FIVE years have elapsed since Monsieur Lomaque stood thoughtfully at the gate of Trudaine's house, looking after the carriage of the bride and bridegroom, and seriously reflecting on the events of the future. Great changes have passed over that domestic firmament in which he prophetically discerned the little warning cloud. Greater changes have passed over the firmament of France.
What was revolt five years ago is Revolution now--revolution which has ingulfed thrones, and principalities, and powers; which has set up crownless, inhereditary kings and counselors of its own, and has bloodily torn them down again by dozens; which has raged and raged on unrestrainedly in fierce earnest, until but one king can still govern and control it for a little while. That king is named Terror, and seventeen hundred and ninety-four is the year of his reign.
Monsieur Lomaque, land-steward no longer, sits alone in an official-looking room in one of the official buildings of Paris. It is another July evening, as fine as that evening when he and Trudaine sat talking together on the bench overlooking the Seine. The window of the room is wide open, anal a faint, pleasant breeze is beginning to flow through it. But Lomaque breathes uneasily, as if still oppressed by the sultry midday heat; and there are signs of perplexity and trouble in his face as he looks down absently now and then into the street.
The times he lives in are enough of themselves to sadden any man's face. In the Reign of Terror no living being in all the city of Paris can rise in the morning and be certain of escaping the spy, the denunciation, the arrest, or the guillotine, before night. Such times are trying enough to oppress any man's spirits; but Lomaque is not thinking of them or caring for them now. Out of a mass of papers which lie before him on his old writing-table, he has just taken up and read one, which has carried his thoughts back to the past, and to the changes which have taken place since he stood alone on the doorstep of Trudaine's house, pondering on what might happen.
More rapidly even than he had foreboded those changes had occurred. In less time even than he had anticipated, the sad emergency for which Rose's brother had prepared, as for a barely possible calamity, overtook Trudaine, and called for all the patience, the courage, the self-sacrifice which he had to give for his sister's sake. By slow gradations downward, from bad to worse, her husband's character manifested itself less and less disguisedly almost day by day. Occasional slights, ending in habitual neglect; careless estrangement, turning to cool enmity; small insults, which ripened evilly to great injuries--these were the pitiless signs which showed her that she had risked all and lost all while still a young woman--these were the unmerited afflictions which found her helpless, and would have left her helpless, but for the ever-present comfort and support of her brother's self-denying love. From the first, Trudaine had devoted himself to meet such trials as now assailed him; and like a man he met them, in defiance alike of persecution from the mother and of insult from the son.
The hard task was only lightened when, as time advanced, public trouble began to mingle itself with private grief. Then absorbing political necessities came as a relief to domestic misery. Then it grew to be the one purpose and pursuit of Danville's life cunningly to shape his course so that he might move safely onward with the advancing revolutionary tide--he cared not whither, as long as he kept his possessions safe and his life out of danger. His mother, inflexibly true to her Old-World convictions through all peril, might entreat and upbraid, might talk of honor, and courage, and sincerity--he heeded her not, or heeded only to laugh. As he had taken the false way with his wife, so he was now bent on taking it with the world.
The years passed on; destroying changes swept hurricane-like over the old governing system of France; and still Danville shifted successfully with the shifting times. The first days of the Terror approached; in public and in private--in high places and in low--each man now suspected his brother. Crafty as Danville was, even he fell under suspicion at last, at headquarters in Paris, principally on his mother's account. This was his first political failure; and, in a moment of thoughtless rage and disappointment, he wreaked the irritation caused by it on Lomaque. Suspected himself, he in turn suspected the land-steward. His mother fomented the suspicion--Lomaque was dismissed.
In the old times the victim would have been ruined, in the new times he was simply rendered eligible for a political vocation in life. Lomaque was poor, quick-witted, secret, not scrupulous. He was a good patriot; he had good patriot friends, plenty of ambition, a subtle, cat-like courage, nothing to dread--and he went to Paris. There were plenty of small chances there for men of his caliber. He waited for one of them. It came; he made the most of it; attracted favorably the notice of the terrible Fouquier-Tinville; and won his way to a place in the office of the Secret Police.
