce shook the spectators when
Laurence, the trailing of whose riding-habit announced her coming,
entered the room. The servants hastily formed into two lines to let
her pass.

In spite of her rapid ride, the girl had felt the full anguish the
discovery of the conspiracy must needs cause her. All her hopes were
overthrown! she had galloped through ruins as her thoughts turned to
the necessity of submission to the Consular government. Were it not
for the danger which threatened the four gentlemen, and which served
as a tonic to conquer her weariness and her despair, she would have
dropped asleep on the way. The mare was almost killed in her haste to
reach the chateau, and stand between her cousins and death. As all
present looked at the heroic girl, pale, her features drawn, her veil
aside, her whip in her hand, standing on the threshold of the door,
whence her burning glance grasped the whole scene and comprehended it,
each knew from the almost imperceptible motion which crossed the
soured and bittered face of Corentin, that the real adversaries had
met. A terrible duel was about to begin.

Noticing the box, now in the hands of Corentin, the countess raised
her whip and sprang rapidly towards him. Striking his hands with so
violent a blow that the casket fell to the ground, she seized it,
flung it into the middle of the fire, and stood with her back to the
chimney in a threatening attitude before either of the agents
recovered from their surprise. The scorn which flamed from her eyes,
her pale brow, her disdainful lips, were even more insulting than the
haughty action which treated Corentin as though he were a venomous
reptile. Old d'Hauteserre felt himself once more a cavalier; all his
blood rushed to his face, and he grieved that he had no sword. The
servants trembled for an instant with joy. The vengeance they had
called down upon these men had come. But their joy was driven back
within their souls by a terrible fear; the gendarmes were still heard
coming and going in the garrets.

The /spy/--noun of strength, under which all shades of the police are
confounded, for the public has never chosen to specify in language the
varieties of those who compose this dispensary of social remedies so
essential to all governments--the spy has this curious and magnificent
quality: he never becomes angry; he possesses the Christian humility
of a priest; his eyes are stolid with an indifference which he holds
as a barrier against the world of fools who do not understand him; his
forehead is adamant under insult; he pursues his ends like a reptile
whose carapace is fractured only by a cannonball; but (like that
reptile) he is all the more furious when the blow does reach him,
because he believed his armor invulnerable. The lash of the whip upon
his fingers was to Corentin, pain apart, the cannonball that cracked
the shell. Coming from that magnificent and noble girl, this action,
emblematic of her disgust, humiliated him, not only in the eyes of the
people about him, but in his own.

Peyrade sprang to the hearth, caught Laurence's foot, raised it, and
compelled her, out of modesty, to throw herself on the sofa, where she
had lately lain asleep. The scene, like other contrasts in human
things, was burlesque in the midst of terror. Peyrade scorched his
hand as he dashed it into the fire to seize the box; but he got it,
threw it on the floor and sat down upon it. These little actions were
done with great rapidity and without a word being uttered. Corentin,
recovering from the pain of the blow, caught Mademoiselle de Cinq-
Cygne by both hands, and held her.

"Do not compel me to use force against you," he said, with withering
politeness.

Peyrade's action had extinguished the fire by the natural process of
suppressing the air.

"Gendarmes! here!" he cried, still occupying his ridiculous position.

"Will you promise to behave yourself?" said Corentin, insolently,
addressing Laurence, and picking up his dagger, but not committing the
great fault of threatening her with it.

"The secrets of that box do not concern the government," she answered,
with a tinge of melancholy in her tone and manner. "When you have read
the letters it contains you will, in spite of your infamy, feel
ashamed of having read them--that is, if you can still feel shame at
anything," she added, after a pause.

The abbe looked at her as if to say, "For God's sake, be calm!"

Peyrade rose. The bottom of the box, which had been nearly burned
through, left a mark upon the floor; the lid was scorched and the
sides gave way. The grotesque Scaevola, who had offered to the god of
the Police and Terror the seat of his apricot breeches, opened the two
sides of the box as if it had been a book, and slid three letters and
two locks of hair upon the card-table. He was about to smile at
Corentin when he perceived that the locks were of two shades of gray.
Corentin released Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne's hands and went up to
the table to read the letter from which the hair had fallen.

Laurence rose, moved to the table beside the spies, and said:--"Read
it aloud; that shall be your punishment."

