ORPHANS OF THE STORM
ORPHANS OF THE STORM
A COMPLETE NOVEL
FROM D. W. GRIFFITH'S MOTION PICTURE EPIC ON THE IMMORTAL THEME OF
THE TWO ORPHANS
ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTO-PLAY
GROSSET & DUNLAP
Made in the United States of America
BY HENRY MacMAHON
All rights reserved, including those of translation into foreign languages.
I. TWO GIRLS OF NORMANDY 1 II. THE JOURNEY TO PARIS 5 III. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE COACH HOUSE 12 IV. THE FETE OF BEL-AIR 20 V. BEL-AIR—(CONTINUED) 27 VI. IN THE FROCHARDS' DEN 33 VII. TANGLED SKEINS 38 VIII. THE HONOR OF THE FAMILY 46 IX. FRIENDS OF THE PEOPLE 54 X. THE ATTACK ON DANTON 61 XI. LOUISE BEFORE NOTRE DAME 67 XII. LOVE, MASTER OF HEARTS 72 XIII. THE RECOGNITION 76 XIV. DOWN IN THE DEPTHS 84 XV. LIGHT RAYS IN THE DARKNESS 91 XVI. REVOLUTION IS HERE! 100 XVII. PRISON DELIVERY—AND AN ENCOUNTER 108 XVIII. "THERE IS NO LAW—" 114 XIX. KNIFE DUEL AND ESCAPE 124 XX. THE NEW TYRANNY 129 XXI. ADVENTURES OF A PILGRIM 136 XXII. ADVENTURES OF A PILGRIM (CONTINUED) 142 XXIII. BEFORE THE DREAD TRIBUNAL 149 XXIV. VENGEANCE COME TO JUDGMENT 156 XXV. THE VOICE OF DANTON 160 XXVI. REPRIEVE OR AGONY 169 XXVII. THE FAREWELL 173 XXVIII. MANIAC WITH A DAGGER 178 XXIX. DANTON'S RIDERS 184 XXX. THE AFTERMATH 191
ORPHANS OF THE STORM
TWO GIRLS OF NORMANDY
In all the countryside of Evreux, nay in all the beauteous old-time Normandy of the period of 1789, there were no lovelier filles du peuple than Henriette and Louise Girard.
Their romantic story was often whispered by country gossips. In infancy foundlings on the church steps of Notre Dame, then brought to this quiet Norman backwater by the Girards and raised as sisters, they had lost both their protectors by death. The same visitation of the dread plague had cost poor little Louise her eyesight.
Since the orphaning and especially since the blindness of Louise, Henriette cared for her with a love overwhelming as that of a mother for her helpless baby. She looked forward eagerly to the day when they might leave the kinswoman's where they were staying and go to Paris.
A local doctor had imparted a precious ray of hope.
"As for me, voila! I can do nothing," he said. "Mais, is it not that there are learned faculties in Paris—men skilled in chirurgery even to the taking off of cataracts and the restoration of sight? Of a truth, yes! En avant, mes enfants! Let Monsieur Martin, your ancient cousin in Paris, have the care of you whilst the chirurgeons exert their skill—presto! if all goes well, the little one shall yet see!"
Henriette's heart thumped with joy o'er the cheering prospect. She kissed and fondled Louise and even teased her. Reading or chatting to the blind girl, sewing her frocks or performing a thousand and one kindly services, her sole thought was to distract and enliven the prisoned soul behind the darkened windows.
And so a broad smile crossed the lovely sightless features and even the dulled orbs radiated a little as Henriette excitedly told the details of the proposed trip, and teased:
"—And, oh, yes—I forgot—when Miss Baby's eyes are quite well, I shall sit down like a lady—and you'll do all the work!"
They were quite in a fever of delighted ardor over the preparations for the journey.
Elder sister, attending to everything, pronounced it perfect with gay little pats of quaint panniered costumes, fitting of banded sailor hats o'er white coifs, recurling of ringlets, and dainty polishing of slippers. The graceful little figures seemed elfin and fairy-like in the half sleeves and low corsages of tight bodices from which depended enormously full skirts set off by cute pinafores.
Round boxes, baskets or bags on either arm and even the rainy-day umbrella, they waited in delicious expectancy the serving man fetching the brass-studded cowhide trunk, to the very last moment when to Henriette's surprise the blind girl pouted and drew back!
She groped until her fingers touched a chair, then sat down—kerplump!
"I won't go!" announced Louise firmly. "Y-you'll meet somebody or other in Paris—get married—and—and—I'll be left all alone!"
The little general of the expedition paced hurriedly up and down the floor like a Napoleon at Elba. Shocked surprise at Louise's awful insinuation struggled with panic fear. At last Henriette faced her sister squarely. She came over and knelt beside her chair, raising a small hand to high Heaven.
"Desert you for a Man!" said Henriette, breathlessly. "Why, the very idea that I could ever think such a thing. Dear, here is my right hand; take it and bear witness: I solemnly swear never to marry till you yourself can see and approve my husband!"
The left hand of Louise traveled up till it met and lay flat on the other's upraised palm. An expression of happiness overspread the blind girl's face. She leaned over and kissed her sister. The two girls rose and left the old home of Evreux.
THE JOURNEY TO PARIS
Locomotion in those pre-railroad days was by stage coach except for the rich and noble who rode in their chaises. The way of the diligence led past winding streams and bright meadows busy with haymakers; past picturesque water mills and stone chateaux, anon along tree-shaded avenues grateful in their coolness.
Hard as the leathern seats were and however wearisome the ride, the girls forgot discomfort in Henriette's description of the sights and scenes and Louise's just as eager listening. Then at the stops the young women would get out and stretch their weary limbs whereof they suddenly became aware as the motion ceased. They were the only passengers, with unlimited time for the naive confidences which girlhood loves.
"Are you sure that Cousin Martin will really meet us at the Paris coach house?" asked the blind sister anxiously.
"I wrote him that we were coming," replied Henriette simply. "Of course he will be there and awaiting our arrival."
"But if he should not—"
"Then, we have his address and will go to his house. Never fear, little sister, it will be all right...."
The lumbering coach-and-six did its hundred miles a day, bad roads or good roads. But within a few miles of Paris a whiffletree broke, the ungainly vehicle stopped, and the men jumped off to hold the horses and repair the damage. Henriette and Louise soon left the hard seats for a few minutes too.
Down the other side of the narrow turn of the road where the accident had occurred, thundered the beautiful carved and gilded chaise of a famous nobleman, Marquis de Praille, accompanied by gallant outriders and backed by liveried footmen on the high rear seats. Inside the equipage were the Marquis and his commissionaire La Fleur.
The black and dusty old stage coach blocked the way.
As the aristocrat's journey rudely stopped, with the chaise horses thrown back on their haunches, a bewigged and powdered head was thrust out of the window, roaring:
"What is the meaning of this?"
Descending presently with his follower to survey the scene, the noble Marquis enraged at the blocking of his day's pleasuring belabored the chief ostler with his cane. Smartly the blows rained down on the cowering sufferer, alternate right and left in rhythmic strokes that touched each and several part of the canaille anatomy.
This gentle exercise finished, the Marquis espied around the corner of the coach the two young passengers. Another side of the Grand Seigneur's nature disclosed itself.
Mon Dieu, what a vision! Blue eyes, yellow ringlets framing most kissable features, dainty form, twinkling feet, flower-like elegance—a rustic Psyche far more to be desired than the ladies of the Court! The Marquis hardly looked twice at the blind girl. All his glances were for Henriette.
Self-conscious, the noble gentleman plumed and preened. Patting down his somewhat ruffled apparel, adjusting his fashionable wig and peruke, and touching up his mouth with the lipstick that the dandies of that age carried, he advanced elegantly upon the young women, cane in one hand and the other toying delicately with a hand muff.
Henriette curtsied and smiled, and bade Louise do the same. They knew not the ways of Courts, but native courtesy and naive simplicity were theirs. Presently the elder girl found herself telling the distinguished personage all the details of their trip, the appointment with M. Martin, and the hope of curing Louise by a visit to the Faculty.
The gallant de Praille, all bows and smirks, was offering them the hospitality of the chaise. What a grand stranger, truly! A regal caress of Henriette's fingers in the handclasp. Most patronizing (or was it odious familiarity?) his dainty touch of her bare arms; the jeweled hand that toyed with her ringlets; the dexterous move as if to encircle her waist; the playing—in the airiest, most fluttering manner imaginable—with the lace that draped her adorable little bosom!
Quietly Henriette replied to his overtures:
"No, monsieur, I think it is best that we go in our own coach!"
The chastiser of canaille and charmer of ladies did not seem a whit abashed. Paying them ceremonious farewell, he withdrew and repaired to his equipage, the road for which was now clear. The girls stood a minute giggling at his mannerisms, as Henriette described his finery and imitated his peacock airs.
