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6. The Committee's Agent
It was a narrow, ill-ventilated place, with but one barred window that gave on the
courtyard. An evil-smelling lamp hung by a chain from the grimy ceiling, and in a
corner of the room a tiny iron stove shed more unpleasant vapour than warm
There was but little furniture: two or three chairs, a table which was littered with
papers, and a corner-cupboard--the open doors of which revealed a
miscellaneous collection--bundles of papers, a tin saucepan, a piece of cold
sausage, and a couple of pistols. The fumes of stale tobacco-smoke hovered in
the air, and mingled most unpleasantly with those of the lamp above, and of the
mildew that penetrated through the walls just below the roof.
Heron pointed to one of the chairs, and then sat down on the other, close to the
table, on which he rested his elbow. He picked up a short-stemmed pipe, which
he had evidently laid aside at the sound of the bell, and having taken several
deliberate long-drawn puffs from it, he said abruptly:
"Well, what is it now?"
In the meanwhile de Batz had made himself as much at home in this
uncomfortable room as he possibly could. He had deposited his hat and cloak on
one rickety rush-bottomed chair, and drawn another close to the fire. He sat
down with one leg crossed over the other, his podgy be-ringed hand wandering
with loving gentleness down the length of his shapely calf.
He was nothing if not complacent, and his complacency seemed highly to irritate
his friend Heron.
"Well, what is it?" reiterated the latter, drawing his visitor's attention roughly to
himself by banging his fist on the table. "Out with it! What do you want? Why
have you come at this hour of the night to compromise me, I suppose--bring your
own d--d neck and mine into the same noose--what?"
"Easy, easy, my friend," responded de Batz imperturbably; "waste not so much
time in idle talk. Why do I usually come to see you? Surely you have had no
cause to complain hitherto of the unprofitableness of my visits to you?"
"They will have to be still more profitable to me in the future," growled the other
across the table. "I have more power now."
"I know you have," said de Batz suavely. "The new decree? What? You may
denounce whom you please, search whom you please, arrest whom you please,
and send whom you please to the Supreme Tribunal without giving them the
slightest chance of escape."
"Is it in order to tell me all this that you have come to see me at this hour of the
night?" queried Heron with a sneer.
"No; I came at this hour of the night because I surmised that in the future you and
your hell-hounds would be so busy all day 'beating up game for the guillotine' that
the only time you would have at the disposal of your friends would be the late
hours of the night. I saw you at the theatre a couple of hours ago, friend Heron; I
didn't think to find you yet abed."
"Well, what do you want?"