As the two men continued to read to themselves, she herself read out
the following words:--

Dear Laurence,--My husband and I have heard of your noble conduct
on the day of our arrest. We know that you love our dear twins as
much, almost, as we love them ourselves. Therefore it is with you
that we leave a token which will be both precious and sad to them.
The executioner has come to cut our hair, for we are to die in a
few moments; he has promised to put into your hands the only
remembrance we are able to leave to our beloved orphans. Keep
these last remains of us and give them to our sons in happier
days. We have kissed these locks of hair and have laid our
blessing upon them. Our last thought will be of our sons, of you,
and of God. Love them, Laurence.

Berthe de Cinq-Cygne.
Jean de Simeuse.

Tears came to the eyes of all the household as they listened to the
letter.

Laurence looked at the agents with a petrifying glance and said, in a
firm voice:--

"You have less pity than the executioner."

Corentin quietly folded the hair in the letter, laid the letter aside
on the table, and put a box of counters on the top of it as if to
prevent its blowing away. His coolness in the midst of the general
emotion was horrible.

Peyrade unfolded the other letters.

"Oh, as for those," said Laurence, "they are very much alike. You hear
the will; you can now hear of its fulfilment. In future I shall have
no secrets from any one."

1794, Andernach. Before the battle.

My dear Laurence,--I love you for life, and I wish you to know it.
But you ought also to know, in case I die, that my brother, Paul-
Marie, loves you as much as I love you. My only consolation in
dying would be the thought that you might some day make my brother
your husband without being forced to see me die of jealousy--which
must surely happen if, both of us being alive, you preferred him
to me. After all, that preference seems natural, for he is,
perhaps, more worthy of your love than I--

Marie-Paul.

"Here is the other letter," she said, with the color in her cheeks.

Andernach. Before the battle.

My kind Laurence,--My heart is sad; but Marie-Paul has a gayer
nature, and will please you more than I am able to do. Some day
you will have to choose between us--well, though I love you
passionately--

"You are corresponding with /emigres/," said Peyrade, interrupting
Laurence, and holding the letters between himself and the light to see
if they contained between the lines any treasonable writing with
invisible ink.

"Yes," replied Laurence, folding the precious letters, the paper of
which was already yellow with time. "But by virtue of what right do
you presume to violate my dwelling and my personal liberty?"

"Ah, that's the point!" cried Peyrade. "By what right, indeed!--it is
time to let you know it, beautiful aristocrat," he added, taking a
warrant from his pocket, which came from the minister of justice and
was countersigned by the minister of the interior. "See, the
authorities have their eye upon you."

"We might also ask you," said Corentin, in her ear, "by what right you
harbor in this house the assassins of the First Consul. You have
applied your whip to my hands in a manner that authorizes me to take
my revenge upon your cousins, whom I came here to save."

At the mere movement of her lips and the glance which Laurence cast
upon Corentin, the abbe guessed what that great artist was saying, and
he made her a sign to be distrustful, which no one intercepted but
Goulard. Peyrade struck the cover of the box to see if there were a
double top.

"Don't break it!" she exclaimed, taking the cover from him.

She took a pin, pushed the head of one of the carved figures, and the
two halves of the top, joined by a spring, opened. In the hollow half
lay miniatures of the Messieurs de Simeuse, in the uniform of the army
of Conde, two portraits on ivory done in Germany. Corentin, who felt
himself in presence of an adversary worthy of his efforts, called
Peyrade aside into a corner of the room and conferred with him.

"How could you throw /that/ into the fire?" said the abbe, speaking to
Laurence and pointing to the letter of the marquise which enclosed the
locks of hair.

For all answer the young girl shrugged her shoulders significantly.
The abbe comprehended then that she had made the sacrifice to mislead
the agents and gain time; he raised his eyes to heaven with a gesture
of admiration.

"Where did they arrest Gothard, whom I hear crying?" she asked him,
loud enough to be overheard.

"I don't know," said the abbe.

"Did he reach the farm?"

"The farm!" whispered Peyrade to Corentin. "Let us send there."

"No," said Corentin; "that girl never trusted her cousins' safety to a
farmer. She is playing with us. Do as I tell you, so that we mayn't
have to leave here without detecting something, after committing the
great blunder of coming here at all."

