"Pass in," was his response.
He stepped aside. Dolores and Cornelia hastily entered, but Coursegol, who was to watch in the street, remained outside. The two women ascended to the fifth floor, and at last reached a door which was guarded as the one below had been. Cornelia gave the password and they entered. They traversed several rooms and finally found themselves in a spacious apartment dimly lighted by two candles. There were no windows, and the only means of lighting and ventilating the room was a sky-light; but this was now covered with heavy linen, undoubtedly for the purpose of concealing what was passing within from any spy who might be seized with a fancy for a promenade on the roof. At one end of the room, and separated from it by a thick curtain, was an alcove. There were about twenty people, mostly women, in the room. Every one stood silent and motionless, as if awaiting some mysterious event. When the clock struck eleven, a voice from behind the curtain said: "Close the doors."
The man on guard obeyed and came and took his place with the others, who with one accord fell upon their knees. At the same instant, the curtains parted, revealing the interior of the alcove in which stood a lighted altar surmounted by a cross of dark wood. At the foot of the altar stood an old white-haired priest, arrayed in sacerdotal robes, and assisted by two young men who acted as a choir. The service began. Dolores could not restrain her tears. After a few moments she became calmer and began to pray. She prayed fervently for Philip, for Antoinette, for all whom she loved and for herself. The ceremony was short. The priest addressed a brief exhortation to his audience. The time of pomp and of long sermons had gone by. At any moment they might be surprised, and the life of every one present would have been in danger had they been arrested in that modest room which had become for the nonce the only asylum of the proscribed Romish Church.
When the service was concluded, the curtains were again drawn and the worshippers withdrew, not without depositing in a box an offering for the venerable priest who had officiated. Just as Dolores and Cornelia were leaving the room, the brave old man passed them. He was arrayed in the garb of a worthy patriot, and was so effectually disguised that they would not have recognized him if he had not addressed them. As for the altar, it had disappeared as if by enchantment.
So, either in this house or in some other, Dolores regularly attended the offices of her church. Not a Sunday passed that Cornelia did not conduct her to some mysterious retreat, where a little band of brave-hearted Christians met to worship together. She was in this way made familiar with heroic deeds which gave her courage to brave the dangers that threatened every one in those trying days, and she was thus initiated into a sort of league, formed without previous intent, for the purpose of providing a means of escape for those who were in danger of becoming the victims of the dread and merciless Committee of Public Safety. It was in this way that she was led to accompany Cornelia one evening when the latter went to carry food to a nobleman whose life was in danger, and who was concealed in the neighborhood of the Invalides, and, on another occasion, to aid in the escape of an old man who had been condemned to die. The enthusiasm of Dolores was so great that she often exposed herself to danger imprudently and unnecessarily. She was proud and happy to assist the Bridouls in their efforts, and she conceived for them an admiration and an affection which inspired her with the desire to equal them in their noble work to which they had so bravely consecrated themselves.
But Coursegol, ignorant of most of the dangers to which Dolores exposed herself, or who knew of them only when it was too late to blame her for her temerity, had not lost sight of the motives which had induced him to accompany the girl on her expedition to Paris.
What they had aimed to do, as the reader doubtless recollects, was to find Philip de Chamondrin and Antoinette de Mirandol, who had both been missing since the death of the Marquis and the destruction of the chateau. Though Bridoul persisted in declaring that his former captain was not in Paris, Coursegol was not discouraged. For three months he pursued an unremitting search. He found several men who, like himself, had formed a part of M. de Chamondrin's company. He succeeded in effecting an entrance to the houses of some of the friends whom his master had visited during his sojourn in Paris. He frequented public places. He might have been seen, by turn, in the Jacobin Club, in the galleries of the Convention, at the Palais Egalite, in every place where he would be likely to find any trace of Philip; but nowhere could he discover the slightest clew to his whereabouts. Every evening on his return home, after a day of laborious search, he was obliged to admit his want of success to Dolores. She listened sadly, then shook her head and said:
"Bridoul is right. Philip and Antoinette have left the country; we shall never see them again. After all, it is, perhaps, for the best, since they are in safety."
But, even while she thus attempted to console herself, Dolores could not conceal the intense sorrow and disappointment that filled her heart, and which were caused, not so much by the absence of her friends as by the mystery that enshrouded their fate. If it be misery to be separated from those we love, how much greater is that misery when we know nothing concerning their fate, and do not even know whether they are dead or alive! Dolores loved Antoinette with all a sister's tenderness, and Philip, with a much deeper and far more absorbing passion, although she had voluntarily sacrificed her hopes and forced herself to see in him only a brother. She had paid for the satisfaction of knowing that he was happy and prosperous with all that made life desirable; and this uncertainty was hard to bear.
"Come, come, my child, do not weep," Coursegol would say at times like these. "We shall soon discover what has become of them."
"They are in England or in Germany," added Bridoul, "probably quite as much distressed about you as you are about them. You will see them again some day. Until then, have patience."
More than four months had passed when it was suddenly announced that the king, who had been a prisoner in the Temple for some time, was to be brought to trial. It was also rumored that a number of noblemen had eluded the vigilance of the authorities and had entered Paris resolved upon a desperate attempt to save him at the very last moment.
Coursegol's hope revived. He felt certain that Philip would not hesitate to hazard his life in such an enterprise if he were still alive; and it was in the hope of meeting him that he attended the trial of the unfortunate monarch, and that, on the twentieth day of January, he accompanied Bridoul to the very steps of the guillotine. The king was beheaded; no attempt was made to rescue him. Then Coursegol decided upon a step which he had been contemplating for some little time.
It will be remembered that Philip on his first arrival in Paris, had been attached to the household of the Duke de Penthieore, into which he had been introduced by the efforts of the Chevalier de Florian. The duke was the only member of the royal family who had remained in France unmolested. He owed this fortunate exemption of which the history of that epoch offers no similar example, to his many virtues and especially to his well known benevolence. Since the death of his daughter-in-law, the Princess de Lamballe, whom he had been unable to save from the hands of the executioners, he had lived with his daughter, the Duchess of Orleans at the Chateau de Bisy, in Vernon. He was living there, not as a proscribed man but as a prince, ill, broken-hearted at the death of his relatives, almost dying, surrounded by his friends and protected from the fury of the Revolutionists by the veneration of the inhabitants of Vernon, who had displayed their reverence by planting with great pomp, in front of the good duke's chateau, a tree of liberty crowned with this inscription: "A Tribute to Virtue;" and who evinced it still more strongly a little later by sending a deputation to his death-bed to implore him before his departure from earth, to bless the humble village in which his last days had been spent.
One morning, Coursegol, having obtained a passport through Bridoul, started for Vernon. This village is situated a few leagues from Paris on the road to Normandy. Coursegol, who in his double role of peasant and soldier was accustomed to walking, made the journey afoot, which enabled him to see with his own eyes the misery that was then prevailing in the provinces as well as in Paris. It was horrible. On every side he saw only barren and devastated fields, and ragged, starving villagers, trembling with fear. The revolution which had promised these poor wretches deliverance and comfort, had as yet brought them only misfortunes.
Coursegol reached Vernon that evening, spent the night at an inn, and the next morning at sunrise, repaired to the duke's chateau. That good old man had long been in the habit of receiving all who desired to speak with him, so it was easy for Coursegol to obtain an interview. He was ushered into a hall where several persons were already waiting, and through which the duke was obliged to pass on his way to attend morning services in the chapel.
At ten o'clock, the duke appeared. Coursegol, who had not seen him for several years, found him greatly changed. But the face surrounded by white floating locks had not lost the benign expression which had always characterized it; and he displayed the same simplicity of manner that had always endeared him to the poor and humble. When he entered the hall, the people who had been waiting for him, advanced to meet him. They were mostly noblemen who owed their lives to his influence, and who, thanks to him, were allowed to remain in France unmolested. He listened to them with an abstracted air, glancing to the right and left while they offered him their homage. Suddenly he perceived Coursegol who was standing at a little distance awaiting his turn. He stepped toward him and said:
"What do you desire, my friend?"
Coursegol bowed profoundly.
"Monseigneur," he replied, "I am the servant of the Marquis Philip de Chamondrin, who once had the honor to belong to your household."
"Chamondrin! I remember him perfectly; a brave young man for whom my poor Lamballe obtained a commission as captain of dragoons. I had news of him quite recently."
"News of him!" exclaimed Coursegol, joyfully. "Ah! Monseigneur, where is he? How is he?"
"Are you anxious to know?" inquired the duke.
"Your highness shall judge."
And Coursegol briefly recounted the events that had separated him from Philip, and told the duke how Dolores and himself had come to Paris in the hope of finding him. His recital must have been both eloquent and pathetic, for when it was concluded tears stood in the eyes of the listeners.
