Read CHAPTER XI - WAY FOR THE CURSED ARISTOCRAT! of The Light That Lures, free online book, by Percy Brebner, on ReadCentral.com.

There were quiet streets in Paris down which noisy patriots seldom passed, houses into which the angry roar of revolution only came like a far-off echo. There were men and women who had no part in the upheaval, who had nothing to do either with the rabble or the nobility, who went about their business as they had always done, lamenting the hard times perchance, yet hoping for better. Some may have realized that in their indifference lay their safety, but to others such indifference came naturally; their own immediate affairs were all that concerned them. The rabble took no notice of them, they were too insignificant for the nobility to attempt to influence, and they criticised neither the doings of the Convention, nor the guillotine’s work, knowing little of either.

In such a street, with a man named Fargeau, a tailor by trade, Barrington and Seth found a lodging. Fargeau had had the Marquis de Lafayette for a customer, and the money of this American, who could hardly have much interest in what was happening in Paris, would be useful.

“I cannot tell how long I may be in Paris,” said Lafayette, at parting. “One must not prophesy about to-morrow. At present the neighborhood of my apartment must be dangerous to you. If chance brings me power again you know I shall think of you before any other.”

“My duty seems to lie straight before me,” Barrington returned.

“Yes, I understand, and if you are in trouble send for me if you can. You may depend on my doing all that a man can do. Count the cost of all your actions, for the price may be heavy. I have been full of advice this morning, let me advise you. To some in Paris you are a marked man, remember, so keep quiet for a while, and on the first opportunity get back to Virginia.”

“You will not ask me to promise to act on your advice,” Barrington returned with a smile.

“No,” and then Lafayette looked earnestly into his face. “No, I do not expect you to act upon it. For most of us some woman is a curse or a blessing, and the utmost a man can do is to satisfy himself which she is. If she is worthy, I would not call that man friend who was not ready to risk all for her. God grant we both win through to more peaceful days.”

Early in the afternoon Barrington went out, leaving Seth in the lodging. Seth suggested that he should be allowed to go with him.

“You must be free to work should I be caught and unable to act for myself,” was the answer. “After to-night I shall be able to make more definite plans. Under certain circumstances there will be nothing to prevent us setting out upon our return journey to Virginia. Believe me, Seth, I have not yet fallen in love with Paris.”

Seth watched him go, knowing that his resolution was not to be shaken, realizing, too, that there was reason in his argument.

“I couldn’t understand any one being in love with Paris,” he said to himself; “but there’s a woman has Master Richard in her net. Love is a disease, the later caught, the worse it is. I wonder what his mother would have thought of this lady from Beauvais. And she doesn’t care a handful of Indian corn for Master Richard as far as I can see; only makes use of him to get to another man. Falling in love with a woman of that kind seems a waste of good energy to me, but it’s wonderful how many men have done it.”

Richard Barrington had no intention of running into unnecessary danger. This man Mercier had no proof that he had helped Mademoiselle St. Clair to escape from the Lion d’Or. Paris was a big place, and he might never chance upon Jacques Sabatier. He had no intention of making any further use of Lafayette’s name for the present, since it was evident that he might involve his friend in difficulty if he did. He was a Virginian gentleman in Paris privately. He was content to remain unknown if they would let him. If they grew inquisitive, his nationality should be in his favor, and the fact that he had come to offer his sword on the side of the people would be his safety. If he had made a few enemies by thwarting private plans, he had surely the power of making a thousand friends. So far his scheme was complete, but he was not thinking of it as he made his way toward the more central part of the city, taking care to appear as little of a stranger as possible. Was Lucien Bruslart to be trusted? This was the question he asked himself over and over again, finding no satisfactory answer. The reason which lay behind such a question could not be ignored. Any helpless woman would have appealed to him, he told himself, but the whole truth refused to be confined in such an argument. Jeanne St. Clair meant something more to him than this, but in this direction he refused to question himself further, except to condemn himself. Was he not viewing Lucien Bruslart through smoked glasses as it were? an easy fault under the circumstances. Jeanne loved this man. No greater proof was needed than her journey to Paris for his sake. Barrington had done her a service for which he had been amply thanked. To-night Bruslart would inform him that Jeanne was safe, and thank him again for what he had done. There was an end of the business; and since his enthusiasm to help the people had somewhat evaporated Jeanne’s influence again, doubtless why should he not return home? France held no place for him. It would be better not to see Jeanne again, more honorable, easier for him.