Corentin stationed himself before the fire, lifting the long pointed
skirts of his coat to warm himself and assuming the air, manner, and
tone of a gentleman who was paying a visit.

"Mesdames, you can go to bed, and the servants also. Monsieur le
maire, your services are no longer needed. The sternness of our orders
does not permit us to act otherwise than as we have done; but as soon
as the walls, which seem to me rather thick, have been thoroughly
examined, we shall take our departure."

The mayor bowed to the company and retired; but neither the abbe nor
Mademoiselle Goujet stirred. The servants were too uneasy not to watch
the fate of their young mistress. Madame d'Hauteserre, who, from the
moment of Laurence's entrance, had studied her with the anxiety of a
mother, rose, took her by the arm, led her aside, and said in a low
voice, "Have you seen them?"

"Do you think I could have let your sons be under this roof without
your knowing it?" replied Laurence. "Durieu," she added, "see if it is
possible to save my poor Stella; she is still breathing."

"She must have gone a great distance," said Corentin.

"Forty miles in three hours," she answered, addressing the abbe, who
watched her with amazement. "I started at half-past nine, and it was
well past one when I returned."

She looked at the clock which said half-past two.

"So you don't deny that you have ridden forty miles?" said Corentin.

"No," she said. "I admit that my cousins, in their perfect innocence,
expected not to be excluded from the amnesty, and were on their way to
Cinq-Cygne. When I found that the Sieur Malin was plotting to injure
them, I went to warn them to return to Germany, where they will be
before the telegraph can have guarded the frontier. If I have done
wrong I shall be punished for it."

This answer, which Laurence had carefully considered, was so probable
in all its parts that Corentin's convictions were shaken. In that
decisive moment, when every soul present hung suspended, as it were,
on the faces of the two adversaries, and all eyes turned from Corentin
to Laurence and from Laurence to Corentin, again the gallop of a
horse, coming from the forest, resounded on the road and from there
through the gates to the paved courtyard. Frightful anxiety was
stamped on every face.

Peyrade entered, his eyes gleaming with joy. He went hastily to
Corentin and said, loud enough for the countess to hear him: "We have
caught Michu."

Laurence, to whom the agony, fatigue, and tension of all her
intellectual faculties had given an unusual color, turned white and
fell back almost fainting on a chair. Madame Durieu, Mademoiselle
Goujet, and Madame d'Hauteserre sprang to help her, for she was
suffocating. She signed to cut the frogging of her habit.

"Duped!" said Corentin to Peyrade. "I am certain now they are on their
way to Paris. Change the orders."

They left the room and the house, placing one gendarme on guard at the
door of the salon. The infernal cleverness of the two men had gained a
terrible advantage by taking Laurence in the trap of a not uncommon
trick.

CHAPTER IX

FOILED

At six o'clock in the morning, as day was dawning, Corentin and
Peyrade returned. Having explored the covered way they were satisfied
that horses had passed through it to reach the forest. They were now
awaiting the report of the captain of gendarmerie sent to reconnoitre
the neighborhood. Leaving the chateau in charge of a corporal, they
went to the tavern at Cinq-Cygne to get their breakfast, giving orders
that Gothard, who never ceased to reply to all questions with a burst
of tears, should be set at liberty, also Catherine, who still
continued silent and immovable. Catherine and Gothard went to the
salon to kiss the hands of their mistress, who lay exhausted on the
sofa; Durieu also went in to tell her that Stella would recover, but
needed great care.

The mayor, uneasy and inquisitive, met Peyrade and Corentin in the
village. He declared that he could not allow such important officials
to breakfast in a miserable tavern, and he took them to his own house.
The abbey was only three quarters of a mile distant. On the way,
Peyrade remarked that the corporal of Arcis had sent no news of Michu
or of Violette.

"We are dealing with very able people," said Corentin; "they are
stronger than we. The priest no doubt has a finger in all this."

Just as the mayor's wife was ushering her guests into a vast dining-
room (without any fire) the lieutenant of gendarmes arrived with an
anxious air.

"We met the horse of the corporal of Arcis in the forest without his
master," he said to Peyrade.

"Lieutenant," cried Corentin, "go instantly to Michu's house and find
out what is going on there. They must have murdered the corporal."