"Ah! What anxiety the young girl must have suffered!" exclaimed the prince; "but I can reassure her. Yes; I recently received a letter from the Marquis de Chamondrin. It shall be given to you and you shall carry it to his sister. She will be indebted to me for a few hours of happiness. My dear Miromesnil," added the duke, addressing an old man who was standing near, "will you look in my correspondence of the month of October for a letter bearing the signature of Chamondrin? When you find it, give it to this worthy man."
Coursegol began to stammer out his thanks, but, without heeding them, the duke came still nearer and said, in a low voice:
"Does Mademoiselle de Chamondrin require aid of any sort?"
"No, monseigneur," replied Coursegol.
"Do not forget that I am ready to come to her assistance whenever it is necessary; and assure her of my sincere sympathy."
Having uttered these words, the kind-hearted prince passed on, leaning upon the arm of a nobleman connected with his household. Coursegol, elated by the certainty that Philip was alive, could scarcely restrain his impatience; but he waited for the promised letter, which would prove to Dolores that those she loved were still on earth. In a few moments M. de Miromesnil returned. He held the precious letter in his hand and gave it to Coursegol, who hastily perused it. It was dated in London, and had been addressed to the duke soon after the death of Madame de Lamballe. It contained no allusion to Mademoiselle de Mirandol, and Philip said but little about himself; still was it not an unspeakable relief to him to feel that he was alive and to know in what country he was sojourning.
Eager to place this letter in the hands of Dolores, Coursegol started for home immediately; but, instead of returning as he came, he took passage in the diligence that plied between Rouen and Paris; and that same evening, after so many months of dreary waiting, he was able to relieve the anxiety that Dolores had felt regarding her brother's fate. The girl's joy was intense, and she devoutly thanked God who had revived her faith and hope just as she was beginning to despair. If Coursegol had listened to her, they would have started for London without delay, so eager was she to rejoin Philip and Antoinette whom she supposed married. But Coursegol convinced her of the absolute impossibility of this journey. They could reach the sea only by passing through the greatest dangers.
"Besides," added Coursegol, "what does this letter prove? That M. Philip is safe and well, of course; but it does not prove that he is still in London."
"Coursegol is right!" remarked Bridoul. "Before you think of starting, you must write to M. Philip."
"But can letters pass the frontier more easily than persons?" asked Dolores.
"Oh, I will take care of all that. If you wish to write, I know a gentleman who is going to England and who will take charge of your letter."
"Then I will write," said Dolores, with a sigh. "I would have preferred to go myself, but since that is impossible——"
She paused, resolved to wait in patience.
Coursegol breathed freely again. He feared she would persist in her determination to go, and that he would be obliged to tell her that their resources were nearly exhausted and would not suffice to meet the costs of such a long and difficult journey, every step of which would demand a lavish expenditure of money.
Since the destruction of Chamondrin, Dolores had been entirely dependent upon Coursegol's bounty. The latter had possessed quite a snug little fortune, inherited from his parents; but a sojourn of fifteen months at Beaucaire and more than a year's income expended on the journey to Paris had made great inroads in his little capital. Fortunately, on arriving in Paris, the generous hospitality of the Bridouls had spared him the necessity of drawing upon the remnant of his fortune. This amounted now to about twelve hundred francs. Still, he felt that he could not remain much longer under the roof of these worthy people without trespassing upon their kindness and generosity, for they firmly refused to accept any remuneration; and Coursegol was anxiously wondering how he could support Dolores when this money was exhausted. He confided his anxiety to Bridoul; but the latter, instead of sharing it, showed him that such a sum was equivalent to a fortune in times like those.
"Twelve hundred francs!" said he. "Why that is more than enough for the establishment of a lucrative business or for speculation in assignats which, with prudence, would yield you a fortune."
It was good advice. Gold and silver were becoming scarce; and assignats were subject to daily fluctuations that afforded one an excellent opportunity to realize handsome profits, if one had a little money on hand and knew how to employ it to advantage.
CITIZEN JEAN VAUQUELAS.
In April, 1793, about eight months after his arrival in Paris, Coursegol went one evening to the Palais Egalite. The establishment, which had formerly been known as the Palais Royal, had at that epoch a splendor and an importance of which its present appearance gives but a faint conception. One should read in the journals of those days the description of the galleries ever filled with an eager, bustling throng attracted by the excitement and the unwholesome amusements always to be found there. Mercier, in sharp, almost indignant language, gives us a vivid picture of the famous resort. Gambling-dens, dance-halls, shops devoted to the sale of the most reckless and infamous productions, restaurants and wine-shops were to be seen on every side. The spirit of speculation and gambling raged with inconceivable violence. Vice sat enthroned there, and when evening came the immense establishment was densely crowded by a throng of people thirsting for pleasure, and circling round and round in the brilliantly-lighted galleries to the sound of the violins that mounted to the ears of the promenaders from the dance-halls in the basement below.
Coursegol frequently visited the Palais Egalite. At the instance of Bridoul he had speculated a little in assignats which were constantly fluctuating in value. It was the only negotiation in which Coursegol would consent to embark. He might have trafficked in the estates of the Emigres which the Republic was selling at a merely nominal price; but he had no desire to become the owner of what he considered stolen property. After a few evenings spent in the Palais Egalite, Coursegol became acquainted with most of the brokers who transacted business there. They were stout, well-fed, jovial men, whose self-satisfied and flourishing appearance seemed a stinging irony hurled in the face of the poor wretches who were perishing of hunger in the Faubourgs of Paris. They could be seen rushing about the garden and through the galleries, giving orders to their subordinates whose duty it was to find new clients, and to allure unsophisticated provincials, that they might rob them of their money to cast it into the gulf in which the fortunes of so many had been swallowed up.
These unprincipled persons resorted to the basest means to dupe those who trusted them. They called wine and reckless women to their aid, and thus disarmed the unsuspecting men who came to the money market with the hope of doubling their capital. In the Palais Egalite, conspiracies were formed not only against the Republic but against the fortunes, the place, and even the lives of its citizens. Still even the dread Committee of Public Safety were powerless to discover the formidable enemies that concealed themselves there. That Coursegol was not irretrievably lost the instant he crossed the threshold of this mysterious and dangerous cavern was due entirely to Bridoul, who had volunteered to act as his guide and protector. Bridoul possessed a very considerable amount of influence. He presented his comrade to some of the fortunate speculators, and recommended him to them to such purpose that several of them took Coursegol under their protection. Quick-witted, endowed with remarkable energy and tact, and inspired by an ardent desire to acquire wealth for the sake of Dolores, he rendered them important services on more than one occasion by lending his obscure and modest name to conceal operations in which a well-known personage could not have embarked without peril.
Coursegol was only a peasant; but he had served in the army a long time, and contact with others had sharpened his wits, while the excellent judgment of his old master, the Marquis de Chamondrin, had not failed to exert a most beneficial effect upon his intellectual development. Hence, though it was not without hesitation that he entered upon a career so entirely new to him, he at least brought with him not only honesty, prudence and tact, but a coolness which could not but contribute notably to his success in those perturbed times.
On the evening to which we have alluded he went to the Palais Egalite as usual. It was after nightfall, and the restaurants were filled to overflowing with crowds of excited people glad to forget in the distractions of play, of speculation and of good cheer the woes of the country and their own degradation. Some were eagerly buying tickets that would entitle them to seats in the Theatre de la Republique, only a hundred paces distant; others were buying the daily papers. Some were promenading with that careless gayety that never deserts the French even in their darkest days, while they insolently eyed the shameless women, who, with bold gaze and naked shoulders, stood there endeavoring to attract the attention of the passers-by. Others rushed to the gambling saloons, already dreaming of the stroke of good fortune that would enlarge the rolls of assignats with which their pockets were filled.
Some promenaders approached each other with mysterious proposals, and afterwards repaired to the garden where they could converse undisturbed. It was there that many confidential interviews were held, it was there that the most diverse hopes had birth; it was there that the Royalists, the friends and the relatives of the Emigres or of suspected persons incarcerated in prison plotted for the return of the Bourbons or for the deliverance of the poor wretches whose lives hung upon a thread. There, too, the spies in the employ of the Committee of Public Safety, or of the Commune, flitted about, trying to discover any secret that might be hostile to the Republic. Sometimes gloomy visaged men or women with pale and anxious looks were seen hurrying through the crowd; some man who had been vainly seeking bread for his children; some woman whose husband was in the Luxembourg or in the Abbaye prisons, awaiting the dread fiat of the Revolutionary Tribunal.
These livid and despairing faces were the only blemishes upon the exuberant gayety that prevailed; but no one saw them and the poor wretches disappeared without exciting either anger or pity.