Meanwhile, Danville's anger cooled down; he recovered the use of that cunning sense which had hitherto served him well, and sent to recall the discarded servant. It was too late. Lomaque was already in a position to set him at defiance--nay, to put his neck, perhaps, under the blade of the guillotine. Worse than this, anonymous letters reached him, warning him to lose no time in proving his patriotism by some indisputable sacrifice, and in silencing his mother, whose imprudent sincerity was likely ere long to cost her her life. Danville knew her well enough to know that there was but one way of saving her, and thereby saving himself. She had always refused to emigrate; but he now insisted that she should seize the first opportunity he could procure for her of quitting France until calmer times arrived.
Probably she would have risked her own life ten times over rather than have obeyed him; but she had not the courage to risk her son's too; and she yielded for his sake. Partly by secret influence, partly by unblushing fraud, Danville procured for her such papers and permits as would enable her to leave France by way of Marseilles. Even then she refused to depart, until she knew what her son's plans were for the future. He showed her a letter which he was about to dispatch to Robespierre himself, vindicating his suspected patriotism, and indignantly demanding to be allowed to prove it by filling some office, no matter how small, under the redoubtable triumvirate which then governed, or more properly terrified, France. The sight of this document reassured Madame Danville. She bade her son farewell, and departed at last, with one trusty servant, for Marseilles.
Danville's intention, in sending his letter to Paris, had been simply to save himself by patriotic bluster. He was thunderstruck at receiving a reply, taking him at his word, and summoning him to the capital to accept employment there under the then existing Government. There was no choice but to obey. So to Paris he journeyed, taking his wife with him into the very jaws of danger. He was then at open enmity with Trudaine; and the more anxious and alarmed he could make the brother feel on the sister's account, the better he was pleased. True to his trust and his love, through all dangers as through all persecutions, Trudaine followed them; and the street of their sojourn at Paris, in the perilous days of the Terror, was the street of his sojourn too.
Danville had been astonished at the acceptance of his proffered services; he was still more amazed when he found that the post selected for him was one of the superintendent's places in that very office of Secret Police in which Lomaque was employed as agent. Robespierre and his colleagues had taken the measure of their man--he had money enough, and local importance enough to be worth studying. They knew where he was to be distrusted, and how he might be made useful. The affairs of the Secret Police were the sort of affairs which an unscrupulously cunning man was fitted to help on; and the faithful exercise of that cunning in the service of the State was insured by the presence of Lomaque in the office. The discarded servant was just the right sort of spy to watch the suspected master. Thus it happened that, in the office of the Secret Police at Paris, and under the Reign of Terror, Lomaque's old master was, nominally, his master still--the superintendent to whom he was ceremonially accountable, in public--the suspected man, whose slightest words and deeds he was officially set to watch, in private.
Ever sadder and darker grew the face of Lomaque as he now pondered alone over the changes and misfortunes of the past five years. A neighboring church-clock striking the hour of seven aroused him from his meditations. He arranged the confused mass of papers before him--looked toward the door, as if expecting some one to enter--then, finding himself still alone, recurred to the one special paper which had first suggested his long train of gloomy thoughts. The few lines it contained were signed in cipher, and ran thus:
"You are aware that your superintendent, Danville, obtained leave of absence last week to attend to some affairs of his at Lyons, and that he is not expected back just yet for a day or two. While he is away, push on the affair of Trudaine. Collect all the evidence, and hold yourself in readiness to act on it at a moment's notice. Don't leave the office till you have heard from me again. If you have a copy of the Private Instructions respecting Danville, which you wrote for me, send it to my house. I wish to refresh my memory. Your original letter is burned."
Here the note abruptly terminated. As he folded it up and put it in his pocket, Lomaque sighed. This was a very rare expression of feeling with him. He leaned back in his chair, and beat his nails impatiently on the table. Suddenly there was a faint little tap at the room door, and eight or ten men--evidently familiars of the new French Inquisition--quietly entered, and ranged themselves against the wall.