The girls would not have smiled had they understood. La Fleur, whom they had scarcely noticed, was the pander of the Marquis's vices. The two were deep in plot. 'Twas whispered talk, but a chance bystander might at least have overheard the words:
"... At my fete of Bel-Air—make no mistake, La Fleur—I rely on you. One hundred louis, the reward...."
Or another scene that marked de Praille's entry into Paris, might have interested them. Driving recklessly to make up time lost in the blockade, the nobleman's equipage knocked down and ran over a luckless denizen of the faubourgs. Carelessly flinging out gold to the relatives of the dead woman who were sobbing or cursing him, he leaned forward and inquired most solicitously of the driver:
"But—are the horses hurt?"
Indeed the nobles of that time regarded the masses as little if any superior to cattle or any other of their possessions.
In the country the common man toiled a serf without wages, for his master; while in Paris itself, the centre of gayety and fashion, the fruit of his toil was expended by the aristocrats in prodigal luxury.
The bourgeoisie or middle class bore the brunt of the taxes. A gay parasitic element, the demi-monde, ministered to the nobles' pleasures. Below, the "submerged tenth" of the thievish and begging classes plied their questionable trades, with a large margin of the city's population on the very verge of starvation.
It hints eloquently of the terrible conditions that there were no less than thirty thousand professional beggars in Paris at this time. Their wan, pinched faces, gaunt forms and palsied vitality were an outstanding reproach to a flower-like but decadent aristocratic culture founded on the muck of cruelty and oppression.
Nothing had the girls (or the simpleminded country Doctor who sped them) known of the dangers or pitfalls of the city. Vile gallantry or viler underworld was looking for just such prey....
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE COACH HOUSE
The Normandy-Paris stage swung into the city as the shades of evening were falling and deposited our heroines at journey's end in a little square beyond the Pont Neuf where the coach house was situated. As they alighted, cries of "Sedan! Sedan chair!" were heard. Brawling chairmen "mixed it" with pummeling fists and kicking legs to be in the front lines for the passengers' custom.
'Twas a terrifying scene from which they were glad to escape to a side bench whence they watched the homeward hurrying throngs and looked vainly for Monsieur Martin. As in the country, Henriette tried to pass the time of day with divers and sundry folk, but it was no use. They gave her queer looks or hurried on, as if stone deaf.
"They simply pay no attention to you here!" she complained to Louise, "but never mind! Cousin Martin will come soon, and take us to his home."
Presently the city lamplighter was lighting the street lantern above them; he went his way and the Place was deserted.
There was a man lurking in the shadows of a portico nearby, though 'twould somewhat strain credulity to imagine him the elderly tradesman Martin. He was a powerful and burly figure, black habited, of impudent visage quite unlike a gentle relative's. In the deeper shadows back of him crouched two fellows, one of whom bore in his hand a black cloth.
"Oh, why does not Monsieur Martin come?" said Henriette to herself softly, with a little gesture of half-despair.
"I am your cousin Martin!" said the man, advancing upon them with a smirk that was like a leer.
Henriette involuntarily drew back, withdrawing Louise a few steps with her. Relief and fear of the strange "cousin" struggled within her. The man laid a hand on the elder girl's arm and at the same time signalled the ruffians. A sudden impulse moved Henriette to wrench herself free.
In a twinkling the three were upon her. While the burly leader tore away her grasp of the blind Louise, the fellow with the cloth threw it over her face and shoulders, stifling her screams.
Not a passer-by in sight!
Fiercely Henriette struggled, twice lifting the cloth from her face, and fiercely Louise sought to twine herself around the body of her lovely guide and protector. But the big man again had thrown the blind girl off, and the fellows, having tied the black cloth, lifted Henriette between them and carried her into a waiting fiacre.
"We've got her safe now, La Fleur," said the kidnappers.
"Drive your hardest to Bel-Air, the Marquis's fete begins at nine o'clock!" said the villain addressed, who was none other than the famous nobleman's pander....
What cared the Marquis and La Fleur about the blind one's misfortunes. As La Fleur had said:
"Never fear—blindness is ever a good stock in trade. She'll find her career—in the streets of Paris!"
Louise stopped, and listened for the retreating footsteps. The noise of the kidnappers' melee was quite stilled. Instead, the diminishing sound of hoofbeats and crunching wheels woke the echoes of the silent street; mingled with it—perhaps not even actually, but the memory of an earlier outcry—the muffled cry, "Louise! Louise!"
Louise listened again, but no familiar sound met her ear—only the rushing of the water, or the footsteps of some pedestrian in the distance.
"I hear nothing," she said, in a terrified whisper. Hoping against hope, and in a voice trembling with fear, she spoke as it were to the empty winds:
"Henriette! Speak to me, speak one word. Answer me, Henriette!" No answer, no reply!
"Louise!" sounded faintly on the far-off wind, or perhaps her poor brain conjured it. The blind girl knew now that her sister was beyond reach, and in the power of cruel men who knew no mercy.
"They have dragged her away to some hiding," sensed the poor blind brain, "or perhaps that carriage is bearing her away from me forever. Oh, what shall I do?" she cried aloud, in tones that would have thrilled a hearer's heart with pity. "Alone—alone! Abandoned!"
With the last word the full horror of her situation surged upon her, and she burst into a torrent of tears. Alone in Paris! Blind and alone, without relatives or friends.
You who sit in a cozy home, surrounded by safeguards and comforts, can have no idea of the blind foundling's utter dependence or the terrible meaning conveyed by the one word "abandoned."
"What will become of me?" she cried, between the sobs. "Alone in this great city; helpless and blind—my God, what shall I do? Where am I to go? I do not know which way to turn!"
Self-preservation, and the piteous hope that the house fronts might give her some clue to her bearings, caused the girl to stagger from the centre of the square to the sides. Along one of them she picked her way, moaning for help and having not even a stick to guide her. Slowly, painfully she groped around the Place until unwittingly she approached the railing or wall which served as a guard to the steep bank that descended to the river.
Along this she felt her way until suddenly her hands met the empty air. What, now? Should she return as she had come? No, she thought; the flagging beneath her feet was heavy and substantial: 'twas probably the intersection of another street, and a few steps would bring her to house fronts again.
Louise walked down the flags and stepped into nothingness—thirty feet sheer precipice into the river Seine!
In the instant horror of falling to death off the stone pier, she found herself saved by being clasped in a man's arms.
"Great heavens!" this individual exclaimed as he bore her to the centre of the square. "What were you going to do?"
"Nothing—nothing—what was it?" cried Louise incoherently, realizing only that she had been pulled back from death's door.
"Another moment," said the man in horror-stricken accents, "and you would have been drowned in the Seine! I leaped up the steps and just managed to catch you. Lucky that five minutes ago I had to go down to the river to fill my water can. You—"
The tones of the voice, which struck Louise as young-old in its timbre, were soft and kind with a refined and even plaintive quality albeit not cultured. Here was a good soul and a friend, she sensed at once. But could she suddenly have won her sight, Louise would have been astonished at the actual vision.
Pale narrow spirituelle features, lit by beautiful eyes and surmounted by a wealth of straight black hair; a form haggard, weazened by deformity, yet evidencing muscular toil; delicate hands and feet that like the features bespoke the poesy of soul within mis-shapen shell,—the hunchback scissors-grinder Pierre Frochard presented a remarkable aspect which, once seen, no one could ever forget!
Wonder and awe were writ on the pale face as he looked at the lovely angel he had rescued. Pierre shuddered again over the escape. Better that he should have suffered myriad deaths than that a hair of that lovely head were injured. As for himself—poor object of the world's scorn and his family's revilings—was he worthy e'en to kiss the hem of her garment?
Pierre looked yet again. The angelic little creature was blind! Wide-open yet sightless orbs whereof the cataracts blackened the view of all Life's perils, as they had of the imminent river. A surge of self-abnegating, celestial love, mingled with divine pity, filled the hunchback's soul.
Tenderly he inquired about her misfortune, and she told him the sad tale of the journey and Henriette's kidnapping.... Their talk was broken in upon by the entry of the hag Mere Frochard and her elder son.
Alas, poor Louise! In finding a friend thou hast likewise found the bitter bread of the stranger and the slavery of the Frochard clan! The wretched hunchback is himself in thrall. Little dreams he the woe that shall attend ye both, the while Henriette is the victim of far mightier pomps and powers.
Though Henriette shall not know thy fate for many a day, though she shall search long and frantically and not meet the beloved until within the shadow of the guillotine, it may give the reader what comfort it will that the blind sister still lives—a lost mite in the vast ocean of Paris!
THE FETE OF BEL-AIR
Henrietta had swooned in the vehicle which was being rapidly driven into open country.
Gradually color came back into wan cheeks. The blue orbs and Cupid lips fluttered and half opened; the dazed little brain tried vainly to sense what had happened.
Quickly the man La Fleur took out a small phial and poured some few drops of a dark liquid on the girl's tongue. Half consciously swallowing it, she sank back again—this time, into a deeper nirvana.
