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   Chapter 7 THE SCHEME OF THE BARON DE BATZ

When a Cobbler Ruled a King By Augusta Huiell Seaman Characters: 14665

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"If we could only find someone among the sans-culottes where they could hide over one night,-someone who is at heart a sympathiser! That is all wanting to perfect the plan!"

Two men in sans-culotte costume were seated at a small table in the restaurant of Père Lefèvre. Both were faces hitherto unfamiliar in the tavern. One was that of a young man, and was bold, keen and daring. His older companion's was of a more common type, but was distinguished by kindly blue eyes. They leaned across the table and spoke in low whispers with their heads close together. The little room was otherwise deserted, for Père Lefèvre nodded outside in the morning sun. He had tended to the wants of his two customers with many muttered complaints about "that idle, good-for-nothing vagabond of a Jean, who was probably lying asleep somewhere!" Then he went back to his own nap.

The younger man, who had spoken last, tapped his fingers on the table impatiently, and waited for his companion to reply.

"I know of no one just now who would be safe," replied the other, "but wait a few days and perhaps we shall find one in time." Suddenly they were both startled to see the body of a boy wriggle noiselessly from behind an old screen and crawl toward them. He was covered with dust and cobwebs, and his eyes blazed excitedly.

"Citizens," he whispered, "I know of one who will serve you right well! Trust me!" The men looked at each other in astonishment and alarm. Had their cherished plans then, been overheard by this fierce little Republican who danced the Carmagnole and sang the "?a ira!" with such grim delight? If so, all was lost! But Jean hastened to reassure them:

"I beg you to trust me, citizen friends! It is true I am not a royalist, but we love the little fellow and his good mother. Once she gave us heaven-sent help, and we have sworn to aid her if we could. For this I took service in the tavern. For this I have listened to every word of conversation that men carry on here in low tones, when Père Lefèvre thinks I am asleep. For this opportunity I have prayed,-oh, long, long months! Trust me, gentlemen!" The boy's words and looks were so earnest and sincere that the two men felt certain that he could be trusted with their secret, and must be, since he had discovered so much. The younger one took him by the shoulder:

"Swear by God and the late martyred King that you will be faithful!" he commanded. And Jean vowed to be faithful.

"Now," said the man, "how do you think you can help us, since you have discovered so much?"

"Mère Clouet, with whom I live," declared Jean, "will joyfully open her house to the royal ones, and shelter them safely. She has the reputation for being one of the stanchest sans-culottes in the Rue de Lille, and none would ever suspect her!"

"It is the very thing!" exclaimed the two men. "It is a godsend!" Then in whispers they elaborated to Jean all the details of the plan for the escape of the Queen, her sister and the two children from the Tower. This is the plot that the boy had discovered, and in which he was to take so important a part.

There was in Paris a loyal and daring royalist, the Baron de Batz, who schemed so cleverly for the release of his sovereign that he was never discovered, even when it chanced that his plans failed. He, it seemed, was the younger of the two men whom Jean had overheard. He contrived to be present everywhere, seen nowhere, and had the most trusty agents and spies in his service. He also had many retreats and secure hiding-places in Paris, the principal one being at the house of a grocer named Cortey, who was a commissary at the Tower, and at heart a sympathiser with the royal sufferers. Through him, De Batz discovered another royalist, one Michonis, a soldier of the Temple guard. The three together had perfected a bold scheme of escape.

They had arranged that the first time Cortey should be on duty among the commissaries, he should enroll De Batz as his colleague for the day, under the name of Citizen Forget, and thus gain his admission to the Temple Tower. This had already been done, and De Batz, or Forget as he was now called, had studied the situation for several days, discovering about thirty men among the soldiery who would be faithful to the cause.

Then the scheme was to wait till a day when Cortey should be on duty as commissary, and Michonis also on guard among the sentinels, both at the same time. They would probably be obliged to wait quite a while for this, as the two men's turns did not coincide often. That day all the men on sentry at the staircase of the Tower were to wear long, military capes above their uniforms. When the hour came, late at night, Michonis was to take these capes from some of them, and put them on three royal women. In this disguise the Princesses with guns in their hands, would be incorporated among a patrol, and in their midst they would surround the child-king. Cortey was to command the patrol, and under the pretence of investigating some imaginary disturbance in the street, would have the great inner gates of the courtyard opened for them. Once outside the walls, their safety would be almost certain.