The eyes of Coursegol were accustomed to this spectacle, so he walked coolly through the galleries heedless of the tumult around him and paused only when he met a group of acquaintances who were discussing the news of the day. Suddenly some one tapped him on the shoulder. He turned.
"Is that you, Citizen Vauquelas?"
"I wish to speak to you, Coursegol."
At the same time the man who had just interrupted Coursegol's promenade took him by the arm and led him toward the garden. He was clad in black and enveloped in a large cloak that would have made him look like a priest had it not been for the high hat, ornamented with the national cockade, which proved him a patriot of the middle class. His thin, emaciated face, deeply furrowed with wrinkles indicated that he had long since passed his sixtieth birthday; but there was nothing else in his appearance that betokened old age. His form was so erect, his eye so clear, his step so firm, that one, not seeing his face, would have thought him still in the prime of life.
On entering the garden, Vauquelas glanced around, but, seeing no place which he deemed sufficiently retired, he seemed to change his plan.
"I fear that these trees have ears," said he, "and what I wish to say to you must not be overheard."
And without saying more, he led the way to the Cafe Corazza. They entered it. The saloon was filled with people, eating and drinking while they read the papers or indulged in heated political discussions. One man had mounted a table and was delivering a long discourse. He was endeavoring to convince his listeners that France was being betrayed by the secret agents sent to Paris by the Emigres. His was no new theme; buy the orator displayed so much energy that his audience was polite enough to seem pleased with his efforts. Vauquelas, who appeared to be perfectly at home, crossed the room to whisper a word in the ear of the man who was standing at the cashier's desk. This man, who proved to be the proprietor of the establishment, at once conducted Vauquelas to a private room. Coursegol followed, and, the proprietor having taken his departure, the two men found themselves alone.
"I have been contemplating the proposition I am about to make you for several months," Vauquelas then began. "The very first time I saw you, I made up my mind that you were the man to aid me in the projects I had long since formed, but which had not been carried into execution for want of an assistant in whom I could implicitly confide. But before I trusted you with my plans, I wished to know you; so I have studied you closely while you were unconscious of my scrutiny. I have admired the prudence you have displayed in all your business transactions. You suit me; and if you see fit to accede to the proposition I am about to offer for your consideration, our fortunes are made."
"I am listening, Citizen Vauquelas," replied Coursegol, "but I may as well tell you that it will be useless to confide your plans to me if they are not perfectly honest."
"You shall judge," rejoined Vauquelas, not appearing in the least wounded by Coursegol's remark. "Last month the Republic passed a decree against the Emigres, ordering the confiscation of their property for the benefit of the nation. This measure has been carried into execution, and the government is now the possessor of a large amount of such property. These lands will be sold at public auction, and will fall into all sorts of hands. They will be divided and parceled out, and the rightful owners when they return to France will have no power to take possession of the property that once belonged to them. Very well—now I have wondered if the purchase of a portion of this property would not be both profitable and a praiseworthy action."
"And why?" inquired Coursegol, who had been listening attentively.
"The reason is plain," replied Vauquelas. "Will it not be for the interest of the exiled owners that their estates should be bought on the most favorable possible terms, and properly cared for. The brigands who are now in power will fall some day; and then the Emigres will return. Will they not be glad to find their property in good and careful hands, and to be able to regain possession of it by paying the trifling sum which the government received for it?"
Coursegol did not reply at once, he was reflecting.
"The transactions would be honest enough," he said at last; "but if you purchase the lands of the government to-day and sell them later to their owners at the same price you paid for them, where would your profit come in?"
"I would pay for them in assignats; their owners would pay me in gold."
Vauquelas uttered these last words with an air of triumph; then, as if fearing Coursegol's objections, he made haste to develop his scheme.
"The assignats have already undergone a very considerable depreciation. With fifty thousand francs in gold one can, to-day, purchase at least two hundred thousand francs in assignats; and the depreciation will become much greater. There is a piece of property in the Faubourg Saint-Germain which will be ostensibly sold for two millions by the Republic, but which will really cost the purchaser only two hundred thousand francs; and, by and by, the owner will have no difficulty in disposing of it again for the ostensible price he paid for it, and it will be only natural and right that he should demand gold in payment."
"And in what way could I be of service to you?" Coursegol timidly inquired.
"By lending me your name. We will buy sometimes in your name, sometimes in mine, so we shall not arouse suspicion."
"But where shall we find the money?"
Vauquelas arose and, without the slightest hesitation, replied:
"Since I have begun to give you my confidence, I will hide nothing. Come with me."
Vauquelas, as we have said before, had arrived at the trying age of three-score and ten, which, for the majority of men, is the age of decrepitude, that sinister forerunner of death; but time had neither bowed his head nor enfeebled his intellect. The clearness of his mind and the vigor of his limbs indicated that he was likely to be one of those centenarians who carry their years so lightly that they make us think with regret of that golden age in which the gods could confer immortality upon man. His eye still flashed with all the ardor of youth; and in his breast glowed a fire which age was powerless to quench. Vauquelas had formerly been a magistrate in Arras. A widower, without a child for whose fate he was compelled to tremble, he had seen the approach of the Revolution and the Reign of Terror without the slightest dismay; and the tenth of August found him in Paris, drawn there by the desire to increase his by no means contemptible fortune, and to win the favor of those who were then in power.
He had taken up his abode in a modest mansion at the extremity of the Faubourg du Roule. The house stood in the centre of a garden, which was protected from the gaze of the curious by high walls that surrounded it on every side. Served by an old woman whom he had brought from Arras, he apparently lived the life of a recluse who desires to remain a stranger to the changes and emotions of the moment, and to end his days in peace and quietness. He received no visitors; and the people in the neighborhood thought him a poor man who had lost his family and squandered his money in unfortunate speculations. He never left the house until evening and always returned very late at night. A sans-culotte, who lived near by and whose suspicions had been aroused, followed him one evening. He fancied him a conspirator, he saw him enter the Palais Egalite, speak to several persons who seemed to listen to him with extreme deference, and afterwards repair to the house of one of the most influential members of the Committee of Public Safety, where he remained until two o'clock in the morning, and then returned home. The self-constituted spy concluded that he had to deal with one of the Committee's secret agents; and he was inspired with such wholesome awe that he decided to push his investigations no further.
In reality, Vauquelas was nothing more nor less than a man tormented by an unappeasable thirst for wealth. He had only one passion: a passion for gold. It was this that urged him—in spite of a fortune that would have satisfied his modest wants ten times over—into all kinds of financial ventures. It was this that had suggested to him the idea of ingratiating himself with the men who were in power, and thus gain their friendship, their influences and protection. In all the acts of the government, in the great events that succeeded one another day after day, he saw only an opportunity for speculation. Whether peace or war prevailed; whether the people obeyed the Commune or Convention; whether they worshipped the Supreme Being or the Goddess of Reason; whether the men condemned to death were innocent or guilty mattered little to him. These things interested him only by the effect they might produce on the money-market. So he had allied himself in turn with the Girondists and with the Jacobins. He had loaned money to Mirabeau; he had speculated with Barras and with Tallien, always placing himself at the service of those who held the power or seemed likely to hold it in the future.
Such was the man whose confidence Coursegol had won by his honesty and sagacity. He appeared in the pathway of Vauquelas just as the latter had arrived at the conclusion that further speculation in assignats would be extremely hazardous, and just as he was looking about him for some reliable man who would join him in enterprises of a different and much safer nature. In those perilous times it was hard to find a person in whom one could implicitly confide. Denunciation, that fatal weapon that lay within the reach of every hand, was frequently made the instrument of personal vengeance. No one was beyond its reach; and Vauquelas was not disposed to reveal his plans to a man who would be likely to betray them or him.
It was about eight o'clock when the two men left the Cafe and the Palais Egalite, and entered one of the cabriolets that stood before the theatre, a few steps below.
In about twenty minutes, the carriage stopped not far from the Folies-Bergeres. When the driver had been paid and dismissed, Vauquelas and Coursegol traversed the unoccupied ground that lay between the Rue du Roule and the Champs-Elysees. The place was dark and deserted. A few houses, surrounded by gardens, skirted the street. Superb residences have since been erected there and Boulevards have been opened; but at the time of which we write this Faubourg resembled a street in a quiet country village. It was here that Vauquelas lived. As the two men were approaching the house by a path shaded with lindens, pruned into the same uniformity as those at Versailles, an enormous dog sprang out upon them, barking ferociously. With a word, Vauquelas quieted him; then, turning to Coursegol, he said, smiling:
"This is the guardian of my dwelling. If need be, he can hold a band of robbers at bay."
They reached the house and were admitted by the old servant, who conducted them to the drawing-room.
"Give me a lantern and then go to bed, my good woman," said Vauquelas.
