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He carefully locked the outer door. Then he lit the lamp, for the candle gave but a flickering light, and he had some important work to do.
Firstly, he picked up the charred fragment of the letter, and smoothed it out carefully and reverently as he would a relic. Tears had gathered in his eyes, but he was not ashamed of them, for no one saw them; but they eased his heart, and helped to strengthen his resolve. It was a mere fragment that had been spared by the flame, but Armand knew every word of the letter by heart.
He had pen, ink and paper ready to his band, and from memory wrote out a copy of it. To this he added a covering letter from himself to Marguerite:
This--which I had from Percy through the hands of Chauvelin--I neither question nor understand.... He wrote the letter, and I have no thought but to obey. In his previous letter to me he enjoined me, if ever he wrote to me again, to obey him implicitly, and to communicate with you. To both these commands do I submit with a glad heart. But of this must I give you warning, little mother--Chauvelin desires you also to accompany us to-morrow.... Percy does not know this yet, else he would never start. But those fiends fear that his readiness is a blind ... and that he has some plan in his head for his own escape and the continued safety of the Dauphin.... This plan they hope to frustrate through holding you and me as hostages for his good faith. God only knows how gladly I would give my life for my chief ... but your life, dear little mother ... is sacred above all.... I think that I do right in warning you. God help us all.
Having written the letter, he sealed it, together with the copy of Percy's letter which he had made. Then he took up the candle and went downstairs.
There was no longer any light in the concierge's lodge, and Armand had some difficulty in making himself heard. At last the woman came to the door. She was tired and cross after two interruptions of her night's rest, but she had a partiality for her young lodger, whose pleasant ways and easy liberality had been like a pale ray of sunshine through the squalor of every-day misery.
"It is a letter, citoyenne," said Armand, with earnest entreaty, "for my sister. She lives in the Rue de Charonne, near the fortifications, and must have it within an hour; it is a matter of life and death to her, to me, and to another who is very dear to us both."
The concierge threw up her hands in horror.
"Rue de Charonne, near the fortifications," she exclaimed, "and within an hour! By the Holy Virgin, citizen, that is impossible. Who will take it? There is no way."
"A way must be found, citoyenne," said Armand firmly, "and at once; it is not far, and there are five golden louis waiting for the messenger!"
Five golden louis! The poor, hardworking woman's eyes gleamed at the thought. Five louis meant food for at least two months if one was careful, and--
"Give me the letter, citizen," she said, "time to slip on a warm petticoat and a shawl, and I'll go myself. It's not fit for the boy to go at this hour."
"You will bring me back a line from my sister in reply to this," said Armand, whom circumstances had at last rendered cautious. "Bring it up to my rooms that I may give you the five louis in exchange."
He waited while the woman slipped back into her room. She heard him speaking to her boy; the same lad who a fortnight ago had taken the treacherous letter which had lured Blakeney to the house into the fatal ambuscade that had been prepared for him. Everything reminded Armand of that awful night, every hour that he had since spent in the house had been racking torture to him. Now at last he was to leave it, and on an errand which might help to ease the load of remorse from his heart.
The woman was soon ready. Armand gave her final directions as to how to find the house ; then she took the letter and promised to be very quick, and to bring back a reply from the lady.
Armand accompanied her to the door. The night was dark, a thin drizzle was falling; he stood and watched until the woman's rapidly walking figure was lost in the misty gloom.
Then with a heavy sigh he once more went within.
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