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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Conspirators - Chapter 13. The Crimson Ribbon
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The Conspirators - Chapter 13. The Crimson Ribbon Post by :jamn1.1 Category :Long Stories Author :Alexandre Dumas Date :May 2012 Read :2967

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The Conspirators - Chapter 13. The Crimson Ribbon

CHAPTER XIII. THE CRIMSON RIBBON

What occupied the mind of the chevalier was neither the denouement of the drama where he had chosen so important a part, nor the admirable prudence of the Abbe Brigaud in placing him in a house which he habitually visited almost daily, so that his visits, however frequent, could not be remarkable. It was not the dignified speeches of Madame Denis, nor the soprano of Mademoiselle Emilie. It was neither the contralto of Mademoiselle Athenais, nor the tricks of M. Boniface. It was simply poor Bathilde, whom he had heard so lightly spoken of; but our reader would be mistaken if he supposed that M. Boniface's brutal accusation had in the least degree altered the sentiments of the chevalier for the young girl, for an instant's reflection showed him that such an alliance was impossible.

Chance might give a charming daughter to an undistinguished father. Necessity may unite a young and elegant woman to an old and vulgar husband, but a liaison, such as that attributed to the young girl and the bourgeois of the terrace, can only result from love or interest. Now between these two there could be no love; and as to interest, the thing was still less probable; for, if they were not in absolute poverty, their situation was certainly not above mediocrity--not even that gilded mediocrity of which Horace speaks, with a country house at Tibur and Montmorency, and which results from a pension of thirty thousand sestercia from the Augustan treasury, or a government annuity of six thousand francs--but that poor and miserable mediocrity which only provides from day to day, and which is only prevented from becoming real poverty by incessant labor.

D'Harmental gathered from all this the certainty that Bathilde was neither the daughter, wife, nor mistress of this terrible neighbor, the sight of whom had sufficed to produce such a strange reaction on the growing love of the chevalier. If she was neither the one nor the other, there was a mystery about her birth; and if so, Bathilde was not what she appeared to be. All was explained, her aristocratic beauty, her finished education. Bathilde was above the position which she was temporarily forced to occupy: there had been in the destiny of this young girl one of those overthrows of fortune, which are for individuals what earthquakes are for towns, and she had been forced to descend to the inferior sphere where he found her.

The result of all this was, that the chevalier might, without losing rank in his own estimation, allow himself to love Bathilde. When a man's heart is at war with his pride, he seldom wants excuses to defeat his haughty enemy. Bathilde had now neither name nor family, and nothing prevented the imagination of the man who loved her from raising her to a height even above his own; consequently, instead of following the friendly advice of M. Boniface, the first thing D'Harmental did was to go to his window and inspect that of his neighbor. It was wide open. If, a week ago, any one had told the chevalier that such a simple thing as an open window would have made his heart beat, he would have laughed at the idea. However, so it was; and after drawing a long breath, he settled himself in a corner, to watch at his ease the young girl in the opposite room, without being seen by her, for he was afraid of frightening her by that attention which she could only attribute to curiosity, but he soon perceived that the room was deserted.

D'Harmental then opened his window, and at the noise he made in doing so, he saw the elegant head of the greyhound, which, with his ears always on the watch, and well worthy of the trust that her mistress had reposed in her, in making her guardian of the house, was awake, and looking to see who it was that thus disturbed her sleep.

Thanks to the indiscreet counter-tenor of the good man of the terrace and the malice of M. Boniface, the chevalier already knew two things very important to know--namely, that his neighbor was called Bathilde, a sweet and euphonious appellation, suitable to a young, beautiful, and graceful girl; and that the greyhound was called Mirza, a name which seemed to indicate a no less distinguished rank in the canine aristocracy. Now as nothing is to be disdained when we wish to conquer a fortress, and the smallest intelligence from within is often more efficacious than the most terrible machines of war, D'Harmental resolved to commence opening communications with the greyhound; and with the most caressing tone he could give to his voice, he called Mirza. Mirza, who was indolently lying on the cushion, raised her head quickly, with an expression of unmistakable astonishment; and, indeed, it must have appeared strange to the intelligent little animal, that a man so perfectly unknown to her as the chevalier should address her by her Christian name. She contented herself with fixing on him her uneasy eyes, which, in the half-light where she was placed, sparkled like two carbuncles, and uttering a little dull sound which might pass for a growl.

D'Harmental remembered that the Marquis d'Uxelle had tamed the spaniel of Mademoiselle Choin, which was a much more peevish beast than any greyhound in the world, with roast rabbits' heads; and that he had received for this delicate attention the baton of Marechal de France; and he did not despair of being able to soften by the same kind of attention the surly reception which Mademoiselle Mirza had given to his advances: so he went toward the sugar-basin; then returned to the window, armed with two pieces of sugar, large enough to be divided ad infinitum.

