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We have two spare chambers, one for the Lady, the other, Monsieur, for you: My Wife shall give up hers to the two Waiting-women; As for the Men-servants, they must content themselves with passing the night in a large Barn, which stands at a few yards distance from the House. There they shall have a blazing fire, and as good a supper as we can make shift to give them.'
After several expressions of gratitude on the Lady's part, and opposition on mine to Marguerite's giving up her bed, this arrangement was agreed to. As the Room was small, the Baroness immediately dismissed her Male Domestics: Baptiste was on the point of conducting them to the Barn which He had mentioned when two young Men appeared at the door of the Cottage.
'Hell and Furies!' exclaimed the first starting back; 'Robert, the House is filled with Strangers!'
'Ha! There are my Sons!' cried our Host. 'Why, Jacques! Robert! whither are you running, Boys? There is room enough still for you.'
Upon this assurance the Youths returned. The Father presented them to the Baroness and myself: After which He withdrew with our Domestics, while at the request of the two Waiting-women, Marguerite conducted them to the room designed for their Mistress.
The two new-comers were tall, stout, well-made young Men, hard-featured, and very much sun-burnt. They paid their compliments to us in few words, and acknowledged Claude, who now entered the room, as an old acquaintance. They then threw aside their cloaks in which they were wrapped up, took off a leathern belt to which a large Cutlass was suspended, and each drawing a brace of pistols from his girdle laid them upon a shelf.
'You travel well-armed,' said I.
'True, Monsieur;' replied Robert. 'We left Strasbourg late this Evening, and 'tis necessary to take precautions at passing through this Forest after dark. It does not bear a good repute, I promise you.'
'How?' said the Baroness; 'Are there Robbers hereabout?'
'So it is said, Madame; For my own part, I have travelled through the wood at all hours, and never met with one of them.'
Here Marguerite returned. Her Stepsons drew her to the other end of the room, and whispered her for some minutes. By the looks which they cast towards us at intervals, I conjectured them to be enquiring our business in the Cottage.
In the meanwhile the Baroness expressed her apprehensions, that her Husband would be suffering much anxiety upon her account. She had intended to send on one of her Servants to inform the Baron of her delay; But the account which the young Men gave of the Forest rendered this plan impracticable. Claude relieved her from her embarrassment. He informed her that He was under the necessity of reaching Strasbourg that night, and that would She trust him with a letter, She might depend upon its being safely delivered.
'And how comes it,' said I, 'that you are under no apprehension of meeting these Robbers?'
'Alas! Monsieur, a poor Man with a large family must not lose certain profit because 'tis attended with a little danger, and perhaps my Lord the Baron may give me a trifle for my pains. Besides, I have nothing to lose except my life, and that will not be worth the Robbers taking.'
I thought his arguments bad, and advised his waiting till the Morning; But as the Baroness did not second me, I was obliged to give up the point. The Baroness Lindenberg, as I found afterwards, had long been accustomed to sacrifice the interests of others to her own, and her wish to send Claude to Strasbourg blinded her to the danger of the undertaking. Accordingly, it was resolved that He should set out without delay. The Baroness wrote her letter to her Husband, and I sent a few lines to my Banker, apprising him that I should not be at Strasbourg till the next day. Claude took our letters, and left the Cottage.
The Lady declared herself much fatigued by her journey: Besides having come from some distance, the Drivers had contrived to lose their way in the Forest. She now addressed herself to Marguerite, desiring to be shown to her chamber, and permitted to take half an hour's repose. One of the Waiting-women was immediately summoned; She appeared with a light, and the Baroness followed her up stairs. The cloth was spreading in the chamber where I was, and Marguerite soon gave me to understand that I was in her way. Her hints were too broad to be easily mistaken; I therefore desired one of the young Men to conduct me to the chamber where I was to sleep, and where I could remain till supper was ready.
'Which chamber is it, Mother?' said Robert.
'The One with green hangings,' She replied; 'I have just been at the trouble of getting it ready, and have put fresh sheets upon the Bed; If the Gentleman chooses to lollop and lounge upon it, He may make it again himself for me.'
'You are out of humour, Mother, but that is no novelty. Have the goodness to follow me, Monsieur.'
He opened the door, and advanced towards a narrow staircase.
'You have got no light!' said Marguerite; 'Is it your own neck or the Gentleman's that you have a mind to break?'
She crossed by me, and put a candle into Robert's hand, having received which, He began to ascend the staircase. Jacques was employed in laying the cloth, and his back was turned towards me.
Marguerite seized the moment, when we were unobserved. She caught my hand, and pressed it strongly.
'Look at the Sheets!' said She as She passed me, and immediately resumed her former occupation.
Startled by the abruptness of her action, I remained as if petrified. Robert's voice, desiring me to follow him, recalled me to myself. I ascended the staircase. My conductor ushered me into a chamber, where an excellent wood-fire was blazing upon the hearth. He placed the light upon the Table, enquired whether I had any further commands, and on my replying in the negative, He left me to myself. You may be certain that the moment when I found myself alone was that on which I complied with Marguerite's injunction. I took the candle, hastily approached the Bed, and turned down the Coverture. What was my astonishment, my horror, at finding the sheets crimsoned with blood!
At that moment a thousand confused ideas passed before my imagination. The Robbers who infested the Wood, Marguerite's exclamation respecting her Children, the arms and appearance of the two young Men, and the various Anecdotes which I had heard related, respecting the secret correspondence which frequently exists between Banditti and Postillions, all these circumstances flashed upon my mind, and inspired me with doubt and apprehension. I ruminated on the most probable means of ascertaining the truth of my conjectures. Suddenly I was aware of Someone below pacing hastily backwards and forwards. Every thing now appeared to me an object of suspicion. With precaution I drew near the window, which, as the room had been long shut up, was left open in spite of the cold. I ventured to look out. The beams of the Moon permitted me to distinguish a Man, whom I had no difficulty to recognize for my Host. I watched his movements.
He walked swiftly, then stopped, and seemed to listen: He stamped upon the ground, and beat his stomach with his arms as if to guard himself from the inclemency of the season. At the least noise, if a voice was heard in the lower part of the House, if a Bat flitted past him, or the wind rattled amidst the leafless boughs, He started, and looked round with anxiety.
'Plague take him!' said He at length with impatience; 'What can He be about!'
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The Monk -by- Matthew Lewis