The slave of the lamp, p.9
The Slave of the Lamp,
Henry Seton Merriman
"Ah! It goes. It goes already!"
The speaker--the Citizen Morot--slowly rubbed his white hands one overthe other.
He was standing at the window of a small house in an insignificantstreet on the southern side of the Seine. He was remarkably calm--quitethe calmest man within the radius of a mile; for the insignificantlittle street was in an uproar. There was a barricade at each end of it.Such a barricade as Parisians love. It was composed of a few overturnedomnibuses; for the true Parisian is a cynic. He likes overturned things,and he loves to see objects of peace converted to purposes of war. He isnot content that ploughshares be beaten into swords. He prefersaltar-rails. And so this little street was blocked at either end by abarricade of overturned omnibuses, of old hampers and empty boxes, of afew loads of second-hand bricks and paving-stones brought from the sceneof some drainage operations round the corner.
In the street between the barricades, surged, hooted, and yelled thatwildest and most dangerous of incomprehensibles--a Paris mob.Half-a-dozen orators were speaking at once, and no one was listening tothem. Here and there amidst the rabble a voice was raised at times withsuspicious persistence.
"_Vive le Roi!_" it cried. "Long live the King!"
A few took up the refrain, but the general tone was negative. It was notso much a question of upholding anything as of throwing down that whichwas already up.
"Down with the Republic!" was the favourite cry. "Down with thePresident! Down with everything!"
And each man cried down his favourite enemy.
The Citizen Morot listened, and his contemptuous mouth was twisted witha delicate, subtle smile.
"Ah!" he muttered. "The voice of the people. The howling of the wolves.Go on, go on, my braves. Cry 'Long live the King,' and soon you willbegin to believe that you mean it. They are barking now. Let them bark.Soon we shall teach them to bite, and then--then, who knows?"
His voice dropped almost to a whisper, and he stood there amidst the dinand hubbub--dreaming. At last he raised his hand to his forehead--aprominent, rounded forehead, flat as the palm of one's hand from eyebrowto eyebrow, and curving at either side, sharply, back to deep-sunkentemples.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, with a little laugh; and he drew from an innerpocket a delicately scented pocket-handkerchief, with which he wiped hisbrow. "If I get excited now, what will it be when they begin--to bite?"
All this while the orators were shouting their loudest, and the voicesdispersed throughout the crowd raised at intervals their short, sharpcry of--
"Long live the King!"
And the police? There were only two agents attached to the immediateneighbourhood, and they were smoking cigars and drinking absinthe in twoseparate cellars, with the door locked on the outside. They wereprisoners of war of the most resigned type. The room in which stood theCitizen Morot was dark, and wisely so. For the Parisian streetpolitician can make very pretty practice of a lighted petroleum-lampwith an empty bottle or half a brick. The window was wide open, and thewooden shutters were hooked back.
The attitude of the man was interested and slightly self-satisfied. Itsuggested that of the manager of a theatre looking down from anupper-tier box upon a full house and a faultless stage. At the same timehe was keeping what sailors call a very "bright look-out" towards eitherend of the street. From his elevated position he was able to see overthe barricades, and he watched with intense interest the movements oftwo women (or perhaps men disguised as such) who stood in the centre ofthe street just beyond each obstruction.
There was something dramatic in the motionless attitude of these twowomen, standing guard alone in the deserted street, on the wrong side ofthe barricades.
At times Morot leant well out of the window and listened. Then he stoodback again and contemplated the crowd.
Each orator was illuminated by a naphtha "flare," which, being held inunsteady hands, flickered and wavered, casting strange gleams of lightover the evil faces upturned towards it. At times one speaker wouldsucceed in raising a laugh or extracting a groan, and when he did sothose listening to his rivals turned and surged towards him. There wasplenty of movement. It was what the newspapers call an animatedscene--or a disgraceful scene--according to their political bias.
The Citizen Morot could not hear the jokes nor distinguish the cause ofthe groaning. But he did not seem to mind much. The speeches were not ofthe description to be given in full in the morning papers. There were,fortunately, no reporters present. It was the frank eloquence of theslaughter-house--the unclad humour of the market.
Suddenly one of the women--she who was posted at the southern end of thestreet--raised both her arms, and the Citizen leant far out of thewindow. He was very eager, and his hawk-like eyes blinked perpetually.His hand was raised to his mouth, and the lights of the orators gleamedon something that he held in his fingers--something that looked likesilver.
The woman held her two arms straight up into the air for some moments,then she suddenly crossed them twice, turning at the same moment andscrambling over the barricade. A long shrill whistle rang out over theheads of the mob, and its effect was almost instantaneous. The "flares"disappeared like magic. Dark figures swarmed up the lamp-posts andextinguished the feeble lights. The voice of the orator was still.Silence and darkness reigned over that insignificant little street onthe southern side of the Seine. Then came the clatter of cavalry--therattle of horses' feet, and the ominous clank of empty scabbards againstspur and buckle. A word of command, and a scrambling halt. Then silenceagain, broken only by the shuffling of feet (not too well clad) in thedarkness between the barricades.
The Citizen Morot leant recklessly out of the window, peering intothe gloom. He forgot to make use of the delicately scentedpocket-handkerchief now, and the drops of perspiration trickled slowlydown his face.
