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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Conspirators - Chapter 14. The Rue Des Bons Enfants
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The Conspirators - Chapter 14. The Rue Des Bons Enfants Post by :jamn1.1 Category :Long Stories Author :Alexandre Dumas Date :May 2012 Read :3144

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The Conspirators - Chapter 14. The Rue Des Bons Enfants

CHAPTER XIV. THE RUE DES BONS ENFANTS

The evening of the same day, which was Sunday, toward eight o'clock, at the moment when a considerable group of men and women, assembled round a street singer who was playing at the same time the cymbals with his knees and the tambourine with his hands, obstructed the entrance to the Rue de Valois, a musketeer and two of the light horse descended a back staircase of the Palais Royal, and advanced toward the Passage du Lycee, which, as every one knows, opened on to that street; but seeing the crowd which barred the way, the three soldiers stopped and appeared to take council. The result of their deliberation was doubtless that they must take another route, for the musketeer, setting the example of a new maneuver, threaded the Cour des Fontaines, turned the corner of the Rue des Bons Enfants, and walking rapidly--though he was extremely corpulent--arrived at No. 22, which opened as by enchantment at his approach, and closed again on him and his two companions.

At the moment when they commenced this little detour, a young man, dressed in a dark coat, wrapped in a mantle of the same color, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat pulled down over his eyes, quitted the group which surrounded the singer, singing himself, to the tune of Les Pendus, "Vingt-quatre, vingt-quatre, vingt-quatre," and advancing rapidly toward the Passage du Lycee, arrived at the further end in time to see the three illustrious vagabonds enter the house as we have said. He threw a glance round him, and by the light of one of the three lanterns, which lighted, or rather ought to have lighted, the whole length of the street, he perceived one of those immense coalheavers, with a face the color of soot, so well stereotyped by Greuze, who was resting against one of the posts of the Hotel de la Roche-Guyon, on which he had hung his bag. For an instant he appeared to hesitate to approach this man; but the coalheaver having sung the same air and the same burden, he appeared to lose all hesitation, and went straight to him.

"Well, captain," said the man in the cloak, "did you see them?"

"As plainly as I see you, colonel--a musketeer and two light horse; but I could not recognize them. However, as the musketeer hid his face in his handkerchief, I presume it was the regent."

"Himself; and the two light horse are Simiane and Ravanne."

"Ah, ah! my scholar," said the captain, "I shall have great pleasure in seeing him again: he is a good boy."

"At any rate, captain, take care he does not recognize you."

"Recognize me! It must be the devil himself to recognize me, accoutered as I am. It is you, rather, chevalier, who should take the caution. You have an unfortunately aristocratic air, which does not suit at all with your dress. However, there they are in the trap, and we must take care they do not leave it. Have our people been told?"

"Your people, captain. I know no more of them than they do of me. I quitted the group singing the burden which was our signal. Did they hear me? Did they understand me? I know nothing of it."

"Be easy, colonel. These fellows hear half a voice, and understand half a word."

Indeed, as soon as the man in the cloak had left the group, a strange fluctuation which he had not foreseen began to take place in the crowd, which appeared to be composed only of passers-by, so that the song was not finished, nor the collection received. The crowd dispersed. A great many men left the circle, singly, or two and two, turning toward each other with an imperceptible gesture of the hand, some by the Rue de Valois, some by the Cour des Fontaines, some by the Palais Royal itself, thus surrounding the Rue des Bons Enfants, which seemed to be the center of the rendezvous. In consequence of this maneuver, the intention of which it is easy to understand, there only remained before the singer ten or twelve women, some children, and a good bourgeois of about forty years old, who, seeing that the collection was about to begin again, quitted his place with an air of profound contempt for all these new songs, and humming an old pastoral which he placed infinitely above them. It seemed to him that several men as he passed them made him signs; but as he did not belong to any secret society or any masonic lodge, he went on, singing his favorite--


"Then let me go
And let me play
Beneath the hazel-tree,"


and after having followed the Rue St. Honore to the Barriere des Deux Sergents, turned the corner and disappeared. Almost at the same moment, the man in the cloak, who had been the first to leave the group, reappeared, and, accosting the singer--

"My friend," said he, "my wife is ill, and your music will prevent her sleeping. If you have no particular reason for remaining here, go to the Place du Palais Royal, and here is a crown to indemnify you."

