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CHAPTER XIII

SANCTUARY


Into the late afternoon of that endless day of horror with its
perpetual alarms, its volleying musketry, rolling drums, and distant
muttering of angry multitudes, Mme. de Plougastel and Aline sat
waiting in that handsome house in the Rue du Paradis. It was no
longer for Rougane they waited. They realized that, be the reason
what it might - and by now many reasons must no doubt exist - this
friendly messenger would not return. They waited without knowing
for what. They waited for whatever might betide.

At one time early in the afternoon the roar of battle approached
them, racing swiftly in their direction, swelling each moment in
volume and in horror. It was the frenzied clamour of a multitude
drunk with blood and bent on destruction. Near at hand that fierce
wave of humanity checked in its turbulent progress. Followed blows
of pikes upon a door and imperious calls to open, and thereafter
came the rending of timbers, the shivering of glass, screams of
terror blending with screams of rage, and, running through these
shrill sounds, the deeper diapason of bestial laughter.

It was a hunt of two wretched Swiss guardsmen seeking blindly to
escape. And they were run to earth in a house in the neighbourhood,
and there cruelly done to death by that demoniac mob. The thing
accomplished, the hunters, male and female, forming into a battalion,
came swinging down the Rue du Paradis, chanting the song of
Marseilles - a song new to Paris in those days:

Allons, enfants de la patrie!
Le jour de gloire est arrive
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'etendard sanglant est 1eve.

Nearer it came, raucously bawled by some hundreds of voices, a
dread sound that had come so suddenly to displace at least
temporarily the merry, trivial air of the "Ca ira!" which hitherto
had been the revolutionary carillon. Instinctively Mme. de
Plougastel and Aline clung to each other. They had heard the
sound of the ravishing of that other house in the neighbourhood,
without knowledge of the reason. What if now it should be the
turn of the Hotel Plougastel! There was no real cause to fear it,
save that amid a turmoil imperfectly understood and therefore the
more awe-inspiring, the worst must be feared always.

The dreadful song so dreadfully sung, and the thunder of heavily
shod feet upon the roughly paved street, passed on and receded.
They breathed again, almost as if a miracle had saved them, to
yield to fresh alarm an instant later, when madame's young footman,
Jacques, the most trusted of her servants, burst into their presence
unceremoniously with a scared face, bringing the announcement that
a man who had just climbed over the garden wall professed himself a
friend of madame's, and desired to be brought immediately to her
presence.

"But he looks like a sansculotte, madame," the staunch fellow
warned her.

Her thoughts and hopes leapt at once to Rougane.

"Bring him in," she commanded breathlessly.

Jacques went out, to return presently accompanied by a tall man in
a long, shabby, and very ample overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat that
was turned down all round, and adorned by an enormous tricolour
cockade. This hat he removed as he entered.

Jacques, standing behind him, perceived that his hair, although now
in some disorder, bore signs of having been carefully dressed. It
was clubbed, and it carried some lingering vestiges of powder. The
young footman wondered what it was in the man's face, which was
turned from him, that should cause his mistress to out and recoil.
Then he found himself dismissed abruptly by a gesture.

The newcomer advanced to the middle of the salon, moving like a man
exhausted and breathing hard. There he leaned against a table,
across which he confronted Mme. de Plougastel. And she stood
regarding him, a strange horror in her eyes.

In the background, on a settle at the salon's far end, sat Aline
staring in bewilderment and some fear at a face which, if
unrecognizable through the mask of blood and dust that smeared it,
was yet familiar. And then the man spoke, and instantly she knew
the voice for that of the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.

"My dear friend," he was saying, "forgive me if I startled you.
Forgive me if I thrust myself in here without leave, at such a time,
in such a manner. But... you see how it is with me. I am a
fugitive. In the course of my distracted flight, not knowing which
way to turn for safety, I thought of you. I told myself that if I
could but safely reach your house, I might find sanctuary."

"You are in danger?"

"In danger?" Almost he seemed silently to laugh at the unnecessary
question. "If I were to show myself openly in the streets just now,
I might with luck contrive to live for five minutes! My friend, it
has been a massacre. Some few of us escaped from the Tuileries at
the end, to be hunted to death in the streets. I doubt if by this
time a single Swiss survives. They had the worst of it, poor devils.
And as for us - my God! they hate us more than they hate the Swiss.
Hence this filthy disguise."

He peeled off the shaggy greatcoat, and casting it from him stepped
forth in the black satin that had been the general livery of the
hundred knights of the dagger who had rallied in the Tuileries that
morning to the defence of their king.