The chevalier was not mistaken; at the first piece of sugar which fell near her, Mirza negligently advanced her head; then, being by the aid of smell made aware of the nature of the temptation offered to her, she extended her paw toward it, drew it toward her, took it in her teeth, and began to eat it with that languid air peculiar to the race to which she belonged. This operation finished, she passed over her mouth a little red tongue, which showed, that in spite of her apparent indifference, which was owing, no doubt, to her excellent education, she was not insensible to the surprise her neighbor had prepared for her; instead of lying down again on the cushion as she had done the first time, she remained seated, yawning languidly, but wagging her tail, to show that she would wake entirely, after two or three such little attentions as she had just had paid to her.

D'Harmental, who was well acquainted with the habits of all the King Charles' dogs of the pretty women of the day, understood the amiable intentions of Mirza, and not wishing to give her time to change her mind, threw a second piece of sugar, taking care that it should fall at such a distance as to oblige her to leave her cushion to get it. This test would decide whether she was most inclined to laziness or greediness. Mirza remained an instant uncertain, but then greediness carried the day, and she went across the room to fetch the piece of sugar, which had rolled under the harpsichord. At this moment a third piece fell near the window, and Mirza came toward it; but there the liberality of the chevalier stopped; he thought that he had now given enough to require some return, and he contented himself with calling Mirza in a more imperative tone, and showing her the other pieces of sugar which he held in his hand.

Mirza this time, instead of looking at the chevalier with uneasiness or disdain, rested her paws on the window, and began to behave as she would to an old acquaintance. It was finished; Mirza was tamed.

The chevalier remarked that it was now his turn to play the contemptuous with Mirza, and to speak to her, in order to accustom her to his voice; however, fearing a return of pride on the part of his interlocutor, who sustained her part in the dialogue by little whines and grumblings, he threw her a fourth piece of sugar, which she seized with greater avidity from having been kept waiting. This time, without being called, she came to take her place at the window. The chevalier's triumph was complete. So complete, that Mirza, who the day before had given signs of so superior an intelligence in discovering Bathilde's return, and in running to the door as she descended the staircase, this time discovered neither the one nor the other, so that her mistress, entering all at once, surprised her in the midst of these coquetries with her neighbor. It is but just to say, however, that at the noise the door made in opening Mirza turned, and recognizing Bathilde, bounded toward her, lavishing on her the most tender caresses; but we must add, to the shame of the species, that this duty once accomplished, she hastened back to the window. This unusual action on the part of the dog naturally guided Bathilde's eyes toward the cause which occasioned it. Her eyes met those of the chevalier.

Bathilde blushed: the chevalier bowed; and Bathilde, without knowing what she was doing, returned the salute.

Her first impulse was to go and close the window, but an instinctive feeling restrained her. She understood that this was giving importance to a thing which had none, and that to put herself on the defensive was to avow herself attacked. In consequence, she crossed to that part of the room where her neighbor's glance could not reach. Then, at the end of a few minutes, when she returned, she found that he had closed his window. Bathilde understood that there was discretion in this action, and she thanked him. Indeed, the chevalier had just made a masterstroke. On the terms which he was on with his neighbor, it was impossible that both windows should remain open at once; if the chevalier's window was open, his neighbor's must be shut; and he knew that when that was closed, there was not a chance of seeing even the tip of Mirza's nose behind the curtain; while if, on the contrary, his window was closed, hers might possibly remain open, and he could watch her passing to and fro, or working, which was a great amusement for a poor devil condemned to absolute seclusion; besides, he had made an immense step:--he had saluted Bathilde, and she had returned it. They were no longer strangers to each other, but, in order that their acquaintance might advance, he must be careful not to be too brusk.

To risk speaking to her after the salute would have been risking too much; it was better to allow Bathilde to believe that it was all the effect of chance. Bathilde did not believe it, but she appeared to do so. The result was that she left her window open, and, seeing her neighbor's closed, sat down by her own with a book in her hand. As to Mirza, she jumped on to the stool at her mistress's feet, but instead of resting her head as usual on the knees of the young girl, she placed it on the sill, of the window, so much was she occupied with the generous unknown. The chevalier seated himself in the middle of his room, took his pencils, and thanks to a corner of his curtain skillfully raised, he sketched the delicious picture before him. Unfortunately the days were short, and toward three o'clock the little light which the clouds and rain had permitted to descend to the earth began to decline, and Bathilde closed her window. Nevertheless, even in this short time the chevalier had finished the young girl's head, and the likeness was perfect. There was her waving hair, her fine transparent skin, the graceful curve of her swan-like neck; in fact, all to which art can attain with one of those inimitable models which are the despair of artists.

When night closed in, the Abbe Brigaud arrived. The chevalier and he wrapped themselves in their mantles, and went toward the Palais Royal; they had, it will be remembered, to examine the ground. The house in which Madame de Sabran lived, since her husband had been named maitre d'hotel to the regent, was No. 22, between the Hotel de la Roche-Guyon and the passage formerly called Passage du Palais Royal, because it was the only one leading from the Rue des Bons Enfants to the Rue de Valois. This passage, now called Passage du Lycee, was closed at the same time as the other gates of the garden; that is to say, at eleven o'clock in the evening; therefore, having once entered a house in the Rue des Bons Enfants, unless it had a second door opening on the Rue de Valois, no one could return to the Palais Royal after eleven o'clock without making the round, either by the Rue Neuve des Petits-Champs, or by the Cour des Fontaines.