She disappeared, but soon returned, bearing in one hand a double candlestick which she placed upon a table, and in the other the lantern for which her master had called.
"Follow me," said Coursegol's host.
Coursegol obeyed. They left the drawing-room, passed through several small and shabbily furnished apartments, and at last entered a small passage. Vauquelas opened a door and Coursegol saw a narrow stairway winding down into the cellar.
"This is my wine-cellar and it is well stocked," said Vauquelas, with a smile.
He spoke only the simple truth. Countless casks ranged along the wall and long shelves filled with dusty bottles attracted Coursegol's attention; but he could scarcely understand why Vauquelas had brought him there if he had nothing else to show him. Suddenly the latter exclaimed:
"You asked me just now if I had money enough for the enterprise I proposed to you. You shall judge for yourself, for I am going to reveal my secret."
As he spoke he seized a spade that stood near by, removed a few shovels full of earth and disclosed a large white stone slab, in the centre of which was an iron ring which enabled him to lift it.
"Look!" said he.
Coursegol bent over the opening and looked in. He saw a large iron box buried in the earth and filled with sacks of gold. The bright metal gleamed through the meshes of the coarse bags, dazzling the eye of the beholder with its golden glory. Vauquelas seemed to enjoy Coursegol's surprise; but it was in vain that he tried to discover the slightest vestige of envy or avarice in the face of his visitor. Coursegol was astonished, and perhaps dazzled by the sight of so much wealth, but no evil thought entered his mind. Vauquelas breathed more freely. He had just subjected the man upon whom he had bestowed his confidence to a decisive test, and he had emerged from it victorious.
"There are two millions here," he remarked.
"Two millions! Do they belong to you?"
"They belong to me."
"And you are not satisfied! You wish to acquire more!"
"Oh! it is a question of health to me. If I stopped work I should soon die; and I wish to live—life is good!"
There was a moment's silence, and Vauquelas looked tenderly at his treasure.
"Moreover, as I have told you, we shall not only make money, but perform a most commendable action," he remarked after a little. "We will purchase some of those fine houses on the Faubourg Saint-Germain, which have been confiscated by the government in their masters' absence. We will take good care of them. In some hands, they would soon fall to ruin; but in ours they will increase in value, and when their former owners return, they will find their homes in the same condition as when they left them. They will buy them from us, and they will be ever grateful to us. Come, my boy, make up your mind. Will you become my partner in this enterprise?"
"I accept your offer," replied Coursegol. He saw his fortune assured in a few years, and Dolores forever out of the reach of want.
"Do you know how to write?" Vauquelas inquired.
"Not very well."
"That is bad. We must keep an account of our business operations; it will not do to take any one else into our confidence, and I cannot do the work myself. My eyesight is not very good."
"I will do my best," replied Coursegol, mentally cursing his ignorance.
Suddenly another plan flashed through his brain.
"Ah! now I have it," he exclaimed, eagerly. "This work that you cannot do and that I should do so badly can be entrusted to my daughter."
"Your daughter! You have a daughter! You have never told me that you were a married man."
Coursegol was silent for a moment; he seemed to hesitate.
"I will return confidence for confidence," he said finally.
Then he related the history of Dolores, and his own. When it was ended, Vauquelas rubbed his hands joyfully.
"She will not betray us," said he. "Ah well! Everything is for the best."
He covered the box in which his gold was concealed with earth, and then the two men returned to the drawing-room. They remained in earnest conversation for some time, Vauquelas disclosing his plans for the future, the other listening and proffering occasional but judicious suggestions. It was after midnight when they separated.
Coursegol walked home. Twice he was stopped by the patrols, but, thanks to the credentials he carried with him, he was allowed to pursue his way unmolested. A week later, Dolores and Coursegol left Bridoul's house to take up their abode in that of Vauquelas. The parting was a sad one. Cornelia Bridoul loved Dolores as fondly as the latter loved her; still they would have frequent opportunities to see each other, and this thought greatly alleviated their sorrow.
AN EPISODE OF THE EMIGRATION.
On the first Sunday in the month of September, 1793, about ten o'clock in the morning, a young girl clad in mourning emerged from the doorway of a pretty cottage in the suburbs of London. She slowly descended the broad and handsome steps that led up to the dwelling, passed through the garden, and having opened the gate, gazed anxiously in the direction of the city.
She was a brunette, rather fragile in appearance, and petite in stature; and though she was not really beautiful, hers was a sympathetic and altogether charming face. The air of elegance that characterized her person and her attire, the whiteness of her hands, and her delicate and refined features, all indicated that she was a person of gentle birth. She did not appear to be more than twenty years of age. By the anxiety with which her large blue eyes scanned the horizon, it was easy to divine that she was expecting some loved one; but it was also evident that he did not come quickly enough to suit her desires, for she seemed restless and impatient.
"What if he should not come?" she murmured. As if these words had been heard, a voice responded:
"Do not be impatient, dear Antoinette. M. Philip said he would be here to-day, but did not mention the hour; and the day has scarcely begun. You will see him, never fear."
The lady who had just spoken had used the English language. She was a kind, motherly looking person, past middle age. Understanding the young girl's anxiety, she had joined her with the desire to appease it. Antoinette replied, not without some bitterness:
"I am quite sure that we shall see him, dear Mrs. Reed; but have I not a right to be impatient? Has it not been three weeks since he was here?"
"You do not know what important interests may have detained him in London."
Antoinette shook her head; then, after casting another glance at the deserted road, she sadly returned to the house. Mrs. Reed followed her, trying to divert her mind and make her forget the sorrow and anxiety caused by Philip's long absence. The two ladies entered a small, but prettily furnished parlor and seated themselves at a round table, upon which a servant had just deposited a smoking tea-urn, some empty cups and some bread and butter. Just then, a very stout man entered the room. It was Mr. Reed, the master of the house. He strongly resembled his wife; there was the same age, the same corpulence, the same kind and benevolent expression of countenance.
"Ah, well! mademoiselle," he remarked to the young girl, pouring out a cup of tea, "this is a fete day, is it not? You are expecting Monsieur Philip?"
Antoinette made no response. Mrs. Reed answered for her.
"Mademoiselle Antoinette is afraid her cousin will not keep his word."
"She is wrong then," quietly remarked Mr. Reed, who was now standing by the window, sipping his tea, "she is wrong, for here he is!"
Antoinette sprang up, uttering a cry of joy. She was about to rush out to meet Philip, but the latter did not give her time. He entered almost immediately, and Antoinette flew to his arms. All her doubts, all her griefs were forgotten! Ah! If the hour of separation is cruel when it sounds in the ears of those who love, how sweet is the hour that reunites them! Antoinette clung rapturously to Philip's breast, and Mr. and Mrs. Reed, wishing to allow the young people to enjoy each other's society undisturbed, left the room; but before he went, Mr. Reed said to Philip:
"You will spend the day and dine with us, will you not?"
"Ah! how gladly would I do so! But I shall be obliged to leave in an hour!"
Mr. Reed stood motionless for a moment, actually stupefied with astonishment.
"What! you are going to leave me so soon?" cried Antoinette, despairingly.
"I will explain my reasons," replied Philip.
Mr. Reed bowed and followed his wife, who had just disappeared.
Two years had passed since Philip fled with Antoinette from the burning chateau and from the bedside of his dying father. On quitting the scene of the catastrophe that destroyed the home of his childhood, Philip accompanied by Mlle. de Mirandol repaired to Valence. There, a friend of the Chamondrin family furnished them with the means to pursue their journey to England, which country they gained after many perils and vicissitudes.
London served as a refuge for many of the Emigres, but Philip had chosen the capital of Great Britain as a retreat for Antoinette, principally because he knew that a portion of Mlle. de Mirandol's fortune was in the hands of a banker in that city, and because it would be easy there to obtain news from Louisiana, where the heiress of M. de Mirandol still owned considerable property.
After their perilous journey was concluded and they were safely established in England, the agitation caused by the great disaster which had deprived them of so much that they loved was succeeded by a relative calm which gave them an opportunity to look their situation in the face. They both found it exceedingly embarrassing. Antoinette remembered only that she loved Philip, and that, in obedience to the request of his dying father, he had solemnly promised to marry her. She was simply waiting for him to fulfil this promise, and already regarded herself as his wife.
As for Philip, he inwardly cursed this promise. His thoughts were constantly occupied with Dolores; he said to himself that since the convents had been broken up, she must be free if she were still alive; and he would not believe that she was dead. He was certain that she was still alive, that Coursegol had remained with her to protect her, and that the day of their meeting was near at hand. These thoughts made his heart rebel against the yoke he had striven to impose upon it; for no matter what attempts may be made to destroy it, hope will not die in a heart that loves sincerely. It resists time and the sternest ordeals. Death alone can, not destroy it, but transform it, by associating realization with the delights of a future life which shall know no blight or decay.