They were coming now to a large estate, the grounds of which were brightly illuminated. Outside the iron palings a crowd of beggars shrieked and gesticulated. Within, all was gayety. La Fleur and his fellows dismounted with their burden. They laid the inanimate form of the Norman girl on a litter and covered it with a white canopy. As this strange pallet awaits the Master's wishes in anteroom, let us take a peep at the celebrated Sunken Gardens.
Bel-Air had been beautified in the lovely exedra style for which Petit Trianon is noted. Art blended so cunningly with Nature one might almost mistake marble Venus for live goddess or flesh-and-blood naiads of the lake for carved caryatides. The very musicians seemed children of Pan as they tuned their lyres and fiddles in woodland nook.
Before the splashing fountain supported by little naked Loves in marble—flanked by balustrades and bordered by screens of myriad crystalline glass drops—a cool white pavement invited the gay minuet. Beyond, a huge banquet table groaned with delicacies and wines the cost of which would have gone far to rationing the thirty thousand hungry of the nearby City. Indeed, enough was wasted to have fed many. With bizarre and often gross entertainment Marquis de Praille amused his guests who themselves presented a wanton and amorous scene that seemed itself a part of the elaborately staged revels.
What gallantry, what passion, what low asides and snatched kisses! as the squirming dancers intoxicated the spectators' sense or gauzily draped coryphees plunged in the pool now converted into a fountain of wine. The elegant gentlemen and the audacious women guests—themselves miracles of bold costuming and sixty-inch snow-white coiffures—knew the play foretold the coarser revels that all would indulge in after midnight.
Around the banqueting tables a number of ladies and gentlemen were seated, some still toying with the savory viands and drinking rare vintages of Champagne, whilst others idly watched the dancers or discussed the latest court news and high life scandal.
"Well, what do you think of my retreat from the whirl and bustle of Paris?" asked Marquis de Praille of his vis-a-vis, who was a dashing sort of beauty.
"My dear Marquis," replied that lady, "I am delighted. It is a satisfaction to find a gentleman who maintains the customs of his rank."
"And yet there are fools who want to change them," exclaimed a young nobleman from the opposite table.
"You are right—fools—fools," answered de Praille, as he motioned to the servants for more wine.
"By the way," asked the lady who had first spoken, "you have heard the news?"
As no one had heard anything particularly new for the last two hours, she continued by saying:
"They say that the new minister of police is as hard as a stone, and cold as a fish. He is going to put a stop to all our amusements, and, Marquis, this may be the last entertainment you will give at Bel-Air."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the host. "I'd like to see the minister of police who would dare to interfere with the pleasures of a French nobleman. Who and what is he?"
"He is from Touraine; is called the Count de Linieres, and is the uncle of the Chevalier Maurice de Vaudrey."
"Where is the Chevalier?" suddenly asked one of the ladies, as she was thus reminded of one whom report had described as rather eccentric, and on whom she wished to exercise her charms. "You promised me I should see him, Marquis."
"So I did, and I expect him, as well as another guest. I warn you, ladies, that she will be the rival to you all."
"Who is the other guest?" was the question which assailed him from all quarters.
"A young lady," answered the Marquis as if enraptured at the thought. "Sweet sixteen, beautiful as a rose, and innocent as an angel."
"Where did you find such a pearl?" asked one of the ladies banteringly.
This announcement was followed by a titter from the feminine members of the group.
"Yes, I know these Normandy beauties!" scorned one of the ladies, betraying in spite of herself a tinge of jealousy.
"Rustics! Quite unpolished and de trop," chimed in another fair one, cat-like in her verbal claws.
"Laugh away, ladies," said de Praille gayly. "You shall see a real Norman beauty, and then see how jealous you will all become at sight of her."
At this moment a noise was heard from the outside, and in the midst of some confusion a rather singular voice was heard saying:
"I tell you I must go in, and I will. I must speak to your master."
On hearing this the Marquis went toward the entrance, and demanded of the servants who this was who was so importunate.
"Picard," answered the owner of the singular voice. "Picard, valet to the Chevalier de Vaudrey."
The Marquis immediately gave orders that he be admitted, and a sharp, wiry-looking fellow, wearing the de Vaudrey livery, stood before the gay party.
"Most excellent Marquis and most beautiful ladies," he said to the general mirth as he curtsied low and executed a neat pas seul, "my master the Chevalier is very late, but he will surely appear."
"Late?" protested one of the young blades who knew the Prefect's nephew. "Why, he told me he expected to be here early."
"Alas, detained by business—" replied Picard in a melancholy tone.
"Business! A young nobleman has no business!"
"It is so, gentlemen. Some nights, I grant you, he devotes to pleasure, as a young aristocrat should; but his days—how do you suppose he spends his days?"
"Sleeps, of course," said the Marquis, in a positive tone.
"Gentlemen, allow me to tell you confidentially," said the valet mysteriously as the gentlemen gathered around him, fully expecting to hear of some treason. "He works! actually works! He sits down and reads and writes as though he were an advocate."
"Bah!" exclaimed one. "You don't expect us to believe that?"
"Yes, and more, too," answered Picard, who enjoyed immensely being able to impart some information to his superiors. "Why, how do you suppose he acts to the common people who want to see him? His creditors, for instance?"
"Why, if they are importunate, he beats them, I suppose," answered de Praille, who often "settled" bills thus.
"Yes, he beats them," sneered Picard; "he pays them! Yes, gentlemen, he pays his tradespeople." And the valet surveyed the group, enjoying the surprise he had given them.
"Oh, the poor fellow is lost!" exclaimed one of the party, who at the age of twenty had spent a large fortune and was now living on his wits.
"Completely," affirmed Picard, "and all owing to the company he keeps. He won't be guided by me—"
"The Chevalier Maurice de Vaudrey!"
Picard's further revelations were cut short by the entry of his master who dismissed the valet and presented his apologies to the company.
In any assemblage the young Chevalier of twenty-two might have been remarked for his Greek God features and the occasional smile that made him look, from time to time, a veritable bright Phoebus Apollo.
He was far handsomer, far more attractive than the host, but a young-old cynic about these goings-on. Nephew of the police prefect of Paris, he had been specially invited to forestall—by reason of his presence—any Governmental swooping down on Praille's wild party. Evidently he was not thinking of morals or of license, but his thoughts were far other.
"The people cry out for bread," said the Chevalier, looking at the board and thinking of the shrieking beggars.
Marquis de Praille raised his fashionable lorgnette, contemplating a vast chateau-like confection on the table, and sprung his little joke.
"Why don't they eat cake?" he replied airily, with a cackling laugh.
De Vaudrey smiled fleetingly, then half-serious, half-smiling, raised a hand in polite protest. Two fair ones carried him off eagerly to retail to the distinguished visitor a morsel of gossip.
"The Marquis has made another conquest!" whispered one to him behind her fan, to which the other added: "Yes, he found a marvelously beautiful Norman peasant journeying to Paris in a stage coach, so he had La Fleur take her and fetch her here—a mere rustic, to outvie us all!"
"Yes, 'twill be good sport," replied the cynic. "These country girls that his excellency abducts are willing victims."
They were interrupted by a procession of servants bringing in the covered pallet.
The spread was thrown off, a restorative administered to the recumbent figure—Henriette sat up and gazed in blank stupefaction at the crowding revelers.
She staggered to her feet, looking for a friendly face somewhere.
Of a sudden, the mental image of her lost sister shot her as with a violent agony.
"My sister Louise—where is she?" she pleaded. "Quick! Please let me go to her—don't you understand? She is BLIND!" Sobs almost choked the little voice. "She cannot take a SINGLE STEP without me!"
De Vaudrey looked up to see the tiny creature running hither and yon, asking the laughing gentlemen for help, repulsing Praille's embraces, fending off the other satyr who would drown her sorrows in fizz. If this were play-acting, it excelled the finest efforts of Adrienne Lecouvreur! De Praille had now grasped her firmly by the waist and shoulders, his sensual breath was on her cheek, a last cry escaped her:
"Among all these noblemen, is there not ONE MAN OF HONOR?"
The despairing outcry pierced the Chevalier's shallow cynicism, touching the finer feelings that had lain dormant.
He sprang to her side, dashed de Praille's arms from her exquisite form. Then, facing his bewildered host, he said in calm even tones to the girl:
"Come, Mademoiselle, we will leave this place."
Suiting the word to the action, he offered his arm to Henriette and started to go. With a fury restrained only by conventional usages, de Praille was across their path and barred the way with his wand.
"This is my house," he said hoarsely, "and I will not permit this insult!" As he spoke, the chimes sounded midnight. "Do you hear? After twelve o'clock, no one ever leaves Bel-Air!"
For answer de Vaudrey dashed aside the extended wand, escorted the kidnapped girl to the foot of the staircase. De Praille was upon them again. This time he drew his sword. Fascinated, the courtiers and their women companions watched the outcome.