Lomaque nodded to two of them. "Picard and Magloire, go and sit down at that desk. I shall want you after the rest are gone." Saying this, Lomaque handed certain sealed and docketed papers to the other men waiting in the room, who received them in silence, bowed, and went out. Innocent spectators might have thought them clerks taking bills of lading from a merchant. Who could have imagined that the giving and receiving of Dununciations, Arrest-orders, and Death-warrants--the providing of its doomed human meal for the all-devouring guillotine--could have been managed so coolly and quietly, with such unruffled calmness of official routine?
"Now," said Lomaque, turning to the two men at the desk, as the door closed, "have you got those notes about you?" (They answered in the affirmative.) "Picard, you have the first particulars of this affair of Trudaine; so you must begin reading. I have sent in the reports; but we may as well go over the evidence again from the commencement, to make sure that nothing has been left out. If any corrections are to be made, now is the time to make them. Read, Picard, and lose as little time as you possibly can."
Thus admonished, Picard drew some long slips of paper from his pocket, and began reading from them as follows:
"Minutes of evidence collected concerning Louis Trudaine, suspected, on the denunciation of Citizen Superintendent Danville, of hostility to the sacred cause of liberty, and of disaffection to the sovereignty of the people. (1.) The suspected person is placed under secret observation, and these facts are elicited: He is twice seen passing at night from his own house to a house in the Rue de Clery. On the first night he carries with him money--on the second, papers. He returns without either. These particulars have been obtained through a citizen engaged to help Trudaine in housekeeping (one of the sort called Servants in the days of the Tyrants). This man is a good patriot, who can be trusted to watch Trudaine's actions. (2.) The inmates of the house in the Rue de Clery are numerous, and in some cases not so well known to the Government as could be wished. It is found difficult to gain certain information about the person or persons visited by Trudaine without having recourse to an arrest. (3.) An arrest is thought premature at this preliminary stage of the proceedings, being likely to stop the development of conspiracy, and give warning to the guilty to fly. Order thereupon given to watch and wait for the present. (4.) Citizen Superintendent Danville quits Paris for a short time. The office of watching Trudaine is then taken out of the hands of the undersigned, and is confided to his comrade, Magloire.--Signed, PICARD. Countersigned, LOMAQUE.
Having read so far, the police agent placed his papers on the writing-table, waited a moment for orders, and, receiving none, went out. No change came over the sadness and perplexity of Lomaque's face. He still beat his nails anxiously on the writing-table, and did not even look at the second agent as he ordered the man to read his report. Magloire produced some slips of paper precisely similar to Picard's and read from them in the same rapid, business-like, unmodulated tones:
"Affair of Trudaine. Minutes continued. Citizen Agent Magloire having been appointed to continue the surveillance of Trudaine, reports the discovery of additional facts of importance. (1.) Appearances make it probable that Trudaine meditates a third secret visit to the house in the Rue de Clery. The proper measures are taken for observing him closely, and the result is the implication of another person discovered to be connected with the supposed conspiracy. This person is the sister of Trudaine, and the wife of Citizen Superintendent Danville."