At a corner he stopped. Others had done the same. Coming up the street was a ragged, shouting mob. There were some armed with pikes who had made a vain attempt to keep the march orderly; others, flourishing sticks, danced and sang as they came; others, barely clad, ran to and fro like men half drunk, yelling ribald insults now at those who passed by, now at the world at large. Women with draggled skirts and dirty and disordered hair were in the crowd, shrieking joyous profanity, striking and fighting one another in their mad excitement. There were children, too, almost naked girls and boys, as ready with oath and obscenity as their elders, fair young faces and forms, some of them, debauched out of all that was childlike. Every fetid alley and filthy court near which this procession had passed had vomited its scum to swell the crowd. In the center of it rocked and swayed a coach. Hands were plenty to help the frightened horses, hands to push, hands to grip the spokes and make the wheels turn faster. The driver had no driving to do, so roared a song. The inmate of the coach might be dumb with fear, half dead with it, yet if he shrieked with terror, the cry of no single throat could rise above all this babel of sound.

“Way! Way for the cursed aristocrat!”

Children and women ran past Barrington shouting. One woman touched him with a long-nailed, dirty, scraggy hand.

“An aristocrat, citizen. Another head for La Guillotine,” she cried, and then danced a step or two, laughing.

Barrington stood on tiptoe endeavoring to see the miserable passenger of the coach, but in vain. The men with pikes surrounded the vehicle, or the poor wretch’s journey might have ended at the first lamp.

“It’s a woman,” said some one near him.

“Ay! a cursed aristocrat!” shouted a boy who heard. “Get in and ride with her,” and the urchin sped onwards, shouting horrible suggestions.

“A woman!” Barrington muttered, and his frame stiffened as a man’s will do when he thinks of action.

“Don’t be a fool,” said a voice in his ear, and a hand was laid upon his arm.

He turned to face a man who looked at him fixedly, continued to look at him until the crowd had passed, and others who had stopped to watch the procession had passed on about their business.

“You would have thrown your life away had I not stopped you,” said the stranger.

“Perhaps. I hardly know.”

“Yet it is not so rare a sight.”

“At least I have not grown used to it,” Barrington answered.

“That is difficult,” said the man. “I have seen more of it than you, but I have learned to hide my feelings. The first time I was like you. Even now I clinch my teeth and remain inactive with difficulty. This tends to make us conspicuous, citizen. We must be either victims or executioners to be in the fashion. Some of us have friends, perhaps, who may easily chance to be victims.”

“True.”

“I have,” said the man. “It is pleasant to meet one who has a kindred interest.”

“I cannot claim so much as that,” said Barrington.

“That sudden stiffening of yours told its tale,” and the man smiled a little. “Had I not been convinced I hardly dared have said so much.”

“Doubtless there was some danger,” laughed Barrington, “but at least I am not a spy or an informer. The thought of a woman in such a crowd hurt me, citizen.”

“Some time we might be of service to each other,” the man returned. “It is good to have a friend one can trust in these days. Unless I am much mistaken, I can be of service to you. My way is the same as yours if you will allow it. There is a shop yonder where the wine is good and where, until that shouting crowd comes home again, we shall attract no notice.”

How could this man be of service to him? For a moment he hesitated, scenting danger, but the next he had turned to walk with his new companion. He looked honest and might tell him something of value.

They entered the wine shop which was empty, and were served.

“Have you a toast, monsieur?”

“To the safety of that woman,” said Barrington.

“I drink it. To the safety of a woman.”

Barrington did not notice the slight difference in the toast; the words were hurriedly spoken and in a low tone.

“Do you know, monsieur, that only this morning an emigre returned to Paris disguised as a market woman?”

“What folly!” Barrington said. “Does she chance to be the friend you are interested in?”

“My friend is an emigre, therefore I am a little sorry for this one,” was the answer. “I hear that careful search is being made for her. Such a search can hardly fail to be successful.”

“She may have good friends.”