This news interfered with the mayor's breakfast. Corentin and Peyrade
swallowed their food with the rapidity of hunters halting for a meal,
and drove back to the chateau in their wicker carriage, so as to be
ready to start at the first call for any point where their presence
might be necessary. When the two men reappeared in the salon into
which they had brought such trouble, terror, grief, and anxiety, they
found Laurence, in a dressing-gown, Monsieur d'Hauteserre and his
wife, the abbe and his sister, sitting round the fire, to all
appearance tranquil.

"If they had caught Michu," Laurence told herself, "they would have
brought him with them. I have the mortification of knowing that I was
not the mistress of myself, and that I threw some light upon the
matter for those wretches; but the harm can be undone--How long are we
to be your prisoners?" she asked sarcastically, with an easy manner.

"How can she know anything about Michu? No one from the outside has
got near the chateau; she is laughing at us," said the two agents to
each other by a look.

"We shall not inconvenience you long," replied Corentin. "In three
hours from now we shall offer our regrets for having troubled your
solitude."

No one replied. This contemptuous silence redoubled Corentin's inward
rage. Laurence and the abbe (the two minds of their little world) had
talked the man over and drawn their conclusions. Gothard and Catherine
had set the breakfast-table near the fire and the abbe and his sister
were sharing the meal. Neither masters nor servants paid the slightest
attention to the two spies, who walked up and down the garden, the
courtyard or the lawn, returning every now and then to the salon.

At half-past two the lieutenant reappeared.

"I found the corporal," he said to Corentin, "lying in the road which
leads from the pavilion of Cinq-Cygne to the farm at Bellache. He has
no wound, only a bad contusion of the head, caused, apparently, by his
fall. He told me he had been lifted suddenly off his horse and flung
so violently to the ground that he could not discover how the thing
was done. His feet left the stirrups, which was lucky, for he might
have been killed by the horse dragging him. We put him in charge of
Michu and Violette--"

"Michu! is Michu in his own house?" said Corentin, glancing at
Laurence.

The countess smiled ironically, like a woman obtaining her revenge.

"He is bargaining with Violette about the sale of some land," said the
lieutenant. "They seemed to me drunk; and it's no wonder, for they
have been drinking all night and discussing the matter, and they
haven't come to terms yet."

"Did Violette tell you so?" cried Corentin.

"Yes," said the lieutenant.

"Nothing is right if we don't attend to it ourselves!" cried Peyrade,
looking at Corentin, who doubted the lieutenant's news as much as the
other did.

"At what hour did you get to Michu's house?" asked Corentin, noticing
that the countess had glanced at the clock.

"About two," replied the lieutenant.

Laurence covered Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre and the abbe and his
sister in one comprehensive glance, which made them fancy they were
wrapped in an azure mantle; triumph sparkled in her eyes, she blushed,
and the tears welled up beneath her lids. Strong under all
misfortunes, the girl knew not how to weep except from joy. At this
moment she was all glorious, especially to the priest, who was
sometimes distressed by the virility of her character, and who now
caught a glimpse of the infinite tenderness of her woman's nature. But
such feelings lay in her soul like a treasure hidden at a great depth
beneath a block of granite.

Just then a gendarme entered the salon to ask if he might bring in
Michu's son, sent by his father to speak to the gentlemen from Paris.
Corentin gave an affirmative nod. Francois Michu, a sly little chip of
the old block, was in the courtyard, where Gothard, now at liberty,
got a chance to speak to him for an instant under the eyes of a
gendarme. The little fellow managed to slip something into Gothard's
hand without being detected, and the latter glided into the salon
after him till he reached his mistress, to whom he stealthily conveyed
both halves of the wedding-ring, a sure sign, she knew, that Michu had
met the four gentlemen and put them in safety.

"My papa wants to know what he's to do with the corporal, who ain't
doing well," said Francois.

"What's the matter with him?" asked Peyrade.

"It's his head--he pitched down hard on the ground," replied the boy.
"For a gindarme who knows how to ride it was bad luck--I suppose the
horse stumbled. He's got a hole--my! as big as your fist--in the back
of his head. Seems as if he must have hit some big stone, poor man! He
may be a gindarme, but he suffers all the same--you'd pity him."

The captain of the gendarmerie now arrived and dismounted in the
courtyard. Corentin threw up the window, not to lose time.

"What has been done?"