Thus it was with Madame de Sabran's house; it was an exquisite little hotel, built toward the end of the last century, some five-and-twenty years before, by a merchant who wished to ape the great lords and have a petite maison of his own. It was a one-storied house, with a stone gallery, on which the servants' attics opened, and surmounted by a low tilted roof. Under the first-floor windows was a large balcony which jutted out three or four feet, and extended right across the house; but some iron ornaments, similar to the balcony, and which reached to the terrace, separated the two windows on each side from the three in the center, as is often done when it is desired to interrupt exterior communications. The two facades were exactly similar, only, as the Rue de Valois was eight or ten feet lower than that of the Bons Enfants, the ground-floor windows and door opened on a terrace, where was a little garden, filled in spring with charming flowers, but which did not communicate with the street, the only entrance being, as we have said, in the Rue des Bons Enfants.

This was all our conspirators could wish; the regent, once entered into Madame de Sabran's house, would--provided he stayed after eleven o'clock, which was probable--be taken as in a trap, and nothing would be easier than to carry out their plan in the Rue des Bons Enfants, one of the most deserted and gloomy places in the neighborhood; moreover, as this street was surrounded by very suspicious houses, and frequented by very bad company, it was a hundred to one that they would not pay any attention to cries which were too frequent in that street to cause any uneasiness, and that if the watch arrived, it would be, according to the custom of that estimable force, long after their intervention could be of any avail. The inspection of the ground finished, the plans laid, and the number of the house taken, they separated; the abbe to go to the Arsenal to give Madame de Maine an account of the proceedings, and D'Harmental to return to his attic.

As on the preceding night, Bathilde's room was lighted, but this time the young girl was not drawing but working; her light was not put out till one o'clock in the morning. As to the good man, he had retired long before D'Harmental returned. The chevalier slept badly; between a love at its commencement and a conspiracy at its height, he naturally experienced some sensations little favorable to sleep; but toward morning fatigue prevailed, and he only awoke on feeling himself violently shaken by the arm. Without doubt the chevalier was at that moment in some bad dream, of which this appeared to him the end, for, still half asleep, he stretched out his hand toward the pistols which were at his side.

"Ah, ah!" cried the abbe, "an instant, young man. What a hurry you are in! Open your eyes wide--so. Do you not recognize me?"

"Ah!" said D'Harmental, laughing, "it is you, abbe. You did well to stop me. I dreamed that I was arrested."

"A good sign," said the Abbe Brigaud: "you know that dreams always go by contraries. All will go well."

"Is there anything new?" asked D'Harmental.

"And if there were, how would you receive it?"

"I should be enchanted. A thing of this kind once undertaken, the sooner it is finished the better."

"Well, then," said Brigaud, drawing a paper from his pocket and presenting it to the chevalier, "read, and glorify the name of the Lord, for you have your wish."

D'Harmental took the paper, unfolded it as calmly as if it were a matter of no moment, and read as follows:


"_Report of the 27th of March._

"Two in the Morning.

"To-night at ten o'clock the regent received a courier
from London, who announces for to-morrow the arrival of
the Abbe Dubois. As by chance the regent was supping
with madame, the dispatch was given to him in spite of
the late hour. Some minutes before, Mademoiselle de
Chartres had asked permission of her father to perform
her devotions at the Abbey of Chelles, and he had
promised to conduct her there; but on the receipt of
this letter his determination was changed and he has
ordered the council to meet at noon.

"At three o'clock the regent will pay his majesty a
visit at the Tuileries. He has asked for a tete-a-tete,
for he is beginning to be impatient at the obstinacy of
the Marechal de Villeroy, who will always be present at
the interviews between the regent and his majesty.
Report says that if this obstinacy continue, it will be
the worse for the marshal.

"At six o'clock, the regent, the Chevalier de Simiane,
and the Chevalier de Ravanne, will sup with Madame de
Sabran."


"Ah, ah!" said D'Harmental; and he read the last sentence, weighing every word.

"Well, what do you think of this paragraph?" asked the abbe.

The chevalier jumped from his bed, put on his dressing-gown, took from his drawer a crimson ribbon, a hammer and a nail, and having opened his window (not without throwing a stolen glance at that of his neighbor), he nailed the ribbon on to the outer wall.

"There is my answer," said he.

"What the devil does that mean?"

"That means," said D'Harmental, "that you may go and tell Madame de Maine that I hope this evening to fulfill my promise to her. And now go away, my dear abbe, and do not come back for two hours, for I expect some one whom it would be better you should not meet."

The abbe, who was prudence itself, did not wait to be told twice, but pressed the chevalier's hand and left him. Twenty minutes afterward Captain Roquefinette entered.

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