Gently shielding Henriette behind him, de Vaudrey drew. Stroke and counterstroke and parry of rapiers and lightning-like motion glinted in the air. Henriette was the affrighted center of the fashionable group that, according to the custom of that time, awaited the issue of the duel without intervening.
Glory be! her protector was parrying the Marquis' wild thrusts while he himself bided an opening. It came with a suddenness as dramatic as the duel itself. A lunge of the villain had left his own side exposed. De Vaudrey sidestepped and as he did so plunged his rapier between the ribs of the owner of Bel-Air.
The mortally stricken de Praille sank back against a marble bench. De Vaudrey scarcely glanced at him. Taking Henriette by the hand, he rushed with her up the staircase and out to liberty.
Before the Grand Seigneur's cronies thought to avenge their master, they had passed the astonished servants, passed the minatory beggars at the gates, and hailing a fiacre were on their way to Paris.
IN THE FROCHARDS' DEN
One hundred and fifty years of outlawry had made the Frochard clan a wolfish breed; battening on crime, thievery and beggary. The head of the house had suffered the extreme penalty meted out to highwaymen. The precious young hopeful, Jacques, was a chip of the old block—possibly a shade more drunken and a shade less enterprising.
But the real masterful figure was the Widow Frochard, his mother, a hag whose street appearance nurses used to frighten naughty children. Hard masculine features, disheveled locks and piercing black eyes gave her a fearsome look enhanced by a very vigorous moustache, a huge wart near the mouth, the ear-hoops and tobacco pipe that she sported, and the miscellaneous mass of rags that constituted her costume.
In this menage of the begging Frochards, the crippled scissors-grinder Pierre was the only individual worth his salt, and he was heartily despised by his brother Jacques and his mother.
The hag's black eyes snapped as she saw Louise whom the hunchback had saved from the water.
"Pretty—blind—she'll beg us lots of money!" she said gleefully to Jacques. But to the girl she pretended aid, and her leathern, liquor-coated voice proclaimed:
"No friends, eh, Dearie? Then I'll take care of you!"
Only poor Pierre sympathized with Louise's awful grief in being thrown adrift on Paris through the violent disappearance of her beloved sister. He trembled to think what knavery his wicked kinsfolk meant, though he himself was their helpless slave; the target of kicks, cuffs, and the robbery of all his earnings.
La Frochard led the way to their dank and noisome den, opening from a street trap-door and giving at the other extremity on a sort of water-rat exit underneath the pier. She handed Louise down the steps and taking her things remarked in a self-satisfied tone: "Here are your lodgings, Dearie!"
The old woman arrayed herself in Louise's shawl, and grinned as she tried on the girl's widespread garden hat. She flung the girl about roughly, even choking her. To heighten the rosy picture of great wealth to accrue, she took a deep draught of cognac from her loved black bottle. Poor Louise sank down to deep slumber, from which neither the noisy potations of La Frochard and Jacques, nor their cursing and abuse of the hunchback Pierre, sufficed to awaken her.
Next morning the hag pulled the blind girl out of the rough bed and dressed her in beggar's garments.
"You must go out now on the street with us and sing!" she said.
"... But you promised to help me find Henriette...." said the poor girl, piteously.
"We'll find her for you one of these days, but in the meantime you must earn your keep. No—I don't mean, actually beg! You do the singing, and I'll do the begging."
"Never!" cried Louise. "You may kill me if you will, but I'll not be a street beggar. Why, the very first person we meet, I'll ask to save me and inform the police!"
"I'll fix you, my fine lady!" screamed La Frochard, throwing her from her. "Come, Jacques," she said to her ruffian son, "we'll trying a means of making her mind!" Together they seized and started dragging her to the steps of a sub-cellar. Tremblingly Pierre urged them to desist, but they cast him aside.
Louise was thrust into the dungeon and the trap closed. Black bread and a cup of water was to be her prison fare. Still moaning "Henriette! Henriette!" she groped along the slimy walls and tried the footing of the mingled mud and straw.
Horrors! What were the creeping things she sensed, though sightless? Two raced under her petticoat, one nibbled at her shoe. She jumped high in air and screamed outright.
Rats! They were upon her again, almost swarming. She fled to a corner, leaped on a pile of rags, literally fought them off with both hands! Her screams echoed through the upper den, to the anguish of Pierre and the mocking laughter of La Frochard and Jacques....
Pitiably broken, Louise was pulled out of the vile sink a few hours later, pledging wildly to obey the least of the hag's commands.
La Frochard knew that her conquest was complete.
Henceforth the girl would be but as a clay figure in her hands—a decoy to lure the golden charity of the rich and sympathetic.
As for Jacques, that ruffian was now eyeing the blind lass closely, and muttering:
"Not bad-looking—I'll see to it no other man gets her!"
He slapped his knife villainously.
Henriette Girard had not only been saved from dishonor by Chevalier de Vaudrey, but she had won a devoted friend. Through his connections, the Chevalier knew much that was passing in the half-world. The mystery of the happenings at the coach house was cleared by him.
"Your cousin M. Martin," he said, "was found drugged in a wineshop to which presumably the man La Fleur had enticed him. It was easy then for La Fleur to pose as Martin and kidnap you.
"I grieve to say it, abductions of the poor and friendless are common with the roues of fashion. Their families are of such influence that the police rarely interfere.
"But there will be an end of this—if I mistake not," said the Chevalier, "the people mean to put an end to these seignorial 'privileges'!"
It was in one of his frequent talks at the simple lodgings to which he had conducted her the night of Bel-Air. Swiftly they had retraced the steps of the stricken Louise even to the pier edge over the darkling Seine. Horrified and trembling, Henriette feared the worst.
"It is not likely she was drowned," said the Chevalier gravely. "Someone must have been about, to save her. Do not be discouraged, Mademoiselle, if our search for Louise takes several days. We are without a clew—groping, like her, in the dark. But we shall find her, never fear!"
The confident words gave tiny comfort to the elder girl as he bade his adieux in the parlor of the respectable lodging house he had found for her—the same caravansary (had they but known it) that housed the then obscure Maximilien Robespierre.
She strove to thank him for his kindness when he interrupted her: "Don't thank me, Mademoiselle, I owe you a debt of gratitude, for you have restored to me ideals sweet as childhood!"
Unconsciously the young people standing there, drew closer to one another until their lips met. Each was almost too astonished for words. Fine breeding came to de Vaudrey's aid. He apologized—and promised not to let it happen again!
Sincerity spoke in the young man's earnest eyes and his respectful kiss of her small hand at parting.
Was indeed this youthful cynic transformed by the flower-like influence of the girl?
He went away all eagerness to pursue the lost sister's quest, promising that no stone—police or other—should be left unturned in the search.
* * * * *
And here—where the orphans' eventful epoch becomes entwined with the lives of the great and with the darkening storm and impending passion of the Revolution—it is well to acquaint our readers further with the de Vaudreys.
Count de Linieres of Touraine had been married—many years before the date of this story—to Mlle. de Vaudrey, the heiress of a great fortune. A skeleton ('twas rumored) rattled in the Vaudrey closet. Certainly there was heritage of hates as well as gold.
A tenant Jean Setain, who came to the Paris mansion to pay his rent, made a scene. He told of the cruelties long ago inflicted on his father by the Countess' father—for some trifling trespass on seigniorage, boiling lead in the unfortunate's veins—and the angry Count, after a stern rebuke, had him ejected. Jacques-Forget-Not (such was his queer nickname) departed, vowing vengeance.
Having ample wealth, the Count desired preferment. The post of Minister of Police was a steppingstone. He accepted it whilst visions of a grand alliance for his nephew, Chevalier de Vaudrey, pointed to dukedom or even princely rank as the family's goal. It thus vexed Linieres exceedingly that the Chevalier should have been mixed up in a duel about an unknown girl. He believed it a clever stroke to hire Picard, the Chevalier's own valet, to spy upon him.
"How is your master's conduct?" asked the Count.
"Scandalous, perfectly scandalous!" replied Picard in a tone of deep dejection. "Once indeed he had a few gentleman associates and went to gay parties, but now he is quite moral, and just as studious as a lawyer's clerk. Really I must leave the Chevalier," continued Picard, "his principles are such as I cannot accept!"
"Then I will re-engage you—on one condition. That is, that you remain a while with my nephew and tell me everything he does. I have heard, on the contrary, that—"
Picard almost danced a pas seul. "Oh, that is the way the wind lies! The sly dog!—And I thought of leaving him. She must be a saucy and jaunty little minx, whoever she is! Oh, yes, I will find out everything that you require."
With eye to keyhole the valet reporter saw the frequent innocent parleys of Maurice and Henriette, which he construed as an intrigue. He was quite ecstatic with happiness now. The police Prefect, finding his suspicions privately confirmed, bluntly refused police aid to the Chevalier's hunt for Louise. He spoke pointedly and (as he hoped) with effect:
"Monsieur, you must give up your association with these common people. I have other plans for you that will shortly mature."