"Thank you, my lord," replied the singer, measuring the social position of the giver by his generosity. "I will go directly. Have you any commissions for the Rue Mouffetard?"

"No."

"Because I would have executed them into the bargain."

The man went away, and as he was at once the center and the cause of the meeting, all that remained disappeared with him. At this moment the clock of the Palais Royal struck nine. The young man drew from his pocket a watch, whose diamond setting contrasted strangely with his simple costume. He set it exactly, then turned and went into the Rue des Bons Enfants. On arriving opposite No. 24, he found the coalheaver.

"And the singer?" asked the latter.

"He is gone."

"Good."

"And the postchaise?" asked the man in the cloak.

"It is waiting at the corner of the Rue Baillif."

"Have they taken the precaution of wrapping the wheels and horses' hoofs in rags?"

"Yes."

"Very good. Now let us wait," said the man in the cloak.

"Let us wait," replied the coalheaver. And all was silent.

An hour passed, during which a few rare passers-by crossed the street at intervals, but at length it became almost deserted. The few lighted windows were darkened one after the other, and night, having now nothing to contend with but the two lanterns, one of which was opposite the chapel of St. Clare, and the other at the corner of the Rue Baillif, at length reigned over the domain which it had long claimed. Another hour passed. They heard the watch in the Rue de Valois; behind him, the keeper of the passage came to close the door.

"Good," murmured the man in the cloak; "now we are sure not to be interrupted."

"Provided," replied the coalheaver, "he leaves before day."

"If he were alone, we might fear his remaining, but Madame de Sabran will scarcely keep all three."

"Peste! you are right, captain; and I had not thought of it; however, are all your precautions taken?"----"All."

"And your men believe that it is a question of a bet?"

"They appear to believe it, at least, and we cannot ask more."

"Then it is well understood, captain. You and your people are drunk. You push me. I fall between the regent and him who has his arm. I separate them. You seize on him and gag him, and at a whistle the carriage arrives, while Simiane and Ravanne are held with pistols at their throats."

"But," answered the coalheaver, in a low voice, "if he declares his name."

The man in the cloak replied, in a still lower tone, "In conspiracies there are no half measures. If he declares himself, you must kill him."

"Peste!" said the coalheaver; "let us try to prevent his doing so."

There was no reply, and all was again silent. A quarter of an hour passed, and then the center windows were lighted up.

"Ah! ah! there is something new," they both exclaimed together.

At this moment they heard the step of a man, who came from the Rue St. Honore, and who was preparing to go the whole length of the street.

The coalheaver muttered a terrible oath; however, the man came on, but whether the darkness sufficed to frighten him, or whether he saw something suspicious moving there, it was evident that he experienced some fear. As he reached the Hotel St. Clare, employing that old ruse of cowards who wish to appear brave, he began to sing; but as he advanced, his voice trembled, and though the innocence of the song proved the serenity of his heart, on arriving opposite the passage he began to cough, which, as we know, in the gamut of terror, indicates a greater degree of fear than singing. Seeing, however, that nothing moved round him, he took courage, and, in a voice more in harmony with his present situation than with the sense of the words, he began--

"Then let me go,"

but there he stopped short, not only in his song, but in his walk; for, having perceived two men standing in a doorway, he felt his voice and his legs fail him at once, and he drew up, motionless and silent. Unfortunately, at this moment a shadow approached the window. The coalheaver saw that a cry might lose all, and moved, as if to spring on the passenger; his companion held him back.

"Captain," said he, "do not hurt this man;" and then, approaching him--"Pass on, my friend," said he, "but pass quickly, and do not look back."

