Imágenes de página
[ocr errors]

“ That does you honour,” said Bobèche ; “ those were your horses, then, that we saw in the stable ?”

" Comment !--mais-oui

Cadoux hesitated, and out of his little grey eyes I could perceive he stole an interrogative glance across the table to our host, who as rapidly knit his brows.

“C'est-à-dire !-you saw them in the stable? Which stable ?" “ The large one that communicates directly with the house."

The large one! Oh, then, those were not ours; ours are in the small stable on the other side. Pity you had not seen them; as you seem to be a judge of horses, you could, perhaps, have told me what was the best thing to do them good."

“ I'll look at them after supper with great pleasure,” observed Bobèche.

“Come, come,” interposed our host, somewhat hastily : “ do you think I should let them stand there without their being properly looked after ? Why, old Goupillon is as good a horse-doctor as any between this and Meaux, or, for the matter of that, on this side of Paris. There is no need of your giving yourself that trouble, Monsieur Caillou.”

I could not tell what Bobèche thought of our new companions, and of the history of their accident, just narrated, - for he wore a most impenetrable countenance ; but, for my own part, I was not disposed to give credit to a single syllable of it; and the doubts which had arisen in my mind, coupled with the evident caution of Bobèche, the singular appearance of the marchand de bestiaux and the strange miller, and certain vague thoughts that came across me, induced me to watch the party a little more narrowly. I had already detected an intelligence between Monsieur Vidal and his friends in the affair of the stable, and I was curious to find out more.

The conversation, just described, took place during the first few minutes after our being seated at the supper-table, and was only broken off by the attention which our appetites caused us to pay

to the pot-à-fers now set on the board by Justine. When justice had in some degree been done to the marmite perpetuelle of Monsieur Vidal, the interrupted discourse was resumed, but on this occasion by our host, who seemed to think there was no necessity for any more personal revelations on the part of the marchand de bestiaux, or his companion.

“So, Monsieur Caillou,” said he, “ you are on your way to the château de Courtine. I did not expect to have seen you in these parts so soon. The steward told me last market-day at Meaux, that the marquis was gone to Germany, and meant to be absent a long while ; but since you have made your appearance, I suppose your master can't be very far behind.”

“ You are right,” replied Bobèche; “I dare say he will reach here in the course of a couple of days."

“ And what, may I ask, brings him back so unexpectedly?” Bobèche smiled.

“Oh! these great people, you know, change their mind just as it suits them. They have no one to render an account to.”

“ I would not make quite so sure of that, if I were one," said Monsieur Cadoux, in a surly tone.

“ Comment ?” asked Bobèche, with an air, as if he had not understood him.

" I said,” repeated the cattle-merchant, " or I meant to say, that these

aristocrateš may have to give an account of themselves, as they did once before, sooner than they expect, perhaps.”

At the moment, I was disagreeably surprised by receiving a violent kick on one of my shins, which made me call out with pain. Every one looked round with surprise, particularly Monsieur Loison, who was lost; in confusion, and nearly overwhelmed beneath the weight of the apologies that issued from his lips.

“Mais par-don, Monsieur, je vous demande mille fois par-don. I thought I felt a cat under my feet, and detesting cats, as I have done from my infancy, in spite of their utility in barns and mills—it is an aversion I cannot conquer-I tried to kick it, but, unfortunately, my foot came in contact with the leg of monsieur. J'en suis vraiment désolé !” “ Luckily," I replied, “my thick boot saved me; but


hatred to cats must be very great, to judge by the violence of your kick. A little more in this direction," I added, pointing to Monsieur Cadoux, “and your friend, whose legs are not so well protected as mine, would have had the full benefit of it."

“ I am only sorry that I was not the sufferer by Loison's mistake,” observed his friend, with an excess of politeness.

It was clear to me that Monsieur's Loison's history about the cat was a fable, and that the kick was really intended for the cattle-merchant, no doubt to drop the subject he had so suddenly broached ; for when Bobèche again adverted to Monsieur Cadoux's words, the latter made no reply, and Pierre Vidal once more struck in.

“As to that,” he said, “ we have all of us an account of some kind or other to render, high or low. No man sends a sack of wheat into a mill to be ground, without looking for his full measure of flour in return ; if you, Cadoux, buy oxen on commission at Poissy, those who employ you expect to know how the money is laid out ; and I dare say, Monsieur Caillou, when you ride post before M. le Marquis, that handsome purse that hangs across your breast is as carefully emptied as it was well filled.”

“ Of course," replied Bobèche, “I always present a bill of disbursements ;

that's what

?" “ Exactly,' said Vidal, with a grin ; "a profit and loss account. To judge by the size of the purse you now carry, you must either have spent very little, or intend to travel


far." “ It certainly did not cost us much at hotels on the road between this and Baden, seeing that we only came away yesterday afternoon ; but horses, you know, are not to be had for nothing.”