"Poor, lost creature! ah, poor, lost creature!" muttered Lomaque to himself, sighing again, and shifting uneasily from side to side, in his mangy old leathern armchair. Apparently, Magloire was not accustomed to sighs, interruptions, and expressions of regret from the usually imperturbable chief agent. He looked up from his papers with a stare of wonder. "Go on, Magloire!" cried Lomaque, with a sudden outburst of irritability. "Why the devil don't you go on?"--"All ready, citizen," returned Magloire, submissively, and proceeded:
"(2.) It is at Trudaine's house that the woman Danville's connection with her brother's secret designs is ascertained, through the vigilance of the before-mentioned patriot citizen. The interview of the two suspected persons is private; their conversation is carried on in whispers. Little can be overheard; but that little suffices to prove that Trudaine's sister is perfectly aware of his intention to proceed for the third time to the house in the Rue de Clery. It is further discovered that she awaits his return, and that she then goes back privately to her own house. (3.) Meanwhile, the strictest measures are taken for watching the house in the Rue de Clery. It is discovered that Trudaine's visits are paid to a man and woman known to the landlord and lodgers by the name of Dubois. They live on the fourth floor. It is impossible, at the time of the discovery, to enter this room, or to see the citizen and citoyenne Dubois, without producing an undesirable disturbance in the house and neighborhood. A police agent is left to watch the place, while search and arrest orders are applied for. The granting of these is accidentally delayed. When they are ultimately obtained, it is discovered that the man and the woman are both missing. They have not hitherto been traced. (4.) The landlord of the house is immediately arrested, as well as the police agent appointed to watch the premises. The landlord protests that he knows nothing of his tenants. It is suspected, however, that he has been tampered with, as also that Trudaine's papers, delivered to the citizen and citoyenne Dubois, are forged passports. With these and with money, it may not be impossible that they have already succeeded in escaping from France. The proper measures have been taken for stopping them, if they have not yet passed the frontiers. No further report in relation to them has yet been received (5.) Trudaine and his sister are under perpetual surveillance, and the undersigned holds himself ready for further orders.--Signed, MAGLOIRE. Countersigned, LOMAQUE."
Having finished reading his notes, Magloire placed them on the writing-table. He was evidently a favored man in the office, and he presumed upon his position; for he ventured to make a remark, instead of leaving the room in silence, like his predecessor Picard.
"When Citizen Danville returns to Paris," he began, "he will be rather astonished to find that in denouncing his wife's brother he had also unconsciously denounced his wife."
Lomaque looked up quickly, with that old weakness in his eyes which affected them in such a strangely irregular manner on certain occasions. Magloire knew what this symptom meant, and would have become confused if he had not been a police agent. As it was, he quietly backed a step or two from the table, and held his tongue.
"Friend Magloire," said Lomaque, winking mildly, "your last remark looks to me like a question in disguise. I put questions constantly to others; I never answer questions myself. You want to know, citizen, what our superintendent's secret motive is for denouncing his wife's brother? Suppose you try and find that out for yourself. It will be famous practice for you, friend Magloire--famous practice after office hours."
"Any further orders?" inquired Magloire, sulkily.
"None in relation to the reports," returned Lomaque. "I find nothing to alter or add on a revised hearing. But I shall have a little note ready for you immediately. Sit down at the other desk, friend Magloire; I am very fond of you when you are not inquisitive; pray sit down."
While addressing this polite invitation to the agent in his softest voice, Lomaque produced his pocketbook, and drew from it a little note, which he opened and read through attentively. It was headed: "Private Instructions relative to Superintendent Danville," and proceeded thus:
"The undersigned can confidently assert, from long domestic experience in Danville's household that his motive for denouncing his wife's brother is purely a personal one, and is not in the most remote degree connected with politics. Briefly, the facts are these: Louis Trudaine, from the first, opposed his sister's marriage with Danville, distrusting the latter's temper and disposition. The marriage, however, took place, and the brother resigned himself to await results--taking the precaution of living in the same neighborhood as his sister, to interpose, if need be, between the crimes which the husband might commit and the sufferings which the wife might endure. The results soon exceeded his worst anticipations, and called for the interposition for which he had prepared himself. He is a man of inflexible firmness, patience, and integrity, and he makes the protection and consolation of his sister the business of his life. He gives his brother-in-law no pretext for openly quarreling with him. He is neither to be deceived, irritated, nor tired out, and he is Danville's superior every way--in conduct, temper, and capacity. Under these circumstances, it is unnecessary to say that his brother-in-law's enmity toward him is of the most implacable kind, and equally unnecessary to hint at the perfectly plain motive of the denuciation.