The singer did not wait to be told twice, but made off as fast as his little legs and his trembling condition allowed, so that in a few minutes, he had disappeared at the corner of the Hotel de Toulouse.

"'Twas time," murmured the coalheaver; "they are opening the window."

The two men drew back as far as possible into the shade. The window was opened, and one of the light horse appeared on the balcony.

"Well?" said a voice, which the coalheaver and his companion recognized as that of the regent, from the interior of the room. "Well, Simiane, what kind of weather is it?"

"Oh!" replied Simiane, "I think it snows."

"You think it snows?"

"Or rains, I do not know which," continued Simiane.

"What!" said Ravanne, "can you not tell what is falling?" and he also came on to the balcony.

"After all," said Simiane, "I am not sure that anything is falling."

"He is dead drunk," said the regent.

"I!" said Simiane, wounded in his amour propre as a toper, "I dead drunk! Come here, monseigneur, come."

Though the invitation was given in a strange manner, the regent joined his companions, laughing. By his gait it was easy to see that he himself was more than warmed.

"Ah! dead drunk," replied Simiane, holding out his hand to the prince; "well, I bet you a hundred louis that, regent of France as you are, you will not do what I do."

"You hear, monseigneur," said a female voice from the room; "it is a challenge."

"And as such I accept it."

"Done, for a hundred louis."

"I go halves with whoever likes," said Ravanne.

"Bet with the marchioness," said Simiane; "I admit no one into my games."

"Nor I," said the regent.

"Marchioness," cried Ravanne, "fifty louis to a kiss."

"Ask Philippe if he permits it."

"Yes," said the regent, "it is a golden bargain; you are sure to win. Well, are you ready, Simiane?"

"I am; will you follow me?"

"Everywhere. What are you going to do?"

"Look."

"Where the devil are you going?"

"I am going into the Palais Royal."

"How?"

"By the roofs."

And Simiane, seizing that kind of iron fan which we have said separated the windows of the drawing-room from those of the bedrooms, began to climb like an ape.

"Monseigneur," cried Madame de Sabran, bounding on to the balcony, and catching the prince by the arm, "I hope you will not follow."

"Not follow!" said the regent, freeing himself from the marchioness's arm; "do you know that I hold as a principle that whatever another man tries I can do? If he goes up to the moon, devil take me if I am not there to knock at the door as soon as he. Did you bet on me, Ravanne?"

"Yes, my prince," replied the young man, laughing.

"Then take your kiss, you have won;" and the regent seized the iron bars, climbing behind Simiane, who, active, tall, and slender, was in an instant on the terrace.

"But I hope you, at least, will remain, Ravanne?" said the marchioness.

"Long enough to claim your stakes," said the young man, kissing the beautiful fresh cheeks of Madame de Sabran. "Now, adieu," continued he, "I am monseigneur's page; you understand that I must follow him."

And Ravanne darted on to the perilous road already taken by his companions. The coalheaver and the man in the cloak uttered an exclamation of astonishment, which was repeated along the street as if every door had an echo.

"Ah! what is that?" said Simiane, who had arrived first on the terrace.

"Do you see double, drunkard?" said the regent, seizing the railing of the terrace, "it is the watch, and you will get us taken to the guard-house; but I promise you I will leave you there."

At these words those who were in the street were silent, hoping that the duke and his companions would push the joke no further, but would come down and go out by the ordinary road.

"Oh! here I am," said the regent, landing on the terrace; "have you had enough, Simiane?"

"No, monseigneur," replied Simiane; and bending down to Ravanne, "that is not the watch," continued he, "not a musket--not a jerkin."

"What is the matter?" asked the regent.

"Nothing," replied Simiane, making a sign to Ravanne, "except that I continue my ascent, and invite you to follow me."

And at these words, holding out his hand to the regent, he began to scale the roof, drawing him after him. Ravanne brought up the rear.

At this sight, as there was no longer any doubt of their intention, the coalheaver uttered a malediction, and the man in the cloak a cry of rage.

