Read CHAPTER XII - CITIZEN BRUSLART of The Light That Lures, free online book, by Percy Brebner, on ReadCentral.com.

The two men stared at each other with unseeing eyes, neither conscious, it would seem, of the other’s presence. The circumstances called for prompt action, for swift decision, for keen and subtle energy, yet they were silent, helpless, looking into vacancy, and seeing visions.

Suddenly Lucien sat down and let his head fall upon his arms thrown out across the table, a personification of despair which might take the heart out of any observer. The action served, however, to bring. Barrington back into the present, to conserve his energies, to make him a man of action again. His frame stiffened, much as it had done that afternoon when the crowd with the coach in its midst had passed him. Then came the memory of the restraining hand laid on his arm. It acquired a new significance.

“Tell me the whole story,” he said. “There is no time to lose.”

“I was a fool. Lafayette was right. I ought never to have brought her here,” wailed Bruslart, utter despair in his voice; and then, after a moment’s pause, he went on with desperate energy as though he had a difficult confession to make and must tell it in a rush of words, or be afraid to tell it at all. “It took me more than two hours to arrange with my friend. He was out when I got there and I had to wait, then he was a long time discussing the best means of securing mademoiselle’s safety, and how she could most easily be taken to his house unseen. Nearer four hours had passed than two when I returned to find Jeanne gone.”

“Your friend had fooled you, keeping you out of the way.”

“No, no. He did not know where Jeanne was. Some one must have seen her, recognized her when you came in at the barrier this morning perchance, followed her and betrayed her. They did not come asking for her, searching for her, but knowing that she was here. When the door was opened they rushed in, thrusting my servant aside, asking no questions. The reek of them is still in the room. What shall I do?”

Bruslart let his head again fall on his outstretched arms and sobs shook him. Such grief in a man is difficult to witness and remain unmoved, yet no expression of pity came into Barrington’s face. He was a man of a different fiber altogether; his emotions were seldom shown, and deep though they really were, he passed for a hard man. Even in anger he was calm, calculating, a set face masking the truth; and in such a crisis as this, after the first staggering blow of it, his whole force was concentrated on action. Misery for what had happened was so much energy wasted, there was something to do and every faculty became focused upon the best means of doing it.

Barrington went to the table and laid his hand firmly on Bruslart’s shoulder.

“This is no time for grieving over what cannot be undone; our business is to act. Let me understand the position, for I swear to you that I am ready to do all that a man can do. Since mademoiselle was taken in your house you are in danger, I suppose. They will remember that you are an aristocrat, too, and easily forget that you wear the outward signs of a patriot.”

“Mademoiselle seems to have thought of that, and let them believe that she had rushed to my house for safety without my knowledge.”

“It was like her,” said Barrington. “She will be brave, no matter how sorely she is tried. To-day, monsieur, I saw a coach surrounded by a yelling crowd. It was a new sight to me and I stood to see it pass. It contained an aristocrat, a woman, they said, but I could not see the prisoner. The time corresponds; it may have been Mademoiselle St. Clair.”

“Ah! If you had only known!”

“Indeed, monsieur, the fact that the prisoner was a woman, made me foolish enough to think of rushing into that filthy crowd single handed; had I imagined it was mademoiselle I certainly should have done so. And what could I have done, one man against a multitude? I should have been killed, and mademoiselle might have been torn to pieces by the fiends who surrounded her. They were in the mood for such work. Fortunately, a man beside me, seeing the intention in my face, laid a restraining hand upon me.”

“Was he a friend?” Bruslart asked.

“Indeed, I think he proved himself one though he was a stranger. His name was Latour, he told me.”

Barrington mentioned the name with set purpose. Over the wine the stranger had certainly expressed distrust of Lucien Bruslart, an aristocrat turned patriot. The question of Bruslart’s honesty had been in Barrington’s mind all day. It would be worth noting what effect the name had upon his companion.

“Latour? Raymond Latour?” said Bruslart, starting to his feet, more alert than he had yet been since Barrington had entered the room.

“The same. What do you know of him?”

“No more than all Paris knows, monsieur, but it is enough. He is a red republican, a leading man among the Jacobins, hand in glove with all who hate aristocrats. We need look no further for Jeanne’s betrayer.”

“I am not so certain of his hatred against all aristocrats,” said Barrington, slowly.

“He has a tongue that would persuade the devil himself to believe in him,” said Bruslart.

“And I do not think he knew who was in the coach,” Barrington went on. “I have a reason for saying so, and I may find out the truth presently.”

“You are a stranger in Paris, you cannot hope to be a match for Raymond Latour.”

“At least there is work for me to do in this matter, and I shall not run needlessly into danger. Freedom is precious to us both, monsieur, at the present time, since we must use it to help mademoiselle. You pose as a leader of the people, therefore some authority you must have; tell me, what power have you to open the door of mademoiselle’s prison?”