The angry Count could not be crossed. De Vaudrey's sole hope lay in his Aunt.
* * * * *
Ceaselessly Henriette spent her days in trying to trace Louise. Her quest became the neighborhood gossip. Strangers interested themselves and offered clues to herself and the Chevalier—clues that proved quite futile.
To her doorstep a great pock-marked man, bushy-browed and of knob-like visage, was walking one day with her finicky dandified neighbor M. Robespierre. As he passed, the titan turned and inquired kindly:
"Are you the little girl who lost her sister?"
He spoke with a gentle sympathy that touched her and even his cursing reference to the abductions: "Damned aristocrats! The people are going to stop that sort of thing!" did not phase her, for she looked up into his face and trustfully replied:
"You are such a big man I should think you could do almost anything!"
Robespierre was pawing at the pock-marked one's coat, and finally succeeded in yanking him around. The broad back of the giant being turned to her, our little sparrow of a Henriette noiselessly departed—to the evident disappointment of the big man who looked yet again and found her place empty!
The big man had run across Chevalier de Vaudrey also, and the two had struck up a friendship. Moved by the pitiful sight of a starveling crowd gazing into a bakery, Maurice had rushed in and bought an armful of loaves which he distributed, adding gold louis for the wretched mothers of families. The pock-marked one had been a spectator. He stopped the Chevalier, shook his hand warmly, and remarked: "If more of the aristocrats were like you, things would be different!"
* * * * *
From these scenes of low life, let the reader pass for a few moments to the Salon de la Paix at Versailles, where King Louis XVI received petitioners.
We in America who have no awe of royalty perceive that the luckless King was simply a square peg in a round hole. He loved locksmithy, hunting, and home; would have been a successful inventor, pioneer, or bourgeois parent. In the chair of State, on this day of petitions, his head and hand busied themselves with a wonderful new doorlock he had devised.
"Sire," said the suppliant de Linieres, "in the matter of the grand alliance betwixt my nephew Chevalier de Vaudrey and your ward Princesse de Acquitaine—"
The monarch nodded absentmindedly.
"Oh, yes, yes! Of course. As you say—" With a courtly wave of the hand, the monarch indicated the waiting heiress on his right. She curtsied low in acceptance of the royal command.
"Let the young man marry her, and accept a place in my royal entourage—But now that this little matter is settled," continued the King with a return to his former animation, "I invite you to examine my latest invention, an unpickable lock, which I have here!"
The grave comedy of eulogy on the royal locksmithing was played by the delighted suppliant according to all the rules.
THE HONOR OF THE FAMILY
Daily the young Chevalier developed a warmer interest in the sweet and pure young girl at the faubourg lodgings. Always his visits brought a little delicious heart-flutter to Henriette, though not unmixed with mourning o'er lost sister. And as a result of these idyllic meetings, ambitious plans appeared to him abhorrent.
About this time the Countess de Linieres, calling one day at her husband's ministerial offices, learned of his purposes.
"I was about to come to you," said the Count, "but you have anticipated me. I desire to speak with you on the subject of your nephew, the Chevalier de Vaudrey, and to ask you to prepare him for the marriage which the King—"
"Wishes to impose on him," interrupted the Countess bitterly.
"Impose on him?" repeated de Linieres. "It is a magnificent alliance, which will complete the measure of the distinguished honors with which His Majesty deigns to favor us."
"Have you spoken to the Chevalier yet?"
"No, but I am expecting him every moment, and I wished to talk with him in your presence."
As if this conversation had some influence over him, de Vaudrey entered at this moment.
"Ah, Chevalier!" exclaimed the Count. "I am glad to see you. The Countess and myself have an important communication to make to you."
De Vaudrey looked at his uncle in surprise. The latter was positively beaming. Big with the prospective grandeur of his house, he hesitated momentarily over the manner of delivering it.
"My dear Maurice," said the Count finally, "the King did me the honor to receive me yesterday, and he spoke of you."
"Of me?" asked de Vaudrey in surprise.
"He takes a great interest in you," continued de Linieres, now speaking quickly. "He wishes you to accept a position at court, and desires at the same time that you should marry."
"Marry?" asked de Vaudrey, as though he could not believe his uncle really meant what he said.
The Countess waited as anxiously for de Vaudrey's answer as did her husband, though for a different reason. She loved the young man before her, and his happiness and well-being were very dear to her.
"My dear nephew," she said kindly, "I see that this news surprises you. Yet there is no fear that the King's choice will do violence to your feelings. The lady whom His Majesty has chosen, has youth, beauty and fortune."
"In proof of which I have only to tell you that his choice is Princesse—" the Count attempted to say, but was interrupted by the Chevalier.
"Do not name her," he said excitedly.
"Why not?" asked his uncle in astonishment.
"Because I refuse to marry!"
The effect of these momentous words was quite diverse upon the uncle and the aunt of the young man.
For the moment the haughty nobleman could not understand why his nephew-by-marriage should reject the flattering proposal, such an easy and agreeable road to place and fortune. Soon rising anger got the better of his surprise, and minding Picard's reports on the Chevalier's conduct, his thought was:
"Ah, that's the secret—he prefers his libertine courses to assured fortune!"
But the Aunt, with a woman's ready wit, understood there could be but one reason to such a decided refusal, and knew that he must be already in love.
Countess de Linieres loved the Chevalier as if he were her own son. Quickly she shot the youth a warning look to prevent if possible a verbal passage of arms. But it was already too late.
"You dare to disobey the King—" thundered Count de Linieres, in righteous wrath, backed (as the others well knew) by the triple authority of household, police and royal cachet.
"My sword is my King's," flashed the handsome youth resolutely, "but my will must remain my own!
"I will go to His Majesty," he continued passionately. "I will thank him for his goodness, place my services at his disposal. My devotion, my life are his, but my affections are my own, and I wish to remain—free!"
"Free!" exclaimed the Count scornfully. "Free to lead a life of dissipation which you may not always be able to hide from the world."
These words, which implied so much, stung the noble-hearted de Vaudrey more than any words of anger or reproach could have done.
"There is nothing in my life to hide," he said proudly but impatiently, "nothing for which I have reason to blush."
"Are you sure of that, Chevalier?" asked the Count, in a tone that plainly said the speaker knew differently. Conscious of his own uprightness, this doubt cast upon his word was more than the Chevalier could bear, and he advanced toward his uncle with a menacing air.
"Monsieur!" he began, boldly, "I cannot—"
"Maurice! my husband!" exclaimed the Countess, as she stepped between the two men to prevent those words being spoken which would have led to an encounter. "Defer the conversation for the present. Permit me to speak to Maurice."
"Very well," said de Linieres sternly. Then turning to the Chevalier he said, in a voice which he had never before used to his nephew: "We will return to this another time. You will remember that as head of the family its honor is confided to my care, and I will not suffer any one to sully it with a stain."
De Vaudrey had nearly lost all control of his temper. In a moment the outbreak which the Countess was so anxious to avoid would have broken forth, had not the Count without giving his nephew time to speak said quickly:
"I leave you with the Countess. I hope that your respect and affection for her will cause you to lend more weight to her counsels than you are disposed to give to mine."
As if fearing that he might have tried the young man's temper too far, or that he did not wish to prolong a useless scene, the Count left the room. De Vaudrey was alone with his Aunt.
The Countess went up to the noble-looking young man, and taking his hand in hers, asked in a sweet, winning voice:
"Who is this woman you love? What obstacle prevents the avowal of your passion? If it is only a matter of fortune, take mine; it is all at your disposal, and I will give it to you cheerfully."
"Ah, where shall I find a heart like yours?" exclaimed the Chevalier in a voice trembling with emotion. "You have divined my secret. I adore a young girl as charming as she is pure. Yet never have I dared to whisper my passion!"
"Her name—her family?" asked the Countess eagerly.
"She was born of the people," said de Vaudrey proudly, yet tenderly. "She is an orphan and lives by the labor of her hands."
The Countess, who had never for a moment imagined such an answer to her question, was surprised, and she showed plainly that grief was mingled with her surprise.
"And you would make such a woman your wife?" she asked reproachfully.
"Do not judge her until you have seen her," entreated the Chevalier. "Consent to see her, and then advise me."
The young man took the Countess's hands in his, and looked imploringly into her face.
But his Aunt turned away from him with a gesture of sorrow.
"In such a marriage," she said sadly, "there can be no happiness for you, and for her, only misery. Alas! I know too well the result of those unequal unions. You must renounce her. You owe obedience to your family and your King." She burst into a flood of tears.
Diffidently the young man sought to comfort the Countess whose emotion seemed to have its spring in some hidden sorrow. He promised at last for her sake to consider again the horribly odious proposal of a State marriage, and drying her tears as well as he could, went his way, a victim of torn desires and intensest anguish....