"Ah! ah!" said the regent, striding on the roof, and looking down the street, where, by the light from the open window, they saw eight or ten men moving, "what the devil is that? a plot! Ah! one would suppose they wanted to scale the house--they are furious. I have a mind to ask them what we can do to help them."

"No joking, monseigneur," said Simiane; "let us go on."

"Turn by the Rue St. Honore," said the man in the cloak. "Forward, forward."

"They are pursuing us," said Simiane; "quick to the other side; back."

"I do not know what prevents me," said the man in the cloak, drawing a pistol from his belt and aiming at the regent, "from bringing him down like a partridge."

"Thousand furies!" cried the coalheaver, stopping him, "you will get us all hanged and quartered."

"But what are we to do?"

"Wait till they come down alone and break their necks, for if Providence is just, that little surprise awaits us."

"What an idea, Roquefinette!"

"Eh! colonel; no names, if you please."

"You are right. Pardieu!"

"There is no need; let us have the idea."

"Follow me," cried the man in the cloak, springing into the passage. "Let us break open the door and we will take them on the other side when they jump down."

And all that remained of his companions followed him. The others, to the number of five or six, were already making for the Rue St. Honore.

"Let us go, monseigneur," said Simiane; "we have not a minute to lose; slide on your back. It is not glorious, but it is safe."

"I think I hear them in the passage," said the regent; "what do you think, Ravanne?"

"I do not think at all," said Ravanne, "I let myself slip."

And all three descended rapidly, and arrived on the terrace.

"Here, here!" said a woman's voice, at the moment when Simiane strode over the parapet to descend his iron ladder.

"Ah! is it you, marchioness?" said the regent; "you are indeed a friend in need."

"Jump in here, and quickly."

The three fugitives sprang into the room.

"Do you like to stop here?" asked Madame de Sabran.

"Yes," said Ravanne; "I will go and look for Canillac and his night-watch."

"No, no," said the regent; "they will be scaling your house and treating it as a town taken by assault. Let us gain the Palais Royal."

And they descended the staircase rapidly and opened the garden door. There they heard the despairing blows of their pursuers against the iron gates.

"Strike, strike, my friends," said the regent, running with the carelessness and activity of a young man, "the gate is solid, and will give you plenty of work."

"Quick, quick, monseigneur," cried Simiane, who, thanks to his great height, had jumped to the ground hanging by his arms, "there they are at the end of the Rue de Valois. Put your foot on my shoulder--now the other--and let yourself slip into my arms. You are saved, thank God."

"Draw your sword, Ravanne, and let us charge these fellows," said the regent.

"In the name of Heaven, monseigneur," cried Simiane, "follow us. I am not a coward, I believe, but what you would do is mere folly. Here, Ravanne."

And the young men, each taking one of the duke's arms, led him down a passage of the Palais Royal at the moment when those who were running by the Rue de Valois were at twenty paces from them, and when the door of the passage fell under the efforts of the second troop. The whole reunited band rushed against the gate at the moment that the three gentlemen closed it behind them.

"Gentlemen," said the regent, saluting with his hand, for as to his hat, Heaven knows where that was; "I hope, for the sake of your heads, that all this was only a joke, for you are attacking those who are stronger than yourselves. Beware, to-morrow, of the lieutenant of police. Meanwhile, good-night."

And a triple shout of laughter petrified the two conspirators leaning against the gate at the head of their breathless companions.

"This man must have a compact with Satan," cried D'Harmental.

"We have lost the bet, my friends," said Roquefinette, addressing his men, who stood waiting for orders, "but we do not dismiss you yet; it is only postponed. As to the promised sum, you have already had half: to-morrow--you know where, for the rest. Good-evening. I shall be at the rendezvous to-morrow."

All the people dispersed, and the two chiefs remained alone.

"Well, colonel," said Roquefinette, looking D'Harmental full in the face.

"Well, captain," replied the chevalier; "I have a great mind to ask one thing of you."

"What?" asked Roquefinette.