"We are back like the Dutchmen! We found nothing but five dead horses,
their coats stiff with sweat, in the middle of the forest. I have kept
them to find out where they came from and who owns them. The forest is
surrounded; whoever is in it can't get out."

"At what hour do you suppose those horsemen entered the forest?"

"About half-past twelve."

"Don't let a hare leave that forest without your seeing it," whispered
Corentin. "I'll station Peyrade at the village to help you; I am going
to see the corporal myself--Go to the mayor's house," he added, still
whispering, to Peyrade. "I'll send some able man to relieve you. We
shall have to make use of the country-people; examine all faces." He
turned towards the family and said in a threatening tone, "Au revoir!"

No one replied, and the two agents left the room.

"What would Fouche say if he knew we had made a domiciliary visit
without getting any results?" remarked Peyrade as he helped Corentin
into the osier vehicle.

"It isn't over yet," replied the other, "those four young men are in
the forest. Look there!" and he pointed to Laurence who was watching
them from a window. "I once revenged myself on a woman who was worth a
dozen of that one and had stirred my bile a good deal less. If this
girl comes in the way of my hatchet I'll pay her for the lash of that
whip."

"The other was a strumpet," said Peyrade; "this one has rank."

"What difference is that to me? All's fish that swims in the sea,"
replied Corentin, signing to the gendarme who drove him to whip up.

Ten minutes later the chateau de Cinq-Cygne was completely evacuated.

"How did they get rid of the corporal?" said Laurence to Francois
Michu, whom she had ordered to sit down and eat some breakfast.

"My father told me it was a matter of life and death and I mustn't let
anybody get into our house," replied the boy. "I knew when I heard the
horses in the forest that I'd got to do with them hounds of gindarmes,
and I meant to keep 'em from getting in. So I took some big ropes that
were in my garret and fastened one of 'em to a tree at the corner of
the road. Then I drew the rope high enough to hit the breast of a man
on horseback, and tied it to the tree on the opposite side of the way
in the direction where I heard the horses. That barred the road. It
didn't miss fire, I can tell you! There was no moon, and the corporal
just pitched!--but he wasn't killed; they're tough, them gindarmes! I
did what I could."

"You have saved us!" said Laurence, kissing him as she took him to the
gate. When there, she looked about her and seeing no one she said
cautiously, "Have they provisions?"

"I have just taken them twelve pounds of bread and four bottles of
wine," said the boy. "They'll be snug for a week."

Returning to the salon, the girl was beset with mute questions in the
eyes of all, each of whom looked at her with as much admiration as
eagerness.

"But have you really seen them?" cried Madame d'Hauteserre.

The countess put a finger on her lips and smiled; then she left the
room and went to bed; her triumph sure, utter weariness had overtaken
her.

The shortest road from Cinq-Cygne to Michu's lodge was that which led
from the village past the farm at Bellache to the /rond-point/ where
the Parisian spies had first seen Michu on the preceding evening. The
gendarme who was driving Corentin took this way, which was the one the
corporal of Arcis had taken. As they drove along, the agent was on the
look-out for signs to show why the corporal had been unhorsed. He
blamed himself for having sent but one man on so important an errand,
and he drew from this mistake an axiom for the police Code, which he
afterwards applied.

"If they have got rid of the corporal," he said to himself, "they have
done as much by Violette. Those five horses have evidently brought the
four conspirators and Michu from the neighborhood of Paris to the
forest. Has Michu a horse?" he inquired of the gendarme who was
driving him and who belonged to the squad from Arcis.

"Yes, and a famous little horse it is," answered the man, "a hunter
from the stables of the ci-devant Marquis de Simeuse. There's no
better beast, though it is nearly fifteen years old. Michu can ride
him fifty miles and he won't turn a hair. He takes mighty good care of
him and wouldn't sell him at any price."

"What does the horse look like?"

"He's brown, turning rather to black; white stockings above the hoofs,
thin, all nerves like an Arab."

"Did you ever see an Arab?"

"In Egypt--last year. I've ridden the horses of the mamelukes. We have
to serve twelve years in the cavalry, and I was on the Rhine under
General Steingel, after that in Italy, and then I followed the First
Consul to Egypt. I'll be a corporal soon."