A carriage was to be waiting in the Rue Charlot. Jean was to be allowed to drive this, and take the fugitives near to the Rue de Lille. Then they would get out and make their way unobtrusively to the home of Citizeness Clouet. Here they would rest secure for the night, and in the morning escape in sans-culotte costumes to a ship that would leave the port of Havre next night. The plan seemed perfectly thought out, and to Jean it appeared that success was certain.

While the three conspirators were whispering at the table, suddenly a shadow fell across the floor from the open doorway. With a little shiver of distrust, Jean turned round and faced the rat-like eyes of La Souris! He had, however, the presence of mind to appear very unconcerned, and invited Coudert to be seated at another table. The two men rose to leave, and before they went Jean remarked aloud:

"Citizens, you have entertained me vastly this afternoon with your tales of La Guillotine! I hope you will come again to help me pass a dull hour! What will you take, Citizen Coudert?" But in spite of his apparent unconcern, his heart misgave him somewhat, for though La Souris said nothing to alarm him, he watched the boy more suspiciously than ever. He hurried home that night to Mère Clouet and Yvonne, with joy and fear mingled in his heart, and told them all the wonderful news, and the two Clouets spent some happy days thereafter, preparing for their royal guests.

The time passed while they were waiting for the auspicious day, and the conspirators were careful not to be seen too much in each others' company. Once, however, when Forget and Michonis happened to meet and exchange a few low-whispered words in the courtyard, if they had looked behind them, they would have noticed a little, wiry, evil-faced creature skulking around the corner of the building near which they stood. Jean, the lynx-eyed, from his vantage ground in the tavern doorway, caught sight of La Souris' suspicious man?uvres. He left the door, and strolled nonchalantly-past his friends, singing loudly, "Allons, enfants de la patrie!" Just when he was opposite them he muttered be

tween his teeth, "'Ware La Souris!" and sauntered on. The two men parted, and were careful not to meet again.

At last the long-looked-for day arrived. Michonis and Cortey were both on duty, and also twenty-eight loyal soldiers, among whom was Forget. All during the day nothing occurred to mar their plans, and Jean hugged himself and chuckled with delight. Night came and all was well. Michonis was at his post in the prisoners' apartments, while his colleagues rested, lounged or played tric-trac in the council-room below. Simon alone was not among them, having been absent from the Tower for several hours. This was looked upon as a favourable omen.

At ten o'clock Jean hastened home to the Rue de Lille, donned the costume of a coachman, which, as he was growing wondrously tall and large, did not fit him ill, and leaving Mère Clouet and Yvonne tingling with suppressed excitement, hurried to one of the dark and deserted streets nearby. True to appointment, there stood a carriage driven by a liveried coachman. At the whispered word, "De Batz," the man got down, assisted Jean to climb up in his place, promised to be at the same spot two hours hence, and disappeared. Jean drove away, not proceeding straight to the Rue Charlot, but by a wide and devious route that took him first over a large part of that section of Paris. When he entered the Rue Charlot at the appointed time, eleven-thirty, it was quiet and dark.

Here he halted, and sat for nearly half an hour, feverish with impatience for the royal party to arrive. Presently he heard soft steps coming down the street, and his heart began to beat violently. But as the steps drew nearer, he beheld a little, wizened figure that had something strangely familiar about it, and his heart beat more violently still when he recognised his old enemy, La Souris! Nearer and nearer he drew with his queer, mouse-like manner, peering sharply to the right and left, and Jean began to hope that he would pass the waiting carriage without paying it any particular heed. But, no!-Citizen Coudert stopped directly before it, measured up the driver with his crafty eyes, and inquired:

"Is this carriage hired?" Jean thanked his stars for the broad hat that shaded his face, and the scarf that muffled him to the chin. He made his voice as deep as possible and replied:

"Yes, citizen! It is engaged for the evening!"

"Ah! Then you cannot take me to the Rue St. Denis?"