"To follow me into some cross-road and blow my brains out with your pistol, that this miserable head may be punished and not recognized."

"Why so?"

"Why? Because in such matters, when one fails one is but a fool: What am I to say to Madame de Maine now?"

"What!" cried Roquefinette, "is it about that little hop-o'-my-thumb that you are bothering yourself? Pardieu! you are frantically susceptible, colonel. Why the devil does not her lame husband attend to his own affairs. I should like to have seen your prude with her two cardinals and her three or four marquises, who are bursting with fear at this moment in a corner of the arsenal, while we remain masters of the field of battle. I should like to have seen if they would have climbed walls like lizards. Stay, colonel, listen to an old fox. To be a good conspirator, you must have, first, what you have, courage; but you must also have what you have not, patience. Morbleu! if I had such an affair in my hands, I would answer for it that I would bring it to a good end, and if you like to make it over to me we will talk of that."

"But in my place," asked the colonel, "what would you say to Madame de Maine?"

"Oh! I should say, 'My princess, the regent must have been warned by his police, for he did not leave as we expected, and we saw none but his roue companions.' Then the Prince de Cellamare will say to you, 'My dear D'Harmental, we have no resources but in you.' Madame de Maine will say that all is not lost since the brave D'Harmental remains to us. The Count de Laval will grasp your hand trying to pay you a compliment, which he will not finish, because since his jaw is broken his tongue is not active, particularly for compliments. The Cardinal de Polignac will make the sign of the cross. Alberoni will swear enough to shake the heavens--in this manner you will have conciliated everybody, saved your amour propre, and may return to hide in your attic, which I advise you not to leave for three or four days if you do not wish to be hanged. From time to time I will pay you a visit. You will continue to bestow on me some of the liberalities of Spain, because it is of importance to me to live agreeably, and keep up my spirits; then, at the first opportunity we recall our brave fellows, and take our revenge."

"Yes, certainly," said D'Harmental; "that is what any other would do, but you see I have some foolish ideas--I cannot lie."

"Whoever cannot lie cannot act," replied the captain; "but what do I see there? The bayonets of the watch; amicable institution, I recognize you there; always a quarter of an hour too late. But now adieu, colonel," continued he; "there is your road, we must separate," said the captain, showing the Passage du Palais Royal, "and here is mine," added he, pointing to the Rue Neuve des Petits-Champs; "go quietly, that they may not know that you ought to run as fast as you can, your hand on your hip so, and singing 'La Mere Gaudichon.'" And the captain followed the Rue de Valois at the same pace as the watch, who were a hundred paces behind him, singing carelessly as he went.

As to the chevalier, he re-entered the Rue des Bons Enfants, now as quiet as it had been noisy ten minutes before; and at the corner of the Rue Baillif he found the carriage, which, according to its orders, had not moved, and was waiting with the door open, the servant at the step, and the coachman on his box.

"To the arsenal," said the chevalier.

"It is useless," said a voice which made D'Harmental start; "I know all that has passed, and I will inform those who ought to know. A visit at this hour would be dangerous for all."

"Is it you, abbe?" said D'Harmental, trying to recognize Brigaud in the livery in which he was disguised; "you would render me a real service in taking the news instead of me, for on my honor I do not know what to say."

"Well, I shall say," said Brigaud, "that you are a brave and loyal gentleman, and that if there were ten like you in France, all would soon be finished; but we are not here to pay compliments: get in quickly--where shall I take you?"

"It is useless," said D'Harmental; "I will go on foot."

"Get in. It is safer."

D'Harmental complied, and Brigaud, dressed as he was, came and sat beside him.

"To the corner of the Rue du Gros Chenet and the Rue de Clery," said the abbe.

The coachman, impatient at having waited so long, obeyed quickly. At the place indicated the carriage stopped; the chevalier got out, and soon disappeared round the corner of the Rue du Temps-Perdu. As to the carriage, it rolled on noiselessly toward the Boulevards, like a fairy car which does not touch the earth.

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