“ That's true," said the miller, with an air of reflection, as if the idea had never struck him before.

He had, however answered his purpose by his remarks ; for, at the first allusion to the courier's

I the quick


of Messieurs Cadoux and Loison measure its size, and glisten, as if with the desire to possess it. This is, without doubt, a feeling common to all who trade for money; and it is not necessary to be a marchand de bestiaux, or a miller, to exhibit it; but I very much questioned whether it was simply 'in a mercantile point of view that these gentlemen eyed the property of Bobèche, for the dim ideas which had flitted across my mind ever since I sat down at the table, became suddenly so bright, as to convince me that I had seen them both somewhere before, and that, under circumstances not the most favourable to their honesty.

This clue obtained, it was easy



for me to pass in review the different situations in which I had been placed that could have brought me into contact with persons of that description, and I rapidly came to the conclusion that the short man, with the long arms and small gray eyes, who personated the cattle-dealer, and his taller companion, who called himself a miller, were no other than my ci-devant acquaintances, the Baron de Biffe, alias Binoche, and Colonel Duval, alias Durastel, who had been consigned to the prison of Orleans, for the robbery of Sir John Chubb, and the attempted abduction of his daughter. Once morally assured of their identity, I pushed my examination of their persons closer ; their wigs and neckcloths were manifest disguises, and it was not long before I traced the scar that disfigured the brow of Durastel, and called to memory the sinister smile that played round his mouth. How they chanced to be in this part of the country could only be accounted for by supposing that they had escaped from prison ; and this was warranted no less by their personal appearance than by their previous character. Paris is the invariable haven of every escaped forçat, thither they were avowedly bent, and, from the words that fell from Cadoux, which subsequent events gave a meaning to, it was evident that their motive for going to the capital was not an ordinary one.

It will, no doubt, be thought that I ran as great, or even a greater risk of being recognised by the convicts, than they did of being discovered by me; but it must be remembered that what they had seen of me had been very slight, and that their thoughts had, at the time, been exclusively fixed on the best mode of accomplishing their purpose, with regard to Sir John Chubb and his family, who occupied all their attention.

Even a few weeks of good living had made a great change in my appearance---my costume was entirely altered—and the fact of my coming with Bobèche from the German frontier, were enough to put them off the scent, if they had really fancied I had ever crossed their path before. But I soon found that apprehensions on this score were needless, for no word or gesture (and I watched them closely) escaped them of a nature to put me on my guard on this account. It was not so, however, with respect to their general conduct. They were robbers by profession, and I knew enough of that class to be aware that murder was a frequent adjunct to robbery, if not a means towards its accomplishment. Bobèche was a powerful and resolute man and I was quick and active, and I felt not deficient in courage ; but we were still at a disadvantage, for two practised hands were opposed to us, with the connivance and support of the miller Vidal, and I knew not how many of his servants. Bobèche, moreover, had only general grounds for suspicion, and the difficulty on my part was to make him aware, as soon as I could, of the real character of the people by whom we were beset.

“Père Goupi,” said Bobèche, reverting to the subject which was nearest his thoughts, " tells me that the waters are already out on the lowland towards La Férte, and that the bridge at Doué down yonder has been arried

away, in which case I suppose we must go round by Sablonières.”

“ It is impossible to say which road lies open till daylight comes,” replied Vidal ; “ I would not answer for that way any more than for the other. One thing is certain, there is no getting on to-night, and so Monsieur Caillou you and

your young friend must stay and take what shelter the mill can offer."


“Oh, a chair by the fire-side is no great hardship for once and away. Wasn't it somewhere near here—yes—at Montmirail, that the emperor had no better bed the night before he beat the Prussians? A courier may very well put up with what satisfied him; besides, we are under cover and he was not."

Very true," said Vidal ; “ but I never remember to have heard that it rained cats and dogs on that occasion, as it seems to do now; so without any disparagement to your powers of endurance, I think you may as well make yourself as comfortable to-night as the place you are in will admit of. It's always time enough to rough it when you have no other choice.”

“No one will dispute that,” said Bobèche, “but I scarcely think you have beds enough in the mill for every body here."

“Oh,” returned the miller, “mine, at any rate, will be unoccupied, for I have too much to look after to-night to think of rest. Dieu sait, if I were not to be on the watch, the mill and every body in it might be swept away before morning. I must look to the sluices and the broken dam, and they will give me quite enough to do."

“ Well, but if we go to bed and you are in difficulty, how are we to help you, or ourselves either, for that matter ?"