His coat was rent across the back, his neckcloth and the ruffles at
his wrists were torn and bloodstained; with his smeared face and
disordered headdress he was terrible to behold. Yet he contrived
to carry himself with his habitual easy assurance, remembered to
kiss the trembling hand which Mme. de Plougastel extended to him
in welcome.

"You did well to come to me, Gervais," she said. "Yes, here is
sanctuary for the present. You will be quite safe, at least for
as long as we are safe. My servants are entirely trustworthy.
Sit down and tell me all."

He obeyed her, collapsing almost into the armchair which she thrust
forward, a man exhausted, whether by physical exertion or by
nerve-strain, or both. He drew a handkerchief from his pocket and
wiped some of the blood and dirt from his face.

"It is soon told." His tone was bitter with the bitterness of
despair. "This, my dear, is the end of us. Plougastel is lucky in
being across the frontier at such a time. Had I not been fool
enough to trust those who to-day have proved themselves utterly
unworthy of trust, that is where I should be myself. My remaining
in Paris is the crowning folly of a life full of follies and
mistakes. That I should come to you in my hour of most urgent need
adds point to it." He laughed in his bitterness.

Madame moistened her dry lips. "And... and now?" she asked him.

"It only remains to get away as soon as may be, if it is still
possible. Here in France there is no longer any room for us - at
least, not above ground. To-day has proved it." And then he looked
up at her, standing there beside him so pale and timid, and he
smiled. He patted the fine hand that rested upon the arm of his
chair. "My dear Therese, unless you carry charitableness to the
length of giving me to drink, you will see me perish of thirst
under your eyes before ever the canaille has a chance to finish me."

She started. "I should have thought of it!" she cried in
self-reproach, and she turned quickly. "Aline," she begged, "tell
Jacques to bring... "

"Aline!" he echoed,interrupting, and swinging round in his turn.
Then, as Aline rose into view, detaching from her background, and
he at last perceived her, he heaved himself abruptly to his weary
legs again, and stood there stiffly bowing to her across the space
of gleaming floor. "Mademoiselle, I had not suspected your
presence," he said, and he seemed extraordinarily ill-at-ease, a
man startled, as if caught in an illicit act.

"I perceived it, monsieur," she answered, as she advanced to do
madame's commission. She paused before him. "From my heart,
monsieur, I grieve that we should meet again in circumstances so
very painful."

Not since the day of his duel with Andre-Louis - the day which had
seen the death and burial of his last hope of winning her - had
they stood face to face.

He checked as if on the point of answering her. His glance strayed
to Mme. de Plougastel, and, oddly reticent for one who could be
very glib, he bowed in silence.

"But sit, monsieur, I beg. You are fatigued."

"You are gracious to observe it. With your permission, then." And
he resumed his seat. She continued on her way to the door and
passed out upon her errand.

When presently she returned they had almost unaccountably changed
places. It was Mme. de Plougastel who was seated in that armchair
of brocade and gilt, and M. de La Tour d'Azyr who, despite his
lassitude, was leaning over the back of it talking earnestly,
seeming by his attitude to plead with her. On Aline's entrance he
broke off instantly and moved away, so that she was left with a
sense of having intruded. Further she observed that the Countess
was in tears.

Following her came presently the diligent Jacques, bearing a tray
laden with food and wine. Madame poured for her guest, and he
drank a long draught of the Burgundy, then begged, holding forth
his grimy hands, that he might mend his appearance before sitting
down to eat.

He was led away and valeted by Jacques, and when he returned he had
removed from his person the last vestige of the rough handling he
had received. He looked almost his normal self, the disorder in
his attire repaired, calm and dignified and courtly in his bearing,
but very pale and haggard of face, seeming suddenly to have
increased in years, to have reached in appearance the age that was
in fact his own.

As he ate and drank - and this with appetite, for as he told them
he had not tasted food since early morning - he entered into the
details of the dreadful events of the day, and gave them the
particulars of his own escape from the Tuileries when all was seen
to be lost and when the Swiss, having burnt their last cartridge,
were submitting to wholesale massacre at the hands of the
indescribably furious mob.

"Oh, it was all most ill done," he ended critically. "We were timid
when we should have been resolute, and resolute at last when it was
too late. That is the history of our side from the beginning of
this accursed struggle. We have lacked proper leadership throughout,
and now - as I have said already - there is an end to us. It but
remains to escape, as soon as we can discover how the thing is to
be accomplished."

Madame told him of the hopes that she had centred upon Rougane.

It lifted him out of his gloom. He was disposed to be optimistic.

