El Dorado HTML version

7. The Most Precious Life In Europe
Once more he was being led through the interminable corridors of the gigantic
building. Once more from the narrow, barred windows close by him he heard the
heart-breaking sighs, the moans, the curses which spoke of tragedies that he
could only guess.
Heron was walking on ahead of him, preceding him by some fifty metres or so,
his long legs covering the distances more rapidly than de Batz could follow them.
The latter knew his way well about the old prison. Few men in Paris possessed
that accurate knowledge of its intricate passages and its network of cells and
halls which de Batz had acquired after close and persevering study.
He himself could have led Heron to the doors of the tower where the little
Dauphin was being kept imprisoned, but unfortunately he did not possess the
keys that would open all the doors which led to it. There were sentinels at every
gate, groups of soldiers at each end of every corridor, the great--now empty--
courtyards, thronged with prisoners in the daytime, were alive with soldiery even
now. Some walked up and down with fixed bayonet on shoulder, others sat in
groups on the stone copings or squatted on the ground, smoking or playing
cards, but all of them were alert and watchful.
Heron was recognised everywhere the moment he appeared, and though in
these days of equality no one presented arms, nevertheless every guard stood
aside to let him pass, or when necessary opened a gate for the powerful chief
agent of the Committee of General Security.
Indeed, de Batz had no keys such as these to open the way for him to the
presence of the martyred little King.
Thus the two men wended their way on in silence, one preceding the other. De
Batz walked leisurely, thought-fully, taking stock of everything he saw--the gates,
the barriers, the positions of sentinels and warders, of everything in fact that
might prove a help or a hindrance presently, when the great enterprise would be
hazarded. At last--still in the wake of Heron--he found himself once more behind
the main entrance gate, underneath the archway on which gave the guichet of
the concierge.
Here, too, there seemed to be an unnecessary number of soldiers: two were
doing sentinel outside the guichet, but there were others in a file against the wall.
Heron rapped with his keys against the door of the concierge's lodge, then, as it
was not immediately opened from within, he pushed it open with his foot.
"The concierge?" he queried peremptorily.
From a corner of the small panelled room there came a grunt and a reply:
"Gone to bed, quoi!"
The man who previously had guided de Batz to Heron's door slowly struggled to
his feet. He had been squatting somewhere in the gloom, and had been roused
by Heron's rough command. He slouched forward now still carrying a boot in one
hand and a blacking brush in the other.