“She has, I understand. One, at least, the man who helped her into Paris.”

“He had better have helped her to keep out of it,” Barrington returned, “and yet, she may have come with some high purpose and he has served her cleverly. Is it dangerous to drink to his good health, monsieur? for I like a man who is a man even though he be my enemy.”

“There is no danger, I think,” and the man drank. “She has another friend, too, one Lucien Bruslart.”

“I have heard of him,” said Barrington, quickly, “but surely he is of the people. I think I have heard him praised as an honest patriot.”

“He is, yet he was an aristocrat.”

“You speak as though you had little faith in him.”

“No, no, you judge too hastily. I am of the people, yet, as you may have gathered, not wholly with the people. I take it that such is monsieur’s position, too. Personally, I have not much faith in an aristocrat turned patriot, that is all.”

“Nor I, monsieur; still, I know nothing of this Monsieur Bruslart, so can venture no opinion.”

“You are a stranger in Paris?”

“Yes.”

“Pardon, monsieur, I am not inquisitive. I only wish to prove myself friendly. Paris is somewhat dangerous for strangers.”

“Even for those who take no interest in one side or the other?” asked Barrington.

“Most assuredly, for such men are likely to be on private business, and private business smacks of secrecy, and those who govern dislike all secrets except their own.”

“I am not afraid. It is a habit rather than a virtue.”

“I saw your fearlessness. It impressed me,” the man answered, earnestly. “I saw also that others had noted you as well. It would perhaps be wise to remember that besides hunting for the woman who has come back to Paris, they are hunting for the man who helped her so successfully. Perhaps some of the men who were at the barriers this morning may remember him.”

“What more probable?” said Barrington. “It may be that this man was not such a friend to the woman as we have imagined. He may have had sinister designs in bringing her into Paris.”

The man put down his glass rather sharply. The idea evidently produced some effect upon him.

“I cannot believe that,” he said.

“I do not like to think so,” Barrington returned.

For a few moments they looked squarely into each other’s faces. Then the man laid his hand upon the table, palm uppermost.

“Ah! It is certain we are kindred spirits, monsieur. We may have our own secrets, our interests may perhaps have points of antagonism, but we are both fearless. You are a man after my own heart. Will you take my hand?”

Barrington grasped his hand across the little table.

“Should we ever be enemies, let us remember this wine shop and this hand clasp. The recollection may help us both. For you there is danger, coming perhaps from the very quarter where you least expect it. I may be useful to you then. In the Rue Valette there is a baker’s shop; if you inquire there for one, Raymond Latour, you shall find a welcome,” and before Barrington could make any answer, he passed out into the street.

The man knew him, that was evident, knew that he had helped mademoiselle into Paris. Was he a friend or an enemy? He had warned him of danger, and his parting words had had something of the nature of a compact in them. What could bind this man to him in any way unless the emigre he was interested in was Mademoiselle St. Clair? Surely that was where the truth lay. To this man Latour she stood for something.

Barrington remained in the wine shop for some little time, carefully examining every point of his adventure. Certainly his movements would be watched; certainly this Raymond Latour might be useful to him. When he went into the street presently he looked carelessly to right and left, wondering which of the people in sight was bent on following him.

“Whatever their reward is to be they shall do something to earn it,” he murmured, smiling, and turning into a side street he did his best to escape watchful eyes.

At the hour appointed he was at Monsieur Bruslart’s door. The servant asked him several questions before he admitted that his master was in. Monsieur Bruslart was cautious. Was it possible that mademoiselle was still in the house? If Barrington forgot her danger for a moment as he thought of the delight it would be to him to see her again, was he very blameworthy?

The servant announced him.

Pale, dishevelled, trembling with excitement, Bruslart met him. A nervous hand gripped his arm.

“Monsieur’ Barrington, you ”

“What is it? In Heaven’s name what is it?”

“While I was gone, they came. Look at the room, still dirty with them, still reeking of them. They took her. Jeanne is a prisoner, and I I am almost mad.”

Barrington gasped as a man who receives a heavy blow. His hand fell on a chair-back to steady himself. He saw nothing but that filthy crowd, and that coach swaying in the midst of it. Jeanne was the woman within, and he had made no effort to save her.