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He spoke in a low voice; but as He was just below my window, I had no difficulty to distinguish his words.
I now heard the steps of one approaching. Baptiste went towards the sound; He joined a man, whom his low stature and the Horn suspended from his neck, declared to be no other than my faithful Claude, whom I had supposed to be already on his way to Strasbourg. Expecting their discourse to throw some light upon my situation, I hastened to put myself in a condition to hear it with safety. For this purpose I extinguished the candle, which stood upon a table near the Bed: The flame of the fire was not strong enough to betray me, and I immediately resumed my place at the window.
The objects of my curiosity had stationed themselves directly under it. I suppose that during my momentary absence the Wood-man had been blaming Claude for tardiness, since when I returned to the window, the latter was endeavouring to excuse his fault.
'However,' added He, 'my diligence at present shall make up for my past delay.'
'On that condition,' answered Baptiste, 'I shall readily forgive you. But in truth as you share equally with us in our prizes, your own interest will make you use all possible diligence. 'Twould be a shame to let such a noble booty escape us! You say, that this Spaniard is rich?'
'His Servant boasted at the Inn, that the effects in his Chaise were worth above two thousand Pistoles.'
Oh! how I cursed Stephano's imprudent vanity!
'And I have been told,' continued the Postillion, 'that this Baroness carries about her a casket of jewels of immense value.'
'May be so, but I had rather She had stayed away. The Spaniard was a secure prey. The Boys and myself could easily have mastered him and his Servant, and then the two thousand Pistoles would have been shared between us four. Now we must let in the Band for a share, and perhaps the whole Covey may escape us. Should our Friends have betaken themselves to their different posts before you reach the Cavern, all will be lost. The Lady's Attendants are too numerous for us to overpower them: Unless our Associates arrive in time, we must needs let these Travellers set out tomorrow without damage or hurt.'
' 'Tis plaguy unlucky that my Comrades who drove the Coach should be those unacquainted with our Confederacy! But never fear, Friend Baptiste. An hour will bring me to the Cavern; It is now but ten o'clock, and by twelve you may expect the arrival of the Band. By the bye, take care of your Wife: You know how strong is her repugnance to our mode of life, and She may find means to give information to the Lady's Servants of our design.'
'Oh! I am secure of her silence; She is too much afraid of me, and fond of her children, to dare to betray my secret. Besides, Jacques and Robert keep a strict eye over her, and She is not permitted to set a foot out of the Cottage. The Servants are safely lodged in the Barn; I shall endeavour to keep all quiet till the arrival of our Friends. Were I assured of your finding them, the Strangers should be dispatched this instant; But as it is possible for you to miss the Banditti, I am fearful of being summoned to produce them by their Domestics in the Morning.'
'And suppose either of the Travellers should discover your design?'
'Then we must poignard those in our power, and take our chance about mastering the rest. However, to avoid running such a risque, hasten to the Cavern: The Banditti never leave it before eleven, and if you use diligence, you may reach it in time to stop them.'
'Tell Robert that I have taken his Horse: My own has broken his bridle, and escaped into the Wood. What is the watch-word?'
'The reward of Courage.'
' 'Tis sufficient. I hasten to the Cavern.'
'And I to rejoin my Guests, lest my absence should create suspicion. Farewell, and be diligent.'
These worthy Associates now separated: The One bent his course towards the Stable, while the Other returned to the House.
You may judge, what must have been my feelings during this conversation, of which I lost not a single syllable. I dared not trust myself to my reflections, nor did any means present itself to escape the dangers which threatened me. Resistance, I knew to be vain; I was unarmed, and a single Man against Three: However, I resolved at least to sell my life as dearly as I could. Dreading lest Baptiste should perceive my absence, and suspect me to have overheard the message with which Claude was dispatched, I hastily relighted my candle and quitted the chamber. On descending, I found the Table spread for six Persons. The Baroness sat by the fireside: Marguerite was employed in dressing a sallad, and her Step-sons were whispering together at the further end of the room. Baptiste having the round of the Garden to make, ere He could reach the Cottage door, was not yet arrived. I seated myself quietly opposite to the Baroness.
A glance upon Marguerite told her that her hint had not been thrown away upon me. How different did She now appear to me! What before seemed gloom and sullenness, I now found to be disgust at her Associates, and compassion for my danger. I looked up to her as to my only resource; Yet knowing her to be watched by her Husband with a suspicious eye, I could place but little reliance on the exertions of her good-will.
In spite of all my endeavours to conceal it, my agitation was but too visibly expressed upon my countenance. I was pale, and both my words and actions were disordered and embarrassed. The young Men observed this, and enquired the cause. I attributed it to excess of fatigue, and the violent effect produced on me by the severity of the season. Whether they believed me or not, I will not pretend to say: They at least ceased to embarrass me with their questions. I strove to divert my attention from the perils which surrounded me, by conversing on different subjects with the Baroness. I talked of Germany, declaring my intention of visiting it immediately: God knows, that I little thought at that moment of ever seeing it! She replied to me with great ease and politeness, professed that the pleasure of making my acquaintance amply compensated for the delay in her journey, and gave me a pressing invitation to make some stay at the Castle of Lindenberg. As She spoke thus, the Youths exchanged a malicious smile, which declared that She would be fortunate if She ever reached that Castle herself. This action did not escape me; But I concealed the emotion which it excited in my breast. I continued to converse with the Lady; But my discourse was so frequently incoherent, that as She has since informed me, She began to doubt whether I was in my right senses. The fact was, that while my conversation turned upon one subject, my thoughts were entirely occupied by another. I meditated upon the means of quitting the Cottage, finding my way to the Barn, and giving the Domestics information of our Host's designs. I was soon convinced, how impracticable was the attempt. Jacques and Robert watched my every movement with an attentive eye, and I was obliged to abandon the idea. All my hopes now rested upon Claude's not finding the Banditti: In that case, according to what I had overheard, we should be permitted to depart unhurt.
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The Monk -by- Matthew Lewis