« Mon cher Monsieur Caillou, we who are used to these things can do without help from those who are not in the habit of dealing with such accidents. Here are Père Goupi, and my friend Monsieur Loison--a miller like myself—so don't make yourself uneasy on that account, but go quietly to bed and sleep till the sun rises. You can then choose your own road, and start as soon as you please.”

Besides,” interposed the pretended marchand de bestiaux, “though we were out in the storm, too, we have none of us had such a hard day's work as this gentleman. I am sure, Vidal, the bed you were so kind as to offer me is quite at the service of monsieur or his young companion."

“ There is no occasion for that,” said our persevering host ; “ besides yours there are two empty beds at the top of the mill, and the only thing necessary is to make up your

minds to


to them.” Without openly expressing mistrust of the arrangements proposed, refusal could scarcely be carried further, and Bobèche accordingly acquiesced with seeming cheerfulness, and the whole party rose from the table. I observed, while he was lighting a candle, that Pierre Vidal had walked to the fire-place, and, after giving a hasty glance towards Bobèche to see that he was not noticed, took down the holsters from the hook on which they had been hung and very quietly dropped them on a heap of sacks beside the large projecting hearth. I smiled at the trick, for I remembered that Bobèche had taken out the pistols while we were in the stable, but at the same time the act plainly enough showed that the miller’s intentions towards us were not the most friendly. “ Allons,” said Vidal, with a joyous air, returning to the table, "allons dernier


à la santé de tout le monde. Let us hope the storm may soon wear itself out, though the wind growls like a wolf!"

“And the thunder roars like a bear,” added Cadoux.
“And the rain hisses like a serpent," continued Loison.

" And the lightning flashes like the devil,” said Bobèche, to complete the list of comparisons ; " mais enfin, voilà ce qu'il ya de mieux à faire. A vos santés, messieurs!"

The brims of the glasses met together in a common centre, and the

[ocr errors]

boire un


contents were drunk off at a draught ; Bobèche then took up the light, and I accompanied him, Vidal following us to the foot of the staircase, which was so steep and narrow as to render his directions any thing but unnecessary.

“ Take care how you go! Keep turning on your left-hand. There are two landing-places to pass, and fifty-eight steps to climb. Then, open the only door you will find at the top-that's your room ; bon soir, Monsieur Caillou, dormez-vous bien, messieurs, je vous souhaite un bien bon soir." A chorus of voices, charged with the same kind wishes, followed up

the spiral staircase, and kept company with us until we reached the chamber indicated; a valediction louder than the rest was then heard, proceeding from the powerful lungs of our host, and the lower door closed heavily.

As soon as we were alone, I said to Bobèche : “ Well, what do you think of our quarters ?"

I'll tell you presently," he replied, 66 when I have looked at them.” He lifted the light, and we both examined the room, as well as the flickering flame, caused by the gusts of wind which rushed through the crevices of the window-frame, would allow.

It was a large apartment, eight-sided, and bounded on all but one by the exterior walls of the mill, but the whole space was not given to the accommodation of those who slept in it, more than half of it being filled with sacks of flour, corn-sieves, and other implements of the miller's calling. Furniture it had none, except a small table and a truckle-bed (Monsieur Vidal's promise of two being reduced to this apology for one), and the only window was a lattice of small dimensions which overlooked the roaring mill-strearn below.

Having made his survey, Bobèche put down the light, and, looking at me with a comic expression, observed :

“ Eh bien, Adrien, ce n'est pas ici le château de Monsieur le Marquis !" “ I think not," I replied,


your friend, Pierre Vidal, bas not the air of the steward of a château ; neither do his guests look much like noblemen.”

Bobèche laughed.

“ I think,” he said, “ they might all hang by the same cord. I know his reputation to be doubtful, and for the others, one has only to look in their faces to see of what wood they are made.”

“ I have looked in their faces long enough,” returned I, “ to know who, as well as what they are."

“ Sacredi!” exclaimed Bobèche, “the boy is up to every thing. How the devil do you happen to know them?'

“ You noticed the long arms and sharp gray eyes of the one who calls himself Cadoux ?” I asked. “ Yes, he looks as sly as a rat, and has arms like the sweeps

of a mill - bien entendu, a windmill ; not an amphibious place like this!"

“ And did you see the deep scar over Monsieur Loison's left eye ?”

“ That side of his face was turned towards me; I particularly remarked it.”

“Eh bien, those gentlemen are two convicts, escaped, I apprehend, from the prison of Orleans—the two rascals, Binoche and Durastel, of whom I told you. It is impossible I can be mistaken in them.”

I then communicated the reasons for my suspicions, and told Bobèche of the trick the miller had played with the holsters.

“ I left them behind on purpose,” he said, “ for I did not wish him to

« AnteriorContinuar »