"No, citizen! I'm sorry!"

"Good-night, then!" growled Coudert as he moved off, and Jean responded with a shiver of apprehension. This strange individual's manner was so peculiar that one could never guess what were his real thoughts. Something about it all made the boy perfectly certain that La Souris did not want a carriage to take him anywhere. But why he should inquire, and how much he suspected, or whether he suspected at all, Jean could not, for the life of him, determine! Another quarter of an hour passed. At last the silence of the night was broken by the stern command of a guard, and the clanking open of a great gate. Then indeed Jean's heart leaped into his throat, and he felt assured of success. But instead of a party of five, one man came running at top speed down the street. When he was near enough, Jean recognised the Baron.

"Quick!" whispered De Batz. "Drive like the wind!"

"Where?" demanded Jean in despair.

"To the Barriére St. Denis! I must get out of Paris!" and De Batz jumped in, closing the door softly.

The drive through Paris to the entrance called the Barriére St. Denis was the most bewildering Jean had ever taken. All the way he was wondering what could have happened, how the plot had been discovered, and whether this would affect the welfare and safety of all concerned. That La Souris was at the bottom of it, somehow, he had not a doubt. But nothing could be ascertained before the carriage reached its destination. When the Baron finally alighted, he pressed Jean's hand and thanked him for his quiet, efficient service.

"It's a mystery to me!" he said in explanation. "All seemed to be going so well until nearly midnight. Then that devil of a Simon entered the guard-room with his usual infernal racket, and demanded that we have a roll-call of the guards. He turned to Cortey and snarled,-'I'm especially glad to see you here, Citizen Cortey! I wouldn't be easy without you!' Then I saw plainly that the whole thing was discovered. Ah! but for a moment I had a wild desire to blow out that surly rascal's brains! But reason told me that this would, far from mending matters, only serve to incriminate us all. So I managed to keep perfectly calm while the roll was called. Then Simon went upstairs, probably to interview Michonis, and left Cortey in charge of us. While he was gone, Cortey pretended that he heard a disturbance in the street, organised a patrol of eight (including myself), and we came out to investigate it. Thus I escaped. Cortey is a brave man and true! His patrol will number only seven when he returns! Well, it is a grief to me that it has failed but be of good courage, lad! I shall live to hatch more plots and, trust me, you shall take a part! I pray that none of you suffer for this, but I think you will not, as our tracks are well covered. I cannot stay longer! God bless you, and good-bye!" The brave man slipped away in the darkness, leaving Jean to drive wearily back to where he was to deliver the carriage to the coachman, and then plod home on foot to the Rue de Lille.

His heart was almost too heavy to care what became of him, and he hated to face the disappointment of Mère Clouet and Yvonne. Their sorrow at the failure of their hopes was all and more than he had pictured it. But after a while, when they had talked it all over and were preparing to retire for the night, Yvonne made a sign to her mother, and then turned to Jean:

"We have a surprise for you!"

"What is it?" he asked without much enthusiasm, for he was too weary and disgusted to care about lesser matters. Mère Clouet disappeared into another room for a moment, and returning, with a quick movement deposited something in his lap. Jean almost tumbled out of his chair!

"Moufflet!" he gasped. "How?-when?-where?-" The little animal fairly smothered him with caresses, and the light of happiness came back to the boy's eyes.

"Listen!" cried Yvonne. "About eleven o'clock this evening, we were sitting here, when suddenly I heard a strange scratching at the door. I thought perhaps you had returned with the royal ones and were giving us a signal, so I ran to open the door, when there jumped right into my arms this little Moufflet! He was breathless with running and covered with mud and dirt. Oh, how glad he seemed to see us! I gave him a bath and fed him well, and he has been sleeping ever since. How do you suppose he came here?"

"He must have escaped in some way from La Souris, though I can't imagine how!" replied Jean. "And, goodness knows! he's had a run, clear from the other side of Paris! It's a wonder he ever found us again! But we must be right careful of him, now. If La Souris should discover him here again, he'll swear I stole him!

"But, oh!" he thought, "if only the little fellow could have come to-night and found his pet here!"

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THE COBBLER TAKES COMMAND

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