Still, Philip dare not speak frankly to Mlle. de Mirandol. He loved her with true brotherly affection; and his courage failed him when he thought of the misery his confession would cause this loving and artless girl. Moreover, the promise he had made to his father was ever on his mind, arousing constant sorrow and remorse. He resolved, therefore, to gain time, if possible. With this aim in view, he had a long conversation with Antoinette a few days after their arrival in London. Without referring to the engagement which he had a just right to consider irrevocable, he requested that its accomplishment should be deferred until his period of mourning had expired. He pleaded the tragic death of his father and the uncertainty that still enshrouded the fate of Dolores and of Coursegol as reasons for delay; and Antoinette consented. He then gave her to understand that, as they were not married, it was not proper for them to remain under the same roof, and told her that he had found a pleasant home for her with some worthy people who resided in the environs of London and who, as they had no children of their own, would be glad to have a young girl with them as a boarder. Antoinette consented to this arrangement also; and this explains her installation in the Reed household. Mr. Reed was formerly a merchant, but had retired from business to spend his last years in quiet and comfort. The situation of the French Emigres had aroused the sympathy of the kind-hearted man and his wife, so Philip's proposition was gladly accepted, and they petted and spoiled the young girl entrusted to their charge as if she had been their own daughter.
Philip remained in London; but once a week he came to spend a day with Antoinette; and the hours that Mlle. de Mirandol thought so delightful flew by all too swiftly for her. They never spoke of the future. Philip carefully avoided any allusion to that subject; but they talked of the past and of Dolores whose fate was still veiled in mystery.
Sometimes, accompanied by Mrs. Reed, Antoinette visited the poor Emigres who had taken refuge in London, and relieved their necessities. She also requested Philip, who had charge of her property, never to refuse aid to any of her countrymen or countrywomen who asked it of him; and in the benefits she quietly conferred upon the needy around her she found some consolation for her own sorrow and anxiety. As for Philip, he had plunged into the active and feverish life led by most of the Emigres, as if he desired to drown his own doubts and regrets in bustle and excitement.
London was then the rendezvous of a great proportion of those who had fled from the Reign of Terror. Princes, noblemen, prelates and ladies of rank, who were striving to console themselves for the hardships of exile by bright dreams of the future, had assembled there. They plotted against the Republic; they planned descents upon France, attacks upon Paris, movements in La Vendee, and the assassination of Robespierre and his friends; but all these schemes were rendered fruitless by the spirit of rivalry and of intrigue that prevailed. They were all united upon the result to be attained, but divided as to the means of attaining it. In this great party there were a thousand factions. They quarreled at a word; they slandered one another; they patched up flimsy reconciliations. French society had taken with it into exile all its faults, vanities, frivolities and ignorance. Philip de Chamondrin did not forsake this circle, though he inwardly chafed at the weakness of purpose that was exhibited on every side; but here he could live in a constant fever of excitement and could forget his personal griefs and anxieties. This was not the case with Antoinette, however, and if Philip had hoped that by living apart from him and seeing him only at rare intervals she would soon cease to love him, he was mistaken. Antoinette's heart did not change. She waited, and had it not been for the events that hastened the solution of the difficulty, she would have waited always; and though she suffered deeply, she concealed her grief so carefully that even the friends with whom she lived and who loved her as tenderly as if she had been their daughter were deceived. All Philip's attempts to destroy her love for him proved fruitless. Her heart once given was given irrevocably. Nor did she possess that experience which would have enabled her to see that she was not beloved. She attributed Philip's coldness to the successive misfortunes that had befallen him; and she was waiting for time to assuage his sorrow and awaken feelings responsive to her own.
Under these circumstances one can easily understand why she had awaited Philip's coming with such feverish impatience. Three weeks had passed since she had seen him; and all Mrs. Reed's caresses and well-meant attempts at consolation had failed to overcome her chagrin. Philip had come at last! She had sprung forward to meet him without making any effort to conceal the joy awakened by the prospect of a day spent with him, and she had hardly done this when the young man announced that he must leave in an hour.
"Will you explain the cause of this hasty departure?" she said, as soon as they were alone.
Her voice trembled and her lovely eyes were dim with tears.
"I am leaving you, Antoinette, to go where duty calls me," replied Philip, gravely.
"Duty? What duty?"
"The queen is still imprisoned in the Temple. It is said that she will soon be sentenced to death. I have formed the project of wresting her from the hands of her enemies, of rescuing her from their sanguinary fury."
"Alone?" cried Antoinette, overcome with terror at the thought of the dangers Philip would incur.
"Six of us have resolved to save her or die! We go together. A vessel is to convey us to the coast of Brittany. From there we shall make our way to Paris as best we can."
"But what can you do, you, so few in number?"
"God will be with us," replied Philip. "Besides, we shall find friends in Paris who will gladly join our little band."
On hearing these words which proved that Philip's determination was immovable, Antoinette could not control her emotion. She sank into an arm chair, covered her pale face with her trembling hands and burst into tears.
"Do not weep so bitterly, my dear Antoinette," said Philip, touched by her despair and kneeling beside her.
"Why did you not consult me before engaging in this mad and perilous undertaking?" she said, at last. "You are leaving me, abandoning me without even asking what my fate will be when I no longer have you to protect me; without thinking how I shall suffer in your absence, and forgetting that if you should be killed I too should die!"
Philip, deeply moved, took her hands and said, gently:
"Be comforted; I shall not die; you will see me again soon. Do you not feel that I should be dishonored if I shrank from the task that is before me? Could you respect a man who might be justly accused of cowardice and of failure to perform his duty. The queen was formerly my benefactress; how can I stand here to-day, and make no effort to rescue her from death?"
"But if you should die!"
This cry betrayed Antoinette's love in all its passionate intensity, and it found an echo in Philip's heart.
"I shall not be killed," said he, trying to make Mlle. de Mirandol share the conviction that animated his own mind; then, seeing her so sad and heart-broken at his departure, he added, with mingled remorse and tenderness:
"When I return, the fulfilment of the promise I made you shall be no longer delayed."
He had not referred to this subject before for a long time, and these few words carried unspeakable comfort to Antoinette's heart.
"I have no right to detain you," said she. "Go! May you succeed and soon return. I shall pray for you."
They conversed some time longer. Philip, who had until then, taken charge of Antoinette's business interests, told her that he had decided to entrust them until his return to Mr. Reed. He knew her protector to be an honest man in whom she could place perfect confidence; still, he felt that it was not only proper, but necessary, to acquaint the girl with the extent of her resources and the condition of her affairs. After he had done this, he asked to see Mr. and Mrs. Reed. He recommended Mlle. de Mirandol to their care, and for the first time revealed the fact that she was his betrothed. So at the moment of separation, he forced himself to render the pang of parting less bitter to her. The hope of approaching happiness did much to assuage Antoinette's grief, and Philip was scarcely gone before she began to forget the past in dreams of the future.
The six weeks that followed Philip's departure were weeks of constant anxiety and alarm. Antoinette could not close her eyes to the perils that threatened Philip on every side. The reports that reached London in regard to the condition of affairs in Paris were not calculated to reassure her. She heard of the active surveillance exercised by the Committee of Public Safety, and of the terrible punishment inflicted upon those who were guilty of no crime save that of being regarded with suspicion. She was in constant fear lest some misfortune had happened to Philip. Every night and every morning she prayed for him. He was ever in her thoughts; and she was continually trying to divine where he was and what he was doing. Every day she looked eagerly for a letter which would relieve her anxiety, but in vain. No news came, and she was forced to be content with such rumors as Mr. Reed could collect for her in the city.
On the twenty-second of October that good man did not return until unusually late in the evening. Antoinette was awaiting him, her heart oppressed by the gloomiest forebodings. When he entered the room she saw that he was greatly agitated.
"You have heard bad news!" she exclaimed, wildly.
Mr. Reed did not attempt to deny it. He told Antoinette that the unfortunate queen of France had been put to death on the sixteenth, just six days before.
"They have killed her!" exclaimed the horrified girl.
She shuddered to think of Philip's probable fate. Since the queen was dead, the conspiracy which Philip had organized must have failed; and if it had failed, the conspirators had undoubtedly been discovered and arrested! This thought brought a deathlike pallor to her cheeks. Her friends saw her totter; they sprang forward to support her and she sank into their arms wild with anguish and despair.
"Tell me all!" she entreated.
"Alas! I know so little," responded kind-hearted Mr. Reed. "The queen was sentenced on the sixteenth and beheaded the same day. Several persons are now in prison, charged with a conspiracy to rescue her and place her son upon the throne. I could learn nothing further."
"That is enough!" she cried. "Philip is in prison!"
