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El Dorado

40.
God Help Us All
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."
 
 
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