The soldiers shuffled in their saddles. Some of the spirited littleArabs pawed the pavement. One of them squealed angrily, and there was aslight commotion somewhere in the rear ranks--an equine difference ofopinion. The officers had come forward to the barricade and wereconsulting together. The question was--what was there behind thatbarricade? It might be nothing--it might be everything. In Paris one cannever tell. At last one of them determined to see for himself. Hescrambled up, putting his foot through the window of an omnibus inpassing. Against the dim light of the street-lamp beyond, his slight,straight figure stood out in bold relief. It was a splendid mark for aman with chalked sights to his rifle.
"Ah!" muttered the Citizen, "you are all right this time--master, theyoung officer. They are only barking. Next time perhaps it will be quiteanother history."
The officer turned and disappeared. After the lapse of a few moments adozen words of command were shouted, and upon them followed the sharpclick of hilt on scabbard as the sabres fell home.
After a pause it became evident that the barricade was being destroyed.And then lights flashed here and there. In a compact column the cavalryadvanced at a trot. The street was empty.
Citizen Morot turned away and sat down on a chair that happened to beplaced near the window. His finely-drawn eyebrows were raised with aquestioning weariness.
"Pretty work!" he ejaculated. "Pretty work for--my father's son! Sogrand, so open, so noble!"
He waited there, in the darkness, until the cavalry had been withdrawnand the local firemen were at work upon the barricade. Then, when orderwas fully restored, he left the house, walking quietly down the lengthof the insignificant little street.
Ten minutes later he entered the tobacco-shop in the Rue St. Gingolphe.Mr. Jacquetot was at his post, behind the counter near the window, withthe little tin box containing postage-stamps in front of him upon hisdesk. He was always there--like the poor. He laid aside the _PetitJournal_ and wished the new-comer a courteous, though breathless,good evening.
The salutation was returned gravely and pleasantly. The Citizen Morotlingered a moment and remarked that it was a warm evening. He neverseemed to be in a
There he found Lerac, the foreman of the slaughter-house. The butcherwas pale with excitement. His rough clothing was dishevelled; hisstringy black hair stood up uncouthly in the centre of his head, whileover his temples it was plastered down with perspiration and suetpleasingly mingled.
"Well?" he exclaimed, with triumphant interrogation.
"Good," said Morot. "Very good. It marches, my friend. It marchesalready."
"Ah! But you are right. The People see you--it is a power!"
"It is," acquiesced Morot fervently.
How he hated this man!
"And you stayed to the last?" inquired Lerac. He was rather white aboutthe lips for a brave man.
"Till the last," echoed Morot, taking up some letters addressed to himwhich lay on the table.
"And the street was quite clear before they broke through the barrier?"
"Quite--the People did not wait." He seemed to resign himself toconversation, for he put the letters into his pocket and sat down. "Hadyou," he inquired, "any difficulty in getting them away?"
"Oh no," somewhat loftily and quite unsuspicious of irony. "The passageswere narrow, of course; but we had allowed for that in our organisation.Organisation and the People, see you--"
"Yes," replied Morot. "Organisation and the People." Like Lerac, hestopped short, apparently lost in the contemplation of the vastpossibilities presented to his mental vision by the mere thought of sucha combination.
"Well!" exclaimed the butcher energetically, "I must move on. I havemeetings. I merely wished to hear from you that all was right--that noone was caught."
He was bubbling over with excitement and the sense of his own hugeimportance.
The Citizen Morot raised his secretive eyes.
"Good-night," he said, with an insolence far too fine for the butcher'scomprehension.
"Well--good-night. We may congratulate ourselves, I think, Citizen!"
"I congratulate you," said Morot. "Good-night."
It is probable that, had Lerac looked back, there would have been murderdone in the small room behind the tobacco-shop. But the contemptuoussmile soon vanished from the face of the Citizen Morot. No smilelingered there long. It was not built upon smiling lines at all.
Then he took up his letters. There were only two of them: one bearingthe postmark of a small town in Morbihan, the other hailing fromEngland.
He replaced the first in his pocket unread; the second he opened. It waswritten in French.
"There are difficulties," it said. "Can you come to me? Cross fromCherbourg to Southampton--train from thence to this place, and ask forSignor Bruno, an Italian refugee, living at the house of Mrs. Potter, a_ci-devant_ laundress."
The Citizen Morot rubbed his chin thoughtfully with the back of hishand, making a sharp, grating sound.
"That old man," he said, "is getting past his work. He is losing nerve;and nerve is a thing that we cannot afford to lose."
Then he turned to the letter again.
"Ah!" he exclaimed suddenly; "St. Mary Western. He is there--how verystrange. What a singular coincidence!"
He fell into a reverie with the letter before him.
"Carew is dead--but still I can manage it. Perhaps it is just as wellthat he is dead. I was always afraid of Carew."
Then he wrote a letter, which he addressed to "Signor Bruno, care ofMrs. Potter, St. Mary Western, Dorset."
"I shall come," he wrote, "but not in the way you suggest. I have abetter plan. You must not know me when we meet."
He purchased a twenty-five centime stamp from Mr. Jacquetot, and postedthe letter with his own hand in the little wall-box at the corner of theRue St. Gingolphe.
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