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- The Companions of Jehu - 70/133 -
"Oh, mamma!" cried Edouard, standing up and leaning out of the window in spite of Madame de Montrevel's protestations; "oh, mamma, what fine horses! But why do these gentlemen wear masks? This isn't carnival."
Madame de Montrevel was dreaming. A woman always dreams a little; young, of the future; old, of the past. She started from her revery, put her head out of the window, and gave a little cry.
Edouard turned around hastily.
"What ails you, mother?" he asked.
Madame de Montrevel turned pale and took him in her arms without a word. Cries of terror were heard in the interior.
"But what is the matter?" demanded little Edouard, struggling to escape from his mother's encircling arms.
"Nothing, my little man," said one of the masked men in a gentle voice, putting his head through the window of the coupé; "nothing but an account we have to settle with the conductor, which does not in the least concern you travellers. Tell your mother to accept our respectful homage, and to pay no more heed to us than if we were not here." Then passing to the door of the interior, he added: "Gentlemen, your servant. Fear nothing for your money or jewels, and reassure that nurse--we have not come here to turn her milk." Then to the conductor: "Now, then, Père Jérôme, we have a hundred thousand francs on the imperial and in the boxes, haven't we?"
"Gentlemen, I assure you--"
"That the money belongs to the government. It did belong to the bears of Berne; seventy thousand francs in gold, the rest in silver. The silver is on the top of the coach, the gold in the bottom of the coupé. Isn't that so? You see how well informed we are."
At the words "bottom of the coupe" Madame de Montrevel gave another cry of terror; she was about to come in contact with men who, in spite of their politeness, inspired her with the most profound terror.
"But what is the matter, mother, what is the matter?" demanded the boy impatiently.
"Be quiet, Edouard; be quiet!"
"Why must I be quiet?"
"Don't you understand?"
"The coach has been stopped."
"Why? Tell me why? Ah, mother, I understand."
"No, no," said Madame de Montrevel, "you don't understand."
"Those gentlemen are robbers."
"Take care you don't say so."
"What, you mean they are not robbers? Why, see they are taking the conductor's money."
Sure enough, one of the four was fastening to the saddle of his horse the bags of silver which the conductor threw down from the imperial.
"No," repeated Madame de Montrevel, "no, they are not robbers." Then lowering her voice, she added: "They are Companions of Jehu."
"Ah!" cried the boy, "they are the ones who assassinated my friend, Sir John."
And the child turned very pale, and his breath came hissing through his clinched teeth.
At that moment one of the masked men opened the door of the coupé, and said with exquisite politeness: "Madame la Comtesse, to our great regret we are obliged to disturb you; but we want, or rather the conductor wants, a package from the bottom of the coupé. Will you be so kind as to get out for a moment? Jérôme will get what he wants as quickly as possible." Then, with that note of gayety which was never entirely absent from that laughing voice, he added, "Won't you, Jérôme?"
Jérôme replied from the top of the diligence, confirming these words.
With an instinctive movement to put herself between the danger and her son, Madame de Montrevel, while complying with that request, pushed Edouard behind her. That instant sufficed for the boy to seize the conductor's pistols.
The young man with the laughing voice assisted Madame de Montrevel from the coach with the greatest care, then signed to one of his companions to give her an arm, and returned to the coach.
But at that instant a double report was heard. Edouard had fired a pistol with each hand at the Companion of Jehu, who disappeared in the smoke.
Madame de Montrevel screamed, and fainted away. Various cries, expressive of diverse sentiments, echoed that of the mother.
From the interior came one of terror; they had all agreed to offer no resistance, and now some one had resisted. From the three young men came a cry of surprise--it was the first time such a thing had happened.
They rushed to their companion, expecting to find him reduced to pulp; but they found him safe and sound, laughing heartily, while the conductor, with clasped hands, was exclaiming: "Monsieur, I swear there were no balls; monsieur, I protest, they were only charged with powder."
"The deuce," said the young man, "don't I see that? But the intention was good, wasn't it, my little Edouard?" Then, turning to his companions, he added: "Confess, gentlemen, that he is a fine boy--a true son of his father, and brother of his brother. Bravo, Edouard! you'll make a man some day!"
Taking the boy in his arms, he kissed him, in spite of his struggles, on both cheeks.
Edouard fought like a demon, thinking no doubt that it was very humiliating to be embraced by a man at whom he had just fired two pistols.
In the meantime one of the Companions had carried Edouard's mother to the bank by the roadside a little distance from the diligence. The man who had kissed Edouard with so much affection and persistence now looked around for her.
"Ah!" cried he, on perceiving her, "Madame de Montrevel still unconscious? We can't leave a woman in that condition, gentlemen. Conductor, take Master Edouard." Placing the boy in Jérôme's arms, he turned to one of his companions: "Man of precautions," said he, "haven't you smelling salts or a bottle of essence with you?"
"Here!" said the young man he had addressed, pulling a flask of toilet vinegar from his pocket.
"Good," said the other, who seemed to be the leader of the band. "Do you finish up the matter with Master Jérôme; I'll take charge of Madame de Montrevel."
It was indeed time. The fainting fit was giving place to a violent nervous attack; spasmodic movements shook her whole body and strangled cries came from her throat. The young man leaned over her and made her inhale the salts.
Madame de Montrevel presently opened her frightened eyes, and called out: "Edouard! Edouard!" With an involuntary movement she knocked aside the mask of the man who was supporting her, exposing his face.
The courteous, laughing young man--our readers have already recognized him--was Morgan.
Madame de Montrevel paused in amazement at sight of those beautiful blue eyes, the lofty brow, and the gracious lips smiling at her. She realized that she ran no danger from such a man, and that no harm could have befallen Edouard. Treating Morgan as a gentleman who had succored her, and not as a bandit who had caused her fainting-fit, she exclaimed: "Ah, sir! how kind you are."
In the words, in the tones in which she uttered them, there lay a world of thanks, not only for herself, but for her child.
With singular delicacy, entirely in keeping with his chivalric nature, Morgan, instead of picking up his fallen mask and covering his face immediately, so that Madame de Montrevel could only have retained a fleeting and confused impression of it--Morgan replied to her compliment by a low bow, leaving his features uncovered long enough to produce their impression; then, placing d'Assas' flask in Madame de Montrevel's hand--and then only--he replaced his mask. Madame de Montrevel understood the young man's delicacy.
"Ah! sir," said she, "be sure that, in whatever place or situation I see you again, I shall not recognize you."
"Then, madame," replied Morgan, "it is for me to thank you and repeat, 'How kind you are.'"
"Come, gentlemen, take your seats!" said the conductor, in his customary tone, as if nothing unusual had happened.
"Are you quite restored, madame, or should you like a few minutes more to rest?" asked Morgan. "The diligence shall wait."
"No, that is quite unnecessary; I feel quite well, and am much indebted to you."
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