She was silent a moment; then suddenly she said, in a firm voice:
"I must start at once."
The husband and wife uttered an exclamation of dismay.
"Start, and why?" demanded Mr. Reed.
"To join Philip."
"But it is walking straight into the jaws of death!" said Mrs. Reed.
Antoinette only repeated even more firmly than before:
"I must go at once!"
Then she broke into a passion of sobbing. Mrs. Reed took her in her arms, dried her tears, and tried to reassure her, lavishing every endearment upon the unhappy girl.
"My dear child," said she, "your lover confided you to our care; we cannot let you go. Besides, how do you know that your betrothed has not escaped the dangers you fear for him? He is young, strong and clever. Perhaps at this very moment he is on his way back to you."
Antoinette made no reply; but she shook her head despondently, as if to give Mrs. Reed to understand that she had no hope. Still, she did not rebel against her guardian's decision. Mrs. Reed conducted her to her chamber, persuaded her to undress, and did not leave her until the girl had fallen asleep. But her slumber was of short duration. It was scarcely midnight when Antoinette awoke with a start from a frightful dream. Philip had appeared to her, his hands bound behind his back, his neck bare, his hair cut short. He was clad in the lugubrious garb of the condemned, and he called her name in a voice wild with entreaty.
"Oh! I will go—I will go to save him or to die with him!"
This cry was upon her lips when she woke. She sprang up, hastily dressed herself, took the little money that chanced to be in her possession, and some or her jewels, and when the first gleam of daylight illumined the sky, animated by a saint-like courage, she furtively left the roof that had sheltered her for three long years. When Mrs. Reed entered the young girl's room a few hours later, she found only a letter apprising her of Antoinette's fixed determination to go to the rescue of her lover, and thanking her most gratefully for her care and love. Mr. Reed hastened to London, hoping to overtake the fugitive. Vain attempt! His search was fruitless. Antoinette had disappeared.
THE MOVING CURTAIN.
Several months had passed since Dolores and Coursegol had taken up their abode in the house of Citizen Vauquelas. Coursegol, engrossed in the business matters which he had undertaken in concert with Vauquelas, went out every day, frequenting the Clubs, the Convention and the Palais Egalite. Dolores, on the contrary, seldom left the refuge that chance had provided for her. If she sometimes ventured into the heart of the city, it was only to visit Cornelia Bridoul or to accompany her to a stealthily said mass, solemnized in an obscure chamber by some courageous priest who dared for conscience's sake to bid defiance to the Committee of Public Safety, and who would have paid the penalty of disobedience with his blood, had he been discovered.
The life of Dolores was extremely lonely and sad. Deprived of companions of her own age, and oppressed with anxiety concerning the fate of those who were so dear to her, she grew pale and wan like a plant deprived of sunlight; the old joyous, sonorous ring was gone from her voice and from her laugh. She had suffered so much during the past three years that she no longer cherished any hope of happiness in the future; and, instead of the bright dreams that are wont to gladden the slumber of young girls, sad memories of the past haunted her restless nights. Those whom she had loved and lost appeared before her as in a vision—the Marquise de Chamondrin, who had lavished upon her all a mother's care and tenderness; the Marquis, whose affection had filled her early years with joy; Philip and Antoinette, the brother and sister of her adoption—these appeared and vanished without awaking in her sorrowing heart any emotion save that of the profound anguish of separation. Look which way she would for comfort, she could find none; and she was condemned to bear her heavy burden alone. Those days of universal distrust were not propitious for the birth and development of new friendships; nor were Vauquelas and Coursegol such companions as Dolores needed to cheer and encourage her. During the few short hours that Coursegol spent at home, he was always absorbed in his calculations; and as for Vauquelas, though he treated her with rather cold respect, it was difficult to ascertain his real feelings toward her, for his furrowed face betrayed none of his impressions; and Dolores instinctively felt that she could not look to him for the consolation of which she stood so greatly in need. Her mornings were spent over the account-books, which had been entrusted to her charge; at noon, she partook of a solitary repast, and it was only at dinner that she saw Coursegol and her host.
One stormy evening in October, she was sitting in her chamber, a room upon the first-floor, opening into the garden by a glass door over which hung a heavy curtain. It was about nine o'clock. Vauquelas and Coursegol had gone out; the servants had retired, and Dolores was quite alone. Seated in a low chair before the fire, she was busying herself with her embroidery; but it was easy to see that her thoughts were not upon her work. She was brooding over the past and wondering in what quarter of the globe she might hope to find her lost friends.
"What are they doing?" she wondered. "Are they thinking of me? Are they happy?"
And as these questions suggested many others, she sank into a profound reverie.
Suddenly the wind gave a loud shriek without, and the branches of the trees in the garden creaked and groaned as the tempest buffeted them and tossed them to and fro. Dolores shivered, partly from fear, partly from nervousness. As she did so, another gust, more furious than the first, filled the air with its weird voices. It sounded like the roar of the angry sea. A cloud of dust entered through the glass door which was partially concealed by the heavy curtain. The light flickered, and the smoke poured out into the room from the fire-place. At the same time Dolores heard, or fancied she heard, a sound like that made by the closing of a door.
"They have forgotten to shut that door," thought Dolores; and she rose to repair the omission, but suddenly paused, astonished and almost frightened. She saw the curtain move, not as if in obedience to the wind, but as if an invisible hand had shaken it.
"Heavens! there is some one behind the curtain!"
That a robber should have effected an entrance into the house at that hour of the night was not at all impossible; and this was the first thought that entered her mind. She recollected, too, that Vauquelas and Coursegol had just gone out, that the servants were in bed and that she was to all intents and purposes alone in the house. The feminine mind is quick to take fright; and night and solitude increased the terror which is so easily aroused by a fevered imagination. Her usual courage deserted her; she turned pale and her lips quivered.
"How foolish!" she said to herself, the next instant. "Who would think of entering here at such an hour? It must have been the wind. I will close the door."
And struggling against the fear that had taken possession of her, she stepped quickly forward, but paused again. She could plainly discern a human form in the shadow behind the curtain.
"Oh! this is terrible!" she murmured, pressing her hand upon her heart.
Then she said, in a trembling voice:
"Who is there?"
There was no response. Summoning all her courage, she made two steps forward, seized the curtain and lifted it. Leaning against the glass door, which was now firmly closed, stood a man. Dolores was so terrified that she dare not raise her eyes to his face.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
The words had scarcely left her lips when the man sprang forward, crying:
Then, with a wild cry of rapturous delight, she flung herself in the arms of her lover from whom she had been parted three long weary years. They clung to each other a moment without uttering a word, completely overcome with emotion. It was Philip, but Philip grown older and thinner. His face was unshaven and his clothing disordered, and he was frightfully pale. When she saw the ravages time and suffering had made upon the face of the man she loved, Dolores burst into tears.
"Oh Dolores!" sighed Philip, "have I really found you again after all these years!"
She smiled and wept as he devoured her with his eyes, then stepped by him and after satisfying herself that the door was securely closed and locked, she lowered the curtain and led Philip to an arm chair near the fire.
"Do you find me changed?" she asked.
"You are even more beautiful now than in the past!"
She blushed and turned away her face, then suddenly inquired: "How happens it you are here, Philip?"
"I came to Paris with a party of noblemen to rescue the queen from the hands of her executioners. We failed; she died upon the guillotine. My companions were arrested; I alone succeeded in making my escape—"
"Then you are pursued—you are a fugitive. Perhaps they are even now upon your track!"
"For a week I have been concealed in the house of a kind-hearted man who had taken compassion on my misery. I hoped to remain there until I could find an opportunity to make my escape from Paris. Day before yesterday, he told me that he was suspected of sheltering some enemy of the nation, and that his house was liable to be searched at any moment by Robespierre's emissaries, and that I must flee at once if I did not desire to ruin him. I obeyed and since that time I have been wandering about the streets of Paris, hiding in obscure nooks, living like a dog, and not daring to ask aid of any one for fear I should be denounced. This evening, half-dead with hunger and cold, I was wondering if it would not be better to deliver myself up when, only a few steps from here, I met a man who was formerly in the employ of the Duke de Penthieore, and to whom I had once rendered an important service. Believing that he had not forgotten it, I approached him and told him who I was. The wretch cursed me, and tried to arrest me. The instinct of self-preservation lent me fresh strength. I struggled with him and knocked him down, and while he was calling for help, I ran across the unoccupied ground near the house. A low wall suddenly rose before me. I leaped over it, and found myself in this garden. I saw the light from your window; the door stood open. I entered and God has willed that the hours of agony through which I have just passed should lead me to you. Ah! now I can die. Now that I have seen you again, Dolores, I can die content!"
"Why do you talk of dying?" exclaimed Dolores. "Since you are here, you are saved! You shall remain!"