FRIENDS OF THE PEOPLE
The giant stranger who had talked to Henriette and made friends with de Vaudrey was Jacques Danton. He and his colleague, Maximilien Robespierre, were destined to be the outstanding figures of the French Revolution. It is worth while to stop here for a little and consider these two men in their historical aspects and for the profound influence which they exerted on the lives of our characters.
As the storm clouds blacken the sky and the sullen sea (not yet lashed to fury) is ridged in deep, advancing breakers, the mariner's eye discerns these stormy petrels flying about or momentarily perched on the masts of the Ship of State.
Mark them well—Danton and Robespierre: today, merely "esurient advocates," petty men of law come up from the provinces to win their fortunes in Paris; tomorrow, leaders of faction; some months or years later, the rulers of France!
Danton—"the huge, brawny figure, through whose black brows and rude flattened face there looks a waste energy as of Hercules not yet furibund."
Robespierre—aptly described as the meanest man of the Tiers Estat: "that anxious, slight, ineffectual-looking man, under thirty, in spectacles; his eyes, troubled, careful; with upturned face, snuffing dimly the uncertain future-time; complexion of a multiplex atrabiliar color, the final shade of which may be the pale sea-green!"
Such were they, afterwards to be known respectively as "the pock-marked Thunderer" and the "sea-green Incorruptible" of the Revolution. The slight, fox-like man had got himself elected to the States-General which in May, 1789, convened at Versailles to take up the troubled state of the country, whilst the lion-like and fiery Danton was the president of the Cordeliers electoral district of Paris—the head of a popular faubourg faction, not yet of power in the State.
The new helmsmen of the State, headed by Mirabeau, steered with considerable success among waters as yet but partly roiled. At Versailles an outward and visible Liberalism triumphed. The Third Estate or Commons, consolidating its authority as a permanent assembly, took measures to end the national bankruptcy and tried to cope with the awful menace of starvation. It was a bourgeois body, thinly sprinkled with members of the nobility and clergy; its aim, to abolish the worst seigniorial abuses, restore prosperity, and support the throne by a system of constitutional guarantees.
But when the Storm broke, it was not at Versailles where these lawgiving Six Hundred debated the state of the Nation, but at Paris that the group known as "Friends of the People" lashed the popular discontents to unmeasured and ungovernable fury.
It begins in the Palais Royal where "there has been erected, apparently by subscription, a kind of Wooden Tent, most convenient—where select Patriotism can now redact resolutions, deliver harangues, with comfort, let the weather be as it will. Lively is that Satan-at-Home! On his table, on his chair, in every cafe, stands a patriotic orator; a crowd round him within; a crowd listening from without, open-mouthed, through open door and window; with 'thunders of applause for every sentiment of more than common hardiness.'"
Strange that in a Royalist garden should sprout the seeds of a great Revolution! Stranger the crowds that gathered there, and the leaders both popular and Royalist—among the former, our fiery friend Danton, our cautious, snuffling Robespierre, and the boy of genius Camille Desmoulins, Danton's "slight-built comrade and craft-brother, he with the long curling locks, with the face of dingy blackguardism, wondrously irradiated with genius!"
General Lafayette and Minister from America Thomas Jefferson came there too now and again, to watch the crowds and hear the speeches. Symbols of America's newly won freedom, they were objects of almost superstitious veneration to the agitators for an enfranchised France. Danton, Desmoulins and the rest crowded around them, eager to shake their hands and listen to their comments. In particular, Lafayette's sword—the gift of the American Congress a decade before, excited their admiration.
"From America's Congress!" repeated Danton fervently as he eyed the inscription on the scabbard. "Why, that's the kind of Government we want over here!" Tears came into the Frenchman's eyes, to think of the Liberty that Lafayette had helped to win.
The Palais Royal gardens were the property of the King's cousin, Louis Phillipe. Disgusted with not being in the councils of the monarch and leaning to democracy, he permitted the place to be used for public promenades, lovers' meetings—and popular harangues. Friends of the People, Friends of Phillipe, and Friends of the King freely rubbed elbows. The popular tide set so strongly that none dared openly oppose the demagogic orators. A bread famine had descended upon Paris. The scarcity of wheat and flour was an ever-present theme; the oppression of autocracy and seigniorage, another. The cry for direct action always woke echo in the popular breast, sick over the delays of the Versailles lawgivers, and nourishing the hope of seizing pelf and power, rescuing their kinsfolk from the prisons, and beating down the Kingship and aristocracy to relinquish privileges and abate the hardships of the Common Man!
Plain, embittered envy stalked abroad, too—envy of the aristocrats' grand homes and unparalleled luxury, their fine equipages and clothing, costly foods and wines, their trains of lackeys and menials, the beauty and joie-de-vivre of their sons and daughters! The mechanic, the storekeeper, the unskilled laborer, the ranks of unemployed, and the submerged tenth obliged to live by their wits or starve, were as fuel to the spark of the orators' lightning.
'Twas unlike a well-ordered land wherein each one receives the well-merited reward of toil. Justice was not in the body politic. Tyranny, extravagance and bankruptcy on the part of the ruling class had wiped out the margin of plenty. Black ruin seemed to impend for all. It was a case of starve—or unite against the rulers and oppressors of society. Danton, the thunderer of mighty speech, dominated these gatherings, aided and abetted by the eagle-like Desmoulins and the crafty Robespierre.
"With the People's government," his swelling periods resounded, "there shall be no common man, no aristocrat—no rich nor poor—but all brothers—brothers—brothers!" Imagine if you can the fire-drama of his recital of generations of cruelties and wrongs—his picture of their miserable lot and of the envied aristocrats' pleasures—and then consider the pitch of frenzied republicanism to which this wonderful fraternal climax uplifted them! With crash of thunder and wrack of the elements the Storm must break, directly the popular feeling found immediate object of its ire.
THE ATTACK ON DANTON
But the royalists were not idle. Their spies attended the meetings. Their swordsmen provoked street encounters with popular leaders.
They had always coped with popular ferments by picking off the individual leaders, and they did not doubt their ability to do the same thing now. As Danton spoke, an influential Royalist, pretending to handclap his sentiments, privately signaled to a number of these "spadassins" or killers.
On his way home from the meeting Danton was attacked in the lonely street. He backed up to a house porch, quickly drew his own sword, and with herculean strength managed to cut down five or six spadassins of the advance party.
Then he fled to the house where Henriette and also Robespierre lodged, rushed in and up the stairs. The following company were almost upon him. Their shouts and cries could be heard below.
Danton plumped into the first door at the left of the stair-head. He was there when Henriette, who had been momentarily away, returned to her room.
"The spies—spadassins—they would take my life—" He was wounded. It was with a difficult hoarseness that he spoke.
The little homekeeper put a warning finger to mouth. Running past him to the door, she slipped out and closed it. She withdrew to the back of the hall, and came forward nonchalantly as the assassins reached the hallway.
Rapier at her throat, the leader put the silent but terrible question. Henriette's heart jumped. She managed not to show her terror.
"I saw a man going up those stairs three steps at a time!" she lied superbly, pointing to the floor above.
The company ran up the third-floor stairs on the double jump. As they vanished, she was inside her rooms again and with the quarry.
Minutes passed. The spadassins searched the top garrets. They sought the roof, saw escape was impossible that way. Then they clattered down the stairs. The leader hesitated at Henriette's door.
"Faugh!" he said. "The girl is just a simpleton, she couldn't have tricked us!"
At his command the men marched down—to encounter unexpectedly a company of national gendarmes that had been hurriedly summoned to the scene of the disturbance.
In the porch melee Danton's side had been painfully slashed. Despite the pain, he recognized his little preserver and thanked her. Still holding his hand to his side and half-reeling, he moved to go. Now that all seemed quiet, he proposed to rid her of the compromising presence of a man in her room.
Henriette seized him with her little arms.
"No, no, you can't go!" she said with a little smile of divine pity. "Better a little gossip about me than that you should lose your life." Henriette locked the door!
She strove to carry the disabled giant to the nearest chair. Leaning heavily on her, he walked with an effort and plumped down on it. One of his arms was around her. She tried to free it, but it clung. With hands and knees she crawled out backward from the unconscious embrace.
It was the work of but a few minutes to wash and bind his wound. Next she spread a pallet on the floor, assisted him to it, wrapped him warmly, and with a kind "Good night!" left him to go to her little boudoir....
That same night the spadassins were met and disarmed by the gendarmes who (largely owing to Danton's eloquence) espoused the people's side. And that is why Monsieur Robespierre, his confrere, was abroad very early, without fear of assassins, and nosing for news.
"I hear Danton was in a little trouble last night!" gossiped the slick citizen with his landlady. "The fight was in this very house, was it not?"
The landlady, it seemed, was ignorant of Danton's refuge. But Robespierre suspected. He decided to investigate, being a stickler for propriety. Mounting the stairs stealthily, he knocked at Henriette's door.
