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Historical Romances: Under the Red Robe, Count Han

I must obtain admission to the house


I

watched until the group broke up, and Madame, with one of the men, went her way round the corner of the inn, and out of my sight. Then I retired to bed again, feeling more than ever perplexed what course I should adopt. It was clear that, to succeed, I must obtain admission to the house. This was garrisoned, unless my instructions erred, by two or three old men-servants only, and as many women; since Madame, to disguise her husband's visits the more easily, lived, and gave out that she lived, in great retirement. To seize her husband at home, therefore, might be no impossible task; though here, in the heart of the village, a troop of horse might make the attempt, and fail.

But how was I to gain admission to the house--a house guarded by quick-witted women, and hedged in with all the precautions love could devise? That was the question; and dawn found me still debating it, still as far as ever from an answer. With the first light I was glad to get up. I thought that the fresh air might inspire me, and I was tired, besides, of my stuffy closet. I crept stealthily down the ladder, and managed to pass unseen through the lower room, in which several persons were snoring heavily. The outer door was not fastened, and in a hand-turn I stood in the street.

It was still so early that the trees stood up black against the reddening sky, but the bough upon the post before the door was growing green, and in a few minutes

the grey light would be everywhere. Already even in the road way there was a glimmering of it; and as I stood at the corner of the house--where I could command both the front and the side on which the stable opened--looking greedily for any trace of the midnight departure, my eyes detected something light-coloured lying on the ground. It was not more than two or three paces from me, and I stepped to it and picked it up curiously, hoping it might be a note. It was not a note, however, but a tiny orange-coloured sachet, such as women carry in the bosom. It was full of some faintly scented powder, and bore on one side the initial "E," worked in white silk; and was altogether a dainty little toy, such as women love.

Doubtless Madame de Cocheforet had dropped it in the night. I turned it over and over; and then I put it away with a smile, thinking it might be useful some time, and in some way. I had scarcely done this, and turned with the intention of exploring the street, when the door behind me creaked on its leather hinges, and in a moment my host stood at my elbow.

Evidently his suspicions were again aroused, for from that time he managed to be with me, on one pretence or another, until noon. Moreover, his manner grew each moment more churlish, his hints plainer; until I could scarcely avoid noticing the one or the other. About midday, having followed me for the twentieth time into the street, he came at last to the point, by asking me rudely if I did not need my horse.

"No," I said. "Why do you ask?"

"Because," he answered, with an ugly smile, "this is not a very healthy place for strangers."


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