"When I get to Michu's house go to the stable; if you have served
twelve years in the cavalry you know when a horse is blown. Let me
know the condition of Michu's beast."

"See! that's where our corporal was thrown," said the man, pointing to
a spot where the road they were following entered the /rond-point/.

"Tell the captain to come and pick me up at Michu's, and I'll go with
him to Troyes."

So saying Corentin got down, and stood about for a few minutes
examining the ground. He looked at the two elms which faced each
other,--one against the park wall, the other on the bank of the /rond-
point/; then he saw (what no one had yet noticed) the button of a
uniform lying in the dust, and he picked it up. Entering the lodge he
saw Violette and Michu sitting at the table in the kitchen and talking
eagerly. Violette rose, bowed to Corentin, and offered him some wine.

"Thank you, no; I came to see the corporal," said the young man, who
saw with half a glance that Violette had been drunk all night.

"My wife is nursing him upstairs," said Michu.

"Well, corporal, how are you?" said Corentin who had run up the stairs
and found the gendarme with his head bandaged, and lying on Madame
Michu's bed; his hat, sabre, and shoulder-belt on a chair.

Marthe, faithful in her womanly instincts, and knowing nothing of her
son's prowess, was giving all her care to the corporal, assisted by
her mother.

"We expect Monsieur Varlet the doctor from Arcis," she said to
Corentin; "our servant-lad has gone to fetch him."

"Leave us alone for a moment," said Corentin, a good deal surprised at
the scene, which amply proved the innocence of the two women. "Where
were you struck?" he asked the man, examining his uniform.

"On the breast," replied the corporal.

"Let's see your belt," said Corentin.

On the yellow band with a white edge, which a recent regulation had
made part of the equipment of the guard now called National, was a
metal plate a good deal like that of the foresters, on which the law
required the inscription of these remarkable words: "Respect to
persons and to properties." Francois's rope had struck the belt and
defaced it. Corentin took up the coat and found the place where the
button he had picked up upon the road belonged.

"What time did they find you?" asked Corentin.

"About daybreak."

"Did they bring you up here at once?" said Corentin, noticing that the
bed had not been slept in.

"Yes."

"Who brought you up?"

"The women and little Michu, who found me unconscious."

"So!" thought Corentin: "evidently they didn't go to bed. The corporal
was not shot at, nor struck by any weapon, for an assailant must have
been at his own height to strike a blow. Something, some obstacle, was
in his way and that unhorsed him. A piece of wood? not possible! an
iron chain? that would have left marks. What did you feel?" he said
aloud.

"I was knocked over so suddenly--"

"The skin is rubbed off under your chin," said Corentin quickly.

"I think," said the corporal, "that a rope did go over my face."

"I have it!" cried Corentin; "somebody tied a rope from tree to tree
to bar the way."

"Like enough," replied the corporal.

Corentin went downstairs to the kitchen.

"Come, you old rascal," Michu was saying to Violette, "let's make an
end of this. One hundred thousand francs for the place, and you are
master of my whole property. I shall retire on my income."

"I tell you, as there's a God in heaven, I haven't more than sixty
thousand."

"But don't I offer you time to pay the rest? You've kept me here since
yesterday, arguing it. The land is in prime order."

"Yes, the soil is good," said Violette.

"Wife, some more wine," cried Michu.

"Haven't you drunk enough?" called down Marthe's mother. "This is the
fourteenth bottle since nine o'clock yesterday."

"You have been here since nine o'clock this morning, haven't you?"
said Corentin to Violette.

"No, beg your pardon, since last night I haven't left the place, and
I've gained nothing after all; the more he makes me drink the more he
puts up the price."

"In all markets he who raises his elbow raises a price," said
Corentin.

A dozen empty bottles ranged along the table proved the truth of the
old woman's words. Just then the gendarme who had driven him made a
sign to Corentin, who went to the door to speak to him.

"There is no horse in the stable," said the man.

"You sent your boy on horseback to the chateau, didn't you?" said
Corentin, returning to the kitchen. "Will he be back soon?"

"No, monsieur," said Michu, "he went on foot."

"What have you done with your horse, then?"

"I have lent him," said Michu, curtly.

"Come out here, my good fellow," said Corentin; "I've a word for your
ear."

Corentin and Michu left the house.

"The gun which you were loading yesterday at four o'clock you meant to

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