She paused suddenly, recollecting that the house was not hers; Philip noticed her hesitation.
"Am I in your house?" he asked.
"No; you are in the house of Citizen Vauquelas, Coursegol's business partner."
"Vauquelas! How unfortunate!"
"Because, unless there are two individuals by that name, the master of this house is the friend of Robespierre, and one of the men who aided in the discovery of the plot formed by my companions and myself for the rescue of the queen."
Dolores uttered a cry and hid her face in her hands.
"What shall we do?" she murmured.
"Is not Coursegol here?"
"He will not return until late at night."
"He would have found some way to conceal me until to-morrow."
"I will conceal you in his room," said Dolores. "No one enters it but himself. I will await his return and tell him you are there."
Philip approved this plan.
"But you said just now that you were hungry;" exclaimed Dolores. "Ah! how unfortunate it is that the servants are in bed."
She hastily left the room, and Philip, worn out with excitement, hunger and fatigue, remained in the arm chair in which Dolores had placed him. She soon returned, laden with bread, wine, and a piece of cold meat, which she had been fortunate enough to find in the kitchen. She placed these upon a small table, which she brought to Philip's side. Without a word, the latter began to eat and drink with the eagerness of a half-famished man. Dolores stood there watching him, her heart throbbing wildly with joy while tears of happiness gushed from her burning eyes.
Soon Philip was himself again. The warmth and the nourishing food restored his strength. A slight color mounted to his cheeks, and a hopeful smile played upon his lips. Not until then, did Dolores venture to utter the name that had been uppermost in her thoughts for some moments.
"You have told me nothing of Antoinette."
This name reminded Philip of the sacred bond of which Dolores was ignorant, and which had never seemed to him so galling as now.
"Antoinette!" he replied. "She is living near London in the care of some friends to whom I have confided her."
"Is she your wife?" inquired Dolores, not daring to meet Philip's eyes.
"But your father's wishes—"
"In pity, say no more!" interrupted Philip, "If I had not found you again, if I had had certain proofs that you were no longer alive, I might, perhaps, have married Antoinette, but now—"
"She will never be my wife!"
"Does she no longer love you?"
Philip's head drooped. There was a long silence; suddenly he glanced up.
"Why should I conceal it from you longer, Dolores? I love you; I love you as I loved you in years gone by when I first dared to open my heart to you; and since that time, in spite of the barriers between us, I have never ceased to love you. Nor can our love be a sin in the sight of Heaven since it is God's providence, in spite of your will, that brings us together again to-day. And I swear that nothing shall separate us now!"
Dolores had no strength to reply to such language, or to destroy the hopes which seemed even stronger now than in the past, and far more precious since three years of absence had not sufficed to extinguish them in the faithful and impassioned heart of her lover. Philip continued:
"Ah! if I could but tell you how miserable I have been since we have been separated. My Dolores, did you not know when you left the chateau in which we had grown up together to offer as a sacrifice to God the love you shared, did you not know that you took away a part of myself with you?"
"Stop!" she entreated, sinking into a chair and burying her face in her hands.
But he would not listen.
"Since that day," he continued, "my life has been wretched. In vain I have striven to drive from the heart which you refused to accept the memory of your grace and your beauty; in vain have I striven to listen with a complaisant ear to Antoinette, whom you commanded me to accept as my wife. Do you not see that this sacrifice is beyond my strength. I cannot do it—I love her as a sister, but you——"
Dolores interrupted him. Suddenly quieted, and recalled to a recollection of duty by some mysterious inspiration, she rose, and in a gentle and firm voice said:
"Philip, I must hear no more. I belong to God, and you, yourself, are no longer free. Antoinette——"
"Would you compel me to hate her?"
The cry frightened Dolores and awakened in her heart a tender pity for the unfortunate man whom she adored, even while she wrung his soul with anguish.
"Ah well! do not marry her," she replied, "if the union that your father desired is a greater sacrifice than you have strength to make; but do not hope that I shall ever be weak enough to yield to your entreaties. Whether you love her or whether you detest her, Antoinette will forever stand between us."
On hearing these words, Philip sprang wildly to his feet, then sank back in his chair and, concealing his face in his hands, broke into passionate sob.
The girl's powers of endurance were almost exhausted; but she still retained energy enough to attempt to put an end to this trying scene.
"The hour when the master of the house usually returns is fast approaching," she resumed. "He must not find you here. I will take you to Coursegol's room; you will be safe there."
But Philip would not heed her. He wept like a child, and, in a voice broken with sobs, he cried:
"Ah, the sacrifice you demand is too much to ask of any human creature! God does not require it of us. If after creating us for each other it is His will that we should live forever apart and be eternally miserable, why has He united us to-night? Is not our meeting providential? Dolores, your decision cannot be irrevocable."
It required all her courage and determination to repress the loving words that rose to her lips from her overflowing heart.
"Come, Philip," she pleaded, striving to give a maternal tone to her voice.
"But promise me——"
"Ah well! to-morrow,——" she said, quietly, doing her best to calm him.
She succeeded. Philip rose, ready to follow her. She had already taken a candle from the table when footsteps were heard in the adjoining room.
"Good Heavens! it is Vauquelas! We are lost!"
"He will not enter here, perhaps," whispered Philip.
With a gesture, Dolores imposed silence: then she waited and listened, hoping that Vauquelas would pass on to his own room without pausing. Her hopes were not realized. Vauquelas rapped twice at the door.
"May I come in, Citoyenne Dolores?"
"No, I am in bed."
"Get up quickly then, and open the door. A man was seen to leap over the wall that separates the garden from the street. He must be prowling about the house. They are in pursuit of him. The police are coming."
"I am getting up," replied Dolores, anxious to gain time, and racking her brain to discover some means of escape for Philip.
"The night is very dark," he whispered. "I will go into the garden and conceal myself there until the soldiers have searched the house and gone."
Dolores nodded her approval, and went on tip-toe to the glass door to open it and let Philip out. She turned the knob, softly opened the door, and stepped aside to let him pass. The next instant she uttered a cry of dismay, for she saw five members of the National Guard approaching the house, beating the shrubbery that bordered the path through which they were advancing with the butt ends of their muskets. She recoiled in horror, for before she could prevent it Philip stepped out and stood for an instant plainly visible in the light that streamed through the open door ere he perceived them. As soon as they saw him, they raised their guns and took aim.
"Do not fire!" he exclaimed. "I surrender!"
And he paused, awaiting their approach. At the same moment Vauquelas entered the room by the other door. Dolores cast a despairing look at Philip, then involuntarily stepped to his side as if to protect him. There was a moment's silence caused by surprise on the one side and terror on the other. Philip was filled with consternation not that his courage failed him, but because he was appalled by the thought of the danger in which he had involved Dolores.
As for Vauquelas, he glanced from one to the other in evident anger and astonishment. The presence of the soldiers, and the thought of the suspicions to which he—ardent patriot though he was—might be exposed on account of this stranger's arrest in his house irritated him not a little. He was about to vent his wrath and indignation upon Philip when the sergeant in command interposed, and addressing the young man, said, harshly;
"What are you doing in this house, you rascal? Who are you?"
Philip attempted to reply, but Vauquelas did not give him time.
"Who is he?" he exclaimed. "It is easy to answer that question. Some enemy of the Republic, you may be sure, who has sought shelter in my house at the risk of compromising the honor of this young girl, and my reputation as well."
Dolores trembled; then sacrificing, not without a terrible effort, her maidenly delicacy and modesty she said: "You are mistaken, Citizen Vauquelas. This man is my husband!"
"Your husband! Are you married?"
"I had a special reason for keeping the fact a secret from every one."
"Even he is ignorant of it," answered Dolores, with downcast eyes.
"Married! married!" repeated Vauquelas mechanically, while Philip drew nearer to Dolores and, in a voice audible to her alone, murmured:
"Ah! cruel one, had you uttered those words sooner, we should not be here now."
Dolores made no response. She cast a beseeching look upon Vauquelas. At a word from him the soldiers would have departed; but he remembered the history of Dolores which Coursegol had confided to him, and he said to himself that the adopted daughter of the late Marquis de Chamondrin would not be likely to marry other than a nobleman, and that this nobleman must be an implacable enemy to the new order of things, and consequently one of those men whom the Committee of Public Safety were so relentlessly pursuing. That such a person should be found in his house augured ill for his patriotism and might cost him his influence over Robespierre, so it was necessary to strike a crushing blow if he wished to emerge from this ordeal unscathed.
"Why have you concealed your marriage from me?" he inquired, turning to Dolores.
"For purely personal reasons."
"And why does your husband steal into my house like a robber, instead of entering by the door?"
"Because we wished to keep our marriage a secret."