The girl and the man were at their leave-taking. Few words were spoken. The giant clasped both her little hands in his great paws.
"What you have done for me I shall never forget!" he was saying.
"Oh, if I had a great kind brother like this!" was her sudden thought.
"Whisht!" she whispered vocally as the knock was heard. Again the little gesture of warning finger to mouth.
She stole to the keyhole and thought she recognized the habiliments of her neighbor the dandy. Motioning Danton back out of sight she opened the door on the crack, closed it as she slipped through, and encountered the bowing and smirking Robespierre.
"A man escaped from the spadassins here last night-did he find refuge with you?"
"You are mistaken, Monsieur. I am quite alone."
"May I just see? Very intimate friend of mine, I am sure."
"No, you may not!" Henriette quickly reentered, and slammed and locked the door on the future Dictator of France. 'Twas only a little door slam, but it re-echoed later, even at the Gates of Death! Rubbing his long nose Robespierre took snuff.
"Sh-h, he is still there!" whispered the girl to Danton, with another look through keyhole. Presently steps were heard going downstairs.
"I think he is gone!" she said, verifying her statement by again opening the door and finding the coast clear.
Danton, with a final good-by, went his way.
The sneak, however, had retraced his downstairs steps with cat-like tread. In an alcove of the back hall he had found a hiding post.
As Danton's broad back descended down the steps, a vulpine head peered out of the alcove, and Robespierre's cunning, self-satisfied look showed that he recognized Henriette's visitant.
LOUISE BEFORE NOTRE DAME
In the days following her immurement in the dreadful sub-cellar, Louise became the Frochards' breadwinner. Her pathetic blindness, lovely face and form, and sweet young voice attracted sympathy from each passer-by. The offerings all went into the capacious pocket of La Frochard, whence indeed most of them were stolen or cajoled by her worthless scamp of a Jacques.
The old hag feared only lest she lose her precious acquisition of the blind girl. She guarded her ceaselessly, and warded off dangerous questioners.
It was not easy, however, to avoid the good Doctor from La Force, who gave them a donative and looked at the girl with deep professional interest. Despite the beggar's tactics, he insisted on examining the pupils, then called La Frochard aside.
"Don't encourage her too much," said the old gentlemen kindly, "but bring her to me. I am quite sure that she can be cured."
Rejoining Louise and smiling her wheedling beggar's smile at the departing Doctor, the features of Widow Frochard suddenly contorted in black rage—she shook her fist at the physician directly his back was turned. Monstrous—to restore sight, and thus make the girl worthless as object of charity! La Frochard felt she had good reason for her rage.
"Can the Doctor do anything?" ventured Louise to the hag, timidly.
"No, he said your case is hopeless."
They were standing now near the snowy steps of Notre Dame, awaiting worshippers whose pity would be stirred by the girl's misfortune. Half-drunken Jacques had reeled out of a cabaret to exact his share of the plunder. Mother and first-born cursed heartily the scissors-grinder Pierre who came limping up, saying he could get no jobs on account of the bitter cold, wintry day. Kicking the cripple and twisting Louise's arm were the favorite pastimes of Jacques and the Widow.
On this occasion the hag snatched the covering from the wretched girl's shoulders and put it around her own. "You'll shiver better without that shawl!" she said, brutally setting the scene for the worshippers' charity.
"Jacques and I," she continued, "are going to get a little drink to warm our frozen bodies.
"Guard her there, you good-for-nothing Pierre, or I'll break every bone of your body!" They departed to spend the Doctor's gold-piece.
Pierre tried vainly to comfort the girl. He could but find her a seat in a pile of snow! He warmed her hands with his own, strove to speak cheering words. But teeth were chattering, and her frail form was quivering as with the ague.
A great wave of pity and love overwhelmed the cripple. He peeled off his coat, beneath which were but the thinnest rags. He wrapped it around her, saying:
"There, there! this will help you keep warm. I really do not need it—I—I-am-not-c-c-cold!"
His own teeth were chattering now, and his pinched features were purple.
The blind girl touched his icy arm, half exposed by his ragged shirt, as she rose to sing for the charity of those who attended mass.
"No, no, Pierre," she cried, removing the coat from her shoulders, "I will not let you freeze. Oh, how selfish I am to permit you to suffer, who have been so kind to me!"
Rejecting his entreaties, she made him put it on again, hiding her own suffering.
"Hearken! there sounds the organ for the recessional!" she continued. "Soon the people will be coming out. I will sing the same songs that my sister Henriette and I used to sing. Perhaps some one will recognize the melody, and lead me back to her!"
A beautifully majestic, ermined figure stepped graciously out of the church, as La Frochard rejoined Louise and began whining: "Charity! In the name of God, Charity!" whilst the girl's voice lifted up in an old plaintive melody.
The lady was the Countess de Linieres, returning from her devotions.
The song evoked memories of a bitter past and of a long lost daughter snatched from her in infancy. Bending over poor Louise, she asked: "My child, can you not see me?"
"No, Madame, I am blind," was the low, sad answer.
A strange sympathy stirred in the Countess for this girl. There seemed to be some hidden link between them, the nature of which baffled her. She felt the impulse to protect and cherish—was it the voice of Mother Love obscurely speaking?
"Alas!" said Louise. "Blindness is not the worst of my misfortunes. I—I—"
La Frochard administered a terrible pinch that pulled Louise away, then "mothered" her cutely. "We are starving, my beautiful lady," she whined, "and the poor girl is out of her head. What is that you say? Not my daughter? Yes, indeed she is—the precious—and the youngest of seven. Charity, charity! In the name of God, charity!" she sniffled.
Reluctantly Countess de Linieres stifled the impulse to mother this kindred and hapless young being, averred to be the beggar's daughter. She placed a golden louis on the palm of the singer, saying:
"Give this to your mother, child."
LOVE, MASTER OF HEARTS
The Count's demands brought to a head a resolve that had taken possession of Chevalier de Vaudrey's heart and soul. Always the picture of the sweet Norman girl he had saved from de Praille's foul clutches was in his waking thoughts, of nights he dreamed a blessed romance! He recked not of the Count's displeasure, sorrowed that he must displease his Aunt as sorely. The only bar was that a vision of the lost Louise stood, as it were, between him and his beloved Henriette.
Now that he had come to her to speak of his proposal, the little heart still quested for the lost sister.
"Don't you ever think of anyone but her?" he asked.
A negative shake of the golden head and ringleted curls was the answer, though the cupid mouth and the blue eyes smiled with tenderness. They stood very close to another, like poles of a magnet twixt which a spark flashes.
Silently Maurice drew from his pocket a ring. 'Twas of pure gold, a lovely and exquisite bauble, whereof the two little claws clasped a golden heart. He handed it to Henriette, who took it with a happy smile till she realized its meaning as betrothal.
A wave of color overspread her cheek. The heir of the de Vaudreys to give himself to her! Pride and love mingled in her thoughts.
Yes, to throw himself away on a Commoner girl—he meant it. Flashed the picture on her mental retina of the little solemn oath to Louise. What he asked was impossible—for him and for her.
Henriette handed back the ring.
"Marry you—an aristocrat! Why, that would ruin you in the eyes of all the world!"
He was down on his knees, pleading, agonized, distressed, looking for some sign of relentment from the beauteous little head that seemed rigidly to repress emotion.
"Then you d-o-n-'t l-o-v-e m-e?" he faltered at last, rising.
"No!" was the reply, in a firm but very small voice.
The broken Chevalier started slowly for the door. He turned slightly and caught the sound of sobs.
Wheeling around, he saw her arms half stretched towards him. He bounded back.
He was now kissing the hem of her garments, her gloves, her roses, her fingertips, and crying extravagantly, almost shouting the words: "You DO love me!"
Gently Henriette imparted a maiden's delicate kiss on his cheek. "When Louise is found—" she was half sobbing in his arms, "—dreams—yes—perhaps you might find a way to bring them true!"
But the gallant gentleman jumps forward to the end of the dream. Youthfully swearing that Louise will soon be found, he visions their exquisite happiness as of tomorrow or the day after. He holds her delightedly, then draws her closer. The kindred magnets are one.
Lips meet lips in soul-kiss that cause the maidenly head to hide under elbow in confusion. Kissing almost every part and furnishing of that dear second self—vowing never to rest till he brings Louise and takes Henriette—the ecstatic cavalier is gone!
Alas for the quickly visioned dream-facts of twenty-four! Full long shall be the interval betwixt the bright Utopia and the heavenly reality:—the dungeon, the Storm, the death chamber and e'en the shining axe shall intervene.
A great Nation shall have thrown off its old tyrants and weltered in the blood of new tyranny. What matter? The souls of the girl and the man are one, they shall be faithful unto the End!
The Chevalier de Vaudrey sought his Aunt and begged her to see his beloved before finally siding with the Count against him. The incident of the chance encounter with the blind girl had stirred the Countess, awakened renewed pity for hapless love such as she herself had once experienced. She decided to visit Henriette, if only to divert her from the seemingly mad project of a union with the Chevalier.