"As to the suspicious circumstances affecting not Trudaine only, but his sister as well, the undersigned regrets his inability, thus far, to offer either explanation or suggestion. At this preliminary stage, the affair seems involved in impenetrable mystery."
Lomaque read these lines through, down to his own signature at the end. They were the duplicate Secret Instructions demanded from him in the paper which he had been looking over before the entrance of the two police agents. Slowly, and, as it seemed, unwillingly, he folded the note up in a fresh sheet of paper, and was preparing to seal it when a tap at the door stopped him. "Come in," he cried, irritably; and a man in traveling costume, covered with dust, entered, quietly whispered a word or two in his ear, and then went out. Lomaque started at the whisper, and, opening his note again, hastily wrote under his signature: "I have just heard that Danville has hastened his return to Paris, and may be expected back to-night." Having traced these lines, he closed, sealed, and directed the letter, and gave it to Magloire. The police agent looked at the address as he left the room; it was "To Citizen Robespierre, Rue Saint-Honore."
Left alone again, Lomaque rose, and walked restlessly backward and forward, biting his nails,
"Danville comes back to-night," he said to himself, "and the crisis comes with him. Trudaine a conspirator! Bah! conspiracy can hardly be the answer to the riddle this time. What is?"
He took a turn or two in silence--then stopped at the open window, looking out on what little glimpse the street afforded him of the sunset sky. "This time five years," he said, "Trudaine was talking to me on that bench overlooking the river; and Sister Rose was keeping poor hatchet-faced old Lomaque's cup of coffee hot for him! Now I am officially bound to suspect them both; perhaps to arrest them; perhaps--I wish this job had fallen into other hands. I don't want it--I don't want it at any price!"
He returned to the writing-table and sat down to his papers, with the dogged air of a man determined to drive away vexing thoughts by dint of sheer hard work. For more than an hour he labored on resolutely, munching a bit of dry bread from time to time. Then he paused a little, and began to think again. Gradually the summer twilight faded, and the room grew dark.
"Perhaps we shall tide over to-night, after all--who knows?" said Lomaque, ringing his handbell for lights. They were brought in, and with them ominously returned the police agent Magloire with a small sealed packet. It contained an arrest-order and a tiny three-cornered note, looking more like a love-letter, or a lady's invitation to a party, than anything else. Lomaque opened the note eagerly and read these lines neatly written, and signed with Robespierre's initials--M. R.--formed elegantly in cipher:
"Arrest Trudaine and his sister to-night. On second thoughts, I am not sure, if Danville comes back in time to be present, that it may not be all the better. He is unprepared for his wife's arrest. Watch him closely when it takes place, and report privately to me. I am afraid he is a vicious man; and of all things I abhor Vice."
"Any more work for me to-night?" asked Magloire, with a yawn.
"Only an arrest," replied Lomaque. "Collect our men; and when you're ready get a coach at the door."
"We were just going to supper," grumbled Magloire to himself, as he went out. "The devil seize the Aristocrats! They're all in such a hurry to get to the guillotine that they won't even give a man time to eat his victuals in peace!"
"There's no choice now," muttered Lomaque, angrily thrusting the arrest-order and the three-cornered note into his pocket. "His father was the saving of me; he himself welcomed me like an equal; his sister treated me like a gentleman, as the phrase went in those days; and now--"
He stopped and wiped his forehead--then unlocked his desk, produced a bottle of brandy, and poured himself out a glass of the liquor, which he drank by sips, slowly.
"I wonder whether other men get softer-hearted as they grow older!" he said. "I seem to do so, at any rate. Courage! courage! what must be, must. If I risked my head to do it, I couldn't stop this arrest. Not a man in the office but would be ready to execute it, if I wasn't."
Here the rumble of carriage-wheels sounded outside.
"There's the coach!" exclaimed Lomaque, locking up the brandy-bottle, and taking his hat. "After all, as this arrest is to be made, it's as well for them that I should make it."
Consoling himself as he best could with this reflection, Chief Police Agent Lomaque blew out the candles, and quitted the room.
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