"All this is not very clear," remarked the sergeant; then addressing Philip, he demanded:
"What is your name, and from whence do you come?"
And seeing Philip hesitate, the man continued:
"The citizen and this young woman will follow us to the station-house. They can explain matters to the officials there; and if no blame attaches to them, they will be immediately set at liberty."
"Yes, yes, take them away," cried Vauquelas, glad of any decision that would remove the soldiers from his house.
Then Dolores comprehended that the falsehood to which she had resorted had not only failed to save Philip but had probably cost her her own life. For herself, she did not care. She had long ago sacrificed for his sake that which was a thousand times dearer than life; and now her only regret was for him. But Philip would not accept the sacrifice. When he saw that both Dolores and himself were to be placed under arrest, he exclaimed:
"This young girl has uttered a falsehood. She did it, probably, to save a stranger whom she would have forgotten in a few hours. I am not her husband, and that I have been found in her room is simply due to the fact that I took refuge here a few moments ago from a pursuer. I am the Marquis de Chamondrin. I am an Emigre and a conspirator!"
"Ah, he is lost! he is lost!" murmured Dolores.
On hearing Philip's confession, Vauquelas sprang towards him, wild with rage.
"You call yourself Philip de Chamondrin?" he demanded.
"That is my name."
"Then you are the adopted brother of this young girl, and if you, an Emigre and a conspirator, are here, it can only be because she is your accomplice. Vile wretch! to make my house a rendezvous for the enemies of the Nation!"
Anger crimsoned his cheeks and glittered in his eyes. He actually frothed with rage.
"Arrest them! Arrest them both!" he exclaimed.
Philip, who had supposed he could save Dolores by the confession he had just made, could not repress a movement of wrath and despair.
"You will regret this, sir," he said, haughtily.
"There could be no greater misfortune than to shelter aristocrats like you under my roof. I am a patriot; I love the Republic. France, first of all! Citizens, this is a dangerous man. This so-called nobleman has been plotting to save the queen and to place the little Capet upon the throne. As for this young woman, she is a viper who has repaid my hospitality with treachery. Take them away!—and so perish the enemies of the Nation!"
He uttered these words with great energy and enthusiasm as if he wished to give convincing proofs of his patriotism. The soldiers were consulting together; presently they formed into two squads. One division took Dolores in charge; the other took Philip, and they were led away. It was then nearly eleven o'clock.
Coursegol returned home about midnight. In accordance with his usual custom he was passing through the lower hall without stopping on his way to his room on the floor above, when he heard some one call him. He recognized the voice of Vauquelas, but it seemed to proceed from the chamber occupied by Dolores. Surprised that the latter was not in bed at this late hour, and fearing she was ill, he hastily entered her room. Vauquelas was there alone, pale, nervous and excited. The girl's bed had not been disturbed. Her absence struck Coursegol at once.
"Where is Dolores?" he asked, quickly.
"Coursegol, why did you not tell me she was receiving Philip de Chamondrin here?" was his friend's only response.
"She receiving M. Philip!" cried Coursegol, greatly astonished.
"Yes, here in my house; here in this chamber. They were discovered here."
"Then M. Philip is still alive!"
"Unfortunately for me, he is still alive."
"What do you mean?" inquired Coursegol, who as yet understood but one thing—that his master was not dead.
"I mean that Dolores, whom I received into my house at your request, has been sheltering here, at the risk of compromising and ruining me, Philip de Chamondrin, one of the prime movers in a conspiracy formed for the purpose of saving the widow Capet."
"Ah! I understand," murmured Coursegol, at once divining that Philip being pursued had taken refuge in the house of Vauquelas, and had found Dolores there. "Ah, well! citizen, the young man must not remain here. We will help him to make his escape and no one will be the wiser—"
"It is too late!"
"Both have been arrested; he, for conspiring against the government, she, as his accomplice."
Coursegol uttered a terrible oath: then, turning to Vauquelas and seizing him by the collar, he cried:
"It was you, wretch, who betrayed them!"
"You are choking me!" groaned Vauquelas, breathless in Coursegol's violent grasp.
"Tell me where they are!" thundered Coursegol. "I must see them. Where are they?"
"Release me," gasped Vauquelas.
This time Coursegol obeyed; but he stood before Vauquelas, angry and menacing. The latter trembled. He had not foreseen that Coursegol would hold him accountable for the arrest of Philip and Dolores.
"Explain and quickly!" cried Coursegol.
"The soldiers came to the house in pursuit of young Philip, who had taken refuge in this room. To save him, Dolores said she was his wife. Philip, fearing she would be compromised, denied her statement; and as their explanation did not seem sufficiently clear, they were both taken to prison."
"Could you not have vouched for them—declared that they were friends of yours?"
"I did all I could to save them," whined Vauquelas.
"You lie! you lie! I tell you, you lie! It was you who betrayed them! I am sure of it. You trembled for your life, for your money. Woe be unto you!"
And Coursegol accompanied those words with a gesture so menacing that Vauquelas, believing his last hour had come, fell on his knees begging for mercy. But Coursegol seemed pitiless.
"Poor children! that death should overtake them just as Providence had united them. Wretch! fool! you were less merciful than destiny."
"Had you any pity on them? No! Ah well! you shall die!"
And drawing from his pocket a dagger that he always carried with him, Coursegol raised it above the old man's head.
"But if I promise to save them—"
The hand of Coursegol, raised to strike, fell.
"You will save them! That is only another lie. How can you save them? The prisons of the Republic release their victims only to send them to the guillotine."
"I will bribe the jailers to let them escape."
"The jailers are not the only masters: and who among them would expose himself to almost certain death for the sake of your money?"
"Then I will do still better," replied Vauquelas. "I will bribe the judges of the Revolutionary Tribunal, and they will acquit your friends."
"Useless! these judges will demand that the money shall be paid in advance! and as soon as they have it in their grasp, they will condemn the prisoners."
"What can I do then?"
"There is no help for the misfortune, and it is because you are the cause of it that I am going to wreak my vengeance upon you!"
"Stop, stop! I will go to Robespierre."
"He will refuse your petition."
"No! my influence over him is all-powerful. I have means to compel him to grant my request."
"Even when you ask for the release of one of the leaders of the conspiracy to save the queen?"
"Yes; he will not refuse me."
Coursegol reflected a moment. Vauquelas, still on his knees before him, looked up, trying to read his fate in the stern face above him.
"Listen," said Coursegol at last. "I will spare your life on certain conditions. It depends upon yourself whether you are to live or die."
"Name them. I will obey!" murmured Vauquelas, servilely, beginning to breathe freely once more.
"To-morrow by sunset, I must receive from you a blank order signed by Robespierre which will enable me to obtain the release of two prisoners."
"You shall have it."
"I also desire that Robespierre shall remain in ignorance of the names of the prisoners who are to be released."
"He shall not know."
"Under these conditions, your life is yours. Only do not attempt to deceive me. I know that it is in your power to obtain an order for my arrest and thus save yourself from the chastisement you so richly deserve."
"Can you believe—"
Vauquelas could not finish his sentence. He stammered and blushed, feeling that his most secret thoughts had been divined.
"But to prevent that, it is here in this house that I shall await your return; and if to-morrow the soldiers, guided by you, come here to arrest me, they will find me in the cellar where your wealth is concealed; and it is I who will have the pleasure of initiating them into the secrets of your patriotic life."
Vauquelas uttered an exclamation of mingled astonishment and dismay.
"It is here," repeated Coursegol, "that I shall wait to receive from your hands the order of release that you have promised me. Now, it is for you to decide whether you will live or die."
As he spoke, Coursegol pushed open the door leading to the cellar used by Vauquelas as the repository of his riches and disappeared. Vauquelas rose from his kneeling posture, filled with consternation by what he had just heard. The extremity to which he was reduced was a cruel one; he must bribe the incorruptible Robespierre. When he made the promise to Coursegol he did not intend to fulfil it: he intended to denounce him; but the shrewdness of his partner had placed him in a most embarrassing position. He was obliged to keep his promise, but he could do it only by compromising his influence and his reputation; and yet there was no help for it since Coursegol could ruin him by a single word. How much he regretted that the strength and vigor of his youth were now paralyzed by age. If he had been twenty years younger, how desperately he would have struggled with the man who had suddenly become a formidable enemy! What an effort he would have made to kill him and thus silence him forever. But such a plan was no longer feasible; nothing was left for him but submission. About an hour after Coursegol left him, he went to his room to obtain the rest of which he stood so greatly in need. He threw himself upon the bed; but sleep refused to come to his relief. At daybreak he was upon his feet once more. He wished, before leaving the house, to see Coursegol again. The latter had slept with his pistol in his hand, guarding the strong-box upon which his life as well as the lives of Dolores and Philip depended.