Meantime Count Linieres had decided to exercise the power of the dread lettres de cachet. In the France of that day, personal rights were unknown. Subject only to the King's will, no other warrant than the Prefect's signature was required to send anyone into exile or to life imprisonment. The means that Linieres now had in mind were often used to quell rebellious lovers.
He would brand this inconvenient, presumptuous Henriette Girard as a fallen woman, imprison her at La Salpetriere, and then ship her as a convict to Louisiana. That would get rid of her, truly!
In the meanwhile the Chevalier, if disobedient, could cool his heels in the prison tower of the royal fortress at Caen. After a while, he might indeed see reason and think better of marrying the Princesse de Acquitaine!
He summoned the Chevalier. The autocratic Count brooked no words; he commanded marriage with the State heiress—or exile!
His nephew refusing, the guards were summoned, the young man gave up his sword, and under their escort he was presently on his way to Caen prison.
Then, summoning a detail of military police, the Count moved to carry out the other part of his plan.
* * * * *
"You are Mademoiselle Henriette Girard?" inquired the Countess kindly on entering the girl's lodgings.
Henriette greeted the distinguished and aristocratic lady with due respect. Making her comfortable in a guest chair, she resumed her sewing and listened.
"I am the aunt of the Chevalier Maurice de Vaudrey." The girl, startled, looked up from her work. "Marriage between you and the Chevalier is impossible."
"I love him, Madame," replied Henriette, simply.
"Then it is your duty to give him up, since it is the will of the King that he marry Princesse de Acquitaine—"
Henriette paled. For an instant the blue eyes looked near-tigerish, with green and yellow lights. Yet she must save Maurice from the King's wrath.
"If you will make this sacrifice," continued the Countess, "I shall not prove ungrateful with any reward that is in my power."
"Oh, yes, there is!" replied Henriette earnestly. She showed the Countess her sampler, on which she was working the word—
"Louise—that name is very dear to me," replied the Lady softly. She visioned a scene of long ago when an infant Louise had been snatched from her young arms—the arms of a mother deprived of her offspring.
"She is my sister," resumed Henriette—"lost, wandering and alone, on the streets of Paris. Oh, help me find her, and I—I will do anything you say!" The poor creature sobbed in her double misery.
She pointed to her own eyes in gesture to portray Louise's misfortune: "Blind—so helpless—it was just like taking care of a baby." She told the story of her abduction and the loss of her sister, then of Chevalier de Vaudrey's vain efforts and hers to trace her.
The Countess de Linieres leaned forward in intense sympathy conjoined with a certain weird premonition.
"She isn't really my sister," went on Henriette, "but I owe her the love of a mother and sister combined. She saved us from want and death. My father found her on the steps of Notre Dame—"
A low cry escaped the Countess.
"—where he was about to put me as a foundling, there not being a morsel of food in our wretched home. This other baby was half buried under the snow. He warmed the little bundle against his body and mine—and, rather than let us perish there of the cold, returned homeward with both infants in his arms. Suspended from the other baby's neck were a bag of gold and this locket—"
The Countess gasped. She put a hand to her heart and seemed about to faint before recovering strength to examine the locket that Henriette handed to her.
It was a miniature that the Prefect's wife recognized as her own!
Opened, it disclosed an aged and yellowed bit of paper, on which the writing was still visible:
HER NAME IS LOUISE SAVE HER
"My child! My own Louise!" she cried, "—lost, wandering and blind in Paris. Tell me, tell me—" She had almost fainted. The floodgate of tears relieved her pent heart.
Henriette was bending over her now, her arm around her shoulders, trying to comfort.
But the girl herself was near the breaking point. The voice of the loved and absent one seemed to sound in her ears.
Was it an hallucination?
"Singing,—don't you hear?" said Henriette, softly, to the Mother.
The girl brushed a hand across her eyes and tapped her temple.
"In my dreams oft I hear it, my sister's voice. I must be losing my reason!"
Again swelled the notes of the Norman melody, and this time the Mother heard too.
The two sprang to their feet.
Henriette dashed to balcony window. At the end of the street she saw a figure clad in beggar's rags that she thought she knew.
Henriette's cry echoed down the street and impinged on the blind beggar's brain. The outcast ran groping and stumbling forward, no longer singing, but calling "Henriette!" Her keeper, Widow Frochard, was not in sight.
The blind girl came nearer. Frochard emerged from a ginshop and tried to head her off. The Mother followed Henriette to the window. The latter encouraged Louise with little cries:
"Don't get excited!"
"It's all right!"
"I'll be down in one instant!"
She rushed past the Countess across the room and flung wide the door, on the very brink of happiness.
But a troop of guards stood there to her astonished gaze. The Count de Linieres, standing at their head, pronounced her name as if reading a warrant: "Henrietta Girard!"
The girl drew back, then charged like a little fury on the gunstocks and bosoms of the troopers, pounding them with her fists.
Unable to move this granite-like wall, she dashed back to the balcony eyrie, imploring Louise with both hands.
"Arrest her!" said de Linieres to the soldiers.
Brawny troopers pulled her back as she would have jumped out of the window to the flagging below—and her Louise. Vainly the Countess de Linieres entreated for mercy. They dragged the girl downstairs.
Here again she made a frantic appeal and wild effort to join her blind charge, who was being hurried away in the vise-like grip of La Frochard.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, have pity—let me go to my sister, or I shall lose her again!"
Deaf to her entreaties, they took her to La Salpetriere, this loveliest of virgins, to be immured among the foul characters there!
END OF PART ONE
DOWN IN THE DEPTHS
With Henrietta condemned to the cruel fate of immurement in a prison for the fallen, the Chevalier trussed up in royal Caen, and his aunt the Countess prostrated by the hag's recapture of and disappearance with the noblewoman's long-lost daughter, blind Louise, 'twould seem as if our characters faced indeed blank walls of ruin, misery and despair, from which no power could rescue them.
In those times, the utter vanishing of persons who incurred police disfavor was no uncommon incident. Often no public charge was made; merely the gossiped whisper that So-and-So lay in Bastille or La Salpetriere "at the royal pleasure," kept the unfortunate faintly in memory till the lapse of years caused him or her to be forgotten. And, sometimes, even, at the prison gate, identity vanished. Did not the celebrated and mysterious Man in the Iron Mask carry his baffling secret through decades of dungeon death-in-life to the prisoner's dark grave?
Others were silently transported to exile overseas. As England had her Botany Bay, so France had Louisiana. Let us take a glance at La Salpetriere (as Henriette is being dragged there by Count de Linieres' troopers) to look at the sights and scenes of the famous female prison, and contemplate what the inmates had in store.
There was no interesting toil to relieve their unhappy lot, and no distinction was made of the insane, the law-breaking criminal, and the wretched streetwalker or demimondaine. In the courtyard, during the exercise periods, the only talk was of the terms of imprisonment and of the chances of Louisiana. In that gray monotony the ministrations of the charitable Sisters, headed by the saintly Sister Genevieve (who had been born within the walls of the prison), furnished the one bright spot.
"Do not grieve so!" said one of the older inmates who had begged a little needlework, to a novice who was seated on a bench, weeping convulsively with her head in her arms.
"Oh, I can never live such a life as this!" replied the poor girl, giving way to new grief.
"Try to do something or other, 'twill make you forget your troubles."
"I've never done anything in my life—except amuse myself!" replied the ex-grisette.
"That would be precious hard work in this place," said a third speaker, who had passed several years of the dreary inactions of prison life.
"Well, anyhow, I've had my fling!" remarked the newcomer, drying her eyes. "Scores of admirers crowded around me, willing to ruin themselves for my amusement—" she said in a vivacious manner, as she recalled her past triumphs.
"And it all peters down to prison, eating gruel with a wooden spoon," said the cynical old-timer; "then, some day, we shall be treated as those poor creatures were yesterday—hurried off with a guard of soldiers to see us safe on our weary exile—"
"Does the idea of exile frighten you?"
"Who would not be frightened at the idea of being led off amid insults and jeers—condemned to a two months' voyage in the vilest company—and at the end of it be landed in a wild country to face the alternatives of slavery or a runaway into the savage swamps?"
"Plenty of work to relieve monotony—"
"They say women are scarce out there in Louisiana. Perhaps I shall get a husband, and revenge myself on the male creation that way—"
Their speculations were cut short by the entry of a squad of troopers literally dragging tiny Henriette Girard within the prison walls. Cold and unfeeling at best, these men had no sympathy with their young charge whom they naturally believed to be one of the harpies or half-wits caught in the police dragnet. They thrust her mid the crowd in the courtyard and departed. The great iron doors clanged shut. The gatekeeper turned the massive key. Henriette—without a friend in the world to appeal to—was an inmate of dread La Salpetriere!