“Alas, none.”

“Think, think. Patriotism, wrong headed though it may be, will clothe its enthusiasts with a kind of honor which cannot be bribed, but how many real patriots are there in Paris? Are the ragged and filthy men and women of the streets patriots? I warrant a fistful of gold thrown by the man they cursed would bring him a very hurricane of blessings.”

“You do not understand the people, monsieur,” answered Bruslart. “They would scramble for your gold and cry for more, but they would still curse you. The mob is king.”

“There is the individual, monsieur,” said Barrington. “Try a golden key on his cupidity. I do not mean on a man who is swaggering with new authority, but some jailer in the prison.”

“It might be done,” said Bruslart.

“It can. It must. You may use me as you will,” Barrington returned. “I am ready to take any risk.”

“Mademoiselle would certainly approve your loyalty.”

“I feel that I am responsible for bringing her to Paris,” Barrington answered. “I would risk my life to carry her safely back to Beauvais.”

Bruslart looked at him keenly for a moment, then held out his hand.

“Monsieur, I am ungenerous, if not in words in my thoughts. It is not to be supposed that I should be the only man to be attracted by Mademoiselle St. Clair, yet I am a little jealous. You have had an opportunity of helping her that has not been given to me. You have been able to prove yourself in her eyes; I have not. Has not my folly been her ruin?”

“You have the opportunity now,” said Barrington, whose hand was still clasped in Lucien’s.

“You do not understand my meaning.”

“Only that we pledge ourselves to release mademoiselle.”

“And the real strength underlying this resolve? Is it not that we both love her?”

Barrington drew back a little, and felt the color tingle in his face. Since the moment he had first seen her this woman had hardly been absent from his thoughts, yet from the first he had known that she was pledged to another man, and therefore she was sacred. Deep down in his nature, set there perchance by some long-forgotten ancestor, cavalier in spirit, yet with puritan tendencies in thought, there was a stronger sense of right and wrong than is given to most men perhaps. As well might he allow himself to love another’s wife, as to think of love for another man’s promised wife. The standard of morality had been easy to keep, since, until now, love for neither wife nor maid had tempted him; but during the last two or three days the fierce testing fires had burned within him. It had been easy to think evil of the man who stood before him, easy to hope that there might be evil in him, so that Jeanne St. Clair being free because of this evil, he might have the right to win her if he could. Lucien Bruslart’s quiet statement came like an accusation; it showed him in a moment that in one sense at any rate he had fallen before the temptation, for if he had not allowed himself to think of love, he had yielded to the mean wish that her lover might prove unworthy. It helped him also to rise superior to the temptation.

“I may have had ungenerous thoughts, too,” he said, “but they have gone.”

“And only love remains,” Bruslart returned, the slight rise in his tone making the words a question rather than a statement.

“Your love, monsieur, my admiration and respect. These I certainly have for the lady who is to be your wife. Your love will hardly grudge me them.”

“I believe I might have found a dangerous rival, were you not a man of honor,” said Bruslart. “We understand each other better than we did this morning. Heavens! what a wealth of hours seem to have passed since then. We fight together for mademoiselle’s safety. I will go at once to the Abbaye, that is the prison you think they were going to. And you, monsieur, what will you do?”

“I shall set my servant to watch Latour, and there are one or two others in this city whose movements will interest me.”

“You must be careful of Latour.”

“He will be wise to be careful of me too. There is some aristocrat Raymond Latour would do all in his power to help. That is a secret we may use against him if necessary.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“We became friends over a bottle of wine.”

“Ah, men boast and tell lies over their wine,” Bruslart answered, “and for his own ends Latour can lie very convincingly. Will you come to me here to-morrow night? I may have accomplished something by then.”

They left the house together, but parted in the street, Barrington returning to the house of Monsieur Fargeau to plan with Seth the close watching of Latour’s movements, Bruslart going in the direction of the prison of the Abbaye.

Bruslart’s pace was rapid for a short distance, then he went more slowly and thoughtfully; but there was no relapse into the despair in which Barrington had found him that evening. Contact with a strong man, and the compact made with him, had apparently restored his nerves, and no one knew better than he did how necessary it was to have every faculty in working order at the present moment. He had told Barrington that he was in no danger from the fact of mademoiselle having been arrested in his apartments, and if this were not quite true, he felt certain that he could evade the danger by presenting a bold front to it. The desire to convince himself that this was possible became stronger as he proceeded slowly, and opportunity to put his conviction to the test might easily be found.

“There would be no one at the prison to-night on whom I could make any useful impression,” he said to himself. “I shall gain more by swaggering to the crowd.”