"You are wrong to have abandoned that hope," he assured her. "If
this mayor is so well disposed, he certainly can do as his son
promised. But last night it would have been too late for him to
have reached you, and to-day, assuming that he had come to Paris,
almost impossible for him to win across the streets from the other
side. It is most likely that he will yet come. I pray that he may;
for the knowledge that you and Mlle. de Kercadiou are out of this
would comfort me above all."

"We should take you with us," said madame.

"Ah! But how?"

"Young Rougane was to bring me permits for three persons - Aline,
myself, and my footman, Jacques. You would take the place of Jacques."

"Faith, to get out of Paris, madame, there is no man whose place I
would not take." And he laughed.

Their spirits rose with his and their flagging hopes revived. But
as dusk descended again upon the city, without any sign of the
deliverer they awaited, those hopes began to ebb once more.

M. de La Tour d'Azyr at last pleaded weariness, and begged to be
permitted to withdraw that he might endeavour to take some rest
against whatever might have to be faced in the immediate future.
When he had gone, madame persuaded Aline to go and lie down.

"I will call you, my dear, the moment he arrives," she said,
bravely maintaining that pretence of a confidence that had by now
entirely evaporated.

Aline kissed her affectionately, and departed, outwardly so calm
and unperturbed as to leave the Countess wondering whether she
realized the peril by which they were surrounded, a peril
infinitely increased by the presence in that house of a man so
widely known and detested as M. de La Tour d'Azyr, a man who was
probably being sought for by his enemies at this moment.

Left alone, madame lay down on a couch in the salon itself, to be
ready for any emergency. It was a hot summer night, and the glass
doors opening upon the luxuriant garden stood wide to admit the
air. On that air came intermittently from the distance sounds of
the continuing horrible activities of the populace, the aftermath
of that bloody day.

Mme. de Plougastel lay there, listening to those sounds for upwards
of an hour, thanking Heaven that for the present at least the
disturbances were distant, dreading lest at any moment they should
occur nearer at hand, lest this Bondy section in which her hotel
was situated should become the scene of horrors similar to those
whose echoes reached her ears from other sections away to the south
and west.

The couch occupied by the Countess lay in shadow; for all the lights
in that long salon had been extinguished with the exception of a
cluster of candles in a massive silver candle branch placed on a
round marquetry table in the middle of the room - an island of light
in the surrounding gloom.

The timepiece on the overmantel chimed melodiously the hour of ten,
and then, startling in the suddenness with which it broke the
immediate silence, another sound vibrated through the house, and
brought madame to her feet, in a breathless mingling of hope and
dread. Some one was knocking sharply on the door below. Followed
moments of agonized suspense, culminating in the abrupt invasion of
the room by the footman Jacques. He looked round, not seeing his
mistress at first.

"Madame! Madame!" he panted, out of breath.

"What is it, Jacques!" Her voice was steady now that the need for
self-control seemed thrust upon her. She advanced from the shadows
into that island of light about the table. "There is a man below.
He is asking... he is demanding to see you at once."

"A man?" she questioned.

"He... he seems to be an official; at least he wears the sash of
office. And he refuses to give any name; he says that his name
would convey nothing to you. He insists that he must see you in
person and at once."

"An official?" said madame.

"An official," Jacques repeated. "I would not have admitted him,
but that he demanded it in the name of the Nation. Madame, it is
for you to say what shall be done. Robert is with me. If you
wish it... whatever it may be... "

"My good Jacques, no, no." She was perfectly composed. If this
man intended evil, surely he would not come alone. Conduct him to
me, and then beg Mlle. de Kercadiou to join me if she is awake."

Jacques departed, himself partly reassured. Madame seated herself
in the armchair by the table well within the light. She smoothed
her dress with a mechanical hand. If, as it would seem, her hopes
had been futile, so had her momentary fears. A man on any but an
errand of peace would have brought some following with him, as she
had said.

The door opened again, and Jacques reappeared; after him, stepping
briskly past him, came a slight man in a wide-brimmed hat, adorned
by a tricolour cockade. About the waist of an olive-green
riding-coat he wore a broad tricolour sash; a sword hung at his side.

He swept off his hat, and the candlelight glinted on the steel
buckle in front of it. Madame found herself silently regarded by
a pair of large, dark eyes set in a lean, brown face, eyes that
were most singularly intent and searching.

She leaned forward, incredulity swept across her countenance. Then
her eyes kindled, and the colour came creeping back into her pale
cheeks. She rose suddenly. She was trembling.

"Andre-Louis!" she exclaimed.





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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