He quickened his pace, but not in the direction of the prison. He turned into a side street, at the corner of which was a broken lamp bracket used for hanging a man not a week ago. He glanced up at it as he passed, recognizing perhaps that he was as a skater on thin ice, his safety entirely dependent upon his agility, as he made his way to the flare of light which came from a wine shop.

The place was full and noisy, but there was a sudden silence as he entered. He was well-known here, and every pair of eyes was fixed upon him keenly. That he bore the scrutiny without flinching proved him to be no coward. The attitude of the crowd in the wine shop was not reassuring. His task was to be more difficult than he imagined, and he rose to the occasion. With a careless nod intended to comprehend every one in the room, and as though he perceived nothing extraordinary in the manner of his reception, he crossed the room to a man who had suspended his game of cards to stare at him.

“Good evening, Citizen Sabatier; you can tell me something. Was that aristocrat taken to the Abbaye this afternoon or where?”

“To the Abbaye.”

“I was going to the prison to ask, then thought I might save myself a journey by coming here on my way. Wine, landlord the best, and in these days the best is bad. You were not at the taking of this aristocrat, Sabatier?” and as he asked the question Bruslart seated himself.

“No. I had other business.”

“It is a pity. Had you been there the affair would have been conducted with more order.”

“I was there, Citizen Bruslart,” said a man, thrusting forward his head truculently. “What is there to complain of?”

Bruslart looked at him, then leaned toward Sabatier and said in an audible aside

“A new friend? I do not seem to remember him.”

“Citizen Boissin, a worthy man,” said Sabatier, shortly. He knew that the men in the wine shop were likely to follow his lead, and he was at a loss to know how to treat Lucien Bruslart to-night.

“Ay, Boissin, that’s my name, and he asks you what you have to complain of?”

“Much, very much, citizen. It is not enough that a cursed aristocrat uses my lodgings as a shelter while I am away from home, but a crowd of unauthorized persons invade it and break a cabinet for which I have a great affection. Maybe, since you were there, Citizen Boissin, you can tell me who broke my cabinet.”

“Curse your cabinet!”

“Curse you for coming to my lodgings without an invitation,” said Bruslart, quietly.

There was a shuffling of feet, a promise of quick and dangerous excitement, but Sabatier did not move, and Bruslart’s eyes, as he quietly sipped his wine, looked over the rim of the glass at Boissin, who seemed confused and unable to bluster. There was a long pause which was broken by a man seated at another table.

“The breakage need not trouble you, Citizen Bruslart, your trouble will come when you have to explain how the aristocrat came to be in your lodgings.”

“Whether she entered by the door, or climbed in at the window, I cannot say, since I was not at home,” said Bruslart, with a smile. “My servant must answer that question. What I want to know is, who is this aristocrat?”

In a moment every eye was turned upon him. Jacques Sabatier smiled.

“I was going to the prison to ask that question,” Bruslart went on. “She is a woman, that I have heard of, but no more. I am interested enough to wonder whether she was an acquaintance of mine in the past.”

“An acquaintance!” and there was a chorus of laughter.

“It was Mademoiselle St. Clair,” said Boissin.

Lucien Bruslart did not start at the mention of the name, not an eye fixed upon him could detect the slightest trembling in his hand as he raised the glass to his lips and slowly drank the wine which was in it. He knew perfectly well what a false move, or an ill-considered word, might mean to him. There was not a man in that company who did not hate the name of aristocrat, yet after their fashion, many of them had ties which they held sacred. The same man who could spend hours rejoicing in the bloodthirsty work of the guillotine would return home to kiss his wife, and play innocently with his children. Bruslart knew that to pity the aristocrat might be hardly more dangerous than to abuse the woman.

“Mademoiselle St. Clair. In the past she was more than an acquaintance,” he said.

“She is your lover,” said half a dozen voices together.

“She was,” corrected Bruslart, quietly, “and therefore a little sentiment enters into the affair. I could almost wish it had been some other woman. That is natural, I think.”

“Ay; and it explains why she took shelter in your lodgings,” said Boissin.

“True, it does; and, so far as I remember, it is the only personal matter I have against her. I do not recall any other injury she has done me. I am afraid, citizens, she has some case against me, for I grew tired of her long ago.”

“She does not believe that, nor do I, for that matter,” said Boissin.

“What you believe is a matter of indifference to me, citizen,” returned Bruslart, “and as for the woman well, she is in the Abbaye. Not every man gets rid of his tiresome lovers as easily as I am likely to do. More wine, landlord. We’ll drink long life to liberty and death to all aristocrats. And, Citizen Boissin, we must understand each other and become better friends. I accused you of entering my lodgings without invitation, now I invite you. Come when you will, you shall be welcome. And, in the meanwhile, if there is any good patriot here who is a carpenter, and can spare time for a job, there is money to be earned. He shall mend my cabinet.”